Tuesday 26 May 2020

Friend and author, Sarah Mallory, joins me...

... on the blog today.  Hi Sarah, and thanks for making time to be here.  Tell me, what is your current release?

SM   My latest book is The Mysterious Miss Fairchild, a romantic mystery set in Regency Bath.  It is also my 30th historical romance for Mills & Boon, so I am especially delighted to have reached that milestone.
AW   Wow!  Congratulations on that amazing achievement.  But back to the questions, what first got you into writing and why?
SM   I have always wanted to write.  I used to make up tales for friends in the school playground and also created a magazine with a schoolfriend (doesn't everyone?).  I am basically a lazy person, though, so although I wrote down one or two stories I never did much about it.  After all, writing out a full novel takes a lot of work, doesn't it?  It is so much easier to read someone else's novel!  However, I discovered Georgette Heyer's historical novels when I was a teenager and loved them.  Soon I had read them all and when she died in 1974, I realized there was only one thing for it, I would have to write my own!
AW  You write historical romance.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
SM   I have always loved history and I research a great deal for my books.  However, I like to write about fictional characters so I weave them into the historical backdrop. History gives me lots of inspiration for my plots, too, especially visiting historical battle sites and stately homes or ruins such as Strome Castle.  There is not much to see now, but it set my imagination on fire – but that's for a future book.
AW  I know you write short stories - we've both worked on the Miss Moonshine anthologies.  But what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with other genres or non-fiction perhaps?
SM   Writing Miss Moonshine was such fun, wasn't it?  I wrote that as Melinda Hammond, which is the name I use for anything other than my Mills & Boon novels.  I have written a few more short stories, all with a historical setting.  I did write a contemporary romcom (Casting Samson), but even that was hijacked by history – I cannot seem to write anything without the past creeping in!
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?
SM   I am very lucky that I have always managed to have a room of my own for writing, first of all using the smallest bedroom, then, when the children required the bedrooms, we moved to a house that had an extra room downstairs that I could use as my study but it doubled as a lounge if we had visitors (that also meant I had to keep it reasonably tidy).  Now the children have all flown the nest and I have a dedicated study once again (and, consequently, it is far more cluttered).
A camera-shy Willow
AW  Finally, what would your eight-year old self think of, and say about, you today?
SM  What an interesting question!  I would hope my eight-year-old self would be quite pleased that I have a house by the sea.  And a dog, because I always wanted a dog and at eight I had an imaginary one that came everywhere with me.  Now I can take my beautiful whippet Willow for walks along the coast.
I also think she would be proud that I am a published author, like Enid Blyton!  At that age I was a tomboy, playing pirates, cowboys and Indians or soldiers with the boys in the street, so I hope she would be very pleased that all those games gave me lots of insight for adding adventure into my novels.  I am not sure what she would say about me, though, probably that I should have had some real adventures of my own!

about the book... Natalya Fairchild can't help but be drawn to Tristan Quintrell, Lord Dalmorren, even if he's not her intended bridegroom. But as Tristan helps Natalya investigate her mysterious past, she starts to hope the truth of her conception will not ruin her.

about the author... Sarah Mallory is an award-winning author who has published 30 historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon. She loves history, especially the Georgian and Regency periods and when she is not writing she spends her time walking through the Scottish Highlands, where she now lives with her husband and rescued whippet, Willow. She won the prestigious RoNA Rose Award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013.

Sarah also writes romantic historical adventures as Melinda Hammond.

You can buy the book  Here
You can follow Sarah on Amazon  Facebook  and on Twitter 

Sunday 24 May 2020

Coming soon...


Over the last few months, my publisher has been busily putting together an anthology of short stories all set in the vast metropolis that is London.  At first I was ambivalent about the prospect.  At the time I had a new book that needed to be publicised and I also had a new project that had been patiently awaiting my attention for over two years.
At the turn of the year - Marseille was selling well, I had a grip on my new project - in a moment alone I found myself thinking about the anthology and wondering whether I could offer anything that might be of use.
As a city, London has so many connections for me, stretching back over the centuries.  Across a number of generations my ancestors were born, lived and worked in the city.  Much more recently, it is a place where I've worked, lived, visited and passed through many times on my way to other locations.  I studied there for a while and I have often thought of the times we, as a family, visited relatives when I was a child.
I suppose it's not surprising that my own family history and the accompanying social history research that I had done over a number of years was the inspiration for my story, 'Treading', which appears in volume two of the anthology.
Both volumes are now available to pre-order on Amazon and the first book will be released on June 25th with the second following one week later on July 2nd.

Discover London's dark side in a new collection of short stories written by award-winning and international best-selling authors...  

about book one… Darkness lurks beneath London’s glittering surface…

Let us take you from Golders Green, in a tale of redemption, to Hope’s End, the final stop on a rambling Tube ride.  Then head to Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel where you learn of an unforeseen murder – and not only one, as women fall prey to the most brutal crimes!  Onwards, we head to the shores of the River Thames, where a young girl fears a sea monster and always carries a knife.  Then you visit a pub where the owner is losing the plot.  A Tube ride with an unexpected twist leads to a vision from the past.  Then we introduce you to a ghost who stalks her friends.  Lastly, discover the splendour of Westminster Palace, but is it a safe place for a woman with her sights on the English throne?

You can get the book Here

about book two… London’s ancient lanes hide a dark world…

Enter the London docklands at your peril, then head straight for the N8 bus, where we learn of a gruesome discovery.  Meet Beth, the female private investigator who clinches a case she can’t refuse; followed by a tale of murder from the 1950s that was – officially – never solved…
We take you to higher realms in a search for a missing woman, before a morning spent mudlarking reveals a mysterious link to the past.  London’s dystopian side is uncovered in an explosive tale; and then you return to Whitechapel where you meet not just one, but two unsavoury gentlemen.  Lastly, arrive in perfect time at a grand illusion, with disastrous consequences.

You can get the book Here

All proceeds from both volumes will go to London charities

You can read more about the history behind and the inspiration for my story Here

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Off my beaten track...

… and I'm picking up from where I left you in Siracusa in my post last month…

I was guiding you along the narrow streets, my previously plotted and efficient route through the city abandoned in favour of my usual let's-see-what-I-find approach.  I have to admit, it is more fun even if there may be one or two things I miss as a result.  They can be my reason to return at some point in the future.
As I stroll along Via Vittorio Veneto, I happen upon the Palazzo Mezio Blanco.  The street is quiet and shaded from the sun by the nearness and height of the buildings that flank each side.  In this bit of town I'm surrounded by rows of 17th and 18th century properties.  The balustrades for the compulsory balconies all beautifully decorated.  A Phoenix here, a Griffin there, a dragon, maybe or some other mythical beast.  The masonry work is stunning, even around the humblest of doorways.
I wander street after street until I find myself in Piazza Duomo.  A vast square surrounded by some stunning architecture.  It is also the cultural quarter of the city and I see a bill advertising a forthcoming exhibition.  I recognise the detail from a painting and I don't need to read more.  I already know it's Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.  Caravaggio led a turbulent life.  He was known for his brawling and erratic behaviour but his art was the talk of Rome.  In 1606, following the death - some say accidental - of a young man, Caravaggio fled Rome for Naples.  Feeling he was being pursued by his enemies he left Naples for Malta.  Arrested for brawling and causing severe injury to a knight he was imprisoned in 1608 in Valletta.  Managing to escape, Caravaggio fled to Sicily, initially to Siracusa.  He spent time in numerous cities whilst he was on the island, fleeing back to Naples in 1609.  Some months later, in July 1610, he died at the age of 38.  Luckily for those interested in art, he left a significant body of work despite his all too short lifespan.  But, here in Siracusa, you can see Caravaggio's Burial of St Lucy as it hangs in the church on this side of the piazza.
The cathedral which faces out onto the centre of the square occupies a space once used for a very ancient church.  The original place of worship - Temple of Athena - was built here in the the 5th century and archeological work shows that there may have been a structure here that pre-dates that.  However, the origins of the magnificent edifice that we see today date from the 7th century.  In the 9th century the church became a Mosque and was subsequently converted to christian worship by The Great Count, Roger Bosso, the first Norman nobleman assigned to the island.  The baroque façade is later.  Following an earthquake in the 17th century the cathedral was rebuilt and the current frontage was designed by Andrea Palma.  Take some time and look at the intricate masonry work - it's worth it.  Similarly for the interior of the cathedral.
Back out in the sunshine again and I need to begin threading my way back to the station.  But there's one other thing I particularly want to see.
One of the most famous sons of Siracusa is Archimedes.  Born here in 287 BC, he also died here some 75 years later in 212 BC. at the hands of an invading Roman soldier.  The father of calculus and geometry he wasn't just a mathematician. He was also a physicist, an engineer and an astronomer.  It seems quite fitting to me that he should be honoured in the city of his birth and you can find his statue in the square by Pont Umbertino, which I shall be passing on my way back to the station.  

You can read more about my little adventure in Sicily, Here and Here.  I will be back on the Island on June 30th, come and join me Here

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Anatomy of a Scene...

... friend and author, Anne-Marie Ormsby makes a welcome return to my blog this week and you can read the earlier author interview Here

It's hard to pick a favourite scene when looking back over your own book, but there is one scene which I recall the most as it was the first scene I wrote in my head.
It was March 2018 and I had just moved to Margate after 10 years living in London, and was still working in Hackney.  My first day of the commute was in the wake of fresh snowfall but I headed into town regardless, one of the few people on my train at 6.50am.  By 3pm snow had fallen across Kent, ice lining the rails so fast they couldn’t clear it and all trains had been suspended.  With no way of getting back to Margate, I trudged back into Hackney where I worked and met up with my friend and work colleague who had offered me a bed for the night at hers.
But first we would need to drink a fair amount at the local pub, The Old Ship, on Mare Street and wait out the snowstorm outside.  Some time after 11pm, warmed with red wine, we headed out and towards her home via Broadway Market and another pub stop.  Our journey took us through a deserted park called London Fields which provided a short cut from Mare Street across to Hackney Road.
As we walked through the empty park in the snow I felt a buzz in my brain that wasn’t alcohol.  I thought how terrifying it would be to be followed through the park.  There were pathways disappearing into the dark and the snow had muffled all noise.  It was creepy.  And I loved it.
This late night, post pub walk gave me the trigger I had been waiting for to begin a new story.  I had been running ideas around from a story I wrote when I was 19, my notebook a mess of ideas but couldn’t find a hook.
It was a story of a girl, with the ability to speak to the dead, being stalked by her past and haunted by an entity that had come through from the other side many years before, ruining her life.  I knew I wanted to set it in the London I had fallen in love with, but nothing was coming to me.  But that night in London Fields, inspiration found me.  I left London the next day with threads of the story coming together in my head, and a scene where the lead character is stalked through an empty London park late at night by an invisible threat.

“We turned and carried on walking, but this time in silence. And then I heard it again. Feet keeping pace with us, not far behind, and I felt myself get hot with panic. I turned to look at Stevie who looked back at me, silently telling me she could hear it too. Almost angry I spun on my heels to face whoever was following us, but there was only the empty pathway back towards the Pub on the Park and the houses we could never afford. And yet I could still hear the slow purposeful footsteps, I spun wildly looking out onto the grass to see who was approaching but there was no one, a cold mist had settled in the trees giving the street lights  a soft fuzzy glow, gentle beacons creating circular breaks in the darkness that had carpeted the pathway.”

You can get the book on Amazon and you can follow Anne-Marie on her Website and on Facebook Twitter Instagram and Goodreads

Tuesday 5 May 2020

I'm cycling the Canal du Nivernais...

... from one favourite little village to yet another...

I'm camped at Châtel-Censoir, a small burgundian town of around 600 people.  It sits on the river Yonne and the Canal du Nivernais and its primary industry was logging.  In centuries past the river and the canal were used to float the felled trees from the Morvan to Clamecy and then, once lashed into floating platforms of wood (trains des bois) of 36 metres in length, they were navigated along the waterways right into the heart of Paris.  The industry, commencing in the 16th century, continued until the late 19th century - modernisation and industrialisation taking the business away from the waterways.
From the campsite there is immediate access to the canal path and I'm cycling from Lock 57 up to Lock 59 at Merry-sur-Yonne.  Not a great distance, I know, but I have a specific reason for stopping off at Merry.  When I was here a couple of years ago, the old campsite there was being refitted and completely revamped.  I want to see if the people who had bought the site have managed to achieve their vision yet.
The path along the canal is quiet with the exception of the odd passing barge or river cruiser and I can amble along at my own pace.  Of course, I'm here mid-week.  Weekends are busier and the canal path is often full of LILs.  For those of you who don't recognise this term, it means Louts in Lycra.  Yep, that's right, those cyclists who hare along at 140ks an hour, who believe that the canal path is their own personal property, don't have a bell on their bike - it's excess weight - and would prefer to knock you off your bike in their slipstream instead of slowing down a little and passing you safely.  So, unlike all other users of the canal, who are polite and friendly and always greet you, LILs just treat you as though you are dog pooh.  I steadfastly ignore them as a result.
At the bridge leading into Merry I dismount and stroll across.  The bridge links into the route de Compostelle and the church.  Eglise St-Denis, on this occasion, is having some renovation work done.  I peek inside and there's a foot of stone dust on every single surface.  I decide to give it a miss.  Along the street, windows are open in the shade and shuttered against the sun on the opposite side.  The only sounds are the river in the distance and the birds.  The road forks at the war memorial, which is looking especially smart in the bright sunshine.  I feel sure it has had a facelift since my last visit and decide to check my photos when I get back home.
A companion for lunch! 
I take the left fork, which is impasses des Sables and leads to the campsite.  As I reach the entrance I can see that the place has been transformed.  The pitches are well spaced and defined, there are plenty of campers and the facility block - under serious remodelling when I was last here - is complete, modern and stylish. I'm suitably impressed and spend some time chatting to some campers.
The sun is hot on my back and I can feel the skin on my calves beginning to complain. I take my leave and return, at a leisurely pace, to Châtel-Censoir.

You can read more about my journey along the waterways Here and I will be covering another stretch of the canal in June, so watch this space!