I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for A Stranger in Paris by Karen Webb @bookwormpegg published by @impressbooks1. The tour is run by Love Books Group @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours
Aberystwyth University, 1986 – and another year of torrential rain. Bad hair days and a rugby-fanatic fiancé are part of her drab existence so who can blame Karen for falling into the arms of a handsome Parisian?
Hastening across The Channel with stars in her eyes, she speeds to the city of light only to discover that her lover is nowhere to be found. Nor what he seemed.
Life takes a turn for the better when her old school-friend Jessica makes a dramatic entrance, encouraging Karen on a downward spiral of adventure – including a brush with the Parisian underworld which places both girls in peril.
Karen’s childhood is a constant anguish reminding her that when things go wrong, not everyone has a home to return to, as the dark shadows of the past merge with her troubled French life.
Where to go, when there’s no going home?
Based on a true story, A Stranger in Paris is the first of a three-part series. This honest memoir recounts with humour and poignancy the search for love and family.
The ambitiously named ‘Sprinter’ wound into Aberystwyth station signalling the end of my university life. It was time to say goodbye to drenched hair, waxed raincoats and missed deadlines, never mind three years of not understanding the bottom half of municipal signposts. I was off to Paris, city of lights and romance, to be reunited with the love of my life, Monsieur David Azoulay. Standing with me on the platform to mark this momentous occasion were my closest friends of recent months – a group of men in long robes huddled against the spitting rain; their decision to don the national costume of their home countries adding a bright, if somewhat incongruous, note to the station platform. The guard threw a suspicious glance in our direction as he strolled past, blowing a sharp blast of warning into his whistle. We resembled a mislaid pantomime cast heading for Blackpool pier. Half the group were muttering in foreign languages, none of which were Welsh.
The men’s grimaces and doleful looks were clear enough to decipher in any language: You bloody idiot, are you really prepared to lose your last shred of pride? You little fool, embarking on this journey; this hiding to nothing. In their eyes, I was a ridiculous English woman; chasing after a French man who had told me it’s over; pursuing a man of deep faith, whose parents had torn my letters before his eyes for he was an Orthodox Jew and I was not.
Not that the man I had loved for the past few months had looked or dressed like an Orthodox Jew. Not, at least, when playing the field at Aberystwyth. I’d checked out stock images at the library. There’d been nothing to give away David’s game. No clues in his razor-sharp hair or hound-tooth jacket. He’d whispered nothing about Judaism into my ear when we first met, only sweet nothings in that drawling French accent which had left me dribbling into my snakebite at the union bar. If there were any subtler clues, then I’d missed them! And by the time I knew what all of this meant, it was too late. I should accept my fate and see the sense of David’s words. That’s what Rafi said. My station friends shared strict Muslim values. They were unsympathetic to what they considered to be my borderline stalking. My chosen one would never make an honest woman of me. This was their collective belief. My market value had been lowered, in Habte’s words, to less than that of a geriatric camel.
Karen graduated from Aberystwyth University with a Degree in English Literature. She then moved to Paris, where she worked for 16 years as an English language teacher for business professionals before settling in rural South West France. With few employment opportunities other than stuffing geese or picking melons, she qualified as a licensed real estate agent.
Karen then attended Lancaster University where she graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing in 2015, after which she set up a series of Creative Writing retreats, “A Chapter Away”, inviting world famous authors, literary agents and publishers to teach aspiring novelists. Inspired by the comments of tutors on the memoir writing course, she began “A Stranger in Paris.”
Passionate about theatre, and script-writing, Karen has also written plays, several short stories and a novel – all of which are lurking in the bottom drawer. “A Stranger in Paris” is her first published work, and is the first novel of the trilogy La Vie Française.
Karen now lives in Gascony with her husband and son, and has a grown-up daughter who works in London. Much of her writing is inspired by the North West of England where she grew up, and France which became her country of adoption.
Author Penny Hampson is joining me today to talk about her new novel, The Unquiet Spirit, and her writing journey. Thank you for taking time out to chat to me today, Penny.
Please tell my readers a little about yourself
I came to writing rather late in life, having spent most of my adult years bringing up my family and then working as researcher in an academic library. It was only when I made the difficult decision to give up working full time to enable me to care for a close family member that I decided to write my first novel. I’d been juggling both caring and work for ten years and it was beginning to get too much.
Of course, being a historian meant my first book was going to be an historical novel. I joined the New Writers’ Scheme of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, who were very helpful in critiquing my work and introducing me to other authors. A Gentleman’s Promise was eventually published in 2018. I’ve now written three historical novels, the third to be published in October this year. The Unquiet Spirit is my first contemporary novel, but it won’t be my last. I feel I’ve got a lot of catching up to do having started so late!
What inspired you to become a writer?
Ever since I was a teenager I’ve toyed with the idea of writing, but real life always got in the way. There was always something more important that I should be doing. Then when my circumstances changed, I found myself with more free time — time to sit down and write. Since I started, I’ve never looked back and now I can’t imagine life without planning and plotting stories.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
I love being able to create characters and plotting their adventures – creating a story that somebody else will enjoy. That’s the biggest thrill for me.
What is your writing routine like?
Routine? Eeek! I don’t have a set routine for writing. I try to write everyday, but sometimes, because of other commitments, this isn’t always possible. I share a rather cramped office with my husband, so it can get a little difficult at times, especially when I’m trying to write a tense, emotional scene and he is swearing at his computer (we both do that!). However, the good news is that I have been promised a study of my own; our spare bedroom will hopefully be transformed into a super-duper writer’s workspace, with room for all my research books, maps, and other bits and pieces.
How much time is spent on research?
I invest a lot of time on research if I’m writing an historical novel. It’s amazing the amount of time one can spend just tracking down one fact that might only appear in the story as a passing mention. But I do like to get things right. My contemporary novel also took a fair amount of research. As it is set in Falmouth, a place I know reasonably well, it still merited a another research trip. I also had to research portrait painters who were around in Bath at the beginning of the nineteenth century, as a mysterious portrait plays a large part in the plot of The Unquiet Spirit.
How much of the book is planned before you start writing it?
I sketch out a basic plot when I start, but I’m very much a pantster. Things change as I write, in fact, very often the characters dictate which way the plot goes. All I can say is that, I know exactly where I want to my characters to be at the end of the story, but how they get there is as much an adventure for me as for them.
What is your latest book about?
My latest book, The Unquiet Spirit, is about Kate Wilson, a historian who has just come out of a toxic relationship. Thanks to an unexpected bequest, she is able to start afresh in a new place, Falmouth. Unfortunately, things don’t go according to plan. Attempted break-ins, threats, and a hostile neighbour are just a few of her problems. The discovery of a hidden journal and a mysterious portrait point Kate to a secret love story from the past. With a little supernatural prompting, it becomes Kate’s quest to uncover the identities and the fates of the lovers – a task that leads her into life-threatening danger.
What inspired it?
Lots of things inspired The Unquiet Spirit. My husband suggested writing a contemporary story – he’s excellent at giving constructive feedback on my stories, but he’s not a big fan of historical novels, which all my previous books have been. One day I was browsing on the internet, as one does, and came across a house for sale – sadly, not one I could afford – and this became my inspiration for The Beeches. I wondered what it would be like to live in an old house, one with an interesting history, a few secrets … and perhaps a ghost or two. Even though I’d set out to write a contemporary story I was equally determined to work some history in.
I also wanted to introduce elements of contemporary life that are sometimes overlooked or ignored. Issues that I feel strongly about that don’t easily fit in a historical novel. That’s why one of my secondary characters suffers from a chronic illness; I wanted to show how an issue like that can impact a whole family, something I have personal experience of as a carer.
How did you go about getting a publishing deal?
I’m a hybrid author. My historical novels are all self-published, but The Unquiet Spirit is published by Darkstroke. It’s good having total control over one’s stories and how they look, but the costs of professional editing, proofing and covers are significant. These are costs which I considered to be essential before releasing my books. However, I’m happy to say that my experience with Darkstroke has been excellent.
Any new books or plans for the future?
Yes. I’ve got lots of things in the pipeline. My next book, A Bachelor’s Pledge, is already written and due to be released on 7th October. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it tells the story of government agent, Phil Cullen and Sophia Turner, the young lady he rescues from a notorious brothel. Both become embroiled in a plot to unmask a ruthless French spy and prevent a hidden cache of gold reaching French shores. Expect lots of adventure and action. Like The Unquiet Spirit, it too is mainly set in Falmouth and Bath, making my research trips to these places doubly useful! Beyond that, I have more contemporary paranormal mysteries to come. I’ve plans for Freddie, a minor character from The Unquiet Spirit, to have his own encounter with the supernatural, and I’m also working on a modern short story about witches set in Glasgow.
What genre do you read most often?
I’ll read almost anything providing it’s well-written and uplifting, though I do have a soft spot for romance. I enjoy historical novels because I’m mad about history, and it’s also a genre I write. I also love crime and police procedurals, possibly because I enjoy solving puzzles. Though I have to say, I’m not very good at guessing whodunnit!
Thank you so much, Val, for inviting me onto your blog. I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.
Some time ago Penny Hampson decided to follow her passion for history by studying with the Open University. She graduated with honours and went on to complete a post-graduate degree.
Penny then landed her dream role, working in an environment where she was surrounded by rare books and historical manuscripts. Flash forward nineteen years, and the opportunity came along to indulge her other main passion – writing. Penny joined the New Writers’ Scheme of the RNA and three years later published her debut novel, A Gentleman’s Promise, a traditional Regency romance. Other books in the same genre soon followed.
But never happy in a rut, Penny also writes contemporary suspense with paranormal and romantic elements. Her first book in this genre is The Unquiet Spirit, published by Darkstroke.
Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time).
For more on Penny’s writing, visit her blog: https://pennyhampson.co.uk/blog/
Facebook Author Page: www.facebook.com/pennyhampsonauthor
Facebook Personal Page: https://www.facebook.com/pennyhampsonwriter
Amazon Author Page (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/Penny-Hampson/
Amazon Author Page (US): amazon.com/author/pennyhampson
The Buy Link
One Way Out is the fourth book by Bradford author, Amit Dhand featuring his controversial cop, Harry Virdee. While each of the crime stories in the books work perfectly well as stand-alones, the personal story of Harry and his family weaves its way relentlessly through the books in chronological order.
Each of Dhand’s books is dark, indeed they become progressively darker but this novel is definitely the bravest and most overtly political. One Way Out explores a chilling scenario that is only this frightening because it is credible.
IMMINENT SECURITY ALERT, LEAVE CITY PARK IMMEDIATELY.
DCI Harry Virdee has just enough time to get his son and his mother to safety before the bomb blows. But this is merely a stunt; there is worse to come.
A new and aggressive nationalist group, the Patriots, have hidden a second device under one of the city’s mosques. In exchange for the safe release of those at Friday prayers, the Patriots want custody of the leaders of radical Islamist group Almukhtareen – the chosen ones.
The government does not negotiate with terrorists. Even when thousands of lives are at risk.
But Harry’s wife is in one of those mosques. Left with no choice, Harry must find the Almukhtareen, to offer the Patriots his own deal. Because sometimes the only way to save lives, is to take them.
To my mind Harry Virdee is one of the most original and enigmatic detectives to appear on the fiction scene for years. He is a complex, multi-layered character and the stories Dhand weaves are exquisitely detailed. In One Way One the government is firm, it will not negotiate with terrorists. But Detective Harry Virdee’s wife has been taken hostage and he can see only one way out.
The novel is fast moving, tense, powerful and Harry very much in action mode from the very beginning, even if it isn’t quite clear exactly what is going on. One Way Out delves into the dark side of Bradford and explores the city riven by racial and political tensions.
On the occasions I have met Dhand at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, he is quiet, reserved, funny and modest. He does not exude the tensions that haunt his writing. I do enjoy action-packed and thrillers, but I was not ready for such the pacy, punchy, and current novel to slap me and make me long for more that Dhand has created here. I highly recommend One Way Out. It is excellent and would make for much discussion in a book group.
A.A. Dhand was raised in Bradford and spent his youth observing the city from behind the counter of a small convenience store. After qualifying as a pharmacist, he worked in London and travelled extensively before returning to Bradford to start his own business and begin writing. The history, diversity and darkness of the city have inspired his Harry Virdee novels.
I am pleased to be included in the blog tour run by Love Books Tour for the fabulous book by Lali A Love, The De-Coding of Jo: Hall of Ignorance. Enjoy the tour.
When a demonic parasite turns her classmates into an army of sleepwalkers, sixteen-year-old Jo must confront her celestial identity and reveal the mystery of existence. Guided by the Galactic Council, a Galactic Compass and with the help of her best friends, Jo unleashes the cosmic powers of creation to prevent the Lord of Darkness from enslaving all of humanity into obscurity.
Will she be able to decode the artificial system in time to save her friends and the sacred Light?
Jo had managed to convince the principal to play her harmonized music in the winter school assembly. This achievement was made even sweeter by the fact that she noticed the immediate healing effect her tunes had on the sleepwalkers from the stage.
She had grown immensely in her powers through the contract revocations. Her ability to detect the dark auras increased, and she was able to discern the contamination much clearly. Jo had come to the realization that true victory over the Lord of Darkness couldn’t be achieved without purging the sleepwalkers of the sinister parasites. They were latched onto their nervous systems, guiding their every move, thought, and action.
Jo played her music, simultaneously manning the DJ instruments laid out in front of her. She focused her energy, feeling every pulse and beat, her pupils widening. Even though the sleepwalkers stood at the back, she noticed they were swinging lightly to the sound of her harmonic frequencies.
The hosts intensely related to the parts which emoted despair, thinking that all was lost, yet when she changed the tempo of the song midway, she could see the change in their expressions turn from gloomy to surprise. They, or at least whatever human was left in them, hadn’t considered the possibility that there was an escape from the prison of their minds.
They rocked even harder, carefree of the repercussions they would inevitably feel once her music stopped. Jo had hoped that the DNA repair vibrations would inhibit the powers of the parasites and cleanse them out of the hosts’ bodies simultaneously.
Once her set was complete and the assembly was over, Jo realized that the sleepwalkers had all left the auditorium. Her heart ached at the thought of young boys and girls going through such a horrible time in their lives where the control of their bodies was snatched from them.
She wouldn’t wish that on her nastiest enemy, and so it made her even more determined to succeed in her mission of halting the Lord of Darkness from eternal domination. She walked off the stage after thunderous applause, lost in her thoughts. As her friends caught up with her, Flynn could not contain his excitement.
“That was an amazing performance, Jo!” He remarked animatedly.
They all nodded in enthusiasm and walked arm in arm with each other. Jo’s heart fluttered when she saw how happy and peaceful Flynn and Zax looked. Daphne was flourishing and taking control of her life. Jo had noticed how she exhibited more self-control and confidence than she did before.
The reason why Daphne had been unable to overcome her addiction to food, gorging herself in the secrecy of her room, was primarily due to her mother’s unconscious taunts. The minute she endured her scrutiny, Daphne resorted back to the comforts of food. It had been a vicious unintentional cycle that had finally been broken.
Now that Daphne was in a better state of mind, aware of her harmful behaviors, she was able to choose and take responsibility for her actions. She chose to eat healthily, got the right amount of exercise, and was able to stand up to her mother’s oblivious criticisms with a newer perspective. Her mother was only repeating the ignorant patterns of her upbringing, which was not a reflection of her love.
Jo confided in her friends about her concern. “I just hope that the harmonic frequencies from my performance are enough to make an impact on the sleepwalkers. I don’t know if they were strong enough. The parasites still seem to have a pretty strong hold on their hosts.”
Award-winning Author, Lali A. Love provides a supernatural thriller of metaphysical and visionary fantasy with her own revolutionary philosophy and unique narrative skills to produce this heart-wrenching and gripping tale.Lali A. Love lives in the capital city of Canada with her husband and two beautiful children who are her greatest source of pride, joy, and inspiration. As a debut author, Lali loves to write stimulating, character-based novels that invoke an emotional response in her readers. She has done extensive research into epistemology and metaphysics to further her understanding of the Universal Laws of Energy.In her spare time, Lali is committed to writing her visionary fiction trilogy about spiritual transformation. These mystical novels are based on the journeys of three incarnated Angels that have been brought together in the third-dimensional existence, to realize their Divine Feminine soul purpose. Each of them must experience unique self-realization to overcome the dark demonic entities that are determined to destroy their inner light to derail their Soul mission.
At long last, the second collection of Flash Fiction by Allison Symes is available now. I thoroughly enjoyed the clever twists in the tiny stories told by Symes in her debut book, From Light to Dark and Back Again. That book was a joy to read and inspired many young writers to try their hand at this very disciplined form of writing. It was therefore a great pleasure to receive an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Allison Symes loves reading and writing quirky fiction. She discovered flash fiction thanks to a Cafélit challenge and has been hooked on the form ever since. In this follow-up to her From Light to Dark and Back Again, Allison will take you back in time, into some truly criminal minds, into fantasy worlds, and show you how motherhood looks from the viewpoint of a dragon. Enjoy the journey!
Tripping the Light Fantastic is a special little book, the right size to keep in a pocket or a hand bag with stories and poems to entertain while on a bus trip, train journey or just relaxing with a cup of tea.
There are various examples of flash fiction. I had not realised that poems could be considered to be flash fiction until I read this book. The book contains some very short stories with good twists in the tales, longer pieces (still under 1000 words) including Symes’ trademark fairy tales and several neat poems. Tripping the Light Fantastic is varied, clever and entertaining. I highly recommend it to readers of all age groups.
‘m Allison Symes. I write flash fiction and short stories and describe what I write as fairytales with bite/quirky fiction.
I have been published online and in print by Bridge House Publishing, Cafelit, Iron Press and Chapeltown Books, who published my first flash fiction collection, From Light to Dark and Back Again in 2017. I’m currently working on further flash fiction collections and a novel.
My most recent story to be published was the 1000 worder The Professional, which has just been released in ebook form by Bridge House Publishing as one of the 15 winners of the 2019 Waterloo Arts Festival Writing Competition. The theme was Transforming Being (also the name of the ebook) and the 15 writers took the topic in 15 different ways!
Two of my flash fiction stories, Dignity and Injustice, and The Art Critic will be appearing in The Best of Cafelit 8 due out in December 2019.
I also blog for Chandler’s Ford Today, an online community magazine, and usually on topics of interest to other writers.
It is a real pleasure to have Wendy H. Jones visit today. She writes books for both adults and children and is presently Chair of The Scottish Writers’ Association.
Wendy’s Cass Claymore mysteries begin with the novel Antiques and Alibis. It is exciting and hilarious in equal measure. Cass Claymore, a red headed, motorbike riding, ex-ballerina inherits a Detective Agency, and accidentally employs an ex-con dwarf and an octogenarian. Hired by a client who should know better, Cass has no leads, no clue and a complete inability to solve a case. Still a girl needs to eat and her highbred client’s offering good money. Join her as, with bungling incompetence, she follows a trail littered with missing antique teddies, hapless crooks, a misplaced Lord of the Realm and dead bodies. The novel reveals whether Cass and/or Scotland survive.
The DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries begin with Killer’s Countdown. These gripping novels are set in and around Dundee, where Wendy lives. In Killer’s Countdown there are dead women, a ruthless killer and a detective with something to prove. In the book newly promoted DI Shona McKenzie struggles to cope with her new job, the respect of her colleagues, and the need to solve the hardest case of her career. The story reveals whether she succeeds.
Wendy has also produced a non-fiction book for adults too sharing her knowledge of marketing and promoting their work. Marketing Matters explains that right now is the time to start marketing your book and getting it into readers’ hands. Whether you’re a first time author, or a publishing veteran looking to revitalise your sales, this book is here to help. It is jam packed full of simple strategies, hints and tips which will take you through every step of the marketing process. From running a buzzing book launch, and building your mailing list, through to effective social media marketing, you will explore how to get your books noticed and bought by readers. Each of these techniques has been used successfully by the author to build a growing platform designed to revolutionise your book sales. Learn from her what works and what doesn’t and use this book to build a marketing plan which will see your book sales soaring.
However the cutest books amongst Wendy’s collection are her children’s books featuring Bertie the Buffalo. Bertie the Buffalo is based on a true story of when a Water Buffalo escaped from a Buffalo Park in Fife, near Dundee, Scotland. A rhyming book about the adventures Bertie got up to and how he safely returned home, demonstrating how important each of us is no matter how insignificant we feel. Bertie felt that no one noticed him. But he didn’t need to think that as we are all special. We are all a part of one big family.
International Award Winning Author Wendy H. Jones lives in Scotland, and her police procedural series featuring DI Shona McKenzie are set.Wendy has led a varied and adventurous life. Her love for adventure led to her joining the Royal Navy to undertake nurse training. After six years in the Navy she joined the Army where she served as an Officer for a further 17 years. Killer’s Countdown was her first novel and the first book in the Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Killer’s Crew won the Books Go Social Book of the Year 2017. The seventh book in the series. Killer’s Curse will be released early august 2020. The Dagger’s Curse, the first book in The Fergus and Flora Mysteries, was a finalist in the Woman Alive Magazine Readers Choice Award Book of the Year. Turning to humorous crime the Cass Claymore Investigates series was born. She is also a highly successful marketer and is currently in the process of rereleasing her completely updated marketing book Marketing Matters. This will be part of the Writing Matters Series following the release of Motivation Matters. She is also the author of the Bertie the Buffalo picture book and associated soft toy and colouring book. Wendy is delighted to be one of the authors in two anthologies aimed at empowering women – The Power of Why, and Women Win Against All Odds. She is proud to be the President of the Scottish Association of Writers and is the host of The Writing and Marketing Show podcast as well as a writing and marketing coach.
I am delighted to be taking part in the launch tour run by Love Books Tour @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours for the fabulous new novel by Lexie Conyngham, The Slaughter of Leith Hall. Enjoy the tour.
‘See, Charlie, it might be near twenty year since Culloden, but there’s plenty hard feelings still amongst the Jacobites, and no so far under the skin, ken?’
Charlie Rob has never thought of politics, nor strayed far from his Aberdeenshire birthplace. But when John Leith of Leith Hall takes him under his wing, his life changes completely. Soon he is far from home, dealing with conspiracy and murder, and lost in a desperate hunt for justice.
‘He’d be better of a few draughts of that strong wine, I reckon,’ Lang Tam remarked judiciously. The gentlemen, too far away to hear Lang Tam, burst out laughing nevertheless as Keracher was reduced to seizing the pistol butt in both hands, squinting along the swinging barrel. He snatched at the trigger as though plucking a fiddle string, and a bottle three yards to the left of the one he was supposed to hit wobbled slightly. The gentlemen cheered, and Lang Tam sighed.
‘Aye, well: at least I ken never to put money on him.’ He rubbed at his scrawny upper arms. ‘Think they’ll be much longer? I haven’t felt my feet this last hour.’
‘Another round at least, I’d say,’ said Charlie, glad to be asked his opinion. Gentlemen assumed that if they were friendly with each other, their servants would enjoy time spent in each other’s company, too. It was not always so, but Tam always seemed happy to see Charlie. ‘That’s both of Mr. Leith’s pistols loaded just now.’ Lang Tam nodded, and stamped his feet dejectedly.
‘Aye,’ he acknowledged. ‘I’ve just reloaded Mr. Dalgarno’s too.’ He sighed. Charlie had
heard the minister say that a man could not have two masters, but Lang Tam managed it: he
served both Matthew Keracher and his friend, Walter Dalgarno. To Charlie, that gave him a dangerous, even a glamorous, air: a man going against what the kirk said with such ease! ‘And his turn’s at least two away. See them two!’ His voice dropped abruptly, the practised hush of a
servant not wanting his betters to hear his opinions. He made the slightest gesture at the next two gentlemen lined up to shoot. ‘You’d near take them for twins, eh?’ Charlie looked at the two gentlemen, as he realised that Lang Tam’s words were intended sarcastically. Lord Watt was the closer, and to see him you would wonder what he was doing amongst the others, for you could tell straight away that he was a superior being. The very lace at his collar was whiter and stiffer than anyone else’s. The velvet of his coat looked, to Charlie’s eye, freshly brushed, and even his boots shone despite a morning spent outdoors. His perfectly carved profile angled for a moment, turning to see where his servant was with his pistol – Flemish, of course, silverwork glinting, wood so polished it dazzled. Long, pale lids almost concealed his eyes, but he must have been able to see clearly enough, for he turned back, raised the pistol, and
in the same instant it seemed the bottle on the distant branch shattered. Unsmiling, he returned the pistol to his servant, and made a little bow to the next man, allowing him to take to the firing point.
Lexie Conyngham is a historian living in the shadow of the Highlands. Her historical crime novels are born of a life amidst Scotland’s old cities, ancient universities and hidden-away aristocratic estates, but she has written since the day she found out that people were allowed to do such a thing. Beyond teaching and research, her days are spent with wool, wild allotments and a wee bit of whisky.
I am joined today by the fabulous new author, Michelle Cook whose debut novel, Tipping Point launches this month. Thank you for joining me today, Michelle.
1 Please tell my readers a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me over for a cuppa, Val. These cakes you baked are delicious J.
I live in Worcestershire, UK with my husband, two young children, and an ancient cat called Lyra. As a day job, I work for the NHS. One of the brilliant things about the NHS is the people who work for it are so diverse. This to me is one of life’s joys. I’m a nosy parker, so relish finding out about different lives people have led, and places they’ve lived. It’s fertile soil for a writer.
Outside of that, I enjoy walking, music and comedy, and I’m an avid reader myself, though sometimes life with small children has other ideas. I often stay up too late and read or write into the night, but it’s always worth it.
2 What inspired you to become a writer/author?
When I was ten, my teacher set us a piece of homework to write a short story in the style of Gerald Durrell. I wrote a slapstick about two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo. I don’t think I mentioned this in the piece, but they were definitely cockneys. Had I been older, I might have thought of them as the marsupial Kray twins, with milder manners. The teacher read my story out in class, which was embarrassing and exciting in equal measure.
As I grew up, I put creative writing aside and concentrated on maths and science, which I still love. I continued to write occasionally—a bit of journaling, short stories, and a couple of letters published in local papers.
Two years ago, I picked it up again, and this time I couldn’t stop. There was something about the story, which eventually became Tipping Point, which kept me going through the inevitable ups and downs of writing a novel.
3 What is the best thing about being a writer/author?
For me, there are moments where I have a scene develop so clearly in my head. Not always the words, but the feelings and tone. Sometimes when you come to write it, the words form how you want them to, and you recreate that scene entirely the way you imagined it. That’s the best thing.
4 What is your writing routine like?
It can be quite sporadic, if I’m honest. Sometimes family life takes precedence and I have a day job which can be quite demanding. Still, writing can take over my life when I’m in the zone. I would write the day long, given the choice. During the planning of Tipping Point, I would often drive all the way to work without realizing while I was working through plot points.
Right now, I have one day to myself a week now the kids are back at school and that’s writing day. So, it’s drop the kids, cup of tea, laptop on and go. That’s supplemented by nighttime sessions when everyone else is in bed. My ideal would be to approach it as a 9-5 with walks in the country to break it up. Maybe one day…
5 How much time is spent on research?
I’m dreadfully impatient, I’m afraid. Before I began writing Tipping Point, I did a lot of research into climate change and near-future forecasts. After the rudiments are done, though, I work best by breaking off to research what I need as the story demands rather than a large initial chunk.
6 How much of the book is planned out before you start writing it?
Having said I am impatient with research, I really am a planner! I generally work best with an outline, and for Tipping Point I planned down to scene level. This kept me going on the days where I didn’t like my writing at all. A couple of times, I skipped ahead and wrote scenes I was excited about, then went back and filled in the gaps feeling more motivated. I’d never have been able to do that without a detailed outline, so it’s a strategy I’m going to stick with in future.
7 What do you think is most important when writing a book? Characters, plot, setting, etc.
Not a helpful response, but I think it’s all vital. Setting should feel ‘real’, even in fantasy, or the people and events will exist in a vacuum. With Tipping Point, I really wanted to write a story strong on both plot and characters, because you often only see one or the other in a story like mine. There are so many trade-offs to be made between driving plot and allowing your characters to grow. It’s a tricky balance to strike.
8 What is your latest book about?
Tipping Point is an eco-thriller, set in a dystopian near-future England. It tells the story of 18-year-old Essie Glass, grieving for her family, who were killed in a terrorist attack two years before the story opens. Meanwhile, Earth’s climate continues to collapse and a powerful elite controls the population with propaganda, intimidation and surveillance. When Essie joins a group of underground activists, she discovers a conspiracy to suppress green technology that could reverse the climate disaster. She must decide whether she’s prepared to risk everything to expose it.
9 What inspired it?
The story was born out of frustration at our refusal to tackle some really urgent global problems. It seems to me that when we should be working together, the world is busy making decisions to do just the opposite. When I set about writing the novel, my aim was to explore those themes, but also to write a cracking adventure for Essie. She gets into some serious scrapes. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she gets out of them…
10 Why did you pick the genre or genres that you write in?
I don’t think I’ve ever made a conscious choice on genre. I just write my stories, and this is how they come out. My brain tends to the downbeat in general, so I suppose I was always going to end up marketing a dystopian thriller at some point!
I did have a happy short story published in Writers’ Forum earlier this year, all about a secret love affair between residents in a nursing home, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
11 How did you go about getting a publishing deal?
I’d been querying Tipping Point under a different title with agents for a few months, getting nowhere fast. I’d just tweaked the opening chapter and changed the title when, in June of this year, I took part in #Pitmad—a Twitter-based pitching contest. I got an invite to submit from Darkstroke Books, which was a real stroke of luck. I submitted three chapters and a synopsis to them, then they got back to me requesting the full manuscript. A rather nervy (on my part) Zoom call led to an offer of publication.
I was immediately comfortable with their approach as an indie publisher that focuses on darker-edged fiction, which my story fits well. Their independent status means they have flexibility in their approach to publishing and a real personal touch, which I like. There’s a fantastic family of supportive authors at Darkstroke who have been happy to help and advise a publishing newbie. It’s the best of both worlds for me.
12 Any new books or plans for the future?
I’m juggling two ideas at the moment: a sequel to Tipping Point and a dark urban fantasy about angels. I don’t usually work on more than one project at a time because I’m an all-or-nothing girl, so there’ll probably be a crunch time soon where I go with one to completion. But which one…?
13 What authors have been an influence on your writing?
When I was a teenager, I devoured everything Stephen King wrote. That man can spin a story! I suppose that’s where my preoccupation with the dark side began. Later, I’ve become an enormous fan of Kazuo Ishiguro. His talent for characters and voice is incredible. I love David Mitchell’s ability to weave clever story strands and Matt Haig’s soulful writing. If I could combine all these elements, I’d be the writer I want to be.
14 What writing advice would you have given yourself when you started?
Don’t give up. I wasted a lot of years thinking I wasn’t good enough because a fully-formed book didn’t trip off my typing fingers. But the truth is nobody’s first draft comes out perfect. A novel is the result of a long and occasionally painful process of revision and improvement. There are so many facets to this: form, flow, characters, story arc, themes, tone. First drafts aren’t even half way there! It’s a long haul, but if you take joy in the process, that will almost certainly reflect in your writing. So, I would have said just don’t give up.
15 What writing advice would you give to an aspiring writer or a new author to the block?
Apart from don’t give up, I’d say make writing friends. Fellow authors are your best resource. For critiques, advice and just all-round cheer-leading. I joined the online community scribophile.com and met a fantastic group of talented writers who helped me get better in every way. Now we have the pleasure of cheering each other on as we get published. The other authors at Darkstroke have also been amazingly supportive—it’s a real family!
16 What has been your favourite book so far this year?
A couple of books from stablemates at Darkstroke have really stayed with me. Charlie Tyler’s Cry of the Lake is a deliciously dark and twisted tale. And The End of The Road by Anna Legat is a moving take on global apocalypse which is, I confess, a weakness of mine.
17 What is your all-time favourite book and why?
Oh, that’s a tough question! Just one? I’d have to go with either Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro or Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Ishiguro never hits a wrong note for me. Never Let Me Go is eerie and heart-breaking, imaginative in an utterly believable way. I read Wuthering Heights late—in my thirties—and I was completely blindsided by its darkness and passion. It wasn’t the historical romance I was expecting, and I loved it for that.
18 What genre do you read most often?
I’m quite eclectic but I love thrillers, fantasy, magical realism and spooky stories. Or something which explores complexities of relationships. I always enjoy something dark and claustrophobic, which also makes me think.
19 What are you currently reading?
I’ve just started How to Stop Time by Matt Haig and I’m already completely besotted!
20 Anything else you would like to add?
Just wanted to say thank you again! I had lots of fun with these questions. When I finally get my act together with a blog, Val, you must come and visit me there. I make a mean brownie.
Also, everyone should buy Tipping Point, of course! It’s released on 22nd September and is a cracking read 😉
A tale of loss, manipulation, and the search for the truth
What would you risk to turn back the tide?
Essie Glass might have been a typical eighteen-year-old – had life not dealt her an early blow. Struggling to come to terms with the loss of her family in a terrorist attack, and left with nothing, Essie’s not kidding herself about her world. She wants change, and she’ll be honest about it, whatever the cost. From behind her keyboard, that is…
After all, this is England, 2035. Earth’s climate continues its accelerating collapse. A powerful elite controls the disaster-weary population with propaganda, intimidation, and constant surveillance.
By all appearances, Alex Langford is a respected local businessman – until Essie discovers that he’s a murderous conspirator who’d see the planet die for his fortune.
When their paths collide, Essie must decide: how much is she really willing to pay for her honesty?
Her choices, and the events she sets in motion, pit her against both enemies and supposed friends as she risks more than just her life to thwart them.
Will she succeed in revealing the truth? And will she survive?
Michelle lives in Worcestershire, UK, with her husband Daniel, their two young children, and a cat called Lyra Belacqua. By day, she works for the NHS, a job which she has almost as much passion for as fiction.
Her first joyful steps into creative writing were at the age of ten, when the teacher read out her short story in class. A slapstick tale of two talking kangaroos breaking out of a zoo, the work was sadly lost to history. Still, Michelle never forgot the buzz of others enjoying her words.
More recently, she has had several flash pieces published, was long-listed for the Cambridge 2020 prize for flash fiction, and placed first in the February 2020 Writers’ Forum competition with her short story The Truth About Cherry House. Tipping Point is her debut novel.
Settlement is the second novel in Anne Stormont’s @writeanne trilogy set on the beautiful Scottish Isle of Skye. It is a privilege to be part of the blog tour arranged by Love Book Tours @lovebooksgroup #lovebookstours for this fine novel. Enjoy the tour. Settlement is the sequel to literary romance novel, Displacement, but it can be read as a stand-alone.
Can love truly heal old wounds? Can the past ever be put peacefully to rest? If you like a complex, grown-up romance with lots of raw emotion, dramatic and exotic settings, all mixed in with some international politics and laced with elements of a crime thriller, then this is the book for you. Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever after requires work, commitment and honesty. She wants him to be her friend and lover. He wants her as his wife. Can a compromise be reached? Or are things truly over between them? When former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter met crofter and author Rachel Campbell at her home on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for them both. But after Jack proposes marriage, it becomes clear they want different things. Then, as Rachel prepares to return to the Middle East to work on a peacemaking project that’s close to her heart, and as Jack’s past catches up with him, it seems their relationship is doomed. Can Rachel compromise on her need to maintain her hard-won independence? Can Jack survive the life-threatening situation in which he finds himself? Will they get the chance to put things right between them? Settlement is the sequel to literary romance novel, Displacement, but it can be read as a stand-alone.
I admit I was an idiot, thinking it was all going to be straightforward and happy ever after, and then reacting badly when it wasn’t. I didn’t read the situation correctly – so much for all my years as a Detective Inspector. I was also dishonest, didn’t have the guts to explain what was wrong when she asked me. But then, I’m sure if you were to ask my ex-wife or any of my ex-lovers, long termrelationships never were my strong point. I may be fifty-eight, but I guess I’m no wiser than an eighteen-year-old when it comes to women.
Our relationship developed slowly. When I first knew her, she’d been sad and a bit lost. Not only had she recently lost her mother, but she was also still grieving the death of her soldier son killed in action a couple of years earlier. But over the months that followed she seemed to find her way again. Going to spend the summer with her brother in the Middle East was a turning point and she came back changed; a new, noticeably different woman.
It was after she got back that we became lovers. It was wonderful at first, but like I say I got things wrong. Rachel continued to change. She moved on and flourished, and all she wanted from me was love and support. But I failed her.
I’ve never loved anyone the way I love Rachel and the one thing I dreaded was hurting her. But I did it anyway.
We both had baggage. The difference was Rachel dealt with hers and moved on. I didn’t.
And now that my past has caught up with me, my biggest regret is I probably won’t get the chance to tell her how I really feel.
I want to say all the things I should have said to her before she left. Things like how much I will always love and admire her, how proud I am of her. I want to tell her she was right about me, and not to waste a minute grieving for me when I’m gone.
Anne Stormont writes contemporary romantic fiction where the main characters may sometimes be older – but not necessarily wiser.
She hopes the stories she tells will entertain, but she also hopes they will move, challenge and inspire her readers.
She has written four novels so far – Change of Life, was her first. This was followed by the three novels set on the Scottish island of Skye – Displacement, Settlement and Fulfilment which tell the story of Rachel and Jack.
Anne is a Scot, living in the land of her birth. She’s a former teacher and when she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, country walks and gardening – and the occasional pillion ride on her husband’s motor bike. She also loves spending time with friends and family – especially her three grandchildren.
Anne has travelled all over the world and has visited every continent except Antarctica – somewhere she really should go considering her penchant for penguins.
She can be a bit of a subversive old bat, but she tries to maintain a kind heart.