I’ll never get used to describing myself as a writer, but, just lately, I’ve been stretching that word to encompass something even scarier than the blank page. I’m writing a one-woman show, comprising three monologues; I’ll be performing all three parts.
I have to echo the sentiments of the cover quote: “I love all of Sue Moorcroft’s books!“. Last year she gave us the perfect Christmas read with The Christmas Promise and here we have a perfect romantic summer read with Just For The Holidays.
A month’s holiday in a beautiful gite in Alsace sounds like a perfect way to spend a holiday doesn’t it? Well, not if you are Leah who has been asked along basically to keep the peace between her sister Michele and her estranged husband Alister. Only a few days have gone by when an unexpected pregnancy is announced and through an unfortunate combination of circumstances Leah finds herself in sole charge of her teenage niece and nephew. Much though she loves them, she has made a conscious decision not to have children herself and feels very out of her depth when it comes to parenting skills. In case she doesn’t have enough going on, living next door is very handsome helicopter pilot Ronan and his teenage son Curtis. There are lots of hormones swirling about and not just the teenagers!
Sue Moorcroft writes books that quickly have me engrossed in her characters’ lives and Just for the Holidays was no exception. Her stories always involve situations which feel very real. Her characters have to face problems, dilemmas and worries. This makes the book sounds very heavy and serious but it’s not. There are a lot of light moments and laughter which very much reflect real life. Leah was someone I really took to. I loved the way she seemed able to relate to everyone and really connect with them. I was very jealous of her job tasting and developing new chocolates. Despite her doubts about her parenting skills she copes remarkably well with all the challenges thrown at her. She deals with problems in a very practical way, often heading to the kitchen to cook for and with the teens, showing her caring side through nourishing and nurturing even though she probably doesn’t think of it that way.
The rather gorgeous Ronan was a great addition to the story. A helicopter pilot recovering from a shoulder injury, he seemed a very caring and considerate man. I thought his relationship with his teenage son Curtis was well depicted as he coped with the usual teenage moodiness and the boy who was quickly developing into a man with all the usual feelings and confusions of adolescents. In fact, as I was reading I felt that Sue Moorcroft portrayed all her teenage characters really convincingly. I had to laugh but also feel frustrated on behalf of Leah and Ronan as the teenagers seemed to thwart any opportunities they had to be alone together! I also have to admire the author’s dedication to her research which involved being taken up in a helicopter to simulate how a forced landing would be dealt with by a pilot – rather you than me Sue!
Just for the Holidays is a really entertaining read and another winner from Sue Moorcroft. It’s a perfect mix of romance and humour, dilemmas and feel-good moments with such a perfect summery setting. Definitely one to read with a chilled glass of something fizzy as you relax in the sun (well we can hope can’t we?) and dream of summer holidays.
My thanks to Helena at Avon Books for my copy – and my sunflower seeds, I’ll let you know how they get on! Just For The Holidays was published in paperback and as an e-book on 18th May. It is available in all good bookshops and at the time of writing is only £1.99 for Kindle, so treat yourself to this fabulous summery read – click here to order.
Now read on for Sue suggestions of ten things you might consider doing – ‘just for the holidays’.
- Put your mobile phone in flight mode for the whole time you’re away. Yes, really! It will function as a camera but you won’t be notified of an important email from work or pick up the wifi in a café only to find it automatically reports to Facebook exactly where you are – and, therefore, that your house is empty. You will relax more deeply if you’re cut off from the outside world. It might feel strange but you could grow to like it. (NB You could switch it over just to call the kids or your aged parent each evening.)
- Go on holiday alone to a place where nobody knows you. Then behave in a way you would usually never do. (NB I didn’t say MISbehave … but you could. If so, you might want to switch off your mobile phone altogether.)
- Go on a writing holiday or a painting holiday, even if you’ve never written or painted before. Or a yoga retreat. Just pick something you’ve never tried but always had a hankering for. There are some amazing venues offering tuition, food and drink included in the price. (Yes, I do run a writing course like this, as you mention it …)
- If you and your loved one(s) usually find yourself bickering on holiday, outlaw arguing for the duration. Make crazy rules like people have to listen to each other’s point of view and be fair to all.
- Let each person in the holiday party have a holiday wish – the chance to choose something they want to do and (so long as it’s feasible) which everyone else has to accommodate without complaint. This can be fun even with very small children. Their vision might not be wide but you can combine wishes: ‘eating jam sandwiches’ with ‘go on a trampoline’ i.e. you take a picnic to a fun park. (You don’t have to eat the jam sandwiches while you’re actually bouncing around.)
- In similar vein, if you eat out during your holiday let each person in turn choose the restaurant or, if you’re self-catering, let each person in turn choose what dinner’s going to be. Go on. You might like fish fingers with ice cream …
- Try a ‘staycation’ at home. Have picnics on the back lawn or even on the sitting room floor, jump completely out of your normal routine and don’t go to the gym, cubs, camera club or whatever constitutes your and your family’s ‘usuals’. Instead, go out for days to local places of interest you’ve never bothered with, go out for meals, have a duvet day or lie in the bath and read. Just don’t do the housework or the laundry. If the weather allows, have barbecues instead of cooking in the kitchen.
- Dye your hair blue. You can dye it back when you come home.
- Only speak the language of the country you’re visiting. (I admit I could only do this if I holidayed in an English-speaking country … but you may be much more talented.)
- Have a really, really, really good time. All holiday long. You deserve it.
From the back of the book
The #1 bestselling author returns for summer! Grab your sun hat, a cool glass of wine, and the only book you need on holiday…
In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.
Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.
But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…
A glorious summer read, for you to devour in one sitting – perfect for fans of Katie Fforde, Carole Matthews and Trisha Ashley.
I have a fantastic giveaway for you to enter today courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers. They have very generously offered me three proof copies of psychological suspense novel I Know My Name by CJ Cooke to giveaway. Although it is available in e-book format just now, it won’t be published in paperback until 15th June so this is your chance to get your hands on a physical copy early. To enter, click the Rafflecopter link below and follow the instructions. It’s UK only (sorry to my overseas followers, it’s because of the postage costs!) and you can enter up to midnight on Friday 26th May. I’ll contact the winner within 24 hours and your prize will be sent directly from the publisher.
Here’s what the book is about:
Komméno Island, Greece: I don’t know where I am, who I am. Help me.
A woman is washed up on a remote Greek island with no recollection of who she is or how she got there.
Potter’s Lane, Twickenham, London: Eloïse Shelley is officially missing.
Lochlan’s wife has vanished into thin air, leaving their toddler and twelve-week-old baby alone. Her money, car and passport are all in the house, with no signs of foul play. Every clue the police turn up means someone has told a lie…
Does a husband ever truly know his wife? Or a wife know her husband? Why is Eloïse missing? Why did she forget?
The truth is found in these pages…
I’m really pleased to welcome Sarah Broadley to the blog today. Sarah lives in Edinburgh where she co-chairs the South East Scotland network of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), she also reviews middle grade (8-12) books for http://www.mybookcorner.com.au/ and was a Story Shopper at Edinburgh International Book Festival last year. Sarah splits her time between writing picture books and middle grade stories and working part-time at the Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity. I think she deserves a prize for the most unusual guest post title I’ve featured so far! Read on for an explanation.
The Panda Pantser by Sarah Broadley
Are you a meticulous planner of chapters, characters and plot? A master of post-its and spreadsheets that map out every miniscule detail? Or are you like me, a ‘let’s just see where it takes me’ kind of writer?
I am a very organised person. I don’t like mess or clutter, especially in the immediate area of where I happen to be jotting down words in the hope they resemble something passable as literature. I’m also known as the ‘spreadsheet queen’ by my family, as everything I do is planned within an inch of its life.
So why do I not use this trait when it comes to my writing process?
I tell you why. Pandas.
Pandas are my favourite animals. As most of you are aware, Edinburgh Zoo now have two pandas. I’ve been to see them many times and I am still convinced to this day that the male, Yang Guang, is really a human wearing a panda suit. I must have stood for hours watching him as he lolled about his straw bed, arm over his head, chilled out as if he’s about to crack open a beer. So laid-back, so ‘I’ll get round to that tomorrow’. I have been obsessed with pandas ever since. They are very human-like in their movements and expressions and I love their ‘meh’ kind of attitude. Sometimes life can be pretty hectic so when it’s all getting a bit much, I ask myself ‘what would a panda do?’and I know exactly what to do. I relax in my non-bamboo filled sofa and breathe.
You may wonder what pandas have to do with the way I write but here’s the thing – I am a pantser. A writer who never plans her stories. Flying by the seat of my proverbial literary pants. I am a panda in a writer’s suit. Sometimes I am relaxed to the point of napping but then that never gets you anywhere so I put the kettle on and get back to it.
I usually start with the title, odd I know, but that’s what normally pops into my head first. Then the main character makes an appearance, a bit like a late-comer to a party but always welcome and I secretly hope they stay late and don’t head off in a taxi when the sun comes up. The setting then says hello, usually after I start the first chapter. It blinds me with weather patterns and street names as I start on my journey but at least I now have a sense of where my characters belong, where they might call home.
I will normally hit a junction. I join Dorothy as she walks along the yellow-brick road on her way to the wizard. Which way should I go? Left turn – the book is set in a fictitious land, right turn – the main character is 12, no… 10, no….agh or straight ahead – boy or girl? There is no wicked witch for me to fear but I really would love a pair of ruby slippers. They would go very well with my writer’s uniform (also known as jammies).
The questions I set myself as a writer certainly add to the tearing out of hair, the head in hands and the copious amounts of tea I drink. But they are needed, they are my conscience speaking to me, making me aware of pitfalls, constantly whispering ‘are you sure’, in my ear. I am also known for leaving a trail of half-finished cups of tea around the house as I go for a wander to solve plot holes. They are a necessary part of the process, just like athletes need water, I need tea.
I think whatever traits you have as a writer don’t really matter and to be honest shouldn’t matter, as long as I am able to write THE END at some point in the future then the literary world is my tea-drinking oyster.
What’s for you won’t pass you by. A motto I like to follow as it gives me hope that my witterings might actually turn into something good enough to submit. I sometimes feel sorry for the unsuspecting agent/publisher who thought they were outwith my radar, I mean well, I really do.
No pandas were harmed in the writing of this post. Tea anyone?
Sunday was the third and final day for CoastWord and Kelly (from LoveBooksGroup) and I headed back to Dunbar for the first of the afternoon sessions. (There had been a morning session but we couldn’t make that.) The title was The Places Between Them and featured the Dunbar Writing Mums, pictured above, DunbarSings Community Choir and Catherine Simpson, writer in residence.
I have to say that this was my favourite session out of everything I’d seen this weekend. The Dunbar Mums started the session reading work from their anthology Nourish Me, Sister. Each woman stepped forward to share their work which was interspersed with evocative unaccompanied singing from Karen Dietz. Some of the poems and stories made me laugh, some made me think and at least one moved me to tears (Deborah Ritchie’s Reattachment). These were all deeply personal stories and poems of now and then, often with a strong family theme. I was so impressed that I bought a copy of their anthology and am looking forward to reading all the work the women had to share.
Next was Catherine Simpson who was also launching her work, a pamphlet containing words inspired by her time as writer in residence. I am rather jealous that she was allowed access to the town archives. That’s the kind of thing I would love to have a good look at. Much of her work was inspired by the absence of women in the archives or with just a fleeting mention such as the scribbled ‘Mrs Carlyle had many lovers’, also the title of the pamphlet. I also bought this and have enjoyed reading the often thought-provoking, sometimes nostalgic work within its pages.
This session was rounded off by the wonderful DunbarSings Community Choir. The choir comprised around 24 men and women who sang in at least four parts, treating us to Happy Together, Lonesome Road and This Land. They produced such a rich sound, with wonderful harmonies all led by Karen Dietz who, as I mentioned yesterday, will be songwriter in residence for CoastWord over this coming year.
The next session was called True Stories and Confessions reflecting the titles of the debut novels from Catherine Simpson and Shelley Day. The two ladies had a good chat about how they had come to writing fiction later in life and how their books had begun – both arose from exercises at creative writing courses. Both authors have based their works firmly in places and times they were very familiar with. They started with what they knew then took it from there. Shelley said that quite often she would write something and wonder ‘where did that come from?’. She feels that her head is full of thoughts just dying to get out! Being a novelist came as a surprise and she still finds it a bit terrifying and difficult. Both women said that getting your novel published is only the start – then comes the publicity and the selling yourself, the fear that people will read your work and hate it, the fear that no-one will read it! I can tell you that I have read and enjoyed both their books and highly recommend them. You can read my reviews by clicking here: Truestory by Catherine Simpson and The Confession of Stella Moon by Shelley Day
Although there was again a CoastWord Nights on Sunday unfortunately, after a busy weekend, we couldn’t stay for that so our final event was listening to the wonderful Val McDermid chatting with Lorna Hill, whose PhD thesis looks at the role of women in contemporary crime fiction. If you haven’t heard Val McDermid speak at an event before, you really must try to go to one. She is terrifically entertaining as she speaks about her work and peppers her talks with very funny anecdotes. I find it very amusing that this writer renowned for her rather dark crime fiction was inspired to write when reading The Chalet School books as a young girl. She spoke about the various series she has written and how she hadn’t really intended to write series but that she kept having ideas for her characters. Just the previous evening she had finished her latest novel, the 10th Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel, which is due out in August and will be called Insidious Intent. Before it comes out she will be taking part in many festivals over summer, is making some documentaries for Radio 4, is writing a play for Oran Mor then will get down to writing next year’s novel. She’s clearly a very busy lady and I could understand when she said that while having ideas for novels wasn’t a problem, finding time to develop them into books was a problem!
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend at CoastWord and would like to express my thanks again to Hannah Lavery and Catherine Simpson for asking Kelly and I to come along and blog about the events. If there is one thing I have taken from the festival, it is the strong sense of community in Dunbar. It’s a community based festival which really shows the power of words and music to connect people from all walks of life.
Obsession is the story of what happens to two couples when a seemingly light-hearted question – “Who would you go for if you could?” – sends their lives spiralling out of control. Carly asks husband Rob this question one evening and although he doesn’t initially want to answer, she persists and he gives the name of her friend, Jenni. Carly becomes obsessed with this affair that doesn’t exist and quickly relationships between Carly, Rob, Jenni and Craig take a dark turn, as the obsessions threaten to destroy their friendships and marriages.
I have to say that I did not find any of the characters particularly likeable. Even those who initially seemed to be the injured parties soon came to show their own dark sides. It’s a slow burner of a read with the story really developing more for me in the second half of the book. There are plenty of dark themes explored such as extreme jealousy, obsession of course, depression, alcoholism, religious zeal and mental health. There are plenty of twists throughout the story and with the short snappy chapters told from all the characters’ points of view, it’s a book where you may be tempted to keep reading ‘just one more chapter’. But which of these characters could you actually trust to be telling the truth? I really didn’t know and with all four of the main characters so completely absorbed in their own interests, I really couldn’t predict how things would end. And what dramatic and completely unexpected events take place in the latter stages of the book. That one little question at the beginning of the story was only the start of a downward path that would lead to disastrous consequences.
I did find the story a bit slow to begin with and the fact that I didn’t really like any of the characters made it difficult to engage with them, but it was worth persisting with for the closing stages of the book which were cleverly and shockingly written.
If you have been following the blogtour, you will already have read five things you didn’t know about the characters in the book. Now read on to find out five things about author Amanda Robson.
5 Things You Didn’t Know About Me
- I would have liked to be an actress in another life. The skills of acting and writing seem to overlap, as in both cases we imagine what it is like to be someone else. When I write I act out each scene in my mind. It takes me back to my teenage roots when I loved amateur dramatics. My first great passion. My passion for writing came later. As a teenager I never imagined the hours I spent at Formby Theatre Club would prove useful for the rest of my life.
- Sitting in a bar on an Austrian ski-slope, dance music pounding out, I recently discovered that I like house music. Until a few weeks ago I didn’t even know what it was. It is influenced by 1970’s disco music. I was a teenager in the 7O’s, a child of the sixties. Maybe that is why it appeals to me so much. House music’s pounding beat is soulful and relaxing. Sitting listening to it makes me feel that I am having fun, and having fun is what life is about. Fun here and now. Here in this moment.
- Even though I write psychological thrillers, I like reading literary fiction. Writers whose work I particularly admire include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Christos Tsiolkas, John Updike, and Sebastian Faulkes, although in truth the list is endless. It probably depends which day of the week it is whose work I pick. When I am on holiday I like nothing better than to sit on a beach and read a book a day. If you are a read-a-holic, there really isn’t enough time in one lifetime to read everything you want. I prefer contemporary work by a long way to classics. Writing style and use of language has tightened up and moved forwards. It’s good where we are right now.
- I have sailed across the Atlantic on a clipper ship. We had freak good weather. Wall to wall sunshine.
- Writing to me is not a chore, but a pleasure, a way of life. I find writing relaxing because it takes me to another world. Every morning when I step into my study and close the door, I press a button in my mind and go wherever I want. Such freedom. Such peace.
Thanks to Helena at Avon Books for my copy of the book. At the time of writing it is on offer at only 99P for the Kindle edition which you can order here. You can also buy in paperback from any good bookshop.
From the back of the book
One evening, a wife asks her husband a question: who else would you go for, if you could?
It is a simple question – a little game – that will destroy her life.
Carly and Rob are a perfect couple. They share happy lives with their children and their close friends Craig and Jenni. They’re lucky. But beneath the surface, no relationship is simple: can another woman’s husband and another man’s wife ever just be good friends?
Little by little, Carly’s question sends her life spiralling out of control, as she begins to doubt everything she thought was true. Who can she trust? The man she has promised to stick by forever, or the best friend she has known for years? And is Carly being entirely honest with either of them?
Obsession is a dark, twisting thriller about how quickly our lives can fall apart when we act on our desires.
Saturday was a very full day at the CoastWord Festival with events from 11 in the morning, not finishing till just after 11 at night! As you can see from the photos above though, we managed to stretch our legs during a break before the evening event (the rain had stopped!) and had a wander through Dunbar to the harbour.
The first event of the day saw Magi Gibson joined by four local poets Ruth Gilchrist, Jo Gibson, Pen Reid and Melissa Goodbourne. The themes of their poetry included the sea, food, illness, education and home. Some were deeply personal and moving such as Pen Reid’s poetry about her husband’s degenerative illness, some were nostalgic such as Jo Gibson’s Radiogram about her parents dancing to Jim Reeves songs and some very were funny such as Magi Gibson’s An Education.
Next was Chris Brookmyre who read the very intriguing opening chapter to his latest Jack Parlabane novel Want You Gone. He talked about some of the themes of the novel in particular cyber-crime and with one question to the audience – what would your porn-star name be? – showed us how easy it could be for hackers to get the necessary information to hack into our accounts. He spoke of how he felt he was a bit like a stage magician when writing his novels, particularly when it came to twists. He said that he had to have everything in place to misdirect his reader and that if done properly, twists should mean that if you read a book a second time, it can be almost like reading a different book as you realise the clues were there all along. He revealed that later this year we can look forward to a band called The Fun Loving Crime-Writers taking part in various literary festivals!
The third event of the day saw Janice Galloway and Marjorie Gill joined by CoastWord founder Hannah Lavery and Nadine Aisha. They were all sharing work on the theme of home and belonging and all had stories to tell about their own sense of belonging. Nadine Aisha’s unsettling poetry explored the kind of sexism and racism she experienced growing up. Marjorie Gill was poet in residence at Jupiter Artland, was born in New Orleans, spent some of her childhood in Iran and now lives in Edinburgh. She has the most warm and gentle voice and it was a pleasure to listen to her reading her poems. Hannah Lavery has recently been working on her debut show The Drift. I particularly enjoyed her poem Oak Table, written as though from the point of view of a kitchen table telling all the things which happen around and on it. Janice Galloway, although known for her poetry, said it would be far too hard to follow acts of such calibre so instead opted to read a short story from her collection Jellyfish.
Coastword Nights on Saturday saw us treated to music and poetry from a large number of performers only a few of whom are pictured above. There was music from Faith Eliott, Emilie Robson, Graham Cairns and Karen Dietz with Richard Klein. I particularly enjoyed the folk style music of the last two whose voices harmonised beautifully as they sang songs inspired by American short stories. Karen Dietz will be songwriter in residence for the next year at CoastWord. We were treated to poetry from Jenny Lindsay, whose humorous storytelling style was enthusiastically received by the audience, and Carey Douglas whose poem about her childhood experiences in North East England was excellent. Colin McGuire gave an energetic performance of his poems. It seems unfair to pick a highlight but I have to say that Scott Tyrell’s poetry was just brilliant. He won the BBC Edinburgh Fringe Poetry Slam in 2015. He was so funny and had the audience in stitches. His poem ‘Should Have Booked’ imagines the 1* review that Joseph might have left on TripAdvisor for the Inn at Bethlehem. You can watch him performing it here on YouTube – Should Have Booked
So Saturday was a very full, enjoyable day with a great variety of talent to enjoy. I am looking forward to the final day at CoastWord, in particular to hearing CoastWord Writer in Residence Catherine Simpson talking Confessions and True Stories with novelist Shelley Day. A conversation with crime writer Val McDermid also promises to be a highlight of the day. You can watch out for my report on the events of the last day of the 2017 CoastWord Festival tomorrow.