Sunday Sojourn with Val Penny by guest author Jennifer C. Wilson

Last year at Swanwick, I was excited, but nervous. Would I make friends, would I fit in, would I enjoy it at all after years of wanting to go? Within minutes of arriving at Derby station, I met Val Penny, who took me under her wing, and looked after me that week, introducing me to folk and helping me find my feet. I’m so chuffed then, that she’s become an official Cat, and has joined me today on the blog to talk about her writing, and her reviews.

This article was first published on 22 October 2018 by Jennifer C. Wilson at


When did you start writing?

I remember when my younger sister and I were little girls our Mum used to make time to sit and read us stories on a Sunday afternoon. These were not like bed-time stories, on a Sunday we would get to sit in the ‘good’ living room and she would read us books including ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ by H. Rider Haggard,’Swallows Amazons by Arthur Ransome and ‘Emma’ by Jane Austin.

We loved listening to the stories but after we were in bed, having heard another story, my sister often could not get to sleep right away, so I would make up my own stories to tell her until she fell asleep. The first book I ever wrote was one of these stories, an adventure entitled ‘The Douglas Family’. I was about 9. I always planned to write a sequel, maybe one day I will.

What drew you to start writing restaurant and hotel reviews?

It is often said that when we are teenagers we rebel and when we grow older we become ourselves again. It was certainly true of me! I have always read voraciously but my writing, for many years was confined to studies, work and journals. However, when I was older, I contracted breast cancer. My way of coping was to revert to type. I read all I could about the disease and began to blog about my journey at

However, I have also always enjoyed good food and loved to travel. It is said I would go to the opening of a paper bag! So I decided to start another blog to encompass these interests. Whenever I go anywhere, or go out to eat, I will share the experience here at – to date it has not resulted in free meals, but I live in hope.

What about your book review?

It was also during the time that I was recovering from cancer that I began my book review site. For almost a year I was too ill, first from the disease and then from the cure, to do very much. However, I could read: and I did, even more than I ever had. It seemed sensible to extend my blogging to include reviews of the books I was reading, so my third blog, was born. I began to get asked by writers to review their books and I am always happy to do that. I do not make a charge, but I receive many excellent novels and biographies in return for my honest reviews.


I always enjoy reading books by writers that are new to me, as well as those with whose work I am familiar. I just like to read. I have always found that reading can take you to a all kinds of places to meet different people. Perhaps it is my love of travel, this time through the medium of the written word. This was a great way for me to escape, especially from myself, when I was ill.

Any tips for aspiring writers looking to give good, constructive and readable reviews?

When I am reading a book review, I am looking for an honest opinion about the book. I also like to learn a bit about the author, their background and how they came to write the novel. It is also important that any review, like any other piece of writing holds my interest but please, please don’t spoil my enjoyment of the story by telling me what happens! That really upsets me.

My own debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is to be published by Crooked Cats Books in February next year, so I will have to get used to being on the other side of reviews. That is a daunting feeling.

What would be your ‘dream review weekend’: where to stay, where to eat, what book to read? (The restaurant and hotel don’t need to be in the same place – it’s a dream, after all!)

The most fabulous hotel I have ever stayed in was a Holiday Inn in Beijing. It was enormous, with beautiful well appointed rooms, several restaurants, a bowling alley, a swimming pool and spa, marvellous shops and a fabulous sense of space. I would definitely stay there.


However, one of the best meals I have ever had was in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. My husband and I had driven up from the Red Sea and decided to treat ourselves to dinner here. We dined in the King Garden Restaurant which has spectacular panoramic views of Jerusalem and the Old City from the terrace above hotel gardens, however as it was late evening, we chose to sit inside in the stylish interior hall. The menu reflects the diverse culinary heritage of the region. We had a variety of starters including grilled vegetables and the best hummus I have ever had. My mushroom risotto was marvellous and my husband chose the sea breen and thoroughly enjoyed it. The wine cellar is par excellence but the ambience cannot trump the views of the city.

For my Sunday Sojourn theme, can you tell me about a place which either inspires you as a writer, acts as a setting to your writing, or means something to one of your characters?

Setting is very important to me in my writing, even when I wrote ‘The Douglas Family’ for my sister all those years ago, I could visualise the house the family lived in, each room and the garden in which they had so many of their adventures.

eboro In ‘Hunter’s Chase’ my story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. I did consider creating an imaginary town for him. However, I know the city of Edinburgh well as I lived there for many years and it has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen there, could happen.

Edinburgh is also a beautiful city with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. What more could I or my characters want?

Thank you for inviting me to visit with you today. I always enjoy your company.


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