Meet award winning author – Val Wood

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Please share with us the amazing route that you took to becoming a published author when you had your first book accepted back in 1993, winning the Catherine Cookson Prize.

1993 seems like a lifetime ago and yet only yesterday. When my first novel THE HUNGRY TIDE was published I was totally shell shocked and astonished that I had won such a prestigious prize as the Catherine Cookson Award. My husband Peter had persuaded me to enter the manuscript, for I didn’t have the faith in myself to consider that it would be good enough, particularly as the competition was open to published as well as unpublished authors. When I was presented with the award by Joanna Trollope on a launch on the River Thames, I had no idea that this was only the beginning.

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You have your own prize now, was this inspired by a desire to also give back to upcoming talent?

I had had great encouragement whilst learning my craft of writing through many years of writers’ workshops, university lectures and discussion groups with other writers. The most pleasing aspect of all, was that most of my fellow writers wanted to write, not with the prospect of being published with a book to show, but to put meaningful words on the page that came from the heart and would interest anyone who might read it. Not forgetting the art of story-telling, which is probably one of the oldest crafts in the world. Most of us, and not only professional writers, have at some time in our lives enjoyed being read to, or have told an impromptu story from our imagination.

Ten years on and being totally committed to my work and with more books under my belt as I became established as a professional author, I began to consider that with the luck and encouragement that I’d had before and during my career, it was beholden of me to inspire others who were as keen to write as I was, and so with the help of an incredible team who organised the detail and with the assistance of the Hull Central Library, in 2013 we set up the annual Val Wood Creative Writing Competition, free to enter and with a prize. We have had many hundreds of entries over the years, we have a good system with skilled readers and I choose the final winners. 

Because of the pandemic the competition has taken longer to organize during this year’s library closures; the winners are about to be announced and we are already planning next year’s competition.

You live and write about a beautiful part of the country but is it the place or a character or a piece of historical detail that triggers the first ideas for your novels?

For me, when beginning a novel, the theme or subject matter is always of paramount importance and because the Victorian period was a symbol of change in industry, science and the women’s movement, I set my novels during this time, often with the background of poverty, injustice, women’s rights or lack of them as in No Place for a Woman, and how they set about righting the wrongs against them. From my imagination I have created women who didn’t want to sit and wait for a husband to claim them and who set out to find their own role in their lives as in Far from Home, and others who found they had made the wrong choice as in my latest novel The Lonely Wife. 

Do you let your characters grow organically on the page or do you plan ahead?

I don’t know my characters until I name them and then I watch them grow into the life I create for them. There are times when I don’t know which direction they will take, or sometimes I know the ending before I am halfway through. It is very important that the characters behave as real people of the nineteenth century would have done and don’t fall into  the trap of twenty-first century manners or speech such as OK or getting sorted, level playing field or even the latest phrase of roadmap! This would totally confuse a nineteenth century character. 

I always give the men in the novels a strong part; my males are considerate on the whole, though some are not and get their cum-uppance! And of course, there is always a romantic element, and I generally fall completely in love with the male protagonist!

Having written so many books based in the region, was it your inspiration to create the Val Wood’s Trails?

Alongside the theme and the characters, I think of the place or setting. I have done this from the very first novel because I need to know where my characters live; I drive out or walk to look at locations in East Yorkshire and I might well have terrified bystanders at some time in the past by standing on the edge of the crumbling cliffs of Holderness; confused others as I stare into space to imagine where a building or street in the heart of Hull might have been before it was blitzed, or clutching a cup of coffee in a café in an East Yorkshire market town that has retained some Victorian element. I place my characters there; this then inspired the idea of bringing those characters to life and allowing readers to follow their trail either physically or online as I did with The Kitchen Maid and The Harbour Girl.

A Place to Call Home Cover

Pre Covid the libraries were a place that you have supported and being actively involved with so in what ways have you missed this side of your writing life and tried to compensate for it?

During this pandemic, I feel that many people including authors have felt the strain of uncertainty and doubt.  Beginning the present work in progress was difficult; I felt slowed down, uncertain where to begin; this was the first time ever that I have felt this way; I wanted to write a ‘feel good’ story, something to make readers happy and uplifted, but it just wouldn’t come. 

I was sorry to read of your personal loss due to Dementia and understand that you are actively involved in work with the Friends of the Hull Memory Clinic to spread greater awareness and understanding. Have you post-lockdown plans to continue with this?

Since my husband died from dementia in 2009 I have lived alone but haven’t felt lonely; my writing and a loving family saved me from that, but I have missed not being able to meet friends, not feeling safe enough to shop in a store or being unable to visit a favourite historical building. Simple things that we took for granted but won’t ever again.

I told myself to take it easy, to be kind to myself. I have written a book a year since 1993 even through my sad and difficult times, plus several short stories for magazines, essays and lectures and published one ‘long’ short story of 50 pages for a local charity in order to raise funds for a memorial to the people of Hull who died in the Second World War.

So I took a short time out and walked on the green and lovely common land of Westwood here in Beverley and I regained my equilibrium and after a time was able to begin again, deciding that I would continue from The Lonely Wife and write a sequel.

In the past I have been a ‘hands on’ volunteer, being with one charity for almost thirty years; but now in my later years I have changed roles to give support by becoming patron and vice president with charities that I have long supported. I consider that I do very little now but most of us can do some small thing and it is appreciated.

I contemplate that I have been very fortunate in my life, and the schoolgirl who struggled with maths and dates in history, but loved writing stories would not have believed how life could change because of a fertile imagination.

No Place For a Woman. PB

Which historic figures stand out as inspiring of the women you have researched?

I have learned so much during my writing life and read about some incredible women through my research; Marie Curie who was honoured with the Nobel Prize and under intense pressure from her male peers, went on to invent the first mobile X ray machines and took it herself to the Front during the First World War thus saving thousands of lives.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her daughter Louise Garrett Anderson, both suffragettes and campaigners for women’s equal rights as men had, and Caroline Norton who petitioned Parliament to change the laws regarding Custody of Children, and so many more.

What have been the highlights of your career to date: the Honorary Doctorate, being a Times Bestseller, winning the Catherine Cookson Award – all or something else?

Winning the Catherine Cookson Award opened up a host of other opportunities from becoming a Sunday Times best- selling author to being honoured in 2017 by the University of Hull with an Honorary Doctorate for the contribution to literature, my greatest achievement; and in 2019 an invitation to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace that brought tears to my eyes as I walked through the hallowed portal. All for the love of writing.

What is next for Val Wood?                     

What comes next?  First of all finish the sequel to The Lonely Wife which is running head to head in popularity with The Doorstep Girls. My working title is Children of Fortune and features not only the children from the Lonely Wife as they grow into adulthood but also another child from a different family with a question mark over her parentage. I don’t yet know the ending.

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Charities I support.

Home-Start (Hull) the children’s charity

Sight-Support – Hull and East Riding for people with sight loss 

Butterflies – The Hull Memory Loss Support group.

Meet Milly Johnson – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award

Johnson- one true north author

I never wanted to be anything else but a novelist. Even when the sensible part of me was saying, ‘Get a proper job. Girls like you don’t become them,’ I never stopped dreaming. But such dreams need hard work behind them to come true so I gave it my all. I wanted to write books that made readers feel the way I did when reading the best ones: a willing prisoner trapped in the pages. 

Can you share some of your career path enroute from unpublished to published author with us?

I wanted to be a novelist more than anything but I didn’t think I had a chance as a northern working class girl with no connections in the industry. I had a passion for writing, but I had a friend who was brilliant at English and I came up very short when compared to the literature she could produce. She didn’t want to be a writer (she became a dressmaker) I was desperate to be a novelist, and I reckon over the years I just got better with all the hard work and practice. I was split down the middle: half of me wanting to be a writer, half of me convincing myself I was dreaming too high and I should get a proper job. So, after university, I got a proper job and then followed many other proper jobs – all of them ill-fitting because I only ever wanted to write. As soon as I’d come home from the building society/office/mill, I got out my typewriter and worked on my novel, which was a paranormal romance. I sent it off to various agents and the period between it going off in the post to me getting it back with a rejection stamp on it was filled with wonderful anticipation. Those rejections came thick and fast (rightly so) but I was getting comments from agents saying that my work was of a publishable quality which kept my hope burning.

Back then, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a book set in the north, and I couldn’t write about the south with any authenticity so my stories were set in some airy-fairy no man’s land.  Then I was sacked from a firm because my accent was too ‘common’ and it was part-therapy, part-bloody-mindedness that I starting setting my stories in the north so I could stuff them full of my common accent. I had all but given up on ever making it, when I fell pregnant at the same time as two of my friends and we travelled our nine months together. When the babies were born, we were sitting in my front room and it was as if a bolt of lightning came through the window with an attached message. ‘Why aren’t you writing about this – the stuff you know: Yorkshire, friendships, babies, the workplace, love.’ I started to pen a story about three friends who get pregnant at the same time, sent it off to the same agent I’d been chasing for fifteen years and they said, ‘This is the one we have been waiting for’. Me and my northern books have never looked back.

What advice would you give to your younger unpublished self?

I would say to her, ‘Your association with the north is what will give you the break, so don’t ignore it, use it. Use your life and your experience to fuel your writing, nothing is ever wasted. Don’t give up – you can write and you have a backbone of iron so you will make it’.

Are you a very organised plotter or do you write from a specific starting point and then let the characters evolve and take you through the plot?

I would love to plot but I can’t – and believe me I’ve tried. I start the book on page one and somehow I manage to get to the end of it. I enjoy that I’m surprised by what spills out onto the page. When people say to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I wouldn’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘Neither do I.’ I’ve written nineteen full length novels not having a clue what else is inside me when I type ‘Chapter One’.

Writing accessible ‘unputdownable’ fiction that balances heavier topics with humour takes great skill, is this used in facing life, especially in a time of pandemic?

Humour has a great power and can help us in the darkest times. I always liken it to a chocolate mousse my friend used to make at university (bear with me). ‘It’s too rich’ she’d say, ‘So you have to eat it with double cream’. That dark sweet mousse needed to be offset with its total opposite and together they were a perfect combo.  Stories that are all too light are insubstantial, too dark and they’re cloying – you need one to offset the other. Even a little humour can pop a balloon of swollen tension, even if it’s slightly inappropriate, but it is a badly needed valve to give one breathing space. I like to write about ups and downs, my life has been full of them and my writing reflects that. I want to take my readers on a roller-coaster not a baby ride. But ultimately I leave readers with hope and however gritty some of my story threads might be, readers take from my books that there is light at the end of nearly every tunnel. That has been very needed in the pandemic. We all need to know that however frightening things are, hope shines eternal.

How have you coped to keep yourself mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Physically – could have done better. But I have now invested in a treadmill which is in my office and was a brilliant buy. I wish I’d done it at the beginning of the pandemic, I’d have been running marathons now.  Mentally – it was a struggle to be honest at the start of lockdown because I was very frightened. I ended up downing tools and letting my son persuade me into watching the whole of Game of Thrones which gave my head a total break. Then I eased myself back into my work, because we are used to cracking the whip over ourselves, and now I’m back up to full pelt.

What has the RNA and winning this award meant to you?

I was determined not to join the RNA until I was a published author and that was daft because I missed out on a lot of support and camaraderie (and Prosecco and kitchen parties) that would have helped me along the way. It has brought me friendship and support and a lot of knowledge because you never stop learning in this game. I love that you can cheer on rivals because we all have the common aim of promoting our genre and encouraging reading. I feel as if I am in a fragrant army of kick-ass soldiers and I’d encourage everyone who is eligible to join.

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As for winning the award. I wanted it very much for My One True North (so much so I felt sure I wouldn’t get it, hence the shock when I did). It is one of two books that I wrote when my dad was very ill and I pressed him into the pages. I felt as if it was the best thing I’d ever written, as if it was pulled out of my soul and so to be honoured for it was very special. I have a trophy shelf at home now and I have so many freeze-frame moments when I think ‘those trophies are for MY writing’. It makes me so glad I am a stubborn little sod who never gave up because it really does prove what you can do when you want something so much that you’ll give it your all to get it.

What is next for Milly?

I’ll write until I drop.  I’m having a crack at a crime novel as well as a romance because I’ve always wanted to stretch in that direction and I’ve been writing some poetry which I love to perform in theatres. I just want to get back to mingling and doing talks and meeting readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your personal writing story with us. I wish you every further success with your future projects and look forward to reading many more of your books.

Comments, likes and questions are always welcome…

Celebrating: The Romantic Saga Award shortlist!

Romantic saga

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Romantic Saga Award

The Girl from the Tanner’s Yard – Diane Allen

Pan

How I became an author.

I always had a love of reading and was always found with a book in my hand when growing up. Once married and my children grown, I found my niche in life working for a large print book firm. It was then I found that I also had the skill of writing. Bored one evening I decided to put pen to paper and now ten years later I have had fifteen books published.

My inspiration for The Girl from the Tanners Yard

My inspiration came when we were visiting an elderly aunt that lived above Haworth. We always passed a pub called THE FLAPPIT and because I have a love of Yorkshire history, I started looking into its past life and the moors around it. Finding that it used to be used by the tannery workers that worked nearby and that thriving industries were based all around that area. With the wild moors as a background and a good base the rest is history.

The Variety Girls – Tracy Baines

Ebury

The inspiration for The Variety Girls stems from my passion and my experience. I love theatre and live entertainment and was surrounded by it when I was growing up. The setting is my childhood playground – the beach, the pier, the theatre. I am fascinated by the way performers leave their worries and heartbreak in the wings when they step out on stage – and by entertaining the audience, allow them to do the same.

The Ops Room Girls – Vicki Beeby

Canelo

I’ve always loved old Battle of Britain films, and often wondered about the WAAFs you’d see in the background, placing blocks on a map using long poles. When I started my research, I discovered they were mapping incoming enemy aircraft. I immediately knew this was the perfect role for my maths-loving heroine, and so THE OPS ROOM GIRLS was born—a story of WAAFs serving in an RAF fighter station during the Battle of Britain.

Bobby’s War – ShirleyMann

Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

My parents’ wartime romance provided the inspiration for ‘Lily’s War’ and then, because I hadn’t asked enough questions, I raced around the country to talk to service women, already in their 90s to make sure my books were authentic. One of those women was Mary Ellis, the ATA pilot. Once I’d met her, I was hooked, and ‘Bobby’s War’ is a reverential acknowledgment of what these amazing women did. I hope their legacy now lives on.

The Orphan’s Daughter – Sandy Taylor

Bookouture

I believe that it was my love of reading that led to me becoming a writer.

There were no books in my house growing up as I was the only one who could actually read but I found a little library and read everything I could. My family are from Co Cork in Southern Ireland and that was my inspiration for The Orphans Daughter. Money was scarce but love and laughter more than made up for that. I love the Irish humour and use it a lot in my books.

Secrets of the Lavender Girls – Kate Thompson

Hodder & Stoughton

I started writing because I fell in love with a woman named Kate Thompson. Finding out I shared a name with this woman led me on a quest to discover more about my namesake. The other Kate Thompson was a tough mum-of-nine who lived in two rooms of a slum in Bethnal Green, East London. She fought heroically to improve living standards, led a successful rent strike and cared for the women and children of her buildings. She was crushed to death in an entirely preventable accident during WW2. Since then, I’ve discovered that in the 20th century, the East End was full of Kate’s. Resilient, irreverent, subversive, crafty, kind and courageous women. All my wartime novels are a kind of a love letter to these women and discovering the richness and complexity of their lives is what keeps me writing.

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel shortlist!

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The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel

Bestselling author Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a different profession or background and her research has helped her bring these to life. She’s been a porter in an auction house, tried her hand at pottery, refurbished furniture, delved behind the scenes of a dating website, and she’s even been on a Ray Mears survival course. She loves being a writer; to her there isn’t a more satisfying and pleasing thing to do. She particularly enjoys writing love stories. She believes falling in love is the best thing in the world, and she wants all her characters to experience it, and her readers to share their stories.

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

Cow Girl – Kirsty Eyre

HarperCollins UK

Cow Girl was inspired by my mum, my friend and a herd of cows. Billie’s voice came first (my friend), then the setting (the smells and sounds of a dairy farm in Yorkshire), then the battle (my mum, like Billie’s dad, had a brain tumour). Misogyny. Romance. Homophobia. Charity pantomime cow races. The story is as much about female friendship as it is about romance, the herd a silent, reassuring feminist ally.

Eyre - cow girl coverEyre cow girl author

The Bookshop of Second Chances – Jackie Fraser

Simon & Schuster

I’m usually inspired by a place – sometimes a building – or the idea of a particular kind of character or relationship. I started writing The Bookshop of Second Chances while on holiday in Dumfries and Galloway in the Scottish Lowlands, inspired by the little towns strung out along the A75. This gave me my setting, and I knew I wanted to write about older people and the challenges and opportunities of starting again in your forties.

Fraser bookshop second chances coverFraser - bookshop second chances author

The Silent Treatment – Abbie Greaves

Century, Cornerstone

Like many authors, I’d always wanted to write a novel, but the problem was finding a story with the legs to walk 80,000+ words! When I read a newspaper article about a man who hadn’t spoken to his wife for twenty years, I became fascinated with the idea of a silence settling at the heart of a relationship and I knew there was enough there to sustain a whole book. THE SILENT TREATMENT was born.

Greaves silent treatment coverGreaves silent treatment author

This Is Not A Love Story – Mary Hargreaves

Trapeze

I have always found writing easy – that sounds pretentious, but I don’t mean it to; for me, putting the contents of my brain into written words is always easier than speaking them aloud. I spent my childhood and teenage years daydreaming and weaving new worlds in my imagination, and decided to finally bite the bullet and write This Is Not A Love Story when I was 23. It’s the best thing |’ve ever done!

Hargreaves not a love story coverHargreaves not a love story author

A New Life for Ariana Byrne – Liz Hurley

Hera Books

Why I write? Well, oddly enough because someone asked me to. Or rather they asked if I knew anyone that could write a lifestyle column for the local newspaper. I own a bookshop so presumably they thought I knew loads of authors. I did, but not anyone suitable. So, I volunteered. And I loved it. I have always written letters and diaries, this was just an extension. From there it was an inescapable slide into fiction! And I’m loving the ride.

Why I wrote Ari

The idea for a story came fully formed with a whole series of adventures for each sister. I wanted something that just pushed the boundaries of everyday life but still actually plausible. It had to be happy and uplifting and I felt that inheriting a great big old house, a title and loads of money would be just the start. And of course I had to set it in Norfolk, the happiest place in the world. But then I’m a Norfolk dumpling, so I would say that.

Hurley new life for AB coverHurley new life for AB author

The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley

Bantam Press

My life, six years ago, appeared idyllic. In reality, I was grappling with a self-destructive addiction to alcohol.

I knew I had to quit drinking, and as therapy, started a blog into which I poured out the truth.

That act of authenticity transformed my life, and the lives of thousands of people who read it. Which made me wonder: what would happen if other people told their innermost truths to strangers?

And that was the inspiration for my novel: The Authenticity Project.”

Pooley authenticity project coverPooley authenticity project author

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

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.

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.

Meet author and self help guru, Peter Jones

Me


Welcome, to my website, Peter, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

When and where did your passion for writing begin?

Pretty much as soon as I could string two words together I was ‘making books’. I would kneel on my grandmother’s living room carpet, fold several sheets of A4 paper in half, staple down the folded edge, then start writing a story and drawing the pictures to go with the story – and once finished my books would be passed around my family on a kind of a ‘read and return’ basis.

Which came first fiction or non-fiction?

Well, technically I guess it was fiction (back when I would visit my grandmother). By my twenties I was writing science fiction short stories (although none of them were ever submitted for publication). In my thirties my wife encouraged me to start writing a rom-com novel… but it was HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY – a self-help book – that first made it into print.

How did you become a ‘self-help’ guru?

Well therein lies a tale: I met my wife Kate in my mid-thirties. At the time I was a frumpy grumpy banking consultant. She was a NLP practitioner (a kind of hypno-therapist). She taught me so much about how our brains work, how we motivate ourselves, how to get more out of life… and then she died. Of a brain haemorrhage. Thirty nine years of age. And I was devastated. More than that I was crushed with guilt, because back then I wasn’t a particularly happy person. I had been a misery to live with! What’s more, Kate and I had managed to waste most of our three years together working. Oh, we had big plans about how we’d make enough money to move somewhere sunny… but it never happened. We ran out of time.

So I decided to do something about it. I set about fixing my life. I made lists, drew up plans, devised new habits… and it worked. Some of those ideas actually made me happier. One day a colleague said “you ought to write this stuff down – turn it into a book.” So I did. That ended up being HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY. Published by Harper Collins and Audible.

Still not sure about the term guru though! Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) gave me that label. But really I’m just a fix it man at heart.

You seem to love public speaking – has this always been the case?

I’m afraid so. I’m just a big show off! No, actually there’s more to it than that. My childhood love of storytelling morphed into a desire to become an actor. To me, writing and acting are the same thing. In fact, one of the joys of writing is that you get to play ALL the parts, even the women. But there’s something utterly amazing about being in front of an audience. I used to be part of a travelling theatre company, but now public speaking fills that need. My talks are quite ‘theatrical’.

You seem to be a very organised person is this essential to the way you approach each project?

I guess I am. I never used to be. In my teens, twenties, even thirties I lived in a perpetual state of barely-organised chaos. Kate was the organised one. Becoming organised was part of my get-happy strategy. A way of taking control of my chaotic, unhappy life.

But you’re right. It bled into everything I do. Becoming organised was how I finally managed to finish that novel that Kate started me writing; THE GOOD GUY’S GUIDE TO GETTING THE GIRL. There have been two more since then and I’m finishing up my fourth.

You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?

I love the RNA! I was a real sceptic at first. Couldn’t see how belonging to an organisation like that would be particularly useful. Surely it would be a lot of flouncey women writing about chiselled jawed heroes? But then my pal Bernadine Kennedy said “it’s quite good fun,” and If anyone knows about having a good time, it’s definitely Berni. And it turned out she was right! It is fun! But more than that it’s been enormously useful rubbing shoulders with all sorts of creative people, all of us trying to carve a living out of what we love.

What key advice would you share on writing or on life.

Write what you love. Do what makes you happy.

Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?

I try to write at least three days a week. I start at 7am and count the number of words I’ve written at the end of each hour. If it’s less than 200 I give myself a good talking to! By midday I’m usually done. In the afternoons I talk about writing or do post, answer emails, tackle the admin…

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

The day my agent told me that a producer in Hollywood had enquired about the film rights for THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS CHARMING MAN was pretty special! But actually there have been far more less dramatic, more humbling moments along the way. Recently a teacher’s assistant in Dubai emailed me to tell me that she’d enjoyed my ‘happy book’ and had been asked to do a presentation to the staff about it. Turns out my book is on a recommended reading list, in India. And her school adopts some of my happiness ideas for the children!

That is amazing, Peter. What project are you working on now?

My fourth novel is currently out with my first readers, so in the meantime I’m working on another self-help book. My fifth. I’m particularly excited about this one… though I can’t say much more at this point.

What is next for Peter? 

Who knows!? Hopefully more novels.

Although after some encouraging advice I might take a break to work on a film proposal for MY GIRLFRIEND’S PERFECT EX-BOYFRIEND. So long as I can continue to make a living putting a smile on the faces of my readers (or audience) I really don’t mind.

I wish you every continued success!

Find out more about Peter:-

 

Aunty Mary’s Traditional Yorkshire Pudding recipe.

 

 

 

Sunday has always been a family day to me. One traditional dish that I have fond memories of, especially on a wet and windy winter’s day, was a roast dinner with home made Yorkshire Puddings accompanied with a fresh mint sauce.

Although this lovely staple regional food is highly regarded it is very simple to do.

This is the recipe that has been passed on down through time to my Aunty Mary who then gave it to me.

The first recorded reference to this versatile savoury pudding was in the early eighteenth century, when it was described as ‘dripping pudding’ but I suspect it had been used for a long time before that. It started as a way of using up the dripping fat from the roast with a simple batter to make a filling accompaniment to the meal.

Ingredients

4 eggs
200 ml whole milk (you can use semi-skimmed)
200 grams plain flour
pinch of salt
one tablespoon of cold water

Method

Heat up an oven to 200C

 

 

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy in a bowl and then whisk in the milk. A hand whisk is all that is needed for this.

Then spoon in the sieved flour and add the pinch of salt until you have a smooth mixture that just coats the back of a spoon smoothly when poured over it. You can stir in a spoon of cold water or leave the mixture to stand a few hours in a fridge.

Prepare a 12 bun baking tin by coating each bun case with either lard, or a sunflower or vegetable oil that can take high temperatures. Place the tin in the hot oven and leave for 5 minutes until the oil is smoking and hot.

Remove the bun tin from the oven and pour in the batter evenly between the 12 indents. It should instantly begin to fry and bubble.

Replace the tin in the oven quickly and bake for for 15 to 20 minutes at 230C until the Yorkshires rise and are golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Their are all sorts of things written about the height and size of a Yorkshire pudding, but a simple recipe and a wholesome pudding should just be enjoyed as it has for many years.

Yorkshire pudding batter has been used in many variations over the years and I would love to learn of people’s favourite recipes as it is such a feel-good simple part of a meal.

Catching up: Sapere Books 1 year on!

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Congratulations to Amy, Caoimhe and Richard on there first birthday as Sapere Books.

Amy has taken time out of her busy schedule to share some of the events that have happened in this amazing first year.

Since we last caught up in March 2018, a lot has happened at Sapere Books! We now have over 40 authors who have joined the Sapere family, and we have published lots of fabulous novels in our first year.

The genres we were looking for initially are thriving: crime fiction; historical fiction and romantic fiction are all very popular with our readers, and books in a series do particularly well for us. We are just about to publish in a genre we haven’t tried yet: military ‘action and adventure’ fiction, and we are preparing to launch titles in that genre by this time next year, including a Vietnam combat series and Tudor-era naval fiction.

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The team with the winner of The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award, Catherine Isaac

One of the most exciting announcements for us in our first year is our sponsorship of two excellent writing awards. In March we sponsored a new award for 2019 from the Romantic Novelists’ Association: The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award. The shortlist was very strong and the winner was Catherine Isaac for her wonderful novel YOU ME EVERYTHING. We are also the new sponsors of the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award. The shortlist will be announced at CrimeFest in May and I can’t wait to read them all! We are also currently interviewing for our first full-time staff member, which is very exciting, so we should have a new Editorial Assistant to introduce to our authors soon!

Many of the authors we signed up before our launch are working on new projects with us, as they are thrilled with reader feedback and the wonderful work Caoimhe has been doing marketing our books: we regularly feature on Amazon’s best-seller lists, and have been getting Kindle deals world-wide, from the US to Australia – and even India!

We don’t anticipate growing our list hugely in the next year, as we already have so many amazing books scheduled for release, but we will continue to support our Sapere family and we hope all of our authors will continue working with us for many years to come!

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Happy Birthday Sapere Books!

 

Aunty Mary’s Rhubarb Crumble

 

The humble rhubarb has gone from being known as an ancient cure, to a favourite British dessert, to one that post WWII fell from grace. During the war years the price was controlled so that everyone could afford it and many, like my Aunty Mary learned how to use it in a variety of recipes from tarts to Rhubarb and Ginger Jam.

This article looks at the ever popular Rhubarb Crumble.

So what is it and how did it come to be linked so strongly with Yorkshire?

It is a large leafed herbaceous perennial growing from rhizomes – a vegetable, the stalk of which provides vitamins K and C but lacks sweetness and so is low in calories. However, the leaves are high in oxalic acid which can damage the kidneys.

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Because it is not sweet sugar is used in recipes and this will affect some of the benefits eating the stalk can bring, when cooked properly. It is thought to have been used as far back as 2700 BC as a medicine. Claims that it could treat gut, lung and liver problems kept it popular. In recent years it has come back into fashion and there is still a Wakefield Rhubarb Festival held in February.

Rhubarb was a native crop in Siberia growing on the banks of the Volga.  Marco Polo is attributed with bringing it to Europe. In the seventeenth century it is claimed to have been more valuable than opium.

The Yorkshire Rhubarb Triangle began around 1877 when the method of forcing rhubarb was brought to West Yorkshire. Forcing had been discovered by accident in the Chelsea Physic Garden, London, in 1817, but the conditions of the sheltered area  between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford in the shadows of the Pennines provided a perfect growing environment. The rain, cold and the high nitrogen available from ‘Shoddy’ – a by product of the successful woollen mill industry that also thrived in the area – all helped. The Yorkshire coalfields provided an ample supply of fuel to heat the sheds needed to grow the crop in the dark. Then excellent railways in the region linked to London and Covent Garden market as well.

Forced rhubarb was grown in sheds and the first crop early in the year was said to be the best.

The following recipe is for a simple dessert and not a health recommendation for this unique rhubarb crop.

When picking rhubarb go for early and straight, thin colourful stalks. If the stalks are limp they are not fresh. Later in the year you might need to strip off the tougher outer layer before cooking.

Ingredients

6 Stalks of rhubarb
Two teaspoonfuls of ground ginger
1 level tablespoon of Demerara sugar

For the Crumble

7 oz  unsalted butter
7 oz golden caster sugar
14 oz plain flour

Method

Rub butter and the flour together until crumble is fine. You can substitute some flour with oats to make the top crunchier.

Add in the sugar (to taste).

When finely mixed it should clump together when squeezed once and fall apart again a separate time.

Leave in the fridge to chill.

Top and tail the crunchy stalks of rhubarb.

Either soften in a pan with a knob of butter and the ginger and sugar until softer, or bake on a tray in the oven on 170C for ten minutes.

If the pan method is used, drain off some of the fluid. If the oven method is used then transfer to the serving dish once the rhubarb has been tested to make sure it is tender.

I would love to receive any other original recipes for the versatile and unique rhubarb.