A warm winter welcome to romance writer, Suzanne Snow!

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Welcome, Suzanne, and congratulations on the upcoming release of The Cottage of New Beginnings! Before you tell me about the book let’s go back to when you began your writing career. Was writing books always something you wanted to do?  

Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young. I read all the time as a child and loved to make up stories about adventurous girls and their ponies. I always hoped to be an author one day.

Reading your website it is clear that you love romance set against a rural setting.  Are you definitely inspired by setting rather than a character initially?

A landscape is usually the first thing that draws me to create a story. It might be a village or a beautiful view, but there’s always a community at the heart of my writing. Once I have my setting, I begin to imagine the characters who might live there, and those who might be newly arrived and why. I hope to convey a real sense of place in my writing.

Does family and faith play a strong part in your plots as they do in your life?

Friendship and family are very much part of my writing and faith is something shared by a few of my characters but not all. Charlie and Sam Stewart, the young vicar of Thorndale and his wife, have proved popular with readers and they do return in later stories. Sam in particular is mischievous with a lovely heart, and great fun to write.

What character traits do you think are essential in a hero/heroine?

I write heroes who are sensitive without being overly sentimental; and honourable, even if that is not immediately apparent. Kindness, an ability to understand when they are wrong and passionate also go a long way.

I like heroines to be independent, have confidence and warmth. Both hero and heroine need to have some self-awareness, along with the opportunity and willingness to change and develop.

Do you always aim to deliver a feel-good story with a happy ending?

I do, yes. I read romantic fiction as well as write it, and I so enjoy characters falling in love, whether that’s a gradual realisation or something more immediate. As an author, I hope for my readers to feel uplifted, following characters working out their differences to consider a future together.

Since joining the RNA you have been taken on by an agent and signed a three-book deal (huge congratulations on that!). How important has being a member of the RNA been in finding your route to publication?

I don’t think I can overstate the importance of the RNA to unpublished romantic writers. I’ve made great friends and received lots of support since joining and benefitted from opportunities to learn, and Conference is just one of them. I believe it’s important to discover how publishing works, along with the roles of industry professionals such as editors and agents, whether you plan to follow a traditional or indie route to publication.

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What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love to actually just write a draft, something I mostly do early in the mornings. When the story is flowing well and the characters are making themselves heard, then it’s a complete joy and difficult to stop. Editing is also something I find very satisfying, and I enjoy going back and finding ways to improve the manuscript.

What is your least?

I’d probably say the amount of time I manage to spend distracting myself researching something online when I should be writing!

How have you coped with life during a pandemic?

Life has changed, as for so many people, and my husband now works from home and my son is studying mostly online for his A levels. We are thankful to have close family nearby and have been able to support one another during the pandemic and very much appreciate the community we are a part of. The house is busier now and we are all adapting to a new way of working. I’ve also realised how many simple things we took for granted, like meeting up with family and friends for a meal, and I’m really looking forward to being able to hug my wider family again.

I think we are all waiting that day. Having come this far on the road to publication what advice would you give to anyone considering joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme?

Join, if you possibly can, the opportunities to develop your knowledge and make friends are so brilliant. And once you are a member, do try and get the best from your membership by taking part in the activities on offer, whether that’s social media, online learning, chapter meetings (currently all online) and attending events. The RNA is excellent at welcoming people, and Conference, once it is able to run again, is a real highlight and not to be missed if at all possible.

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What is next for Suzanne?

Right now I’m finishing my Christmas story, which is set in Thorndale, and I’m looking forward to the publication of my second novel, The Garden of Little Rose, in February 2021. After that I’ll be planning my fifth book and hopefully spending some time on a tiny Hebridean island for research, rules permitting.

That sounds lovely!

Thank you for the opportunity to be included on your website, Valerie, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.

Suzanne x

You are very welcome. If any readers have any other questions please leave them below.

Merry Christmas, Suzanne and good luck with the book!

Meet children’s author, Heather Watts, as Digger and Biscuit begin their Christmas adventure!

What childhood influencers encouraged your interest in books, storytelling and ultimately writing?

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As a child I was very poorly with chronic asthma so very often I just didn’t have the energy to do anything. My mum would read to me for hours (Enid Blyton and Fairy Tales were our favourites) and I would retell and relive these stories in my imagination. Of course, I was always the hero in my version! I’d sit for hours in the garden talking to imaginary fairies and giants, completely lost in my own world.

By the time I started school I was already able to read quite well (although it took my teacher several weeks to realise this) and I had started writing little book reviews and was trying to write my own stories. At the age of six I had letters published in the local newspaper and the Bunty comic. Hammy Hamster’s exploits were legendary in our family including a three day trip up the chimney and ghostly piano playing in the night!

I’d love to say that was the start of a lifelong passion for writing but I didn’t start to write stories again until a few years ago. As a teacher I always loved reading and writing with my class and it was here that the lovable characters of Digger and Biscuit came to life. Children loved learning with them and took them into their hearts as extra class mates.

What was the appeal of writing a longer picture book?

I always knew that Digger and Biscuit’s stories were a lot longer and more complex than a picture book. With the first book, The Mystery of the Magic Mirror, I plotted around twelve chapters with each one taking around fifteen minutes to read aloud, so ideal for bedtime or story time in a classroom. It’s also a good length for children reading independently.

The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was always intended to be longer at around twenty-five chapters. My idea was that if a reader wanted to, they could read a chapter a day through December leading up to Christmas Day.

I want to tell my stories for anyone who wants to read them – young children, older children or adults. I often see authors discussing the moral of their stories. I just hope my readers enjoy Digger and Biscuit’s adventures and that they make them smile. Of course there are friendships, team work, problem solving and some character who need to learn some manners (!) but really my moral is: stories are fun J

What was the inspiration behind Digger and Biscuit as you capture their gestures of puppyhood so well?

Oh, I’ve always been a dog lover, but we couldn’t have a dog when I was growing up for health reasons. I cried for a week after a farm holiday in Devon because I missed the farmers’ dog, Nipper, so much. My mum banned me from watching dog films because I’d get so upset. My husband understood this when he made the mistake of taking me to see Marley and Me!

So, it won’t come as a surprise to know that my husband and I share our lives with two utterly spoilt Golden Retrievers. They are very like Digger and Biscuit in their behaviour and personalities. Ellie (Biscuit) is particularly good at making up games including “four paw bounce”, “Drop, cheek, roll” (need a pool for that one) and the latest, hiding a ball in a hole in the garden then laying across it. Layla (Digger) tries to tunnel underneath her to retrieve the ball. Hours of fun!

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How involved have you been in creating the lovely illustrations?

I was so lucky to spot a post on social media from Bex Sutton at Primal Studios. It’s such fun working with her. I have a clear picture in my head to the whole book but I can’t draw so I literally scribble a scene and add labels. Bex then turns it into an amazing illustration and she’ll suggest things that I haven’t even thought of. She’s really good (and patient) with my “It’s not quite what I had in my head” moments, but they are very rare. We work really well together.

The Mystery of the Missing Christmas will be available in paperback with black and white or colour illustrations so the reader can choose.

As a teacher you have experience of the target market and its shortfalls. Where do you see Digger and Biscuit fitting into it?

There are so many beautiful picture books on the market and there are some fantastic series and longer novels for older readers. I always struggled to find chapter books that cover that period when children can follow and enjoy a more complex story, but they don’t yet have the fluency and resilience to read hundreds of pages independently. At this stage they want to experience serialised plots and can hold the characters and events from day to day, whilst still enjoying being read to.

I have had some lovely feedback on The Mystery of the Magic Mirror from adults who loved reading it aloud, younger children who enjoyed being read to and ten / eleven year olds who enjoyed reading it independently and that’s fantastic. Now they want to know when book two will be out!

I wanted to write stories that were fun for adults to read aloud, which children would then want to reread independently. I always think it’s sad that we take illustrations out of children’s books because they can bring to life a more complex image or concept. When I’m reading (and writing) I have very clear pictures in my mind, but not everyone can visualise a scene.

What books have been inspirational to you and your children?

Storytime was always my favourite time as a teacher. It was a chance to slip away into another world and it’s so special to share those memories with a group. I’ve always been a fan of Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins and Michael Foreman. I love it when stories have cross over characters and the children were always so excited when a well-known character appeared in as different story.

As I said before, it can be quite a challenge to find suitable chapter books, but there’s nothing like a class bursting into spontaneous applause with cries of “read it again’ at the end of a book.

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What are the advantages of being an Indie author?

I have the freedom to write what I want, when I want and I have control over the whole process. I’m very attached to Digger and Biscuit and I want to tell their stories to the best of my ability. Fortunately, I work with a great illustrator and editor which leaves me free to write. The technical side of formatting and publishing brings me out in a cold sweat and I’m a great believer that you should play to your strengths. I also have an excellent developmental editor who can reign me in and refocus me if my pen wanders into over long convoluted plots!

What advice would you give to a writer about to embark upon this path?

In all honesty, don’t expect to make a fortune overnight. It’s a hugely competitive market and writing a great book doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell in huge numbers. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to market your book and build up a following.

If you love writing and have stories to tell, go for it, but make sure you invest in a good editor who is enthusiastic about your work who can criticise constructively.

Don’t be in a hurry to publish. The Mystery of the Magic Mirror was two years in the writing and evolved so much over that time. The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was less in terms of months, but a lot more hours! I was more focused and disciplined with the second book.

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What is next for Heather Watts?

I was planning to try my hand at a different genre and even completed a Sci–Fi course, but I woke up at four one morning with an idea racing around my head. Experience has taught me that I won’t remember it when I wake up properly, so I quickly scribbled an outline on my large whiteboard. It was a revelation when I saw it later that morning! So there will be a third adventure for Digger and Biscuit.

What is next for Digger and Biscuit?

Are they going to save the Easter Bunny? 🙂

Funny you should mention the Easter Bunny…No, I don’t think Digger could resist all those chocolate snacks and that would be very bad for him. The third adventure sees Digger and Biscuit on a quest to solve a mystery that has been hinted at in the previous books. Will they see any old friends – or enemies? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see J

I wish you every success with Digger and Biscuit and hope you and your family have a lovely, safe Christmas! x

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You can keep up to date with Digger and Biscuit here:

Facebook: Heather Watts (Digger and Biscuit posts are public)

Instagram: diggerandbiscuitadventures   

Twitter: @diggerandbiscuit

LinkedIn: Heather Watts

Meet author and cat behaviourist, Anita Kelsey!

I am delighted to welcome cat behaviourist, Anita Kelsey, as my guest to talk about her work and her new book – all about cats!

Hi Anita,

Let’s begin at the beginning! Can you tell me how and when your love of cats developed?

 I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cats. Mum likes to tell the story of me as a little girl being taken to primary school – how I used to insist on going the long way around, down a particular road where lots of cats lived.

When did you realise that books and information about cats were underrepresented?

You’re always going to get fewer books on a specialist subject than those in the mass market. Within the specific genre of cat care and behaviour there are actually some excellent books out there, so I never really had the realisation that books and information about cats were underrepresented. That wasn’t the reason I decided to write my current book.  Let’s Talk About Cats grew organically from interviews I enjoyed writing for my online blog. I did a search on Amazon when thinking of a follow-up for my first book Claws and saw that no-one had written a book that included interviews with cat experts. I thought how exciting it would be to give people expert inside knowledge in the form of questions from a cat behaviourist to her peers and other inspiring cat folk. How interesting to open up conversations on different subjects such as cat grief, diet and how felines communicate. There’s always room for more cat books and I am hoping mine will get support and be enjoyed, because it’s presented very differently to anything that’s been written about cats so far. Also, it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about my favourite subject!

Do you think cats are generally misunderstood?

The general population may not understand cats as much as they should, but I’m always impressed by the care and patience of experienced cat guardians, people that foster, work in rescue centres or people who have spent a lifetime looking after different cats. What I do find though is that sometimes people expect too much of cats and credit them with human emotions. To really understand cats we must understand them away from the label of ‘pet’ and understand life from their viewpoint, not our own. 

What are the most commonly held misconceptions about cats?

That cats love to be stroked as much as we like to stroke them, that all cats need or want other feline ‘friends’ to live with, that a new cat should be able to like the same things as a recently deceased cat, that cats can be bred as indoor only cats, that cats are aloof and do not need daily care and attention.  I mention the latter as I still know people who go away for 2/3/4 days and leave dry food out for their cat(s) stating that they are fine being left alone as they are independent. There are just a few that come to mind.

What are the most frequently seen problems you have to deal with concerning the cats and/or their owners?

The most frequent issues I have to deal with are:

Multi-cat tensions, especially when a nice balance of cats and cat personalities has been reached only for the cat guardians to bring home another cat.

Spraying around the home either due to outside stressors or territorial stress due to tensions between other cats in the home.

Boredom/frustration usually with indoor only cats.

I’ve had plenty of unusual cases too, such as a cat who was obsessed with eating stones!

What considerations do you feel people who wish to buy a cat/kitten should make before committing to it?

First of all: what kind of lifestyle do you lead and have you the time to give to your cat or kitten, plus do you have the space in your home to meet all of their needs? Are you financially able to meet all of their needs in terms of food, cat litter trays, litter, cat furniture, flea treatments, cat toys, pet insurance, and vaccines – it all adds up. When thinking of buying/rescuing a kitten I would always recommend two, so that they have company during the time their carers are at work, as well as a playmate they can play with and learn from.

Another aspect to consider is the maintenance and grooming of longhaired breeds of cat. Many carers have no idea of the grooming needs of particular breeds, so this is a consideration that should be made before deciding to get breeds such as Persians, Maine Coons, British Long Hairs and all of the Forest cats/Norwegian/Siberian. Also, consider the life span of the cat. Buying a kitten is cute and fun but kittens grow into adult cats and can live well into their twenties. Do you just want a kitten for fun and cuteness or are you committed to the lifetime care of your cat?

You have a specialist grooming service for phobic and aggressive cats – other than ‘very carefully’ how do you approach this challenge?

LOL! Each cat is approached differently and what I decide very much depends on the past history of the grooming experience of the cat and how severe their reactions are to the process.  My approach also very much depends on the coat condition of the cat. For example, an extremely matted cat that is fearful of grooming due to past negative experiences cannot be helped if I treat the groom like a normal one, because it wouldn’t be normal. I would be battling with a cat that is showing fear-based aggression while I’m trying to shave a matted coat. That just isn’t going to happen and would just re-affirm in the cat’s mind that grooming is something to be feared. In this situation I would advise that the cat be sedated at my local vet, where I regularly work, so the coat can be taken off safely and humanely. I would then teach the owner how to slowly reintroduce grooming using the correct tools, the correct technique and doing very short sessions at a time on various parts of the body.

Also using positive associations such as treats or a catnip mouse as part of the experience. Other cats can be handled more easily because they are using a learned behaviour to get the groom stopped. For example, a cat may hiss and growl as a warning when the carer has tried to groom them, leading to the carer stopping. In this way the cat has learned how to get the desired end-result. These kind of cats can usually be groomed quickly and safely by being confident and knowing that what I am doing is not hurting them, making them feel discomfort or making them feel threatened. Because my response is different to that of their carer, the outcome is different. With timid cats I always allow them movement on my table, plenty of breaks when they need them and I always request that the owners stay to help calm them. I use classical music on all grooms, tasty treats and toys. Not only should it be a nice experience for the cats, but for the humans too.

What breed(s) of cat, in particular, make good companions?

There’s no one breed of cat that makes a better companion over another. It’s very much down to the individual cat’s personality and the home territory they are being introduced to.  I think the person wanting a cat needs to think about what they want from them and what their expectations are. Not every cat likes to be held or stroked to within an inch of his or her life, so getting the right personality is key. Also, think about the territory for your furry companion and their individual and evolutionary traits. Many cats do not thrive in indoor only situations. For example, keeping Bengals in a small urban flat with no outside space to roam is not ideal, as this breed particularly needs plenty of stimulation, things to climb and lots of attention and space.

I was intrigued to read about your Norwegian Forest Cats – they look beautiful, what attracted you to this specific breed?

I love the look of the big cats and I love their long manes and chunky feet and paws. The ‘weegies’, as they are known, have more delicate pointed faces than that of the Maine Coons, who have more square broad faces. I also love the fact they are a natural breed from the forests of Norway, hence the breed name. I fell in love with Kiki and Zaza after seeing a photo of them online as kittens. They were two tiny balls of fluff and they were stunning. The breeder wanted to keep Zaza as a show cat but I begged her to let me have her and she finally agreed that they could both come to live with me. At the end of the day I think all cats are beautiful, even the average street moggies. My next cats will all definitely be rescue ones and probably special needs ones, as they get overlooked more often than not. Recently a rescue in Cornwall advertised three blind brothers who had been rescued from abroad. I would have had them in a heartbeat if not for Kiki and Zaza.



Let’s Talk About Cats
Conversations on feline behaviour
 
By Anita Kelsey
Published by KiZa, 28th November 2020, paperback £12.99

What is next for Anita Kelsey?

Well, I’m in the process of trying to relocate to live by the sea, a long time dream of mine so that’s next on the cards on the personal front. Career-wise, who knows! I’m pretty much content doing what I’m doing and have little time to do much else besides grooming and behaviour work. I can’t help thinking a third book may follow when I’m relaxing by the sea with pen in hand (or maybe laptop)! I loved writing my first book Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer and many readers have been asking when Claws 2 will be out! So, perhaps that is what will be next for me! Watch this space….

A warm welcome to romantic novelist, M. A. Nichols

Welcome, Melanie

Looking at your website your sense of fun comes through very strongly. Do you look on every task as a challenge to be enjoyed? Is this your approach to life?

Oh, I wish I had the optimism to approach life like this all the time. I definitely try to ascribe to the “brighter side of life” mentality, but I’ve had plenty of heartache and difficulties in which I struggled to see any reason to be happy. Many of the hardships my characters have gone through are directly influenced by my past, and there are definitely moments where I just need to wallow in my misery for a little bit.

However, I do believe that happiness in life isn’t due to circumstances but to outlook and attitude. It’s important to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes and sometimes you need to cry for a little bit, but I’ve found that there are always reason to be happy despite a crappy situation, if I just open my eyes.

Do you try to filter humour through your novels to lighten the darker moments?

To quote Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

You work full time, love to travel, read extensively, paint and have a large family so how do you fit in writing? Do you have a set routine?

Whew. That’s a tricky question. I think one of the most difficult things in life is to find balance between all the things we need to do, all the things we want to do, and maintaining our physical and mental well-being.

One of the ways I try to maintain good balance is through schedules and to-do lists because if left to my own devices, I’d probably sit in front of the TV all day. Success isn’t something that happens by accident, so I try to plan and organize my time to be more efficient. In fact, I had to set a goal to read less the last couple of years because I found I spent too much time reading others’ books and not working on my own. Lol.

I empathise completely with the desire to become an Indie author, which you explain in detail on your website, but for those authors who are about to take their first Indie steps, what key advice would you give them?

There is no easy path to publishing success. While getting your book published is easier through indie publishing, it’s no guarantee that you’ll make any money. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t expect instant fame and riches. Your first books likely won’t do well, but successful indie authors don’t give up after those first flops. They keep putting out books and trying new things until something catches on.

My first two series have never done well. I spent two years building up those fantasy series, and nothing has ever come of them. Then I decided to publish a passion project — Flame and Ember — which was a historical romance. Not exactly the same fanbase. But I went for it, and the book took off. It was my fifth published book.

Don’t give up. Keep trying.

Has your knowledge of landscape management and landscape architecture into practical use in your writing?

Not really. I’ve used it for some descriptions, but that’s about it. I would say that it, along with my music and art background have given me a lot of training in the creative fields, which has helped me overall.

I loved Flame and Ember, what attracted you to Regency England?

I’ve been a fan of the sweet historical romance genre for a few years, and I’ve loved classic literature from the 1800s for most of my life. That century had so much upheaval and changes that are fascinating to explore.

Have you visited any of the UK cities linked to this period of history or the country houses around them: London, York, Harrogate, Bath?

Yes, and I plan to do a lot more. I’ve been to England three times now, and while the first two were purely for fun, the last time was for research purposes. I learned so much, and it was so inspiring. I came away with a notebook full of notes, several gigs of photos, and a lot of ideas to make my books more realistic.

I am hoping to return very soon. I had planned on visiting this fall, but of course, that’s not happening. Crossing my fingers for a spring trip instead!

You plan to write in the Regency, Victorian and eventually about the Wild West – How extensively do you research?

Researching is a never-ending process. Honestly, I dove into the Regency era with little background in it — other than a love of Jane Austen and having read a ton of novels set in the era. Now, I’m constantly reading some non-fiction book about the period, and each time I learn something new that will inform my future books.

The Wild West was a very popular market in my youth ( a short while ago ☺ ) Is it still a big market in the US?

I believe it is. I haven’t taken the dive into that subgenre yet, but I do love reading those types of books, so I will be writing some in the future. But I’m focused on my England-based novels right now.

Where, in a post pandemic world, would you like to travel to?

Right now, the highest priority is getting back to England. I’ve got a list of several hundred places I’d like to go for research purposes (museums, estates, etc.), and I’m desperate to make a dent in it. Every time I cross one off, I seem to add a dozen more!

But if we’re talking just for fun, Ireland has been high on my list for a few years now, and I was planning on a tour of the Dalmatian Coast with my brother and his family for this summer that has gotten pushed back.

Who or what has influenced you strongly in life and/or in your writing?

There are so many people and things. Seriously, this is a massive list that would take a long time to go through, but first and foremost, would be my parents. I grew up in a household where we loved literature. They taught me to love the written word and exposed me to so many different genres. Between the two of them, they read everything and gave me a love of all sorts of books.

My dad was the CEO of a company for most of his career, and he’s now a business consultant of sorts. He’s my sounding board and guide through all the business aspects. My mom is an artist and loves helping me with the creative side. She’s one of my best beta readers / critiquers. They both are massive cheerleaders and supports through the ups and downs of this publishing journey.

Please tell us about your latest release.

The Honorable Choice came out August 25th and is the second book in my Victorian Love series, which is a spin-off of my Regency books and follows the next generation. Conrad Ashbrook is the son of one of my previous couples, and when his brother ruins a young lady and refuses to save her good name, Conrad steps up and marries her.

A marriage they didn’t choose. A child conceived in a lie. Can they overcome their broken dreams and find happiness in a life forced upon them?

Catching up with Cindy A. Christiansen!

The world is a very different place since we last chatted, Cindy. How have you been keeping mentally and physically fit during the pandemic and lockdown?

Both my youngest son and I have compromised immune systems, so we have had to be very careful. Both of my sons have autism, and just when I needed help the most, their services were taken away because of COVID-19. And to top off all that upset and commotion, we had several earthquakes here in Utah. I think that was the hardest for us.

Because of my health, lockdown seems fairly normal to me, and I have managed to get more writing done. I have also taken an intense class on advertising, and I’m currently trying to play catch up on all the new market trends.

I am so glad that you have all come through this so well. I cannot believe how quickly time has passed since you were my guest back in 2014!

Wow! I can’t believe it either. Obviously, my two sons and the additional help they require keeps me hopping. And now, I have three rescue dogs who require my attention. As you might remember, writing and a rescue dog helped me through some pretty big health challenges, so I feature dogs on my covers and donate to help abandoned and abused dogs from my proceeds.

What have you been publishing since we last chatted?

Well I’m pretty sure that around 2013-2014, my publisher closed their doors, and I decided to take on publication for myself. My company name is Dragonfly Spirit Books, and I have learned a lot as an Indie publisher of my own books. Editing and formatting is just crazy! I have a total of twenty published books but nine of those are novellas. That’s pretty much the length I enjoy and write these days.

What writing projects have you planned for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

I just released a novella called, Last Will and Lethal and have another one at my beta readers. I’m excited to say, I have a three-book contemporary cowboy series planned next! I love westerns, and I’m very excited about this project. I only have one other series and just had my book cover designer update all the covers for them. I am very excited to re-release them.

After that, who knows what idea will hit me, and I will be off on another adventure through my characters!

I wish you every success with this and your many adventures to come!

Here is Cindy’ s bio:

Bestselling author, Cindy A Christiansen, has combined her love of dogs with her joy of writing to create an award-winning combination. Her novels always include canine characters both in the pages and on the cover, an extension of the credit she gives to her extraordinary rescue dogs for their part in helping her overcome numerous challenges. In a reciprocal gesture for their love and devotion, a portion of the proceeds from her books are donated to assist abandoned and abused dogs.

She lives in Utah with her loving husband, two creative children with autism, and a pack of rambunctious dogs.

Here’s what her books give you:

  • A clean read with no bedroom scenes or offensive language.
  • A tantalizing, fast-paced plot.
  • A story without a lot of boring description.
  • Down-to-earth heroes and heroines with everyday jobs.
  • A rollercoaster ride of emotions you face right along with the characters.
  • A special dog to steal your heart.
  • A few added facts, a good message, and that important happily-ever-after ending.

You can read more about Cindy at: http://www.dragonflyromance.com

Meet crime writer David Field!

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Having come from a career in criminal law, has the discipline of attention to detail and meticulous planning carried over to your writing career?

A court lawyer develops many skills, including the ability to double-guess what ‘the other side’ are going to come up with. The ability to get inside the mind of another is perhaps the greatest asset I developed which came in useful when I turned my mind to writing fiction.

When and where did you decide to change direction from dealing with criminals to
writing about crime?

I began writing as an ‘escape valve’ from the stresses of criminal practice long before I retired from it. Then my hobby became my full time activity.

Have you always been drawn to the certain periods of history in which you have based your series?

Like most students of school history I found the Tudor period of interest because of the colourful characters who stepped out of the otherwise dry pages. But my reading preference was for Dickens and Conan Doyle, so the late Victorian period beckoned, and most notably characters such as Jack the Ripper, who’d been covered so often in fiction that I had to find another angle. The female Ripper came naturally to mind, and ‘The Gaslight Stalker’ was born.

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From post war Nottingham of your childhood you now have an extended family who live in New South Wales as you do? When did you make the life changing move from the UK to Australia and why?

I emigrated in 1989, for four reasons. I can list them as sun, surf, BBQs and Margaret Thatcher.

Which of your series has given you the greatest challenge to research and write and why?

Probably the Victorian one, for the reason so much was happening then, and finding a novel approach (no pun intended) was always a challenge.

The Tudor period has had a lot of books set within it. How have you achieved giving yours a unique approach or feel?

Back to earlier answers for this one. First of all, I was drawn to getting inside the heads of those monarchs about whom so much had already been written (e.g. how many times will a reader want to learn of Henry VIII’s lust for Anne Boleyn?). But I was first drawn towards Henry VII (‘Tudor Dawn’) and Cardinal Wolsey (‘The King’s Commoner’), because although their lives were pivotal to what followed, very few authors had thought them worthy of attention. Then it was a matter of seeing well known events from inside the heads of Jane Grey (‘The Uneasy Crown’), Mary Tudor and the young Elizabeth (‘The Queen in Waiting’), and finally Elizabeth in her own right (‘The Heart of a King’).

The Victorian period was one of many inventions in all aspects of life. How have you brought these into your Carlyle and West books to make your characters forward thinking for the time?

Following on from my fascination with Conan Doyle, I dreamed up a contemporary of his (Dr Carlyle) who would also have studied under Dr James Bell and acquired the same observational detective skills as Sherlock Holmes, who was based on Bell. Then I threw in the late Victorian obsession with Spiritualism, and the flourishing of Methodism, to give literary birth to the devout and naive Matthew West as a perfect foil for the scientific and experimental Carlyle.

Would you ever consider writing a series or a standalone novel based upon the early history of New South Wales?

I already have! There is a quartet of novels that cover four generations of the same family, from a convict guard on the First Fleet to a schoolteacher who becomes associated with Ned Kelly.
They are on a long list of my novels awaiting publication by Sapere.

Who has inspired you in your life and in your writing career?

As a criminal lawyer, I had a lifelong admiration of Norman Birkett. In a literary context I’ve already mentioned Dickens and Conan Doyle. Throw in Ken Follett and Hilary Mantel and you have the set.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during the recent pandemics and
lockdown – or has it been more or less life a normal for you?

Like most full time writers with the luxury of being in retirement mode, nothing has changed except that my son and grandchildren live in an adjoining State whose borders have been either closed completely or made very difficult to cross. We haven’t seen them since January.

What is next for David Field?

Back to the beginning. I started writing for my own amusement, but after proving that I can get published (16 times and rising!) I’m back to writing what grabs me rather than simply for a publisher. I’ve always been fascinated by the ‘supernatural’, and I’m now into my second novel about a ‘Ghost Whisperer’ who can not only see and talk with ghosts, but sets about remedying the disorder that has led to the haunting, thereby ‘exorcising’ the problem for grateful and wealthy clients.

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Congratulations to Melissa Oliver – winner of the Joan Hessayon Award 2020!

Have you stopped celebrating yet?

I’m thrilled and utterly elated to be the winner of the 2020 RNA Joan Hessayon award for The Rebel Heiress and the Knight.

I had a wonderful time celebrating over the weekend with my husband, Jack, our three daughters, and lots of lovely messages from family and friends. There was lots of bubbles, cake, a lovely pub lunch, and even a family game of Cluedo!

Going back to the beginning of your desire to write – when did you realise that you needed/wanted to write fiction?

It probably started as a child. I had a fervent imagination and loved nothing better than to escape into the wilds of make believe. The writing bug really caught when I was a little older but to be honest, a lack of confidence and self- belief held me back from pursuing my dream. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties with young children at home, and working part- time, that I began to question what it was that I really wanted to do in life. That itch to be a writer had never gone away and so I decided to do something about it. I have to add, however, that it has taken many, many years to realise that dream!

Were you always in love with writing romance?

I enjoy many genres from thrillers, whodunit, classics, to every kind of historical fiction but I LOVE romance, especially historical romance more than any other and have done so ever since I was a teenager. From Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Anya Seyton, to Daphne du Maurier and many, many others.

How helpful has being a member of the New Writers’ Scheme been to you developing your talent?

The New Writer’s Scheme and the RNA have been amazingly supportive in my writing. The detailed feedback that you get back from an anonymously assigned reader has been incredibly valuable to develop and hone my writing skills.

Was The Rebel Heiress and the Knight your first completed novel?

Yes, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight was my first fully completed novel. Previously, I had written screen & radio plays, and I once started a YA thriller that never went anywhere. I do believe that it’s good to try different things creatively until you find your voice, so nothing is wasted – at least, that’s what I tell myself.

What drew you to the C13?

I love anything historical and once I had created the general outline of my story, it was a question of working out which era would work best.  Eventually, I felt that the early 13th century with King John’s turbulent reign was the perfect foil for my story.

Your heroine has a dramatic backstory, did this give her character more depth?

Absolutely. I knew that I wanted my characters to feel ‘real’ within the context of the story, and whilst there was a huge amount of external conflict, I knew I had to explore why they behaved in the way they did, to make the story work. This is especially true of Eleanor, who is a quite extraordinary character for the times she lived in.

Few will know who Fulk FitsWarin lll is – how did the link happen to the legend of Robin Hood?

The life and times of Fulk FitzWarin III ( Foulke le FitzWaryn) was intriguing, romantic, dangerous and pretty incredible. The parallels between what happened to him and Robin Hood are strikingly familiar. FitzWarin was forced to become a rebel and later an outlaw after Whittington Castle and his hereditary lands were confiscated by King John. He lived for many years in woods & forests with his band of outlaws and even his right-hand man was apparently called John. He never gave up the claim of his birth right and did eventually win it back, but only after much heartache and strife. He also won the hand of the heiress Maud le Vavasour, who some believe to be the inspiration behind Maid Marian. There were other real-life inspirations for the legend of Robin Hood such as Herewerd the Wake and Eustace the Monk but in my opinion, no one epitomised Robin as well as Fulk did.

What has working with Harlequin Mills and Boon been like?

It has been amazing working with Harlequin Mills and Boon. They have a wonderful, collaborative team who are very supportive and insightful. In particular, my editor, Charlotte Ellis, who has been a pleasure to work with.

What is next for Melissa Oliver?

The Rebel Heiress and the Knight is part of a linked series, The Notorious Knights. The next book, Her Banished Knight’s Redemption, is William Geraint’s story (he’s a secondary character in the first book) and is due to be published Jan/ Feb 2021. I’ve also signed another two- book deal with Harlequin Mills and Boon, so I’m currently writing the next Notorious Knights book.

I wish you every success in your writing career.
What a great start!

Introducing the short list for the prestigious RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2020!

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Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist.

Read on to find out the stories behind the talented shortlisted authors for the prestigious award as they reveal the themes that are at the heart of their lovely novels.

Zoe Allison, Impervious, Totally Bound

After years of hard work and burn out in Medicine I came to realise how much I loved writing and what a release it was – a balm for the soul. I wrote a couple of opinion pieces for a medical newsletter and after that tried my hand at writing children’s picture books. As my own children grew I got back into reading romance and remembered what I enjoyed most about the genre – the happy endings. I decided to write my own romances, with the strong heroines and non-toxic heroes that I craved to see in the books I read.

Jan Baynham, Her Mother’s Secret, Ruby Fiction

On retirement, I joined a local writing group. Once my stories started getting longer, I undertook a novel-writing course, enjoying the challenge to explore my characters in more depth and delve further into their stories. Joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme was the best decision I made on my journey to becoming a published novelist.
I love writing about families and the skeletons lurking in their cupboards. In ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, my main character, Elin, has a well-hidden secret. The novel explores the bond between a mother and her daughter, forbidden love, cultural differences and a search for true identity.

Laura Bambrey, The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, Simon & Schuster

The theme of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness was dictated by my main character, Tori. As I spent time getting to know her, looking past her severe anxiety and issues with specific phobias I realised that, right at her very core, she was chronically lonely. This sent me off on a fascinating trail of research. Loneliness has so much stigma attached to it – it’s a strangely taboo subject and something that is very difficult to discuss – but we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. I hope this book helps to open up those conversations.

Victoria Garland, Finding Prince Charming, DC Thompson

My first attempt at writing was at the age of twelve. I was given a typewriter for Christmas and started pounding out my own version of a Nancy Drew mystery. Remember those? Fast forward three decades to when I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. After having several short stories published in My Weekly I decided to write a pocket novel for them. I was asked for a sparkling Cinderella story for Christmas and Finding Prince Charming was born. I had an absolute blast writing it, playing with the fairy tale theme and falling madly in love with the hero.

Rosemary Goodacre, Until We Meet Again, Hera

As RNA members know, the New Writer Scheme is a great way for debut novelists to have work critiqued by professionals, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
The centenary of the Great War reminded me of this tragic period of history. What must it have been like to have been suddenly swept into it? My characters, Amy and Edmond, had to be special people. They fall in love as war breaks out, snatching days and weekends together, uncertain of their future. Only their love brings them through disaster.

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Annette Hannah, Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe, Orion Dash

About fifteen years ago the Signal Box near where I live became automated and I always thought it a shame that such a lovely building should be neglected and boarded up. I often visualised it as a café and when my protagonist Lucy needed a venue for her wedding planning business, I decided to use the old Signal Box as inspiration and followed my dream even if it was just in my imagination. Writing a book has been my lifelong ambition and to have achieved it feels fantastic. Being a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award is a wonderful rite of passage.

Stephanie Harte, Risking It All, Aria

I’d dreamt of writing a book for years but had been put off by the daunting task. Filled with self-doubt, I talked myself out of the idea every time it resurfaced until I plucked up the courage to put pen to paper and join the New Writers’ Scheme.
In Risking It All, Gemma’s forced into a life of crime to clear her husband, Nathan’s debt after he secretly borrows money from a gangster. Her loyalty is pushed to the limit as she battles with her conscience. Losing Gemma could be the price Nathan has to pay for his reckless behaviour.

Stefania Hartley, Sun, Stars and Limoncello, Totally Bound

When I moved to the UK from Sicily, my English was too poor to imagine that I could ever write anything. Eventually, my Italian became rusty too. But one day I discovered that I could write articles about my subject (I was a Science teacher). After twenty years, I finally knew English well enough to write! It was as exhilarating as sprouting wings. I started writing about anything that excited me and memories of my Sicilian youth popped up more and more. Now I love to share with others those memories and stories of hot Sicilian summers, sun-drenched passion and sparkling seas.

Kirsten Hesketh, Another Us, Canelo

My debut, Another Us, is inspired by my son who was diagnosed with mild Aspergers when he was ten. A few years later, sorting through some of the bumpf I’d been given at the time, I stumbled across a statistic which claimed that eight out of ten marriages with a child on the spectrum end before that child is sixteen. Our son was already sixteen by this point and I decided the statistic was rubbish. But what if I’d known about it earlier on? Might I have reacted differently, behaved differently? And so the idea behind Another Us was born.

Sharon Ibbotson, The Marked Lord, Choc Lit

As a child, I never wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be a nun. But after my parents informed me that I was neither Catholic nor was being a nun like it was in ‘The Sound of Music’ I started to consider other options. I loved reading – in fact, I still believe I am a better reader than I am a writer – and I started writing when I lost a copy of a library book I never got to read the end of, making up my own conclusions to the story and seeing where I could take the characters I had fallen in love with. I wrote ‘The Marked Lord’ when I was pregnant, sitting in my garden and dreaming of home (Australia plays a large role in this story). It’s all about second chances and letting go of past hurts, both physical and emotional. It was a lovely book to write and I’m still very fond of it (I am also still very fond of ‘The Sound of Music’ but then who isn’t?)

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Emma Jackson, A Mistletoe Miracle, Orion Dash

“Back in 2013 I went along to see the Christmas lights being turned on in Alfriston village with my partner and one-year-old daughter. It was a bitter night, but the buoyant atmosphere and chocolate-box setting set my mind racing with possibilities for a Christmas novel. From that spark of an idea, A Mistletoe Miracle, a festive romantic comedy, grew. Slowly. I squeezed in writing in the evenings and children’s naptimes over the next six years and in 2019 joined the RNA NWS, knowing that if I wanted to be published it was up to me to start taking my writing seriously.”

Lynn Johnson, The Girl From The Workhouse, Hera

I didn’t mean to become a novelist. In my fifties, I began researching my family tree and discovered things I never knew about my mother’s family. At my local writing group, I started to write short stories. The Girl From the Workhouse, was one of those very early stories and it grew – but was I writing history or fiction? I decided on fiction. And my biggest stumbling block took time to resolve itself. Dare I give my Grandma a boyfriend who was not my Grandad? Once I had the answer, my writing flowed. Fifteen years later…success!

Nina Kaye, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, Orion Dash

My childhood dream to write became real when I turned to writing to support my rehabilitation from a difficult illness, and to provide escape from it. Recently, I’ve completed another story inspired by this time, and I hope to share this in the future.

The key ingredients of The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating are the beauty of Edinburgh’s setting, personal experience in the hospitality industry, and (of course) my appreciation of gin! Real life issues are an important touchstone for my writing, as is the light-hearted side of life.

Lucy Keeling, Make It Up To You, Choc Lit

I wrote my first story when I was 8 and not to toot my own horn, but it was good. It had Ice Monsters roaming the streets. From then on, every few months I would get this urge to write. As I got older, I would manage a solid three chapters before I ran out of steam. It was only when I discovered that I could plan out a story, that it didn’t have to just magically spill from my fingertips, that I actually managed to finish one. Now, the only ice monsters I write about are the ones that melt with a HEA.

Ruth Kvarnström-Jones, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice, Printz Publishing

One is seldom too sick to scroll through Facebook. That said, as a copywriter flattened by pneumonia back in 2012, even scrolling depleted my energy supply pretty pronto. Until I saw a meme that suggested one had an obligation to use up every ounce of talent before one died. Must write my novel! Energy inexplicably refreshed, I began making notes for Halleholm- Lovisa’s Choice.
Set in the chocolate-box environs of the Stockholm Archipelago, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga: the tale of a multi-generational family feud that nearly rips apart a town and shatters one woman’s dream.

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Mairibeth MacMillan, The Viking’s Cursed Bride, Tirgearr

When I was wee, I got a tape recorder as a birthday present. My friends then spent several summers voicing the characters in the radio plays that I wrote – I still have some of the tapes! Later, when I took a career break from teaching drama, my interest in writing was rekindled and I completed degrees in creative writing and playwriting. I became interested in using writing to explore the stories associated with place, and most of my initial ideas are inspired by visits to particular buildings or places. The Viking’s Cursed Bride was initially inspired by a visit to Dumbarton Rock.

Melissa Oliver, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight, Mills and Boon Historical

My debut is a sweeping medieval romance, set against the back-drop of the Baron’s Conflict, which began in 1215. There’s a nod to the legend of Robin Hood- which, in turn, took its inspiration from the real-life story of Fulk FitzWarin III.
King John demands that his trusted knight; Sir Hugh de Villiers marries the reluctant widow; Lady Eleanor Tallany, and also quashes local outlaws…. Unknown to Hugh, his new wife and the outlaw are one and the same.
Through twists, turns, and intrigue; Hugh and Eleanor’s spark of attraction need to overcome standing on opposing lines, or extinguish forever.

Maggie Richell-Davies, The Servant, Sharpe Books

Novels were always a portal through which to roam the moors with Heathcliffe and Cathy, to take the waters at Bath with Beau Brummel, or to fall in love with Darcy, so it was inevitable to yearn to write my own. Then a visit to London’s Foundling Museum, with its heart-breaking scraps of fabric and ribbon left by women in the hope they might, one day, be able to reclaim their precious child, inspired me to write The Servant, the story of a poor eighteenth-century girl battling to survive the injustices of the age – and to find love.

Jacqueline Rohen, How To Marry Your Husband, Arrow

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Written by Jacqueline’s family: From childhood, Jacqueline was an avid reader and budding writer. She found ideas for stories everywhere, notebook at the ready. One such inspirational nugget was Mick Jagger’s public statement that he and Jerry Hall were never officially married; the story stuck with Jacqueline for years, finally evolving into the plot of her debut romantic novel. Eventually, Jacqueline’s own romance led her to chimpanzee conservation in Uganda where, forcing herself to become a morning person, she determinedly set aside the time necessary to fulfil her dream of being a published author. She would have been so proud to be nominated.

Kathleen Whyman, Wife Support System, Hera

Working as a magazine journalist, Kathleen always aspired to be a novelist, but got slightly sidetracked over the years by work, children and Mad Men box sets. It was her eight-year-old daughter’s words – ‘Stop talking about writing a book and just write one’ – that gave her the push she needed to write Wife Support System.
The novel, published by Hera Books, was inspired by Kathleen’s own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.
Kathleen’s next novel, Second Wife Syndrome, has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.

Fiona Woodifield, The Jane Austen Dating Agency, Bloodhound Books

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since my childhood love of reading spilled into the desire to write stories of my own. In 2018, I sent the manuscript for my first novel, The Jane Austen Dating Agency off to the fantastic RNA New Writer’s Scheme and had lovely feedback.

The Jane Austen Dating Agency focuses on a heroine who has spent rather too much time reading romantic novels, so her reality fails to live up to the dream. She joins a regency dating agency where she meets some wonderful friends, some rather interesting and familiar characters, to the Jane Austen fan at least and discovers her true self.

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Meet crime novelist, Graham Brack!

GB 700Welcome to my website, Graham!

You have been shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award three times. This shows a burning desire to become a respected crime writer. When did you first decide to take up the pen – or keyboard – and begin writing?

I’ve always written. When I went away to university I wrote sketches and articles for the student newspaper, but I also set myself the task of writing in as many different forms as possible to see which came easiest to me.

I had never completed a novel, but I started in earnest around 2002 following a holiday when an idea had come to me (which eventually became my sixth book, Laid in Earth). That was put aside until 2010, when I became aware of the Debut Dagger award and decided that was where I wanted to start, because crime fiction was something I loved to read. I wrote a plot outline, and then one Saturday morning the character of Josef Slonský appeared fully-formed in my head and after that the writing became much easier. It was a pen, by the way; I only switched to the keyboard once the plot outline was complete.
What attracted you to a life of crime?

I like a puzzle and although I read very little fiction, crime fiction has always attracted me. Like many I started with Sherlock Holmes. I always have crime fiction on my pile to be read, but I don’t read while I’m writing, because I don’t want to absorb any other author’s ideas.

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When did the fascination with Prague and Czechoslovakia begin?

I suppose the immediate interest began in 1968 as we watched the Prague Spring unfold and then come to a horrible halt, but I had been interested in the Eastern bloc before that. Then in 2007 we managed to find time for a holiday there, and I felt very much at home. It was during that trip that I found the site where the body would be dumped in my first book, which gave me a very simple task, because now I was only describing what I had seen.

 

Deciding to set a detective novel in a foreign city must have involved a great deal of research of the place, local culture, police procedure and the history. How did you approach this daunting task?

When you are a writer the internet is your friend! I had quite a few jottings in notebooks, and my own library contained plenty of books about the post-war history of Central Europe. Fortunately the Czech police service maintains a good online presence. The issue was not so much gathering information as deciding what to use. I quickly decided the police ranks system was so complex that I needed to simplify it for my readers.
A key moment can be dated very precisely. I was talking to my brother about the character of Slonský when Ian pointed out that if the books were set around the time I had first visited, that would divide Slonský’s career very nicely into about twenty years under Communism, and twenty years after its fall, while also allowing Slonský to have no respect for his superiors because he would know their hands were as dirty as his. After that I became less obsessive about getting the police procedure right because Slonský doesn’t follow it anyway.
Since the Slonský stories have come out I have been fortunate in having a little clique of people in Prague who send me photos of bars that they think Slonský would like and help me with little snippets of information that they think I might be able to use some day.
The issues for Master Mercurius were much more straightforward. There is a huge amount of material available on the Dutch Golden Age. I had to learn some Dutch to make the most of it, but that’s a small price to pay. It’s also a period of history that fascinates me anyway.

 

Josef has a career spanning extreme political regimes, yet his focus has been on bringing justice. Has his character scars that are buried deep that will inevitably be revealed as he series grows? When Josef investigates a cold case will this bring in aspects of the troubled political past?

I think almost all his cases carry some reflection of that past. His biography is slowly being dribbled out in the books and I hope readers will feel some sense that he is an older man in a hurry. Before he retires he wants to put right so many things that were done wrong. He makes light of the two year bender he went on after his wife left him, but it clearly hurt him. Happily, he is not one for regrets; things happened, and he has to live with them. Where I think we can see the damage done is in his conversations with Navrátil about the past. Navrátil is intelligent and inquisitive but he barely remembers the Communist era because he was only five or six when the Berlin Wall came down.
The second book, Slaughter and Forgetting, was based on a cold case for precisely this reason. What happened to the man who was set up for the crime is hard to understand unless you know something of Czechoslovakia in 1976, and that gave me an opening to set a story in two time periods with Slonský and Mucha interpreting the events of thirty years before.
I returned to 1968 in my fourth book, Field of Death, which centres on something that may or may not have happened then. I doubt whether the present can easily escape from the past.

 

You have also set a series in seventeenth century Europe featuring Master Mercurius, a cleric and artist. What or who inspired this character? Will this series move around different European cities?

We went to Delft on holiday because we wanted to see the city that Vermeer lived in, but when we got there I discovered that Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the father of modern microscopy, had been born in the same month, probably in the same week, barely two hundred metres away. This produced the idea for a story in which Van Leeuwenhoek, representing science, and Vermeer, representing art, competed to solve a crime. However, having two competing detectives didn’t really work, so I decided to introduce a third person whom they could advise. That led me to thinking who that third person should be. Law and order was the responsibility of the mayor, but if he was out of his depth, where would he look for help? The local university was the obvious place, so the mayor asks Leiden University to send him some assistance. This has two advantages for me; as an outsider Mercurius needs a lot of local knowledge explained to him that Delft inhabitants would already know, and as a cleric and university lecturer he has led a very sheltered life and is not at all street-wise. For example, he is not very good at speaking to women, which gives me some scope for humour. Humour is important in both series to allow us some relief from the awfulness of the crimes.
I made him a cleric but to be active in the theology faculty at Leiden in that period he needed to be a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, ideally a minister. The difficulty with that is that Mercurius has some modern ideas that do not fit very well in a Calvinist milieu, so I came up with the idea that – as he explains in book four – he rejects Calvinism and converts to Catholicism. He does so secretly because his bishop wants to maintain a shadow church that can come into effect if persecution returns, so Mercurius is told to keep his conversion to himself, which he is very happy to do. As time goes on he acts less and less as a Protestant to ease his conscience, but religion matters to him, and he tries hard to live a moral life. This breaks into his accounts of his cases because, for example, he detests the death penalty.
Mercurius will find himself moving around. In the second story, Untrue till Death, William of Orange demands his help and Mercurius feels unable to refuse. William sends him to Utrecht and, coincidentally, puts him in great danger. Mercurius is a reluctant detective at the best of times, but as his fame grows he finds himself being drawn in to matters he would much rather leave alone. In the third book he is sent to London as part of the party negotiating the marriage of William to the future Mary II, which gives him the opportunity to take a few swipes at the English, but in the fourth book he is much closer to home, dealing with a crime in a village just outside Leiden. Who knows where he will get to next? He is a little hampered by having to walk or take barges to most places, but that just adds to the authenticity, according to my reviewers.

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Has your pharmaceutical training come in useful when creating the crimes to be investigated?

I have deliberately kept away from poisoning, largely because it would be so terrible if I got it wrong! Characters are occasionally poisoned but not with any subtlety. However, I have some reprints of old books which occasionally allow me to drag in the incorrect ideas of the time, such as the suggestion that vegetarianism is extremely hazardous to health.

 

Would your ideal dream to be to see your series televised? If so, who do you think would do the part of Josef or Master Mercurius justice?

Very much so, because I actually see the stories as films running in my head. It helps me to have actors in mind because then I keep the descriptions consistent. In my mind, Jim Broadbent has always been Slonský, and it is his voice that I hear when Slonský speaks.
I don’t have quite as clear a preference for Mercurius, though Matthew Goode is a possible, if a little tall. Maybe Jamie Bell or Tom Hughes? Given that Mercurius is 33 when the stories begin, it would be a lovely part for a young actor.

 

Who has inspired you the most in your work and your life?

I am not conscious of having any real role models, but I draw a lot of support from my family. My wife is my gentlest critic and reads all my stories. Her unfailing support and encouragement to me to go into the office and write has been very important. Unless, I suppose, she has just wanted me out of her way for the last ten years.

 

How have you stayed fit in mind and body throughout lockdown and these challenging times?

After living in Cornwall for forty years we moved last year to a little village in Northamptonshire, which is surrounded by lovely countryside and a wide range of walks. I read a lot, and we have our daughter, her husband and their two daughters just a short distance away so we keep young by babysitting a two-year-old and her recently born sister. I still work part-time from home, and I am involved at my local church where I preach occasionally, so my brain is exercised in writing sermons. I have also been taking daily online language lessons to improve my Czech. I miss the spontaneous diversions into coffee shops, though, and we had to cancel a holiday. Our son lives in the United States with his family, so we are hoping that things will improve sufficiently for us to go there for Thanksgiving as usual.

 

What is next for Graham Brack?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the fourth Mercurius book and I’m about a fifth of the way into Slonský’s seventh adventure. I have been working on a book outside those series which is set in the United States immediately after the Civil War, and I have a few other ideas that have at least reached the plotting stage. There are plenty of stories within me yet.

Thank you for your time and patience answering my questions and every continued success with your intriguing novels.

http://www.grahambrackauthor.com

Meet prolific crime writer, J.C. Briggs!

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Welcome to my website, Jean!

Your international career, before becoming a prolific author, was as an English and Drama teacher. Can you tell us something about this fascinating part of your life and how you came to be working in the Far East?

I went to teach in Hong Kong because of two love affairs – one that had ended and one that was beginning. The one that ended was painful and I wanted a fresh start; the one that was beginning led me to Hong Kong, but, alas, the person concerned was posted to America and that was the end of that. However, I loved the new school, made many friends, and met my husband so Hong Kong has a special place in my life, though I have not been back for many years and will probably never return.

 

Do you think that your previous involvement in drama has enabled you to deepen the characterisation and events within your novels?

I think reading made me a writer, and teaching English and Drama, too. Everything you have ever read feeds your imagination and contributes to your experience and understanding.

 

In 2012 retirement coincided with the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. This sparked the idea of creating a detective series featuring Charles Dickens. How daunting was this once you had made the decision to commit to writing the series?

I didn’t think about a series. I just had the idea for a detective story – I’d always wanted to write one and when I read about Dickens’s founding of The Home for Fallen Women, the idea came to me about a murder there. The first book sparked the second. At this stage I was thrilled to find that I could do it and it wasn’t until I embarked on a third that I realised what a hazardous undertaking it was – to have the nerve – cheek, even, to use Charles Dickens as a detective, but it was too late, the first one was published. No one seemed to object so I have carried on to write eight so far – number six has just been published by the wonderful Sapere books.

The Quickening and the Dead

You obviously had an in depth knowledge of the author’s work, but how much further did you need to delve into his life and writings to really feel you understood the man?

I read as many of the biographies as I could – I knew the facts must be right. The most important resource to stimulate my imagination is the letters – 14,000 of them in the Pilgrim edition, and these give me Dickens’s voice as well as facts about his life, opinions he held, and his attitudes to the issues of his day and to the people he knew. The speeches are very useful, too, as is Household Words for which there is an on-line edition. If I get stuck, lack inspiration, or generally feel I can’t get on with a book, I read his, and very often a quotation or incident sets me off again.

 

What was the most surprising aspect of his amazing life that you discovered?

His boundless energy – it is astonishing how much he did, not only as an author, but as a journalist, editing Household Words and writing numerous articles for it, making speeches, presiding over philanthropic enterprises, directing and acting, writing all those letters, walking as many as 17 miles a day, dining out, and having a wife and family of nine children. There were actually ten, but Dora died as a baby.

 

Were you surprised when you realised that Charles Dickens had generously supported The Home for Fallen Women? Do you think he was ahead of his time in understanding some of the social issues impoverishing women?

I was surprised to read about The Home for Fallen Women. It was an extraordinary thing for an author to do. What concerned him was the grim cycle of criminality – created by poverty – imprisonment followed by further crime because there was very little provision for women who went into prison. There has been some comment on his arranging for the young women to emigrate, but Dickens knew that they had to escape their past lives and start again.

redemption murders (1)

Have you had a strong response to your series from Dickens’ fans?

Yes I have. The most touching comment was ‘Charles Dickens would be proud of you.’ I’m not sure about that, but people do say that they have gone on to read Dickens again or for the first time because they’ve liked what they’ve read in my books and that is really pleasing – for a former English teacher.

 

Charles Dickens travelled widely giving readings. Do you intend to include various settings as the series continues, although mainly set in London?

I love the London setting – all gaslight, fog and dark alleys, made for murder. I did venture to Manchester in the third book. As luck would have it for Dickens, Superintendent Jones happened to be visiting Manchester at the same time. They went to Paris in the second book and Dickens was in Venice at the beginning of number five. The question set me thinking, though, about a country setting – a Chesney Wold sort of setting appeals, a large and gloomy house with wastes of empty rooms.

 

He was interested in ghosts, supernatural entities, mesmerism and séances as were many in the Victorian era. Would you ever attend such an event to try to make contact with the soul of the man himself? If so, is there a question you would love to pose to him?

He was very sceptical about séances or table-rapping as it was called. I don’t think I’d dare to try to make contact. Suppose he hated the idea of becoming a character in a book!

At Midnight In Venice

It is well documented that his marriage and his parenting skills were perhaps lacking by today’s expectations, but he had many dimensions and seems to have been gifted in other areas of his life. How much do you think his experience of Marshalsea debtors’ prison in his younger life affected his outlook upon the shortcomings of society and fuelled his drive to try and help educate people about these issues?

The number of prisons which appear in his works testify to the deep and enduring impression made by his father’s imprisonment in the Marshalsea. It was a scar on his heart and I do think it heightened his sympathy for the poor, especially children who were born into the most abject poverty and received no education. He supported the Ragged School Movement, the Foundling Hospital and various other charities for orphaned and abandoned children. He sponsored a shoe-black boy who was a Ragged School pupil, and there are many, many instances of private charitable acts. It was as if he felt that he would have been one of them had the family’s fortunes not improved.

 

Has your investigative Charles Dickens been compared to the fictional Sherlock Holmes? If so do you see them as very different characters or similar and in what ways?

I haven’t seen any comment about Sherlock Holmes. I think Dickens’s approach to the investigations is more intuitive and emotional than Holmes’s, though Dickens was said to be incredibly observant. His eyes missed nothing and he had a very exact memory for detail – useful traits for a detective. Holmes seems more ‘scientific’ to me and rather bloodless at times.

 

How careful/respectful are you of what he does within the fiction so that the reader who is not aware of the real man’s life is given a distorted reflection of the man he actually was?

I do try to be very careful about my portrayal of Dickens. As I said before, the facts must be right, but it is in the gaps where the historical novelist can invent something that might have happened in that space. A good example is my Manchester story. Dickens did go to Manchester with his amateur theatrical group and they performed a play by Bulwer-Lytton. I invented another occasion and included a different play by Bulwer-Lytton – a play that Dickens admired. I invented the murder, of course, and I chose a different theatre in Manchester, one which had been demolished, but I was astonished to find that there had been an accidental shooting in that very theatre and the property manager had been tried for manslaughter.
As to my version of Dickens, there have been comments that it is rather too fond a picture, but I have based it on my reading of him, and I do think his relationship with Superintendent Jones would be rather different from other relationships, and I do try to hint at his faults and his growing dissatisfaction in his marriage. Claire Tomalin says ‘everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens’ and Charles Dickens, the detective is mine. I wanted to be true to the character of Dickens as I discovered him in his own works, his letters, his speeches, and the biographies. There is a very amusing – and rather prescient – quotation from Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s notice…’ I’m saying the opposite – I am not in favour of turning good people into bad people, so I am careful. There is a danger that when a writer presents a famous figure in a very unflattering light, or even invents incidents in which the person, say, turns to crime or deviancy that is then believed by the general reader who may not have an academic knowledge. In the end, though, the detective story sets out to entertain so I really don’t think it is my place to invent a Dickens who is wicked, or criminal, or deviant.

 

The books are intriguing detective novels in their own right, but are also layered so that Dickensian references and threads are woven throughout. Do you consciously add these in or does it happen organically as you have absorbed so much research about the man, his life, his letters, novels and the reports about events he held?

I think the references to his life and works do come naturally now as I have read so much, though I still have to check the facts and dates.

 

Would your ideal dream to be to see your series televised? If so, who do you think would do the part justice?

It would be amazing to see the stories televised – what a dream! I saw Ralph Fiennes as Dickens in The Invisible Woman – he’ll do very nicely, thank you.

 

Who has inspired you the most in your work and your life?

My husband whom I miss every single day.

 

How have you stayed fit in mind and body throughout lockdown and these challenging times.

Gardening and walking about the country lanes to keep fit in body, and writing a new book, finding a new story for Dickens and Jones.

 

What is next for J C Briggs?

I have just signed a new contract with Sapere for two more Dickens books which are finished. I’ve started another, and I am contemplating a new series with a female protagonist. I’ve started writing fragments, but there’s no discernible plot yet, which is something of a problem. I hope one will emerge.

Thank you for your time and patience answering my questions in such an inspiring way and every continued success with your fascinating books.