Sometimes it’s impossible to part with the things we love the most…
When Amy Ashton’s world came crashing down eleven years ago, she started a collection. Just a little collection, just a few keepsakes of happier times: some honeysuckle to remind herself of the boy she loved, a chipped china bird, an old terracotta pot . . . Things that others might throw away, but to Amy, represent a life that could have been.
Now her house is overflowing with the objects she loves – soon there’ll be no room for Amy at all. But when a family move in next door, a chance discovery unearths a mystery long buried, and Amy’s carefully curated life begins to unravel. If she can find the courage to face her past, might the future she thought she’d lost still be hers for the taking?
Perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things, this exquisitely told, uplifting novel shows us that however hopeless things might feel, beauty can be found in the most unexpected of places.
Eleanor Ray has an MA in English Literature from Edinburgh University and works in marketing. She lives in London with her husband and two young children. Eleanor was inspired to write Everything is Beautiful by the objects her toddler collects and treasures – twigs, empty water bottles and wilting daisies. She is currently working on her next novel.
Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.
War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.
It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.
As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.
With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?
What inspired you to write The Bernicia Chronicles and Fortress of Fury?
As with all of the Bernicia Chronicles, Fortress of Fury is inspired by real historical events that are documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and Bede’s History of the English Church and People. I find an interested event around which I can entwine Beobrand’s (the protagonist) story. In the case of Fortress of Fury, it is the attack on Bebbanburg by Penda of Mercia.
Why does this period in history appeal to you?
Seventh century Britain is a time of great turmoil and the island is like a continent in microcosm with all of its small kingdoms. The Germanic people have settled in the east and are pushing westward, displacing the native Britons. The Angles and Saxons also vie for power with each other, with frequent battles between the warring kingdoms. On top of all of that, two strands of Christianity (the Irish and the Roman) are also seeking to conquer the hearts and minds of the population, and defeat the old gods and superstitious ways of the people.
Conflict is needed to tell good stories, and the seventh century has it in spades.
Northumbria is the setting for Fortress of Fury, why is it the perfect location for the book?
It is the location of the real-life events, of course. But more than that, it has become Beobrand’s adopted home and all of his loved ones now live there. Despite his differences with his king, Northumbria is now Beobrand’s land and he will fight for it and for its people till his dying breath.
How did you research the historical period for this book?
I have done a lot of reading since starting the first book in the series, The Serpent Sword, nearly twenty years ago. So I have a clear feeling of the time and the place of the novels now. As mentioned, I glean what I can from the primary sources and then, as I come across specifics I am not sure on while writing the first draft (like types of tree, food, clothing, names of lesser characters, etc.), I make a note, and then research those details while editing and polishing the draft.
What type of books do you like to read? Why is this?
I like historical fiction, westerns and fantasy and really any good book. Increasingly, I enjoy reading non-fiction, often autobiographies. I think this is because I am drawn to stories of strong characters and by definition, autobiographies give an interesting window into memorable people.
What is the best thing about being a writer? Is there anything you do not like?
I love being able to tell the stories I would like to read, and also hearing from people that my stories have resonated with in some way. This is the ultimate thrill for any writer, I think; to know that your writing has connected and impacted someone.
I dislike how long it takes to finish a novel, then edit it and get it published! And I really hate the feeling of always having pressure to write the next book and to make it better than the last! The struggle is real!
Can you tell us a little about The Bernicia Chronicles series so far? Is there going to be another book in this series?
The first in the series is The Serpent Sword and it takes place in AD633. Beobrand begins as a young man with nothing but a desire to find a place in the world and a strong sword arm. He starts the series searching for his brother and fleeing a dark past. He soon finds himself embroiled in the struggles for the kingdoms of Bernicia and Northumbria.
Over the course of the novels he faces many foes and aligns himself with several lords and kings. He finds and loses love, and is never far from the action. His life is fraught with danger.
By the seventh book, Fortress of Fury, Beobrand is a lord in his own right with land and a warband. And the dangers he faces are more fearsome than ever!
I am currently writing book eight (currently untitled) in the series and I think there will be at least three or four more after that if people keep reading them!
Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters
Weeks after boarding a train to Paris in pursuit of her writing dreams, aspiring novelist Maisie Clark is right back where she started: on the idyllic shores of Port Hewer in Cornwall, luggage in hand and heart filled with anticipation for what lies ahead. Except that nothing seems the same as Maisie left it, from her place among the staff at the hotel Penmarrow to her budding romance with groundskeeper Sidney Daniels, who isn’t quite ready to overlook the painful consequences of her sudden departure.
Losing Sidney would be unbearable, but Maisie can’t help fearing it might be true if the rift between them proves too deep to heal. She knows her feelings for him are unchanged, but whether he feels the same remains to be seen—particularly since she stopped him from expressing them in the first place. And to make matters worse, her position at the Penmarrow has been filled by another, there’s nowhere for her to live in the village, and her savings are finally dwindling to a pathetic number – with her book still unpublished after her startling discovery about the author helping guide her towards success.
But one thing which hasn’t changed is the drama and excitement at the hotel Penmarrow, where the staff is awaiting inspection from the dreaded owner Ms. Claypool. Stirring up trouble in the meantime is the owner’s special guest ‘Mad Ludwig’, an eccentric architect whose demands are definitely driving everyone on the staff a little crazy. And then there’s the hotel’s mysterious new desk manager, whose behavior ignites Maisie’s suspicions and causes her to become entangled in yet another form of intrigue—one that could unwittingly jeopardize the future of the Penmarrow and everyone who works there, unless Maisie can find a way to undo the harm.
With everything that matters to her most at stake this time, Maisie faces her biggest challenges yet…and her deepest question of the heart as she confronts the reason she returned to Cornwall and the Penmarrow in the first place.
Reasons Readers Might Enjoy A Cornish Daisy’s Kiss:Laura Briggs
Thanks so much to Jane for this chance to tell her readers about my newest Cornish romance read. The sixth book to be released in my ‘A Little Hotel in Cornwall’ series, it shakes things up for the main character Maisie in a big way, as her life in the quaint village of Port Hewer takes a different route than the one she knows and loves so well. For this guest post, I wanted to share a few of the reasons why readers might look forward to A Cornish Daisy’s Kiss (and perhaps the other books in the series, if they have yet to read them!). So here goes:
It puts the spotlight on romance
Of course, romance has always been a part of Maisie’s Cornish journey, from the moment she woke from a cycling accident to find a handsome stranger cradling her with a look of concern. A friendship was quickly formed, their potential for ‘something more’ always just beneath the surface—with a few stolen kisses and near misses in between, of course. But this story really puts their relationship center stage, exploring those unspoken emotions and loose ends created by Maisie’s abrupt departure back in book four. It’s a bit messy, a bit angsty, and absolutely nothing like the reunion Maisie pictured…and that’s just their first conversation, the rift between them far wider than Maisie dreamed in her rush to get back from London. But since when did the course of true love ever run smooth?
It has quirky guest characters
This always seems to be a popular aspect of the Little Hotel books: the glamorous, grand, and sometimes eccentric guests who check into the opulent hotel by the sea. Past reader favorites include the celebrity ‘psychic’ hired for the earl’s birthday party in A Spirited Girl in Cornish Shores, and the infamous jewel thief known simply as La Fleur in book four of the series. This time, it’s an architect with an obsessive streak and the hotel’s jet-setting owner Ms. Claypool who are keeping the staff on their toes. And then there’s the new desk clerk Frank, whose covert activities make Maisie fear for the future of the hotel and its employees—and, of course, she’s determined to stop him before disaster ensues.
Another secret is introduced
Longtime readers of the series know that just about everyone seems to be hiding something at the hotel Penmarrow. Be it their real name, their native accent—or something even more out of the ordinary—there’s more than one person on staff pretending to be someone or something they’re not. And when it comes to this latest intrigue, Maisie finds herself curious to have the answer for personal reasons. It’s a matter close to her heart, the very reason she came to Cornwall in the first place…and even though she might not get quite the answer she’s looking for within the pages of this particular novella, it’s all leading up to bigger reveals in the final two installments of the series, and I do hope readers will agree that the answers are worth waiting for.
If you haven’t read the stories in my Cornish romance series yet, I hope you’ll be sure to check them out. Books one through six are available in digital format at Amazon and other major eBook retailers, with book seven now on pre-order.
Laura Briggs is the author of several feel-good romance reads, including the Top 100 Amazon UK seller ‘A Wedding in Cornwall’. She has a fondness for vintage style dresses (especially ones with polka dots), and reads everything from Jane Austen to modern day mysteries. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, caring for her pets, gardening, and seeing the occasional movie or play.
British doctor Lea Holm has come to New York to work in her chosen field of emergency medicine. She loves her new life in this exciting city and can’t wait to get started with her research project. The last thing she needs are distractions.
But then she meets famous actor Ricco Como in her building – a distraction if ever there was one. He’s gorgeous and sweet, and there’s an immediate connection between them. Lea tries to resist temptation, but when he comes to her for help dealing with his steadily worsening migraine she can’t turn away from his plight.
As Ricco’s health takes a turn for the worse, their lives become more and more entwined. But can their growing attraction withstand the strain of his ill health, and can he let Lea be more than just his doctor?
**This novella series contains detailed descriptions of long-term health conditions, cheating and a bereavement.**
The series is set in New York City and was written before COVID-19. It makes no reference to recent events.
Character Interview with Dr Lea Holm By Cecilia Fyre
We had the rare opportunity to catch up with Dr Lea Holm, the new girlfriend of actor Ricco Como. Lea is a doctor at Bellevue Hospital. She’s originally from London, England.
Hi Lea, thanks for agreeing to talk to us. I don’t think you’ve given many interviews like this so far?
No, this is my first, actually. I’m quite nervous.
No need, we won’t ask you anything incriminating. [Lea laughs nervously.] Now, do you want to tell us a little about yourself?
Let’s see. There isn’t much to tell. I recently moved to New York, from London. I work in an ER in the city, and as a researcher on a pain study. That’s why I came to Bellevue Hospital in the first place, to work on that study.
Is this your first time living in Manhattan?
I don’t actually live in Manhattan now, I moved to Queens. This city is insanely expensive, even worse than London! [laughs] My little flat is cute, but even out there it’s expensive. But yes, to answer your question. I’ve never lived in the States before.
So, let’s get to the juicy details, the questions our readers are eagerly awaiting: How did you and Ricco meet?
Well, when I first moved to New York I did live in Manhattan. I knew someone who knew someone who wanted a lodger for a few months. That guy lives in Ricco’s building, and I met Ricco in the hall one day.
Was it love at first sight?
Not really. We had coffee soon afterwards, though. So I guess we at least liked each other.
What is it like being with someone famous? Is it harder than dating normal people?
Oh yeah! [laughs again] It’s a lot harder, because so many people are interested in Ricco’s private life. So we kind of try to stay out of the spotlight, you know? But it’s also hard for other reasons. He works really long hours, and is often away for work. And I work long hours too. So we don’t always see each other as much as we’d like.
I bet that sucks especially. Being with a guy like Ricco and not being able to see him much?
I’m used to people who are passionate about their work. Doctors are like that as well, so we have that in common, which helps, I think. And when we do get to spend time together it’s really special. We try and make the most of it.
Okay, let’s do a few quick-fire questions to close off the interview. One word answers only!
Is Ricco a good kisser?
Who does the dishes, he or you?
The dishwasher! [she claps her hand to her mouth] Sorry that’s two words.
Are you messy or neat?
Ricco – neat. Me – not!
Who gets to choose the TV station, or the Netflix show to watch?
Me! Always, always me! [laughs]
And that’s the end of the interview. Thank you so much for taking the time for us, and all the best to you two!
Lea stepped out of the elevator and heard a weird, humming sound. No, not humming. Purring. Looking around her she spotted a black cat in the crevice under a nearby radiator.
“Hey, who’re you?” she murmured.
Big, green cat eyes stared at her out of the gloom, the jet-black body obscured in the shadows.
“Are you running away?” She crouched down and held out a hand. For a moment the cat looked like it was going to hiss at her. But then it slunk over, belly close to the marble floor. It was still purring.
Truth be told, Lea wasn’t really a cat person. She preferred dogs. Or maybe, in the tiny New York apartments, a cockatiel would be nice. Though this kitty was pretty cute. Its coat was fluffy, and it was a little on the chubby side. Well cared for, certainly. Of course, it would be, in this swanky Little Italy apartment building where the cheapest unit cost well over three million dollars. And whoever the cat belonged to was probably looking for it. So Lea braced herself and picked it up.
The elevator servicing the apartments on this floor was hidden away in a nook at the end of the hallway. As Lea stepped out from that little space now, the cat hanging relaxed in her arms, the door at the opposite end of the hallway opened. A man peered through it. “Carl? Man, if you slipped out, I’ll…sh*t…oh.”
He spotted Lea and opened the door wider. She felt foolish asking since he had pretty much confirmed it. “He yours?” She nodded at the cat in her arms, who had wriggled onto his back, head lolling, looking at her with those weird, slitted eyes.
“Yeah, he is,” the man said. “Little f**ker… sorry.”
She hid her smile as the color rose in his face. “Did he give you the slip?”
He nodded. Lea walked the length of the hallway, taking the opportunity to study him. Brown hair to just over his ears, tousled and standing up in places like he’d just woken up. His eyes were very blue, slightly slanted, and returning her gaze openly. Nice cheekbones that gave his features a certain finesse. He had boyish good looks that could only be helpful in his line of work. He wore a black T-shirt and grey sweatpants, and despite his handsome face, his smile was a little shy and very ordinary. Lea already knew who he was.
Despite what she might have said to Carmine about not caring for the famous people living in his building, now that she found herself face to face with one her heart jumped in her chest and her hands that were still clasping the cat began to sweat.
When she reached him, she held out her arms, uncertain of what to do. He smiled again, then disentangled the furry creature from his cozy spot.
“Thanks a lot.”
Lea returned his smile. “No problem.”
He wrestled for a moment with the cat, who was trying to crawl onto his shoulder. Once the cat had settled, looking very much at home, he extended his hand. “I’m Ricco.”
Lea was about to say, I know, but then decided against it. She shook his hand. “I’m Lea. Nice to meet you.”
Ricco gestured behind himself. “D’you wanna come in for a coffee? Thanks to you my afternoon won’t be wasted looking for this monster now.” He patted the animal, who purred.
Lea shook her head. She could’ve kicked herself. “I’m sorry, I can’t. My shift starts in less than an hour.” She glanced at her watch. She’d rushed out to run some errands she’d forgotten about all week and was running late now.
“Oh, okay… maybe another time.” He seemed disappointed, but Lea found that hard to believe. Why’d he care one way or another?
She banished the cynicism. “Definitely.”
Ricco was still looking at her, and the intensity of his gaze made Lea feel uneasy. He seemed to notice and lowered his eyes, retreating into his doorway. Lea turned to retrace her steps to the door furthest from his.
“See you later,” he said. Lea glanced around and he gave her a one-handed wave. She waved back and began to dig in her bag for the house keys. His door fell shut. Lea inserted her key into her own door, then stopped and glanced back down the corridor. Her heartbeat rather fast and her hands shook. She couldn’t understand why that should be so. She’d never cared a fig about celebrities.
Cecilia Fyre is the pen name of a romance author trying out something new.
She likes sunny, crisp autumn days. Cups of hot cocoa with little marshmallows floating on top. The roaring of the sea. Laughing until your face hurts. The silence when you curl up with a good book.
Her stories are about people. Some of them are strange, some think they’re boring. They all have secrets, they’re all scared sometimes. Cecilia writes about life, about love. About how hard it is to do it right. Usually, there’s a happy ending, or at least there might be one, someday.
But life’s not all sunshine and roses, and that’s why Cecilia tells her stories.
The five novellas are: Book 1 – Heart and the City Book 2 – Unexpected Truth Book 3 – Been There Before Book 4 – Wish The Pain Away Book 5 – A Thousand Little Pieces
*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Giveaway Link above. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will be passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for the fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
Celeste has been running from her past for seven years. But now her past has found her.
For seven years, Celeste has battled her guilt and shame over the tragic events that led to her little brother’s death. But when her high-school boyfriend comes back into her life just as she gains a stalker, she wonders if there’s more to the story than she realized.
Celeste is determined to discover the truth – but she’s about to find out that when you play with fire, you get burned…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This dark and twisty psychological thriller explores the effect of domestic crimes on the victim. Celeste’s past emotional trauma defines her. Cleverly written with a noir ethos and menacing undercurrents it is compelling reading.
The complex plot has many characters and differing timelines. The psychological detail is well- researched and adds to the story’s unpredictability. Its focus is on crimes that are difficult to read about it, but this element is vital to the plot and the action and motivations of the main character.
The story is rich in visual imagery that enhances the characters and events. It resonates and keeps you guessing right to the end.
Q&A with Claire S. Lewis- No Smoke Without Fire.
Thank you so much Jane, for inviting me to Q&A on your wonderful website and for giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts in response to your fascinating and perceptive questions.
No Smoke Without Fire explores humanity’s darker side, how do achieve balance in your plot between noir and lighter moments?
You are so right that No Smoke Without Fire explores the darker side of humanity. At the core of the plot there’s a family tragedy and a rape that together propel the damaged protagonist, Celeste, on a journey that will not have a happy ending nor bring redemption to any of the characters. The novel touches on bleak themes of patriarchy and female oppression and explores ideas of victim shaming and the ways in which false, repressed and recovered memories can alter perceptions of morality and the truth. So, there are undoubtedly dark elements to the novel. But as you suggest in your question, I have tried to create a balance between noir and lighter moments. For example, death is ever-present, not least in the sense that Celeste’s online business venture (CelestialHeadstones.com) involves delivering memorial flowers to headstones in graveyards. On the other hand, she is a florist and the scenes in the florist shop, Seventh Heaven, provide opportunities for vivid colour and brightness which contrast with the mournful descriptions of cemeteries. Even on Celeste’s visits to graveyards, I have tried to give a contrast of shade and sunlight. Some of these take place at night, when ghostly shadows of the statues of black angels seem to trip her up. Others take place in glorious spring sunshine when her heart is lifted by the sights and sounds of nature bursting into bloom and teeming with new life. The relationships between the characters also provide a balance in the plot between noir and lighter moments – the opening scenes at a Cuban nightclub and scenes at Celeste’s flat where she enjoys flirtation and fun and light banter with her friends, contrasting with the darkness of oppressive and abusive encounters between Celeste and her father and teenage boyfriend in the flashback sections, for example, or the sinister scenes involving Celeste’s stalker. I have quite a visual imagination, and I find the use of colour very effective in creating this balance. In the opening nightclub scene and the florist scenes, I focus on the colour red – Celeste’s red dress, the red mood lighting on the dance floor, the vivid red of the Valentine roses – whereas black and grey tones help to create an atmosphere of melancholia or menace in other scenes. Settings can also be used to create light in the narrative, and I hope that the descriptions of the beautiful city of Cambridge and picturesque towns in the Surrey hills, have this effect in No Smoke Without Fire.
This story, falls into the noir crime genre, what are the positives of writing this type of literature? Are there any negatives?
Characteristics such as the presence of violence; complex characters, plotlines and timelines; mystery; moral ambiguity and ambivalence – these all come into play in the noir crime genre and can be found in No Smoke Without Fire. The positives of writing this kind of literature include the fact that characters are generally drawn in a way that is more nuanced, not two-dimensional, reflecting the real complexity of human relations in situations of conflict. The writer sets out the interplay between the characters without dictating moral judgements on their behaviour. Readers are left to ponder and come to their own conclusions – or not. Like crime in real life situations, in this genre there is no simple black and white clear-cut line between right and wrong or between the goodies and the baddies. Again, in the real world, many crimes are never fully solved or only become solved after many years of investigation. There may always be a lingering doubt about the justice of a conviction or an acquittal. Even where the jury reaches a conclusion on innocence or guilt, the ‘standard of proof’ for such a ruling is not 100 percent certainty – the prosecution must prove its case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. So fiction in the genre of crime noir which has the characteristic of moral ambiguity and allows the reader to ruminate on the rights and wrongs of the situations and the ‘truth’ or ‘integrity’ of the characters, is perhaps more interesting and a more authentic reflection of real life than stories which leave no room for doubt as to which character is the hero and which is the villain. I like the ‘smoke and mirrors’ aspect of the noir crime thriller in part because it feels truer to real life than the type of ‘whodunnit’ thriller in which all the loose ends are tied up neatly at the end. As for the negatives of writing in this style of fiction, one down-side may be that because the protagonists of noir fiction are a mix of good and bad, and a mix of selfish and altruistic motives etc, none of them are particularly likeable? Perhaps there are no heroes or champions or characters to engage or fall in love with? On the other hand, because the characters are nuanced and flawed this makes them in one sense more true-to-life and relatable.
You use flashbacks to give clues about the protagonist’s past, why do think this style of plotting works so well for psychological suspense?
I think the use of flashbacks is well suited to psychological suspense because it allows for the character to be gradually pieced together in a way which mirrors the way in which criminal trials gradually build up a picture of a defendant or of a crime scene by delving back into the past to gather evidence about a suspect and interviewing a number of witnesses. In the case of Celeste, I have portrayed her as a person who is very private about the tragedy in her past life when she was teenager and the sexual abuse that she suffered in the boathouse on the night that her little brother died. Seven years on, she has buried these traumas deep within her soul and she is trying to live a normal life as a single working young woman of twenty-four. If I had only the present timeline to tell the story it would be difficult to understand the reasons for which Celeste seeks revenge and for which CelestialHeadstones.com is so dear to her heart. The glimpses of Celeste’s backstory moving through her past allow me to gradually build up a picture of her troubled home life as a child (alcoholic mother, dysfunctional and aggressive father) and her sexually submissive relationship with Ben as a teenager, which helps the reader to understand the complexity of her character and perhaps to empathise with her behaviour and motivations in the main plot. The flashbacks also help to create the moral ambivalence that is characteristic of noir crime.
The plot has different timelines and an unreliable protagonist, do you plan your story in detail before writing? Can you give us an insight into your writing process?
I am not very good at planning which I find rather boring. I tend to launch straight in rather than plotting and mapping out scenes in detail before embarking on the writing. My starting point is a story idea – some situation or news item that sparks my interest and which I feel could be the basis of a good plot or the opening scene of a story but without really knowing how it will all play out. For No Smoke Without Fire (or ‘In Loving Memory’ as it was – in part ironically – called when I first thought up the idea and throughout the writing process) I did write a synopsis with an outline of the plot and an ending. As I write, I imagine the story spooling out like a film in my head and I think about what scene should be revealed next. My lack of planning does usually result in me having to do quite a bit of rearranging of chapters once I have more or less completed a first draft. In the case of No Smoke Without Fire for example, I did not write my backstory flashbacks in time order the first-time round. Instead I started with a date rape scene which was very central to the character development of Celeste. However, my editor advised that it was better to drop these backstory chunks into the main narrative in a chronological order as I already had a number of viewpoints and the lack of chronology in the flashbacks could be rather confusing for the reader.
Do you know how your story will end when you start to write? How easy is it to create an unexpected outcome for your characters? Have you any insights into the best way of creating a shock ending?
The ending I had in mind when I started to write the story is not the ending that made it to the final cut. The ending in my synopsis was inspired by my favourite Audrey Tatou French film ‘He Loves Me, He loves Me Not’, but I realised that in the novel form my planned ending would not work structurally and, moreover, I realised that the character of Celeste that I had written in the first half of the book was too sympathetic to allow for her transformation into an all-out psychopath as I had originally intended! When rethinking my ending, I wanted something that brought together all the characters in the novel as well as to some extent coming full circle to the opening page, whilst also being an unexpected outcome. I hope that the ending I have created is both a shock ending and one that will give pause for some reflection and pathos – but that’s for the readers and not for me to judge! As for insights into the best way of creating a shock ending – that is an interesting and difficult question. Obviously, the ending needs to follow naturally from what has gone before rather than being tacked on. Clues should be planted earlier in the story which once the shock ending has been delivered make the reader feel that there was a certain inevitability about it, so that on reflection the ending becomes believable as well as unexpected.
What surprises do you have instore for your next story?
My next story is also in the genre of psychological suspense and is set in post-pandemic north London and Tuscany. I am playing around with the idea of a ‘book-within-a-book’ along the lines of ‘Nocturnal Animals’. So, in addition to the uncertainty as to who did what, there will be an added uncertainty as to whether the secondary line of narration is intended to be true or imagined or a mixture of both.
Thank you again, Jane, for this lovely opportunity to take part in your Q&A!
Claire Simone Lewis studied philosophy, French literature and international relations at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge before starting her career in aviation law with a City law firm and later as an in-house lawyer at Virgin Atlantic Airways. More recently, she turned to writing psychological suspense, taking courses at the Faber Academy. She’s Mine is her first novel. Born in Paris, she’s bilingual and lives in Surrey with her family.
At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”.
Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul. Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.
Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.
“The world belongs to those who dreams.” he told me looking deep into my eyes.
I was a tourist on a ten day safari trip in Namibia. He was the tour guide. We were finishing our drinks late at night under the full moon. The rest of the tourists were already asleep but I didn’t want to go to sleep. It was my last night in Africa and I didn’t feel ready to go back and face my job, my life, my flat, and all the emptiness I left behind.
I thought it was only a big statement called in by too much alcohol. I pretended I didn’t hear it. But somewhere deep down, it touched me. What are my dreams? I asked myself. I didn’t know. I hadn’t asked myself the question.
I went back the next day and returned to a life that was a far cry from what I really wanted. Not that I actually knew what was it that I really wanted. But then, something magic happened. I started to dream again. New things came into my mind, at the beginning like a shy day dreaming thought that would quickly disappear. Slowly, these thoughts turned into constant companions. Thoughts like “I want to go back to Africa. I want to travel. I want to find a job that has meaning. I want to explore where I really want to live and what type of job I really want to do.” And then another though hit me with the power of a hammer: these were more than wishes.
These were my dreams.
And then, six month later, when I was offered a moment of choice, I took it. I chose to get up and go follow these dreams and turn them into reality. I left my job and went back to Africa.
Dreams are not wishes. They are not frustrations about things that should have happened in a certain way and didn’t. They are also not the product of imagination, some bubble that comes and stays with us for a while and then departs as unexpectedly and suddenly as it came. Dreams come from somewhere deep down, from the bottom of our soul. Dreams originate from the very fabric of who we really are and come to tell us a story about why we were born and what we are meant to do here, on earth. Dreams are the way your soul talks to us.
In the high Andes, the shamans, the medicine men and women of the descendants of the Incas, say that we dream the world into being. What they mean is that the reality that surrounds us – where we live, who we marry, what type of job we do – all this is a product of a dream that we have dreamed at some point. We might have done this unconsciously and didn’t fully understand what reality we had called into our life. But we may choose to do this consciously, select the dreams that we dream and then watch how this unfolds in reality.
Because, you see, in order to dream your world into being, it’s enough to hold your dreams in your consciousness. Be aware of them. Let them live in you. Let them inspire you.
So I kept these dreams alive and six months after my return from the ten day safari in Namibia, I found a once in a life time opportunity to cross Africa from North to South, in a Land Rover, in the company of two others.
And here’s the last catch. Things come to us because we dreamed them. But then we need to take the decision to follow them. The opportunity could have come and gone and I could have stayed in my meaningless job and carried on with my empty life in my small flat. But I decided differently.
And with this, a whole new world opened up. Because my African guide was right, the world does belong to those who dream.
If you want to know the whole story, read my travel memoir, “Through Dust and Dreams – The Story of an African Adventure”
Roxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.
As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate World is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–travelling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.
Roxana lives with her husband in Mallorca, Spain, where she writes, coaches, and does energy therapies, but her first passion remains writing.
Everyone remembers the day the girls went missing.
May Day 1912, a day that haunts Missensham. The day two girls disappeared. The day the girls were murdered. Iris Caldwell and Nell Ryland were never meant to be friends. From two very different backgrounds, one the heir to the Caldwell estate, the other a humble vicar’s daughter. Both have their secrets, both have their pasts, but they each find solace with one another and soon their futures become irrevocably intertwined. Now, many years later, old footage has emerged which shows that Iris Caldwell may not have died on that spring morning. The village must work out what happened the day the girls went missing…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus- Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The Lost Girls is a surprisingly poignant story of two girls, from different social classes, who dared to defy society’s norms. An old home movie, showing a girl who went missing, believed abducted and murdered, is the catalyst for a surprising chain of events.
The characters are complex and flawed, and their story is full of dark secrets, and desperate emotion. An absorbing, engaging story, with a uniqueness that keeps you reading.
Guest Post- Jennifer Wells-The Lost Girls
The little moments which bring the past back to life
There is something quite eerie about old films. I don’t mean cinematic classics or even the first Hollywood movies. I’m talking about the old cine films that survive from the early twentieth century. Such films were shot using cumbersome machines, where filming depended on an operator who could doggedly turn a crank handle for minutes on end. These machines produced images that are little more than light and shadow – grainy outlines and stuttering movements – yet there is something about them that is very alluring.
Among these films are some of the very first home movies. They show horse-drawn trams battling through busy shopping streets, exuberant workers spilling from factory gates, football matches, political marches and family events. The women wear shawls or gloves, their skirts swishing around their ankles as they walk. The men strut boldly, their hands thrust into the pockets of their suits. But whether young, old, rich or poor – everyone wears a hat.
The films I am describing are now over a hundred years old. The Edwardian era is a time that has become unfamiliar to us. When you watch such films, the horse-drawn trams and long skirts seem like things that only ever existed in the pages of history books, and the people appear, not as busy shoppers or factory workers, but ghosts.
It is the ghost-like quality of such films that gave me the inspiration for the opening scene of my latest novel, THE LOST GIRLS. The novel opens in 1937 with a public screening of an old film – a lost home movie that had been shot 25 years earlier on May Day 1912. As the audience watch entranced, the image of a girl in a white dress flashes on to the screen. Her face is one that they all recognise – Iris Caldwell, a girl who was thought to be dead by that May Day morning. A girl presumed murdered.
When I first started writing THE LOST GIRLS, Iris Caldwell was little more than a ghost to me. She was no more than one of those old cine film images, her face in shadow and her movements slow and stuttering. But I wanted to give life to a character who might have appeared in one of these old films, and soon the girl in the white dress became flesh and blood to me. Iris Caldwell became a girl who, like many others, loved to read novels and longed for friendships. She also became a girl with terrible secrets and forbidden desires. We live in a time that is very different from 1912. The horse-drawn trams, long skirts and a multitude of hats belong to a world that seems very strange to us. Yet, among the grainy faces that peer out from the past, we can sometimes spot a smile or a wink – something that reminds us that the people who lived back then were not so different to us after all. It is these little moments which bring the past so much closer again.
Jennifer is the author of THE LIAR, THE MURDERESS, THE SECRET and THE LOST GIRLS published by Aria Fiction. Her novels involve the themes of family, betrayal and love and are set in the home counties in the early 20th century. Jennifer lives in Devon with her young family and cats.
While World War Two rages on around them, the gangs of London are fighting for their turf…
There might be a war on, but that doesn’t stop Georgina Garrett running her business with an iron fist. No one said running the Battersea gang was going to be easy, but her unflinchable nature makes Georgina unstoppable.
With a role that requires a ruthless ability to seek revenge and pay out crippling punishments, Georgina’s enemies are growing in number. With a target on her back, Georgina knows she must do everything to protect her family. But, with the loss of someone closest to her, can Georgina rise up from the ashes or allow a usurper take her crown?
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus -Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Like many books set in WW2, this story is atmospheric and full of historical detail. Georgina Garrett and her gang adapt to wartime Battersea. Georgina engenders mixed feelings in the reader. Her loyalty and willingness to provide for those she takes under her wing is admirable. Conversely, she isn’t afraid of using violence and committing crimes to ensure she protects her own and continues their way of life.
Georgina faces resentment and threats. Her love of her family make her vulnerable, yet this love is what makes her easy to empathise. Authentic, multifaceted characters drive an action and conflict rich plot.
The surprising ending leaves you wondering what next?
Guest post- Sam Michaels -Vixen
Hello, I’m Sam Michaels, author of the Georgina Garrett series of books.
Firstly, I’d like to say a big thank you to Jane for featuring me on her wonderful blog site. I was thrilled when she invited me to write a guest post about my latest book, Vixen.
As many readers will know, Vixen is the third book in the Georgina Garrett series. It follows Trickster and Rivals. Way back when WW1 broke in Britain, Trickster began with Georgina being born into a life of poverty, living in the slums of Battersea in south west London. Throughout the book, we watched Georgina, or George as she was known then, overcome adversity to grow into a beautiful young woman. But a woman with a fierce and ruthless streak that would bode well for her life in the criminal underworld. She proved herself a force to be reckoned with but it wasn’t easy, especially facing her biggest enemy, the twisted Billy Wilcox.
In Rivals, during the pre-war years of WW2, Georgina really comes into her own as she heads up the criminal gang running Battersea. But as you’d expect, there are many who think they can do a better job than a woman and are ready to bring her down.
Vixen picks up the story at the outbreak of WW2. Georgina exploits any opportunities that come along when a country is at war, but she also has a kind heart and fair morals, offering help when she can to those in need. But in Vixen, there’s more than just London under attack – so is Georgina and she also faces unimaginable heartbreak.
For anyone enjoying this series, you’ll be pleased to know there is more on the way, five books in total. I’m currently writing book 4 and without giving too much away, I can tell you this book is going to see Georgina facing a whole new set of challenges, including fighting for her children. She’ll meet some colourful characters along the way who will take her into a whole new world of criminality, one with bigger gains but bigger risks to boot. And what will become of Georgina’s relationship with David Maynard? You’ll have to wait and see.
Whilst writing this series, I’ve grown ever so fond of Georgina and I think her audience has too. I even had a comment from a chap who said he’d love to work for her! I believe it’s because we can all relate to aspects of her personality. Granted, she’s a killer, but somehow, the murders she commits or orders feel justified. She’s intensely protective of her loved ones, a worthy trait, and though she has a tough exterior, there’s a vulnerability about her that we see glimpses of now and again. At the end of the day, everything Georgina does is driven by a desire to make life better for those around her. And like many other women, she feels the need to be loved, albeit on her terms.
With book 5 in the pipeline, time will move forward and you’ll discover more about Georgina’s children. As someone recently said to me, ‘Strong women have strong women.’ And that is very true for Georgina Garrett!
Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jacob, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jacob objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions.
The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication.
The Gossips’ Choice takes its name from the ‘gossips’ or female attendants who a supported a mother in her labour. These women were an important part of the mother’s birth experience and they were there to physically support her by sitting behind her as she sat on the edge of her bed or on a birthing stool to help support her, and to stroke her belly to encourage the baby to move down, and to help the mother to comply with all her midwife’s instructions. But they had another important aspect of their role which was to keep up the mother’s spirits, to encourage her with kind words, to be cheery and to offer her such food and drink as the midwife might recommend. Lucie Smith, my protagonist, is the gossips’ choice because she is the most experienced and trusted midwife in the area. She is the one that the majority of local women trust to safely deliver their babies.
There is a second reason for my choosing this title for my novel. Lucie becomes the subject of town gossip when people start talking about a case where one of the births she attended had an unhappy outcome. As the rumour mill ramps up, Lucie faces a lot of unwelcome attention as townsfolk speculate about what went wrong. As an ageing midwife who has been practising for over thirty years, is it time for her to admit she is no longer up to the job and to think of retiring? The novel explores what it feels like to suddenly find yourself the subject of gossip and to have those families you have served for so long doubt you. Lucie faces a choice between fighting to clear her good name and stepping back from her lifelong vocation.
This title means a lot to me as the author. I had the outline of the story in my head for a long time, but it was not until the title came to me that the story would flow. And then it poured out!
Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in English at Loughborough University. Her research is in the cultural representations of women, bodies and health in the early modern era.
She has published widely in this area with her first book Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England being published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013. She is a member of the organising committee of the Women’s Studies Group, 1558-1837 and recently co-edited a special collection produced to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary.
She is also the co-editor of the popular Early Modern Medicine blog. With founding editor Dr Jennifer Evans, Sara wrote a book about health and disease in this era Maladies and Medicine: Exploring Health and Healing, 1540-1740 (Pen and Sword 2017).
Sara regularly writes for history magazines such as Discover Your Ancestors and History Today. In 2017 she published an article ‘My Ancestor was a Midwife’ tracing the history of the midwifery profession for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine in 2017. She has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s Freethinking programme and is often to be heard on BBC Radio Leicester and BBC Radio WM.
Amelia Wakefield loves working at Pennington’s, Bath’s finest department store. An escape from her traumatic past, it saved her life. So when Miss Pennington sets her a task to set sail on the Titanic and study the department stores of New York, she couldn’t be more excited – or determined!
Frustrated with his life at home, Samuel Murphy longs for a few weeks of freedom and adventure. Meeting Amelia on board the Titanic, Samuel can’t help wonder what painful history has made the beauty so reserved. But he already has too many responsibilities for love.
Ruby Taylor has always kept her Pennington co-workers at a distance. Making sure her little brother is safe has always been her priority. But when that means accepting Victoria Lark’s offer of sanctuary, more than one of Ruby’s secrets is under threat of being revealed…
Thank you so much for having me here today and being part of my latest tour!
For many years, I have wanted to set a book on the Titanic having been fascinated and humbled by the catastrophe of the fated ship. It wasn’t until I was writing book 2 of the Shop Girl series (A Shop Girl Gets The Vote) that I realised I had found the perfect character to send aboard the ship to America.
The heroine of A Shop Girl At Sea, Amelia Wakefield, is the head window dresser at Pennington’s department store. She is ambitious yet kind, curious yet lacking in self-confidence… or at least she is until Pennington’s owner, Elizabeth, sees something in Amelia that she believes makes her the perfect candidate to send on a scouting expedition of the department stores in New York.
Also aboard the ship is seaman Jacob Murphy who lives in Bath but spends most of his life stationed at Southampton’s docks. Having lost his father at a young age, Jacob stepped into the role of protector and provider for his mother and two younger sisters. His life has rarely been his own his entire adulthood so when he secures a place on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, Jacob sees this as his opportunity to thrive. Isn’t there every possibility his destiny lies in America?
Amelia and Jacob are thrown together in a world where the wealthy and the poor are sailing across the Atlantic for different reasons, but when the mammoth vessel strikes an iceberg, they soon realise no one is better than anyone else or more unprepared for the future…
Through my reading of reference books, survivors accounts and letters, I became more and more immersed in the people aboard the Titanic while writing this book, yet still unable to say I can imagine what those terrified passengers endured in those final hours. I hope, through the writing of this book, I have paid homage to those who died and survived by touching on the tragedy and writing a story that provides love, romance and hope for all that read A Shop Girl At Sea.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Amelia’s American adventure takes the reader away from Pennington’s glamourous ethos. A popular subject for historical fiction, the Titanic tragedy gets a new perspective in this story. Amelia and Samuel’s lives are irrevocably changed when they get to opportunity to visit America on the luxury liner. Amelia is damaged, by a terrible past crime. Sam is drowning in unwanted responsibility. The chance to escape even for a short time is too good to miss. The romance is gentle but full of angst. Well researched and sensitive writing emphasises the terrible loss, and courage of those on board the ship.
Ruby’ story highlights domestic abuse and society’s prejudice to single-sex couples.
This is an engaging romantic saga. It has a perfect balance of vivid characters, historical detail and poignant events. The complex protagonists are easy to empathise, the historical setting vibrantly brought to life by the easy to read writing style.
Rachel Brimble lives in Wiltshire with her husband of twenty years, two teenage daughters and her beloved chocolate Labrador, Tyler. Multi-published in the US, she is thrilled to have a new beginning writing for Aria in the UK. When Rachel isn’t writing, she enjoys reading across the genres, knitting and walking the English countryside with her family…often stopping off at a country pub for lunch and a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc.