So. I’ve taken a year away from blogging, reviewing, a lot of social media, and read what I’ve wanted, when I’ve wanted. And when I’ve been able to. My mental health for the past 18… More
Ruby by Heather Burnside
Publication Date: 5th December 2019
The stronger sex.
Ruby has always been strong. Growing up with a feeble mother and an absent father, she is forced to fight the battles of her younger siblings. And when a childhood experience leaves her traumatised, her distrust of men turns to hatred.
On the streets.
With no safe place to call home, Ruby is desperate to fit in with the tough crowd. She spends her teenage years sleeping around and drinking in the park, and by the time she is sixteen, prostitution has become a way of life. But Ruby has ambitions, and she soon moves up the ladder to become the madam of her own brothel.
But being in charge of a brothel has its down sides, Ruby faces her worst nightmare when an enemy from the past comes back into her life, and gang intimidation threatens to ruin everything. Can she find a way to beat her tormentors? And will she be strong enough to see it through?
About Heather Burnisde
Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels.
After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children.
Facebook: @HeatherBurnsideAuthor | Twitter: @heatherbwriter | Website: https://heatherburnside.com/
Heather Burnside’s Guest Post
From Feeble to Feisty
Following the success of The Mark, book one in my Working Girls series, I am so excited to be releasing book two, Ruby, and I hope my readers will enjoy it. The Mark was a bit different to my previous books in that the middle class background of the main character, Maddy, is dissimilar to that of the working class girls featured in my previous books.
As a writer I like to challenge myself by trying alternative story lines as I don’t want my books to become tedious and predictable. However, I realise that Maddy isn’t necessarily the type of main character my readers have come to expect, unlike Ruby who has a hard working class upbringing.
In Ruby we see a character that is like Maddy’s polar opposite. Where Maddy is vulnerable and susceptible to errors of judgement, Ruby is feisty and fierce, and makes bold decisions. They also differ in appearance as Ruby is almost six feet tall, and is physically strong and toned whereas Maddy has a softer appearance. People are drawn to Maddy because she is approachable but a lot of people aren’t initially attracted to Ruby who has a harsh façade.
Although Ruby does bad things, in many ways I admire her, particularly her strength of character and her sense of loyalty. In fact, while writing Ruby I developed a strong affinity with the title character as she’s a tough, no-nonsense type of person but she’s also straight with people. If you upset Ruby then you’d better be prepared because she’ll come for you. She is one of my favourite characters of all the ones I have created and probably the favourite since Rita the Man Eater in the Riverhill Trilogy.
Ruby does have a heart though and throughout the novel we get to see her softer side. This is shown through interactions with her mother and youngest brother, and the way she looks after them financially. Her cash offerings help to assuage her guilty conscience for walking out of the family home at a young age and living a life that remains secret to them.
We also see her softer side in the way she behaves towards her partner, Tiffany. Not only is Ruby loving and affectionate towards her but she is also extremely protective. She would rather suffer herself than see Tiffany suffer.
Ruby’s close friendship with Crystal reveals her loyal nature and it is based on trust and loyalty. They have developed a bond since their early days as working girls and Ruby often helps Crystal out when she has got herself into a tricky situation. Although her manner towards Crystal can be brusque, it’s because she is frustrated at Crystal’s willingness to put up with maltreatment. She realises that Crystal doesn’t have her strength of character and tries to get her to toughen up.
When Ruby does bad things it is usually because she is pushed by particular people and situations, and she will always justify her actions in her own mind. But, because of her personality, when things do turn bad she comes out fighting, and God help anybody who does her wrong. She’s definitely not one to mess with. So get ready to meet Ruby because I’m about to unleash my most formidable character to date.
A Million Dreams by Dani Atkins
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: 14th November 2019
Beth Brandon always dreamed of owning a florist, but today the bouquets of peonies and bright spring flowers are failing to calm her nerves. Because today, Beth has a life-changing decision to share with her husband.
Izzy Vaughan thought she and her husband would stay together forever, but sometime last year, their love began to fade. They both find such joy in their young son Noah – but is he enough to keep them together?
Eight years ago, something happened to these two women. Something that is about to bring them together in a way no-one thought possible…
About Dani Atkins
Dani Atkins is an award-winning novelist. Her 2013 debut FRACTURED (published as THEN AND ALWAYS in North America) has been translated into sixteen languages and has sold more than half a million copies since first publication in the UK. Dani is the author of four other bestselling novels, one of which, This Love, won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2018. Dani lives in a small village in Hertfordshire with her husband, one Siamese cat and a very soppy Border Collie.
Twitter: @AtkinsDani | Facebook: @DaniAtkinsAuthor
A Million Dreams Extract
‘So what’s new? What have you been up to recently?’
‘Nothing much,’ I replied. Except preparing to get pregnant. For a horrified moment I thought I’d said the words out loud, but my sister’s face on my laptop screen looked neither stunned nor shocked, so I don’t suppose I could have.
It was morning in Australia and Karen was sitting in her preferred spot for our Skype chats, on the deck of her Sydney home against a backdrop of tropical blooms. I’d long since seen through her not-so-subtle attempt to lure me subliminally to the other side of the world with exotic foliage.
Our calls were the highlight of my week. She was half a world away, but she was still my best friend, and the ache of missing her had never gone away, not even after all these years. I still longed for the smell of her shampoo when she hugged me, the graze of her lips against my cheek when she said hello, or her hand squeezing mine for those moments when words just weren’t enough. We’d always been close, even as children, and although I’m sure we must have squabbled the way siblings do, the memory of it was buried so deeply beneath missing her, I truly couldn’t recall it.
We knew each other’s secrets: first crush; first kiss; first sneaked cigarette; first time with a boy: ‘Honestly Bethie, I don’t know what all the fuss is about; it was all over in seconds.’ That one still made me smile, although one devoted husband and two small children later, I doubt she still felt the same way. But now I was keeping the biggest, boldest secret in my entire life from her, and every time I opened my mouth I was scared it was going to come tumbling out.
‘How are Mum and Dad?’ Karen asked, momentarily disappearing from my screen as she reached for her glass of orange juice.
‘The usual,’ I replied in sister shorthand. I knew she’d be able to translate that one: Mum was busy with her book club, volunteering and amateur dramatics, while Dad was trying to pretend that retirement wasn’t boring him to death, or that his arthritis hadn’t deteriorated from slightly troublesome to seriously debilitating.
Karen pulled a face that I recognised only too well. The guilt that was never far away scored a sneaky bullseye. It was no secret that my parents had always intended to spend their retirement years in Australia. The pull was perfectly understandable: the weather was better for a man with Dad’s condition; plus, fifty percent of their
offspring lived there, with one hundred percent of their grandchildren. It was really all about the maths.
I’d always suspected that Karen had a secret master plan to move our entire family ‘down under’. It had been a clever long game. She’d fed our parents titbits of information about beachside retirement properties beside golf courses, and had even sent links to Tim about teaching jobs with funny notes attached: Didgeridoo skills not needed for this one!
Although we’d never pursued it, I could see Tim’s curiosity had been piqued. Karen knew I wanted to live by the coast again – and there was plenty of that in Australia. So mission (semi) accomplished. Or at least it might have been, until there was a persistent stomach spasm that wouldn’t go away, and a perpetual sickness that caused the weight to drop from Tim almost overnight…and suddenly all talk of living elsewhere disappeared. We were much more focused on just living at all.
Country Lovers by Fiona Walker
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: 14th November 2019
They say you should never go back, but glamorous Ronnie Percy did just that, to the home she ran away from with her lover.
But not everyone is finding it easy to forgive and forget.
Daughter Pax, fighting for custody of her small son as her own marriage disintegrates, is furious to have to spend New Year’s Eve waiting for some stranger her mother has invited to help run the family stud farm.
Even more annoyed is the staunchly loyal stud head groom, Lester. Does Ronnie think he’s lost his touch with the horses? And anyway, who is this so-called Horsemaker, Luca O’Brien? Why does he seem to be running away from something? And what is the true story of his relationship with grey stallion Beck, once destined for the Olympics, now broken and unrideable, screaming his anger from the Compton Magna stables.
Passionate, sexy, gripping, laced with her trademark wisdom and humour, this is bestselling Fiona Walker at her dazzling best.
About Fiona Walker
Fiona Walker is the author of eighteen novels, from tales of flat-shares and clubbing in nineties London to today’s romping, rural romances set amid shires, spires and stiles. In a career spanning over two decades, she’s grown up alongside her readers, never losing her wickedly well-observed take on life, lust and the British in love. She lives in Warwickshire, sharing a slice of Shakespeare Country with her partner, their two daughters and a menagerie of animals.
Country Lover Extract
Blue-eyed, ruddy-faced and athletically seductive, Signe was like a lot of horse professionals Luca knew, who rode hard all day and viewed recreational sex as the after-party. They were cut from the same cloth, nomadic work riders who followed the competition seasons round all continents, love and commitment top-shelved. Probably in her early thirties, she was old enough to know what she was doing and was good company, with her melodic voice, upbeat attitude and ready laugh. The perfect no-strings fling was being dangled in front of his eyes, had he not been so tied up in knots, counting the days until he was free from his royal noose.
Keeping his head down and grafting harder than ever, Luca was determined to stick it out. He was here to help the most talented horse he’d ever worked with get to the Olympics – and he was being paid a lot to do it. His only obstacle was the lad who would be riding him there.
‘Golden boy fall off again today?’ asked Signe, unbuttoning his shirt as deftly as she plaited a mane.
‘Yep. That’s five days in a row. They’re competing again tomorrow, so they are.’
‘Your accent is such a turn-on.’ Her kiss tasted of vodka. He liked that. Grey Goose, the kick pure as sea surf in this hotbed of fake rain, steel high rise and plastic trees.
Coming up for air and turning away to refill their glasses, he dwelt reluctantly on the memory of the boy at his last competition, unable to get the horse out of the collecting ring, dumped in the silica sand at the FEI official’s feet. Luca had worked the stallion for an hour beforehand, privileged to be balanced on a fast-thinking powerhouse, the rocket detonating over practice fences, a warhorse ready to lay down his life to win, his trust total. But when the boy had taken over, his skills sketchy and his nerves tight, his faith was not in the horse or in Luca, but in a birthright and advantage beyond their reach. Luca couldn’t have done any more to help, short of brainwashing the stallion to believe that the kid could ride.
‘Mishaal needs to learn more feel.’ He let the second vodka burn into him. ‘Right now, he thinks showjumping is just about steering and staying on.’ The thirteenth child of a high-ranking royal, the young prince was a go-cart driver with a Grand Prix ego.
‘If anyone can teach feel, you can, yes?’ Signe slapped her small palm against Luca’s, fingers interlacing to draw his hand to her mouth, bonbon blue eyes gazing up into his. He sensed she knew exactly how cute she looked.
‘As Mishaal keeps reminding me, his showjumping coach is a four-time gold-medallist from California.’ He gently removed his forefinger from her mouth, its soft, wet suck too fast-track. ‘I’m just here to warm up the saddle for him.’
‘You’re way more than that.’ Signe was indignant. ‘You are the Horsemaker. Does golden boy have any idea how lucky that makes him?’
Luca was grateful to her, cupping her face, tipping his twice-broken nose against her upturned one, then ducking away from another kiss to finish his vodka shot.
The Scorched Earth by Rachael Blok
Who really killed Leo Fenton?
Two years ago, Ben Fenton went camping with his brother Leo. It was the last time they ever saw each other. By the end of that fateful trip, Leo had disappeared, and Ben had been arrested for his murder.
Ben’s girlfriend Ana Seabrook has always protested his innocence. Now, on the hottest day of 2018’s sweltering heat wave, she receives a phone call from the police. Leo’s body has been found, in a freshly dug grave in her own local churchyard. How did it get there? Who really killed him?
St Albans police, led by DCI Jansen, are soon unpicking a web of lies that shimmers beneath the surface of Ana’s well-kept village. But as tensions mount, and the tight-knit community begins to unravel, Ana realises that if she wants to absolve her husband, she must unearth the truth alone.
Rachael Blok’s Q&A
Can you introduce yourself and your books for everyone please?
I write the DCI Jansen series, which are part psychological thriller, part detective novels, set in St Albans. I say psychological thriller, because whilst DCI Jansen is tasked with solving the crime, the other voices in the novels come from the characters involved with the crime. It is this which provides the psychological element.
What inspired you to write this book?
The novel was inspired by a number of different ideas. I read a story about a body that had been buried overnight in a graveyard, left in an unmarked grave, a few years ago. I loved this idea, and I buzzed with all the elements of stories that could motivate such an action. This became the opening to The Scorched Earth, and whilst it started the novel, I was left searching for how to develop the story; I usually look to something which I feel some way involved with, which leads to the next answer.
Did you base any of the characters on anyone you know personally?
I didn’t base any of the characters on people I know, but I have borrowed the odd story. One of the characters in the novel is a victim of suicide, and I grew up with someone who killed themselves in a similar manner to the suicide in the novel. This is not their story. However, when I found out she had died, it was upsetting, and I wondered about the circumstances which may lead someone to take their own life; I found the idea writing itself into the narrative of The Scorched Earth.
What can we find you doing when you’re not writing?
I’m a mum to two young children and also a teacher. Since I’ve been writing full-time, I’ve been lucky enough not to have to teach; however, I do volunteer weekly in primary schools to help with literacy. The funding crisis in schools means that any help is gratefully received.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I’m writing the third novel in the series at the moment, which will be out in November 2020. The fourth will follow the year afterwards. DCI Jansen is quite busy!
Have you ever considered writing a different genre? Have you ever written a different genre, if so what was it?
I have promised my son I will write a children’s novel. He’s helped me plot it out, and I’m some of the way in. It’s taking a back seat to the novels I’m contracted to write, but hopefully I’ll finish it at some point next year.
What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
I love reading, and really enjoyed The Silence of the Girls. I also read The Lost Man over the summer and loved it. Sally Rooney’s Normal People was brilliant, and I can’t wait for the next Susie Steiner novel.
Have you done any other jobs than being an author? What was your favourite?
Before writing I was an English teacher in a boys’ comprehensive in London. It was a brilliant job. I think you enjoy different jobs at different times of life. I would struggle to work the hours now that I used to work, as having young children soaks up your day, so I’m really lucky that now I get to write, with far more flexible hours.
How did you celebrate your first book being published?
On my first publication day I had a huge launch. We held it in an old court house, with a jail! I was lucky that so many friends and family came along. We celebrated until the early hours of the next day. This time round we’re celebrating in Waterstones, and I’m looking forward to it enormously.
What does your typical day look like when you’re writing?
After the school run, I write at home, with lots of coffee. I’m lucky that I know a few writers where I live, so we have a supportive community. When the walls start closing in, or a plot line is tricky, there are always people around for tea or wine, or to go for a run.
Finally, my out of the box question. Would you rather explore a new planet, or the deepest parts of the ocean? Why?
I’d definitely choose a new planet. I’d be absolutely terrified, but flying into the stars is the stuff of dreams!
The Girl I Left Behind by Andie Newton
Publication Date: 3rd October 2019
What would you risk to save your best-friend?
As a young girl, Ella never considered that those around her weren’t as they appeared. But when her childhood best-friend shows Ella that you can’t always believe what you see, Ella finds herself thrown into the world of the German Resistance.
On a dark night in 1941, Claudia is taken by the Gestapo, likely never to be seen again, unless Ella can save her. With the help of the man she loves, Ella must undertake her most dangerous mission yet and infiltrate the Nazi Party.
Selling secrets isn’t an easy job. In order to find Claudia, Ella must risk not only her life, but the lives of those she cares about.
Will Ella be able to leave behind the girl of her youth and step into the shoes of another?
About Andie Newton
Andie Newton is an American writer living in Washington State with her husband and two boys. She writes female-driven historical fiction set in WWII. The Girl I Left Behind is her first novel. She would love to say she spends her free time gardening and cooking, but she’s killed everything she’s ever planted and set off more fire alarms than she cares to admit. Andie does, however, love spending time with her family, ultra trail running, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.
Twitter: @AndieNewton | Facebook: @newtonauthor
The Girl I Left Behind Extract
I hurried through the crowded streets of Nuremberg, checking my watch every few seconds as the hands moved closer and closer to seven o’clock. The League of German Girls didn’t wait for late arrivals, and if I missed Frau Dankwart’s opening remarks, I’d hear about it from Aunt Bridget, who’d die from embarrassment if I showed up tardy again.
I had one job to do this evening, and that was to close up my aunt’s antique shop in time to make my League meeting. I didn’t account for an unexpected customer who couldn’t make up her mind, and then having the terrible misfortune of using my aunt’s cramped office to change into my League uniform.
I rounded a corner, getting ready to cross the street, but then bumped right into a child, knocking the poor boy to the ground. He lay paralyzed with fear, eyes wide and unblinking, with his little hands clinging to his sides. I went to help him up, and that’s when the Yellow Star sewn on his left breast shone up like a beam of light in the gloaming just before his curfew.
His mother screamed silently, hands to her mouth for the attention he caused, probably wondering if I was going to alert the policeman directing traffic nearby in the square. ‘It wasn’t his fault,’ I said to his mother. I looked back at the policeman who hadn’t seen a thing. ‘Go!’ And they walked into a sea of foot traffic, disappearing between the bodies.
I ran across the street, only that same policeman who’d been directing traffic had blown his whistle. Someone else took his post, and he walked up on me, hand gripping his billy club close to his side. I closed my eyes briefly, mad at myself, knowing I shouldn’t have been running.
I smoothed my tie flat.
‘Who are you running from?’ He reached for my elbow, but I’d unbuttoned my coat just enough to show him my League uniform—thick blue tie and white shirt—which had actually started to dull, much to Auntie’s dismay.
‘I’m late for my League meeting. I’m sorry.’
Bystanders shot me strange looks, some probably hoping I’d be dragged away, give them a sight to see. He looked at his watch, tapping the crystal. ‘At this hour?’ He squinted.
I gulped, knowing his questions could go on indefinitely if he wanted. I tried not to sound impatient. ‘I work at my aunt’s shop. This is the first time I had to close and make a League meeting right after.’ I hung my head down. ‘I should have planned better.’
‘What shop?’ he tipped his helmet up, looking down the street and past the Nazi flags hanging above shop windows.
I pointed. ‘The antique shop just there. Next to the old beer cellar with the red door—’
‘I know of it.’ He sounded bored, and then quickly spotted someone else to go after, an old man with a cane on the other side of the street who moved much too fast for his age. ‘Be off now,’ he said, pulling out his stick and heading across the street.
I turned away, not wanting to see what was about to come next.
I took a deep breath once I’d made it to Frau Dankwart’s house. All was quiet. The rest of the girls were already inside. I straightened my jacket and smoothed my hair back if only to look less hurried. I went to knock on her tall black door and was suddenly thrown back to the first day I’d met her.
My parents had only just died when my aunt told me she’d enrolled me in the League of German Girls—the female branch of the Hitler Youth. She said my mother had broken the law since membership was compulsory. When I told her I wasn’t a National Socialist she shushed me. That was five years ago. Now, it was only a matter of weeks before I turned eighteen, and I’d graduate out of the League.
The Wicked Lord’s Mistress by Scarlett Jameson
The Wicked Lord’s Mistress is set in the late Victorian period (1886) for fans of upstairs/downstairs dramas such as Downton Abbey and steamy romances. It explores the continuing love story between Lily, a lady’s maid at Torrington Hall, and a handsome, mysterious aristocratic hero called Lord Edgar Wilson.
Lily is surrounded by challenges from all sides. She is being blackmailed by the evil Mallkins, she has a secret past that she is trying to hide, and her forbidden love affair with Lord Wilson grows more risky every day. Can their lusty affair transform into the tender and lasting love that Lily craves? And given the differences in their class, is a happy ending possible for them?
Then a new enemy comes into Lily’s life, someone who is determined to destroy her. Lily finds herself facing the greatest challenge of her life, and hopes that Lord Wilson will be her hero.
About Scarlett Jameson
Scarlett Jameson works in publishing by day and by night enjoys writing steamy historical romances. A lover of all things Victorian, she lives in London with her cat.
You can subscribe to Scarlett’s newsletter here https://tinyletter.com/scarlettjameson
Outreach by Shelly Berry
Publisher: The Book Guild
Publication Date: 25th September 2019
When Emily was offered a new job in London, she was sure that her life was about to change – new friends, a career in the big city and the boyfriend she always wanted.
Her new life turns out to be more complicated than she expected. Her flat mates don’t understand her. Her colleagues mock everything about her. Even her father doesn’t support her. The only person who offers her any encouragement is David.
He’s married. He’s her manager. To Emily it’s clear that they have something special. As their relationship develops, everyone seems to want to sabotage their chances.
But some things are meant to be…
About Shelly Berry
Shelly Berry lives in Waltham Forest, London. Having gained a BA Joint Honours Degree in Visual Art and Sociology at Keele University and a Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling, she has since worked in the public sector with vulnerable adults and children – including those affected by mental illness, drug and alcohol misuse, disability, criminal behaviour, homelessness and domestic and sexual abuse. During this time, Shelly developed and nurtured her love of writing. As well as writing fiction, she has previously written for a number of blogs and now writes for the Waltham Forest Echo.
Social Media Links –
Page 30 – Emily visits recovering drug user Ian with her mentor Fran, and finds his hostility towards her more than a little challenging…
“Look, Ian, I know you find it difficult to trust professionals. But I promise we have no interest in sharing anything you tell us with anyone else, especially anyone who might use information about you to your detriment. Okay?”
The room became quiet, the only noise coming from the rumble of traffic from the street below and a muffled television from a flat somewhere above. I looked up from my hands, still clasping my bag, to find Ian looking at me with cold eyes. I stared back, feigning the confidence that was so desperately absent. His gaze slid back to Fran before returning to me.
“Okay. But I’m warning you, don’t fuck me about…”
“Great. Now let’s move on…”
Fran started to scribble on her pad. I turned in my seat to face her, hoping to shift the focus from myself to my colleague.
“So, the drinking. When did this start again?”
Ian sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand. The dirt under his nails and nicotine-stained fingers turned my stomach. I swallowed quietly and tried to focus on the conversation. Fran seemed to maintain eye contact with ease whilst making the occasional note, nodding empathically from time to time. I felt myself become invisible as they became engrossed in their conversation. My mind started to wander as Fran probed Ian further. I just hoped that not everyone who we worked with was this difficult. And dirty. And why hadn’t Fran said anything about the way he spoke to me? Was everyone going to be so hostile, even threatening? My eyes began to prickle. I could hear my dad now, telling me what an idiot I was for thinking I could ever do this kind of job.
Fran’s voice cut through to my consciousness. My head jerked in her direction and I blinked. She was standing and looking at me with her crooked smile. I glanced at Ian who was still sunk in his chair, busily rolling another cigarette.
“Yes?” I stammered.
“Are you ready to go?”
I winced at the enthusiasm in my voice as I got to my feet and swung my bag over my shoulder. I smiled brightly at Fran before heading to the door.
“Er, what’s yer name?”
I stopped in my tracks and turned slowly towards the enquiry. Ian was staring at me, his gaze not quite high enough to meet mine. I cleared my throat.
“Emily. Right.” His eyes roamed around the room for what felt like an age before they rested on the pile of books nearest him.
“So, do you read?”
I frowned and looked at Fran. She opened her eyes wide and nodded her encouragement.
“Er, yes. Yes, I do.”
“Have you read any of the Millennium series?” he fired back at me. Shit, another test I was bound to fail. I hadn’t even heard of it.
“You know, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and all that,” Fran prompted.
“Oh, yes! I mean, no, I’ve not read it, but I’ve heard of it. It’s supposed to be pretty good,” I gushed, enthused more by my recognition of the name than my desire to read it. Ian’s face softened.
“Good? They’re fucking excellent,” he said as he leant forward in his chair, carefully extracting a paperback from the bottom of his nearest stack. Stiffly he stood up. His T-shirt hung loosely from his bony shoulders. He was even skinnier than I had imagined. Popping his roll-up in his mouth, he held out the book towards me. He glanced up at my face before looking back down at his offering.
“Here. Take it.”
I looked at the book blankly before glancing at Fran. Instinctively I stepped back.
“Oh no, it’s okay. You keep it. I’ll borrow it from the library.”
“Well, why not save yourself the bother and take this one. I’ve got no use for it now. Go on.”
I looked at Fran again. Another test.
“Um, we’re not supposed to accept gifts from service users,” I muttered.
Fran smiled warmly.
“It’s okay. It’s just a loan, isn’t it, Ian?”
“If you want to call it that, sure.” He looked me again. “Look, just take it, yeah? It’s only a book. It won’t give you AIDS or anything.”
He coughed a laugh, whether at his own joke or my reddening face I wasn’t sure. I hesitated before stepping forwards and taking it from his hand.
“Thanks,” I whispered. Ian’s frame relaxed.
“Welcome,” he muttered as he wandered back to his chair. Fran watched him for a moment before turning to me.
“Right. Well, let’s go.” She smiled at me and winked. “See you, Ian,” she called over her shoulder as she strode out of the room. I followed her silently, my eyes on the carpet. She let me pass her on the balcony and shut the door behind her. I breathed deeply as I walked towards the lift, glad of the air which, although not fresh, was certainly an improvement on the stale atmosphere inside Ian’s flat. As I pressed the button for the lift, Fran trotted up behind me.
I turned to look at her. The shadow of a line had appeared between her brows and her deep brown eyes were wide. Her concern made me want to cry.
“Sure,” I croaked. She smiled warmly.
“Okay then, hen. Well, I don’t know about you but I’m parched. Shall we grab a quick drink before our next visit?” Her smile turned into a frown. “Strictly non-alcoholic though. Even I don’t drink this early, and an hour with Ian is enough to put anyone off their beer.”
She playfully poked me with her elbow as she stepped into the lift. A wave of exhaustion hit me as I watched her fish her mobile out of her jeans pocket. She glanced up at me and grinned.
“So are you coming? Or are you taking the stairs?”
The House That Sat Down Trilogy by Alice May
Publication Date: 30th July 2019
Inspired by a true story, The House That Sat Down Trilogy is a tale of triumph over tragedy. It is an astonishing account of sudden, first-world homelessness in the heart of the New Forest, and the unexpected consequences. Written entirely from a mother’s point of view, following the collapse of her family’s home, it is an uplifting and positive read in spite of the subject matter, with a thread of wry humour throughout. Follow this ordinary woman on an extraordinary journey of survival and self discovery as she reels from disaster, before picking herself up and coming back stronger and wiser than before.
Packed with humorous observations about what it is like to live in a tent in your garden with your husband and four children after a significant part of your house falls down out of the blue one day, this story takes you from the depths of despair right through to the satisfying heights of success against the odds, with lots of tea and cakes on the way.
Follow this crazy family as they cope with disaster in their own truly unique and rather mad way, and celebrate each small triumph along the way with them.
About Alice May
I am a multi-tasking parent to four not-so-small children, and I am fortunate enough to be married to (probably) the most patient man on the planet. We live in, what used to be, a ramshackle old cottage in the country. Our house began to fall down out of the blue one day, which resulted in the whole family living in a tent in the back garden for quite some time, while we worked out how to rebuild our home.
A few years afterwards, I decided to write a book and, once I started, I found I couldn’t stop.
Inspired by true-life events ‘Accidental Damage – tales from the house that sat down’ wouldn’t leave me alone until it was written.
Within six months of self-publishing my novel, I was delighted to learn that it had won two ‘Chill with a Book Awards’. This was a massive honour and motivated me to continue writing. Accidental Damage became the first book in a trilogy.
The Omnibus edition of all three books in the House That Sat Down Trilogy is now available via Amazon in both paperback and kindle format.
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Alice May’s Guest Post
Creativity Can Heal
The paintings from The House That Sat Down
By Alice May
Watching your house fall down unexpectedly, and then having to live in the garden with your children for eighteen months while you rebuild it, teaches you a great deal about yourself.
My experience with The House That Sat Down taught me exactly how important time engaged in creative pursuits can be. It is a very effective way to manage stress. All of my life – leading up to the day I stood on my drive and watched in shock as my cob cottage disintegrated – I had subconsciously used painting as a way to manage my work/life balance.
The normal stresses and strains of daily life increased exponentially once the family moved, lock, stock and barrel, into a tent on the scrubby bit of lawn at the back of what remained of our crumbling cottage.
The emotional trauma from that time was immense, but there was no time to deal with my feelings. I had to focus on the children. Making sure they were warm, dry, clean, fed and happy. Supressing my shock, fear and despair was essential in order to reassure them that everything would be alright.
The luxury of personal emotions or expressive creativity to work through stress was out of the question. Trust me! Painting, whilst living in a tent in the garden with four kids is not a practical activity. Thus, all those dark feelings were stuffed into my own little, imaginary Pandora’s Box. In went anger, utter terror, misery, desolation and hopelessness. Then there was the guilt. That was the most infinitely injuring ingredient of all in that dark, sludgy, festering pool of pain. Nothing about the situation we were in was my fault, but that didn’t stop me from blaming myself.
It wasn’t until after the physical crisis was over, once the house was rebuilt and the family safe, that the emotional invoice for what had happened finally arrived. I needed to deal with all that sticky, black, hidden pain before it destroyed me. I couldn’t speak about it, I simply couldn’t find the words, but I had to express it somehow. Which is how my ‘little creative hobby’ came to my rescue.
I took the tops off my paint pots and opened my heart. All that pain poured out onto huge, white canvases. Black acrylic paint came first, then Prussian blue, deep violet and the darkest of greens. It felt as though all the anger, bitterness, fear and guilt, that had been lodged around my heart for so long, ran down my arms and through the paintbrush. Once it was out there, as soon as the paint had dried, those damaging emotions were trapped. All that hurt was on the outside of me, where I could see it, analyse it and even control it. More importantly, it wasn’t rotting away inside me any longer.
My heart felt lighter and, as I continued to paint, I began to feel the first sensations of genuine happiness that I’d experienced in over two years.
My sense of humour returned as well, and the paintings I created changed from intensely brooding, dark pieces into lighter, brighter, happier work. I realised how very powerful creative activities are as a self-care tool. They can play a very important role in maintaining positive mental health.
My personal experience of healing through art is a significant part of the inspiration behind the three novels that make up The House That Sat Down Trilogy – Accidental Damage, Restoration and Redemption. It is the fundamental reason I spend so much time travelling to clubs and groups to talk about that time in my life.
Having worked for the NHS for twenty years, as a GP practice manager, I would always encourage anyone suffering from mental health issues to go and see their doctor.
But, for those of us merely looking to establish a self-care toolkit as part of a healthy life style, perhaps we should all be looking for a creative outlet. One that can help us to sustain a positive outlook on life. The nice thing is that there are so many things to choose from and the search for the right one can be a fun and beneficial activity in itself.
Why not try a pottery class, woodwork, metalwork, creative writing or maybe flower arranging, crochet or embroidery? The list goes on and on…
XYZ by William Knight
Publisher: William Knight
Publication Date: 13th July 2019
Jack Cooper is a depressed, analogue throwback; a cynical, alcoholic Gen-Xer whose glory days are behind him. He’s unemployed, his marriage has broken down, he’s addicted to internet hook-ups, and is deeply ashamed of his son Geronimo, who lives life dressed as a bear.
When Jack’s daughter engineers a job for him at totally-lit tech firm Sweet, he’s confronted by a Millennial and Zoomer culture he can’t relate to. He loathes every detail – every IM, gif and emoji – apart from Freya, twenty years his junior and addicted to broadcasting her life on social media.
Can Jack evolve to fit in at Sweet, or will he remain a dinosaur stuck in the 1980s? And will he halt his slide into loneliness and repair his family relationships?
XYZ is for every Gen-Xer who ever struggled with a device, and for everyone else who loves emojis … said no one ever.
About William Knight
William Knight is British born writer
and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. He’s
chased a portfolio career which began in acting, progressed to music, flirted
with handbag manufacturing and was eventually wired into technology in the late
“I had my first feature published in Computing magazine back in 2003 and subsequently wrote about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. I now work as an IT consultant, and write blistering content for technology firms :-)” says William
The Donated (formerly Generation), his debut novel and a Sci-tech Thriller, started in 2001 and was ten years in development. XYZ, “A mid-life crisis with a comic vein”, took far less time. “But I think it’s funnier and better. Yay. Jazz hands!”
Social Media Links
facebook.com/WilliamKnightAuthor | twitter.com/_William_Knight | http://www.williamknight.info
William Knight’s Guest Post
How To Sauce-Up Your Working Day
Do you struggle with productivity? Have you read those annoying books about how to be more efficient in your life and still can’t get much done? Do you still drink far too much coffee, visit the toilet too often, and surf for memes when you should be getting on with your work? Then have I got a little squirty something for you.
For the record, if I came across the above questions on the internet while working, I couldn’t help myself from answering all of them with a resounding yes, and then realising my situation I would rush out to buy the five dozen recommended books that explained how I could solve my prevarication issues, spend the next three weeks reading them, finally get back to work and start the whole ridiculous, poorly focussed process again.
In the same way it is in my dog’s nature to eat everything that falls to the kitchen floor, it seems to be in my nature to avoid focussing. Nevertheless, I have still managed to write a rather impressive Thriller (The Donated) — and yes I do say that myself — and about five other unpublished manuscripts, and even hold down various day jobs. Frankly, that I have managed these things is an unlikely triumph of daydreaming over reality.
But during the writing of my latest novel, XYZ, I attended yet another seminar on personal productivity — with little hope of success, but as a way to fuel my engine of self-defeating diversion — and I came across a new technique called, strangely, “The Pomodoro” — which is Italian for tomato.
It’s a focussing technique. It’s almost meditative. It’s strangely blissful, once you get used to it.
In this technique you make a pact with yourself to focus utterly, totally, without question and without distraction, on your work for twenty-five minutes at a time. For me, that means no internet research, no quick looking up of etymology, leaving Bryson’s mind the gaffe on the shelf, no coffee, no loo, no answering phones etc. etc. You work at the exclusion of all except emergencies — you are, after all, allowed to leave you work place in the event of earthquake, fire, tsunami, a brexit deal — just kidding about the last one, let’s keep this realistic.
You start the Pomodoro by setting a timer and you begin work immediately. If you are unfortunate to be disturbed during the period, best practice dictates you write down the problem, carry on with the Pomodoro, then fix the problem at the end. Do not be tempted shallow reader, to fix the problem during the twenty five minutes; in that direction lies they old way. No. Keep on going. You are free of distraction. You are focussed. You are in the zone. Welcome.
Twenty five minutes is not actually very long. It flashes by. And the more you apply the Pomodoro, the faster each seems to get.
And after twenty five minutes you get a five minute break to do all those things you’d been putting off for such a disastrously long time. Make a coffee, relieve yourself, call your mother or load the dishwasher. Serious officianadoes time the break. As do I. When the break is over, you get back into it for the next Pomodoro.
I have found it possible to run four pomodoros in a row before getting tired and needing a longer break, and I’ve also found, because I’ve studied it, that the the best timers tick gently at the edge of your hearing like some sort or relaxing grandfather clock. You’ll find the tick disappears in the utter, delightful focus of it all.
This technique is totally amazing. During the writing of XYZ I doubled my effective word rate per hour and found a voice for the main character that flowed from my mind like wine from a barrel. I’m very happy with this way of working, and I use it for all my content work now.
And just in case you’re wondering, it’s called pomodoro after those timers shaped like tomato not the tomato itself. But I’ve certainly found it’s added sauce to my productivity. I recommend you try it.
Snow Angels (Lovely Lane #5) by Nadine Dorries
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication Date: 17th October 2019
Spend Christmas with the nurses of St Angelus Hospital.
Christmas is coming, but will the doctors and nurses of St Angelus get a chance to enjoy it?
Sister Emily Haycock and her husband are anxiously counting the days until the signing of final adoption papers for their precious baby Louis. But someone has got it in for them and Emily is about to get caught out in a dangerous lie.
Nurse Victoria Baker is heavily pregnant. But as the snow begins to fall, has she made a big mistake about her dates and put the life of her unborn baby at risk?
And who is the figure obsessively watching St Angelus from the shadows? Or the mystery woman who turns up one dark, windy evening, begging for a room?
In Snow Angels only one thing is certain. Christmas will be anything but peaceful.
About Nadine Dorries
Nadine Dorries is the author of three bestselling novels about St Angelus Hospital and of The Four Streets trilogy, now available in one volume. She grew up in Liverpool and trained as a nurse in the 1970s. She has been MP for Mid-Bedfordshire since 2005.
Twitter: @NadineDorries | Facebook: @NadineDorriesAuthor
Snow Angels Extract
The cumulative effect made her look much older than her years. Under her customary wrap-around apron dress, she had abandoned her usual hand-knitted wool twinset for a dress she had purchased from a stall on St John’s market and kept for special occasions. It’s last outing had been at her grandson’s christening, his father, her son-in-law, Jake Berry the under-porter, was on the other side of the green door in Matron’s sitting room and office, playing the role of a sommelier with a bottle of Spanish sherry, the infamous Golden Knight, or golden shite as it was commonly known amongst the St Angelus’ domestic mafia. Biddy, who had not dressed for the occasion and had walked across from the school of nursing, had made one sartorial concession for the occasion: she had changed her shoes for a pair of slippers.
Biddy pushed the baize door slightly open and peeped out into the room and the noise of chatter filled the kitchen once more. ‘No, not one bugger is showing any signs of leaving yet and why would they with your son-in-law refilling those glasses every two minutes. Look at him, wearing that jacket and dickie bow! He’s going to burst into song in a minute. He thinks he’s Charles Aznavor, he does. They’re all having too good a time to think about moving, Well, until the Golden shite gets them, because it always does. Hits you like a brick just as you get to the fourth glass – and you would know, Elsie.’ The day Elsie had been found asleep on Matron’s sofa, with a yellow duster in one hand and an empty glass in the other, was an issue of such sensitivity it was only ever discussed on the rare occasion she was ill, on a day off, or on holiday, when it was mentioned, always in hushed tones. Elsie controlled the record of the event and Biddy was the only person amongst the St Angelus’ staff who would dare to speak if it in her presence. Elsie sniffed in indignation, but would not take the bait and passed straight over Biddy’s comment as though she hadn’t even spoken.
‘Have you got a glass yourself in here tonight, Elsie?’ asked Madge peering around and failing to notice the half-empty glass behind a plate of sausage rolls. Elsie turned the tap on, rinsed a plate, and totally ignored them both. ‘They’ll all need to be carried out at this rate, we don’t want you joining them.’ The plate clattered into the drying rack so loudly no one would have been in the least surprised if it had broken. Biddy kicked the wooden doorstop out from under it and let the kitchen door swing behind her as she retrieved her packet of cigarettes from the front of her apron pocket. ‘Between your Jake’s attendance and Mavis’s cakes, they’ll all be there until Boxing Day at this rate,’ said Madge, who slipped off a shoe and rubbed her toes.