Shopping Cart Annie by Cordy Fitzgerald

Shopping Cart Annie was given to me by a dear friend who knows the author personally, so I very much hoped I would enjoy the novel by Cordy Fitzgerald. The book is set partly in Colorado and partly in Afghanistan. It is a complex mystery which crosses continents and decades and deserves concentration and consideration.

The main protagonist is a retired schoolteacher and amateur sleuth, Dr. Inez Buchanan. This character is particularly well drawn so the reader knows her strengths and weaknesses and understands why she reacts as she does.

Inez receives a visit from her neighbor, Dolly David, which she considers strange as they do not know each other, however, Dolly goes to Inez because she needs her help. Years ago, Dolly’s granddaughter, Kadija Campbell, went missing from her college campus in Fort Collins, Colorado. The police believed that Kadija was dead, but Dolly has always held out hope that she is alive. A mysterious phone call reinforces her belief that Kadija is alive and hints that she is being held in Afghanistan.

Inez has great sympathy for Dolly but doubts she can do anything to help. Then, Dolly dies in a mysterious accident and leaves Inez as the executor of her estate. Dolly was worth billions of dollars, and Inez knows that her last wish would be for Inez to find Kadija at any cost.

Inez’s friend and FBI contact, Trace Mitchell, believes Kadija may be working as a spy in a terrorist cell. In the adventure that follows, Inez connects Kadija’s disappearance with strange happenings in the Middle East. There are powerful people who know more about the young woman than they are letting on, and Inez must discover the truth.

If you enjoy an interesting mystery with lively characters and complicated twists, Shopping Cart Annie is the book for you. Iyt would be an excellent book group novel as it would generate active discussion.

About the Author by the Author

I live in Colorado and feel fortunate to have both my grown sons live nearby. My first thirty years were spent in Washington, D.C. where relatives and family friends customarily had their own conspiracy theory about what really happens in government. As an only child, I read a lot and by high school, wanted to become a spy for CIA. I never applied, but instead read loads of book on the topic. With a Ph.D. in Education Administration, I’ve gained another set of tools to address my passion for investigative research and espionage.

Admittedly, Cordy Fitzgerald is a pen name. It belonged to my grandmother who died a few days after giving birth to my mother. I can’t tell from my mother’s birth certificate whether she was married at the time of the birth or not. But what is evident through the testimony of relatives now dead is that they were all dirt poor people in Culpepper, Virginia. I use the name now in a feeble but a most reverent attempt to add a few years of life to hers, albeit on the Internet.

Val Penny


Finding Nina by Sue Barnard

I recently treated myself to a pile of books by a group of my favourite authors amongst those books was the most recent novel by Sue Barnard, Finding Nina.

Finding Nina is a relatively short book, but that is not a critism. The novel deals with the life of a woman, given up for adoption and explores the emotions of her birth mother, her adotive mother and her own emotions as she matures. I find the raw and realistic way the emotions in this novel are discussed. The author really gets into the heads of the different characters.

I found the book extremely interesting. So much so that I read it in one sitting. I have already recommended it to several bookish friends and I do so again now.

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet. She was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase “non-working mother” would be banned from the English language. Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult “Round Britain Quiz”. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck. In addition to working as an editor for Crooked Cat Publishing, Sue is the author of four novels: The Ghostly Father, Nice Girls Don’t, The Unkindest Cut of All and Never on Saturday. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is far stranger than any work of fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her. Sue lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Finding Nina is an original novel, published by Crooked Cat Books, where the characters are divinely shared and explored with the reader.

Val Penny

The Refuge by Jo Fenton

I have just finished the new novel by Jo Fenton, The Refuge, published by Crooked Cat Books. The novel is a sequel to her debut novel, The Brotherhood which is also reviewed on this site at .

The Refuge commences at the point where the Abbey has passed from the Brotherhood to Mark and Mel. The couple have also just welcomed their baby, Emma. They are determined that something good will come from the building and establish a refuge for those still living there as well as for abused women. Predictably, things do not go as smoothly as they had hoped.

The book explores the pressures the arrival of a new baby has on the lives of the parents. Jess, Mel’s sister, comes back into their lives and, for me, it is here that the most compelling scenes of The Refuge take place. The emotions that are explored within Jess, Mel, Mark and other characters are sensitively and realistically drawn. The exploration of the minds of the characters raises this novel from good to truly gripping.

I highly recommend The Refuge and hope the author will write further novels based around these fascinating characters.

Val Penny

When Your Characters Take Over by guest author Sue Barnard

I am delighted that my friend and fellow author has made time to visit my blog today and discuss the characters in her novels. I often hear my characters talking to me, and I’m glad I’m not alone in that. Thank you for this interesting article, Sue.

Nina’s story really began back in 2012, although at the time I had no idea about that. It stemmed from a conversation in my second novel, Nice Girls Don’t, in which mention was made of a baby girl, born in secret during World War Two, and given up for adoption. This baby girl was not referred to again in Nice Girls Don’t, but I realised afterwards that her existence left open the possibility of another story. What could have happened to her?

The baby was Nina, born in mid-November 1943, when World War Two was still at its height. Her mother Alice was seventeen and unmarried, and although the war had changed many things, the prevailing post-Victorian attitude to illegitimacy was not one of them. So one month later, just before Christmas 1943, Nina was handed over to a childless couple who formally adopted her and changed her name to Stella.

There have been occasions when I’ve stared at the words on my computer screen without any recollection of having written them, and I’ve been forced to the conclusion that the characters themselves have been telling me what to write. One such occasion was in Nice Girls Don’t, when one of the characters said something which went on to change the whole course of the story. And it happened again in Finding Nina. The final words of the scene which follows (just after Alice has given her baby away) must have come directly from Alice’s heart. On reading them I found myself in floods of tears, and for a long time afterwards I couldn’t bear to write any more.

14th December 1943

After forcing down a cup of dishwatery NAAFI tea, Alice boarded the bus for the grim journey back to the mother-and-baby home. Her mind was numb, and her heart felt colder than the chilly December afternoon. She neither knew nor cared if any of the other passengers were staring at her. Normally, she would have gone to any lengths to disguise the fact that she’d been crying – her mother had always drummed into her that crying in public was a sign of not coping. But today, such draconian diktats felt both pathetic and cruel.

The home’s minimalist Christmas decorations, hand-made by the residents from whatever scraps and oddments they could salvage, seemed trite and inappropriate. Avoiding the pitying glances of anyone she passed in the hallway, Alice trudged up the stairs to her room, picked up the small utility blanket from the cot beside her bed and held it next to her face. It still smelled of Nina.

Clutching the precious cloth, she slumped on to her hard bed. She had no idea how long she sat there, staring into space with no coherent thoughts, when eventually she was aroused from her stupor by a knock on her bedroom door. Looking up, she noticed for the first time that she was sitting in the dark.

“Alice? Are you all right? Can I come in?”

“Yes,” she answered, in a dull monotone.

The door creaked open to reveal the matron. Betty was a kindly person of indeterminate age, who seemed to mother all the girls and women in her charge, regardless of age or circumstance. She was carrying a tray bearing a teapot covered with a shabby tea-cosy, together with a milk jug, a sugar basin, and two cups and saucers. She kicked the door closed behind her, crossed the room in three strides and set the tray down on the small plain bedside table, before closing the curtains and switching on the light.

“What time is it?”

“Ten to five. I’ve brought you some tea. Put plenty of sugar in it if you want.”

Alice blinked. “But what about the rationing?”

Betty sat down on the bed and patted Alice’s hand, which was still clutching Nina’s blanket.

“Don’t worry about that. You need it today. It’s been brewing for about five minutes, so it should be good and strong by now.” She picked up the teapot and began to pour.

Alice was suddenly reminded of the phrase Shall I be Mother? This morning, she herself had been a mother. What was she now?


FINDING NINAis already available for pre-order. The book is officially released on 3 June 2019, when there will be an online launch party on Facebook, with guests, competitions and giveaways. To add yourself to the guest list, click here then select “Going”. See you there!


1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints. Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…


Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad. She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

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The Ghostly FatherNice Girls Don’tThe Unkindest Cut of AllNever on Saturday  Heathcliff 

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon is one of those books that had been on my radar for some time, so when it was book of the month at my book group recently, I was delighted.

The Rose of Sebastopol is a story set in the mid nineteenth century at the time of the Crimean War. It tells the story of Mariella and Rosa who are cousins and friends from childhood.

In 1855 Rosa Barr who is a headstrong young woman, travels to the Crimea, against the wishes of her family. She is determined to work as a nurse bit she does not return.

Three people have been intimately connected with her. One, her step- brother, Max Stupeley, a soldier and adventurer; the second a Doctor Henry Thelwell, who is Mariella’s fiance. Henry is traumatized by the war, and harbour a secret passion for Rosa, and the third is Mariella herself. Mariella must now uncover the truth about what has happened to the missing nurse.

Mariella’s journey takes her from the domestic quiet of London to the foothills of Italy where she finds Henry seriously ill and she is devastated when she finds out about his infatuation with Rosa. She then travels on to the ravaged Russian landscape of the Crimea, where she struggles to discover what has happened to her captivating cousin and uncover the secrets of those who loved her.

Val Penny

The Suspects by Katharine Johnson

Any regular readers of my blog will know that Katharine Johnson is one of my favourite authors. Her most recent novel, The Suspects, is certainly one of my favourite books of 2019. (The Secret was one of my favourite books of 2018 – Ms Johnson is such a fine writer.)

The new book tells the story of a group of young people who have just finished their university degrees. They are starting out on their professional futures and decide to buy a house together so that they get a foot on the property ladder as soon as they can. Each of the characters is very different and flawed with plenty to hide. I really liked that we were introduced to them individually. You got to delve into their story before you made assumptions.

When they throw a New Year Party and everybody seems to drink too much and over indulge. It is only after the party that they find a corpse. Panic sets in becausethey are worried that they will become the main suspects. None of the five trusts the police so they discuss their choices. They decide on a plan but this results in secrets and lies twists and turns.

I think The Suspects would be an excellent book group read. It is enthralling and would make for lots of discussion. If you enjoy your murder mystery with a psychological thriller twist, complex characters, and cleverly plots then you will not want to miss out on The Suspects.

Katharine Johnson is the author of gripping psychological and historical suspense stories set in the UK and Italy. It’s always the whydunit that intrigues her most. Katharine’s characters are flawed but not evil – they’re ordinary people who through a bad decision find themselves in nightmarish situations. Born in Bristol, she currently lives in Berkshire. As a journalist she’s written for a variety of magazines, mostly about home and lifestyle. She has a passion for crime novels. old buildings and all things Italian (except tiramisu.) When not writing you’ll often find her drinking coffee, exploring cities, restoring her house in Italy or out walking with her partner in crime-writing, Monty the spaniel, while thinking up plots. She blogs about books and writing and loves to chat so catch up with her on her blog, Katy’s Writing Coffee Shop, Facebook page/instagram/pinterest @katharinejohnsonauthor, and twitter @kjohnsonwrites
Read her books free on Kindle Unlimited.

Val Penny

Playing both Sides by guest author Jane Risdon

I am delighted to welcome my good friend and fellow author, Jane Risdon to the blog today to discuss the challenges of getting books published and the tasks required when self-publishing. I am thrilled to have Jane share her knowledge. Thank you for brining such an interesting article to my blog.

My first piece of published writing was back in the days when I was still working in the international music business and I ventured to write an article about song-writing, recording, and ‘pitching’ to record companies and music publishers: ’So you think you want a Record Deal,’ I think it was called.

I managed recording artists, song-writers, record producers, and even a few actors until I began writing some ten years ago and being married to a professional musician who’d never received any guidance or advice when he was first in the business as a musician, I felt the need to get these – mostly – young hopefuls thinking about the business they were so desperate to join.

The article appeared in an industry magazine and completely blew the whistle on what was (then) believed to be required to obtain a manager, recording contract, and a publishing contract, and it got a lot of musicians re-thinking their approach to the ‘business’ of music. The clue is the word business – over-looked in favour of the be-all and end-all to a musician: the music.

At that time musicians were working hard on their live shows and gathering a following but the actual ‘business’ of their chosen profession often passed them by; they were in it for the music and the business side – the men in grey suits mostly, back then – did whatever they did at some point to release records yet many musicians hadn’t a clue what, and anyway if they worked hard, got their following and made loads of demo’s (tapes and CD’s) and sent them out, someone would ‘discover’ them. And of course, musicians and artistes were sometimes ‘discovered’ because A&R (Artiste and Repertoire) guys still went to gigs to search for talent. But they were few and far between and other musicians often wondered why the hell so-and-so got a deal when they had a bigger following and better material. Good question.

I’ll not bore you with the details of what was in my article and what my advice to aspiring recording artists and song-writers was. The reason I mention it is two-fold: one, apart from school essays that was my first memorable foray into being a published writer – well, sort of. And two, ultimately the way the record business was run back in the late 1980s, early 1990s, led to the formation of hundreds of independent record companies and musicians recording and producing product at home – technology was suddenly changing everything.

You can see where I am going with this, I am sure, in relation to writing and being published.

When I began writing short stories, flash fiction, and my many novels – I still have loads of these awaiting the light of day – I never really considered being published. I was a bit like the musicians who did what they did for love and not for glory and if it happened (somehow) well, that would’ve been cool. I’d always wanted to write since childhood. I loved reading and imagined one day I’d have a book of my own. But that is all it was, something I imagined but never thought would ever happen, especially to me.

Long-time friend, Christina Jones, is an award-winning, best-selling, romance author, and has always encouraged me and my writing. We always wanted to write together but she was successful and I was a ‘nobody’ messing around with crime stories – so how it might happen, we couldn’t imagine. Besides, I was never in the same country let alone any town long enough for us to do that.

To cut a long story short I eventually found myself with time to write and I began writing more determinedly – mostly for my own entertainment. Christina got to read most of it and she kept telling me to ‘do something’ with them. I heard her, I just didn’t have any confidence or any clue how to go about it.

Meantime, I started a blog on WordPress mostly to put my own thoughts and scribblings in one place. After a while I dared push ‘publish’ on a story called ‘A Walk to Destiny,’ and then wondered if I’d lost my mind. Well, I had so many visits to my blog and such fab comments from complete strangers I was encouraged to write more, and after a while I was asked to be a guest author on other blogs. One thing led to another and I was asked to contribute to anthologies – mostly in aid of Charity – and I really felt I’d accomplished my dream. Those who encouraged me and gave me a chance know who they are and I’ve thanked them many times.

Meantime Christina kept telling me to ‘do something’ with my stories. I’d written several novels as I mentioned earlier, including a non-crime novel set in the late 1960s UK music scene, in addition to over a hundred short stories, and I began to look at what publishers were seeking and how to submit. Talk about panic attack. Publishing was another planet!

I sent one story off to a small publisher and never heard back. I felt my life was over. No-one wanted me! But after another panic attack and confidence melt-down I thought back to the days of producing records and pitching musicians and their music to record labels, and had a re-think. I’d approach my writing the same way as I’d approached record companies, movie studios etc., on behalf of my artistes. Easier said than done.

In 2014 I saw that a small traditional publishing company, Accent Press Ltd, was asking for submissions from authors. I decided to submit several short stories to begin and to cut a long story short I was accepted for two anthologies, Shiver and Wishing on a Star, and they also signed me for all my writing. Unreal. I thought it was supposed to be harder and it would take years. Both my stories were crime-related and not what I thought they’d want. But, I had a publisher.

In 2012 I’d completed a novel called Only One Woman set in the UK music scene of the late 1960s, and sent it to Christina to read as I wondered if it needed another POV (point of view) and another main character – I’d written Renza and most of the characters but felt it needed another voice. Christina loved it and wanted to write the other character, Stella, and her related characters. We agreed to do it.

I’d no idea just how much hard work promotion would be. Cripes, it took – and still takes – most of my time promoting it. I thought a publisher would do all that and all I’d have to do was write blog posts, do books signings, and talk about the book to everyone and anyone in the press, on the radio or whatever, and of course it was/isn’t like that.

Publishing has changed, just like music has, and it’s now up to the author to really push their book and boy, it stretches the imagination. It’s the music business all over again – just replace promoting artists and music for authors and books.

We authors are all in the same boat, traditionally or self-published, as far as I can tell.

I’ve many novels and short stories awaiting publication and I assumed that they’d be taken by my publisher, but that was somewhat naive I guess.

Accent have first refusal on my work but couldn’t take my short story collection, Undercover: Crime Shorts, because they only publish anthologies with several authors contributing – not solo authors.

I didn’t want to waste Undercover so I decided to self-publish it – I just couldn’t face hiking it around publishers for ages – hoping. My goodness me, I’d no idea what it would involve. I bulked at doing the whole thing myself, life is too short – I really would like to have time to do other things. Besides, I am writing the sequel to Only One Woman and Ms Birdsong’s two other novels are almost completed. So I decided to employ Plaisted Publishing House to format my collection and help me get it published.

Working on it has taken months and if I ever do it again I shall be better informed and prepared for what is involved. Claire Plaisted has been a star, poor woman, how she coped with my lack of knowledge and stupidity I’ll never know. Had I known I’d have to self-publish one day I’d have clued up much earlier and faster.

Remember, my only real experience of being published is with a company doing the editing, the formatting, and so forth, and it seemed a breeze. Why I thought it wouldn’t be different going it alone for this collection, I’ve no idea. The only similarity is promotion – that flipping word sounds so harmless, but it is immense. Promotion, promotion, promotion, is key, and it is so difficult without a company behind one with their supplies of books, covering some costs, and having their credibility – but even so it is still basically up to the author to push the book.

I did, at least, get to pick my own book cover for Undercover: Crime Shorts, and no-one prevented me from using it. Yay!

I decided to promote the way my publisher expected me to promote: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. I didn’t go for a blog tour, possibly a mistake but I felt (and still feel) embarrassed asking bloggers to host me. I haven’t done any book signings – but I never did any for Only One Woman because none was ever arranged. It’s expensive after-all and with a co-author to consider, schedules can be difficult. So for me nothing much has changed going it alone for this book.

I’ve a lovely following of friends and crime readers who’ve kindly been waiting for my crime stories. I’d never planned on having a Women’s Fiction novel published but my readers don’t seem to mind my deviation from the expected – so far.

Publication was set for May 5th and what happened? I got put in Facebook jail. My collection came out and all the platforms my publisher expected me to use to promote Only One Woman, which I’d planned to use to promote Undercover, vanished. A lesson there I feel….eggs and baskets!

Undercover: Crime Shorts amazingly went into the Amazon ratings at #18 – out of the box as we’d say in music – and #333 in the USA – but without means to promote it fully, having not thought about being prevented from using Facebook, it has gone down the ratings considerably, naturally.

I’ve been incredibly lucky in that many fellow authors have rallied around me and have gone out of their way to assist me with retweets, blogs, and sharing for me. Which brings me to another lesson learned from music days: always help others. Share your success, pay it back. It’s rewarded me – I’ve always tried to help fellow authors by sharing and Tweeting etc. Make friends, help them when you are able, and in your hour of need they may well surprise you by giving so much of their time and energies helping you. I’ve discovered I have some wonderful writer friends and readers and I am eternally grateful for their unexpected, continued generosity.

Going indie does not necessarily mean going it alone. I really should’ve called upon my music marketing experiences and applied them to self-publishing. I seem to have fallen into the same trap as my young musicians did back when – I just didn’t think beyond writing. I’ve played both sides now, and next time I shall be better prepared.

Undercover: Crime Shorts

Under one cover for the first time a collection of crime shorts from Jane Risdon with more twists and turns than Spaghetti Junction – a must for those who enjoy gripping yarns.

Undercover: Crime Shorts features new short stories written with strong female protagonists at its heart and includes Sweet Sable – a redheaded nightclub singer with sex appeal and a sting in her tail, and The Look – a hit woman with an agenda for revenge and a talent for hire.

There is an extract form the first novel in the series Ms Birdsong Investigates Murder in Ampney Parva: Operation Matryoshka – where former MI5 intelligence officer, Lavinia Birdsong, is asked to look for a missing woman and finds herself embroiled in murder, the Russian Mafia, and Ukrainian gun-runners.

My readers say:

Roger A Price: former detective and crime author says: Crime Shorts is a wonderfully satisfying anthology of seven short stories which transcend above the crime fiction genre providing a ripping yarn irrespective of the reader’s crime fiction preference. Jane Risdon has cleverly stitched together a mix of tales to suit all fans of the genre.

Gloria Clulow: reader says: As with all Jane’s stories I find them intriguing and unpredictable, leaving me wanting more; I don’t want them to end.

Professor Margot Kinberg: Associate professor and author of the Joel Williams crime novels says: Undercover, what a gripping story, so well written. You’ve packed so much ‘punch’ into it, loved it. I really felt the rising tension and suspicion! You’ve captured the suspense of it beautifully and it is such a great set-up with good characters.

Charlie Plunkett: reader says:
Fast-paced, well written, page-turner that had me so engrossed my train journey flew by. The author clearly has done a lot of research, these short stories all felt very authentic and each had me gripped and on the edge of my seat wondering how they would play out. It’s been a long time since I read anything quite so intriguing and twisty. It certainly got my heart beating faster and I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great murder, mystery.
Jane Risdon – my pleasure lovely, praise where it’s due, you have written a fabulous selection of short stories and I will definitely look out for Ms Birdsong.

Jane Risdon – Bio

Jane Risdon began her working life in the international music business where she managed recording artists, songwriters, record producers, and where she has been instrumental in placing music on to soundtracks of many TV series and Movies, working alongside her musician husband.

After years of promoting talented young artists Jane decided it was time to do what she’s always wanted to do: write. She began writing in earnest some ten years ago starting with flash fiction and short stories – mostly crime/thrillers – and her writing was soon included in various anthologies – to date 15 different publications, some award winning. She has written for numerous online newsletters and magazines and is a regular blogger.

She has also written a best-selling novel with author and lifelong friend, best-selling, award-winning author, Christina Jones, set in the UK music scene of the late 1960s. Only One Woman is published by Accent Press with whom Jane signed in 2014.

With over 100 short stories needing a home, Jane has recently published Undercover: Crime Shorts with Plaisted Publishing House, which went into the UK Amazon ratings at #18 and into the USA Amazon ratings at #333 upon publication.

She is writing the sequel to Only One Woman and is completing a series of novels about a former MI5 intelligence officer; ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates.’ These crime/thrillers are set in the Vale of the White Horse, Oxfordshire, and Jane digs into her early career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the height of the Cold War for her inspiration and knowledge of Britain’s Security Services.

Jane’s interests include photography, history, and science, and she and her husband enjoy walking and visiting places of interest – something they never had time to enjoy when ‘baby-sitting’ singers and musicians whilst travelling all over the world.

For Jane’s Books: most digital platforms incl. Amazon worldwide, and in paperback

Undercover: Crime Shorts…/under…/paperback/product-24082039.html

ISBN: 9780359397839

Only One Woman:

53 5* reviews from guys and gals. Available in most countries too.
Paperback and eBook on most digital platforms
Paperback Waterstones and good indie stores.

ISBN: 9781783757312…/…/1783757310…/…/B075D88JB

Jane’s Social Media:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Although Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s best-known authors, I had not read any of her books before. She has published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian’s Story and The Secret River was the book our local book group read most recently.

The Secret River is a story set in the nineteenth century and tells the story of William Thornhill and his family. William is an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion who steals a load of wood. His sentence is commuted from death to deportation to the colony that would become Australia. What I had never thought about was that, as William was married with a child, his wife, Sal, with family had two choices: she could have stayed in England, coping with the stigma of being a single parent or travel into the unknown with her husband, Will. She chooses the latter.

When they arrive in the colony, Sal has a second child. Will is immediately assigned to Sal, effectlively as her slave. She shows him kindness and respect, despite her misgivings about their new circumstances and her homesickness for London. 

As time progresses, Will gradually realises that if he wants to make a home for his family, he must forcibly take the land from the people who came before him. Thus commences a series of disturbing and violent scenes that are most difficult to read. I do not doubt the atrocities happened, I do doubt that I need to read about it in such graphic detail. Will also has two men assigned to him as he, in his turn had been assigned to Sal. But Will’s greed and determination prevent him from treating his’slaves’ as humanely as Sal treated him.

The Secret River is a masterpiece of historical setting and of the mental, physical and emotional demands that people must endure when they are abruptly required to move from their home country to a new land.  This is an excellent book group read and a fine historical novel.

Val Penny 

Mapping the Scenes of a Chapter by guest author Mason Bushell

I am delighted to have my friend and fellow author, Mason Bushell visit my blog today to share her experience of mapping the scenes of chapters in her writing. Thank you so much for visiting, Mason and for sharing your writing tips with me and my readers today.

To have a balanced well written story it’s essential to map it out. You can of course do this as you go. A better approach is to complete your map before you begin writing. My method is a story skeleton, as follows

  1. Begin with the synopsis. Usually no more than a page of work that outlines the main story from start to finish. This gives a firm base from which to build the full story.
  2. Next start the skeleton by writing out each chapter number and bulleting sections, 1-3 beneath each heading. Note; ‘Twenty to twenty five chapters tends to get you sixty to seventy thousand words. Thirty chapters plus will get you around the hundred thousand mark when completed.’ to roughly guide you.
  3. From there break the synopsis into its individual events. Insert them into the number one slots of your chapter skeleton. Note; ‘Do this working in pencil as you may feel the need to move or add some as you go along. Characters have a habit of changing the story on you!’ Remember here that some events may cross more than one chapter to add cliff-hanger points or to bring other events in line with them. Use arrows to link those is needs be.
  4. Don’t try to force events into every chapter for not all of them will focus on the main story. Just put in what you can, where it needs to go on the chapter timeline. Thinking about the structure and drama as you go to get the flow right.
  5. Next, a good story always has side story or stories entwined within it. Add the scenes for that into the number two section of the chapter skeleton. Again not every chapter will have these, just add in what you have where it fits in the skeleton and story timeline.
  6. Now on to the skeleton is the third section. This is for any events, scenes or occurrences you wish to include in the chapter. Little happenings that don’t pertain to the main or side story as such. Drop those into the number three sections again where you need them.
  7. That’s all three done you should now have a good vision for your whole story. Spend time checking this and moving events about as needed until you feel happy. Don’t worry for you can always split and add chapters or remove them as you go along the skeleton is merely your story guide to help you stay on course and get it written. Well done, that’s the first part done we can now plan our chapter.

Moving on to mapping and writing chapters. We’ll take a chapter from the skeleton and we’ll say we gave it three events for this example of the skeleton method.

The first phase is to align and entwine those chronologically or in a way that’ll make best sense to the reader. Do this in a way that drives our reader into and through the chapter. Remember these points.

  • Begin at a place that will show continuity from the previous chapter (Unless this is our first chapter). Or a point that creates a nice shift from the previous to a new time, place or perspective.
  • Let the first few lines or opening scene inform the readers as to what’s to come in the chapter.
  • Hook the reader into moving on into the story. Dialogue is a good way, it gets the reader straight into the action. It can give immediate questions and interest to a reader, where preamble or long description may bore our precious reader.

The second phase is to chain nicely into events two and three ensuring the pace and flow is satisfying. Here are a few good ways and tips to do this:

  • Use the surroundings or places to move event to event,
  • Use differing character or narrator points of view
  • Break suddenly into the next event at times.
  • Use many different and varying ways to keep the story moving, unexpected and interesting,

The third phase is to end your chapter well. It needs both climax and desire to read on. There are many ways to do that, like these:

  • Leave it with a big question,
  • A cliff hanger
  • A, what happens next moment.
  • An unexpected event like a risky kiss could potentially do all three as an example.
  • Try never to leave it at a low point or a place that feels like nothing is happening. This will kill momentum and possibly cause the reader to put the book down.

Remember our events that may cross two or more chapters here creating cliff hanger moments with ease. Just remember to follow your skeleton arrows so to save you needing to repair a scene that you ended and shouldn’t have later. (I’ve done this, it’s the ultimate writers momentum killer!)

Now if this is the last chapter it’s a little different. There you must bring your story to a close in a way that leaves the reader feeling pleased to have read it. Desirous to want more of your work in their lives.

  • End on a high note
  • End with reference to something that happened at the beginning. This gives a sense of coming full circle in a story and is often pleasing.
  • Don’t necessarily answer all the questions you raised. Give the reader something to ponder beyond the end of the book. It’ll leave them wanting more and enjoying the thought process, keeping you in their minds for longer.
  • Are you planning a sequel? If so leave a tantalising clue as to what’s coming soon.

Lastly, where only one or two events appear in a chapter. Break the events down into individual parts and timeline them. Then they too will be conformable to the above plan. Albeit with a slightly smaller chapter, which is no bad thing for the following reasons:

  • Short chapters tend to have less description and be more actioned filled and faster paced.
  • Longer chapters tend to be description and dialogue filled. Be careful not to be over heavy with either or the reader may grow tired of the story before the chapter ends.
  • Thus Varying chapter lengths will increase and decrease pace with the story flow.
  • Chapters of equal length tend to make the reader expect the end to come which can lead to boredom.

Let the chapter’s individual story dictate its length. Then just flesh it, or thin it to make it flow nicely.

It’s good practice to edit each chapter as an individual piece. This gives you a view and feeling of how it alone flows and reads. Then you can edit the story as a whole ensure it comes together as the masterpiece you hoped for when you first picked up your pen. Most importantly enjoy the process for if you do, your readers will enjoy what you wrote. Happy writing!

The Blood Road by Stuart MacBride

The Blood Road is the twelfth book in the Logan McRae detective series set in Aberdeenshire by Stuart MacBride, but it is the first book that have read by this author. I did see him make an appearance with Caro Ramsey at an event at Bloody Scotland in Stirling a few years ago. But he was very drunk and his language and actions made the whole thing embarrassing to watch. It must have been even worse for Caro Ramsey being on stage with Stuart MacBride on that occasion. I have not been back to Bloody Scotland since then and I probably would not have picked up MacBride’s book, had it not been on sale for £2.00.

The subject matter of The Blood Road , kidnapping and sale of children for purposes of abuse to paedophiles, is incredibly dark. However, for the most part, it is dealt with sensitively. The dialogue is fast, pacy, darkly humorous and extraordinarily engaging, you just get swept along with them all in a kind of hypnotic reading trance.

The Blood Road starts when the murdered body of a retired policeman, Bell, is discovered. McRae becomes involved because this policeman had, apparnetly died and been buried two years earlier. As if that were not odd enough, a connection is discovered between Bell and an ongoing investigation into the missing children. Wee ones are being snatched and Logan finds himself with no choice but to wade in, dragging newbie DS Simon Rennie along for the ride. 

The one thing I really did not understand was how McRae, who is allegedly in the Police Standards department, and therefore investigates corrupt police officers, ended up working to solve an serious criminal case promoted by an organised criminal gang with so little police support. I do not want to issue a spoiler, so suffice to say, I found that incredible.

I have been told The Blood Road is not the strongest of MacBride’s books and that I should have started with something else – a bit late to tell me that now! I did enjoy humour in the novel and the banter between the characters was believable. However, on the basis of this book, I would not seek out another book by Stuart MacBride any time soon.

Val Penny