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Penzance: But that was then…

I’m in Penzance at the moment as part of the Literary Festival. I’ve been looked after so well, the events are amazing. I’m teaching a life writing class tomorrow, which is going to be great fun- but in the meantime…

I haven’t been to Cornwall since my Grandad died 15 yrs ago. I haven’t been to Penzance for 20 yrs, since my Grandad went to live with my Aunt in St.Austell. I have been amazed by how much being here has made me think- made me reflect on a time  hadn’t considered for two decades. Nor even writing Abi’s House and Abi’s Neighbour had prepared me for how it feels to be here.

I needed to write it out of my system – forgive the personal indulgence. (Anyone who says writing isn’t therapy needs therapy)

***

But that was then…

The toy shop where, at the age of five, I purchased a toy all on my own for the very first time- my parents smiling and encouraging, waiting for me at the front door- making me feel all grownup, is an EE mobile phone shop.

The fudge emporium where I’d spend hours choosing which flavour to savour- and then always go for rum and raison – is a pop-up charity shop.

The library has moved, but the place Google says it has moved to isn’t where it is, and I still can’t find it. I’d ask someone, but I’m invisible here. A reminiscing child in an adult’s body; wondering where The Rock Shop went.

I’m staying in a guesthouse. I deliberately went for somewhere small because I’m travelling alone, and because I had a feeling I’d be disconnected, and would need to hide from myself a while.  It was a mistake.

The man in charge is the right side of friendly, but is so clearly acting I feel sorry for him as he stands to attention in his white military style cooks coat, like a cross between Heston Blumenthal and a lab bound scientist. He talks a lot, but says nothing, and as he shows me round I stop listening.

To be fair, what he is saying could be interesting, but I’ve zoned out. I’ve travelled back in time. I’m not in my forties. I am eight years old and I’m in another guest house in another street a mile away.

It’s the same in side. Almost exactly. The neatly laid out china in the breakfast room is identical. (There must have been only one supplier. Or maybe a few guesthouse owners got together to purchase a job lot.)

The dark wood dresser with inbuilt mirror upon which the condiments that make up breakfast will be displayed in the morning, sits with imperial grandeur overlooking the room. The radio is playing BBC Radio Cornwall just loud enough for visitors to be aware that it is on, but not loud enough to actually hear it. A volume which will ensure maximum discomfort for the morning’s breakfasters as they all sit in silence, each wondering if they should be the one to end the hush that is enhanced rather than lessened by the scrape and clatter of cutlery on toast covered china plates.

The internal doors, six in all, each have a small number screwed onto them. The sort you’d normally fix onto an outdoor gate. The doors are painted in a sensible wipe down magnolia gloss.

Any minute now my Nan will walk through one of them. A cigarette clamped in her pursed lips, a blue housecoat buttoned up at the front, her hair freshly out of curlers, she will tell me I want a cup of tea. I don’t. I never did.

She will make it and I will gag it down. I love her. I don’t want to disappoint her by wasting the tea. Wastefulness is not allowed.

She and my Grandad ran a guesthouse like this. The only difference between their house and this one is that it’s half a mile further from St Michael’s Mount, and that modern day requirements insist on the addition of an ensuite rather than just a wash basin.

My room (number 6) has a shower cubicle at the end of the bed. You can’t turn around in it. You can’t shut the door unless you want to wash your hair. I’ve washed my hair twice since yesterday.

When my brother and I were small we’d sleep in the attic room of the guesthouse that lived on Alma Place. We’d watch St Michael’s Mount appear out of the fog on muzzy days, and marvel at how it remains hidden when it rains. We’d borrow binoculars so we could spy into the windows of the castle, and wait to see the ferry head out, and then come back from the Isles of Scilly.

I sat and watched the night arrive over St Michael’s Mount last night. Funny how nature can fill you with the same sense of wonder as childhood can with something as everyday as dusk.

The guesthouse requires you to be out of your room from nine until twelve (after a knife and fork scraping silent breakfast at 8am prompt- latecomers not admitted). So at five to nine I took to the streets in search of a place to write.

The town does not open until 10am. It is very hot and all the places I think I will find shade don’t seem to want me to stay. My feet are compelled to keep walking. It’s as if they are looking for something, but they don’t know what.

Sir Humphrey Davy is still there. Lording his presence proudly over Market Jew Street. There’s a seagull on his head. It makes me smile. There was always a seagull on his head. I used to think he liked them there. A living sculpture of plumage instead of a hat.

After an hour of walking in the hot humidity I finally find an open café with a blissfully cool basement. I’m in there now. Writing this.

It has just occurred to me as I sip a fashionably over-strong coffee, that the sea and its accompanying grey pebbled beach is only a few hundred metres away. It didn’t even cross my mind to walk towards it. I wonder why? I’m in Cornwall, surely I should head to the sea and not inland…

The café I’ve found myself in is opposite the EE shop.

The EE shop used to be a toy shop. I bought my first toy with my own pocket money in there when I was five years old. It was a Sindy doll wearing horse riding gear.

It was a happy shop rammed from floor to ceiling with Action Men and Dolls and Lego. There were buckets and spades and fishing nets in big barrels on the pavement outside. There are cross people with poor Wi-Fi standing where those barrels used to be.

The EE shop is at the foot of a series of steps that lead up to Bread Street, that leads to the back of Alma Place.

Once my grandparents would have been up there.

I’m not going to walk up those steps.

Because that was then.

***

Jenny xx

PS- I’m going to see the sea now!!

PPS. After I wrote the above, I found the library, where I was treated like royalty, and was given an incredible room to work in.

PPPS. Proper Penzance Lit Fest blog to follow!

 

 


Book review: Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow

I was recently delighted to be asked to read and review the third book in Kate Griffin’s ‘The Kitty Peck Mysteries.

Why so excited? Well, having previously loved Book 1 (Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders) and Book 2 (Kitty Peck and The Child of Ill Fortune), I was awaiting part three of the series with plenty of anticipation.

I was not disappointed!

Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow (OUT TODAY) lives up to – and exceeds – the expectations of the first two instalments in the adventures of Kitty Peck, a young woman who has ‘Paradise’ forced upon her. In this case paradise is an inherited empire of music halls, organised crime, smuggling and protection rackets that used to be held together by her grandmother, the terrifying ‘Lady Ginger.’

Blurb-  Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow

Summer 1881: the streets of Limehouse are thick with opium… and menace. At eighteen Kitty Peck has inherited Paradise, a sprawling criminal empire on the banks of the Thames. Determined to do things differently to her fearsome grandmother, she now realises that the past casts a long and treacherous shadow. Haunted by a terrible secret and stalked by a criminal cabal intent on humiliation and destruction, Kitty must fight for the future of everyone she cares for…

***

The biggest problem I have with writing this review is my desire not to ruin either this novel, or the two that come before it, for you.

Books one and two were amongst the best Victorian crime thrillers I’ve ever read.

Kitty Peck is unique amongst its peers. It weaves a world of darkness together with a fierce lightness which shines from the loyalty of her friends- but now even those long term alliances are under threat.

As I read, I could feel Kitty’s total frustration. She can’t do what she wants to do any more- she can’t even do what she knows is the right thing to do. Kitty’s every move is tied into knots by the looming twin spectres of Paradise and her domineering- even while absent- grandmother.

Attempting to escape the guilt that has become part of Kitty’s lie- a consequence of events at the end of book two- Kitty turns to opium- but even in her drug fuelled dreams she is hit by the remaindered of what she has been forced to do to survive- and what she must do- and the price that will be paid to do it.

Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow is tense, fast paced, enthralling, and every single word is worth reading. As with books one and two, not a single sentence is wasted. Every paragraph moves the plot along at such a pace, that you will not want to put the book down once you’ve started to read it.

With the support of Peggy, Lucca, and her grandmothers Chinese bodyguards, Kitty Peck must keep Paradise going. So many people depend on Kitty for their livelihoods- without her they’d be on the streets. After all, Paradise is only one step from hell.

I have no hesitation in awarding Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow 5 stars.

Blurb for Book One-

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders– Limehouse, 1880

Dancing girls are going missing from ‘Paradise’ – the criminal manor with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious Lady Ginger. Seventeen-year-old music hall seamstress Kitty Peck finds herself reluctantly drawn into a web of blackmail, depravity and murder when The Lady devises a singular scheme to discover the truth. But as Kitty’s scandalous and terrifying act becomes the talk of London, she finds herself facing someone even more deadly and horrifying than The Lady.

Blurb for Book Two-

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune– March 1880, Limehouse.

Kitty Peck, a spirited but vulnerable seventeen-year-old, is the reluctant heiress to Paradise, the criminal empire previously overseen by the formidable Lady Ginger. Far from the colour and camaraderie of the music hall where Kitty had been working, this newfound power brings with it isolation and uncertainty. Desperate to reconnect with Joey, her estranged brother, Kitty travels to Paris. Reunited at last, she is unable to refuse his request to take a child back to London. Within days of her return it’s clear that someone has followed them… and this someone is determined to kill the child… and anyone who stands in their way.

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill-Fortune is a fast-paced historical mystery with breath-taking twists and turns that takes us from the decadent, bohemian world of late 19th-Century Paris to a deadly secret at the heart of the British empire.

***

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x


End of the month blog: June bustin’ out all over

It’s that time again! Let’s buckle up for another dip into Nell Peter’s end of the month reminisces… 

Hi Jen – and everyone else!

As the month totters to a close, was it a case of June bustin’ out all over? What does that even mean? When I was weeny, hearing the Rogers and Hammerstein song from Carousel on the radio, my lurid imagination pictured a rather buxom woman wearing a too-small blouse that strained at the seams to cover her modesty. Think Donald McGill postcards, or Beryl Cook-type painted ladies. In reality, of course, the lyrics refer to an exploding renewal of life for flowers and trees, plus all other things summery. Because I’m so easily amused, I’ll stick with my childish version.

June 2017 was not exactly a fun-filled thirty days. There was the General Election, rocking up on the 8th – as someone who typically shies away from making political comment, thereafter for me it came as a huge relief not to be bombarded with so many posts from others, championing their own particular favourite in the most blinkered, patronising and dogmatic fashion. Did they really think no one else capable of cogent reasoning, to weigh up pros and cons and sensibly make up their minds how best to vote? How very dare they? I’ll have them know I’m (thankfully) not as stupid as I look.

And the spats on social media if someone had the nerve to disagree! Some exchanges were simply amusing to those munching popcorn whilst indulging in a spot of spectator sport, others downright nasty. My lovely late brother-in-law used to vote Monster Raving Loony, because he couldn’t be doing with any of the other parties – he may have had a point. And at the end of the day, it’s probably fair to say nobody got the result they wanted, except perhaps the DUP, who must have thought all their birthdays came at once. That Arlene Foster looks a bit scary!

Before all the carnage at the Polls, #3 son made a brief, last minute trip home on June 1st to attend a friend’s wedding. Sadly, the date had to be massively brought forward because the bride’s father was given a short time to live. Son landed at Heathrow from Bangkok around 6 pm, got through customs and picked up a hire car to drive to Norfolk, stopping off at #4’s en route. To repay his brother’s hospitality, he broke the toilet seat in the downstairs loo before heading on here, arriving at gone midnight – the day of the wedding.

Up bright and early (well early, anyway) he sped off for a haircut and to buy a suit, shirt, tie and shoes to wear to the nuptials (he lives rather well on expenses and has grown out of the suits hanging in his wardrobe, playing hide and seek with the moths) – oh and a new toilet seat. As ever falling on his feet, Next had clobber packages on offer so he got himself sorted in record time, then back here, 2nd shower (can tell he’s been living in a hot climate), dressed, paraded for ‘does my bum look big in this?’ scrutiny, scribbled in a card and shoved in some money – all the friends did that to fund a honeymoon. Then he was gone, to pick up mate Charlie (also home for the occasion, but only from London – amateur!), leaving detritus and much dirty washing in his wake. Oh, and the huge open suitcase obstacle in the hall, guaranteed to cripple anyone entering the front door. By ten the next day he had returned from the venue, grabbed his stuff (including clean clothes) and left for Heathrow, to fly to Bangkok-Mumbai-Jaipur – rather him than me.

The first leg was a thirteen hour flight and #3 would have been roughly halfway through when Richard, a colleague of the OH, started walking across London Bridge with his brother-in-law (his wife being abroad on business.) They were minding their own business after dinner and drinks when a white van crashed and Richard ran toward it to help – I imagine when three men wielding very serious weapons leapt out he realised he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and decided to make himself scarce. He can’t remember; possibly not a bad thing.

He does vaguely recall sitting on the pavement, thinking he’d been punched and wondering where all the blood that was pooling underneath him was coming from – and why he couldn’t breathe. When he heard shots, he thought his end had come, but a soldier on leave had other ideas, pushed him down and lay on top of him to stop profuse bleeding from stab wounds that had penetrated spleen, diaphragm and lung; interesting but effective technique that they don’t actually teach at med school. And because of that soldier’s quick thinking, and the fact that he is super-fit, Richard will make a full recovery – physically at least.

Two days after that, I heard that my long-ago American friend James (Jim) Angel had died from Lewy Body dementia, a multisystem disease which, like all forms of dementia, cruelly turns the sufferer into an empty shell, a shadow of their former self. I knew that he had been diagnosed and was receiving treatment in a specialist care facility in Portland, Oregon – last Christmas a mutual friend sent me a photo of a frail, grey-haired old man looking blankly at Santa. He wasn’t much older than me. But let me tell you about the Jim I knew and adored (in a purely platonic way!):

He was a peace-loving draft dodger (Vietnam – can’t argue with him there), living in London with his first wife (also American and a trainee nurse), working at BA Heathrow as an aeronautical scientist.

About my height (5’ 9”), he wasn’t much less around his girth and had a Brian Blessed-type voice and laugh, though cuter because of the accent – especially when he called everyone ‘shit bag’ as a term of affection. Bearded with a mass of dark, curly long hair and always dressed like a scruffy hippy, his larger than life personality belied a pretty grim childhood; his father was an alcoholic and aged eleven, Jim discovered his mum’s body in the garage of their home after she’d shot herself. One can only imagine …

We didn’t share a taste in music – he Captain Beefheart, me far more prosaic stuff, but we did go to a lot of gigs, including Pink Floyd and Elton John, which he cringed all the way through. After his wife left him, he returned to the US and while I was living in Montreal, I flew to California and spent most of one summer there. It was a brilliant time – he bought a rust bucket car for touring and we camped in forests and on beaches (so cold, even in CA!), watching seals in the Pacific Ocean and collecting beautiful driftwood, which he thought he might turn into ‘something real neat’ when he got time. We also went skinny-dipping in creeks – my first and last time, as it’s me that creeks now!

The Chinese Exhibition was on in San Francisco and we queued for hours from dawn to see it – passing the time shivering and watching the mist roll from the hills to engulf the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz, listening to eerie foghorns. When the time came for my return flight, I didn’t know I’d never see him in the flesh again, although we did communicate in other ways, but not for some years now. Fly high, Jim Angel – you are free.

After living with it at close-ish quarters for more than a decade, dementia has touched me (actually, more like hit me over the head with an iron bar!) more than usual during June, after my mother was taken to hospital following an early morning fall – although couldn’t remember what happened because she, like my father, suffers from the vascular form. So, off I went to sit on trains for four hours in order to imitate Florrie Nightingale on her less impressive days. Neither of my parents have any short term memory whatsoever and refuse to leave the house – they have a team of visiting carers to ensure they are fed, watered, clean and safe, most of whom are very good, a few not so much. Lately, my father spends all his time in bed and when he’s not sleeping, he’s barking orders through the house – he seems to have regressed to childhood, when the household retained several servants. Fortunately, the OH was able to base himself in Twickenham for the nine, very long, days that I spent chez folks, disappearing to Starbucks or the library to use the internet when required. Don’t tell him, but without his company and the very late dinners we shared in the garden when all was quiet, I would have quickly overtaken certifiably insane. My ears are worn out from conversations with medics and bods from all manner of agencies, many of whom contradict the others. Mum is home and all is quiet on the western front again – for how long, your guess is as good as mine.

In 2012, along with over three thousand other hopefuls, I submitted a radio drama script to the BBC Writers’ Room hoping to have it accepted for production.

My masterpiece made it through three weedings and made the final thirty, before it fell flat on its face at the final hurdle. I’ll leave you with an excerpt – Jack and Joyce are an elderly couple with dementia, and Glenda their long-suffering daughter.

Toodles

NP

***

SCENE ONE:

INT: EARLY MORNING. KITCHEN. A WOMAN (JOYCE) IS HUMMING TUNELESSLY, WAITING FOR A KETTLE TO BOIL.

SFX: KETTLE. DISTANT TAPPING ON GLASS.

MALE (JACK) CALLING JOYCE’S NAME THROUGH GLASS.

JOYCE:                                           (REGISTERING) What on earth…? (LOUDER)

What are you doing out there, Jack? I’m making tea.

JACK:                                                   (OFF, MUFFLED THROUGH GLASS) I seem to have locked myself out, Majesty.

JOYCE:                                                You old fool. (HUFFING) Well where are the keys?

JACK:                                                   (OFF) I don’t know.

JOYCE:                                                Have you tried your dressing gown pocket?

JACK:                                                   (OFF) Erm…I’m not sure, I don’t remember.

JOYCE:                                                Well, have a look!

                                                                SFX: KEYS RATTLING THROUGH GLASS. THEN A KEY TURNING IN THE LOCK AND A DOOR OPENING.

JACK:                                                   I found them (LAUGHS) they were in my pocket all the time.

JOYCE:                                                What were you doing out in the garden anyway – you’ll catch a cold.

JACK:                                                   I went out to do something, but now I can’t remember what. Can I have a naughty, to warm me up? I don’t feel very well.

JOYCE:                                                I think I put the kettle on to make tea.

JACK:                                                   (LITTLE BOY SNIGGER) I’d rather have a naughty.

JOYCE:                                                Or did I make a pot of tea?

JACK:                                                   Is it Thursday today, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know – have a look at the paper.

JACK:                                                   Where is it?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know. Shall I make tea?

JACK:                                                   Good idea, Majesty.

                                                                SFX: JOYCE OPENS THE FRIDGE. GLASS MILK BOTTLES CHINK.

JOYCE:                                                Oh dear; we do seem to have a lot of milk. Perhaps I should write a note for the milkman.

JACK:                                                   Why?

JOYCE:                                                No, you’re right – we’ll use it up, I expect. Or I’ll end up throwing it away…maybe I’ll put a note out next week.

JACK:                                                   What day is it today, Majesty?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know – is it Friday? I’m not sure… No, it can’t be Friday because the dustmen haven’t been. Or at least I didn’t hear them.

JACK:                                                   Do the dustmen usually come on Friday?

JOYCE:                                                Yes, except over Christmas and Easter – then you never know when they’ll turn up. (TUTS) Disgraceful, when we pay so much in rates, or whatever they call them now.

JACK:                                                   Did we put the rubbish out?

JOYCE:                                                Oh yes, I expect so. That doesn’t mean to say they’ll collect it though. They don’t always – probably because you didn’t give them a big tip at Christmas.

JACK:                                                   Is it time for a naughty yet? It’s for medicinal purposes; I don’t feel very well at all. I think maybe I should have stayed in bed.

JOYCE:                                                I wonder if the dustmen have been…or if we’ll have to wait until next week…

                                                                PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.

JACK:                                                   Do you remember my friend Ralph Windsor?

JOYCE:                                                Of course I do, Jack – he was your Best Man… and he had that nice wife from Scotland.

JACK:                                                   Scotland? I don’t remember that. Have we had breakfast yet?

JOYCE:                                                I’m not sure. Would you like some toast? I think we’ve got some bread left.

JACK:                                                   I fancy fish and chips…could we have fish and chips? Do you fancy fish and chips, Majesty?

JOYCE:                                                Someone has to go out and buy fish and chips and we’re not dressed. Anyway, I’m not sure if they’re open yet; shall I do some toast?

JACK:                                                   Okay, yes please. With marmalade…no, make it honey. I like honey, don’t you? And if I could have a naughty with it, that would be very nice.

JOYCE:                                                Now, did I make the tea? Or have we drunk it already?

                                                                PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.

JACK:                                                   My friend Ralph Windsor was a jolly nice chap…very clever. Is he dead, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                I think so. Shall I put the kettle on?

JACK:                                                   Why did he die?

JOYCE:                                                I don’t know.

JACK:                                                   Very clever boy, old Ralphie. I met him when we were seven – he’d dug a hole in the woods and when he went home for lunch I played in it. He came back and we started fighting over whose hole it was. (LAUGHS) Is he dead, now?

JOYCE:                                                Probably – I don’t think we’ve seen him for quite a while. Wasn’t his wife from Scotland?

JACK:                                                   Was she? Is she dead now? Do you know, I must be getting old because I can’t remember.

JOYCE:                                                I think she went back to Scotland…his wife. I forget her name.

                                                                SFX: TELEPHONE RINGS OFF IN THE HALLWAY, CONTINUING.

JACK:                                                   Is that someone at the door, Joyce?

JOYCE:                                                No, of course not – it’s the phone.

JACK:                                                   Who is it?

JOYCE:                                                How do I know?

PAUSE FOR A MOMENT

JACK:                                                   Aren’t you going to answer it, Joyce – I don’t feel at all well. I may have to go back to bed.

JOYCE:                                                (SIGHS) Looks like I’ll have to – I wonder who it is.

JACK:                                                   Poor old Ralphie…such a nice chap – and clever with it too. He had a very important job in the war – I remember he was on several convoys that were attacked by U-boats… (BEAT) Ralph’s father was a Regimental Sergeant Major, then a Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower – he looked magnificent when he was all dressed up in his uniform. A real gentleman…

                                                                THE PHONE STOPS RINGING.

JOYCE:                                                They’ve hung up! They didn’t wait very long…no patience at all some people…Never mind – if it’s important they’ll ring back next week.

JACK:                                                   That’s what my dear old mum used to say. I think it was her, anyway.

JOYCE:                                                There was nothing ‘dear’ about your mother – she didn’t think I was good enough to marry into her precious family…Huh! Would you like a cup of tea? I could put the kettle on.

JACK:                                                   Yes please, Majesty – unless I could have a naughty instead? I feel a bit rough – I think I should go back to bed.

JOYCE:                                                Well go back to bed, if you really think you should. I’ll make tea.

JACK:                                                   I remember meeting Ralph’s dad on the station once – he was all dressed up in his regalia. Magnificent – I felt I should salute him. Pucker gentleman, he was.

JOYCE:                                                What did you have for breakfast?

JACK:                                                   Damned if I can remember. (BEAT) Is it Monday today?

JOYCE:                                                I expect so. (BEAT) What do you fancy for lunch? (BEAT) I really must get my hair cut – I’ll make an appointment next week. (BEAT) I think I’ll get a shower now.

SCENE TWO:

INT: MID-MORNING. JOYCE HAS GONE TO ANSWER THE FRONT DOOR.

JOYCE:                                                (FROSTILY) Oh hello; it’s you, Glenda. I wasn’t expecting you – is it Saturday today?

GLENDA:                                            Yes, it’s Saturday. I tried ringing earlier – but there was no reply.

JOYCE:                                                Oh, I was probably out shopping.

GLENDA:                                            (VO) Pull the other one – you haven’t been out shopping since Elvis was breathing. (TO JOYCE) Never mind, I’m here now – shall I put the kettle on?

JOYCE:                                                What a good idea, I fancy a cup of tea. So, how are the girls? We haven’t seen them for a very long while.

GLENDA:                                            (TO JOYCE) Chloe was here in the week, Mum. She made you a nice chicken casserole. (VO) Stop wasting your breath. (TO JOYCE) They are all fine, thanks, except Claire’s a bit worried about these ‘A’ level exams she’s got coming up. If she doesn’t get the grades, she won’t get into her first choice of university so she’s panicking a bit.

JOYCE:                                                That’s nice dear – just hang your jacket on the banister and we’ll go on through to the kitchen.

SFX: COAT BEING FLUNG OVER WOOD, CARRIER BAGS RUSTLING.

JOYCE:                                                Ooh – is that something for me?

GLENDA:                                            I picked up a few bits and pieces on my way here – we’ll make up a proper shopping list in a minute, while we’re having tea. Where’s Dad?

JOYCE:                                                Oh…um…he’s around somewhere. Or maybe he went shopping.

JACK:                                                   (OFF) Is that you Glennie? I’m just up here getting dressed. I haven’t been feeling too well…

***

Another corking blog. Thanks Nell- especially for taking the time to write this wonderful piece when you’ve had such a testing month!

Great script!! You should resubmit it.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx


Interview with Steven. A. McKay: Robin Hood and Beyond

Today I am delighted to welcome Steven A McKay to my site for a natter. A fellow lover of myths, legends, and things historical; Steven is one of the most successful self-published authors in the UK. He also likes Robin of Sherwood…Enough said!!

So why not go and grab a drink and join us for a quick chat?

When did you first become interested in the Robin Hood legends?

Honestly, it was only when I decided to write a book about him. I have always been interested in King Arthur and I wanted to write something with a similar character and similar setting. You know: the green fields and woods of Britain with hard men drinking and fighting and loving! Bernard Cornwell had already done King Arthur so I had to look elsewhere and Robin Hood was the obvious choice. When I started researching the character I realised he, and the whole legend around him, was much richer and more interesting than I’d ever thought. It really made Wolf’s Head, and the following books, a joy to write.

What type of research did you have to do for your book?

First and foremost I had to learn about the legend. The elements that everyone knows, such as the characters and the golden arrow Robin wins in the Sheriff of Nottingham’s archery tournament. Then I had to really find out about my period (14th century in this case) because to write about a certain time you need to know the tiniest details.

Most of my research was done from books or the internet but I bought the entire Robin of Sherwood TV series on DVD and had a blast watching them. The friendship displayed by those characters, and even the actors portraying them, was a big influence on my novels.

I was very lucky to have Phil Rose, who played Friar Tuck in that show, write a foreword for one of my novellas and even read it out for the Audible version in that wonderful voice of his!

  

Do you prefer to plot your story or just go with the flow?

Well, as I mentioned, most people already know many of the elements of the Robin Hood legend so for those books I had certain things that had to happen. But I was able to put my own spin on the whole thing and, in general, although I have an idea for how to start and end a book, I don’t plan very far ahead. Normally I just write a few scenes and see where it takes me.
I think some people might work best by planning everything out in advance but, to me, letting a book develop organically leads to a much more dynamic, interesting read. I mean, if even the writer doesn’t know what’s coming next how can it be predictable?

Of course, that doesn’t stop people leaving reviews on Amazon saying they always knew what was coming next which is really weird since I didn’t even know myself when I was writing the books…!

You are one of the most successful self published writers I’ve come across. What would be your top three tips for a self published writer?

I think, first and foremost, you need a decent product that can stand up against the big guns in the publishing world. That means having a decent text that isn’t littered with errors, an exciting blurb, and a good cover image with – and this is hugely important for me – decent fonts. So many times I see good cover art on self-published books but the fonts are the standard ones that come free with Paint or whatever and it just looks amateurish. Hire a cover designer and an editor if you can afford it.

Second, even before you publish a book, try and find people to read it. Send them advance copies and ask them to post reviews on Amazon so as soon as it hits the virtual shelves potential buyers can find out what others thought of it.

Finally, if you’re going to run promotions such as the KDP Countdown deals, you need to tell people! There’s no point in making your book 99p for a week then complaining no one bought it – you need to tell them it’s on sale and that means using paid ads. Places like Bookbub, Freebooksy, Kindle Nation Daily etc are all worth using. I occasionally post tips about self-publishing on my website so do take a look if you’re interested.

Tell us about your latest book. What excites you the most about it?

Well, I’ve finished my Robin Hood books now – the final novella (The Abbey of Death) has actually found a publisher which is really exciting for me but it means I’ve been able to start work on an entirely new series.

This one is about a warrior-druid in post-Roman Britain and I am loving writing it. It was nice having readymade characters like Friar Tuck and Little John who I simply needed to flesh out and bring to life but this time around I’m coming up with my own creations and its strangely liberating!

The setting is really interesting to research since not much is known about 5th century Britain, especially Scotland, but most exciting for me is my main character. A six foot six, handsome, muscular druid who fights like a hero from legend, on a quest that will take him all around this great island meeting all sorts of weird and wonderful folk along the way…Honestly, it’s just huge fun to write, I’m so lucky to have a job like this.

If you were stranded on a desert island with three other people, fictional or real, who would they be and why?

Obviously my family but for the sake of making this a little more interesting I’ll come up with a different answer. Besides, now I think about it, why would I want to strand my wife and kids on an island just to make my own loin-cloth clad, bearded, pitiful existence more bearable?!

So…we’d need some laughter out there in the middle of nowhere and I reckon Sir Terry Pratchett would have been the ideal companion. I loved his Discworld books and it would have been great to spend time with him talking about writing and just general silliness.

 

Next we’d want some music to keep our spirits up so I’d probably pick fellow Glaswegian Angus Young of AC/DC. I’m assuming he’d have rescued a battered old acoustic guitar from the shipwreck so he’d be able to keep us entertained with folk renditions of “Thunderstruck” and “Hell or High Water”. Maybe I’d get a chance to play the guitar myself although if it came to a fight about it he’d win, even if he is just five inches tall.

 

Finally, I’d choose my own new character, the warrior-druid Bellicus. Not only would he protect the rest of us from wild animals with his martial prowess, but he’s a trained musician and spent many years learning the skills of a druid. He’d heal our wounds, talk for hours about the gods and their foibles, show me and Angus a new chord or two on the shared guitar, and give us the last rites if one of us died in a freak gardening accident.

Actually it sounds like a pretty fun place – where do I sign up?

*** 

Buy Links

viewAuthor.at/SA-McKay

Social Links

Twitter – @SA_McKay

Facebook – www.Facebook.com/RobinHoodNovel

Website with link to my mailing list and a FREE, exclusive Forest Lord story, only available to subscribers! https://stevenamckay.com/mailing-list/

 

Bio

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, “Wolf’s Head”, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. “Blood of the Wolf” is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series which has over 95,000 sales so far. Steven is currently working on a brand new tale set in post-Roman Britain.

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Many thanks for taking the time out to join us today Steven. I’m very much looking forward to reading your Robin Hood stories (my Kindle is loaded and ready to go), and indeed your post Roman stories in the near future.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny (Well, I’m Jennifer really, as I have my medieval hat on today!) x 


Read in the Sunshine: Abi’s House is ONLY 99p

To make the most of this unexpected summer heat, Accent have popped Abi’s House on SALE, so you enjoy both of my Abi Carter Cornish romance novels for less than £3!!

Blurb- 

A summer read as scrumptious as its Cornish backdrop. Brilliant!’ Nicola May

Cornwall – the perfect place for new friendships, fresh hopes, and a dream house.

Newly widowed and barely thirty, Abi Carter is desperate to escape the Stepford Wives lifestyle that Luke, her late husband, had been so eager for her to live.

Abi decides to fulfill a lifelong dream. As a child on holiday in Cornwall she fell in love with a cottage – the prophetically named Abbey’s House.
Now she is going to see if she can find the place again, relive the happy memories and maybe even buy a place of her own nearby?

On impulse Abi sets off to Cornwall, where a chance meeting in a village pub brings new friends Beth and Max into her life. Beth, like Abi, has a life-changing decision to make. Max, Beth’s best mate, is new to the village. He soon helps Abi track down the house of her dreams … but things aren’t quite that simple. There’s the complicated life Abi left behind, including her late husband’s brother, Simon – a man with more than friendship on his mind…

Will Abi’s house remain a dream, or will the bricks and mortar become a reality?

***

I love this trailer for my Cornish romance novel, Abi’s House, so I thought I’d share it with you again. YouTube link https://youtu.be/VAumWAqsp58

You can buy Abi’s House in all good bookshops and on line retailers. It is currently only 99p on Amazon Kindle

Kindle

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Abis-House-Jenny-Kane-ebook/dp/B00UVPPWO8/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1426711175&sr=1-1&keywords=Abi%27s+House+Jenny+Kane

http://www.amazon.com/Abis-House-Jenny-Kane-ebook/dp/B00UVPPWO8/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426711253&sr=1-2&keywords=Abi%27s+House+Jenny+Kane

Paperback

http://www.amazon.com/Abis-House-Jenny-Kane/dp/1783753285/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426711253&sr=1-1&keywords=Abi%27s+House+Jenny+Kane

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Abis-House-Jenny-Kane/dp/1783753285/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426711343&sr=1-1&keywords=Abi%27s+House+Jenny+Kane

 

***

And don’t forget, Abi’s Neighbour is available as well!

Photo taken by reader on holiday

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx

 


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