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Blowing the Dust Off: Richard Gould’s A Street Cafe Named Desire

It’s Day 9 of my ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ series of blogs. Today I’m welcoming the lovely Richard Gould to my place to talk about his romance, A Street Café Named Desire.

Grab a cuppa and enjoy…

Why did I write this book?

Although on the surface not a philosophical question, there are in fact several deep levels of answer.

The starting point for the novel was a school reunion for ex-students from an international school I’d taught in. It had been a close community and like many other teachers, I’d kept in touch. I joined them for a weekend in Henley – and this is where the story begins.

It struck me that some of the participants were virtually unchanged over the twenty-five or so years since being at school – looks and personalities – while others were unrecognisable. I decided to feature two (entirely fictional, or are they?) protagonists who had not been part of the social set when young. What had their random journeys through life been like and what would happen now that they had met again?

I’m male, I guess the photo is a giveaway.

Being male, by the law of averages, I shouldn’t be writing Romance, but a fellow author persuaded me that my writing about relationships constituted Romance. She suggested I join the Romantic Novelists’ Association and I did as ordered and signed up for the New Writers’ Scheme. I’d already self-published with a fair bit of e-book success, (it was so much easier five or so years ago!), but the positive feedback I got from the NWS reviewer encouraged me to renew my search for a publisher. Accent Press took me on and A Street Café Named Desire was my first novel with them.

Is my novel within the Romance genre? I concede that it is, though I did have many distraught days and sleepless nights after it was put into a ‘Chick Lit Lovers Bundle’. As is the case for most of my writing, in A Street Café Named Desire I flip the ‘traditional’ Romance plot by having an insecure male seeking a relationship with an alpha female, his path fraught with all the difficulties typically thrust upon the female within this genre. Most of my readers are female and the feedback I’ve received indicates that a male take on relationships is both evident and refreshing.

Who am I? OK, so now we are getting mainstream philosophical. Several agents suggested I use a pseudonym. I’ve declined the offer, but by using ‘R J’ instead of ‘Richard’ in my author name I’m sort of concealing gender – it’s my cowardly compromise.

Didn’t someone famous once say something like what’s in a name? I thought long and hard about using A Street Café Named Desire for the title, as did my publisher. At the start of the novel, David, the male protagonist, is stuck in a dull accountancy job that he dislikes intensely. His dream is to open an arts café. His second dream is to have a relationship with Bridget, the alpha female. Café + Desire seemed to fit, as did paying homage to the steamy play.

The Amazon link to A Street Café Named Desire is here: http://Mybook.to/streetcafe and it’s priced at only £0.99/$0.99 during the week of Jenny’s ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ blog tour.

A Street Café Named Desire – the blurb

A man’s quest for two dreams – a relationship with the gorgeous Bridget and opening an arts café.
David meets Bridget at a twenty-five year school reunion and instantly develops a teenagesque passion for her. There’s a juggernaut-load of baggage to overcome ahead of having any chance of a relationship – a demanding soon to be ex-wife, a tyrannical new boss, an accountancy job he detests, stroppy teenage children, and encounters with the police. There’s a further distraction because his plan to quit his job and set up an arts café is proving to be rather more challenging than anticipated.

One of my favourite reviews:

“This is such a gentle and easy book to read, it is almost surprising the impact and resonance it has long after finishing it. The story is a familiar one, but it is told with humour, humility and humanity and at the end I was left feeling hopeful and satisfied.”

And one of my favourites about me:

“R.J. Gould’s voice is a unique one, not only because he is a man writing romance and contemporary fiction. This author offers readers a fantastic insight into the otherwise closed lives of families who make us laugh, groan, roll our eyes but ultimately, can relate to.”

A Street Café Named Desire – an extract

My dip into the novel is taken from the end of the first chapter when David first meets Bridget, having unenthusiastically mingled with other ex-schoolmates earlier that evening:

‘Well, look who we’ve got here.’ The voice of Bill Thatcher hadn’t changed.

‘It’s our little David,’ another unchanged voice, this was Ben Carpenter.

An overzealous slap landed on David’s back. ‘You buying the drinks, mate?’ Ben asked.

David realised he was no longer scared of them. How could you be, looking at the two pot-bellied, balding, greying men with sallow puffy faces? They had lost their menacing edge. Also, he was prepared to admit when he’d had time to reflect, he wasn’t scared because he didn’t much care what happened, not after what he had been subjected to over the past few weeks.

He eyed Ben. ‘Why don’t you get me one?’

Ben looked aghast. ‘What?’

‘I’ll have a bottle of Bud, thank you.’

‘Is little David acting tough?’ Bill enquired.

‘I think he is,’ added Ben.

‘It’s not a case of acting tough, it’s about growing up. And I seem to have made a better job of it than you two. I suppose keeping fit helps, the judo.’

‘You do judo?’ sneered Bill.

‘Yes. And not drinking as much beer as you has assisted.’ With that, David gave Bill a generous whack on his pot belly. When he analysed his action afterwards, readily admitting it had been a step too far, he wondered whether the annoying physical maltreatment by Helen might have been part of the reason for his own mild assault. But probably it all came down to his profound unhappiness – he couldn’t care less about the outcome of his actions. Not at that instant at any rate. But he did care a few nanoseconds later when Bill floored him with a right hook to the chin.

Bill looked down at him with contempt. ‘You gonna try your judo on me, little David?’

Of course there never had been any judo, only badminton which had kept him in reasonable shape but clearly hadn’t prepared him for fighting. David gazed up at a gathering of his ex-classmates in a circle around him, some with a look of concern, but most smiling. Helen and Sharon were in the smiling group, but at least Helen did have the decency to tell Bill and Ben to lay off as it was a festive occasion. The crowd dispersed and David stood gingerly. He made his way to a chair by the window. In the short interval between boredom and humiliation dusk had enveloped the trees. Now they stood as forlorn grey silhouettes. Despite there no longer being anything of interest to see, he chose to stare out the window rather than look inside the room at the alcohol-fuelled gathering.

‘One Bud coming up.’

He turned. The woman handed over the bottle and sat next to him, a glass of white wine in her other hand. ‘You OK?’

‘Just my pride hurt a bit. Well my chin, too.’

‘Poor you. Those two were appalling twenty-five years ago and they haven’t improved by the look of things.’

David recognised the voice, the engaging Scottish lilt from all those years ago.

‘I’m Titless,’ the woman added.

He glanced from her face to her upper body and saw shapely curves. When he looked up she was smiling and he reddened.

‘Not anymore, but I was then. I took a while to develop. Too long for Bill and Ben, so that was their nickname for me.’

‘I remember you. Bridget.’

‘Congratulations. You’re the first to know my name tonight, not that I’ve spoken to many.’

‘Well, you’ve changed beyond all recognition.’

Like every parent, David had told his children the story of the ugly duckling that turned into a beautiful white swan, and while he appreciated the moral symbolism, he had never seen such a transformation in real life until now. Bridget had been an unsociable, awkward girl, liable to blush the instant someone addressed her. She had appeared friendless and was known as ‘Spotty Swot’ amongst his circle of friends. He hadn’t been aware of the ‘Titless’ nickname, not surprising as he kept well away from the gang. Her legs, he remembered, had looked too spindly to support her. He’d felt sorry for Bridget, a rather sad-looking loner, but he’d been too shy to do anything about it.

The woman by his side was divine – a goddess. Not in a garishly sexy way – just downright beautiful. Every facial feature of textbook perfection. A narrow face with high cheekbones; a little, upturned nose; pouting lips; soft, powder blue eyes. Eyes that were now smiling at him.

‘I feel like I’m being inspected. Do you approve?’

‘Yes, yes. You look lovely, if you don’t mind me saying.’

‘Thank you, I never say no to a compliment. I was wondering though – what on earth made you come along to this awful reunion?’

‘It’s a long story.’

‘It’s a long evening.’

 

R J Gould Website and social media links

Website:                      http://www.rjgould.info

Twitter:                       https://twitter.com/RJGould_author

Email:                          rjgould.author@gmail.com

Facebook:                    https://www.facebook.com/RJGouldauthor/

Email:                          rjgould.author@gmail.com

 

About R J Gould

R J Gould writes contemporary fiction, using humour to describe past, present and sought after relationships. His characters, some highly eccentric and some plain ordinary, are trying to make the most of their lives while carrying heaps of baggage. They struggle to balance the pressures of work, friends and families as they search for second-chance romance. He is published by Accent Press and is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. His first novel, ‘A Street Café Named Desire’ was released in December 2014 and short-listed for the 2016 Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award. ‘The Engagement Party’ was published in May 2015 and ‘Jack and Jill Went Downhill’ was released in June 2016. He lives in Cambridge and is a member of Cambridge Writers where he leads the Commercial Editing Group.

Many thanks Richard. Great extract!

Just one more day to go in this fabulous look back at some fellow authors writing archives. Come back tomorrow to see what Caroline Dunford has to share with us.

Happy reading,

Jenny x


Blowing the Dust Off: Jenny Harper’s People we Love

It’s Day 8 of my ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ series. Today we are joined by the lovely Jenny Harper. She is introducing us to one of her Heartlands novels’, People we Love.

Go grab a cuppa, sit down, and enjoy…

 

Finding inspiration in the dark

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a gig at the Edinburgh Festival. It was African music and dance (traditional and contemporary), and there was lots of bounce and rhythm and colour. I was enjoying myself immensely – but at the back of my mind, something was niggling me. I couldn’t get the right title for my forthcoming novel.

These things can be instant and easy … or they can drive you to insanity because nothing seems to work. I was at the latter end of the spectrum. I closed my eyes and tried to block out my worries and concentrate on the music. After all, it was terrific.

Then it happened.

‘The people we love,’ said the diminutive lead singer of the group, introducing the next song, ‘don’t always love us back.’

Bang! There it was. People We Love. Perfect. The fourth novel in my Heartlands series (set in East Lothian, near Edinburgh), is about a family grieving for a brother, or a son, who was killed in a road accident a year ago in mysterious circumstances. The heroine, Alexa Gordon, is an artist who put her career on hold to support her parents. Tom Gordon (her father) is staunch and buttoned-up, determined to keep his grief in check so that he can go on supporting his family (and inevitably suffering in the process), while her mother, Martha, has completely fallen apart. It’s only after an elderly lady with dementia climbs in through her kitchen window that Alexa begins the long journey back from the dark. There are other characters too – her ex lover Cameron Forrester, who appears back on the scene after an unexplained absence, and Patrick Mulgrew, a suave art dealer who lives near Alexa in the fictional town of Hailesbank, but who works in Edinburgh. Oh, and her best friend Molly Keir, who has ghosts and secrets in her own past.

I loved writing that book. If I say it’s about shoes, it’s not a lie, but don’t get the wrong idea! ‘Shoes tell stories,’ reads the invitation to the exhibition Alexa finally puts together, ‘stories of much-loved babies who can’t even walk, of the tottering steps of little children towards adulthood, of special events in our lives; of dances, and marriages, and mountain climbs and escapes.’

What am I talking about? Sorry – you’ll have to find out for yourself!

Anyway, the inspiration I had that night during the gig had natural consequences – when I decided to write about Molly’s story in my next novel, I used the title Mistakes We Make. It’s the first book in the Heartlands series that actually links to a previous one, other than through the setting. Alexa (Lexie) reappears, and her life has moved on considerably in the months since the end of People We Love, while Molly is still stuck in her hideaway, her problems unsolved. Inevitably, she has to face quite a few ups and downs and challenges, and deal with the mistakes she has made in the past, before she can set things to rights.

I adored the covers Accent Press designed for these two books. They have just the right feel of dreamy mysteriousness. I’m not sure if it was the titles that inspired them or my blurbs, but anyway, sometimes things come together in a very pleasing way – even when finding the path might be difficult in the first instance!

Buy them here

smarturl.it/People_We_Love

smarturl.it/Mistakes_We_Make

Bio

Jenny Harper lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, though she was born in India and grew up in England. She has been a non-fiction editor, a journalist and a businesswoman and has written a children’s novel and several books about Scotland, as well as five novels and a novella in The Heartlands series (set in Hailesbank), a novel set in Edinburgh, and a number of short stories.

Jenny writes contemporary women’s fiction with bite – complex characters facing serious issues. Face the Wind and Fly, about a woman wind farm engineer with a marriage in trouble and a controversial project to handle. Loving Susie, about a female politician with a complicated family history and at odds with the world. Maximum Exposure, in which a newspaper photographer with job to save has some growing up to do. People We Love is about an artist whose life is on hold following the tragic death of her brother and Mistakes We Make follows a high-flying events manager as she works out what is really important in her life. In a sixth title, Between Friends, three women have to work together to take revenge on a man from their past whose reappearance threatens to ruin them all.

Find Me Here

Website          http://jennyharperauthor.co.uk/

Blog                http://jennyharperauthor.co.uk/category/myblog/

Twitter            https://twitter.com/harper_jenny

Facebook       https://www.facebook.com/authorjennyharper

Google +        https://plus.google.com/+JennyHarperauthor/posts

Goodreads     https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/15692421-jenny-harper

Amazon Author Page      http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00HXIE2Q0

Pinterest        https://uk.pinterest.com/jennyharperhome/boards/

***

Many thanks Jenny. Great blog.

Come back tomorrow to read all about Richard Gould’s work.

Happy reading,

Jenny xx

 

 

 

 


Blowing the Dust Off: Alison Rose’s Off the Record

It’s Day 7 of my ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ series of blogs. Today my friend  and creative writing business partner, Alison Rose, is talking ‘Off the Record.’

Grab a cuppa and enjoy…

 

Hello everyone, I’m Alison Rose, and I’m delighted to be Jenny’s guest today in her From the Archives blog.  I met Jenny at a meeting of the Bath and North Wiltshire chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association a few years ago and we’ve been firm friends ever since.  My first book deal was with Jenny’s publisher, Accent Press, and in recent months we’ve become business partners, running Imagine Creative Writing workshops and retreats together.

The book I want to share with you today is my first published novel, Off the Record.  Here’s the blurb:

“This is the chance of a lifetime, so don’t blow it! Journalist Kate Armstrong has always known that music icon Johnson Brand’s platinum-selling first album was written about his break-up with her mother, Alexandra. When Kate’s boss sends her out to interview the star himself, her life is turned upside down when her resemblance to Alexandra prompts Johnson to seek out her mother and renew their relationship. Kate suddenly has a lot on her plate – coming to terms with Alexandra and Johnson’s rekindling relationship, as well as keeping the two of them out of the public eye, all the while trying to resist the advances of Johnson’s playboy son, Paul. She thinks she has everything under control, until a threatening figure from the band’s past rears its ugly head. Will love tear them all apart … again?”

I was inspired to write Off the Record after watching the movie Grease on a rainy afternoon.  Off the Record actually has very little to do with the film, but watching Grease had sparked memories of the year that it came out – 1977 – when I was the English exchange student at a high school in Indiana, USA.  As I watched Grease with my teenaged daughter, I remembered the people I’d known in 1977 and wondered what they were doing now.  One of the boys had been a talented singer and that sparked my idea of a rock star. I was working for a Christian charity at the time and knew a lot of lady vicars… and so it began.

I started asking ‘What if?’ and the characters and story began to form – the divorced, aging rock star; the widowed lady vicar; his record producer son; her journalist daughter.  Could the older couple have anything in common after so many years apart? Would their children be able to overcome their desire to protect their parents and their suspicion of each other? And who was causing so much trouble for them all?

I loved writing Off the Record and I’m proud that it was the first of my books to be published. It was intended to be the story of love rekindled in middle age, but I couldn’t resist the call of the couple’s grown-up children, who shot sparks at each other right from the start.  So in Off the Record you get two love stories for the price of one! I guess I always wanted to be swept off my feet by a sexy rock star and so I had a lot of fun making it happen for Kate and Alexandra.

If you’d like to read Off the Record, here’s the link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Off-Record-Alison-Rose-x/dp/1783752491/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1502203726&sr=1-7&keywords=off+the+record

Thanks so much to Jenny for inviting me along today and thank you for taking the time to read this.  I hope you enjoy Off the Record too!

If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, please visit my website at www.alisonroseknight.com and if you want to find out what Jenny and I are up to as Imagine… see www.imaginecreativewriting.co.uk

Many thanks Alison! Always great to have you pop by.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to find out what Jenny Harper is going to share with us.

Happy reading,

Jenny x


Blowing the Dust Off: Marie Laval’s A Spell in Provence

It’s Day 3 of my ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ series of blogs. Today I’m welcoming fellow Accent author, Marie Laval, to my place to talk about her French romance, A Spell in Provence.

Grab a cuppa and enjoy…

 

FINDING INSPIRATION IN PROVENCE 

People often wonder how writers find ideas for their novels. Although I can find inspiration from many different places – a song, a painting, a poem, or even a road map! – I can pinpoint the exact moment when I got the idea for my contemporary romantic suspense A SPELL IN PROVENCE. A few years ago I visited the lovely town of Cassis during a family holiday in Provence. We had an impromptu picnic lunch of baguette, ham and cheese on a village square and sat next to an old stone fountain with an inscription in Latin…and that was it!   

 

Fountains have a special place in the novel, but they are, and always were, very important in Provence. According to an old Provençal saying ‘Eici, l’aigo es d’or’, which translates by ‘Here, water is gold’ – and no wonder when you think how hot it can get in the summer and how parched the earth can be. Anyone who read the wonderful ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon des Sources’ by Marcel Pagnol, or saw the films, can remember the struggles and hardship the characters faced and their anguish of the characters when the water supply ran dry.

A SPELL IN PROVENCE is set near Bonnieux in the Lubéron region of Provence, one of the many hill-top villages dotting the countryside. My heroine leaves England and buys Bellefontaine, a ‘bastide’ (an old farmhouse) she renovates and plans to open as a guesthouse….until eerie things happen and jeopardise her dream. The hero of the story, Fabien Coste, is heir to an old aristocratic family and has turned his ancestral manor house into a luxury hotel. Once again, the manor house is based on a real place – the castle in Lourmarin – but I have of course changed a few details.

Another important setting in the story is the ancient village of ‘Bories’, which are stone huts dating back from the Iron Age, and which were still used as shelter by shepherds until a few years ago. You can also find isolated bories scattered in the landscape when you travel through Provence.

Provence is not only a beautiful place, it also has a fascinating history – in particular ancient history – which is pivotal to my novel’s story line. Before the Greeks, and later the Romans settled there, the Salyens were the largest Gallic tribe. By the 6th century BC, their main centre was Entremont, which is located on a plateau above what is now Aix-en-Provence.

There were other important centres, such as nearby Glanum. This settlement was dedicated to the Celtic god Glanis, and built around a spring known for its healing powers. The Salyens had the strange – some might say gruesome – custom of displaying the severed heads of enemies at the city gate. They left no writing but many statues of gods and warriors, some of them holding severed heads.

 

When researching and writing A SPELL IN PROVENCE, I loved surrounding myself with photos of hill-top villages, of old fountains and of lavender and sunflower fields. I grew up in Lyon and spent many holidays in the South of France as a child. Writing the novel brought back fond memories of playing in the sunshine, breathing in scents of herbs and flowers, and listening to the woody song of the cicadas.

A SPELL IN PROVENCE is published by Áccent Press and is available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00RVQO8RM

 ***

Blurb:

With few roots in England and having just lost her job, Amy Carter decides to give up on home and start a new life in France, spending her redundancy package turning an overgrown Provençal farmhouse, Bellefontaine, into a successful hotel. Though she has big plans for her new home, none of them involves falling in love – least of all with Fabien Coste, the handsome but arrogant owner of a nearby château.  As romance blossoms, eerie and strange happenings in Bellefontaine hint at a dark mystery of the Provençal countryside which dates back many centuries and holds an entanglement between the ladies of Bellefontaine and the ducs de Coste at its centre. As Amy works to unravel the mystery, she begins to wonder if it may not just be her heart at risk, but her life too.

A SPELL IN PROVENCE is published by Áccent Press and is available from http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00RVQO8RM

 

Excerpt

Shivering in the cold breeze despite her shawl, Amy joined the guests lining up to be greeted by Fabien, who in true lord of the manor style, stood tall and imposing at the top of the steps, with torches burning on either side of him.

          He might wear a black dining suit and a crisp white shirt instead of a suit of armour, but there was something untamed, fundamentally uncivilized and proprietary about the way he surveyed the crowd – as if he truly owned everything and everyone, like Frédéric had said, and Amy was seized by an irresistible, irrational and overwhelming urge to flee. She didn’t want to speak to Fabien Coste, didn’t want to put up with his arrogant ways. He could keep his fancy chateau, his contacts and glamorous guests, she didn’t need him. She would walk home. It wasn’t that far.

          She was about to step aside when he looked down and their gaze met. Shadows danced on his face. The torches hissed in the breeze, their flames shooting high in the air and reflecting in his green eyes, giving them a deep, dangerous glow. For the space of a heartbeat, the noise of conversations around her became distant and fuzzy, and all she could see was him.

          He walked down, took her hand and lifted it to his lips. Even though his mouth barely touched her skin, a flash of heat reverberated through her body.

          ‘Mademoiselle Carter – Amy, you’re here at last.’

          It was the first time he’d spoken her first name. He made it sound French, sensual and incredibly romantic. Aimée. Beloved.

          ‘Shall I escort you inside and introduce you to a few people?’

          Panic made her heart flutter and turned her brain to mush.

          ‘Well, it’s just that …’

          He arched a dark eyebrow, looked down, and smiled as if he knew exactly what she was feeling.

          ‘You’re here now. You might as well make the most of it.’

 

Author Bio:

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie studied History and Law at university there before moving to Lancashire in England where she worked in a variety of jobs, from PA in a busy university department to teacher of French in schools and colleges. Writing, however, was always her passion, and she spends what little free time she has dreaming and making up stories. She writes both contemporary and historical romance. ANGEL HEART, THE LION’S EMBRACE, the DANCING FOR THE DEVIL Trilogy are published by Áccent Press, as is her contemporary romantic suspense novel A SPELL IN PROVENCE. She also writes short stories for the World Romance Writers – Letterbox Love Stories and Escape to Africa – and has just signed a publishing contract with Choc Lit for another contemporary suspense novel to be published in 2018.

You can find Marie here http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/

and https://www.facebook.com/marielavalauthor?fref=ts

and https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6538479.Marie_Laval

https://twitter.com/MarieLaval1

 

Many thanks Marie. I’ve always wanted to visit Provence- I am inspired to head that way sooner rather than later.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to read what Kirsten McKenzie has to offer us.

Happy reading,

Jenny x

 

 

 

 


Blowing the Dust Off: Laura Wilkinson’s Public Battles, Private Wars.

It’s Day 1 of my ‘Blowing the Dust Off’ series of blogs. Over the next ten days, I’ll be hosting 10 different authors; each will tell us a little about one of their novels. Unlike my usual guests posts, they won’t be promoting a new work of fiction, but giving us a timely reminder of some of the treasures they have produced in the past.

Today the lovely Laura Wilkinson is kicking off the series for us by reminding us about her excellent novel, Public Battles, Private Wars.

Grab a cuppa and enjoy…

 

Thanks so much for inviting me to be the inaugural guest of your new series: Blowing the Dust Off, Jenny. What an honour and what a great idea for a series.

Today, I’m going to talk about Public Battles, Private Wars, my ‘miners’ strike’ novel. I use quotation marks because although there was a lot of focus on the strike around publication back in 2014 (it was the 30 year anniversary of the dispute), in truth the conflict forms the backdrop – it’s primarily a story about love and friendship – of both the toxic variety and the genuine, wonderful kind. It’s worth pointing out here that the novel is just 99p for Kindle at the moment – as is Redemption Song, for a limited time.

Like a lot of writers I’m neither a fully-paid-up member of the planner nor pantster clubs; I fall somewhere in between.

I begin any story with a clear(ish) vision of the story arc, with a beginning and a sense of where I’d like my characters to end up. Research is done on the hoof, as and when I feel the need. Lazy? Maybe. But it works for me and research can become a distraction, something which gets in the way of writing. A master of displacement activity, I had to remind myself of this constantly while working on Public Battles, Private Wars, for there is stacks of information on the subject.

The novel is set against the backdrop of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike and there is a wealth of writing on the subject, though surprisingly little fiction (I found only three novels back in 2012 when I began writing) and genuine poverty when it comes to fictional representations of women’s role in the struggle.

The origins of this novel lie in a photograph I came across on the internet while researching another story idea set in the 80s – a story that has since gone on to become my latest novel – Skin Deep. It was an image of a group of women marching down a suburban street; women who looked powerful, in control, purposeful; not hapless victims of a political struggle to smash the unions led by a woman in Westminster.

I am old enough to recall this landmark strike in modern history and as a former steel worker’s daughter I have some understanding of strife and hardship as a result of strike and redundancy (Thatcher crushed the steel industry before turning on coal), but I’m not from a mining community, I wasn’t a political animal as a girl, though my mother and sister were. If I was to do the story, and the real women of the conflict, justice, I needed to do some research.

Because I find images inspirational, I began by looking at photographs from the era and the women’s groups that sprang up to rally round the miners. Images of women, young and old, huddled over industrial sized cookers, preparing meals for pickets and hungry children. Women in town halls cheering on the likes of Tony Benn (RIP), Arthur Scargill and Bruce Kent. Women marching next to their men, shoulder to shoulder on the picket lines. Women shielding their faces from oncoming policemen on horseback. Shocking images.

Then I began to read, to gather the facts. I read lots of books, articles, diaries and accounts. I spoke to people – experts and those who lived through it – about the profound effects that long, hard year had on their lives. It was a terrible time, no mistaking. There was extreme hardship and, ultimately, defeat. But, out of those desperate times came some good. Quite a lot for many women, as it happens.

Alongside specific fact gathering about the strike, I imbued myself with a sense of the period – fashion, music, popular books, TV shows, the mores of the time. I looked at clips on YouTube and watched films like Billy Eliot and This is England. My central character likes to bake cakes. I am a domestic disaster, with a particular talent for spoiling even the most straightforward of dishes. I read up on baking and even tried some recipes – with laughable results.

There is another strand in Public Battles, Private Wars, that required research, and I have to be careful how much I say because of spoilers, but my leading man is a former soldier who served during the Falklands War. Ignorant in the extreme about military matters, I needed to look into this too if this particular plot strand was to feel authentic and my character be three dimensional. Again, I read articles and reports online, and I spoke with a number of particularly lovely officers at the MOD. Special mention has to go to a former soldier, John Marham, who now works for a military charity who gave up a morning to meet with me and talk about his experiences of army life. He was generous with his knowledge and personal stories, talking me through everything from training to the sound a magazine makes when loaded into the gun barrel.

Now, I can’t recall how much time I spent researching. Probably not as long as I’ve made it sound. I was greedy for the information – it was fascinating – and so I devoured it quickly. The novel took a year to write – the same timescale as the strike – and once I had all this information rammed into my brain, I had to forget most of it. For here’s the thing: in fiction, you must wear your research lightly. It must never feel didactic, it must never get in the way of the story or the characters, and this felt especially important to me given that there is a wealth of non-fiction. If people want facts there are gazillions of sources. If you want to live the life vicarious of a downtrodden young women who finds the best of herself during strange and difficult times then this novel might be for you.

Blurb:

Yorkshire 1983.

Miner’s wife Mandy is stuck in a rut. Her future looks set and she wants more. But Mandy can’t do anything other than bake and raise her four children. Husband Rob is a good looking drinker, content to spend his days in the small town where they live.

When a childhood friend – beautiful, clever Ruth – and her Falklands war hero husband, Dan, return to town, their homecoming is shrouded in mystery. Mandy looks to Ruth for inspiration, but Ruth isn’t all she appears.

Conflict with the Coal Board turns into war and the men come out on strike. The community and its way of life is threatened. Mandy abandons dreams of liberation from the kitchen sink and joins a support group. As the strike rumbles on, relationships are pushed to the brink, and Mandy finds out who her true friends are.

A story of love, betrayal, and cakes, Public Battles, Private Wars follows one woman’s journey of discovery and a community fighting for survival.

National Museum of Wales Book of the Month – June 2014

‘Vivid and engaging. A touching, well-written novel’ Welsh Books Council Reader Report

‘The Full Monty for women’ BBC presenter Jeni Barnett

‘I absolutely loved it’ Bookaholic Holly – in Top Ten books of 2014 for Bookaholic Confessions. Read the full review here.

‘A compelling story with some great characters. Public Battlers, Private Wars is a story that looks at friendships, community, love and jealousy.’ Random Things Through my Letterbox. Full review here.

‘A novel with a big heart’ Pen & Paper. Full review here.

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About Laura

Liverpool born, Laura is a taff at heart. She’s published four novels and many short stories. Some have made the shortlists of major competitions. Her novel, Public Battles, Private Wars, was a National Museum of Wales book of the month; Redemption Song was a Kindle top twenty. The Family Line is a family drama set in the near future, looking at identity and parenting. ‘It will haunt your dreams.’ Books at Broadway. Her latest, is Skin Deep: ‘A superb read.’ Northern Soul magazine. Alongside writing, she works as an editor and runs workshops on the art of fiction. www.laura-wilkinson.co.uk   Twitter @ScorpioScribble Facebook: Laura Wilkinson Author Instagram: laura_wilkinsonwriter Pinterest: laura1765 Goodreads: Laura_ Wilkinson 

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Many thanks for starting the series in such excellent style Laura.

Come back tomorrow to find out what crime writer Nell Peters is digging out of her archive.

Happy reading,

Jenny x


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