Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Come stroll with me...

Tour de Pannessac
... through yet more delightful streets and sights of interest in Le Puy-en-Velay.

In July I took you on a tour of Le Puy-en-Velay and in that post I mentioned the Tour de Pannessac, the former royal entrance to the town and dating from the 14th century.  Our short walking tour today will begin there.  Standing here, next to the tower, I have to wonder whether Charlemagne was on foot when he visited the Le Puy or on horseback.   Probably the latter which unfortunately means that I can not claim to be following in his footsteps, just his horses hoof prints, which does not have quite the same panache does it?  But King Louis IX also passed this way in 1254 on his return from the crusades and he gave the town the right to add gold coloured fleurs-de-lys to the coat of arms.

Decorated house
Keeping the tower on your right, continue along boulevard Carnot to the square and then  go right.  The road climbs gently and after a short distance there is a left, rue Montferrand.  I recommend that you take this street and continue up the slight incline and you will find yet another of the many surprises that this town has to offer.

Continue to the top of the street which connects with boulevard Montferrand and takes you, eventually, to steps that lead to rue Chosson and the church on the hill.  Although it's not strictly a hill.  It's actually a volcanic plug - a stream of magma that has hardened in the vent of an ancient volcano - that has been exposed by erosion.  Standing at a height of 82m above the rest of the city, the church, St Michel d'Aiguilhe is small but well worth the effort of the climb.  The chapel was built in the 10th century (961 to be exact) at the insistence of the bishop Gothescalk of Le Puy following his return from a pilgrimage to Compostela and it has towered above the city ever since.  The frescoes in the interior are primitive but the colours are still vibrant along with the decorative stonework around the outside.  In the 1950's the chapel and altar were restored and it was during that process that a wooden figure of Christ was discovered.  It is thought to have been created in the 10th century.
Another fresco

Back in the heart of the old town and, as I meander through the narrow streets and onto rue Raphaël, I discover yet another little surprise.  This street originally housed the leading citizens of the town along with other well-healed families, their wealth displayed in the painted decoration on their houses and intricate masonry.  A little further along the street, out of the corner of my eye, I spot a man dressed in doublet, hose and a cloak in an archway and I begin to think I've slipped back through time.  Then I stop and look again and realise it is yet another fresco and I smile to myself.  'He's clearly a wealthy gent', I tell myself, 'collecting some Livres from a 16th century cash machine!'

This is my last post about Le Puy, however the city is a location that I use in my current novel, Merle.  To solve his current mystery, my central character and investigator, Jacques Forêt, follows a suspect to Le Puy and what he finds there, surprises him. 

I have no doubt, at some point in the not too distant future, I will be back in Le Puy and I will look forward to that!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Viki Meadows to my blog today.  Thanks for being here and I know your time is precious so, I'll dive straight in with my first question.  What is your current release?
VM  Kiss Me Goodbye will be released on the 22nd of September, which is my son Kosta’s birthday.  It’s a short story that I’ve written to raise money for various charities in his memory.  One hundred percent of all profits are going to be donated and I am covering all the costs.  For more information on the charities we’re supporting this year visit www.kostasolivetree.com  The story is set in Regency England during the festive season and is a rather sweet romance.  Hopefully Minnie, my heroine, brings enough tartness to the story to stop your teeth from hurting.

When Minnie tells Villiers that she wants to break off their engagement, Villiers must face some unpleasant truths about himself and come to terms with past mistakes. His future happiness hinges on him not only winning Minnie’s forgiveness but also her heart.  Will he succeed in making this the happiest of Christmases for both of them?

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
VM  Avid reading brought me in to writing.  I would read something and then spend ages developing scenes further, or thinking of alternative endings that I liked better, and at some point, I moved from imagining to writing these things down.  I also like imaginary worlds better than this one, especially if I can control what happens in them!  I get a massive emotional kick out of reading romance and non-gritty crime.  I like the guaranteed happy-ever-after endings and solutions and I’d love to bring a similar pleasure to my readers, so that’s what I strive to do.

AW  You write Romance and Contemporary novels.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
VM  I do undertake research.  Even when you think you know everything you still have to check.  For example, I recently found myself googling insect eating snakes and garden gnomes.  Don’t ask!  I love the regency era and am going to have to do a lot more research for future projects that I’m planning.  That certainly won’t be a hardship but the biggest problem with research is that I’m not always aware of what I don’t know and so therefore I don’t know what specific things I should be researching.  Does that make any sense?

AW  Yep to me it does.  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
VM  I have dabbled with writing of different lengths, penning novellas, longer books and short stories.  I don’t stick to one genre for my short stories, however I do stick to romance for longer pieces.  Romance is what I like to read, you see.  You can find some of my shorter pieces on my blog.  Here, for example, is a link to a story set in WW2 Behind the Fence 
AW  I really liked the story when I first read it.
VM  There are a couple more stories on there that have absolutely no romance in them.

AW  OK.  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
Viki's writing companion!  And doesn't he look comfy?
VM  Sadly no and it’s not through lack of space.  It’s more to do with lack of will and the resources I need in order to write.  No, I don’t need a fancy table, or lovely pictures or a clean desk.  I need… noise.  I find it hard to write in complete silence or with music and I don’t like to feel shut away from the core of my home.  I need to have people around me.  I suppose, since I’m the oldest of eight children and while I was growing up the house was so full of noise and activity, that I’m conditioned to it now.  The end result is that noise and people are vital to how I work and I find silence distracting, so sometimes I’ll write with my laptop on my knee in front of the telly while watching reruns of Midsomer Murders, other times it’ll be on my bed (which my chiropractor slaps my wrists for) with the cat purring on my knee, and sometimes I’ll go to the local library (which luckily is still open) or a local café if I’m feeling flush.

AW  Finally, what would your eight-year old self think of, and say about, you today?
VM   I think my 8yr old self would be pretty proud of what I’ve achieved so far in my life, but a bit disappointed that I put my writing on the back burner for so many years and lacked discipline.  It’s taken me far too long to prioritise it.  I think both my 8yr old incarnation and my 52 year old incarnation would agree that one should always make time for creativity and that dreams should never be put away while you do other, more practical things.  It’s a pity all the in-between incarnations didn’t realise this at the time.  I think my 8yr old self would say, ‘You’re doing well, but you could have done better.’  Thanks for hosting me on your blog Angela.

You're very welcome and readers, you can follow Viki on her Blog her FB author page Viki Meadows Author on Facebook and on Twitter

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The Power of One...

... I have the great pleasure of presenting a guest post from, friend and author, Bea Fishback, today.  So kick off your shoes, get a cuppa and read more about the Power of One...

I have been to a few writing conferences/events in the past and each has been a unique experience.  However, the most recent program that I attended was special in a different sort of way.
Although I generally don’t know any of the attendees at a particular conference, and as an extrovert this usually isn’t an issue, I was feeling particularly vulnerable and isolated this time.  Most often, I have the courage to step out and introduce myself to others. Then there are the moments that even this extrovert can feel a bit of the introvert pull.
I found a seat midway down the sloped theater seating, opened my notebook preparing for the seminar to begin, and wondered if anyone else around me felt as alone as I did.
Across the room, I saw someone I thought I knew but was unsure so I lowered my eyes and scanned the blank paper in front of me in an act of concentration.  Again I looked up.  And sure enough, the person I thought I had recognized waved in my direction.
Inwardly I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  I wasn’t alone.  I knew one person.  And it dawned on me that she probably had no idea how much power she had over my emotions right then.  It was the power of one.  The one who noticed me in the crowd.
As writers, we tend to live a reclusive lifestyle in order to finish manuscripts, be inspired by the next idea, or finish up the endless social media sites we maintain each day in order to stay relevant.
So, whether we “see” one another on FB or attend a program, it’s important that we acknowledge and support our comrades in words.  We were never intended to live life in a vacuum—even a writing vacuum.
A few tips for writing events:
  •  Reach out to others.  Everyone is in the same situation and each needs a seed of encouragement.  Even a simple smile can change the writing event for someone.
  • If you are in a group, invite someone you don’t know to your table during a meal. There are many who attend for the first time and are looking for a warm welcome.
  • Be the Power of One by setting an example to others by your warmth and acceptance to a lone visitor.
All of these things are easy but don’t always come naturally.  I was extremely grateful for the one who reached out to me and I want to pass on their kindness to the next person I meet at a writing conference or in a social setting where they may be feeling alone.
How about you?  What experiences have you had when you’ve gone to a writing conference where you didn’t know anyone?  Share so others can learn from the good and the bad.

You can follow Bea on Facebook  her  Website  on Twitter  and on Amazon

Friday, 1 September 2017

I'm reviewing 'Zelda's Cut'...

... by Philippa Gregory

This book was recommended to me by a friend and what a book it is!  I’ve read a number of Philippa Gregory’s books, but these have all been her historical novels.  So it was a bit of a surprise to me to find that she also writes in the ‘mystery’ genre.
The central character, Isobel Latimer is an academic and a writer of novels.  She has a husband, who through illness, is a constant drain on Isobel’s financial, emotional and day-to-day resources.  When she discovers that her latest book will not bring in the much-needed cash to help them to pay their living costs, health bills and general expenses, Isobel finds herself being talked into a scheme to create a different type of novel under a different name by her agent, Troy Cartwright.
And what’s so strange about that, you might wonder.  Lots of authors use more than one name for their work, mostly because they are writing in different genres where there is no natural cross-over of reader.  But, the original idea moves beyond the creation of a story and into something very unnerving.  Writers, be careful who you choose for your agent!
Isobel finds herself becoming further drawn into a web of deceit that causes her to question her own sense of truth.  When her husband becomes interested in a project to create an in-door swimming pool in a barn close to the old farmhouse in which they live, Isobel comes under more pressure to provide funds for the project.  Her life and her house are invaded by Murray, the pool man, and when he notices that some of Isobel’s trips to London may not be what they appear to be, the intrigue deepens.
This is a deliciously witty piece of observation of humanity at its best and its worst.  Excellently plotted, with a narrative voice that carries you effortlessly from page to page, and beautifully devised prose.  The characters glide from chapter to chapter and you just have to follow.  A brilliant story and I could not put it down once I’d started it.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Great Crooked Cat Summer Sale...

... is here again. 

For the next few days you can get some brilliant reads for your e-book device for as little as 99p/c or international equivalent.

So don't miss out scoot on over to Amazon 

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

...Kate Field to my blog today.  Hello Kate and thanks for sparing your precious time to be here today.  So I'll get straight to the questions.  What is your current release?
KS   My second novel, The Truth About You, Me and Us, will be published on 25 August 2017.  It's a contemporary romance set in Lancashire, and features a community of artists who work at a craft gallery based in a former church.  The heroine is Helen, a single mother and crazy patchwork artist, and the story focuses on what happens when she unexpectedly encounters a figure from her past.

AW   Hmmm that sounds very interesting.  What first got you into writing and why?
KS   The first thing I wrote for pleasure, rather than a school project, was a novel about a schoolgirl detective who looked and soundly exactly like me, and lived in a village just like mine, although I changed one letter in the name of the village to make it seem different!  It was a shameless copy of a book I’d read and enjoyed – an early form of fan fiction!
My next attempt at writing a novel came many years later, and was again inspired by what I was reading at the time, as I was ploughing through Georgette Heyer’s books.  I tried writing a Regency romance, with much enthusiasm but little accuracy.  It taught me the valuable lesson that an easy book to read isn’t necessarily an easy book to write.

AW  And I'm with you on that one!  You write Romance.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
KS   There’s a surprising amount of research involved, even for a contemporary romance. I'm a perfectionist, even over tiny details such as whether a character's car has front or rear wheel drive, or the traits of a particular breed of dog.  For my debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, I undertook a lot of research into certain medical conditions; most of the research didn't appear in the book, but I wanted to understand as best as I could, so that the characters’ actions weren't inconsistent with their condition.
I like to have visual inspiration, so I spend a lot of time finding images of the house a character might live in or visit, or even the clothes they might wear in a significant scene.  If I’m ever struggling with writing, I find this a great way to take a break while still doing something vaguely productive, and research often throws up just the inspiration I need to carry on.

The model for the chuch in the novel
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
KS   I think it takes a great deal of skill to write successful short stories, and I’m not sure it's a skill I have!  So far, I have only written romantic fiction, although I have moved to contemporary rather than historical fiction.  I haven't ruled out writing in other genres.  I would love to try a time slip novel one day, if I can face the amount of planning it would involve!

AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
KS   I don't have anywhere special to write, although we do have a flat tarmacadamed area at the top of the garden, and I often think it would be the perfect place for a writing ‘shed’.  It would definitely need to be heated: it can be cold and windy up on the Lancashire moors!
I always write a first draft with pen and paper, so in theory I can write anywhere.  Most of my books so far have been written either in the car or slumped on the sofa!

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
KS   That's a great question, but also a tricky one!  It will become harder the more I think about it, so I’m going to stick with my instinctive answer, which is my favourite author, Jane Austen.  I’d like to take afternoon tea with her and discuss her characters, particularly which ones she likes the best; I've always thought that she preferred the ‘bad’ characters such as Willoughby and Henry Crawford to some of the heroes.  I’d like to ask her about what plans she had for other books, if she hadn't died so young, and how it feels to have written stories that are loved hundreds of years later, and that have inspired so many other books, films and television shows.  Above all, I’d like to thank her.  My childhood enthusiasm for reading waned at secondary school, and only revived when I was given a copy of Pride and Prejudice as a GCSE set text.  My love of books has been constant since then, and if I hadn't been a reader, I would never have been a writer.  I have a lot to thank her for.
AW   I'm a great fan of Austen myself and have read and re-read her books.  And I think, if I met her, I would be saying thank you too!

... about the book   Five years ago Helen Walters walked out on her ‘perfect’ life with the ‘perfect’ man.  Wealthy, glamorous and bored, she longed for something more.

Now a talented artist with a small business, Helen creates crazy patchwork crafts to support her young daughter, Megan. Penniless, content and single, she is almost unrecognisable.
But when her past unexpectedly collides with her new life, Helen finds herself torn.  She knows what the easiest choice is, but is it what she wants?

And you can follow Kate on 

Amazon  Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I have two very special guests today...

... friend and author, Marsali Taylor, and her central character, Cass Lynch...

‘Cass Lynch,’ my editor said.  ‘The Girl at the Heart of the Longship Case.’  He tended to think in cliches.  ‘Innocent Victim or Holllywood Star’s Love Triangle?’
‘Do my best,’ I said.
Once I got to Shetland, it looked like my best wasn’t going to be good enough.  ‘Cass Lynch?’ my contact said.  ‘Pulling teeth.  Look, she did two interviews.  The first one was after the body was found, with a policeman on each side.  The second one was a Guardian exclusive, with her mother – do you know about her mother?’
I’d done my homework.  ‘Oil man father, Irish, French opera singer mother.  Eugenie Delafauve.  Specialist in music from the court of the Sun King.’
‘And a turn on her own.  Dramatic plus.  Anyway, she presented Cass as the well-brought up young lady with her family around her.  The only time anyone’s ever seen her in a dress.  No awkward questions.  Since then, the barbed wire’s gone up.’  He looked thoughtful.  One hand rose slowly in a hang-on gesture. ‘Unless we approach her by sea …’
Which was how I came to find myself on board a sailing boat belonging to one of his mates, Barry, dodging ropes as the head-height piece of metal at the bottom of the sail crashed overhead.  Even in late July it was freezing, and I was very glad when, three hours later, our skipper nodded at the houses ahead of us and said, ‘Brae.’
I kept out of the way as he scrambled about hauling flapping sails down, and we chugged into the marina.  A boy in a navy jersey came out of one of the boats to indicate where we should park, and followed us over to stand, hand out, ready to take our ropes.
Out on the water
It was then I realised that I was looking straight at Cass Lynch herself.  I hadn’t expected her to be so small; five foot two, at a guess, and wearing sandshoes.  The jumper was a navy seaman’s gansey, too big for her, and worn above working jeans. She had a black plait hanging down her back, with the occasional curl breaking free around her ears.  For all her size, she was strong, pulling our thirty footer in on its line as if it was a rowboat, then she moved quickly around the dock, fastening one rope, going back to alter another, until she finally exchanged glances with Barry, and they nodded at each other, one seaman to another.  ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Give us ten minutes to tidy up, then come aboard for a cup of tea.’
She hesitated over that one.  I had a good look at her face now, tilted up towards us. The long, straight scar on her right cheek was lit by the sun, a snail-trail of white skin in her tanned face.  I’d read up on her lover’s death in the middle of the Atlantic; it was another thing I wanted to ask her about.  Apart from that, she had a stubborn chin, high cheekbones, dark lashes and eyes as blue as cornflowers.  The scar stopped her from being pretty, but she had a face you wouldn’t forget.
‘You can tell us about the local area,’ I said quickly, seeing the refusal trembling on her lips.  It was a shameless play on what she’d see as her duty to her fellow sailors, and it worked.
She nodded.  ‘Ten minutes, then.’
We had tea in mugs, out in the cockpit.  She was accompanied by a bearded Thor look-alike, introduced as Anders, with no further explanation.  He gave me a charming smile and asked if I objected to rats.  ‘Yes,’ I said firmly, and was startled to see him fish a large black and white beast out of his shirt and take it back to their own boat.
‘So,’ I said, once the livestock had been disposed of, and Barry and Anders had gone below to talk about the engine in a boys-together sort of way, ‘what’s around here?’  I tried not to look disparagingly round at the cluster of houses, though I had to concede that the green hills, the burns thick with formica-yellow marsh marigolds, the seaweed-fringed shoreline, the sparkling sea, was all scenic enough.
Her blue eyes were surprisingly shrewd, as if she was considering where she’d put me on board a ship.  ‘Depends what you want.  There’s a lot of Britain’s most northerly.  Indian take-away, chip shop, hairdresser, Co-op, fire station, astro-turf, high school.  The blue roof is the leisure centre, with a swimming pool, and there are showers in the clubhouse here.’
‘Historic stuff? Isn’t there a haunted house?’  It had been where the film crew had stayed, in the Longship case.
Her chin jerked off to the left.  ‘Busta,’ she conceded. ‘Oldest still-inhabited house in Shetland.  It’s a hotel now.’
I was going to have to use shock tactics.  I put on my best naïve expression and said, ‘Wasn’t that where all the film stars stayed, when there was the murder here?’
Her face went mutinous.  She shrugged.
‘Were you here then?’
A reluctant nod.
‘Involved with the filming?  Didn’t they moor the longship here?’
Her chin tilted again.  ‘At the pier there.’
‘Were you on board?’
Field of buttercups, Shetland
I could see she didn’t want to lie about it.  Her head went up, and her blue eyes looked directly at mine.  Suddenly she turned from a shabby near-boy to the captain of the ship, her voice authoritative.  ‘We don’t talk about it here.’  Her glance flicked down to the engine-room; she drained her tea, and rose.  ‘If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back.  Have a good stay here in Brae.’
I watched her unobtrusively for the rest of the evening; moving about below in her Khalida, in the gold of a lit oil lamp, coming up on deck to brush her teeth, with her hair a loose cloud about her shoulders.  I got a few good pictures, but there was no conversational opening for me to rush in.  I’d get her in the morning, two women in the showers together.
I was too late.  By half past eight the next morning, as I was heading for the clubhouse, make-up bag and towel in one hand, she was already dressed in a faded black all-in-one sailing suit, and starting to haul grey plastic dinghies about on the boating club slip.  I got an over-the-shoulder hello.  When I came out, she was surrounded by children in blue plastic overalls, drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. She could talk to them all right:  ‘Okay, so let’s look at the sea first.  How windy is it?’
Oh, well.  It wasn’t the first time I’d made up an interview from so little material.  I just had to decide the angle.  Cass Lynch was understandably tight-lipped about the events of the Longship Case … still finds it hard to talk about … ‘It was a difficult time,’ she admitted …
I glanced across at the slip and heard her voice again.  ‘What’s the tide doing?  Why does it matter?’  There was a mutter of voices, and then a scrum of children and a welter of flapping neon sails.  She moved among them, calm and competent, then clambered into a rubber boat and herded them out of the marina, like a swan rounding up unruly cygnets.  I shot a couple of photos; she turned to see where the flash had come from.  The sullen look was gone; now she was smiling.  She spun the rescue boat round in a roar of engine, setting the dinghies rocking in the wash.  The children shrieked with delight, and she laughed, and waved to me.
My car was bigger than the boat she lived in, and the cost of her whole wardrobe wouldn’t have bought me one pair of shoes, yet at that moment I suddenly envied her.  I deleted what I’d done, and began again.
Cass Lynch, the girl in the Longship Case, has moved on …

... about the author... Marsali Taylor’s writing career began with plays for her school pupils to perform in the local Festival. Her first Shetland-set crime novel starring quick-witted, practical sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae was published in 2013, and there are now five in the series, with a sixth due this November. Reviewers have praised their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s interest in history is shown in her self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, and Norse-set crime novella, Footsteps in the Dew. She helped organise the 2015 Shetland Noir festival, and is a ‘regular’ at Bloody Scotland and Iceland Noir.  She’s a columnist and reviewer for the e-zine Mystery People.

... about the book... When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the ‘accidents’ begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn’t realise she’d gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear them all of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.

You can follow Marsali on Amazon her  website and on Facebook