Friday, March 10, 2017

The Little Theatre by the Sea by Rosanna Ley

Reading a new book by Rosanna Ley is like revisting old friends, because within minutes you feel warm, comfortable and completely relaxed. I'm not normally a fan of contemporary fiction but I make an exception for Rosanna Ley and to be fair she often includes references to the past in her books. In her latest novel The Little Theatre in question is a faded and dilapidated building full of charm and secrets. Faye having completed a degree in interior design but lost a boyfriend is wondering what to do with herself when she is contacted by old friend Charlotte. Charlotte and Faye had travelled through Italy and Sardinia in their twenties and Charlotte had settled in Sardinia and married Fabio a local hotelier. Charlotte invites Faye to come and house sit and to give some advise to her friends Marisa and Alessandro who have inherited the theatre and wish to restore it. 
Faye is rather taken with the idea, though she is quick to point out her lack of experience. Arriving in Sardinia, Faye is soon enchanted by the Little Theatre, the town and the local people not to mention the arrogant but very handsome Alessandro Rinaldi. However it soon becomes apparent that the theatre is in fact a source of discontent amongst the local people. Many are worried about an outsider being involved in the restoration, others are worried that the character will be lost. There is bad blood between the Rinaldis and the Volti family and in fact some even dispute the Rinaldi's ownership of the theatre. Faye is soon wondering what she has let herself in for. The narrative is also interspersed with the stories of Molly and Ade; Faye's parents who are navigating retirement and each other in beautiful West Dorset. 
A wonderful read full of the sights, sounds and experiences of the sultry island of Sardinia. Rosanna Ley is a delight. Perfect for fans of Dinah Jeffries and Victoria Hislop. 

Thanks so much to Imogen at Midas PR for a copy. 
Published by Quercus in hardback 9th March 2017.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Madwoman in the Attic #5 Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington

Marguerite Power was born at Knockbrit, Clonmel, Co Tipperary in 1789. She was the daughter of Ellen Sheehy and Edmund Power who owned a small amount of land. According to her first biographer her father known as 'Buck' Power was a gambler and drinker and Maguerite had an unhappy childhood as the family were constantly in debt. Her father traded Marguerite in payment for gambling debts to Captain Maurice St Leger Farmer, so at 15 Marguerite went from unhappy child to unhappy bride. Her husband starved, beat and imprisoned his wife. The law at the time would offer her no protection and Marguerite's only option was to separate from her husband. When he was posted to India by the army she refused to go with him and instead  moved to London. She was immediately a cause for scandal as she was a 'separated woman' but still a teenager. However her good looks and sparking wit made her extremely popular as a society hostess. Marguerite began an affair with Charles John Gardiner, First Earl of Blessington while both of them were still married but his wife died in 1814 and Farmer died in debtor's prison in 1817 so the pair married in 1818. Blessington was a wealthy and indulgent husband and Marguerite was generous to a fault insisting on helping out a number of relatives in Ireland and England. In 1822 the Blessingtons set out on a Grand Tour. Marguerite was well known in literary circles and struck up a friendship with Byron at Genoa. She later wrote Conversations with Lord Byron. (1834) At Naples she met Irish writer Richard Robert Madden who later wrote her biography (1855). While they were travelling on the continent John invited the dashing Count D'Orsay who had been part of their London circle to join them. With all of them living together and indulging in a life of extravagance it was probably inevitable that D'Orsay and Marguerite began an affair but with a young and healthy husband Marguerite knew that it could be years before they could be together so she devised a plan. She persuaded her husband to arrange a match between his daughter Harriet from his first marriage to D'Orsay so that they could continue to spend time together without any gossip. Ironically just a few months after the marriage in 1829 Blessington suffered a sudden stroke and died  in Paris. He left Marguerite plenty of money, jewels and estates and she establishment her household back in London persuading D'Orsay and Harriet to live with her, after just three years though Harriet walked out exposing her husband and step mother to scandal. Typically D'Orsay was accepted quickly back into society but Marguerite was not. Marguerite turned to writing to support herself and her literary salons were revived. Her home Gore House is now the site of the Albert Hall and writers who visited her included Charles Dickens and Benjamin Disraeli. Marguerite wrote novels; The Repealers or Grace Cassidy (1834), The Governess (1839),  Strathern (1845), The Fatal Error (1847) and travel books The Idler in France (1839) The Idler in Italy (1841) as well as contributing to newspapers and periodicals, she was one of the first writers to have her work serialised in The Sunday Times. Astute in her own business dealings but not in her private life Marguerite and D'Orsay had to leave London to escape their creditors in 1849. Just a few weeks later Marguerite was dead, like her husband before her she suffered a massive stroke in Paris. She is buried at St Germain. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Lucy Worsley’s second book for young readers is the story of Miss V. Conroy who is brought to Kensington Palace to act as a companion to the young Princess Victoria. Her father John Conroy is the architect of the Kensington system of which Miss V. is expected to become a part, because Miss V. is very good at keeping secrets. Her father calls her his mouse because she is so calm and quiet in contrast to the wild and wilful Princess. The system is meant to protect the Princess from those who would do her harm and to keep her away from the bad influences including her mother the Duchess of Kent. Miss V. is very soon torn between loyalty to her father and her growing friendship with Victoria as she begins to see how the system keeps Victoria locked away from the world and might even be damaging to her health.

This book is an absolute delight and will appeal of course to fans of Lucy’s television work and her previous novel for young adults Eliza Rose but I believe My Name is Victoria will have even broader appeal, with a successful first series of Victoria and a second series confirmed the interest in the younger years of Queen Victoria has never been so intense. With this book I believe Lucy Worsley has really found her voice as a writer of historical fiction for children. Ideal for fans of Katherine Woodfine and Emma Carroll.  

Thanks so much to Shelley and Louise at Love Reading and the publisher for sending me a copy to review.
My Name is Victoria will be published on the 9th March in the UK and Ireland by Bloomsbury. 

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths Blog Tour

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths the latest in the Ruth Galloway series of mysteries. I actually cannot believe that this is the ninth book in the series. It seems like no time since I started reading about Ruth and Nelson and Cathbad and all the other wonderful characters that people these novels. I can confirm that you can read any of the series as a stand alone since I choose Elly's last book The Woman in Blue for my book club a few months ago and I sneakily didn't tell them that it was part of a series. However it did lead to a number of new Elly Griffiths fans. In the latest instalment of the series a mysterious sinkhole appears on one of the main roads out of Norwich and Ruth has discovered human bones in one of the many underground tunnels beneath the city. The bones however turn out to be not part of a medieval burial but much more recent so DI Nelson is soon involved. Judy is investigating the disappearances of local homeless people and an academic at Ruth's university is talking about secret underground societies so what is the connecting thread? Then a local woman goes missing and a mystery becomes a manhunt. As usual it takes a group effort to unravel. The thing that makes the Ruth Galloway mysteries so appealing is that as well as an intriguing and involving plot the characters are so wonderful that you really want to know what they will do next. Their private lives are as detailed, as interesting and as messy as anything they investigate and it really is a joy to spend time with them. Elly Griffiths is one of my favourite writers and other writers love her too. Val McDermid and Kate Mosse are both big fans. Elly weaves superstition and local knowledge into her fiction so if you are a fan of James Oswald then you will enjoy her work. You could read The Chalk Pit as a stand alone novel but I can assure you that once you discover the world of Ruth Galloway and DI Nelson you will want to read the whole series.

The Chalk Pit is out in hardback and e-book now from Quercus. Thanks to Olivia Mead for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. The Reading Agency in England are currently running a Discover Elly Griffiths Challenge through local libraries and Elly herself is currently touring the UK to promote her new book.

The Blog Tour Continues for another few stops, details below.

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Sarah Dunant's latest novel. With In the Name of the Family Sarah Dunant continues the saga of the notorious Borgia family begun in Blood and Beauty. The new novel however can easily be read as a stand alone. The book presents the voices of Lucrezia, Cesare, Rodrigo; the Borgia pope and Niccolo Machiavelli.  The year is 1502. Rodrigo Borgia is Pope Alexander VI. He is inordinately wealthy, calculating and powerful. His son Cesare is a military strategist intent on becoming the most powerful man in Italy and Lucrezia is once again betrothed; this time to Alfonso heir to the Dukedom of Ferrara . Following the family through the eyes of Florentine diplomat Machiavelli and through their own accounts In the Name of the Family recounts the last year and a half of the rule of the Borgia Pope and the daring attacks carried out by Cesare in his attempts to conquer Italy while Lucrezia contends with an indifferent husband, a penny pinching father-in-law and a jealous sister-in-law. What Machiavelli learns as he watches the unfolding saga of the Borgias will inform his masterwork on politics and power The Prince.
It is a testament to the skill of Sarah Dunant's storytelling that the characters are alive and vivid as people not as the evil caricatures handed down through history. Although despite this the author doesn't hold back at portraying the cruel acts carried out in their names; by Cesare and his henchmen in particular. However their weaknesses and the dangers of illness and disease are also an integral part of the story. This is an intriguing look at one of the most powerful, cruel, ambitious and interesting families of the Renaissance. It is also a fascinating look at the history of syphilis which had begun to spread just a few years before and was known as the 'French pox', Cesare was a noted sufferer and was subjected to a number of treatments during this period. Sarah Dunant has clearly done intensive research on the period. Through a number of books she has presented a variety of portraits of Renaissance Italy and it is her power to bring the period vividly to life that makes her stand out as an author of historical fiction.
Perfect for fans of Alison Weir, Marina Fiorato and Elizabeth Fremantle.

In the Name of the Family is out now in hardback and e-book from Virago. Thanks so much to Hayley Camis for an e-book copy for review. You can learn more about Sarah and her books by checking out her excellent website.

The blog tour continues see banner for details

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Killing Bay By Chris Ould Blog Tour

Chris Ould's latest novel continues his Faroes Series which began with The Blood Strand. I'm new to this series so diving straight in to book two I was aware that there was a continuing narrative from book one but it wasn't too difficult to catch up. The book has two main protaganists local detective Hjalti Hentze and English policeman Jan Reyna. Jan is visiting the islands for his father's funeral and to try to learn more about his mother who died when he was a child and to try to reconnect with his birthplace. Jan and Hjalti have already been through an ordeal in the first book and now Jan is spending his time walking the hills and learning more about the islands and his family. Hjalti meanwhile is dealing with a murder. In the wake of a protest against the traditional Faroese whale hunt or grind, a female photographer working with the protest group is found dead, while the initial  signs seem to indicate a sexually motivated attack, Hjalti is not so sure and as he digs deeper it seems perhaps the killer may be dangerously close to home. I found Chris Ould's characters incredibly likeable and interesting and this book is a genuine page turner set in a stunning part of the world. There is a clash of cultures between the whale hunters and the protesters and within many of the characters Jan and Erla particularly. If you enjoy Anne Cleeves Shetland series or the Scandi Noir of Anne Holt then add Chris Ould and the Faroes series to your must read list.

The Killing Bay is out now from Titan Books. Thanks to Philippa at Titan for a review copy of the book.

I asked Chris to tell me about his typical writing day. Here's what he said.

How I Write - Chris Ould

Asking a writer how they write is like asking a juggler how they keep six oranges in the air at the same time. The juggler could probably break it down into the size, texture and aerodynamic properties of the oranges, but I'm still not sure he'd really be able to describe how he does it.

That said, I think the biggest challenge in writing is to just show up, by which I mean to sit down at the desk ready to work. Generally I'm in the office – read shed – at just after 7:30 when my son goes off to catch the school bus. I'm always more productive during school term time because I can't sleep late. That's something I don't like to do these days, anyway.

My shed/office was a toilet and shower block for a caravan site on the fields next to our house in the 1960s. The name "Steve" is neatly carved into the plaster near my right elbow and I rather like the notion that I'm carrying on Steve's labours in the same place. I refurbished the shed myself when we first moved here so it's custom built for diversion. I like having stuff to look at and fiddle with if I get stuck on a line, so the desk is littered with knick-knacks, toys, puzzles, marbles... basically anything that I find interesting. I share the shed with a few mice who find their way in under the floor or behind the cladding on the walls. By and large we get on all right, although I do have to use a stick to bang on the walls when they're really noisy. The cat kills a few of them when he can be bothered. Most of the time he keeps me company by sleeping.

My rule is to write at least a thousand words a day, every day. If I get to a thousand by mid morning I sometimes give myself the rest of the day off, but usually if it's going that well I just want to keep writing until I run out of steam. On a very good day I'll more than double the word target and then I'm rewarded with gin. I worked for a long time as a TV scriptwriter and doing that was a good way of learning to be disciplined and professional. With a shooting schedule to keep to there's no time to have writer's block or wait for the muse to strike. If you can't deliver a good script and on time you don't get another commission, it's as simple as that.

The only time I relax the thousand-words-a-day rule is when I'm working on the plot of a book, which is probably harder work than the actual writing. Because I write crime novels, which are basically exercises in deception, the plot is essential. Getting motives and means all figured out before I start writing is absolutely key. It also helps to know where you want to end up, so often I'll have a good idea of the ending before I even know exactly who, what and why.

Plotting can take a couple of months to get right. A simple idea like, "he could be killed with a flick knife and it's revealed by the post mortem" can mean days of research, either online, talking to an expert, or going to look at something myself. The browsing history on my Mac would be distinctly suspicious if I was ever a suspect for murder, but really the best way to get information (and great story details) is to talk to coppers, doctors and lawyers. I'm very lucky in knowing great people in those fields and by now they're pretty used to weird questions, followed by days of silence while I try and work their advice into the plot, and then a load more supplementary questions. I do like to get things right if I possibly can.

The plotting stage is also where characters start to take shape. What a character does in the story should be governed by what type of person they are. So if I know I need someone to steal a child from a nursery, say, I work out what sort of person would do that and why, and then I write them accordingly from the start. It might sound obvious to do it that way round, but I think one of the most common mistakes writers make is to have a character do something that is out of character for the person they've created, just because that's what the plot calls for. I suspect that the main reason that happens is poor planning, whether it's in a crime novel or not. I don't believe a good novel is ever really written as a product of pure stream of consciousness without the author knowing where it's going.

By the end of the research/plotting period I usually have a 20-30 page document – a storyline – which is a road map of the entire book. It's usually full of shorthand notes to myself and reminders of logic and character, and that's what I follow to the end. Occasionally, once I get some way into a book, I realise something's not working or is pulling the plot off course. If so I stop writing and reassess and then change the plot, or go back and find out where I took a wrong turn and delete stuff.

The worst advice I've ever come across about writing was to "just carry on to the end, even if you think you've got a problem." That's utter rubbish, to put it politely. If you've got a problem it's not going to go away by ignoring it: things will only get worse. You have to diagnose what's causing the problem and put it right, otherwise you'll just end up with a badly flawed story which will have to be substantially rewritten to make it decent. That's just a waste of time and energy. The best advice I ever heard was "be prepared to kill your babies". In other words, no matter how well written something is, no matter how much you love it, if it doesn't help the story, press delete.

I usually write well until lunch time, but afterwards getting back into it can be hard so I tend to potter around and do admin and other things for a while. Anything physical or that uses a different part of the brain is good. I keep a few sheep so they have to be checked and looked after, and I can usually find wood to cut or something else to do outside for an hour or so, and then by mid afternoon I'm ready to go again. If I'm really on a roll I'll sometimes work after dinner as well, but generally I've had enough by then so I'll watch something on TV, although it often ends up being a documentary that might have interesting (ie useful) information in it for a book idea.

I'm not sure that writers ever really switch off. If the work's going well you're thinking about the next page, and if it's not you're thinking about the section you wrote and how to fix it. I don't remember my dreams, so I don't know if I dream about writing, but I often wake up thinking about it in the morning.

 Thanks so much Chris. Some great writing tips there.

The first novel in Chris Ould's Faroes trilogy, The Blood Strand, was published last year by Titan Books. The second book in the series, The Killing Bay, is published on 21 February 2017.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ambulance Girls Blog Tour

I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows. Deborah Burrows is a bestselling Australian author of fiction set during the Second World War. Although her previous books were set in wartime Australia, Ambulance Girls is the first in a new trilogy set during the London Blitz. Lily Brennan is an Australian girl who came to Europe looking for adventure. She was working as a nanny in Prague when the German occupation of Czechoslovakia began. Having witnessed brutal attacks on the streets particularly of Jewish citizens Lily makes her way to London and before long she is working as an ambulance driver. The work was not without risk and at times Lily puts her own life in danger to help others. Lily becomes close friends with her colleague; Jewish ambulance attendant David Levy and feels aggrieved when some of her other colleagues make racist and anti-semitic remarks. When David disappears Lily is worried and asks his old school friend the dashing RAF pilot Jim for help to find out what happened to their friend. Ambulance Girls is a fantastic book, it's a mystery, a romance and a wonderful insight into war time life with excellent detail about how difficult it was dealing with food shortages and the genuine dangers faced by those who searched for bodies and survivors in the rubble of bombed out buildings. The casual racism and the snobbery and class division are also brilliantly highlighted. I am particularly intrigued by Lily's story because my great-aunt May was an ambulance girl during the Second World War who married her own dashing RAF man, so for me this book held extra special charm. I am delighted that it's the first of a series and I can't wait to read more. Ambulance Girls will make ideal reading for fans of Call the Midwife and the books of Donna Douglas and Nancy Revell or anyone with an interest in women's history and life on the home front during WW2. The blog tour continues tomorrow. Check the poster below for more details. Ambulance Girls is published in paperback by Ebury on 23rd February. Thanks to Josie Turner at Penguin Random House.