2016: Brilliant books, according to me

In common with many people, 2016 has been a tricky and often difficult year for me but the pleasure and stimulation (intellectual, emotional and creative) I receive from reading has remained constant. Thank goodness for books. Beautiful books.

Since I began this blog in 2010 it has become customary to share my favourite reads as the year draws to its close. They are not necessarily works first published in the year; they are not necessarily prize winners (though sometimes they are) and they come from a wide range of genres. I’m an eclectic reader and it’s a very personal list. The following impressed me enormously. In no particular order:

Fiction

Bashed up proof copy. BigFella read & also loved. And dropped it in the bath.This Must Be The Place, Maggie O’Farrell

A huge canvas; an intimate and expansive examination of a marriage.  Quite simply genius.

 

Animals, Emma Jane Unsworthimg_2608

A tale of two not-quite-ready-to-be-grown-up 30somethings, this book made me laugh and cry in recognition. Unsworth writes with enormous wit and compassion, and an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of female friendship. Brilliant.

img_2614The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett

With its satisfyingly complex structure this novel explores three possible outcomes of the lives of two Cambridge undergraduates who meet – or not – in the 1950s. Spanning 50 years, it is involving, rich and clever.

 

We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire, Jules Grantimg_2609

One of the reasons I love this novel is because it vividly portrays a world I hitherto knew little about: the female criminal gangs of contemporary Manchester. The voices of gang leader, Donna, and her lover’s daughter Ror, are raw and, surprisingly, poetic. Stunning.

img_2615Summertime, Vanessa Lafaye

A historical love story centred around a true event, a hurricane, in 1930s Florida. The veterans’ tale is a shocking and shameful blemish on American history, brought vividly and compassionately to life. Thrilling and sad.

 

Stargazing, Kate Glanvilleimg_2616

A warm and touching family drama exploring serious issues like family breakup, domestic abuse and falling for the right person. Moving.

img_2612Sandlands, Rosy Thorton

A collection of sixteen diverse tales set in and around one coastal village in Suffolk.  Poignant, unsettling and often extremely funny. Magical.

 

 

Wake, Anna Hopeimg_2613

There are many books covering the Great War but few are as powerful and memorable as this one. Pegged to the search for the Unknown Soldier Wake covers three women’s stories.  Unforgettable.

51d7b-eedl-_sx318_bo1204203200_Where Love Lies, Julie Cohen

This has all the fabulous Cohen trademarks: warmth, insight, tenderness, and it really stands out. It was shamefully overlooked on its release in my humble opinion. I suspect this is because the hook is impossible to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say: read it. It’s wonderful. Poignant and tender.

 

Non-fiction

The Outrun, Amy Liptrotimg_2606

A searing, honest, unsentimental account of one woman’s recovery from alcoholism and the transformative power of nature and home. I want to visit remote Scottish islands (despite the brutal weather) after reading this book. Outstanding.

img_2611Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit

Solnit’s history of activism and social change over the past 50 years (first published in 2005 – revised and updated in 2016) is as important now as it ever was. A case for hope, arguably we need it now more than ever.

 

There we have it. Now it only remains for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2017 is a good one.

Laura x

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Guest post from Jennifer Ash, author of The Outlaw’s Ransom

The Outlaw’s Ransom: Mathilda of Twyford

First of all, I must thank my lovely friend Laura for allowing me to visit her site as part of my first blog tour as Jennifer Ash (I have loitered here once or twice before under the guise of Jenny Kane.)

It’s always a treat to have you over, whether you’re Jenny or ‘newbie’ Jennifer!

outlaws-ransom-finalWithin The Outlaw’s Ransom, my fourteenth century protagonist is a nineteen year old woman called, Mathilda of Twyford. In the medieval period, nineteen was the age of a full grown woman. Most would be married and have children by that age. Mathilda however, is single, as she’s been looking after her father and brothers, running the home and the family pottery business since the death of her mother. That situation however, changes abruptly when she is forced to get to know the notorious Folville family rather better than she would have liked.

Suddenly, Mathilda finds herself surrounded by criminals and under a very frightening type of suspicion…

Blurb

The first in an exciting new series by acclaimed author Jenny Kane writing as Jennifer Ash.

When craftsman’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers, as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life.  Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for disregarding the law – and for using any means necessary to deliver their brand of ‘justice’.

Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the paramour of the enigmatic Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will take her far from home and put her life in the hands of a dangerous brigand – and that’s just the start of things…

A thrilling tale of medieval mystery and romance – and with a nod to the tales of Robin Hood – The Outlaw’s Ransom is perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and Jean Plaidy.

***

Put aside any images of women being weak in the middle ages to one side- they may well have been put upon, forgotten, and taken for granted maybe, but weak? Never. Or at least, not for long.

Women in the fourteenth century had to be strong-willed, as well as physically strong, or they’d never have survived. Even putting aside the obvious pressures and problems of childbirth, they ran family businesses alongside their men folk, kept the house, dealt with all the food, and raised the children. In fact, it all sounds fairly familiar!

I’ve never been keen on the idea of writing weak characters; be they male or female. Such characters frequently fail to hold the interest of a reader, often frustrating you into wishing they’d just grasp the metaphorical nettle and get on with it- whatever, ‘it’ is!

In the case of The Outlaw’s Ransom, it was particularly important for me to have a determined, capable and intelligent female in the driving seat. I wanted Mathilda to not just survive within her enforced hostile environment, but to hold her own, and show the Folville brothers that they were dealing with a feisty, clever, woman who could give as good as she got!

Here’s a little taster from the very start of the story, where you meet Mathilda at her most disadvantaged. A position from which she grows determined to kick some serious medieval butt….

Extract

Mathilda thought she was used to the dark, but the night-time gloom of the small room she shared with her brothers at home was nothing like this. The sheer density of this darkness enveloped her, physically gliding over her clammy skin. It made her breathless, as if it was trying to squeeze the life from her.

As moisture oozed between her naked toes, she presumed that the suspiciously soft surface she crouched on was moss, which had grown to form a damp cushion on the stone floor. It was a theory backed up by the smell of mould and general filthiness which hung in the air.

Trying not to think about how long she was going to be left in this windowless cell, Mathilda stretched her arms out to either side, and bravely felt for the extent of the walls, hoping she wasn’t about to touch something other than cold stone. The child’s voice that lingered at the back of her mind, even though she was a woman of nineteen, was telling her – screaming at her – that there might be bodies in here, secured in rusted irons, abandoned and rotting. She battled the voice down. Thinking like that would do her no good at all. Her father had always congratulated his only daughter on her level-headedness, and now it was being so thoroughly put to the test, she was determined not to let him down.

Stretching her fingers into the blackness, Mathilda placed the tips of her fingers against the wall behind her. It was wet. Trickles of water had found a way in from somewhere, giving the walls the same slimy covering as the floor.

Continuing to trace the outline of the rough stone wall, Mathilda kept her feet exactly where they were. In seconds her fingertips came to a corner, and by twisting at the waist, she quickly managed to plot her prison from one side of the heavy wooden door to the other. The dungeon could be no more than five feet square, although it must be about six feet tall. Her own five-foot frame had stumbled down a step when she’d been pushed into the cell, and her head was at least a foot clear of the ceiling. The bleak eerie silence was eating away at Mathilda’s determination to be brave, and the cold brought her suppressed fear to the fore. Suddenly the shivering she had stoically ignored overtook her, and there was nothing she could do but let it invade her.

Wrapping her thin arms around her chest, Mathilda pulled up her hood, hugged her grey woollen surcoat tighter about her shoulders, and sent an unspoken prayer of thanks to Our Lady for the fact that her legs were covered.

She’d been helping her two brothers, Matthew and Oswin, to catch fish in the deeper water beyond the second of Twyford’s fords when the men had come. Mathilda had been wearing an old pair of Matthew’s hose, rolled up past her knees, but no stockings or shoes. She thought longingly of her warm footwear, discarded earlier with such merry abandon. She’d thrown haphazardly beneath a tree in her eagerness to join the boys in their work. It was one of the only jobs their father gave them that could have been considered fun.

Mathilda closed her eyes, angry as the tears she’d forbidden herself to shed defied her and fell anyway. With them came weariness. It consumed her, forcing her to sink lower onto the rotten floor. Water dripped into her lank red hair. The tussle of her capture had loosened Mathilda’s neatly woven plait and now it hung awkwardly, half in and half out of its bindings, like a badly strapped sheaf of straw.

She tried not to start blaming her father, but it was difficult not to. Why hadn’t he told her he’d borrowed money from the Folvilles? It was an insane thing to do. Only the most desperate …

Mathilda stopped her thoughts in their tracks. They were disloyal and pointless.

They’d been relatively well-off when Mathilda was younger. They’d owned four horses, chickens, a cow and a goat, and three furlongs for planting vegetables and a small amount of wheat. There was also the pottery shed and kiln where her father made his tableware and cooking pots, and a small orchard which backed onto the two-roomed house. Slowly, over the past few years, it had almost all been sold off. Only the workhouse, orchard, one horse and cart, and a single furlong remained.

Now she had nothing to do but think, Mathilda realised that her father had been that desperate. . He’d been a tall man once, but since his forty-fifth year he’d dwindled, his beard dappled with more grey by the day. It was as if he’d become disillusioned; fed up with the routine of daily existence without her mother. Until now, Mathilda had been so busy making the best of things, she hadn’t had time to see their situation for what it was.

Since her mother had died four years ago, the cooler weather, and the disastrous crop failure a few harvests back, combined with the decline in the demand for locally made pottery had taken their tool. Ceramic tableware from the south, Wales, and even France flooded the market, and her father hadn’t been able to compete. Each time he travelled the ten miles to the weekly market at Leicester to sell his pots, he came home more dejected than the trip before, and with more and more unsold stock.

Last time her father had travelled into Leicester he’d returned home early, a desolate figure, with a cartload of broken pottery shards. A thief had struck in the market place, and in their unthinking eagerness to apprehend the villain the bailiff’s men had run roughshod through the stalls, toppling her father’s table as they went, leaving him with broken stock and an increasingly broken faith.

‘Our Lady,’ Mathilda muttered in the gloom, her voiced hushed in fear, ‘please deliver me from this place.’ Then, guilty at having asked for something so boldly from someone she’d begun to neglect of late, Mathilda added, ‘I’m sorry, Our Lady, forgive me. I’m frightened, that’s all. Perhaps, though, you could take care of my brothers and my father.’

Mathilda didn’t even know if any of her kin were still alive. The Folvilles’ reputation made it more than possible that they’d all been killed.

The men had taken her so easily; lifting her bodily from the water as if she was as light as air. Bundled into a covered wagon, Mathilda had been transported to the manor at Ashby Folville in the company of a large man who stank of fish. He’d tied her hands behind her back and sat over her, shoving a filthy rag between her lips to fend off the protests that failed to escape from her mouth.

The journey, although bumpy and bruising, couldn’t have been further than two miles. On arrival Mathilda had been untied and un-gagged and, having been thoroughly stared at from top to bottom by her impertinent guardian, who seemed to have the ability to see through her clothes to the flesh beneath, then wordlessly bundled below stairs to her current lonely location. Her stomach growled, complaining pointlessly at its emptiness. Mathilda was cross with herself. How could she even consider food when her family was in danger?

‘Just as well I don’t want to eat,’ she told herself sternly, ‘as I probably won’t ever see food again.’ Then she collapsed to the cold damp ground, the terror and shock of the morning abruptly washing over her in a wave of misery.

 

Mathilda had no idea how long she’d been in the cell when a large hand gripped her shoulder and shook her awake. Fear crept back over her like a heavy blanket as the light from the adjoining room illuminated the mocking face of her gaoler.

‘You’re wanted, girl.’ Dragging her by the arm, he took no notice of the fact he was bumping her legs against the stone steps as he removed her from her prison.

‘Where are you talking me?’ Mathilda’s voice wavered as she tried not to trip over her own feet.

‘You’ll see.’ Increasing the squeeze of her upper arm, he propelled Mathilda along a corridor, before pushing her before him into a large open hall, shouting ahead, ‘You want me to tie her up?’

Mathilda didn’t hear anyone answer. The hall was foggy from a poorly set fire, and it took her a few moments to take in her surroundings as she was pushed towards a long table. The smoke stung her eyes, and she blinked against the light.

Her arms and feet hadn’t been tied, but as a precaution against Mathilda’s potential escape, the surly man stood uncomfortably close to her. Now her senses were slowly coming back under her control, Mathilda recognised him as the person who’d stolen here from her home. The unpleasant odour of ale, sweat and fish made his identity as her original kidnapper unmistakable.

As the fishy aroma assaulted Mathilda’s nostrils once more, her thoughts flew to her brothers. Desperate for news of her family, she opened her mouth to speak, but another man raised his hand, warning for her to remain silent, before the words had chance to form.

Mathilda stared at the shape of this new figure came properly into focus through the smoke. He was finely dressed in a peacock blue cloak, with a green and brown tunic and matching hose. Despite the fine braiding around his collar, she could tell this was not a man of high birth, nor was he the sheriff or bailiff. This probably made him one of the lesser nobility or a public servant.

Swallowing nervously, Mathilda lowered her gaze to the floor in a natural response to before her betters – even if ‘betters’ was entirely the wrong description in this case. This man had to be a Folville. Mathilda began to shake with increased fear as a million possibilities of what might happen to her next flew around her brain. None of them were pleasant.

***

I hope that perked your interest!

Thanks again for letting me pop by Laura!

***

You can buy The Outlaw’s Ransom for your Kindle here –

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outlaws-Ransom-Jennifer-Ash-ebook/dp/B01LZDKPQM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1475660907&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Outlaw%27s+Ransom+Jennifer+Ash

https://www.amazon.com/Outlaws-Ransom-Jennifer-Ash-ebook/dp/B01LZDKPQM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475660990&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Outlaw%27s+Ransom+Jennifer+Ash

Happy reading everyone,

Jennifer (aka Jenny!!) xx

Bio-

20160630_135550-1Jennifer Ash is the author of the medieval murder mystery, The Outlaw’s Ransom (Dec, 2016). Her second novel, The Winter Outlaw, with be published in 2017.

You can find detail’s of Jennifer’s stories at www.jenniferash.co.uk

Jennifer also writes as Jenny Kane

Jenny Kane is the author the contemporary romance Another Glass of Champagne, (Accent Press, 2016),  Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015), the bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), the modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), and Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014).

Jenny’s fifth full length romance novel, Abi’s Neighbour, will be published in June 2017.

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015)

Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.

Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor

Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/JennyKaneRomance?ref=hl

 

Guest Post from Jenny Kane: Christmas Pick ‘n’ Mix

Hello again, Jenny! Lovely to have you here this Christmas!

Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection: Stress at Christmas?

jennykanes-christmas-collectionI’m delighted to be visiting today, as part of a blog tour celebrating the launch of my seasonal anthology, Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection.

Personally I adore Christmas. I love the extra rushing about and cooking and secret gift buying, but let’s face it; for many Christmas can be something of a mixed blessing. While it means families and friends come together, gorgeous food, rather more alcohol than is strictly wise, and a certain joyous throwing out of the diet plan- it can also mean excessive spending, stressed out arguments over who said what to ‘Our Cheryl’ during last year’s Christmas dinner, and total exhaustion- not to mention arguments over whether to have a real tree or an artificial one- and a colossal electricity bill in January as a result of all those extra festive lights…

Within the confines of my festive stories I try and toe the middle line. It would be foolish to pretend that Christmas was never stressful, to make out that snow always fell with Christmas card precision when it was supposed to, and that an overcooked turkey couldn’t cause a minor domestic meltdown. On the other hand – this is fiction! I’m supposed to be providing light entertainment- a cheerful moment of escapist hope and happiness amongst the chaos of wrapping present and making mince pies. Consequently, while the three novellas that make up Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection, do touch on the extra pressures that the Christmas season can bring, they are basically stories of friendship and smiles. Tales that I hope will provide some Christmas warmth, whatever the winter weather.

My Another Cup of series began some years ago with the full length novel, Another Cup of Coffee. I enjoyed writing that novel so much, that when I was asked to write a Christmas follow up, I was only too happy to oblige. I had no idea then that I would end up writing three Christmas novella’s and a further novel (Another Glass of Champagne) before the series came to an end.

Those seasonal stories began with the Another Cup of Christmas, followed by Christmas in the Cotswolds in 2014, and then Christmas at the Castle last year.

Blurb for Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection

jennykanes-christmas-collection-5starThere is something very special about Christmas…
Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection combines all three seasonal shorts from Jenny’s best-selling Another Cup of … series in one festive anthology.
In ‘Another Cup of Christmas’, we return to Pickwicks Coffee House in London, the setting for Jenny’s bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee. Together with old friends Kit, Amy, Scott and Peggy, we meet new Pickwicks waitress Megan, who’s in charge of organising a charity event for the local hospital…is romance as well as seasonal goodwill in the air?
‘Christmas in the Cotswolds’ sees Megan, now an established face at Pickwicks, travelling to the beautiful Cotswold countryside after an emergency call from her friend Izzie. Can Megan help Izzie pull off the perfect Christmas at her Arts and Crafts Centre – and save the business from disaster?
Kit Lambert, Pickwicks’ writer-in-residence, takes centre stage in ‘Christmas at the Castle’. Already nervous about appearing at her very first literary festival, in the grounds of a magnificent Scottish castle at Christmas time, Kit suddenly finds herself co-organising the whole thing – and trying to repair old friendships – with the deadline fast approaching…

One of the most important decisions I make when I’m about to write a story is where to locate the tale. When, I wrote Christmas in the Cotswolds, I thoroughly enjoyed taking Pickwicks’ waitress, Megan, away from her workplace in Richmond, on an artistic adventure in the lovely Gloucestershire countryside. So when the time came to write the fourth adventure for the characters from Pickwicks Coffee House, Christmas at the Castle, I had no fears about taking regular customer, and writer in resident, Kit Lambert, on her travels as well.

I only ever write stories based in places I know well. The Deeside area of NE Scotland, where Christmas at the Castle is based, was my home for three years at the turn of the century. I lived in the beautiful village of Banchory (and worked in the branch of WHSmith’s you can find on the High Street). It was in Banchory – in a coffee shop that might look very similar to the one mentioned in Christmas at the Castle– that I wrote my very first published story!

While I was there, I was a frequent visitor to all the local castles, including the breathtakingly stunning Crathes Castle. From the moment I set foot in the castle grounds back in 1998, I fell in love with the place.

Owned by the National Trust for Scotland, Crathes Castle, with its thick whitewashed walls, incredible ceiling paintings, and atmospheric rooms, remains one of my favourite buildings in the world. Complimented by a mix of formal grounds and woodland, no matter what, or much, I write about Crathes, I will never be enough to do it justice.

Crathes is as much a character in this festive novella as Kit, and her fellow literary festival planners, Alice and Charlie…

Extract

Cameron Hunter rocked back on his desk chair and stared out across the estate grounds of Crathes Castle. From where he sat he could see the sweep of the formal gardens that huddled neatly around the foot of the sixteenth-century tower house, and on to the woodland beyond.

He still couldn’t believe he’d managed to land a job in one of the most picturesque places in the country. On crisp winter mornings like this one, when the fallen russet leaves crunched underfoot and the evergreen leaves shone with the spidery touch of Jack Frost, it seemed madness that he’d actually hesitated before applying for the estate manager’s post.

Returning to the pile of paperwork on his desk, Cameron’s gaze fell on a stack of ‘Christmas at the Castle Literary Festival’ flyers. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. The chance to impress his new boss and attempt a “kill or cure” technique on the ghost of his former relationship at the same time.

Cameron often wished he’d never set eyes on Alice Warren. He hated that he couldn’t stop loving her, even when she made it clear that their time together had just been a bit of a fling.

He thought he’d be safe taking a job back in the area now that Alice was living in Edinburgh. Yet on his very first trip into Banchory after taking the job, he’d seen her chatting to another girl outside the newsagents.

On his return to the office, unable to stop himself, he’d found himself searching for Alice Warren on Google. Telling himself that this wasn’t stalking, but that he was merely acting in self-preservation, Cameron had discovered that his ex was running Warren Premier Events, a successful event management business in Edinburgh.

Seconds later, he’d come up with the idea to get her to organise an event for him. That way his lingering obsession with her would either be shot stone dead and he could get on with his life, or Alice would realise she’d made a terrible mistake and that she loved him after all.

Pushing the sleeves of his thick Aran jumper past his elbows in annoyance at himself, Cameron absent-mindedly signed three documents. Even though he knew he was behaving like a lovesick teenager, he couldn’t help but hope it would all work out.

Contacting Alice via the Warren Premier Events website, Cameron had asked her to help for old time’s sake. Trying not to feel pathetic, he justified his actions to himself with the thought that, whatever his reasons, there could be few better places for a literary festival than in a castle at Christmas time…

***

You can buy Jenny Kane Christmas Collection as a paperback or download from-

Amazon UK- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jenny-Kanes-Christmas-Collection-Short-ebook/dp/B01M0ICD7A/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1474386377&sr=8-2&keywords=jenny+kane%27s+christmas+collection

Amazon.com-  https://www.amazon.com/Jenny-Kanes-Christmas-Collection-Short-ebook/dp/B01M0ICD7A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474387008&sr=8-1&keywords=jenny+kane%27s+christmas+collection

Many thanks Laura,

Jenny xx

Bio

jen-and-abis-house-1Jenny Kane is the author the contemporary romance Another Glass of Champagne, (Accent Press, 2016),  Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015), the bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), the modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013),  Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle (Accent, 2016). These three seasonal specials are now available in one boxed set entitled Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection (Accent, 2016)

Jenny’s fifth full length romance novel, Abi’s Neighbour, will be published in June 2017.

Jenny’s first medieval murder mystery, The Outlaw’s Ransom will be published in December 2016 under the pen name, Jennifer Ash

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015)

Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.

Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor

Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/JennyKaneRomance?ref=hl

Jenny also writes erotica as Kay Jaybee

In The Future Will Everyone Be Crowd-funding? Guest post by Erinna Mettler

Fifteen minutes flyerI’m pleased as punch to introduce my fellow Beach Hut Writer, Erinna Mettler. Erinna is stupendously talented; her stories are perceptive, thought-provoking, laced with subtle humour. Magical.Over to you, Rin.

I write short stories. My first book, Starlings, was what is known as a daisy chain novel, which is a set of interlinking short stories with characters and settings in common. My second book, In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes, is not a novel but a collection of short stories themed around fame and that’s as far as the connection goes. In the UK, short story collections are not looked upon favourably by agents or publishers. This is not the case in the US, India or even Ireland.  A handful of companies do consider collections but to be honest you have to either be a best-selling author or have won a major short story prize to get past the slush pile. I haven’t got an agent and with this second book I didn’t really try to get one. I half-heartedly sent it off to a few US publishers until somebody suggested I try the innovative crowd-funding publisher Unbound.

Since the company was established in 20 Unbound has gone from strength to strength. Their catalogue includes books by Jonathan Meades, Terry Jones, Kate Mosse and a Booker Prize listee (Paul Kingsnorth with The Wake).  In the promo video Unbound states that, ‘authors get to write the books they want to write and readers get to read real books, that in a crowded, celebrity obsessed market place might never see the light of day.’ This statement really appealed to me. I have not forgotten my rejection from a high profile literary agent a few years ago telling me they just weren’t in  love with my writing on the very day they announced a 2 book deal with Martine McCutcheon. She only wrote one and that went into bargain bins straight after it was released. I submitted my manuscript to Unbound. They accepted it within a month.

The thing with crowd-funding is that everything moves at a super-fast pace. I got the email from Unbound Digital on a Friday asking for a biography, an extract, photos, a cover and a short promotional film by Sunday! If you are thinking of submitting to them I would suggest you have all of this ready to go at a moment’s notice. They give you around 90 days to raise the funds to get your book published, which works out at about 350 £10 pledges. When you are fully funded you are assigned an editor and then, about a year later, you get the full marketing and distribution you would from any major publisher.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

I have quite a large social media network but it has been very hard to gain pledges. I blog weekly, I post daily on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve done events, press releases, radio and sent out emails to everyone I know and still each pledge has to be eeked out. As I reach the end of my 90 days I am spending several hours a day marketing and no time actually writing, luckily for me I have the book finished and ready to go. When someone does pledge I want to shout their name from the rooftops. One thing that has worked for me was getting a short film made by Brighton’s Latest TV. This has been like a visual press release and I have gained many pledges since it went live. Wish me luck, I have 150 pledges still to get and time is running out.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame? No Thanks!

 

My favourite reads of 2015

As another year draws to a close, it’s traditional for me to post a list of my most memorable reads – books I’ve enjoyed most – over the past twelve months. This is a very personal list; I’m an author, not a professional critic, and my taste is eclectic. So much depends on mood, though like many readers there are those authors I return to time and time again. There’s one on this list and a couple of new authors I’ll definitely read again. In 2015 I read 35 books for pleasure (I read many more in my role as editor and mentor to developing writers) and here are my top ten, in no particular order!

Some of my favourite reads of 2015

Some of my favourite reads of 2015

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Moyes always hits the spot for me, and this was a delight from start to finish. Gorgeous.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

A beautifully written, poignant debut about the myriad faces of grief. Moving.

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

Old but wonderful. Barbara is one of the saddest, most deliciously screwed-up protagonists I can think of. Incredible.

The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

Alzheimer’s, love and family, covered with Coleman’s trademark warmth and insight. Tender.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Flynn’s debut about a hack returning to her small town home to cover child murders is stronger and nastier than her breakthrough novel, Gone Girl, IMHO. Disturbing.

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

An exquisitely written story about a Derbyshire pit village, the damage the community wreaks on an Albino mother, her husband and boy and its  repercussions. Poignant.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

A YA novel about a young boy whose sister is killed by an act of terrorism. The novel is a few years old now but still so relevant. A book every child should read. Pertinent.

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt

A beautiful collection of short stories inspired by the sea. Dancing on Canvey and Catching the Tip-Tap to Cayes de Jacmel were stand-outs in a fabulous collection. Tangy.

The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House by Stephanie Lam

A time-slip dual narrative set in a grand, cliff-top house in a fictional seaside resort (though obviously based on Brighton), this is a compelling mystery peopled with memorable characters and passages of utterly gorgeous prose. Reminiscent of Sarah Waters and Agatha Christie.

OK, so I cheated on the last book, using more than a one word summary, but, hey, it’s almost Christmas!

And on that note, I’ll finish by wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and here’s to a successful and happy 2016. Happy reading!

Laura x

 

Guest post: Coffee, Christmas, and Romance by Jenny Kane

Many thanks for inviting me to share a little of my latest Christmas novella, Christmas at the Castle with you today, Laura. My pleasure! It’s delightful to have you back and get us in the Christmas spirit.

Christmas at the CastleOnce again I have returned to the Pickwicks Coffee House in Richmond, the home of my Another Cup of Coffee series, to start this festive tale. This year however, rather than stay amongst the English cups of tea and coffee, I have taken writer, Kit Lambert, on an adventure northwards, to the beautiful Scottish Deeside.
Blurb
Christmas at the Castle is a seasonal treat from Jenny Kane, featuring much-loved characters from her bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee.

When hotshot businesswoman Alice Warren is asked to organise a literary festival at beautiful Crathes Castle in Scotland, her ‘work mode’ persona means she can’t say no – even though the person asking is her ex, Cameron Hunter.

Alice broke Cameron’s heart and feels she owes him one – but her best friend Charlie isn’t going to like it. Charlie – aka famous author Erin Spence – is happy to help Alice with the festival…until she finds out that Cameron’s involved! Charlie suffered a bad case of unrequited love for Cameron, and she can’t bear the thought of seeing him again.

Caught between her own insecurities and loyalty to her friend, Charlie gets fellow author Kit Lambert to take her place. Agreeing to leave her London comfort zone – and her favourite corner in Pickwicks Café – Kit steps in. She quickly finds herself not just helping out, but hosting a major literary event, while also trying to play fairy godmother – a task which quickly gets very complicated indeed…
***
Introducing new characters to the Pickwicks cast, that has now been established for some years, is always great fun; especially at Christmas. In Another Cup of Christmas, young waitress Megan found the man of her dreams, even though she hadn’t actually met him! In Christmas at The Cotswolds, Megan helps her friend Izzie overcome the fickleness of nature, when a storm threatens to ruin her chance to host a famous choir in her Cotswolds Arts Centre. This year, Kit faces the biggest festive challenge of them all in Christmas at the Castle- she hasn’t just got one couple to steer towards a happy ever after, but two. Which would be fine, but Kit doesn’t really ‘do’ happy endings!

Christmas in the Cotswolds200Here’s a short extract for you-
Charlie pushed open the door of The Deeside Bookshop.
Instead of being greeted by John, she was surprised to see a much younger man behind the counter. Having never known the shop without John in it, Charlie was immediately concerned. ‘Um, hello, I wondered if I could speak to John, is he OK?’
‘He’s very OK, thank you. Soaking up the sun in New Zealand in fact.’
‘Oh.’ Not sure what to do, Charlie decided she’d dive straight in anyway. If John trusted this man to run the shop in his absence, then he must be alright. ‘Could I have a quick chat about the literary festival at Crathes? I know Ms Warren has already approached the shop, but I…’
The man, who Charlie guessed must be in his late thirties, ran an exasperated hand through his short hair. ‘I already told your colleague I can’t help. What Ms Warren is asking of me is not cost-effective. Although I wish you luck with the festival, the tactic of sending her prettier colleague to get me to change my mind is not going to work!’
Prettier colleague? Charlie felt thrown. No one ever thought she was prettier than Alice.
‘I assure you no… tactics are in play. I’m only helping out today because I’m a friend of one of the other organisers, and I have a more sensible and, I think, more realistic proposition for you than Alice did. I will tell you about it if you would like to hear it; if not, I’ll leave you in peace to stare around your customer-free shop!’
Rather taken aback by the edge to her tone, the tension in Charlie’s shoulders unknotted a little as, to her amazement, the man began to laugh.
Placing the books he’d been holding on the counter he said, ‘I’m sorry, forgive me for being abrupt. My name is Gervase Potter; I bought John out a few weeks ago. This little empire is now mine.’
Tilting his head to one side, giving Charlie the impression he was enjoying the view, he added, ‘I would very much like to hear your proposal. How about we discuss it tonight over a drink at Scott Skinner’s? I haven’t made it there yet, and I hear it’s a nice pub.’
With her brain privately grappling with the concept of being asked out for a drink by a handsome man who liked books, Charlie replied, ‘It is nice. I often go to Skinner’s to write when I need a change of scene from my desk at home. Oh, I’m Charlie, by the way. Charlie Davies.’
‘I’m pleased to meet you, Charlie. So, you write?’
‘Yes.’ Charlie pointed to the bookshelves, ‘I’m over there somewhere.’
‘You are? Who are you, then? I mean, who else are you?’
‘Erin Spence.’
‘The Unbrave Heart Erin Spence?’
Charlie’s pulse started to beat faster. He didn’t immediately connect me with The Love-Blind Boy. ‘Yes. Yes that was my first novel.’
‘I love that book.’
‘You’ve read it?’ Charlie was shocked. ‘Forgive me, but you don’t look like you’d be into women’s fiction.’
‘I’m not as a rule, but my ex-girlfriend had the audiobook and we played it on a long journey once or twice. I enjoyed it. You have a very perceptive view of the male side of things.’
‘Really?’ Charlie could feel herself blushing, ‘Thanks. It’s kind of you to say so.’
‘Not at all. That drink tonight, then? Eight o’clock? With a meal as well, maybe?’
‘To talk about my idea for the festival?’
‘I’m making no promises, because I think I’d rather talk about you.’
Charlie’s head buzzed with contradictory thoughts. Had she been right to agree to go out with Gervase? Only this morning she’d been thinking about how she felt about Cameron being back, and now she was going on a date with someone else. A part of her knew she’d only said yes in the hope that Alice and Cameron might see them. But so what if they did? Cameron isn’t going to be jealous, and I don’t want him any more anyway. And Alice wouldn’t notice in her current mode if I walked around naked with a pineapple on my head.
A new thought entered Charlie’s head. Was there any point in going out with another man until Alice had gone home? Gervase would only have to see them standing next to each other, and it wouldn’t be her that he wanted to take for dinner anymore.
Suddenly, Charlie stopped moving. She knew she was being ridiculous, but somehow the thought of how Alice was always going to be there to eclipse her wouldn’t shift…

***
ACOChristmas- New 2015If that mini extract has whetted your appetite, you can buy Christmas at the Castle from –
http://www.amazon.com/Christmas-at-Castle-Jenny-Kane-ebook/dp/B015J87DTI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1442603723&sr=1-1&keywords=christmas+at+the+castle

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-at-Castle-Jenny-Kane-ebook/dp/B015J87DTI/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1442588560&sr=1-2&keywords=christmas+at+the+castle

Thanks again for letting me drop by.
An early Merry Christmas to you all,
Jenny x

Bio
Jenny Kane is the author the contemporary romance Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015), the bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), the modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), and Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014).
Jenny’s fourth full length romance novel, Another Glass of Champagne, will be published in 2016.
Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Coming soon from Hushpuppy)
Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at http://www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.
Twitter- @JennyKaneAuthor
Facebook -https://www.facebook.com/JennyKaneRomance?ref=hl
Jenny also writes erotica as Kay Jaybee.

Back to school for the kids; what about you?

BHWA logo reverse outToday, my youngest, and thousands like him across the country, goes back to school. Although he says he’s not looking forward to it, I just know that once he’s there he’ll have a ball. Despite what he says he enjoys learning – most of us do.

What about you? New term, new goals? Are you looking to expand your writing skill-set, or develop new ones? If your answer is yes, then you might be as excited as me about a brand new venture launched in Brighton this week; one which I’ve the good fortune and pleasure of being involved in: The Beach Hut Writing Academy.

We’re a group of published authors, based in Brighton, who’d like to share our knowledge and experience with new and developing writers through a range of high-quality, affordable courses.

With experience across a wide range of genres in fiction – from crime to YA to short stories – non-fiction and script writing we know what it takes in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. We build confidence and writing skills, we offer support and expertise gained from professional experience. Amongst our number we boast bestselling author and all-round 5:2 guru, Kate Harrison; Richard & Judy Book Club author, Araminta Hall; acclaimed short story writers Bridget Whelan and Erinna Mettler (who is also a founding member of live lit organisation Rattle Tales) and award-winning script writers Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. So many talented writers at your disposal, ready to share top tips from their professional writers’ toolkits. What’s stopping you?!

Do check out our autumn programme and spread the word to writing chums in the south east and beyond.

If you live near Brighton you’ll see our leaflets all over the place and for further information please visit our Facebook page HERE. Below you’ll find images of our autumn flyer which will provide a flavour of what’s on the menu.

Our beautiful logo and the flyer were designed by children’s author and illustrator Jules Miller. Do visit her site for more examples of her fantastic work.

BHWA A5 Flyer FrontBHWA A5 Flyer Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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