Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Writer and friend, Helen Pollard...

... joins me on the blog today. Hi Helen, and thanks for being here today.  So, let me have your point of view on being a contributor to an anthology.  It can't be that easy, can it?

When I was first invited to join a group of northern writers for lunch in Hebden Bridge four years ago, I had no idea where that would lead!  Initially, it was just wonderful to chat with like-minded people, tagged onto a day out enjoying coffee and a potter around the eclectic shops in such a lovely place.  Then, a couple of summers ago, Helena Fairfax suggested that we all do an anthology together.  The idea appealed to everyone.  We have a fantastic group of authors, so I knew the anthology would be a good one.
As you can imagine, the project took quite a bit of coordination with nine authors involved!  We had to decide on a location (the fictional town of Haven Bridge) and a central character who would appear in each story (the mysterious Miss Moonshine).  So, lots of emails and some fun lunches where we discussed ideas and consistencies and inconsistencies and titles and covers.  We needn't have worried that we might clash with each other’s story ideas – each turned out to be unique.
The Heart Gallery, Hebden Bridge
For me, more came out of the anthology than those very readable stories and a book we could be proud of.  I had already found this writerly group invaluable for mutual support, advice and laughs, but I believe that working together has made us much closer as a group – I feel that we are now good friends rather than writerly acquaintances.
The icing on the cake was that Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings was well received by readers and bloggers – most gratifying, especially when many of the reviews begged for more of Miss Moonshine.  And we are happy to oblige!  We’re all enthusiastic about bringing back the enigmatic Miss M for another helping, this time setting our stories around Christmastime in a festive Haven Bridge.  And so I’ve been working hard on my story, thoroughly enjoying having a second shot at spending time with Miss Moonshine in a brand new tale.
For both my Miss Moonshine stories, the biggest challenge for me has been the length.  Each of the books in my Little French Guesthouse trilogy were around the 100,000 word mark, so concocting a story with a beginning, middle and end in just a tenth of that, when I’m someone who loves really developing my characters, hasn’t been easy!  But in the end, I enjoyed working with the differences – in length, in location (Yorkshire versus France), and in time - my new Christmas Miss Moonshine is set in 1982, which has been great fun.
I’ve already heard some of the other authors’ ideas for their stories, and they sound fantastic.  I can’t wait to read them!

about the author… As a child, Helen had a vivid imagination fuelled by her love of reading, so she started to create her own stories in a notebook. She still prefers fictional worlds to real life, believes characterisation is the key to a successful book, and enjoys infusing her writing with humour and heart. Helen is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and The Society of Authors.

You can follow Helen on Amazon and you can get her books Here

Another fellow Author on the Edge will be visiting the blog next month, so watch this space...
You can read previous posts from Authors on the Edge 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

I'm reviewing The Muse...

...by Jesse Burton

As soon as I knew that Jessie Burton had a new book out I wanted to read it.  I'd enjoyed her first book, The Miniaturist and the TV adaptation so much that I was determined that I would not miss out on her second.  Cut to my local reading group, and I find the book is on the list for us all to read and discuss.  What great luck, I thought.
Beginning in June 1967 we meet the central character, Odelle Bastien who is currently working in a shoe shop.  Having come to the UK from Trinidad with her friend Cynth, Odelle, finds herself living in a vibrant and changing London of the now called 'swinging sixties'.  But Odelle has ambitions and passions.  She's a writer at heart, and she has been well educated at home.  Working in a shoe shop was not exactly what Odelle saw as her future.
A month later, on a hot July day, Odelle visits the Skelton Art Gallery in search of a new job.  She meets Marjorie Quick, tall, slim and enigmatic, and Odelle is employed as a typist.  As she settles into her new role, she realises there is more to running an art gallery than she envisaged.  When a lost masterpiece turns up, Marjorie Quick's behaviour changes dramatically and unexpectedly. Odelle is determined to find out why.  From this point, the story begins to move forward in parallel in two separate time frames.
As with The Miniaturist, the attention to historical detail for both timeframes - the sixties and the latter half of the thirties - is exemplary.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the life and times of London in the sixties through the eyes of Odelle and Cynth.  I very quickly warmed to both of the characters and their shared wit frequently brought a smile to my face.
As the story unfolds, hidden secrets arise, not just about the missing masterpiece but about the artist and other works by the same artist too.  I loved the way the plot of this novel was carefully and teasingly pieced together.  It made me question the place and the truth of art in society.  It kept me reading and kept me guessing right to the very end.
I found this book a delightful and entertaining read with an easy flowing narrative and I'm already looking forward to whatever will be the next book from this author.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Jottings from the Journals... Nîmes

Tuesday 13th

...L'Arène, the Roman amphitheatre that sits in the heart of the city of Nîmes.  To one side is the Palais de Justice, on the other a newly built museum.  Boulevard Victor Hugo, with all its city traffic, is a few feet away and elsewhere this fantastic structure is faced by hotels, restaurants and shops.  Everything you would need in a city.

The amphitheatre is almost 2000 years old and was probably built around the same time as its twin in Arles, around the 1st/2nd centuries AD.  Used in Roman times to entertain the people, gladiators fought here until 404 when these contests were forbidden.  Oh, and when you next watch the film, Spartacus, don't believe everything you see.  That thumbs down sign to signify the kill – not totally accurate, apparently.  Gladiators were skilled fighters.  They were highly trained and prized men.  They were the property of whoever owned the training school.  So, if one of your gladiators received the sign for the kill, his 'owner' could claim compensation to cover his loss.  Mostly, when combat was clearly at its limit, the sign to sheath weapons – with the hand palm upwards, the thumb across the palm and the fingers wrapped over it - would be given.  But, I suppose as far as the director of Spartacus was concerned, that just doesn't have the same dramatic impact, does it?

Despite its great age, this fabulous monument is still used today for fairs, rock and pop concerts and bullfighting.  There are three ferias a year, February, Witsun is the longest and most well known, and the last is in September.  The city, at these times, is full to overflowing.  Nîmes is one of the few places outside of Spain to hold formal authorisation for Spanish bullfights.  But there two sides to every story.  There is a statue that stands outside the amphitheatre.  Christian Montcouquiol (1954–1991), born in Germany, was a French Matador known as Nimeño II as a result of a contest in Nîmes in 1989.  In a subsequent fight, in the bullring in Arles, he received severe injuries from which he never fully recovered and, in 1991, Christian committed suicide.

From the amphitheatre, it is a short walk along Boulevard Victor Hugo to Café Napoleon... Well, when in Nîmes…

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Please welcome, friend and author, Alice Castle...

...to the blog this week.  You're on your 6th book, Alice - I am so in awe of the speed at which you write - can you tell us what it's all about?

Those who know Dulwich might well think that Beth Haldane, the single mum amateur sleuth star of my London Murder Mysteries series, must be running out of places to find bodies in SE21.  Not a bit of it.  Dulwich may be small but there are still plenty of handy corners where a fictional corpse or two can be stashed, and Belair Park is a perfect example.
The park is nestled around, and used to be the very grand garden of, Belair House, which is without doubt one of the finest mansions in this pocket of south east London.  Belair House is a beautiful Georgian slab of white stucco, dating from 1785, which some say was designed by Robert Adam.  In a Jane Austen novel, the house would be the seat of the local eligible bachelor, who’d sweep Beth away to dance in the candlelit ballroom.  In real life, it was built by a maize farmer by the name of John Willes, who’d made his fortune in Whitechapel.  Nowadays, the place is a Grade II listed events venue.  For the purposes of my whodunit, it has been taken over by the imaginary Dulwich Bridge Club, a collection of sharp-elbowed, competitive retired folk who used to have top jobs and still want to trump the opposition wherever possible.  Beth’s difficult mother, Wendy, likes to think she’s a leading light of the club.  Tragedy strikes when her long term bridge partner, Alfie, dies suddenly.  Wendy is convinced it’s murder, and Beth finds herself reluctantly dragged into the mystery.
While Beth rushes around investigating, Belair House stands tall and aloof, as it has done for more than two centuries now.  It still has its own lawn, but most of its grounds, which are said to have been landscaped by the famous Capability Brown himself, are now open to the public and owned by Southwark Council.  It is here, on a park bench, that the body of Alfie Pole is found.  The park features a pond, which was rather cheekily formed by damming the ancient river Effra.  It now also has a new skatepark, which no doubt Capability Brown, Robert Adam and John Willes too would have been astonished at.
It was such a joy to set my book in this corner of Dulwich which feels like a well-kept secret. 
I’d like it to have a much wider audience.  Belair House would be a gorgeous backdrop to
any story but it really lent itself to a cozy crime.  Although in the past it’s been open as a restaurant and bar, for the moment you can only book it for larger events.  Could it be the perfect spot for Beth’s own wedding to irascible Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York?  I’m laughing even as I type that – and Beth is blushing furiously behind her fringe ;)

...about the book Beth Haldane is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted.  Her son is starting secondary school, her personal life seems to have settled down – even her pets are getting on better.  But then the phone rings.
It’s Beth’s high maintenance mother, Wendy, with terrible news.  Her bridge partner, Alfie Pole, has died suddenly.  While Beth, and most of Dulwich, is convinced that Alfie has pegged out from exhaustion, thanks to playing with Wendy for years, Beth’s mother is certain that there is foul play afoot.
Before she knows it, Beth is plunged into her most complicated mystery yet, involving the Dulwich Bridge Club, allotment holders, the Dulwich Open Garden set and, of course, her long-suffering boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York.  The case stirs up old wounds which are much closer to home than Beth would like.  Can she come up trumps in time to stop the murderer striking again, or does the murderer hold the winning hand this time? 

...about the author Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph.  Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.
Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany.  A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot.  Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018.  Alice is currently working on the seventh London Murder Mystery adventure, The Slaying in Sydenham.  Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York. 

The Body in Belair Park will be published on 25th June by Crooked Cat and you can get a copy Here and Death in Dulwich is available as an Audio Book

You can follow Alice on her Website on Facebook and on  Twitter