Catching up with best-selling author, Nicola Cornick!

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Welcome back, Nicola.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Val. It’s a pleasure to be back!

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2018!

Since then a lot has happened – how have you found working during lockdown? Has it been a challenge to stay focused; mentally and physically?

Like a lot of people, I’ve found lockdown very difficult. When it began a year ago, I found the uncertainty and anxiety very unsettling, and couldn’t concentrate. Then my stepfather became ill and died, followed six months later by my mother, which was incredibly stressful and upsetting, and left me mentally exhausted.

I don’t normally talk about my personal life that much but I feel I want to be honest about this in case it helps reassure any other people who have found their life and work so disrupted that their focus has inevitably suffered. I couldn’t write at all a lot of the time; I couldn’t read either. Unfortunately this coincided with me needing to do big revisions to the book I have coming out next month. It took me months and months to do them. Just sitting down at the computer was an effort I didn’t want to make, and each word felt as though it had to be dragged out of me. I managed it in the end but I’ve never known writing to be such a process of attrition. Then, in a bizarre twist, the final revisions to the book were due the week my mother died and I found the reverse was true. I found an escape by losing myself completely in the book and racing through the revisions with nothing else at all in my mind – until I stopped. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to escape the intolerable present through writing. All of which is to say that if you experience a similar challenge to your focus, accept it, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

You have been through an incredibly trying time and I appreciate your honesty. It is excellent advice and I hope it helps to reassure others who have been struggling with the new reality of pandemic life.

How much has changed in your writing world since we first chatted?

A few things have changed and developed. I’m still writing dual time books and enjoying it enormously. I like to choose as a central character a female protagonist who is probably largely overlooked in history – women from the footnotes, I call them – and explore her story. There’s also usually a real- life mystery in the story as well. My next book deals with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Other than that, I’m enjoying mentoring historical fiction authors for The History Quill site and giving talks on the historical background to my books.

What have been the highlights?

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A recent highlight was when my Tudor-set book The Forgotten Sister was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association Romantic Thriller Award, which was a lovely surprise and wonderful recognition. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because people have been reading more in Lockdown – that book has done so well, reaching the top 10 in the Heatseeker chart and gaining lots of amazing recognition. But it’s not all about prizes and sales, of course – the most important thing is having contact with readers and fellow history fans, so the return of live events and the opportunity of live online ones is a terrific highlight. Just being able to chat with people about all sorts of history and writing topics is wonderful.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on preparing a lot of online and live events to celebrate the launch of The Last Daughter on 8th July but trying not to let that eat into my writing time too much! My next book is also due in a couple of months so there’s a lot of work still to be done there. It’s a timeslip set in the later 16th and early 17th century in the run up to the Gunpowder Plot, and the heroine is Catherine Catesby, wife of the plot’s ringleader Robert Catesby. When I was researching it, it seemed to me that there is such a big focus on the plot and what happened afterwards, but not so much on events beforehand and the huge influence that Catherine had on Robert Catesby’s life. She is another woman from the footnotes of history!

Ethel bookshop

What is next for Nicola?

Well it’s an exciting time for me as my Gunpowder Book (as I call it) is the last book on this particular contract with Harper Collins HQ so I’m starting to think about all sorts of ideas for future writing. It always feels like such a promising time when all the potential ideas are there to be explored! Plus I have lots of other projects on the go – the mentoring, which I love, and my involvement with the Wantage Literary Festival, and various history events and talks coming up. I’m very fortunate, I think, to have so many opportunities. Most excitingly, though, we will be getting a new guide dog puppy to raise in the summer!

Now that sounds like a busy schedule, but with lots of potential play time with the new puppy. I hope it passes all its training. Thank you for being my guest!

Meet Regency author, Natalie Kleinman

Author image - Natalie Kleinman

I am delighted to welcome fellow Sapere Books author, Natalie, to chat about her new release.

With publication of The Girl With Flaming Hair only a few days from now, what plans do you have for launching it on its way?

I’m so delighted with the cover image – she may not be Helen of Troy but she’s beautiful nonetheless and I will be sharing her on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. I’m also lucky in that Rachel Gilbey (Rachel’s Random Resources) has organised a blog tour for me which will begin on 18th June. Bloggers and reviewers are so generous with their time and I’m especially grateful to them, and to you. There will be ongoing news as well with giveaways and competitions for those who subscribe to my newsletter.

The Girl With Flaming Hair Full Tour Banner

Everyone’s route to publication is different – what was yours?

An unexpected one! I’d finished studying with the Open University and was looking for something to occupy my little grey cells so I joined a ten week creative writing course run by my local council. What a magnet that turned out to be! Fast forward through various interest groups until in 2011 I discovered The Write Place (TWP), a creative writing school not too far from where I live. Up to this point I’d been writing short stories but I was made to wonder if I couldn’t write a book as well. Since then I’ve written fourteen though three will never see the light of day but I’m grateful to them – they were my learning curve. I found out about the Romantic Novelists Association from TWP and joined their New Writers Scheme. You may imagine my joy when my first submitted book, a contemporary romance, was taken up by a publisher and I graduated the scheme in the first year. That was in 2014.

We both share a love of Regency with our publisher Sapere books, but when did your love of the period begin and sustains your interest with it?

I must have been about eleven at the time and I have my mother to thank, as do so many others theirs, for it was she who handed me my first Georgette Heyer. It’s never palled and I’ve had books fall to pieces in my hands, not from abuse but because they just weren’t up to the number of times I’ve re-read them. When that happened they were replaced. Some outstanding productions have illustrated how well stories in this genre translate to the screen. And recently Bridgerton did a great job of raising the profile of Regency romance.

You have written many short stories. Do you enjoy switching between the two disciplines of writing short and long fiction?

I love them both and they are entirely different disciplines. It’s wonderful to create a world in just two or three thousand words and very satisfying. I’m very grateful that my stories have been enjoyed by so many. Long fiction gives the opportunity to develop one’s characters and, as my stories tend to be character-driven, that’s of huge benefit to me and the way I write. I just have to be careful they don’t start writing themselves as they have a tendency to run away with the plot.

What has been a member of the RNA meant to you?

The RNA is a place for making friends as well as acquiring knowledge. Writers tend to be pretty genuine people and very ready to help each other. Consequently, having attended numerous conferences, workshops and chapter meetings, I’ve had the chance to meet, to learn and to move forward. Everyone is so kind. Maybe it’s the romanticism in us.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Does one out of two count? I loved sports when I was younger but I’ve never been a fan of what I think of as gym-based exercise. I have disciplined myself to do online exercises but I know they are the barest minimum. Mentally though I’m so very grateful for my occupation. What better than losing oneself either in one’s own creation or in that of another author? Other time periods, science fiction, cosy crime, they’ve all taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. And Zoom and other video links have been invaluable.

What is next for Natalie?

Exciting times for me. You will know that Sapere recently published The Reluctant Bride. Well, after The Girl With Flaming Hair there are three more in the pipeline so I guess I’ll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.

The Reluctant Bride Cover

Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Val.

Natalie

You are very welcome!

About The Girl With Flaming Hair:

While driving his curricle, Rufus Solgrave, Earl of Luxton comes across Sophie Clifford lying unconscious in the road, having fallen from her horse. Not too far from home, he takes her back to Ashby, his country seat, leaving her in the care of his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of Luxton, and his sister, Lydia. Under their kindly supervision, Sophie soon begins to recover.

Upon discovering that Sophie has never mixed with London society, Elizabeth invites her to accompany the family to town for Lydia’s come-out. Unhappy with her home life and eager to sample the delights of the season, Sophie accepts. However, her enjoyment is marred when talk of an old scandal surrounding her birth resurfaces. What’s more, her devious stepbrother, Francis Follet, has followed her to London, intent on making her his bride.

Sensing Sophie’s distress, Rufus steps in to protect her from Francis’s unwelcome advances. And although neither Rufus nor Sophie are yet thinking of marriage, both soon begin to wonder whether their comfortable friendship could blossom into something warmer…

About Natalie:

Natalie’s passion for reading became a compulsion to write when she attended a ten-week course in creative writing some sixteen or so years ago. She takes delight in creating short stories of which more than forty have been published, but it was her lifelong love of Regency romance that led her to turn from contemporary romantic fiction to try her hand at her favourite genre. Raised on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, she is never happier than when immersed in an age of etiquette and manners, fashion and intrigue, all combined into a romping good tale. She lives on the London/Kent border, close to the capital’s plethora of museums and galleries which she uses for research as well as pleasure. A perfect day though is when she heads out of town to enjoy lunch by a pub on the river, any river, in company with her husband and friends.

Natalie is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

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?

In Sickness and In Health

In Sickness and in Health
Class prejudice is inbuilt within our culture going back centuries. In In Sickness and In Health Sophia and Isaac are meant to be together, but like so many people whose love was thwarted within the early nineteenth century, propriety, social divisions, war and need prevented this from happening.

Survival of the under classes depended upon their good health and equally good fortune as there was no health care, and knowledge of the human condition was limited, superstition and trial and error were rife. Therefore, being healthy to provide a living was essential. Isaac can provide for Sophia through his good fortune and hard work, but will not be a ‘cripple’ and a burden to her.

He and Sophia are a love match. However, he would not have dared approach Sophia if she had not been so open and honest with her desire for him. Naivety and youthful passion resulted in Isaac being sent away; his father dies in his absence. Yet, Joshua was forever proud of his son and would only wish Isaac happiness with Sophia.

Love finds a way, but at a high cost.

I have always been fascinated by the major changes that happened in the early nineteenth century. It was a period of great conflict and change: a time of war, pressgangs, and extreme social, agricultural, religious and political changes. All these impacted on the ordinary people who were left behind, whilst the wars with Napoleon dragged on.

The countryside was changing as mills were being built and cottage industries suffered, along with their communities. The population gravitated to these places of work and life in the countryside changed.

The government taxed its people harshly, whilst still fearing the possibility of a revolution as had happened in France. It was hardly surprising then that smuggling and opportunists abounded, yet in plying the trade they gave coin to an enemy. Some gangs were known for their violence, others were less so and merely supplied a ready market that crossed over social rank and was often funded by a moneyed man.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Luddite activities and the growth of new money, lives were changing and the old money was feeling threatened.

In the cities ‘society’ had strict rules: influence and connections were so very important.
In my books the settings are more remote. These influences mean nothing when a character is dealing with survival, either their own or someone who they have met. So boundaries are crossed, rules of society are broken or are made irrelevant.

Most of my titles are set in an area of the country that I love: North Yorkshire, with its beautiful coast and moors.

My villages of Beckton and Gorebeck are based upon typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as: Guisborough, Yarm, Thirsk, Helmsley. By 1815 both have their own small mills situated just outside the towns.

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Ebton is based on the well known Victorian town of Saltburn-by-Sea,only my version is as I imagine it to have been at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Love is a timeless essential of life. Throughout history, love in all its forms is a constant: be it passionate, caring, needy, manipulative, possessive or one that is strong enough to cross barriers of culture or faith. When two souls meet in a situation which takes them out of their normal social strata or into a shared danger, a relationship forms as the adventure unfolds.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my titles I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you wish.
It is helpful to read feedback and I am always interested in what my readers think, or would like to read next.

Stay safe in these difficult times everyone wherever you are in the world!

If you are a new writer or need advice on a work-in-progress I also offer an independent manuscript appraisal service and/or mentoring, always aiming to give constructive and professional, honest feedback. I have worked as a creative writing tutor for over fifteen years. You can contact me here for information and fees.

Meet best-selling author, Lorna Cook

Lorna Standing

Congratulations Lorna on winning the Joan Hessayon Award with your lovely novel The Forgotten Village. You must still be thrilled! When did you first decide to write fiction or have you always been a natural story-teller?

Thank you for the kind congratulations! I wrote my first (unpublished and never will be) novel in 2016. It was a pure historical romance and was very very bad. But I managed to learn so much from writing it and also from having it critiqued privately so I knew the silly mistakes I was making such as head-hopping, and knew not to transfer the same mistakes over to anything else I wrote. While I was writing the very bad novel, I had the idea for The Forgotten Village. I finished the very bad novel, just to prove to myself I could finish something, filed it away and prayed no one would ever find it and then after a bit of breathing space, in 2017 I began The Forgotten Village. I had just joined the RNA via the New Writers’ Scheme that January and so I was determined that I would have something to submit by the August deadline. I managed to finish it in time.

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Were you fortunate to gain publication of your first novel or has it taken a while to achieve your goal?

I have been very lucky. The Forgotten Village went out on submission to a handful of agents in February 2018 and I met with a couple of lovely agents before meeting Becky Ritchie at A.M. Heath. We worked together on the manuscript with a few key changes. Three months later Becky and her team had found me homes with publishers in the UK, Germany and Netherlands.

How long ago did you decide to write about the village of Tyneham and what inspired you about its history?

The village is utterly intriguing. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been entranced by the real story of Tyneham, the village requisitioned in entirety in WW2 and never given back. I stumbled across an article in a national newspaper about how the village looked now (decimated) compared to how it looked before it was requisitioned (thriving) and I fell down an internet research rabbit hole. Once I’d researched I just knew the story I had in mind – about a woman trying to leave her husband in the middle of the war and a modern-day heroine on a mission to discover what happened to the woman in the past – had to be set in Tyneham during the frenzy of requisition.

Tyneham2

Will you be writing more books in this genre?

Yes, my second novel The Forbidden Promise is out in March 2020 and is set in the Scottish Highlands. (It’s available to pre-order now, she says shamelessly.) It moves between WW2 and present day as the modern day heroine, Kate arrives at Invermoray House to find that a woman who lived there eighty years ago has been all-but removed from the family history.

Did you find it difficult to keep the story predominantly as a romance as there is a very strong mystery element?

Yes and No. I found lots of things difficult when writing The Forgotten Village! The key challenges in writing a book like this are that I adore it when a romance springs as a by-product of something else, especially a mystery. It’s a challenge to develop characters a reader will root for, develop a romance a reader will enjoy, create enough intrigue to keep them reading two timelines and then to give them a conclusion to all of it they’ll feel satisfied with. I have to do that for two timelines! And so essentially, with each section, the reader gets half the book so it’s quite condensed. I learnt to write succinctly because at 100,000 per book, it’s only really 50,000 words in the past and 50,000 words in the present. It’s a bit exhausting my end! A big glass of wine gets drunk in this house at the end of a writing day.

Are you very disciplined in the way you organise your project from research through to finished manuscript?

Yes. I plan the past section out intricately because it’s the past section that informs the mystery element of the present sections. I tend to plan the past sections and ‘pants’ my way through the present sections while knowing exactly what twists and turns there will be. See above comment about wine 😉

You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing an historical or dual time novel?

I would echo some great advice I read by historical fiction authors, which is don’t get too wrapped up in the research in the early stages. Just write the story and if there’s a fact you don’t know just shove ‘XXXX’ into the manuscript. Then when you’ve finished your first draft and need to give yourself some breathing space, that’s when you can go off and start looking up all the facts you don’t know the answer to such as, ‘when did petrol go on the ration?’ or ‘what was the tape that criss-crossed the windows for air raids called?’ Also, researching all the nitty gritty afterwards means you won’t be tempted to put huge swathes of (probably rather boring) research into your manuscript that just slow it down. I can now tell you everything you want to know about requisition orders in WW2 but purposefully put very little of it into The Forgotten Village because…yawn.

What does being a member of the RNA mean to you?

It means so much. First and foremost, it’s friendship. After I finish writing this I’m off to see my buddies at the RNA Chelmsford Chapter for our monthly lunch. I’ve not been since January because I’ve been knee deep in writing The Forbidden Promise and on a very intense deadline and I’ve really really missed catching up with everyone.

Secondly, it’s the events and talks which have really educated and informed me these past couple of years. The conferences are so well thought out. The RNA gave me such a boost to my career via the NWS critique and then winning the Joan Hessayon Award has been phenomenal. The association is so well thought of in the industry and I’m incredibly proud to be a member.

What do you do to switch off from writing/researching/deadlines?

Reality TV! Isn’t that embarrassing. Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex. Often back to back. For hours! I’ve also just discovered Real Housewives of Cheshire and I am HOOKED! Glamour and drama and some fantastic dialogue. I do find myself listening to some great lines and wondering if I can pinch them for future novels, especially when the blokes apologise for cheating or when they try and hit on a girl. Marvelous stuff.
On a more healthier note, I walk the dog and listen to podcasts or audio books and I love swimming because I can really switch off. Also there’s nothing like curling up in bed and reading a good book.

Do you embrace social media or control the time spent on it carefully?

I’m pretty good at switching off from social media. I post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a couple of times a week. I’m more of a social media voyeur though. I cruise in, look around at people’s posts, cruise back out and it was like I was never there.

What is next for Lorna?

Book 3! Oh the fear. This one is going to be a bit meatier, I think, than The Forgotten Village and the upcoming The Forbidden Promise. It’s set in a location quite close to a lot of people’s hearts and so I need to research to within an inch of my life beforehand, which is the very thing I recommended above that people don’t do! However, on this occasion, the timeline of events is something that I need to get absolutely right from the start and so I have covered the walls of my office with sheets of paper and am planning very intricately what happened on which dates as I prepare to weave a plot around it. I’m exhausted already but am determined that every book I write will be better than the last and so onwards we go!

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to complete the interview and best wishes for future success in your writing career, Lorna!

TFV-TW-copiessold

Catching up with Michael Fowler

I am delighted to invite crime writer and artist Michael Fowler back to my site. So what has changed since 2015?

Last year I made the difficult decision to leave the publishing company I had been with since 2011; not an easy decision but I felt I had gone as far as I could with them and needed a fresh challenge, and so with a certain apprehension, but also a sense of excitement, I began pitching my work again.

A bold decision for an established author to make, but one that has worked out well.

For two months nothing happened and the doubt set in but then in in the same week I got three offers from publishers, two on the same day. I was buzzing again, and after a bit of googling and research, I learned that Sapere Books were spearheaded by three young, talented people who had experience of the publishing industry and produced terrific eye-catching covers for their authors so I plumped for them. A year on my DS Hunter Kerr series is about to be launched with re-edited versions of previous books, a brand new prequel, two further additions – one of those set on the island of Sark – and more lined up.

I am going to take Hunter Kerr into new territory that will be revealed in the very near future.

Heart of the Demon 2019 cover

 
Aside from that, in the past week, I have been approached by a script writer/producer asking for an option on my true crime novel – Safecracker – to develop a movie or TV series from the book. I am so excited to see where this develops.

I wish you every success with DS Kerr series and hope the TV option works out on Safecracker. 

Click here to read Michael’s original interview.

Promotion Time!

Stolen Treasure is now only 99p!

Some secrets are intended to stay buried...

In 1809 Elizabeth Matthews shares many a childhood adventure with her soul-mate, Thomas Lamb, son of the estate’s handyman.
Elizabeth is entrusted with the safe keeping of a tin box by her Mama but instead, leaves the task to Thomas’s father Joseph. However, life in the windswept north-east coastal village of Alunby is left behind when she is promptly sent away to be schooled in the city of York.
Risking her reputation, and a possible marriage match, Elizabeth dreams of the day when the secret inside the tin box will be revealed to her, and goes on a journey of rediscovery to find Thomas and seek out the stolen treasure.
Some secrets were intended to stay buried, however, what Elizabeth discovers is of greater value than she could ever have imagined.

‘Great read, especially for the price!’

Phoebe’s Challenge

When life changes, a strong woman will survive… 

Phoebe's Challenge

Read the full story for only £1.99!

Chapter One

“Thomas Baxter, clear that floor!” Phoebe raised her head in horror as she heard the order bellow out of the miserable mouth of Mr Benjamin Bladderwell, the overseer of the cotton mill. She saw the fear on her young brother’s face. Thomas froze. He was nearly nine, half Phoebe’s age and, like her, slight of build. Phoebe watched his back slowly straighten. He was obviously trying hard to be brave.

Bladderwell pointed to the clutter under one of the looms, where dust and other fibres had collected. The overseer yelled above the cacophony of sounds between the machines. “Move yourself, boy. Now!”

Thomas did not move, but looked at Phoebe who sensed his fear. He was small but going under a moving machine was a job usually given to the younger children. Phoebe felt an unusual and strong emotion – hatred. Bladderwell relished every minute he could sustain his power over their lives. Phoebe had to be brave for Thomas’s sake. They had had to adjust to living amongst the cruelty of his regime keeping alive the hope that one day they could make a run for it and be free again. The time for that brave or foolish gesture, she sensed, was rapidly approaching.

“Move it, you lazy scum-bag!” Bladderwell took a stride towards Thomas. A young woman dropped her shuttle as Bladderwell stormed past; without pausing he clipped the back of her head. She let out a sharp cry, but did not hesitate in her duty of retrieving her tool and continuing the thread of the weft.

Phoebe and Thomas both loathed the shame and the abuse which had become part of their daily existence. This and the constant hunger inside their guts were why they knew that they had to escape, before they were too weak, or injured to run.

Immediately, Phoebe stopped her work, placing her basket of wound cotton bobbins on the floor and ran over to her brother’s side. Standing by him she spoke boldly, to protect the boy from a beating if not from the task he had been set. “I’ll do it, sir. I’m more agile than Thomas and quicker too!” She then inched in front of Thomas hoping he would snap out of his fear-filled trance before Bladderwell’s temper broke and he lashed out at them.

She tried to move him aside. Thomas’s panic had quite reached the point where his blood ran cold and his feet were rooted to the ground. She was able to gently push Thomas away, out of the direct eye line of the brute she was facing down. Bladderwell was staring back at her. Phoebe decided they would run for it that very night if they were at liberty to do so.

Bladderwell swung the back of his hand down towards her. He was hefty in build. She instinctively ducked to avoid the force of the contact, but Thomas did not move so quickly, and the blow landed across the boy’s cheek. Thomas fell back onto the damp floor, scraping his knee through the thin fabric of his clothes. Phoebe saw his head turn sharply toward his attacker, the trance broken, flashing a look of pure unmistakable hatred at Bladderwell.

The man’s face creased with a grin. Somehow they had to run, Phoebe thought, as fear filled her soul. With the rags they stood up in as their only possessions, they would have nothing to weigh them down. When they had been brought to the mill they had worn decent clothes on their backs, but they were exchanged for paupers’ rags within the first hour of their arrival, such was their welcome to this hell hole.

Winded, Thomas tried to stand upright again. He was fighting to recover, breathing in the cotton dust and damp humid air. The factory was kept hot and moist so that the threads did not break on the weaving and spinning machines. No one seemed to care what happened to the people who had to breathe within it. Phoebe believed somewhere there must be a mill that was run in a kinder manner, where people were treated with consideration and happily worked for a fair wage, but she had not heard of one.

The owner of this mill, James Bartholomew Atkins, grew richer by the minute, whilst his workers choked their way through another gruelling day’s labour. Phoebe could cry with the injustice of it all; meanwhile, her brother had been struck and she feared for what would happen next.

Phoebe gasped as Bladderwell cupped her chin in his hand, pulling her towards him.

“Listen, missy.” He moved his lips near to her ear. His rank breath made Phoebe want to heave. She tried to pull away. He tightened his grip, until she stopped resisting. “You can make life much easier for yourself and the sprat, down there. Don’t see how he’ll survive in here, not that one. He can’t control his temper in front of his betters. However, I’m not a bad man. I’ve a heart.  I’ll let the little rat off if you’ll come to the store house with me now and show Benjamin how sorry you is for his bad behaviour.”

He looked into her wide horrified eyes and grinned.

She glared back at him. Phoebe had grown up on a farm and knew how life began, she had seen how animals coupled and guessed it was much the same for people. Phoebe felt her stomach knot. Did he honestly think that for one moment she could let him touch her, or lift her skirts for him?

“You know what I want – you to do exactly that…” he whispered in her ear again, “… anything I want.”

Phoebe could not control her words, “Never! You’re evil!”

Thomas stood up as Bladderwell threw Phoebe to the ground. “Get down there where you both belong, and when you’ve ‘ad time to think, missy, you can crawls your way back to Mr Benjamin Bladderwell on your hands and knees! Then see if I’m as generous in me offer.”

Phoebe looked at the back of Bladderwell’s jacket as he turned to face the boy. One day soon, she thought, I’ll make you crawl. I’ll see you terrified and cornered!  She promised her revenge in her mind and, almost at once, as if the man sensed it, Benjamin turned on his heel and picked Thomas up by the scruff of his threadbare wool jacket.

“Ain’t you got work to do?” Bladderwell dropped him from the height of his extended arm onto the stone floor and simultaneously reached for his lash which he kept on a hook on the wall. It was a constant reminder to the children to obey their master.

Phoebe had to act fast. Her thoughts were filled with heated emotion as she cowered beneath the great moving monster trying to sweep the debris away. There was no room for her to move. She was not a child anymore. Her build was slight and her movements agile, but she was a young woman. She tried to wriggle slowly back out, whilst Bladderwell’s attention was fixed on Thomas. Where had the big brave bully been when they needed men to fight Napoleon? she wondered; hiding behind his horrid machines, no doubt.

Phoebe forced a picture of her father into her mind – a long ago memory, painful for her to rekindle, but necessary to give her the courage to do what she must do now. A good man like her father had died in the long wars with France, yet a brute like Benjamin Bladderwell still lived. Life, she had learnt, was just not fair.

Thomas’s eyes stared accusingly back at the substantial figure bending over him. Phoebe prayed they would be able to escape that very day – now, in fact, for if they didn’t they would be broken, in body if not in spirit by the time Bladderwell had had his way. But how? Their situation seemed impossible.

“I’m goin’ to strip the skin off your idle little back!” The lines on Bladderwell’s forehead deepened as he gritted his browning teeth and raised the lash high behind him ready to swipe down. Thomas had curled into the tightest small ball that he possibly could, trying to protect his head, especially his eyes.

Phoebe was incensed; she moved quickly without taking enough care.

“Agh!” The high shriek of Phoebe’s scream stopped Bladderwell as his head turned to face the cause of the noise, stopping the lash from falling back down onto Thomas.

“Phoebe!” Thomas shouted, and stood instantly, running over to where she was trapped. She could not help her tears escape as she cried out, but lay there motionless underneath the great machine. She could neither move forwards nor backwards so great the fear that had overtaken her.

There was an unspoken bond between the brother and sister. Thomas began to panic when he realised that there was blood on her hand.

“Get out of there, you stupid bitch…” Benjamin Bladderwell’s words were drowned out by the noise of the weaving machine, as its clatter grew louder and more irregular. Phoebe had somehow damaged the machine, as part of her sleeve had caught in its mechanism. Thomas grabbed hold of Phoebe’s ankles as he tried to ease her out. However, he lacked the strength to do it. The ground seemed to move under him as he was yanked back. Then Phoebe was unceremoniously dragged out also. She coughed as she fought for breath as her face was pulled through a cloud of fibrous dank dust. Once free, Phoebe rubbed her eyes so that she could see the gash in her arm that was as long as her little finger. She swallowed hard and held her wounded arm to her protectively.

“It will be all right, Phoebe. It’s not deep; you’ll see it will be fine.” Thomas was trying to reassure her whilst she straightened her dress after being unceremoniously released from her fate.

“Oh, Didy…” She could see the overseer’s face behind the boy and it both angered and terrified her. Phoebe and Thomas’s mother had always called Thomas Didy. It was short for Didymus, another name used in the Bible for Thomas. Phoebe thought it suited his spirit better.

Phoebe felt hatred well up inside her with the strength of feeling she could not have thought possible for her to bear before she had entered the life of hell that was the mill.

Nobody in the factory stopped working to help them. They were all too frightened of losing their precious positions. Work was hard to come by and although the pay was poor, it was better than none and the resulting humiliation and illness that followed being locked away in the workhouse. The adults would be grateful that it was not their child who had been hurt today. A woman glanced sympathetically at them, but did not turn away from her task for fear of punishment.

Thomas helped Phoebe to her feet. “She needs her wound tending… sir.” The last word had been added reluctantly. “That cut needs balm… and cloth to bind it up.”

Phoebe knew Bladderwell did not care; she had refused to pleasure him, he was more concerned about the damaged machine and work lost than her plight.

“Get back to your work, girl! You can tie a machine rag around it, to make sure that you do not drip your blood on the weave. Once done, then collect up those spindles. Now move!”

“No!” the lad’s voice shouted out.

Thomas had a hot head and a short temper when it came to injustice.

“There’s scraps of clean cloth there. If it’s clean it mends better, my ma said so!” he shouted.

“Didy, I’ll manage.” Phoebe, seeing the danger Thomas was already in, tried to act normally, but she was pale and frightened. Her voice had been low, almost like a whisper. It only served to embitter Thomas further; although nearly ten years younger than her, he liked to assume the role of her protector. They had been raised in a fine home, on a working farm – born free. It had been a new farm, one that had been enclosed and the crops rotated to use the land more effectively. Phoebe knew that Thomas liked modern thinking and ways. From his earliest words he had asked questions, ones his ma could not answer, which frustrated her, but like Phoebe it also delighted her as Thomas seemed quick of wit. He was not against machines, but hated their misuse and the greedy men who abused them.

When the lash was raised once more, Thomas reached out and grabbed one of the besoms propped against the wall; they were normally used by the younger children to sweep the floor at the end of the long day. He swung it wildly. The gesture seemed to exhilarate him, giving confidence. The lash came down wrapping around its handle, becoming enmeshed. Thomas pulled at the besom with all his body’s weight behind it, flicking it sharply and, using the moment of surprise in his favour, he managed to jerk it out of Bladderwell’s strong hand. He flipped it free, but Thomas could not control what happened next. All watched in disbelief as the lash flew one way and the broom the other. Phoebe had expected them to fall to the ground, she hoped that they would, but neither did. Bladderwell lurched at him, his balled fists now opened wide like two claws ready to grasp at their prey. Phoebe felt her throat tighten in a moment of panic, but the almighty sound of a machine crashing put a halt to Bladderwell’s intentions. His head spun around. Two women screamed, scared by the noise and clatter and crunching of wood as the besom’s handle splintered. Bladderwell almost fell to his knees as he watched the machine falter, before coming to a shuddering halt. Phoebe saw a glint of fear cross his face. He was answerable to the mill owner for the upkeep of the machines and their output. The whip landed on one of the other weaving machines, becoming tangled in the threads, bringing work there also to a grinding halt. Things had gone too far for them to stay a moment longer. They had to leave straight away – somehow, before they were caught and punished.

Benjamin Bladderwell’s face that had been bright red was now slowly turning purple. Thomas pushed Phoebe behind him and grabbed a scrap of fabric from the pile of off-cuts.

“Use this, Phoebe,” he said.

Thomas helped to secure it firmly and quickly around her arm.

“When I say run, run!” she ordered her brother who nodded – there was no other choice.

Phoebe started backing towards the large double doors at the end of the mill. Her arm hurt. She would rather have a cut arm than have had Bladderwell fumble her. He was evil and a bully and she was glad he would have to answer for the damage caused in the mill, but they would now be hunted as machine breakers.

They were near the doorway when Bladderwell ran like a mad man, storming towards Thomas. Words they had never heard before came rushing out of his mouth. Thomas waited till he was nearly upon them, then grabbed another broom handle and jabbed it hard at the overseer’s shin. Bladderwell dodged, slipped on the debris under his feet, but could not escape the blow that glanced off his jawbone. Thomas drew the broom back, looked the man straight in the eye and grinned fleetingly before taking his ultimate revenge. Phoebe realised his intent, but could not stop the boy. With an almighty thrust she could see that he took great pleasure in deliberately hurling the whole broom into the workings of the nearest loom.

“No!” The roar from Bladderwell’s mouth was nearly as loud as the commotion Thomas had caused. The apparatus came to a standstill. The workers ran to the side of the mill in trepidation. The sound of splintering wood and metal hitting metal echoed in Thomas and Phoebe’s ears as Benjamin and his men were busy trying to stop the carnage.

“Run! Now!” Phoebe shouted, “Didy, run for the gates and don’t stop!”

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Phoebe's Challenge

The Gothic beauty of York Minster

The beautiful medieval York Minster, with its great Gothic towers stands out as you approach the ancient city that has held an important place in British history for centuries.

This Christian place of worship is actually ‘The Cathedral and Metropolitan church of St Peter in York’ but it is loved and known both locally and afar as ‘The Minister’. It is no wonder that it has stood the test of time as it was started in 1220 but was not completed until 1472.

The term ‘Minster’ has come down through time from its original ‘monasterium’ through the Saxon spelling ‘mynster’ to its present day form. It was a place where missionaries sent by Pope Gregory sent priests to convert the pagan Saxons in the late C6.

Under the building its history is lovingly preserved as it houses the ancient centre of the ancient Roman fortress, The Basilica. The very first Christian church on the site has been traced back to the C7 with the Pope recognizing the first Archbishop of York in AD 732. It is, and has been a very important centre of Christianity representing the church in the north of the country.

It has survived an arson attack in 1829 and more recently in 1984 a lightning strike destroyed the roof in the south transept. Fortunately the nearby River Ouse provided a plentiful supply of water for the powerful jets to send it high enough to save the beautiful building’s stained glass windows some of which dates back 800 years.

This is more than a historical building is more than just an amazing piece of architecture. It is a time capsule to a very interesting past in a city of many layers. Today it is still a place of worship with a busy Diocese.

When Abigail walks through its doors she does so to throw her pursuers off her trail. In Regency times this building would appear as a monument of stunning proportions to a young woman who had not travelled far, even from a modest North Yorkshire manor house. York had many timber Tudor style buildings then which would have made it stand out even more.

If you pass through York, stay awhile and explore its interiors from the amazing C15 Great East Window, 15th century, which is claimed to be the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world to the amazing ceiling of the nave, the courtyard or the towers.

It is certainly worth staying a while and exploring its depth. If you go in February you can even meet The Vikings!

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Ravenscar – The dream resort that was an investor’s nightmare.

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Between the famous resort of Scarborough and the ancient port of Whitby lies the little known village of Ravenscar, formerly named Peak. Today this slightly remote headland location is home to a cluster of houses, the National Trust Coastal Centre and the impressive Raven Hall, built C1774, which has fine views over the sea and across the bay to Robin Hood’s Bay.

 

The Hall became the Raven Hall Hotel in 1895 and now also has a frequently windswept golf course. The impressive castellated hanging gardens even have a sheltered cubby hole in the rock, which could be used to shelter from the storms and north easterlies, or even possibly to have been used to signal out to sea.

The existence of Ravenscar is owed to The Peak Estate Company who wanted to create a holiday resort to rival its successful near neighbours. Their ambition was great. The railway line brought prospectors to this healthy resort between moor and sea. Streets named after previous invaders were planned: Roman, Angle, Saxon and Dane.

The main drawback, other than its exposed position, was that the fine sandy beaches, which can be found at Scarborough or north of Whitby, did not exist here. It is situated on a headland with a cliff face over 600 feet high. The way down to the sea level is precarious and the shore rocky. Although you can sometimes see seals, it was hardly going to attract the traveller who wanted to enjoy seaside walks or dips. Drains and water supply were installed, but of the 1200+ plots there were insufficient buyers to make the town viable and so the company ceased in 1913.

Now, the area is a real draw for walkers, ornithologists, painters, and nature lovers. You can explore the deserted workings of the alum works. It is this history that brought me to this beautiful yet wild spot. When researching for ‘To Love, Honour and Obey’ and the region for Abigail Moor I looked into the history of the Yorkshire alum industry and discovered the Peak site. Admittedly my fictional workings were north of Whitby, but the importance of the industry and the links to London was based on facts.

 


Today if you visit the National Trust Visitor Centre you can follow a looped path (2.2 km/1.35 miles) that takes you to a viewpoint across the bay, across the golf course past the fresh water pond, skirting the bluebell wood down to the alum works. Once you’ve circled the remains, double back up the other side of the bluebell woods to the brick works and back along by the railway cutting to the coastal centre.

dsc09461You can join the Cleveland Way from here, and in spring the bluebells are beautiful.

The inclines make the walk slightly more challenging, along with the strong winds that were cutting inland from the sea on the day I visited. It is a wild setting, but well worth a visit for the views alone.