Guest post from Kristen Bailey: Flippin’ Fish & other culinary delights

Kristen Bailey’s debut novel, Souper Mum, is published today by Accent Press and I have the great honour of welcoming her to my blog. Kristen is a kindred spirit; she’s as hopeless in the kitchen as I am! Some of you might remember my Great British Burn Off? But today’s all about Kristen. Over to you…

Can I cook?  Well, in theory, yes.  For example, if you gave me a chicken breast, I could season it, apply heat to it and you’d end up with one cooked chicken breast.  Ta-dah!  The problem is I’d probably overcook it.  It’d be charred (code for burnt) on the outside and inside the consistency of chalk but yes, definitely cooked.  Bon Appetit!

Souper mum cover_FCMy culinary prowess is a bit of a running joke in my family.  It started back at school where I had to create a dish for my Home Economics lesson.  I had the truly great idea that I’d coat bits of cod in cornflakes.  I called them Fish Flips.  I didn’t use any binding agent like egg or flour.  So it just ended up as shrunken rubbery pieces of cod in a sea of baked cornflakes.  Yum.  My brother still brings up this spectacular culinary fail fifteen years down the line.  When there is talk of Christmas, family birthdays and celebration meals, the conversation often goes as such:

Mum:  It’s my birthday!  Let’s go out for dinner!

Me:  I could cook?

Mum:  Or we could go out for dinner?

And I’m not sure why I’m so bad at cooking, I give it a good ol’ stab.  I have cookbooks about my person which I bookmark and drool over.  I watch the odd cookery show and help myself to those random recipe cards you find at the back of supermarkets.  But for some reason, those glossy pictures of burnished lamb shanks with crowns of rosemary, and lustrous fruit tarts usually get lost in translation through my cooking skills.  I’m not sure if it’s my bad maths that can never work out the timings or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my palate but many a time, my kids curiously drag their forks around their plates.  Children who are essentially, the worst food critics, ever. ‘I don’t like it.’  Imagine that as a restaurant review in The Times, just that.  Ouch.

The general reaction to my cooking

The general reaction to my cooking

And what is worse is that I come from a family of foodies.  My mother is the archetypal kitchen-dwelling matriarch.  When you eat at her table, it’s a veritable feast of courses and flavours and love.  My sister produces layered, well-iced cakes that are GBBO worthy. I have aunts, cousins, grandmothers who have recipes and dishes that are firm family favourites.  And then there’s me.  Mac and cheese, anyone?  I make a decent mac and cheese?  With a side of frozen peas?

So in a market saturated with cook books, foodie blogs and faddy diet advice, I wrote Souper Mum for mums like me, the non-cooking sorts.  The ones who try, who let occasional junk pepper their dining tables but who also level it out with a bit of broccoli.  Mums who have limited cooking skill, fussy little customers and who have to think about other constraints like time, fatigue and budget.  It’s like the proper Hunger Games.  Your kitchens are the battlefields; they’re not the pastel, beech work-topped utopias you see in your cookbooks.  These kitchens are covered in yesterday’s washing up, school newsletters, Lego and a remote control without any batteries.  The mums within have little to no foodie wisdom or ability; they’re literally just winging it with a bag of pasta, a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a block of cheddar cheese.267828_10150312087550731_6309393_n

My Souper Mum is Jools Campbell: she grills cupcakes, messes up scrambled eggs and has never really worked out the secret mastery involved in chopping onions.  Let’s just say I had a catalogue of excellent bad-cooking anecdotes to lend to her story.  Her journey is one of self-discovery – the same one that I think most mothers go on when they find themselves embroiled in parenthood and are trying to dig through the debris to remember what’s important in life and reclaim their sense of identity.  Her story is set against a foodie culture she decides to take a stand against with hilarious if life-altering consequences.  If your life is full of quinoa, samphire and you’re one of those full-on crazy people who feel the need to make their own puff pastry, then I warn you, you may not like what Jools has to say.  However, if tonight you’ve opened your kitchen cabinet, reached for the baked beans and are examining those last few slices of bread for mould then Souper Mum might just be your new best friend….

DSC_5363Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

To buy Souper Mum, click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Souper-Mum-Kristen-Bailey/dp/1786150689/

BIO

Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has had short fiction published in several publications. The sequel to Souper Mum will be published later in the year.

She writes a weekly blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at her website: http://www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on:

Twitter @baileyforce6 and Facebook www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

Sounds fantastic, Kristen. Best of luck – with the book (and tonight’s supper!). x

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Writing Groups & their uses by guest author Kitty Campanile

Today, I’m delighted to introduce Kitty Campanile, an indie author who has recently published a novel set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike. When I wrote my own ‘miners’ strike’ novel in 2012, I was surprised at how underexplored in fiction the strike was, particularly from the female perspective; it was a driving force in the decision to write the book. It looks like this is changing. Anyway, Kitty’s here to talk about writing groups and their benefits, in particular the support she received. Over to you, Kitty.

Book Cover-Mighty Like A RoseWriting can be a solitary occupation, and for a self published author it really is a one man show – unless you can find a little help from your friends. I have been going to Woking Writers’ Circle for nearly two years now, having bumped into one of the members at an open mic event.

We meet once a month. Between seven and a dozen members turn up and we’ll each have a ten minute slot to read and get feedback. Each month there is a homework which can get inspiration flowing, or you can bring in whatever you are working on for criticism and feedback. We have a range of writers from a range of backgrounds. Poets, essayists, short story writers and novelists with very different styles all come together. I have learned as much from critically listening to the work of others as from the critique of my own work.

As well as feedback, the encouragement is valuable. Mighty Like a Rose nearly wasn’t written. It started out as a NaNoWriMo project, by the end of November 2013 I had a few chapters and a lot of self doubt. It’s rare for me to not take anything to writers’ circle but I just couldn’t write anything. I explained to the group I had started a novel but wasn’t happy with what I had so far. Greg, one of the Writer’s Circle stalwarts, offered to read what I had and gave me enough encouragement to continue with the project, as well as line-by line feedback on what I had written. Although I didn’t take every chapter in, each month the others would ask how it was going, how many words, how long until I was finished. When I did bring a pivotal chapter in to read, I got useful feedback from my colleagues and was able to talk more about the story in the pub afterwards! Having a group of people take an interest kept my enthusiasm going, there’s a temptation (especially at the editing stage) to put a long-term project on the back burner and start something shiny and new. Although I still worked on short pieces, the group helped me stay focussed. Aside from the Writers’ Circle, I have called on more informal groups to help. I got a few woman from an online feminist knitting group to beta read – it was important for me to get international readers as I was concerned the Yorkshire dialogue might not be understandable, or that I might be assuming too much knowledge of the miners’ strike. Another friend (a member of my ukulele band who has published before) proof-read all 90,000 words for a pint (which I haven’t bought him yet). Indebted as I am to this eclectic group of friends, I couldn’t have finished the book without the Writers’ Circle.

Kitty portraitMighty Like a Rose, a tale of love, friendship and solidarity, set against the backdrop of the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, is available in paperback or as an e-book from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mighty-Like-Rose-Thornethorpe-Saga/dp/1507524749/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1423092336&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=kitty+campanile

Find out more about Woking Writers’ Circle at https://wokingwriters.wordpress.com/

Thanks so much for popping by, Kitty and best of British with the book.

Best Books of 2014, according to me

It’s that time of year when I give a brief round-up of books I’ve read in the past twelve months, those that I have enjoyed or have affected me in some way.

Leaving aside the many manuscripts I’ve read in my role as editor/mentor – and there have been two this year which I believe thoroughly deserve to be published, whether they will be or not remains to be seen; the publishing world moves in mysterious ways – I’ve read around 40 books of fiction in 2014. This is my average. Ironically, I read more before I started writing, but with a family and another part-time job something has to give if stories are to be written.

Of the 40, around half were, broadly speaking, contemporary women’s fiction, with the remainder spread across most other genres aside from fantasy, sci-fi and historical sagas. So, in no particular order my favourites were:

Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels

books 001In this, Ashworth’s third novel we follow four members of a Lancashire Mormon family across one day as they await the homecoming of a prodigal son. He has been spreading the gospel in Utah. As ever, Ashworth climbs into the skin of her diverse characters with consummate ease. Funny and poignant.

Sarah Rayner’s Another Night, Another Day

A brilliant novel about three characters who meet in a psychiatric clinic. Sound depressing? It’s not; it’s a joy from start to finish. No one does bittersweet quite like Rayner. No wonder she’s a best seller.

Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard

Dark, disturbing and with one of the most shocking and surprising twists I’ve come across. I’ve been a fan of Doughty for years, but this is her best yet.

Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall

books 002An incredible debut with one of the most memorable voices in recent years, The Shock of the Fall is Matthew’s story, a young man battling mental ill health and memories of his dead brother, Simon. Has one of my all-time-favourite lines.

David Nicholl’s Us

A tender exploration of a 25 year relationship; an odyssey of love. I cried, and I cried with laughter. Believe the hype.

My to-be-read pile is already mahoosive, but I am especially looking forward to Betsy Tobin’s Things We Can’t Explain, Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley, Rowan Coleman’s The Memory Book, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

It feels as if 2014 was a great year for wonderful fiction, but then so many years are, it seems to me, and I am awed by the spectacular talent out there. When asked for a piece of advice by wannabe writers I always say: Read. Read, read, read. Be inspired by the good work; read it again; analyse why it’s great and learn from it. Also, learn from the not-so-good work. Where and why does it fall down? Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Merry Christmas to you all and don’t forget: Books make great gifts!

Guest Post: Caroline Burch talks about her working methods

Caroline Burch the author of ‘The diary of a Mother, her Son and his Monster’ discussing her writing style and methods of work.

 Welcome to my blog, Caroline, on this day 3 of your blog tour.

 The book blurb

cover w logoCaroline Burch experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her son

Elliot was diagnosed with cancer aged just six months old. To document her

experiences she kept a diary detailing the ups and downs of her son’s

treatment and the emotional anguish of their situation from diagnosis to remission.

Ten years later, and with Elliot happily recovered from the condition that

threatened his life, Caroline looks back at the traumatic months when there

appeared to be no end in sight to the misery.

Caroline’s story is proof that there is life after cancer and this book is a

tribute to the tireless work of the individuals who help parents and their

children emerge from their nightmare.

 

_______________________________________________

 

What is your writing style?

I guess my style of writing is similar to many authors, although with this book it really started with my own scrawling therapy to offload some of my emotional baggage.

One I had started to see my mess of words as a possible book, I then began to plan the book, the chapters and format. I divided my story into four sections, pre-op chemotherapy, the surgical admission, the post-op chemotherapy and then the future. I wrote a plan of each section based upon old diaries and lots of research from the medical notes and put my initial writings into an order based on the four sections. It was only then that I began to date my writings and begin to formulate the diary. Once I had got the diary into some kind of shape I began to write the structure of the 13 Acts which are within the book.

I wrote the Acts after the diary because I wanted them to flow as a separate entity to the book, but be intertwined within it. Once I had written the acts, I then positioned them within the diary in the appropriate sections based on the stage of the cancer or treatment.

How do you work?

I generally write where I feel most comfortable, which is often sitting on the sofa in the lounge, with the laptop on my knee, but I do become easily bored and cannot sit, day in day out, in the same position. I therefore vary my days, moving between the table; my bedroom, or on warm days (which is not too often) in the garden with a notepad on my knee. I find writing by hand to be much more rewarding than typing into a laptop, although using a laptop is much faster!

My day starts soon after my son has gone to school, although the days are often flexible in our house depending on hospital or doctor’s appointments. I try and write three or four days a week for 5 hours, if I can. Sometimes I can write more, other weeks it is much less.

author photoPlease visit me at carolineburch.com

You can by a copy of my book from:

Empire Publications at empire-uk.com

Amazon.co.uk

Waterstones.com

Macmillan Cancer support will be receiving £1.00 per book sold. This is more than I, as the author, will receive. My aim is to make £1,000,000 for Macmillan. Please support this campaign; spread the word, treat yourself but also buy as presents for others…it is an amazing cause…

 

 

Please enjoy an excerpt from my book…

“Dr Kinam, can you tell me how big the tumour is and what it is like. I need to try and visualise this thing.”

“Of course, in fact, come down here and I’ll show you the x-ray.”

“Thanks.” I followed Alex down the corridor and he slotted the x-ray onto a light box. I looked at the x-ray of my boy’s abdomen. Alex took a pen out of his pocket.

“If you look here,” he said pointing to the top of Elliot’s pelvis. “The tumour spans from the top of his pelvis all the way up here to his ribs and spans the width of the left side of his body.” He slid his pen around the outline of the tumour. This thing was a monster. Absolutely massive, spanning from the bottom of Elliot’s left lung, right down to his hip. It looked about the size of a bag of sugar on the x-ray.

“The tumour is extending from the mid and lower poles of the left kidney and measures 8.2cm x 7.6cm x 5.5cm.” It was much larger than a bag of sugar.

“I can’t believe how big this thing is. Why didn’t I find this?”

“For some reason he has had a massive bleed into the tumour, which has now produced symptoms.”

Alex switched the machine off and we walked back to Elliot’s bed. I was stunned. I sat and listened as Alex explained what would be happening during the next few days. First of all the blood transfusion needed to be completed and Elliot’s iron levels and blood results checked tomorrow. In a day or two, Elliot would have to go to theatre where a small biopsy would be taken from the tumour. Alex explained that during theatre, a Hickman line would be inserted into his body. This line would come out under Elliot’s arm with the tube threaded through his vein, along his collar bone and into his heart. The Hickman line would then provide access for chemotherapy and drugs but would also be used to take blood from him for blood tests.

“Why can’t you use a vein in Elliot’s arm to take blood and give chemotherapy? Putting this line in Elliot’s body sounds harsh and unnecessary.”

“The drugs used during chemotherapy are much too strong to be put through a vein in the arm; they need to be given where the blood is at its highest volume. The drug is then diluted quickly into high volumes of blood before it does immediate damage to the body. The heart has the highest volume of blood and will pump the drugs around the body immediately.”

I could feel the blood throbbing through my veins. I was trying to remember everything, each little detail he was telling me, but I felt that most of the information was falling out of my brain.

Alex explained that no metastatic disease had been found on the ultrasound, which meant that they had not found any secondary cancers, although Elliot needed a CT scan first to confirm this.

Then he needed a biopsy to confirm the staging. He thought that Elliot’s tumour had been growing since before birth, perhaps even when the kidney was developing before birth. He told me that educated guesswork indicated that Elliot had developed a massive bleed into the tumour, causing the tumour to expand and fill with blood and thereby decreasing Elliot’s haemoglobin levels and causing the anaemia. The pressure of the large tumour then caused the difficulty of keeping anything in Elliot’s stomach and was even causing the vomiting of bile.

The plan was for Elliot to have a CT scan of his abdomen the next day. This would give the medical staff more detail with regard to the tumour and allow the doctors to have a look at Elliot’s chest and pelvis. Alex said that Elliot would need to stay in hospital until he was medically stable, had been to theatre and until he’d had one dose of chemotherapy.

As Alex and I were finishing our consultation, I saw my mum enter the ward. She had red sunken eyes and a white, pale face the extremes of colour sharply contrasting with each other. She was obviously in shock and did not know what to say or do. Tears streamed down her face as she approached and immediately held Elliot’s little hand in her fingers. I introduced Alex to my mum and he left, promising to review Elliot before he left for home.

As soon as Alex left my mum and I hugged and we both sobbed.

“Elliot has cancer.” There. It was out. The words I didn’t think I would ever say. My mum sat down, tears streaming down her face.

“Where? What is happening?”

We talked for what felt like a lifetime. I told her everything I could remember. What had happened, the x-ray, the tumour, the chemotherapy, the surgery… I covered it all.

Thanks so much for popping by, Caroline and good luck with the book!

Guest post: The Stories My Characters Told Me by Sharon Zink

welcome to sharonvilleSharon Zink is the author of the latest offering from small but impressive imprint, Unthank Books. Her debut, Welcome to Sharonville, is a literary novel set in a fictional town not far from Las Vegas and has already gathered fulsome praise. I’m reading the novel and while I like to reserve final judgment until the last page, I can say now it is sharply observed and character rich, so it’s fitting that Sharon is here to talk about her characters and the stories they told her. I’m delighted to have Sharon over and feel sure you’ll enjoy what she has to say. Do buy her book too. Buy links appear at the end of the article.

Take it away, Sharon…

I met the characters from Welcome to Sharonville on a bus thundering between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. I don’t remember them boarding, the stop and swish of bus doors or the heave of the seat as Uncle Franco collapsed down next to me, or the precise concentration of Aunt Happiness as she embroidered lingerie looking out of the window. Even so, I know that was the moment when the people of Sharonville came into my life because, though all I saw was the rich purple desert mountains and all I felt was tiredness, my life after I arrived back in the UK was never the same again.

I tried to carry on as usual in my career, commuting six to eight hours a day (!) to teach English as a university lecturer, but I couldn’t help but notice now how my journeys were different – each time I boarded a train home and found myself barricaded into my seat by a businessman’s splayed pinstripe knee, the characters of Sharonville were right there with me. Invisible to everyone else, they whispered their secrets in a way which made the loneliness of the long distances home suddenly much easier. Sometimes, I would open a copy of my favourite Raymond Carver stories and they’d tell me that they wanted to see themselves laid out in a book like that, that I should become a fiction writer, which was something I’d not considered in over ten years. I was serious now, after all, an academic – not prone to being bullied by non-existent people from a non-existent town. So I tried to ignore them, to just go on with my Shakespeare classes and be a good girl.

But they were smarter – they started telling me how they saw ghosts like my grandmother or that they were searching for a father or their heart was broken and didn’t I understand that? They were struggling to feel good about themselves, they regretted so much, they’d lied too much and didn’t I knew what that felt like? Didn’t I want other people to know they weren’t alone with this stuff and that there was hope?

Sharon at the diner piano

Sharon at the diner piano

I’m a softie and there were too many of them and only one of me, so, in the end, I gave in. I listened, they talked and gave me a book. A big book, in fact, full of binge-eating Italian restaurateurs, gun-toting elderly lesbians, a firefighter whose home is emotionally ablaze, a lawyer who uses sex to replace her long-gone daddy and women who want babies but who can’t have them and women who don’t want babies, but have no choice.

In writing this novel, I was less the author-in-charge than a taxi driver picking up fare and fare and just taking down all that was said to me. The only way the narrative came to have a structure was because they also told me how a young professor had crashed her pick up in the Arizona desert a few days after 9/11 and that was what had got them pondering about their pasts and wanting to share them with me.

That’s not to say I didn’t plan – I took intensive notes as they told me about their favourite music, their politics, their former lovers, and I knew no detail was unimportant. But, unlike my second novel which I didn’t get to gel, I never felt I was ‘making’ these characters up. For me, they came fully formed and they went from my life with the same devastation that accompanies any friend’s going, leaving me crying as I wrote the final words of their tale, suddenly adrift without their gossip, grief and nagging.

It’s probably because these character felt so ‘real’ that I never had much compunction about them being American. Yes, I have travelled extensively in the States and my grandfather lived there for a while, but it was less my personal history than the stories the characters were telling me, so sure in their voice and sense of where they were coming from, which made me never attempt to transpose them to a British setting, even though I knew being an British-German-Brazilian woman who wrote American fiction was making an already incredibly difficult career even harder as the publishing industry is very wary of such crossings of literary borders. Readers have told me that the book seems authentically American though and, if that’s the case, then it’s the characters of Sharonville who I can thank – for telling me about their town, their desert, their hopes and fears in a way which was thick with universal humanity and all its frailties and possibilities, but also steeped in Americana.

It feels pretentious or even a bit weird to say I didn’t make these folks up from my imagination, that they just came to me, but it’s the truth – well, my truth as it stands in relation to Welcome to Sharonville. My job, as I saw it, was to listen and type like an obedient secretary in my horn rim glasses, but, in the process of this passivity, I came to love them with an active loyalty, each and every one, and it is my hope that others will find friends within the novel’s pages too. I hope my readers will drive across the Hoover Dam with my Sharonville pals and laugh in bars and cry by hospital bedsides. Because if one person giggles or is moved or sees themselves just a little bit differently after reading this book, then I think the good folk of Sharonville will be glad they got on the bus with me that night on the way back to Vegas and didn’t wait a while for the next writer to come along.

Thanks so much, Sharon, that was fascinating. To find out more about Sharon and her work do visit her website here: Sharon Zink or visit her wonderful site dedicated to Sharonville, The Book Diner.

To buy the book visit Unthank Books or Amazon.

Guest author: Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Never Give up the Dream

Debz and RosieFirst of all I would like to thank Laura for having me over here on her blog! I’m Debz and I not only work as a full-time writer, having abandoned the regular day job, but I also work as an editor, professional critiquer and a small publisher. I also edit for the e-zine CaféLit and I am a partner in the small press, Bridge House Publishing, which is how I met the lovely Laura when her debut novel BloodMining won the first and only Bridge House Debut Novel Competition.

No dream worth pursuing is not without its hard work and sometimes that all too painful rejection. But, finally, 2013 is the year I got to see my debut novel in print. It was a long time coming.

Like so many writers I know, I have always written in one form or another but the obsession (and I think you need it!) finally got me close to ten years ago when I started work on the first novel (ignoring the one I wrote aged nine!) and I guess you could say have never looked back.

While No One Was Watching, published by Parthian Books this October, was actually the fourth novel I’ve written. And as I’m sure Laura will agree – we have to read, we have to write and we have to learn the craft. There’s no short cut.

I suppose as aspiring writers what we seek the most, or certainly what I seek, is validation. So when my first short story was published five years ago that marked the real beginning. I completed my MA in Creative Writing from Bangor University in 2010, read everything on writing, attended as many courses on writing as I could and I guess became like a sponge – because I wasn’t good enough and I wanted to be.

When the obsession became too strong I gave up the day job to live the dream – that was four years ago – to an uncertain future, but I just knew I had to. And since that first success I have had close to twenty short stories in collections and this year saw me short-listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize with only one other UK writer and I WON the Bath Short Story Award. Now that certainly validates giving up the day job!

But, and while I continue to write short stories, it was always about the novel and in fact it was my fourth that finally made it. Richard at Parthian Books phoned to say they loved my novel, While No One Was Watching and so put the icing on the proverbial cake for 2013. What a year! And I have to say that I believe writing short stories really honed the craft, and working in editing and especially critiquing made a huge difference – you have to know it, to teach it. But learning is a continual process and I have another three novels in various stages of rest, one almost ready to submit.

WhileNoOneWasWatching_CoverWhile No One Was Watching started life as a short story, an experiment in first-person narratives; it came from a vision – a woman leans forward in a chair, thick black fingers wrapped around a child’s silver locket and says to the young reporter, “It belonged to a little girl. She disappeared the day the President was shot. She was never found.”

This whole premise of taking an iconic moment in history; the assassination of John F Kennedy, but looking at something that happened just off-set, fascinated me and seemed like a great premise for a novel. Eleanor Boone is standing on a grassy knoll, she drops her mother’s hand. Gunshots. Panic. When the mother turns around her little girl is gone. She is still missing fifty years on – so what happened?

I knew it begged to be more than a short story and so I developed it, at the time three years or more until the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination.

I had to do a huge amount of research as you can imagine, not only about Kennedy but using American narrators, the African-American certainly needed a lot of work, it had to be authentic. I have travelled extensively in the states and have a lot of friends on the west coast, so I had the background to hopefully do it justice. The publisher claims he was quite convinced I was American when he read it. Phew. I hope when it’s released in the US next spring American readers will feel the same. We will have to see.

Gary is a small time reporter for a local paper, divorcee, Sunday father, and Lydia is a larger than life African-American retired police psychic. I loved the idea of letting fact and fiction to brush up alongside one another; our reporter reviewing real evidence from that day, but this time not looking for a man in a crowd with a gun – but a little girl. Gone while no one was watching. Or maybe someone was?

I do err on the literary side in my writing, so while it’s a plot-driven mystery, I love to explore my characters. My publisher asked me, if out of all the characters I’d written –which would I most be friends with? Without hesitation I said Lydia Collins. And it seems most people love her as much as I do! Phew. It’s a strange thing sending your work out there, hoping people will look after your characters but so far, so good – the reviews have been amazing.

It felt as if the pressure was on, when you work with developing writers as I do, you kind of need to put your money where your mouth is – prove you do know what you’re talking about. Hopefully this is validated.

I am just thrilled it’s out there and it was out in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination this November.

Find out more about me and my work here: MY WEBSITE

Find out more about the book on the publisher’s website here: PARTHIAN

Watch the book trailer I made here: (I even had song written and composed for the book!) YOUTUBE

And buy it here (note that the Kindle version is on special offer for 99p until the end of December 2013.) AMAZON

So I really hope you enjoy it!

And Laura – thanks for having me over here. So pleased to see how well your own writing career has developed since that first novel.

And, my usual sign-off, applicable to all, but especially to aspiring writers – remember – anything is always possible so never give up.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Thanks so much, Debz. What an inspiring story behind your novel and there are so many truisms here that I couldn’t possibly name only one now. Sounds like a fantastic read, and it’s still on special offer for Kindle so get downloading a copy before the price goes up. Me? I’ll be buying a paperback, because there are some books I just have to hold and this is one of them.

Guest author: Jo Thomas

9781783755189_FCToday, I’m delighted to welcome fellow Accent author, Jo Thomas, onto my blog to talk about her debut novel, The Oyster Catcher. It sounds like a fascinating read, one which I’m looking forward to enormously. Like my forthcoming novel (spring 2014), Public Battles, Private Wars, a focus of the book is food, so this is another thing we have in common. Welcome Jo.

My name is Jo Thomas and I live in the Vale of Glamorgan with my husband, who’s a writer and producer, our three children, three cats, and our black lab Murray.

I write light-hearted romances about food, family, friendships, and love.

Why did you start writing?

I had my children in quick succession and when I started writing I had 3 children under the age of 3. Writing was my ‘me time’. I could go to that place in my head and make it as lovely and special as I wanted it to be while around me there were toys to be tidied, piles of washing, and play dates to organise. In fact, more often than not, I’d drop the eldest at school, the next one in nursery, and then the baby would fall asleep in the car and I’d stop wherever I was, park up, pull out my laptop, and start writing. I got some very funny looks from passers-by though.

Why romance?

I love romance. I suppose it all started with Little Women and then Gone with the Wind and then I started reading authors like Christina Jones, Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews, Wendy Holden, and I felt like I’d come home. These were the worlds I wanted to live in.  At the end of a busy day running the children around to rugby, guitar lessons, drama lessons, swimming, I go to bed, pick up the book on top of my pile by my bed, and that’s me time too. Nothing bad happens in those worlds.

And then I realised that I wanted to tell these stories. I love the autumn and the winter. I love dusk when people start to put on their lights but haven’t shut their curtains yet and you get a peek into another world, and then I find I’m beginning to make up stories about the people who live there. It’s all in my head. It’s a happy place.  I do believe that every story should have a happy ending, even if there’s been tears along the way.

Where do ideas come from?

I always want to change jobs or set up a new business. I’d like to set up restaurants or become a pig farmer or buy an oyster farm. So by writing about these things I’m actually living out all my ambitions.

I love cooking. I love feeding people. Sunday lunch is one of my favourite times of the week. My brother is a chef and I’m always picking his brains for ideas.  One of my favourite times of the year is Christmas morning when he and I hole up in the kitchen, listening to Radio 2 with a Buck’s Fizz on the go, and cook Christmas dinner together. Actually I love it because he has to be the commis and I’m Chef!

My son loves cooking too and that’s becoming a really lovely and special thing to do together. I think that families and food and love go hand in hand.

I love the memories that food can bring back. The taste of something can take you right back to a special place, a special moment. Like bangers on Bonfire Night, or peppery mussels in a bikers lay-by in Brittany. Maine lobster on my honeymoon and toasted marshmallows on a Saturday night with the kids, watching X Factor.

Whenever we go on holiday, where most people would get out the travel guides, I get out the cookery books to see what kind of food we’re going to be eating.  I’ve even been known to pack cookery books in my case.

But I’m a cook, just a simple cook. For me the pleasure is about sharing the food I’ve cooked, the wobbly three-tiered chocolate birthday cake, or the homemade pizzas on a Saturday night in front of the telly. Food is my way of saying, ‘I love you’.

What about research trips?

_DSC0098My stories have come out of places I’ve been and food I’ve eaten. But then once the idea is there, I usually find there’s more research to be done and this is when you really have to push yourself out or your comfort zone.  But it’s good to feel the fear, like my heroines must.

I have been a waitress at a hells angels’ bikers convention, serving cooked breakfasts all day and night.  I have taken part in the olive harvest in southern Italy, picking and harvesting the olives, going with the tractor to the local press and watching them being turned into wonderful deep-green olive oil. I have been oyster farming … in the middle of November!

The Oyster Catcher

What’s it about?

It’s about a jilted bride who hides away on an oyster farm in rural Connemara, despite being terrified of water and her wild and unpredictable new boss. Cutting herself off from everything she knows, she learns about oyster farming and the art of shucking oyster shells. She finally learns to come out of her own shell but along the way she has to battle oyster pirates, pearl princesses, and loan sharks before eventually finding love amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay.

Where did the idea come from?

My husband was offered a job on the west coast of Ireland, in Galway, to work on an Irish-language soap opera there. We went over to see the place to decide if we would go as a family. From the moment we arrived it poured with rain. I’ve never known rain like it, and that’s after living in Wales. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I decided that it wasn’t going to work, until that night when we went to a restaurant; a wonderful place called O’Grady’s. It’s an end cottage in a row of terraced cottages, painted light blue. You walk in and the fire is going, the candles are lit, and you look out over sea. And there I ate pacific oysters. I looked out of the cottage window and thought, OK, I get it. If this is what Galway has to offer, I’m in. And from then on I had some of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had, from wild foraged food, saffron sorbet , and the oysters, just wonderful. I thought, ‘this is sexy’. But it’s such a precarious business.  And an idea began to form.

How did you research it?

Well, I started by eating a lot of oysters and going to O’Grady’s a lot. Then I discovered an oyster seller in one of the local farmers’ markets where you could buy half a dozen oysters, and he’d shuck them and serve them to you with a glass of white wine. It was a Friday lunchtime treat. I then went on a seafood cookery course at the Galway Seafood Centre. But it still wasn’t enough. I needed to get my feet wet, literally.  By this time I was living back in Wales. So one dark, cold weekend in November I went with my good friend Katie Fforde to meet an oyster farmer friend of mine in Scotland. We dressed in wet weather gear from head to foot. As soon as we arrived we got stuck straight in and were wading into the water to see the bags of oysters that were being loaded onto the tractor trailer. Within minutes the water had come above the top of our wellies and was trickling down our socks. Then we retired to the pub for lunch. Absolutely soaked. There was steam rising from us as the barmaid stoked the fire for us to sit beside. Our feet didn’t thaw out at all. That afternoon, it lashed down. I’m realising the connection. Perhaps good clean rain helps the oysters. We worked in the shed, by the light of bare bulbs and to the sound of Radio 2 on an old radio, and helped grade and wash the oysters, ready to go to market. We caught crabs, listened for clunkers, and learnt to sniff for dead ‘uns.  By the end of the day we were cold, wet, and very tired. We ordered large gins back at the hotel, handed the chef a large box of freshly picked oysters, and headed for our baths.

That evening, we sat by a huge roaring fire in a deep red restaurant room with my friend the oyster farmer, and drank champagne and ate the oysters we had picked from the sea ourselves. Never has anything tasted quite so good. It was perfection.

The Location. Why there?

The book is set in Connemara; I just loved its wild, rocky landscape. We spent a lot of time with friends out there who had the most amazing parties, where the children would enjoy the freedom of the outdoors and guests would turn up, music would happen, and everyone joined it. They were wonderful nights, even in the rain!

The characters, who are they?

The book is about people who hide their feelings away so they won’t get hurt. But if you hide away you won’t find love either.

Fiona Clutterbuck was abandoned by her own mother as a 15-year-old and has never really had the chance to realise who she is or what she’s capable of. In Ireland she’s a fish out of water. So when she’s finds herself having to battle loan sharks, pearl princesses, and oyster pirates she has to learn pretty quickly, to come out of her shell. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re capable of until we’re put in that situation. Sometimes it’s sink or swim.

Sean Thornton, Fiona’s boss, is grumpy and guarded but his saving grace is his passion about his oysters. He only comes alive when talking about the thing he loves. There’s Sean’s girlfriend, oyster broker Nancy, and the effervescent Margaret trying to turn her dying village back into something special again, along with a colourful cast of locals.

And then of course there’s Sean’s dog, Grace, a Great Dane. She’s based on a dog I met in Galway who used to ride his owner’s windsurf.  So cool.

I once read that a champion shell shucker said ‘In order to open an oyster you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed.’ And that’s how the story started.

Buying links:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Oyster-Catcher-full-length-romance-novel-ebook/dp/B00GS3VDQS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386327282&sr=1-1&keywords=jo+thomas+the+oyster+catcher

https://www.accentpress.co.uk/Book/10488/The-Oyster-Catcher.html

 Thanks so much for sharing this, Jo, sounds wonderful. Go on, give it whirl, I know you want too!