Tuesday 26 October 2021

I'm reviewing The Infiltrators...

...by Norman Ohler.  Read on...

Set in Germany in 1933 and the following decade, this book examines the lives of a group of people who sought to act against the rise of Nazism.  The story centres around Harro and Libertas Schulze-Boysen, both privileged in heir own way through their families and personal histories.  Although I've referred to it as a story, the author has undertaken his own, and used existing, meticulous research undertaken by others in order to piece together and chart the lives of Libertas and Harro from the thirties through to their deaths in December 1942.

As an example of the insidiousness of totalitarianism, this book could be viewed as a thesis on how and why such policies should never be allowed to exist.  As an exposé of a secret organisation it makes, at times, very difficult reading.  The misscommunication, the apparent missed opportunities and, to a certain extent in my view, the scant internal organisation of the group would suggest to me that failure was inevitable. 

However, the fact that Harro and Libertas and their helpers managed to survive and try to subvert for as long as they did is little short of a miracle when you consider the ever increasing grip of Nazism.

Based on witness accounts, diaries and a small amount of archive material, the author has had to make some assumptions.  It's the readers choice to agree with those assumptions or not and I found one or two a little questionable.  But I'm not an historian and I'm sure others who are far more knowledgeable about this period of history may take a different view.

Despite the sadness embodied in this book, I found it a fascinating read.  The narrative voice flowed well and the story is one that needed to be made public.  A very telling and interesting look at a troubled period of Europe's history. 

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Please welcome Jessica Thompson...

...to my blog this week.  Hi, Jessica, and thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here today.  So, tell me, what is your current release?

JT   A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide is a holiday-set sequel to my first book, A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder.  It is also a culinary cozy mystery with recipes.  But lots of the recipes in this book are Christmas-y and several are gluten-free because one of my characters has some sensitivity.  It was really because I noticed that many of the recipes were already naturally gluten-free.
AW   What first got you into writing and why?
JT    I always enjoyed writing little things and I already loved mysteries and recipes, but I never took it seriously until I decided to actually try to be published.  That happened when I read a terrible book.  It was formulaic, boring, the recipes were banal, and the mystery was obvious.  And that was a best-seller!  Right then I decided that if that could get published then so could I.  It just so happened that book was also my introduction to the genre of culinary cozy mystery.  So at the same time I knew that this was a subgenre in which I could carve out a place for myself.
AW  You write cosy crime stories – your first including recipes.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
JT   I do a lot of research.  I research and try the recipes, have independent recipe testers, and do all the conversions to metric measurements for my readers across the pond.  I also research a lot of mysteries.  I read and watch other mysteries, outline, and try to understand the psychology behind killers and other people that have justified their actions to radical degrees, and think about the psychology of my reader so they won’t guess who the killer is right away.  I also try to make the modes of death realistic.  So I research the poisons, the timelines, the injuries, anatomy, and all that.  I also ask my nurse-friends a lot of morbid questions.
AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres or perhaps a recipe book?
JT    I have tried a few short stories, including one plot that came fully-formed in a dream, but so far they have always turned into mysteries.  Right now I am writing a short story that is Frosty the Snowman crossed with the original Frankenstein by Mary Shelley for a Halloween anthology.  It may be my first piece that has not turned itself into a mystery.  I have also considered a recipe book many times, but maybe I’ll compile all the recipes from my books into their own book some day.
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?
JT    I just have a writing corner.  Not enough space for a shed.  I have taken a corner of the dining room that already had most of my houseplants, added a desk, piled it with writing paraphernalia, and I just put on headphones with strictly instrumental music in order to ignore what is going on behind me when it is time to write.
  Finally, what would your eight-year old self think of, and say about, you today?
JTI’ve thought about this a lot in recent years.  In some ways I have done everything young-Jessica had on her list of goals, but in other ways I am very far away from where I thought I would be.  I have met all the life goals that I had, but maybe I was maintaining too realistic of goals.  I’m happily-married, have two kids that I stay home with, have black belts in two different martial arts, went to my college of choice, worked in my dream job and gave it up to have kids as I had always planned to do, have a house, a dog, live near my parents, and regularly go out to foreign food restaurants without any complaints from the kids.  That’s when I tell them that I’m “livin’ the dream.”
But eight-year old Jessica would be shocked and horrified that I mow people's lawns, work on the car, do all the handyman jobs around the house, regularly work as a ranch hand, get covered in sweat and poop and blood, and just generally get dirty. When I was a kid I thought I would live in California forever.  Austin Texas only became the goal when I was in high school and visited with my parents.  And I think being handy and useful in most practical situations was only the goal in and after college.

about the book…While acting as personal chef for a friend’s mountain retreat, Violet and her husband, Jake, must set aside their stress over infertility and create a magical and delicious holiday – until tragedy crashes the party.
Being snowed in and unreachable from town, Violet and Jake end up hired for a different kind of job – finding out which of the guests committed murder and why they’re trying to frame their hostess.
Violet must find a balance between following her gut and keeping it all under control until the police can reach them, while still managing the kitchen.  But can she sniff out the killer before anyone else bites the big one?
about the author…When Jessica discovered mystery novels with recipes, she knew she had found her niche.
Now Jessica is the author of the Amazon best-selling culinary cozy mystery, "A Caterer's Guide to Love and Murder," and will be publishing her second book of the series, “A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide,” on October 19, 2021.  She is active in her local writing community and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Storymakers Guild.  She received a bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University but has always enjoyed writing and reading mysteries.
As an avid home chef and food science geek, Jessica has won cooking competitions and been featured in the online Taste of Home recipe collection.  She also tends to be the go-to source for recipes, taste-testing, and food advice among her peers.
Jessica is originally from California, but now has adopted the Austin, Texas lifestyle. She enjoys living in the suburbs with her husband and young children, but also enjoys helping her parents with their nearby longhorn cattle ranch.

You can get Jessica's books on Amazon   

You can follow Jessica on Facebook  Twitter  and on  Instagram   

Tuesday 12 October 2021

The story behind my story...

... in the new anthology, Autumn Paths...

Way back in June 2010, I was just an aspiring writer and a member of a local writing group, but I had big ideas about writing books. At that time, my strategy was to hone my skills with short fiction and then move onto longer tracts as my confidence grew.
My imagination was on a different tack.  Whilst camped in the tiny village of Cellettes, just south of Blois, I found myself in the shade, gazing at a large building on the opposite bank of the river Beuvron.  Then the building was empty but it was clear to see that it had had various uses in the past.  But it wasn't the history of the building that was drawing my attention.  It was a small attic window.
In keeping with the age of the property, which I guessed dated from the early 19th century, the window was round and set in an elegantly shaped wooden surround.  In addition, when the sunlight was in the right aspect I could just make out some pale green wall covering that I decided must be old wallpaper covered with small flowers.
That window set my imagination running.  What might have happened in that room?  Who had lived there?  What might they have seen if they had looked out?  A couple of hours later, not a single page turned in my library book, and I had a whole history and timeline for the succeeding occupants of the room.  I'd also decided what those imaginary people might have witnessed over the decades.  It wasn't a story, just a whole series of scenarios, each with its own possibilities.
Cut to the ferry in early July as I'm making my way back to the UK and my first musings had grown into a whole village of imaginary people - the baker, the butcher, the local priest and his not so holy brother, the gossip, the restaurateur and any number of others.  A community of people looking for a story.  A story I still didn't have.  These fragments remained just that for about two years.
A window of a similar design to mine
Stopping at Cellettes again, I discovered that my window had gone as part of renovation work.  It felt as though someone had ripped out a piece of my heart.  I had been so looking forward to re-acquainting myself with my imaginary people. With only my notebook and my memory I still managed to flesh out some details.  I added more characters, more scenarios and the name of Beauregard for my village.  I even came up with some possible titles for stories - I just didn't have a single cohesive narrative for a book.
Back home again and I started writing furiously.  I told myself it was a romance.  The problem was that all my scenarios involved some form of crime.  About 100 pages in, the project was abandoned and the notebook, the partially drafted novel and some pictures I'd collected were shoved in a drawer.  And there they stayed.
January 2021 comes around and, following some preliminary email chats, I was scrabbling through all my papers for my Beauregard notes.  A request for a story was all it took. Suddenly, all those disordered ideas and scenarios kind of marshalled themselves and my characters Alice, an auctioneer, and her dad Peter, a building contractor and property developer, were born.

The Bookseller's Secret Octavo, my story in the anthology, #AutumnPaths, has enabled me to work with some brilliant authors who write in other genres.  I've learned a great deal over the last few months and it's a great privilege to introduce Alice, Peter and the villagers of Beauregard to you.  Will there be more stories from Beauregard?  Perhaps.  Will there be more collaborative work with my fellow writers?  I really think there might be.

You can get the book in print or e-format on Amazon

There's more about the anthology Here  You can read about my fellow writers on the South Branch Scribbler and you can pick up your own signed copy of the book from the Craft Fair at Kirk Smeaton (WF8 3LB) on Saturday, October 16th.  Be great to see you there...

There will be more from another Autumn Paths author in November and you can read the post Here

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Please welcome friend and author...

...Melody Pendlebury to the blog this week. Hi, Melody and thanks so much for being here today. A new novel published, how was your writing journey?

Every author’s story is unique. For some writers, it takes years before they’re published. For some, they are an overnight success. It’s one of my favorite things to read the last few pages of a book whenever an author shares the process it took to get that book into the world since every author’s story is so different.
My journey is a little bit in between the two opposites. I started writing my debut novel, A Girl Called Ruthless, in July of 2020. My book was officially published by Darkstroke in August of 2021.
The writing process is unique to everyone especially when it’s your first book. I was lucky to be able to write it quickly and have heaps of help from other writers and editors. Once I felt my book was as perfect as I could get it, I started querying.
I knew the querying process would be hard, but I don’t think anyone can quite anticipate the anxiety, the complete obsession, and the let-downs that come with it. It felt as if I was checking my email every five seconds. Every time someone requested more of my book, I imagined my life as a famous author. Every time someone rejected me, I thought my book was the absolute worse and I couldn’t believe that I even tried.
Then one day, I got the email from a publisher asking to schedule a Zoom call. If you’re a writer you know what that means. I screamed and jumped up and down that early morning in my kitchen. From there I got offered a contract which I accepted. My book was released only four months later and became a number one bestseller on the first day of preorders.
Although everything seems very simple and linear, the process was filled with hills and valleys, mostly within myself. I used to think that once I got picked up by a publisher I would feel completely confident about my writing abilities, but that simply hasn’t been the case. Imposter syndrome is real no matter what point you are in the writing process. Although I have heard nothing but positive reviews about my book, I still feel like it will never be good enough. Sometimes, or should I say a lot of the times, I have to give myself a pep talk and remind myself about this journey. It has been an amazing ride and I am completely grateful for it.
My book A Girl Called Ruthless, is about a fiery eleven-year-old girl who runs for mayor to save a beloved tree. Sometimes I have to summon my inner Ruthless and realize I can do it and not only that, but I did do it!
I hope my publishing journey has inspired you to keep following your dreams or maybe has made you feel not so alone with your writing imposter syndrome. If you or your loved ones enjoy fiery female protagonists, silly antics, whimsical stories, with a touch of heartbreak and trama, then I would encourage you to pick up a copy of my new book, A Girl Called Ruthless.

about the author... Melody firmly believes that one should never completely grow up. That is why she has chosen to spend her days writing for a younger audience. Melody resides in Jacksonville Florida with her beloved corgi Gatsby, and her husband Dylan. She started her writing career with children’s picture books and has now pivoted to middle-grade novels. She believes that children are eager for more books with strong-willed characters that deal with darker and interesting topics. Her debut novel, A Girl Called Ruthless, is inspired by the fiery girls in her fourth-grade class. When Melody is not writing or teaching kids how to write, she can be found planning her next big trip to some magical place she has never been to.

about the book…
A girl with ambition. A clever ruse gone awry. A fatal encounter.
Eleven-year-old Ruthless will do whatever it takes to live up to her name. Slaughtering pirates, running an underground gambling operation, and intercepting Russian spies are just a few examples.
Eleven-year-old Ruthless will do whatever it takes to live up to her name. Slaughtering pirates, running an underground gambling operation, and intercepting Russian spies are just a few examples.
In true Ruthless fashion, she claims the title of student body president, but her aspirations are cut short after getting in trouble. Not letting that stand in her way, she runs for Mayor with the help of her incredibly strong best friend, Owen. Her town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has no age requirement to run for the post. The chances of a child winning are slim, to say the least, so Ruthless and Owen disguise themselves as an adult with the good old ‘two kids in a trench coat’ ruse.
This seemingly harmless scheme has grave consequences that invite the turmoil of her mother’s past back to haunt her. When the dangers of the adult world come crashing down on Ruthless, she must learn how to live with her new reality, and ultimately use it to turn her life into a success story – and live up to her name.
But will she be able to leave the past behind?

You can get the book on Amazon

You can follow Melody on Facebook Twitter and on Instagram  

Friday 1 October 2021

Come and join me...

 ...at the Craft Fair in the beautiful village of Kirk Smeaton (WF8 3LB) on October 16th...

This super event will run from 11.00am until 3.00pm and is being held in Saint Peter's church.  It may be a small building but it dates from the 12th century and has an interesting history.  Have a look at the chancel arch which is thought to have been constructed around 1160.  There is also a large stone font that is thought to be a little earlier.
In 1862 the original building was enlarged and restored and, as a result of over-work on the restoration, some of the detail from the early features has been lost, unfortunately.  The full history of the building is also very patchy, so it is quite difficult to be precise about any of the attributes visible in this stunning little piece of architecture.
However, what is not in dispute, is the village listing in the Domesday Book - Domesday being the middle English spelling of our modern-day title, Doomsday.  Dating from 1086, this incredible piece of ancient documentation can now be accessed online.  Check it out here.  The book records who was owner of the land, both before William's invasion and afterwards, and the church is briefly mentioned.
One other little bit of information that might interest you is that the current name of the village orignates from Smedetone which is a composite of two words from Old English.  The first meaning 'smith' and the second meaning 'estate' or 'farm'.  The Kirk - derived from the old Norse word for church - was added later and is first documented in the 14th century.
And if the history doesn't encourage you visit on October 16th, then maybe the details of the fair will.
There will be all sorts of stalls. Come and explore the stunning bags and scarves that have been created, or take a look at the table with various knitted goods.  Perhaps you are looking for some early Christmas presents or decorations for the house, in which case check out the stall selling candles.  The local florist will also be there with arrangements and wreaths and you can  stock up on jams and chutneys, too.
I will also be there with my books and perhaps something to read might be the answer to that nagging question about what to get aunty so-and-so for Christmas this year.
In addition there will be refreshments available throughout the day and you can try your luck in the raffle, too.
I can guarantee you a lovely day out in stunning, historic surroundings.  So please drop by and say hello.  Entry to the fair is absolutely free.

October 16th, St Peter's Church, Main Street, Kirk Smeaton, WF8 3LB
Entry to the Fair is FREE