I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Horses, romance, scandal and secrets in the delightful rural setting of The Cotswolds. It begins with a nail-biting prologue and then launches into life in Compton Magna several years later. The connection is Luca, someone who has an extraordinary gift with horses. He has a reputation as a womaniser, but he has hidden depths and a plethora of secrets to be revealed as the story progresses.
The characters are many, and all of them richly described in such a vivid way that they are believable. The plot is complex, exploring relationships, village life, family drama and mysterious events and secrets. The Compton Magna stud is the focus of the story, so the horses and dogs are important characters too, which is part of the charm for me.
This is written in true bonkbuster style. It’s long, packed to the rafters with glamorous and enigmatic characters, many of whom behave less than circumspectly. Scandal, secrets and sex are rife in Compton Magna, which is a sharp contrast to the glorious rural setting. The humour is what makes this story so readable, and the snapshots on life and people so astute, that its worth reading for characterisation alone.
I loved this author’earlier stories, and this one reminds me of them, an enjoyable escapist read, full of emotion and sparkling dialogue, in a quintessentially rural England setting.
Guest Post – Fiona Walker – The Three Big Questions Most Author’s Get Asked Are:
How did you first get published?
The answer I always give is: my novel was plucked out of the infamous Slush Pile when I was twenty-three and sold in a weekend. I was just so lucky!
That was more than half my lifetime ago now, and I still marvel at the Disney Princess naivety with which I stumbled into my writing career in the 1990s. Luck played an undeniable part: right time, right place. But I’d already done the hard bit – written a full-length book – before it surfaced in that slush pile. For me, getting published was enviably easy. My first few books were big best-sellers. I had no idea of the knock backs and soul-searching that would come further along the road. Staying published twenty-seven years later, now that’s taken a lot more blood, sweat and tears…
Yet writing Country Lovers reminded me exactly why I love this job so much, and why I can’t imagine doing anything else.
How do you discipline yourself to do it?
Ask me this, and I’ll tell you I sit alone in a room with my imagination for most of the day, most of the year, at the end of which a book pops out.
The truth is I procrastinate endlessly. I talk to the dogs, I wander around my office, I play the ukulele I keep on a stand on my desk, I shout at myself, I look up my reviews on Amazon, then everyone else’s reviews on Amazon. I type sentences then delete them. I look at the clock a lot. I make countless cups of coffee most of which get ignored go cold. If I do drink them, I need to get up to go to the loo a lot. I think, think, think about my plot and the characters.
Then suddenly, from nowhere, I’m through the door to my imaginary world and I can’t type fast enough. A thousand words, three, five. Oh hell, I’m on a roll and I need to do the school run. I try to keep in my head what’s going to happen next, the loon mum waiting in her car with the two pairs of reading glasses on her head, muttering repeatedly to herself.
Back at my desk, children abandoned elsewhere in the house, I write on, Seven thousand words, eight. I don’t look at the clock at all. Long-suffering partner makes supper. I appear briefly, thinking about the book all the time, disappear back into my study and tell him I’ll be up to bed in a minute. Ten thousand words, eleven.
At three in the morning, I go to bed, knowing I must sleep. I think about the book until I drift off. My eyes snap open five hours later, still thinking about it, and I rush back to my desk.
It really does happen like that sometimes.
Writing Country Lovers was like that.
Where do you get your ideas from?
To which, I laugh gaily laugh and say ‘they’re all around us – just look and listen! I find stories every day in the news, at the school gate, overheard in the train, meeting friends for coffee. It’s limiting the ideas I have trouble with.’ Stock answer, and absolutely true.
When I set out to write Country Lovers I was all-too-aware that it’s my eighteenth full-length novel, on top of which I’ve written countless short stories, some nearer novella length. My novels are big – 600 plus page full-week-on-a-sun-lounger big – and full of multiple strands. I could make at least three smaller novels out of one of them (a friend once joked ‘you put absolutely every plot idea you’ve had in each one because you’re frightened you might never get to write another!’).
That’s a lot of ideas. I genuinely never run out of them, but I do worry I’m going to repeat myself.
Country Lovers might have a setting I’ve used before and a few favourite characters returning in it, but the central story is one I’ve never explored: what would happen if you met your perfect match on the worst night of your life?
I hope the only thing that repeats itself is that incredible luck I had twenty-seven years ago.
Fiona Walker, Oct 2019
Fiona Walker is the author of eighteen novels, from tales of flat-shares and clubbing in nineties London to today’s romping, rural romances set amid shires, spires and stiles. In a career spanning over two decades, she’s grown up alongside her readers, never losing her wickedly well-observed take on life, lust and the British in love. She lives in Warwickshire, sharing a slice of Shakespeare Country with her partner, their two daughters and a menagerie of animals.
Two years ago, Ben Fenton went camping with his brother Leo. It was the last time they ever saw each other. By the end of that fateful trip, Leo had disappeared, and Ben had been arrested for his murder.
Ben’s wife Ana has always protested his innocence. Now, on the hottest day of 2018’s sweltering heatwave, she receives a phone call from the police. Leo’s body has been found, in a freshly dug grave in her own local churchyard. How did it get there? Who really killed him?
St Albans police, led by DCI Jansen, are soon unpicking a web of lies that shimmers beneath the surface of Ana’s well-kept village. But as tensions mount, and the tight-knit community begins to unravel, Ana realises that if she wants to absolve her husband, she must unearth the truth alone.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The second book featuring Dutch detective DCI Jansen, who finds himself mystified by the close-knit English village community. It seems no one believes in plain-speaking, preferring closing ranks, and relying on innuendos.
The story is a sad one. Two brothers take a camping trip two years earlier. One is presumed dead, the other convicted of murder, but is it that simple. Ana, the accused brother’s partner. believes not. She has no chance of proving this until the missing brother’s body is found buried in the village. Now, his brother can’t be the murderer. DCI Jansen has to find the real killer, but although gossip is rife in the village, there is nothing of substance, and everyone is keeping secrets.
DCI Jansensuffers a personal tragedy, which he has to conquer, to stop his emotional state having a detrimental effect on the case. Ana wants to help her partner but doesn’t want to reveal what she knows. She feels threatened, and the suspense and menacing ethos surrounding her are well-written.
There is a strong psychological element to this story, particularly from Ana’s perspective, as events from her past invade her present situation. Events are revealed, from Leo’s point of view, in the past, and Ana, Ben and DCI Jansen’s points of view, in the present. The two timelines create dramatic irony, the reader knowing things the characters don’t at that time.
Scene setting and character dynamics form the first part of the book, this slows the pace, but the short chapters and active voice, keep the story moving satisfactorily, ensuring reader engagement.There are several viable suspects, and even though you may guess who did it, early on in the story, there are plenty of smoke and mirrors. to make you doubt it.
Clever twists and a final reveal, make this a good story, with its solid police procedural theme tempered with psychological suspense.
Rachael Blok grew up in Durham and studied Literature at Warwick University. She taught English at a London Comprehensive and is now a full-time writer living in Hertfordshire with her husband and children.
Guest Post- Rachael Blok – ‘The Scorched Earth’, and Ana: where she came from.
The Scorched Earth has a number of different voices, but my protagonist is Ana, a woman struggling with grief as her partner is in jail, and then ghosts from her past emerge: she begins to hear footsteps behind her in a car park late and night; she begins to look over her shoulder… Ana’s experiences are both ideas I’ve wanted to write about for a while. It was a pleasure to see her come to life on paper.
Women are told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if they’re being attacked…
As a woman, I’ve felt on more than one occasion a burst of fear walking home in the dark, or walking into a car park late a night. My mum, my sister and I all took a self-defence course years ago, and we were told to shout ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’ if we’re attacked – people respond more if their property is threatened! I have no answer for this, but I find it terrifying. This fear resonates in the novel and I think, it’s fear men and women should both be aware of. I always tell my husband that if he’s walking behind a woman on her own, late at night, he should drop back – make sure she doesn’t have to look over her shoulder or be concerned about a threat. And the very real issue of stalking is taken more seriously now than it has been in the past, but there is still some way to go. When relationships break down and men find it hard to let women go, it can be a very scary time, and women find it difficult to get concerns taken seriously, often until after an attack.
They locked him up, but they locked her up, too…
Whilst researching the novel, I spent some time in prison,
which is not at all like I imagined! My main experience had been from movies
and the TV. I found the reality much scarier. I saw homemade weapons; I heard
stories of attacks on officers and other prisoners; I spoke to many different
people from all aspects of prison life, and it was such an eye-opener. I think
as a society we lock people away in all respects – there’s a sense of being
forgotten, completely. Women whose partners are in jail spoke of the shame, and
also the halted grief – they miss their partners, but can’t grieve for them,
they can’t move on. This grief is something Ana wrestles with, and I hope I’ve
done it justice.
The prison scenes almost wrote themselves after I’d visited. Even the smell is distinct. My prison officer guides me into the contraband room, where they keep the confiscated drugs. Spice is the drug they have the most problems with at the moment, which is synthetic cannabis. It’s smuggled into the prisons in all sorts of ways. One of the ways is through books and magazines. The pages are soaked in the spice, and so prisons have to scan all books now. So many ideas for plots!
It’s been a pleasure to write the guest blog and thanks to Jane Hunt for giving me the opportunity to mull over the ideas for the novel. I hope you enjoy The Scorched Earth!
‘Fear the north wind. Because no one will hear you scream…’
A family is gunned down in the snow but one of the children survives. Three years on, that child takes revenge and the Snow Killer is born. But then, nothing – no further crimes are committed, and the case goes cold.
Fifty years later, has the urge to kill been reawakened? As murder follows murder, the detective team tasked with solving the crimes struggle with the lack of leads. It’s a race against time and the weather – each time it snows another person dies.
As an exhausted and grizzled DI Barton and his team scrabble to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the killer is hiding in plain sight. Meanwhile, the murders continue…
The first in a new series, Ross Greenwood has written a cracking, crackling crime story with a twist in its tale which will surprise even the most hardened thriller readers.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A medley of crime genres expertly woven by the author into a fast-paced, intriguing thriller which focuses on the Snow Killer who appears to be killing again fifty years after the first snow killing.
The story is told from two points of view. The killer’s which is compelling, immersive and poignant and in keeping with the unreliable protagonist of a psychological thriller. The second point of view is Detective Inspector Barton’s this is in the third person and follows the accepted line of a contemporary police procedural.
The setting for the story is Peterborough, characterised by its relative remoteness for a cathedral city, in the rural heart of east England. The difference between Peterborough fifty years ago and now is marked. Well described, the area provides a perfect backdrop for the events its stages.
The cast of characters is varied and the characters are believable. Notably, the lead detective is an ordinary man, with a family. This makes the contrast between the detective and the killer greater. The plot has clues and twists aplenty and a final twist, which is unexpected and cleverly done.
The first book in a new series, it is hoped that the mix of genres continues with the skill, success and succinctness demonstrated here.
The Snow Killer – Ross Greenwood – Extract
50 YEARS AGO
I must have been ten years
old when I first tidied up his drug paraphernalia. I didn’t want my sister
crawling over it. We called her Special – a take on Michelle – because she was
an enigma. Special was a term of endearment for us, funny how nowadays it could
be considered an insult. She never spoke a single word and seemed more of a
peaceful spirit than a physical entity. Give her a crayon or pencil and a piece
of paper, though, and her smile filled the room.
I monitored my father’s habit through his
mood swings or by how much time he spent in bed. The foil and needles increased
rapidly just before we escaped London a few years back. I cried because both my
parents left evidence of their addiction.
In many ways, my mother was as simple as
Special. Swayed by my dominant father, she did everything he said, even though
she had more common sense. Joining him in his heroin habit was inevitable.
Until the night we left, we took holidays and
ate out in restaurants. I didn’t know where the money came from because I had
no idea what my father did.
The evening we fled London, we packed our
suitcases at ten at night and caught the last train to Peterborough, arriving
at two in the morning. I recall beaming at my parents, especially when we
checked into a huge hotel on the first night. My mum’s brother, Ronnie, lived
nearby. When we eventually found him, he helped us move into a cottage in rural
Lincolnshire, which was cheap for obvious reasons. The single storey building
had five rooms and no internal doors. You could hear everything from any room –
even the toilet.
Six months after we settled in our new home,
I lay in the damp bed with my sister’s warm breath on my neck and heard my
father casually say he’d shot the wrong man. The fact my mother wasn’t
surprised shocked me more.
Life carried on. My parents continued to
avoid reality. We ate a lot of sandwiches. Lincolnshire is only two hours north
of London but it felt like the edge of the world after the hustle and bustle of
the capital city. I walked the three miles to school. Special stayed at home
where she painted and coloured. My mum sold Special’s pictures. She drew people
and animals in a childish way, but they captivated people as the eyes in the
pictures haunted the viewer.
One freezing night, my sister and I cuddled
in bed and listened to another argument raging in the lounge. We had our own
beds but only ever slept apart in the hot summer months. At six years old, she
didn’t take up much room.
‘You did what?’ my mother shouted.
‘I saw an opportunity,’ my father replied.
‘What were you thinking?’
‘We’re broke. We needed the money.’
‘What you’ve done is put our family in
danger. They’ll find us.’
‘They won’t think I took it.’
I might have been only fifteen years old, but
I had eyes and ears. My parents constantly talked about money and drugs. By
then, that was all they were interested in. That said, I don’t recall being
unhappy, despite their problems. Normal life just wasn’t for them.
My mother’s voice became a loud, worried
whisper. ‘What if they come for the money? The children are here.’
‘They won’t hurt them,’ my father said.
A hand slammed on the kitchen table. ‘We need
‘It’s three in the morning and snowing. No
one will look now. Besides, where would we go?’
‘We’re rich! We can stay where we like.’
Crazily, they laughed. I suppose that’s why
they loved each other. They were both the same kind of mad.
That was the sixties and a different time.
Not everyone spent their lives within earshot of a busy road. In fact, few people
owned their own car. If you’ve ever lived deep in the countryside, you’ll know
how quiet the long nights are. So it makes sense that I could hear the
approaching vehicle for miles before it arrived. The put-put-put we gradually
heard in unison that night sounded too regular for it to be my uncle’s ancient
van. And anyway, good news doesn’t arrive in the middle of the night.
Guest Post – Ross Greenwood‘s Interesting Facts
books that influenced me.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It contains the ultimate twist. I felt diddled in such an amazing way that I’ll never forget the smile on my face as I put the book down.
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. It felt like reading a book that someone had just spewed out. He didn’t care what people thought, or anything of style or standards. This was his book and that’s how it was. The criminal antics were so realistic but told with black humour. The first publisher he sent it to picked it up, which must have been lovely for Mr Welsh. 😊.
songs that influenced me
I only really listen to music in the car. I need silence to write; someone eating an apple in the lounge two rooms away unsettles me. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor was one of the first songs I bought. I used to go jogging with it playing on one of those old personal stereos. I’m not built for jogging, so it was hugely motivational. When I hear it now, I still think of the batteries and me dying near the end of each run.
The other, oddly, is Barbie Girl by Aqua. At the time it came out, the girl from the video reminded me of my then girlfriend. She was a pretty, ditzy, unsuitable girl, and we used to joke it was our song. We sadly broke up (I was sad) and then I had to listen to the song every time I turned on the radio for the next 6 months. Excellent. That was 25 years ago. When I hear it now, I remember a young man living life and having fun.
films that influenced me
Shawshank is hardly original but I love it. There’s a flow and rhythm to it that I try and emulate in my writing. It’s a hard film about prison. If it’s done beautifully, I can watch and read anything.
Empire Strikes Back is the first film I remember seeing at the movies. I was 7. I can still remember my eyes bulging at the massive screen as the first AT AT’s came into view.
people who inspired me.
Nelson Mandela is influential to many people but it wasn’t until I visited Robben Island where they imprisoned him that I realised he was something incredible. He was kept for so long in such terrible conditions, literally breaking rocks with a small hammer in a sunburned courtyard, that it would have been understandable if he’d been bitter and vengeful. Instead, he was the reverse. His story is so inspiring.
The second person is my dad. Slightly cheesy, but it’s not for anything outstanding. It’s his approach to life. He’s 80 now, and looks to enjoy his days and get on with things, and always has. I remember buying a house which needed completely repainting. The first day, I stood in the lounge with a brush in my hand and thought, ‘Oh my God’. He bent down next to me, picked up a tin and a roller, climbed the ladder, and began to paint the ceiling. Admittedly, we ruined the carpet. But that sense of getting-on-with-things was stirring. Many years later, when I felt I had a story to tell, I remembered that day.
So, I sat at my desk, picked up my pen, and began to write.
Ross Greenwood, an author from Peterborough, has written six crime thrillers. He uses his experience of travelling and working all over the world to create layered believable characters that will capture your imagination. In 2011, Ross decided to take on a new challenge and became a prison officer. He writes murderers, rapists and thieves brilliantly because he worked with them every day for four years.
Popular lifestyle blogger, Libby Cartwright, is being boggled by business when help shows up in the shape of gorgeous but shy, Charlie Richmond. Libby’s determined to keep it at ‘just good friends’ – she’s dated someone from ‘Corporate Land’ before and it didn’t end well. As she and Charlie begin spending more time together, Libby is starting to waver – until she discovers something which makes her question if she’s ready for love.
Still reeling, she suffers another blow as her blog is attacked in a national newspaper, for promoting unachievable perfection. Libby knows it’s not true – but the only way to prove that is to strip off the armour she’s been wearing for years.
Is she brave enough to show the world she’s far from perfect? And will Charlie be by her side if she does…
‘That’s it! I am totally going to
jail. I’m going to get it wrong, owe thousands, not be able to pay, and go to
jail!’ I flung myself backwards with an overly dramatic sigh and lay sprawled
on the paperwork I had been looking at. ‘And seriously? Me in an orange
jumpsuit? I don’t care how on trend they are; I could never pull that off!
Orange is so not my colour.’
Amy topped up her wine glass before reaching a hand down to
grab my arm, tugging me in the direction of the sofa. I slid along the floor
for a few moments in my prone position, like some sort of beached, four-legged
starfish, until I eventually bumped into the furniture.
‘I think that’s more America, hon,’ she said, yanking me
upwards. ‘I’m not sure what ours are like. Something much more subtle, I
expect. And don’t worry. I’ll hide a file inside the first cake I bring you.
You’ll be out in no time.’
I paused in my clambering from the floor onto the sofa, and
gave her a look. She made a sawing motion with one hand, accompanied by an
over-exaggerated wink as she held out my wine glass. Flopping onto the couch, I
took the glass and swigged a large mouthful, before laying my head back onto
the soft cushions.
‘Seriously though. I really don’t know what I’m doing with
this. I thought I was handling all this business stuff OK until now.’
‘And you are!’ Amy interjected. ‘Your blog is doing
amazingly well! I can’t believe the difference in a year – it’s incredible!
Seriously, Libs, you should really be proud of yourself.’
I sighed. ‘Thanks, Ames. And I am, and of Tilly. I couldn’t
have done it without her. But I’m so frustrated! I’ve taken on this insane
learning curve and, for the most part, got the hang of things. I think. But
this?’ I kicked a piece of paper with my bare toes. ‘This, I just cannot get my
head round! Why does tax have to be so bloody complicated? They send you this
stuff so that you are supposedly able to do it yourself, but write it in the
most confusing language possible! How is that even remotely helpful?’
Amy just shook her head and took another sip of wine.
‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘I don’t know. I guess I need to start looking for an
accountant.’ I twiddled the wine glass stem in my hand.
Amy leant over and bumped her head gently on my shoulder.
‘You know; it is OK to ask people for help sometimes. We can’t all be amazing
at everything. Creating all this in such a short space of time is brilliant,
Libby. Finding that you need some extra expertise in one area is perfectly
acceptable, and perfectly normal.’
‘I guess.’ I put the glass down. ‘Before I forget, I have
something for you.’
Immediately, Amy sat up straighter in anticipation and her
eyes watched me as I crossed to the other side of the room and picked up a
small, but fancy, cardboard bag with intricately twisted rope handles and a
swirly script logo on the side. Walking back over to the sofa, I plopped the
bag down on Amy’s lap.
‘Did I ever tell you that going for it with this lifestyle
blog business is the best thing that you’ve ever done?’
I laughed. ‘You just like the freebies.’
‘True,’ Amy agreed, before letting out an ‘ooh’ of pleasure
at the eyeshadow palette and perfume she’d just pulled out of the bag.
‘But thanks anyway.’
time. Oh!’ Amy’s eyes shone like those of a child who’d just won pass the
parcel. ‘Really? I can have this?’ Without waiting for confirmation, Amy began
excitedly spritzing the exclusive new perfume copiously on pretty much every
pulse point she could reach, including mine.
I lifted my wrist up to take another waft of the fragrance. It really was
gorgeous. I smiled as my friend rummaged in the bag, unwrapping the various
goodies from their pretty tissue-paper packaging. The cosmetic companies often
sent more samples than I could possibly use so I always made sure my assistant got
some to review and regularly ran giveaways on the blog, as a thank you to my
readers. But occasionally I still had extra goodies left over. Amy always loved
a good freebie so when I had something spare, it meant I got to make my best
As the fumes of Amy’s fragrance enthusiasm began getting a
little pungent, I pushed myself up and padded over to the doors that led out
onto the balcony. Grabbing the handle, I slid the door to the side.
Immediately, a warm breeze rushed in from the sea, dissipating the perfume, and
bringing with it the screech of seagulls intertwined with chatter and laughter
from the nearby bars and restaurants in the marina. I stepped out, grabbing a
wide-brimmed, slightly battered straw hat off the nearby console table, and took
a seat on one of the two wooden steamer chairs that resided on my balcony. Amy
followed me out, wine glass in hand, the gift bag now swinging off her wrist.
If I was honest, the furniture was a squeeze and a trendy
little bistro set would have been a better, more sensible option. I’d made the
classic mistake of ‘guesstimating’ that they would fit perfectly on the
balcony. They didn’t and I’d ended up building them in situ like some sort of
furniture Jenga, which had proved to be the only way of getting them both to
fit on there. But I loved them. I didn’t want a trendy little bistro set. The
loungers were super comfy with full-length padded cushions, and reclined just
enough without touching the glass. I could sit out here and read in comfort,
watching the boats sway and bob gently in the marina, listening as the sound of
waves bumping against the harbour wall carried across the water. Even in
winter, when the wind howled and the sea reared up before crashing down
forcefully onto the nearby beach, I would happily sit out here, wrapped up
against the cold, just absorbing it all.
There was definitely no need for coats and scarves this
evening. It seemed that spring had decisively handed off the baton early to
summer and the new season was away and running. The evening was warm and the
breeze soft as Amy and I, now having inelegantly climbed onto our respective
loungers, sat back and sighed happily.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
A lovely, slow to ignite friends to lovers and opposites attract romance, in a contemporary setting. Libby is a lifestyle blogger, whose popularity is now making her serious money. Worried about tax issues she eagerly accepts Charle, a friend of a friend’s offer to look over her accounts, She is accident-prone, bubbly and creative, the antithesis of Charlie who is climbing up the corporate ladder and is introverted,
Mutual attraction, proximity. and an unanswered need for someone special in their lives draws the couple together. Firstly into friendship and after much ado, romance. Both are reticent about commitment and their self-worth making them more alike than they first appear.
Libby experiences some of the negative aspects of celebrity status and social media and wants to prove that her blog is a true reflection of her and not a facsimile. Doing this is risky both from a business point of view and personally, and she wonders if people will like the true Libby, with #NoFilter.
This story has a likeable rom-com element and complex realistic protagonists. The romance is very slow-paced. which some will find frustrating.
There is also a message about the power of social media, and how it affects those who live their lives on it. There is a significant move away now, from unrealistic and negative media portrayals of self-image, especially for the young. Maybe its time for us to be more circumspect about what we share of our lives, and not try and constantly strive for an unrealistic ideal, that is probably not even real anyway?
A gently romantic, thought-provoking read.
Guest Post – Inspiration for #No Filter – Maxine Morrey
I wasn’t an early embracer of the whole social media scene. I joined Twitter to see what it was about but didn’t really use it, barely going on it. Facebook had never had any appeal for me, but writing full time meant having a ‘business’ presence on there was kind of required.
Instagram, however, was a different matter for me.
As a photography fan, this platform appealed as a place to share and view
interesting pictures, and perhaps connect with others who shared similar interests.
It still took me a while, joining four years after its launch. But it was really
about the opportunity to practice photography skills and share them. I wasn’t
bothered about the Like count. It was just fun. And I think this was true of a
lot of users at this time. That was the point – just having fun.
But somewhere along the line, things seem to have become a bit skewed. And there are times when it’s not fun at all– in fact, it’s the very opposite. Some users are experiencing a lack of self-worth, jealousy, violence, self-harm and heartbreakingly, even suicide. It was actually this side of things that gave me the inspiration for the book that would become #NoFilter.
Bearing in mind I write romcoms, I can see that this isn’t exactly what people would call a perfect match. But this is what many people miss about the romance genre – especially the critics, the majority of whom have never even dipped a toe into the scene before dismissing it as unworthy of their, or anyone else’s attention. Many romcoms and romances tackle subjects which are quite serious, but they do it in a way that makes it accessible, and relatable. Yes, my books have a non-negotiable happy ending but that doesn’t mean the characters have led Pollyanna lifestyles. There’s more to these books than meet the eye if people bother to look.
The spark for #NoFilter was reading a report about the increase in reports of self-harm since the advent of social media, and how the growth of the two correlated. This was both shocking and saddening. We’ve all heard of cyberbullying and trolling and how intrusive that can be, especially to school-age children. Once our home was a sanctuary away from the school bullies. Now, unless you’re offline entirely – something that seems almost impossible, if not anathema to a generation who were practically born with a mobile phone in their hand – it’s very hard to get away from.
But it’s not just others who bully. And you certainly don’t have to be of school age to be a victim. Sometimes the biggest bully is the one inside our head, and unfortunately, social media, especially the image focused channels have only given these more power. These problems are not exclusively female either. Men are certainly not immune to doubting their self-worth, but there has always been an added pressure on women when it comes to how they present themselves and how others perceive them.
Once it was the glossy magazines being berated for presenting aspirational images impossible to actually achieve. Not because there aren’t women just as stylish, intelligent and beautiful out there. But because the images laid in front of us weren’t genuine. The real person- a model, a woman already been singled out for her aesthetically pleasing appearance – has been made up, dressed and photographed in the most flattering way possible. And then begins hours of photo editing. In some cases, four or five different women are amalgamated to make one ‘perfect’ one. No wonder we feel like we’re not good enough – the image we’re aspiring to sometimes isn’t even one person! Even children aren’t immune from the photo editing suite – what sort of message that sends, I hate to contemplate.
So, battling against these perfect images on the
newsstand was bad enough but in the back of our minds, many of us knew these
were tweaked and toned and literally, perfected. But somehow, when it comes to
social media, we seem to forget. All of a sudden there are these ‘normal’ women
– not movie stars, or models – just regular women looking absolutely flawless.
And that seems a lot more real than the glossy magazines. Which is a lot more
The truth is a vast majority of the images on Instagram are not real. They’re just as fake as the magazines. The amount of photo editing apps available is staggering, with an enormous number dedicated specifically to selfies. It’s basically plastic surgery for your photograph and it can get addictive. When selfies are continuously filtered and edited, they are a representation of that person – but most certainly not that person. However, as we scroll through, seeing one perfect face and body after another, that logic doesn’t always make it through and instead, our own self-worth takes a mental pounding. That’s the danger and it’s only getting worse.
Social media is not a bad thing. It’s supposed to be
fun, and it can be. It can also be supportive. Being a writer is a very
solitary job, but social media has enabled me to be in contact with others in
the same position and being able to gain and give support via these platforms
is brilliant. The same goes for hobbies – you might not know anyone in your
‘real’ life that finds the same things as you interesting but social media
enables you to find a community and I know people who have made long and strong
friendships via it. It’s not evil. But it does need to be used with caution.
No one is perfect. But you are perfect as you are. If there’s anything that’s making you doubt that, then it may be time to do a bit of detoxing. Accounts that make you question your self-worth need to go. Press that unfollow and feel the pressure lift. Find the next one and do the same, and the next.
Replace these accounts with others that don’t adhere
to the editing obsession and instead bring you joy. They’re just as interesting
and encourage a world and a belief that is far, far more
Maxine Morrey is a bestselling romantic comedy author with eight books to her name including Winter’s Fairytale and the top ten hit The Christmas Project. She lives in West Sussex. Her first novel for Boldwood, #No Filter, will be published in November 2019.
This Christmas fall in love
with the town of Chesterwood…
Christmas is meant to be a time of giving, so with Chesterwood food bank
under risk of closure Fern knows just what to do to save it. She’s going to get
the town to create a living advent calendar.
Fern and her best friends call for help from the local community to bring this calendar to life. When Kit, the new man in town, offers his assistance Fern’s heart can’t help but skip a beat (or two).
As they grow ever closer, Fern must admit that Kit’s breaking down the barriers she built after the death of her husband. But his past is holding him back and Fern doesn’t know how to reach him. No matter how hard she tries.
In this town, Kit’s not the only one with secrets. Domestic goddess Cara
is behaving oddly, burning meals in the oven and clothes whilst ironing, and
Davina’s perfect children are causing trouble at school leaving her son,
Jasper, desperately unhappy.
Can the Christmas Calendar Girls find a way to bring the community
together in time to save the food bank, while still supporting their families
and each other? Can Fern find love again with Kit?
This is a story about kindness and letting go of the past. It’s about looking out for your neighbours and about making every day feel like Christmas.
I received a copyof this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
I love Christmas. December 1st, out come the Christmas decorations, and all the lovely memories of Christmases gone by. I always appreciate how lovely it is to have my family around me, but realise for many, this time is particularly devastating.
This story highlights many contemporary social issues, families in poverty, homelessness and addiction. Whilst these are prevalent at all times of the year, they are more noticeable during the festive period when the divide between the have and the have nots is more acute.
The ethos of this story is emotional and heartwarming, and it shows how communities coming together can embody the true meaning of Christmas.It is a story of friendship, women supporting each other and gives hope that with the right support, even the hardest problems can be overcome.
Fern, Davina and Cara are complex characters, bound together by the friendship, through their children. Each has a story, and sometimes things are not what they first appear, but their friendship is what motivates them through the difficult times.
Kit is an enigma, kind, generous with his time, but closed off, with high emotional boundary walls. He helps Fern, start to live again, but is she asking for something he cannot give?
This is wonderfully festive, full of community spirit, but also realistic, not everyone wants to help, some would rather look the other way. The women’s friendship is believable and uplifting, and the conflicted romance between Fern and Kit is heartwarming. There are also lots of lighter moments, which balance out the angst, making this a lovely book to read to get you in the festive mood.
Guest Post- Samantha Tonge – The Christmas Calendar Girls
What is the inspiration behind the
character of Kit?
Jason Momoa. If I was feeling lazy, those two words alone could answer that question. However, it’s not quite that simple. Relatable and realistic character-building is a complex process. I’ve had 12 books published now and people from my real life, celebrities, or themes have inspired the creation of my leading men…. but there is one aspect they all have in common: there is a lot more to them than being handsome.
I first came across Jason Momoa whilst watching Game of Thrones. He didn’t catch my eye. I found the character he played, unappealing. As a woman and writer, that’s one thing I find fascinating about sexual attraction. Time after time personality wins the day, despite society’s current obsession with perfect looks and selfies. A six-pack can swiftly seem less hot if it belongs to a man who is unkind or full of ego. Vice versa, a person who initially looks less sexy on the surface can become irresistible if they have a cheeky sense of humour or generous, caring nature.
As time passed, I saw real-life clips of Jason Momoa online. He revealed a hilarious side, wearing girls’ hair bobbles for example (look out for one scene in my story!). He appears to be a very loving father and husband and doesn’t care what other people think – despite his professional macho reputation, he wore a dusty-pink suit and matching hair scrunchie to the 2019 Oscars. Plus he’s a man of principle and heart and recently announced he might have to delay filming Aquaman 2 until he has finished taking part in ongoing protests in his birth country, Hawaii, against a construction site on a sacred mountain.
I don’t know him personally. Who knows what any celebrity is like in real life? But I’ve built a picture of the Jason Momoa I’ve seen through the media and it’s a seductive one, muscles and bedroom hair aside.
From a physical point of view, it was his bare-chested, marine character in Aquaman that first caught my attention – after all, I am a red-blooded woman! He’s tall, with wild chestnut hair and eyes full of humour… just like Kit. But those appealing traits are transient. They don’t have staying power. Not unless there is something more meaningful to make a man stand out.
It was the softer side I’d seen of the actor, online, that really inspired the character of gorgeous six foot five, bearded Kit who has overcome personal challenges; who is a loyal friend who’ll step out of his comfort zone to help those less fortunate than himself. He’s sensitive and empathetic and has a great sense of humour. He’s different from the crowd and also oblivious to the many crushes he inspires in the school playground.
I’m very fond of Kit, as I am of The Christmas Calendar Girls Fern, Cara and Davina. I hope readers enjoy their story as much as I’ve loved writing it.
Samantha Tonge lives in Manchester UK with her husband and
children. She studied German and French at university and has worked abroad,
including a stint at Disneyland Paris. She has travelled widely.
When not writing she passes her days cycling,
baking and drinking coffee. Samantha has sold many dozens of short stories to
She is represented by the Darley Anderson
literary agency. In 2013, she landed a publishing deal for romantic comedy
fiction with HQDigital at HarperCollins and in 2014, her bestselling debut,
Doubting Abbey, was shortlisted for the Festival of Romantic Fiction best Ebook
award. In 2015 her summer novel, Game of Scones, hit #5 in the UK Kindle chart
and won the Love Stories Awards Best Romantic Ebook category. In 2018 Forgive
Me Not, heralded a new direction into darker women’s fiction with publisher
Canelo. In 2019 she was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association
romantic comedy award
A witty and acerbic novel for our times about corporate greed, the hubris of bankers, contradictions of the clean energy economy and their unintended consequences on everyday people. Finance, environmentalism, rare-earth mining and human frailties collide in a complex of flawed motives. We follow Peter Mount, the self-made Chief Executive of a London-based rare-earth mining company as he and his business are buffeted by crisis-torn Royal Bank of Scotland and by his own actions, real and imagined. Meanwhile, in Oregon, Amy Tate and her group of local environmental activists do their contradictory part to undermine a component of the green economy, unwittingly super-charged by the Chinese state. The repercussions of events in pristine Oregon are felt in the corporate and financial corridors of New York and London with drastic consequences. This is a deeply involving novel about the current workings of capitalism, miscommunication, causes and unexpected effects, love and survival.
Another book, I would love to have read and reviewed, but sadly I did not have time, so sharing an amusing guest post from the author here instead:
Guest Post- Keith Carter-The Umbrella Men
How I came to publish my first novel – aged 60
I’m terrible at parties; I can’t ‘circulate’. It just seems so rude to change conversational groups: you must either slope off hoping no-one will notice, which is unlikely, or make an excuse – and mine always come out sounding like ‘I’ve just seen someone more interesting than you, so am off to talk with them instead’. So I normally end up stuck, talking to the dullest person at the party, the socially abler people (which is everyone else) having successfully ‘circulated’ away.
Oh, hang on – maybe that means I am the dullest person at the party…
So I’m going to let you in on a secret of mine. Call it Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness. It’s got me through many potentially disastrous situations of this sort, and states that: Everyone, including the dullest person in the room, knows something that you don’t. Make it your task is to find out what it is, and you won’t be bored. This works because
You might learn something, always a good thing and
You will end up talking with someone about the one topic on which they are an expert: themselves.
Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness is based on the commonly-held belief that ‘everyone has a book in them’. Fortunately, perhaps, most of these books will never be written. People have neither the skills nor the time. The Umbrella Men, my first novel, was written because suddenly I did have the time.
I made myself redundant. No, that sounds like I had more say in the matter than was the case; I was forced to make myself redundant. And the circumstances of it made me angry, which – with an associated need for catharsis – gave me the motivation as well as the opportunity to write the book.
My enforced self-redundancy was the consequence of a corporate loan taken out with a major bank in 2007, just before all the Lehman Brothers stuff kicked off. The long story is fictionalised The Umbrella Men; to cut it short, the bank was going rapidly and spectacularly bust and turned on its small business clients in a vain attempt at repairing its balance sheet. In the resulting chaos, companies went bust, people lost their livelihoods, marriages failed, suicides were contemplated. As CEO of one of these small bullied borrowers the buck stopped with me, so the solution involved my asking myself to leave the company.
That I, as a taxpayer, was then forced to play my part in saving that same bank, and that not a single senior banker faced criminal charges anywhere for this trillion-dollar global banker bail-out – only heightened my need to get this story out of me and onto the page.
Maybe I have your sympathy now; if so, here’s how to lose it: I was a banker myself once. It was a long time ago and I was a lot younger… The reason I am ’fessing up in this way is that this part of my history gives me an unusual (for an author) perspective on the banking scandal and the motivations – business and otherwise – that caused it. In other words, The Umbrella Men is informative as well as entertaining.
The job I was forced out of was a full-on 12-hours-a-day affair, so it left quite a hole. Like many people, I spent most of my working time in front of a computer screen. Diverting a good few of those newly-available 12 screen hours to writing was a good way of getting out from under my wife’s feet, and splendidly cathartic. I wrote in the basement at home, in cafés and bars, on a boat, on trains – wherever I was and could take my laptop. All the things I would dearly have loved to do to various bankers were suddenly in my power – albeit via a keyboard, not a baseball bat.
I’d like to say that I quickly hammered The Umbrella Men out in a few weeks, then, as a man with a burden lifted from his shoulders, skipped off to another project with a song on my lips. Far from it. It took years. There were loads of ‘excellent’ drafting and style ideas along the way, few of which survived the scrutiny of the morning-after reread. The fact that I am a slow and inaccurate typist doesn’t help; it does, however, fit perfectly with my inability to form a coherent sentence or find, for want of a better word, le mot juste first time around.
So, to those of you convinced that you have a book in you I say this: Carter’s First Law of Social Awkwardness says that you almost certainly have. Write it! All you need is the time and a whole load of pent-up emotion.
Keith Carter was born in Scotland to a Dutch mother and British father. He read Economics at Cambridge, taking a First in 1981 when he was elected a Scholar – too late to enjoy the privilege of walking on the grass. He worked as an investment banker before going straight and running a small pharmaceutical company. He is now a writer and business consultant and lives in East London with his daughters. He enjoys travel, politics and economics, reading and writing, languages, music, the English Lake District, sailing of all kinds and meals with family and friends. Keith suffered a spinal cord injury in March 2018 and since rides a wheelchair.
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
What appeals about this story is its commitment and honesty. Georgina is a relatable, remarkable, yet ruthless character, who you would want on your side. Her love for her family and friends shines through, even though she commits and sanctions unspeakable acts as the head of a south London crime gang in the 1930s.
When her newly acquired gangland empire is under threat from men who think she should know her place, she only has one response; be better than them, and fight back. She symbolises the female fight for equality. The crimes are gritty, but the story is one of family, and this is why the protagonists are likeable.
A clever plot with plenty of depth and hidden twists complements the complexcharacters well and makes this a page-turning chapter of a compelling crime series.
Guest Post – Sam Michaels- The Birth of a Ruthless Woman
was born and bred in London and then lived in Surrey, Kent and Hampshire before
moving to Spain four years ago. It was here that I found I had the time to take
up writing. So, after lots of encouragement from my husband and mum, I sat on
my sofa and penned my first novel, Trickster.
probably imagine that living in a sunny climate is inspirational and blissful
for a writer but I doubt it’s anything like you might picture. There’s no
sitting in the sun, sipping sangria and dipping in the pool. It’s impossible to
use my laptop outside because I can’t see the screen. So instead, I sit at my
new desk in my spare bedroom with a ceiling fan on and the shutters closed.
It’s so peaceful and this is where I wrote my second novel, Rivals, the follow
up to Trickster.
a series of five books has been such an interesting journey. Normally, after a
novel is completed and published, the author will leave the characters behind
and move on to the next story. But with mine, I’ve had the wonderful
opportunity to delve deep into Georgina’s Garrett’s life from birth, growing up
and into adulthood. When I’d finished Trickster and started writing Rivals, I
was so excited to meet Georgina again and couldn’t wait to move her character
on through her complex life.
came about as I was driving with my hubby. I remember turning to him and
saying, ‘Georgina Garrett, the birth of a ruthless woman.’ She started off as
just a short single scene in my head – A young woman, beautiful, tough and on
the wrong side of the law. I could see her eyes, hair and the shape of her
body. I knew when she was born and that she’d had many struggles to overcome.
In the scene, Georgina was dressed as a boy and was thieving with her father.
For the rest of the drive with hubby, I blurted out the whole story, from the
day WW1 was declared and the birth of Georgina until she came to rule the
streets of Battersea.
hubby was flabbergasted and so was I – Trickster just needed to be written now.
I began typing, I found Georgina’s character changed slightly. I gave her more
of a heart and made her more caring. After all, I wanted my potential readers
to love her as much as I did! And I found that once the book was finished, I
missed her. So I was keen to get on with writing Rivals and now I’m almost
finished writing the third in the series.
so much more for Georgina to yet experience – and I can’t wait to share it with
you in the coming books!
Sam Michaels lives in Spain with her family and a plethora of animals. Having been writing for years Trickster is her debut novel. FacebookTwitter