“Man traps, beware!”

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Micah, the charismatic hero of Secrets, encounters a man trap and saves a young lad from a terrible fate as the jaws snap shut.

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Godalming Museum

These devices were cruel, vicious deterrents that were set in the ground and when the central plate was pressed the jaws clamped shut, maiming the unsuspecting trespassers. 

Micah swung a leg over a fallen tree trunk, but then, as the metal’s edge caught his eye, he froze. He saw the danger and the notion of his peaceful village suddenly dispersed – man traps, never before had he seen such things around Dibbledale. The woodland had always been open to all.” 

Man traps have been used since the 18th century as the amount of what had been common ground or shared woodland began to be increasingly enclosed by unscrupulous and greedy landowners. 

Private landowners saw no reason to share the game that lived on the land with the ‘common folk.’ The 19th century progressed but so did poverty – rapidly, and many families struggled. Large pieces of what had previously been common land, free for all to graze their flocks and hunt on had been enclosed into private estates.

The Napoleonic Wars with France had incurred huge costs which had been passed on through taxation and by raising the cost of basic foods. Men had left to fight so their homes, wives and children had to cope alone. These were desperate times.

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Man traps were cheaper than employing additional gamekeepers and were perfectly legal. The only proviso being that signs should be posted about the traps, or anyone injured could claim compensation. However, this aspect was not widely publicised, and it was hardly affective when literacy was rare.

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Hunger motivated poaching gangs, breaking the law to feed their own families, and selling excess on. This upscaling of illegal activity meant landowners were more aware of the losses than they would have been with only occasional rabbits or birds disappearing. 

Man traps were an inhumane method of control, which could maimed and sometimes killed their victims. Easily disguised by putting leaves, twigs, or grass over them so that any foot, hoof or paw would spring the trap shut.

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Ryedale Museums

They generally had a central plate with toothed jaws that would be held back by a spring until triggered when they would come together with considerable force leading to a bloodthirsty and gruelling result.

They were made illegal in 1827. Following this ‘humane’ man traps were created. A hole was dug, and the trap placed in it. These were then covered with suitable undergrowth. They still had a central plate, but the jaws were no longer toothed. No doubt it was not without pain, but it did not maim as it would previously. These had to be unlocked by the gamekeeper who had the key, but I imagine, extraordinarily little sympathy was given to the poacher who was then caught and sentenced. 

The Friends and Foes series, for lovers of romantic adventures is now available on Amazon and #KindleUnlimited. Just click here to take a peek!

The ‘Wise-Woman’ and her place in history!

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In the days before communities were served through the NHS with a local doctor or even before that with a doctor who had to be paid for his services there existed ‘Wise-Women’ otherwise known as folk-healers, or what we would call early midwives.

These women became synonymous with ‘witches’ and many suffered after the renaissance through the persecution of witchcraft. This in part was justified by their use of lucky or healing charms, amulets and crosses made of Rowan, to ward off evil. Ironic really as they used natural, God-given cures that they should have been accused of dancing with the devil.

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 “…she never was a witch. She never traded potions, poisons, or spells; she was just a wise woman who knew how to survive off the land. She believed in a god, whether it was the God or a greater spirit, or a mother of all the earth, but her instincts were acute.” Mary Underwood in ‘Secrets’

However, ‘Wise-Women’ deserve a place of their own in history. They aided their communities since the Middle Ages and could often be held in some regard and notoriety. Which is perhaps why they were so heavily hunted by radicals in the Reformation. When their ‘patient’ died opinion could turn against them quickly. Mary Underwood describes her grandmother’s life in Ireland to her daughter Imogen:

“She lived in a small cottage with a peat fire. It was not as comfy as this one, but I loved it. She was full of tales, and she knew how to read the seasons, use the plants, see beyond the obvious and I so wanted to be like her. The local folk used her potions, asked about what they should do – she was wise and kind. She even knew her letters and taught me as I have taught you.” Secrets

Medicine, in its early development took place in cities and towns and was purely the province of men. The term ‘doctor’ was not used for people who healed outside of universities until the 19th century.

In the rural parts of the UK, healing was down to these ‘wise-women’. They were people who would create remedies from things in the local landscape: plants, animals, water and minerals such as salt.

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Hence, vicar’s wife Ruth Arrow’s comments, that lingered with her son Micah:

“Micah’s mother had forbidden him to ever go near the Underwoods, the ‘wise woman’ who used plants to heal. They were considered ungodly ways…”

Traditionally the cures were passed down from mother to daughter and the results shared with the local community.

As scientific knowledge of the human body was very limited, these cures sometimes became known as charms or spells. Terminology that later became very dangerous for these women.

Even when being a ‘doctor’ became a paid job, in the rural areas the citizens would still turn to the local ‘wise-woman’. She could be paid through a barter system and was trusted – until something went wrong!

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These practises continued into the rural areas until into the twentieth century and the advent of the NHS to varying degrees. The practitioners ran the risk of being turned upon by those they treated. This could mean being isolated or being physically attacked.

Just as in today’s homeopathic treatments, many of the old ‘cures’ would be able to help common ailments, particularly when diets were much more limited than they are today.

You can read Mary’s story in Secrets, available on Kindle and KindleUnlimited.

Meet poet, blogger and author Wendy Van Camp!

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I am delighted to welcome a writer, poet and blogger based in Orange Country, California, as my guest this month. We share a mutual love of Jane Austen’s work, an affinity with notebooks and pens, as well as a keen interest in Celtic designed jewellery. There are other aspects of Wendy’s talents and career, which I am keen to discover.

Welcome, Wendy!

Orange County sounds a fascinating place to live, is that a fair comment? Is it the place you moved to, or has it always been your home?

I have grown comfortable here in Southern California. I am close enough to the beach to go for an afternoon visit, but far enough away that I am not in the path of tourists. We have a wide range of concerts, public fairs, and outdoor activities to choose from. The white sand beaches are a world-wide travel destination and a mecca for surfers.

I did not start out in Orange County. I always moved around most of my life. My father transferred often when I was a child, and I have lived in many cities. I moved to Orange County when my husband and I got married. A few years later, we purchased our current residence only a mile away from our original condo. My house is modest, but it allows me a home office and a small garden where I can grow roses and sit in the sun. Can a writer ask for more?

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No, I don’t think so, it sounds lovely!

As an author of Regency romantic adventures I want to ask about this aspect of your work first. What is it that appeals to you about Jane Austen’s work?

I had not read Austen until my early forties. I sought her out because of the desire to read more classic literature. The only Austen novel available at the local library at the time was “Persuasion” and this is the first of her books that I read. I fell in love with this book about second chances and read all of Austen’s work.  “Persuasion” was my favourite of them all and eventually I felt the need to write a story based on these characters because they haunted me.

How challenging was it to take The Curate’s Brother from NaNoWriMo to published eBook?

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It has been an incredible challenge.  I am normally a science fiction writer and poet.  Writing a Regency era historical was a huge undertaking for me.  I had never read romance novels and had little idea of the amount of research a historical novel needs.  My first attempt was a complete failure. I trunked the manuscript for a full year.

After that first NaNoWriMo attempt, I read around eighty romance novels to better understand the romance genre as I researched the time the story took place. My second NaNoWriMo attempt went easier, but I discovered the story had grown and would need more than a single book to complete.

As I was revising the book, I realised that the first chapter was the only one told from Edward Wentworth’s point of view. He is the brother of Captain Wentworth and merely mentioned in Austen’s original novel.  I removed the chapter from the book for that reason, but the ideas in that chapter would not let me go.

I took the chapter to my science fiction writing critique group for help, thinking it might work as a short story.  The men refused to read it because it was “romance”. Most of the group hated the story, except for one, who was a professor of literature. She wrote what she understood of my outline to make it clear to me and to show my story followed a standard beat structure. She ended her critique with “it needs another ten thousand words”. I took her advice and over a two-week period, I wrote those ten thousand additional words. I took the new revision to a different critique group, one that was multi-genre, and they loved the story, urging me to publish it as is. That is how “The Curate’s Brother” was born. It has garnered good reviews on Amazon and has sold many copies down the years.

Were you ever daunted at the prospect of adapting characters from such a well-known classic as Persuasion?

At the time I started this project, I was an inexperienced novelist. Writing was still a hobby.  I had little idea about the hard work and dedication needed to bring a novel to publication.  I saw hundreds of Austen fanfictions online and figured the world could use one more Austen inspired author. Now that I’ve been writing and publishing for over a decade, my viewpoint has changed. I realise what a tremendous task I have undertaken. But I still have love for Jane Austen’s work, and I want to finish this project that I began so long ago, creating a story that ‘Janeites’ will love.

Will there be sequels?

I have three more books semi-drafted in my Austen Regency series. As I complete revisions, new characters pop up, along with connections that enrich the story. I am far behind schedule on finishing the final three books (I apologise profusely to my readers for this), but I have been making progress.  Book two of this series, “Christmas in Kellynch”, is close to completion.

Regency is far removed from your favoured genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Please share your interest in them and how your blog No Wasted Ink came into being?

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I have always been a hard-core science fiction and fantasy reader. The first “science fiction” I read was Edgar Rice Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars”. I loved the strong female characters of this series. I got hooked on Robert A Heinlein’s juveniles and Anne McCaffery’s Pern in middle-school.  Later favourite authors were Elizabeth Moon, Ursula Le Guin, and Andre Norton.  I still read a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy books.  I love to look into the future and see what humanity may become. I tend to be an optimist. I feel through technology and science we can solve whatever problems we as a people may face and that there are fantastic lives ahead of us all.

No Wasted Ink started not long after I published my first short story. I realised that this writing hobby of mine may turn into something more. I had always had a website for my jewellery business. It was a no brainer I would need a website for my writing business too. Over the years, No Wasted Ink has taken on its own life. It holds my writing clips, appearances, and links to my books, but it has grown into its own publication with a large following. I interview authors of science fiction and fantasy, have a top-ten writing article link page twice a month, host guest posts about the craft of writing, and the occasional article or essay I write on my own. You can also see illustrated poetry art featuring my scifaiku poems.

Your interest in these genres has evolved into two forms of poetry: Scifaiku and Astropoetry, which has gained you acclaim. When did you discover your poet’s voice and is this something you intend to continue publishing in the future?

It is funny, being a poet is the last thing I expected to happen to me as a writer.  I had a few negative run-ins with poetry as I was growing up and during my years as a television producer/director. One day in my forties, I was at a small science fiction convention and needed to kill time for two hours. I sat on a bench and a sign next to me said: “Scifaiku Workshop”.  I did not know was scifaiku was, but there was cold water in the room and I could get out of the heat for an hour.  So I went in. I ended up being the sole student of a poetry workshop, attended by a cadre of national level poetry magazine editors who came to support the instructor. I wrote my first poem in over twenty years that afternoon. I was told to read the science fiction haiku out loud to “the class” and I did…my only audience, that group of poetry editors. After my reading, one of them leaned over and whispered into my ear, “I loved your poem. I’d like to publish it in my magazine.  I’ll pay you.”  That was the moment I became a poet!

I suppose I have a distinctive “voice” in my poetry. To paraphrase, a critic described my voice as “poetry coming in undulating waves, like a white lily under a blood moon. Pure ideas surrounded by dark tension, but always reaching for the light.” I write from the gut and am self-taught. This is how the words come out for me and have since the beginning.

My debut poetry book “The Planets” has been nominated twice for the Elgin Award for Best Speculative Poetry Book of the Year. You can also find my poetry in magazines such as “Far Horizons”, “Starlight Scifaiku Review”, and in the anthology series “Eccentric Orbits” among many others.

Do you write in pen & ink first in a lovely notebook or on the computer?

It depends on the project. I compose poetry in a paper bound notebook with a fountain pen.  It is portable and I can take it out to coffeeshops or to the park. It also allows me an excuse for my fountain pen collecting hobby! Novels are different. I keep story ideas in notebooks, but I outline in Scrivener and set up my chapters there before the writing process. I create rough drafts on an AlphaSmart typewriter or via dictation with my Olympus Recorder.

Do you think your background in TV and the film industry has helped you to structure your plots and create credible characters within your novels?

Not at all. It was my dream to be a Hollywood filmmaker. creating stories for the screen.  What I ended up being was a television producer/director who handled events such as parades, city council meetings, and other municipal activities. I also directed hundreds of multi-camera talk shows, and two series.  One called “Musician Discoveries” which was a band showcase program, and the other “Cofeehouse Poetry” which featured poets reading their work in a coffeehouse setting. Returning to writing novels and short stories was my way back to the original dream of telling stories. While I loved working in television and wouldn’t trade a day of it, I don’t miss the pressure and dealing with all the negativity of Hollywood. I’m far happier as a writer and poet, working from home on my own schedule.

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Do you create jewellery to relax, or is it still very much your profession?

Believe it or not, I still run an occasional jewellery table, but I don’t consider myself an artisan jeweller any longer. Over the years, I have gradually made the shift from selling handcrafted Celtic jewellery to being a full-time author and poet. I do not make jewellery for fun. After thousands of earrings, bracelets and necklaces, I have hung up my pliers.

What triggered the Celtic design connection?

I am half Scottish/English and always had a love of the Celtic designs from my heritage. These designs are also very popular on the science fiction convention circuit. It was a profitable choice of theme for my work.

What is next for Wendy?

I’m in completion mode. I have two series that are drafted due to my years in NaNoWriMo, but in revision.  One is my Austen Regency series, of which “The Curate’s Brother” is the first instalment and the other is a Steampunk Alice in Wonderland adventure.

Poetry has become important to me in a way that is quite unexpected, but an art form I have embraced. I have two more scifaiku poetry collections, plus a hybrid poetry/essay book about a rare illness that I experienced and recovered from, in development.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

Wendy Van Camp is an Elgin-finalist poet, writer, and artist. Her work has received Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future Contest and she is a graduate of the Ad Astra Speculative Fiction Workshop. Her short stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as: “Starlight Scifaiku Review”, “Scifaikuest”, “Quantum Visions” and “Far Horizons”. She is the poet and illustrator of  “The Planets: a scifaiku poetry collection” and the editor of the speculative poetry anthology “Eccentric Orbits 2”. You can hear Wendy as a semi-regular panelist on Sci-Fi Roundtable Podcast. She is the Con Coordinator for the SFPA.

LINKS

No Wasted Ink – http://nowastedink.com

Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/author/wendyvancamp

Medium – https://medium.com/@wvancamp

Twitter – https://twitter.com/wvancamp

Instagram – https://instagram.com/nowastedink

Esty Print Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/NoWastedInk

Meet prolific Regency romance author GL Robinson

Welcome, Glynis!

How did a girl from Portsmouth come to settle in New York?

A  pretty simple story, really.  I married an American! What led up to it was: I was working in London for an industry lobby group at the time Britain joined the Common Market (as it was then). At a meeting one day, the boss asked if anyone spoke French.  The nuns at the convent I was brought up in were a French order and I’d been around the language for years, as well as studying it, so I put my hand up. The result was I was sent off to Brussels for an information tour with our European sister organization.

I’d been there about a week when they asked if I’d stay and take a job with them. They needed someone who could speak English! I said yes, and that was it! I never went back to live in the UK again!

The British Embassy in Brussels had a Singles Group called The British Birds Club (!) and they had a party one weekend. I went, a bit unwillingly, actually, but my secretary was one of the organizers so I felt I had to, and that’s where I met my husband! It was a Baked Potato Party, with all sorts of toppings for the potatoes. So when I met him I had my mouth full!

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We were in Brussels for four years, and then went to Bonn, which was the German capital at the time.  We were there for just over three years. I had learned German in the convent, so it was great to use the language. In fact, I had one baby in Brussels and twins in Germany, so I often say I never had a baby in English! We moved to upstate New York in 1978 and we’ve been here ever since. It’s really lovely here – semi-rural, with not a skyscraper in sight! We’re half way between New York City and Montreal.

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You have dedicated your novels to your lovely sister. What was it about the Regency period that led you to create your own book set based within the era?

My sister was with me in the convent. We used to read Georgette Heyer under the covers with a torch after lights-out, and we both always loved her Regencies.  When my sister died unexpectedly in 2018, I just felt compelled to write in that genre. I think now it was part of the grieving process. I feel her with me when I write. My books are sort of humorous, like Heyer’s are, and I know she’s laughing with me when I write. But quite apart from that, I find the period fascinating.  It really is the beginning of the modern era. We see the results of the Industrial Revolution both in its good aspects, and its bad – the development of the railways making travel possible for everyone, but also the growth of factories and the appalling working conditions in them. I deal with this historical background a lot in my books.

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What can readers expect from a G.L. Robinson novel?

You can expect to smile a lot and not cry very much, if at all.  You can expect gorgeous strong women and hunky men who appreciate them (sometimes only in the end, but you know they will).  You can expect a writing style that is very classically English and very proper. I really do try not to have linguistic anachronisms in my work, and because of my background in languages I know a lot of words. There are no sex scenes, though there is sexual tension. I write about real places, real historical events and I hope my characters are interesting. I’m especially proud of my latest, The Lord and The Bluestocking which is currently on Amazon pre-order, because my MC is a man who nowadays would be diagnosed as being on the Asperger’s Spectrum. He’s really great, but he’s a bit odd, and it takes a special woman to see past that. You can listen to the first chapter, which is really quite funny, on my website: https://romancenovelsbyglrobinson.com

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Pre Covid did you regularly visit the UK to visit actual locations of the period? If so, which was the most memorable?

I have always gone to England at least once a year for a month or more, because my family is there, including my dear old Mum, who’s 96, nearly 97. I was at university in London, so I know it fairly well, though it’s changed enormously since the 1960’s! Brighton isn’t far away, and I’ve been there a lot, especially the Pavilion, which features quite often in my books. I know Bath, too, as a family member used to live there. Those are the three places I most often refer to in my books. I can’t say which is the most memorable, as I’ve known them all forever.  The biggest fun I had was putting Portsmouth, my home town, in Cecilia or Too Tall To Love  because I was able to talk about the seafront and the Dockyard, which I’ve known all my life. It’s a wonderfully historical city.  I’m so lucky to have come from there.  I was born around the corner from where Charles Dickens lived (no, not at the same time!)

Did your early life strongly influence your love of literature?

Very much so! I’ve told you I was brought up in a convent (my father worked in Africa), and we had no TV, no radio, no telephone. What did we do? We read! It was a very old-fashioned place and the school curriculum was almost wholly the Humanities. I studied Shakespeare from about aged 11 onwards.  By the time I was 16, I could read all the French classics in the original, plus we did Chaucer in Middle English, and I did 8 years of Latin. Language and literature completely formed me. It’s no surprise I became a literature professor!

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Animal welfare features in your latest title; do animals feature in your family life?

I didn’t have a pet growing up, because of being in the convent. But we had a dog when my kids were growing up, and they all have dogs. Three kids, seven grandchildren, five granddogs!! I’ve never had a cat because both my sons are allergic, but I have lots of friends with cats, and they gave me lots of ideas for Horace in my last book. I love the way cats are sure they’re in charge. Horace certainly is. I was inspired to write The Lord and The Cat’s Meow  because 2022 is the 200th anniversary of the first Animal Rights Law.  I was going to release it in 2022, but I was too excited once I’d finished it!

Is there a period of American history that you would consider writing about?

No, I don’t feel I know it well enough. Not like British history that I grew up with and is in my bones. But I’m now writing my second contemporary American crime book and I LOVE IT! My characters don’t sound a bit like me!

During lockdown many families in the UK have had to endure long periods of separation, even when living near to each other, how have you been affected by the Covid 19 situation Stateside?

We were on lockdown pretty much from March 2020 to May 2021, so I didn’t get to see my kids and grandkids for over a year.  They don’t live near us anyway, so we were used to Face-timing etc. But it wasn’t easy. We cancelled a family reunion in the Mid-West in June, which broke my heart. But in November 2020 my Mum fell and fractured her hip so I spent four months in England with her. That was worse. The lockdown in the UK was much stricter than in the US, and my Mum was quite poorly after being in hospital, so I think I left the house maybe ten times in four months. Thank God for writing! I wrote the whole of The Cat’s Meow and began another Regency, which I’ve since finished.

When not writing, which genre/author’s novels do you read for relaxation?

I have a very wide-ranging taste, probably stemming from my upbringing. I still read Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen compulsively, all the time. I love the British writer Barbara Pym who wrote social comedies in the 1950’s.  She is honestly a bit dated now, but her books are so funny and her characters so well drawn, I re-read them with pleasure. I think Kate Atkinson (Brit) is the best female writer alive today, closely followed by Ann Tyler (American). Then I like the American authors Wallace Stegner (died 1993) and  Amor Towles whose book A Gentleman In Moscow is definitely the best book of the 21st century so far. And who doesn’t love Lee Child and the Jack Reacher books? I devour them at one sitting. You can see – I read all over the place!

What is next for G.L Robinson?

Forgive me for quoting a poem I learned in the convent and now appreciate even more, like Tennyson’s Ulysses in his old age, I intend To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die. In other words, I’m going to keep on keeping on! I’m 75 this year and I figure I’ve got ten good years to keep writing! I have a Regency on pre-order , another ready for publication in 2022,  a contemporary American crime series begun (book one is done, book two is well under way) and I’m collaborating with six other writers on an Anthology called Love Yesterday, Today and Forever, a set of all sorts of different genre romances we hope to publish for Christmas. I hope you don’t mind my adding:  if you’d like a short story, or to hear me read from my nine published novels, please go to my website: https://romancenovelsbyglrobinson.com

Thank you, Glynis, for sharing with us.

Please leave comments and/or questions below. 

Catch up with Sunday Times bestselling, award winning romance author, Sue Moorcroft!

Welcome back, Sue!

Thanks very much for inviting me, Val.

The last time we chatted was back in 2016 when you had made some monumental decisions as to what you were doing with your writing/tutor time.

You were setting out new goals for the future. Now the future is here: what has worked and, if anything, what did not?

Things have gone very well. I have to pinch myself, sometimes. Since I began working with my agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, everything has taken off. I’ve been with Avon HarperCollins for ten books, with more in the pipeline, and I’m published in about fourteen other languages and territories. I’ve been to number 1 in the Kindle UK chart, I’m a Sunday Times bestseller, and I’ve been in the Top 100 US Kindle chart and the Top 50 in Germany.

There have been challenges and setbacks along the way, of course, but I can’t think of anything that ‘didn’t work’. Although I continue to write a few short stories and two-parters, I’ve achieved my ambition of living on the earnings from my novels.

Huge congratulations, but also it is success that is well deserved!

Covid has affected everyone, directly or indirectly. How have you coped with lockdowns and keeping healthy?

I’m lucky that I have a garden and I live near a park. I’ve been able to continue writing because it means going to another place in my head every day, where people hug and kiss and mix freely. That’s not a bad state of mind in which to spend fifty or sixty hours each week. I’ve stuck to the guidelines and kept healthy, thank you. On the downside, my classes at the gym have collapsed, I haven’t seen some of my best friends for ages and I haven’t been able to go abroad. But I’ve been much more comfortably circumstanced than many so I live the best life I can.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the edits for my winter book, Under the Mistletoe, which is set in ‘my’ village of Middledip and features Laurel who left the village when she was sixteen but now has to go back. The reason she left is still living in the village. I’m also in the middle of the first draft of my summer 2022 book. It’s set in France, which I chose because I’ve set a book there before and have my photos and memories for reference. A big park features heavily which, funnily enough, bears quite a resemblance to the one I walk around several times a week. The book’s about blended families and cybercrime. The cybercrime element is stretching my powers of understanding …

What goals do you have for the next five years?

Keep writing, keep selling – and hope I can sell more!

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Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author, has reached the #1 spot on Kindle UK and top 100 in the US. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire… 

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire 

Henry VIII is perhaps most infamously remembered for his treatment of his six wives. However, this king changed a nation by separating his country from the power of the Roman Catholic church and proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, in 1534.  Two years later the Reformation in England took a more profitable turn for Henry as a destructive and brutal phase began with the dissolution of the monasteries.  

North Yorkshire has many majestic reminders of the magnificent abbeys that once served and dominated local rural life: Rievaulx, Whitby, Fountains, Byland, Ampleforth and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. 

These are fascinating ‘places of interest’. They inspired many during the years they were inhabited and – in a non-pandemic year – are visited by many people now who soak in their history and sense of peace that their lovingly tended sites exude. 

Life in days gone by can be easily imagined; both harsh and cold and yet their lives encouraged selfless devotion whilst supporting their local community.   

Often constructed in beautiful rural surroundings of agricultural land, woods and moors. They would grow crops and raise animals to feed themselves and create profit from a trade, the land they owned and tenancies. The monasteries owned a quarter of the cultural land within the country – a vast wealth and Henry was a man who needed to fund his own lifestyle and wars. 

Their majestic ruins have influenced and inspired some of the scenes with in my novels such as Georgina’s escape in Betrayal, Beth’s and Willoughby’s earnest discussion under the arches of Whitby Abbey in To Love Honour and Obey or Wilson’s hiding place in Dead to Sin. 

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In my most recent novel ‘Betrayal’ Lydia Fletcher is part of a rescue of her friend within the grounds of one such building: 

 The monastery’s stone walls slowly emerged before her – a testament to their ancestors’      achievements and faith. This sanctified place once filled with holy praise, was now losing the fight against the ravages of time as they crumbled back to the earth. Encased within the lush undergrowth it had not been revered for centuries. 

In the novel the ruins are being used by a band of smugglers who dress as the monks of old to keep the superstitious locals away. 

Between the old arches of the ivy clad fallen parapets, moving smoothly through the distant mist, was the distinctive figure of a monk, the ghostly habit covered by a dark hooded cape. Kell looked to see what had caught Jeremiah’s attention.  

“Souls of monks, long gone… they got no truck with us… so dig!” he ordered. Kell stared at him. Both Lydia and Jeremiah watched the monk disappear once more into the forest. The boy’s mouth hung open as the shovel fell from his hand. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 consisted of 30000 strong rebel army from the north demanding that the abbeys be reopened. They were promised a pardon and a parliament on York, but once they disbanded their leaders were executed. In 1539 the larger monasteries also fell. Those monks who would not conform were also executed. 

The abbeys were hugely important to the life of the people in the area. Their battered walls and fallen arches are now preserved for all to discover and admire. 

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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.

TheLastDaughter-cover proff

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

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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.