Jenny Kane & Jennifer Ash

Jenny Kane: Coffee, cupcakes, chocolate and contemporary fiction / Jennifer Ash: Medieval crime with hints of Ellis Peters and Robin Hood

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Opening Lines with Marie Laval: Bluebell’s Christmas Magic

Opening Lines is taking on a festive feel this week, with the help of the first 500 words from Marie Laval’s uplifting, Bluebell’s Christmas Magic.

Over to you Marie…

Thank you so much, Jenny, for your warm welcome on your blog. I am delighted to be here today and talk about my first ever Christmas romance, BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC, which was released on 19th November by Choc Lit UK.

I would like this story to be the first of a series of standalone romantic comedies set in the same Cumbrian village of Red Moss, and I am already working on the second novel. I had the idea for BLUEBELL during a family holiday in Coniston, which is one of my most favourite places in the UK. I am not very sporty, and not the best or the fastest at climbing mountains. Last time I was there I really struggled up – and down! – The Old Man of Coniston, but I was inspired by the glorious scenery, the beautiful villages, and of course the lake. Near our holiday cottage was a very old farmhouse with strange round chimneys, which gave me the idea for Belthorn Manor where the hero Stefan Lambert comes to stay to forget all about Christmas…

I hope I managed to put across my love for the area, and that my very corny Christmas jokes – some of which my children and friends supplied, but others I was very proud to have made up myself – won’t put the readers off!

So, without any further delay, here are the first 500 words of BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC!

‘There’s nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.’ Cassie repeated the words through gritted teeth as she drove up the lane, but it did nothing to quieten the thudding of her heart or loosen the knot squeezing her stomach into a tight fist. The keys that she had stuffed into the front pocket of her dungarees weighed cold and heavy against her chest, an unpleasant reminder of where she was heading. Belthorn Manor. The name alone was enough to make her shudder…

The jagged outline of the mountains disappeared in low clouds and mist descended on the patchwork of snow, dead bracken and pine forests covering the hills. Belthorn wasn’t even in sight and already the landscape filled her with gloom. She couldn’t feel any further from the cheerful fairy riding a feather duster that was painted on the side of her van, under the catchphrase‘Don’t let dust and grime get to you, call Bluebell to the rescue!’Today, Cassie was the one who needed rescuing…

The van skidded as she negotiated yet another bend in the road, narrowly avoiding bumping into the back of a Range Rover parked at a weird angle near the Sanctuary Stone. Another rambler who had ignored the ‘Private Road’ sign at the bottom of the hill, no doubt. She changed gears and the van lurched ahead.

Belthorn’s distinctive round chimneys soon poked out of the mist. Cassie drove past the rhododendron bushes and the pine trees that shielded the house from harsh winds, and scanned the grounds. No shadow crept across the vast expanse of lawn; no ghostly silhouette lurked in the ruined abbey nearby or shivered on Wolf Tarn’s pebbly shores.The only ominous shapes were the spiky branches of the monkeypuzzle tree reaching out to the sky like a giant stick insect.

The fist in her stomach loosened, and she felt her body relax for the first time that afternoon. Perhaps there really was nothing to worry about. She would open up the house, get the job done and go home. Two hours max, that’s all it would take to dust, vacuum and tidy the main rooms. Of course, she would have to come back when Belthorn’s new resident arrived in a week’s time, but she would worry about that later.

She took the bag with her cleaning gear out of the van and pulled the keys out of her pocket to examine them. She hadn’t been there for a while. Which was the right one?

She was about to insert the biggest key in the lock when the door was yanked open and a brute of a man stood in front of her, his broad shoulders filling the doorway.

In the blink of an eye she took in his strong, square jaw covered with stubble, the fine scars that ran across his cheeks and forehead, the misshapen nose which was bent to one side, as if it had been broken several times, and his slightly dishevelled brown hair that reached down to the ….

Blurb

A gorgeous new Christmas story from the author of bestselling novel Little Pink Taxi
A flick of a feather duster and a sprinkle of Christmas magic …
Cassie Bell is used to mess. Her cleaning business, Bluebell Cleaning, is well known in the Cumbrian village of Red Moss. However, now it’s almost Christmas and Cassie has a slightly messier situation to deal with than she’s used to.

She’s been hired to help Stefan Lambert, an injured army helicopter pilot who’s staying at the local Belthorn Manor whilst he recovers. Stefan resents Cassie’s interference and is definitely not looking for Christmas cheer. But Cassie prides herself on sparkling surfaces – so, can she bring some festive sparkle to Stefan’s life too?

You can buy BLUEBELL’S CHRISTMAS MAGIC as an ebook and audio book here from Amazon UK

Author Bio

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in Lancashire with her family. She works full-time as a modern languages teacher and in her spare time she loves writing romance and dreaming about romantic heroes. She writes both historical and contemporary romance and best-selling Little Pink Taxi was her debut romantic comedy novel with Choc Lit.

She belongs to Authors on the Edge and writes short stories for the best selling Miss Moonshine’s anthologies. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors. Her native France, as well as her passion for history and research, very much influences her writing, and all her novels have what she likes to call ‘a French twist’!

Please feel free to contact Marie on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/marielavalauthor/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/MarieLaval1).

***

Thanks Marie – great opening lines.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Interview with Colette McCormick

Today I’m delighted to welcome Colette McCormick to my place for a cuppa and a chat.

Why not put your feet up for five minutes and join us? There’s cake…

Welcome Colette! Let me start by asking what inspired you to write An Uncomplicated Man?

The song ‘Danny Boy.’ I was on dialysis one night, just sitting there waiting for the four hours to be up when I started to think about my dad. ‘Danny Boy’ or ‘The Londonderry Air’ to give it its correct title, was his favourite song and that popped in there too. I thought that ‘Danny Boy,’ would make a great title and I started to throw a few ideas around in my head. The story that I came up with didn’t really work out and over time, developed into An Uncomplicated Man though if I’m honest I sometimes wish that we’d kept the original title.

Do you model any of your characters after people you know? If so, do these people see themselves in your characters?

I think that I probably pinch little bits from lots of people but I doubt that anyone would recognize themselves. If my mother had lived long enough, she might have seen pieces of herself in the obsessively house-proud mother in Ribbons in Her Hair, who made the best mashed potato in the world. She was guilty as charged on both fronts.

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

I had to read about bank interest rates in 1957 and the Suez crisis but I mainly just had to get a feel for the era.

Which Point of View do you prefer to write in and why?

All of my books have been written in the first person and the last three from dual perspectives so that the reader gets both sides of the story. I like the first person because it allows me to get into the characters head and tell things through their eyes.

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

I generally know where I want to go with a story but I let the characters take me there. There was one point in my first book, Things I Should Have said and Done, where I actually thought, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that coming.’

What is your writing regime?

It’s very relaxed I’m afraid. I work full time so that doesn’t leave a lot of time. I’ll do big chunks of writing on my days off, maybe three or four hours but the rest of the week it might just be an hour in the evening. I try to write at least something every day because I need the routine of it. I have to give myself a deadline because I find that helps to focus my mind.

What excites you the most about your book?

This book is totally alien to me inasmuch as it’s set before I was born so I have no experience of the time. Lucy is a completely different character for me too and while I’d probably hate her if I met her in real life, I enjoyed writing her.

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

Great question. If I couldn’t take my husband and two sons, the first person I’d want to be on the island with me would be Bear Grylls because he’d make sure that we survived. He’d be great when it came to building camps and finding things to eat. I would also want to have Anne Frank there because she’d be safe with us. Obviously, I knew her story before I read her diary but the way it ended broke me. I sobbed for ages and I still can’t get it out of my mind. The third person I’d like to share my desert island with is Sherlock Holmes. For me, he is one of the most complex and enigmatic characters ever created and I would love to try and understand how his mind worked.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’d like to thank you for inviting me to spend time here. It’s been a lot of fun.

You are very welcome- thanks for coming along today.

***

Here’s the blurb to An Uncomplicated Man

An emotional, uplifting story about one man split between two lives… Perfect for fans of Amanda Prowse.

What if the man in your life isn’t who he says he is?

Daniel Laither is a mild-mannered and uncomplicated bank manager, but when his boss asks him for a favour, things begin to get tangled. Introduced to businessman Arthur Braithwaite, Daniel reluctantly agrees to a financial arrangement that will create an unbreakable link between them.

When Daniel meets Lucy, Braithwaite’s daughter, he becomes a man obsessed. From the steamy afternoons spent together in hotel rooms, to evenings out with Lucy in fancy restaurants, Daniel’s life moves a million miles from the one he’d had.

He finds himself lying to his friends, his colleagues and, most importantly, his wife. He borrows money from a loan shark to afford this double life, but when the debt demands to be paid, he contemplates stealing from the bank. When Lucy falls pregnant and Braithwaite insists upon a marriage, Daniel has to choose between his two lives…

***

Links

Facebook Author page

@colettemcauthor

Colette McCormick on Books and Life in General

Buy An Uncomplicated Man on Amazon

Bio

Originally a city girl, Colette has made her home in a one of the many former mining villages in County Durham. When not working as a retail manager for a large children’s charity she will more than likely be writing, even if it’s only a shopping list. She also enjoys cooking, gardening and taking the dog on long walks in the countryside near her home. She has been married for almost forty years and has two grown up sons.

***

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

 

 

End of the Month Blog: November ends

Unbelievably, we have reached the end of another month, and here to celebrate (commiserate??) is Nell Peters with her final round up of 2019!

Over to you Nell…

Well shiver me timbers – it’s the last day of November, and now that I’m writing the blog bi-monthly it means this is my last for 2019! How crazy is that? So, better make it a half-decent read, I suppose.

Quite a bit of family stuff suggests itself – excellent, as that involves absolutely no research, just some excavation of the memory bank. I’m so lazy!

Returning to the beginning of October (which seems an awfully long time ago now), we toddled off to the Corn Exchange in town to watch GDII perform in her first dance show – she’s been going to classes on Saturday mornings for about six months now and loves it. Apart from the routines, I was most impressed by the organisation of a large number of small children, including quite a few boys, by half a dozen teachers and chaperones – I had enough problems with four!

The nippers mostly performed according to age and we waited with bated breath for our little star to take to the stage with other six year-olds. She made her entrance in a turquoise tutu, with gossamer wings attached to her back – the latter being an emergency replacement pair after the first were delivered battered and bent into a very unfairly-like shape. GD remembered all her steps but added her own artistic interpretation, when she lifted her skirt to hitch up her tights – I’m afraid she gets her lack of poise and elegance gene from yours truly, other granny being far more refined. OH (no Fred Astaire himself) has suggested she might like to swap the dance lessons for instruction in Sumo wrestling, or similar.

On the work front, confusion reigns. The small, independent publisher I had two books with was taken over/merged with one of the big five – good news you might think? Maybe, but I’m not holding my breath – having been under-published by the original lot (that’s a euphemism for abandoned at launch) it’s not boding well so far as it seems (from the sparse info available) that they will be concentrating on books already in the publication pipeline. Absolutely fair enough as a priority, but they are not taking submissions of new work until 2021(!) – and no real word as yet re the already published books they have taken under their wing. I was not alone in not knowing I had been sold until an email was received out of the blue, welcoming me to the new company. That was the last communication I received. Mm… Watch this space, or not.

A little late, but I managed to finally get some dates out of the OH as to when he could take time out for a holiday – he could only spare a week, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth! We decided to return to a rather nice hotel in Majorca that we went to a couple of years ago – the week we booked was half term for most, but as it’s not a particularly child friendly place, we decided to risk it.

Before we left I needed to take a trip to Twickenham to see my mum, as I hadn’t visited for a while and guilt was beginning to bite. I was planning to do just a day trip, but #3 intervened and booked overnight accommodation for me at the Marriott Hotel, which forms part of Twickenham Rugby Ground. He stays in Marriotts for work in Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangkok and so collects a ridiculous number of loyalty points (he’s at the Jaipur hotel for an average of 150 nights a year, for example), some of which he generously donated to my stay. On checking in, I found I didn’t have any old room, but a suite – top floor, with a lounge, bedroom, two bathrooms and a whole array of luxurious touches, overlooking the pitch. How the other half live! Too bad I was on my own…

That evening, I met up with the lady who had been my parents’ primary career, plus #2 son who lives locally for drinks, and the next morning, #3 flew in from Jaipur. He arrived at the hotel (in shorts!) and ordered a pint of Guinness at eight o’clock in the morning, his excuse being he was still on Indian time and anyway, Guinness is not available there so he had some catching up to do. When #2 turned up, we had breakfast – the hotel staff are no doubt currently reconsidering the concept of an all-you-can-eat buffet. In case you were wondering, I had two small pieces of GF bread with strawberry jam, leaving the gannet impressions to the sons, especially #3, who obviously hadn’t eaten for a month or more.

We went to see my mum, armed with loads of flowers and bite-sized snack bits – her appetite for regular meals isn’t great, but she does love her junk food. The conversation was at best random, at worst completely and incomprehensibly off the wall, but frankly I don’t suppose we can hope for much better at this notch on the dementia spectrum. My sons have strict instructions to shoot me, if ever I am similarly afflicted. From the care home, we drove a few miles to the cemetery where my dad and other relatives are buried – I have an arrangement with my cousin, Keith, that whoever visits sorts out not only my dad’s stone, but also those of our grandparents and his parents who are there, only a few plots away. That day, the gorgeous cream roses we’d bought proved a bit of a challenge to arrange in strong, gusty winds – we did our best, but half of them had probably blown away before the car nosed out of the cemetery gates.

That being a Friday, it was all back to Norfolk for a family invasion weekend, so we had an early Halloween dinner and sparklers, as we thought that was the last time we’d all be together for a while (we have these gatherings every fortnight with varying numbers) – the OH had pronounced that he would be in Berlin for the next one, but had in fact got his dates wrong. I’m not saying a word!

#3 had come home to take GDI (aged eleven) to New York over half term, as a reward for doing well in the SATS exams she sat (see what I did there?) before she moved to senior school in September. They were initially keen on going to Hong Kong, but decided against it, as the riots worsened. How very lucky she is – I have three degrees and I don’t think anyone even took me out to dinner as a ‘well done you’ for passing any of them. Sniff. Grizzle. Pout.

They were away at the same time we were in Majorca, sending us copious numbers of pics of them posing at all the usual suspects, like the Statue of Liberty, Empire State, sitting in an off-Broadway theatre about to watch Chicago etc etc, while I reclined on my four-poster sun bed, trying not to appear too jealous. I did enter into the spirit of things to a small extent, when I sent a video of the most awesome thunder/lightning storm I’ve ever seen, taken from our second floor balcony on our first night. After that, the weather was brilliant. The only fly in the ointment/there goes the neighbourhood moment was when James Argent checked in with a couple of burly mates (this was just after he’d been banned from EasyJet for some ridiculous antic on the tarmac), as he was doing a gig in nearby Palma – he’s a singer, apparently. I was waiting for the OH in Reception when they arrived and I don’t think he could have announced his name any louder – sadly wasted on the guy behind the desk, who very obviously didn’t know him from Adam. Insistence on having the best rooms similarly fell on deaf ears. Can I just explain here that I have never seen TOWIE, but I sometimes read the Mail online (don’t judge me, it doesn’t have a pay wall!) and in their sidebars there are often snippets about Gemma Collins, who I understand is his on/off girlfriend. Nevertheless, the OH was truly horrified that I knew who this person was! JA looks pretty big in pics and he certainly is – in height as well as weight. I’m 5’9” and he dwarfed me.

The rugby semi-finals were shown on TV in the lounge of our hotel, and I took my maternal duties seriously, WhatsApping a running commentary to #3 while he tried to find the game on TV Stateside, where it was four o’clock in the morning. Having been raised in Twickenham, I’ve really had enough of rugby to last me a lifetime – rerouted bumper to bumper traffic jams on match days, no chance whatsoever of getting on any form of public transport, ditto entering a pub if you are that way inclined. The more enterprising locals set up fast food stalls in their gardens, or rent out their driveways for parking, while the majority simply grit their teeth and hibernate until it’s all over.

And all over it was for England’s hopes of lifting the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Males of the clan crammed themselves into the playroom (biggest TV) for the final, played on the next of our invasion weekends, with not everyone present knowing who to support. The OH was born in the UK, but spent his formative years in SA and #3 (enjoying the last couple of days of his holiday en famille) spent part of his gap year there, returning whenever he can. One of my sisters in law told me she has an even greater dilemma when watching international sporting fixtures – she cheers for 1) SA, 2) England and 3) Australia, where she now lives. How confusing!

 

In 1976 on this day, rugby union player Josh Lewsey was born. He shares his birthday with Jonathan Swift, Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist and political pamphleteer, born in Dublin in 1667 (died 1745); Chrissy Teigen, American model, born in Delta, Utah in 1985; Chanel Iman, American supermodel, born in Atlanta in 1989 – on the same day as Margaret Nales Wilson, Filipino model. Obviously a good day for models – the latter two were born on the day that Deutsche Bank CEO and board member, Alfred Herrhausen was killed by a Red Army Faction terrorist bomb. Not such a good day for him.

I mentioned Marriott Hotels earlier – they are a multinational with many subsidiaries, including Sheraton Hotels and Resorts, Ritz-Carlton, Autograph Collection, Gaylord Hotels and Le Méridien, plus a whole lot more, and 25% of shares are still owned by the Marriott family. Lucky them. Not so lucky for their client base on 30th November 2018 however, when 500 million accounts were jeopardised by a massive data breach during one of the world’s largest ever company hacks.

Think I’d be pretty hacked off too. So sorry!

On that dodgy note, I will leave you.

Merry Christmas (General Election permitting – it will be such a relief not to have others’ strident opinions shoved down my neck like I’m some sort of half-wit!) and a Happy New Year to y’all.

Toodles. NP

***

Huge thanks to Nell as ever.

Have a fabulous festive season!

Jenny xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opening Lines with Rachel Brimble: Christmas at Pennington’s

This week, on Opening Lines, I’m delighted to welcome a fabulous writer, and good friend, to my site.

Why not settle down with a cuppa, and read the first 500 words of Rachel Brimble’s latest release, Christmas at Pennington’s?

Blurb

Gripping drama as Pennington’s department store prepares for a glittering Christmas in 1911, but a killer stalks the women of Bath.

Christmas sees Pennington’s at its most glorious, thronged with shoppers, its grand staircase and balcony adorned with holly, mistletoe, tinsel and lights. It should be the happiest time, but dramas are seething beneath the surface.

For Cornelia Culford, in charge of jewellery, a divorce hearing looms, where she could lose custody of her young sons to her overbearing and unfaithful husband.

For Stephen Gower, being head of security at Pennington’s is the perfect refuge from a tragic past at Scotland Yard. But soon the past will call him back, as Joseph Carter and Elizabeth Pennington beg him to help solve the murder of Joseph’s first wife, now that it seems as if the killer has struck again.

For Joseph and Elizabeth, their marriage depends on exorcising the past. But can it ever be laid to rest?

FIRST 500 WORDS…

London, November 1911

Stephen Gower clasped his hands behind his back and fought to keep his gaze steady on Inspector King’s. ‘I appreciate that, sir, but it’s for the best that I leave. I’ve explained—’

‘And your explanation does not sit well with me.’ The inspector leaned his considerable bulk back in the chair behind his desk and narrowed his grey eyes. ‘Those young women and Detective Constable Walker were murdered at someone else’s hand, not yours.’

Tension stiffened Stephen’s shoulders. ‘That maybe so, but it was me who chose to not immediately act on those women’s fears. I should never have sent Walker to investigate instead of going myself.’

‘And who’s to say your being there would have stopped what happened? It could just as easily have been you who was killed. The Board’s investigation into your accountability that night will be sorted out as quickly as possible. You acted accordingly and I’m confident the Board will echo my sentiments.’

Stephen shook his head. ‘Sir, I appreciate your support—’

‘But instead of biding your time, you come to me with the daft idea of working as a security watchman at Pennington’s department store. What on earth were you thinking by taking yourself off to be interviewed without waiting to hear what the Board have to say?’

‘I need to work, you know that. I can’t sit around doing nothing while I wait for the decision to be made of whether or not I can continue to work for the constabulary. My mind is filled with those murders constantly. I can’t eat or sleep. I need some time away from London. Some time to get my head around everything that happened.’

King rose to his feet, his cheeks mottled. ‘How will a detective of your calibre ever be happy wandering back and forth around a damn department store? You’ll be bored out of your mind within a week.’

Stephen stood a little straighter. He didn’t doubt the inspector’s summary was wholly accurate, but he had to get out of the Yard. Out of London. To stay in the capital, to continue working for the police, where memories and images haunted him, was impossible.

He held the inspector’s gaze. ‘I submitted my resignation over a month ago, sir. Today I leave. There’s nothing more to discuss.’

The clock on the office’s grey wall ticked away each second, and when the raucous cheer of his fellow officers rang in the distance, Stephen hardened his resolve. Undoubtedly, a criminal of some description had been apprehended. Most probably someone who’d avoided capture for a considerable time, judging by the continuing cheers and laughter.

Yet, the inspector did not as much as glance towards the door. Stephen kept himself still. He would not – could not – falter in his decision to leave. No matter what the inspector said or did next, for Stephen’s sanity, he had to go.

Today.

‘Fine.’ Inspector King raised his hands in surrender. ‘Go. But there is no chance I’ll…’

If you’d like to find out what happens next, you can buy Christmas at Pennington’s from all good retailers- including…

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Christmas-at-Penningtons-Rachel-Brimble-ebook/dp/B07RC9R3JK/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=christmas+at+penningtons&qid=1557909447&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Amazon US – https://www.amazon.com/Christmas-at-Penningtons-Rachel-Brimble-ebook/dp/B07RC9R3JK/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=christmas+at+penningtons&qid=1557909484&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/christmas-at-pennington-s

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=RlKYDwAAQBAJ&dq=rachel+brimble+christmas+at+pennington%27s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwipwODrpNDjAhVkqHEKHX-HB28Q6AEILDAA

Bio

Rachel lives with her husband and their two daughters in a small town near Bath, England. She is the author of over 20 published novels including the Pennington’s department store series (Aria Fiction) and the Templeton Cove Stories (Harlequin).

In July 2019, she signed a three-book deal with Aria Fiction for a Victorian trilogy set in a Bath brothel which will feature three heroines determined to change their lives and those of other women. The first book is due for release in Autumn 2020.

Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and has thousands of social media followers all over the world.

To sign up for her newsletter (a guaranteed exclusive giveaway every month!), click here:

https://us12.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=ab0dc0484a3855f2bc769984f&id=bd3173973a

Website: https://rachelbrimble.com/

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelbrimbleauthor/?hl=en

***

Many thanks for visiting today Rachel.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Jane Risdon’s criminal mind

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jane Risdon back to my place- although I fear we should be wary.

She’s talking about her criminal mind!

Over to you Jane…

Jenny, many thanks for inviting me to share some of my experiences with you and your followers today. It is so generous of you and I really appreciate the opportunity.

I’ve a criminal mind. At least my readers must think I have. I must admit I wonder about myself. Where do all my murderous ideas come from when on the outside I seem quite normal? I think I’m normal but, hey, they say you’re the last to know if you’ve lost your marbles.

If you’re reading this and are of a delicate disposition go and make a cup of tea, swing from a chandelier or just pretend I’m not here. Things might get a little hairy because I am going to discuss murder. Just kidding. It’s sanitised.

Some of you may have come across me through the novel I co-wrote with Christina Jones, Only One Woman (Headline Accent), set in the 1968/69 UK music scene and at its heart there’s a love triangle. Forget love and all things nice. I’m not going there, although I’m sure you know that most murders are committed by a close relation or friend. Just saying – that cuppa seems tempting now, I bet.

Crime, thrillers, and espionage novels have always rung my bells, even from a very young age. I guess I love adventure and when young I read all the adventure stories such as ‘Kidnapped,’ ‘The Secret Seven,’ and books like that. Reading a ‘girlie,’ book never crossed my mind, although I admit to having read and loved ‘A Swish of the Curtain,’ by Pamela Brown. Somewhere deep down I knew I was going to be the next Prima Ballerina or an Oscar-winning actress – delusions of being a thespian have never left me. I imagine that is why I eventually worked in the international music business – those who can do, and those who can’t help others to achieve their dreams.

 

Capitol Records Building

The entertainment business is in my DNA, although whose DNA kicked started those ambitions I’ve no idea. My family is devoid of such rebels and subversives (the Mater’s viewpoint), and thespianism – still legal last time I looked – comes from my husband’s side – he’s a musician. His mother was quite a looker in her day and a member of an Aqua ballet (synchronised swimming) show. His father was a crooner (singer) and his brother is an actor. Actually ‘himself’ has acted a lot too, mostly in India where he’s appeared in many movies and television series alongside some of the Bollywood Superstars.  He has been known to be ‘recognised’ in the street by Indians who watch hours upon hours of cinema. His great aunt, Elizabeth Risdon, was a famous Hollywood actress and starred in over one hundred movies with stars such as John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, to name a few.  I guess thespianism has rubbed off on me. My husband says I’m a bit of a thespian at times. I cannot argue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Risdon

The chances of becoming an actress or a prima ballerina became ever more remote the older I got and eventually I settled for The Diplomatic Service – better known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall. Although by then I was dreaming of being a writer. And, reading some of the archived files at the FCO really fed my imagination. Thespians are rife in the Service: all those spies pretending to be someone and something else. The files were a treasure-trove for a would-be writer.

To be accepted by the FCO (back then) one had to be Positively Vetted (PV) for security reasons. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say they turn you, your family, and friends inside out probing your lives and even the lives of distant long dead relatives. You get a thorough going-over. My then boyfriend – now husband – found the intrusion into his life and his family a bit much, especially being a musician and very anti-establishment back then.

Old New Scotland Yard

Now, what the heck has this to do with crime I can hear you yelling? I’m getting there, keep your hair on. At that time the Old Scotland Yard building on the Victoria Embankment was one of seventeen FCO buildings in London and I worked there in Personnel ‘looking after,’ the Ambassadors, various Embassy staff and families around the world. It was the height of The Cold War and the IRA were being a bloody nightmare.

MI5 Building- Thames House

Espionage and intrigue was everywhere. One hundred plus Russians were expelled for spying in a ‘tit-for-tat’ with The Soviet Union at the time. Oh the excitement. My department handled the ‘personal’ side of all this.

https://www.mi5.gov.uk/the-later-cold-war

One of those responsible for my PV was a Commander from Special Branch called Ferguson-Smith (see his info below) who was responsible for capturing Soviet spies, Peter and Helen Kroger (aka Morris and Lona Cohen) in 1961.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29985359

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/real-life-stories/ferguson-smith-special-branch-brought-2296496

He told me about the Krogers and of course my imagination went wild. I was a great fan (still am) of John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth so imagine my excitement; real life spies and I knew their spy-hunter.

As I said, I was allowed to read files from the archives and another infamous and possible spy scandal was what came to be known as ‘The Profumo Affair’. Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies were ‘good-time’ girls involved with a government minister, John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War. Imagine having all that sex and intrigue at your fingertips when still in your teens, being an avid reader and would-be author; all mentally filed away for a future time.

https://www.britannica.com/event/Profumo-affair

Geoffrey Jackson, Ambassador to Uruguay, was kidnapped by Tupamaros guerrillas in 1970 in Montevideo, and was held for eight months during which time I and my colleagues in my department were working the personnel side of things. At night I’d go home to my guitarist boyfriend and his band and I wasn’t allowed to tell him or anyone anything. I was fit to burst.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/9/newsid_3634000/3634352.stm

I won’t bore you with other government departments I’ve worked for, it is quite a list. In the early days of marriage to my musician husband someone had to be the steady earner and hold the fort whilst he trotted off to exotic locations on tour and mixed with the ‘jet set,’ as they were called back then. Mind you, the Red Shoes Ballroom in Elgin was hardly exotic although everyone who was anyone has played there. It was only one of many ‘must play,’ venues on the UK circuit.  Hanging out with Liz and Richard Taylor in Switzerland was a bit more like it, I admit.

Later, we went into the international management of recording artists, musicians, songwriters, record producers, and the odd actor (odd, yes some were definitely that) and we placed music into movie and TV soundtracks internationally. This took us to Taiwan, Singapore, all over Europe, Canada and the USA, and of course Hollywood. Ah! Now we are getting closer to the crime part of my piece. Patience.

By this time I was reading a lot. All those hours on the road and in recording studios had to be filled when not actually doing anything myself, so crime novels kept me out of mischief. I got hooked on Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, as well as many others. Their knowledge of crime scene detection and forensic science fascinated me. It perked my curiosity.

There are many legends in the entertainment business and not just the artists. The managers, the heads of record companies, and movie studio supremos are just as interesting as the artists they work with, including Clive Davis and Tommy Mottola who signed and nurtured the careers of singers such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, for example. Fascinating characters.

https://collider.com/clive-davis-documentary-interview-soundtrack-of-our-lives/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tommy_Mottola

And then there are those who are notorious for many other reasons. Those who were criminals or involved with the criminal underside of the music business. Their crimes are legendary and have been written about time and again. There were also ‘heavies’ in the business and you need look no further than Don Arden (father to Sharon Osborne) who managed so many of the huge artists in the UK music business throughout many decades, and also Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin, who changed the way musicians got paid for their gigs. I’ve met both. Do follow the links and blow your mind.

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/whats-on/music-nightlife-news/ozzy-osbourne-manager-dangled-robert-10688655

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Grant_(music_manager)

Working in the music business one soon realises that everyone does business with these people daily. The first time we met a ‘legend’ in the USA we were confronted by body guards and were ‘welcomed’ to their ‘family,’ when we signed some artists to their record company and there was a gun and a base-ball bat on the lawyer’s desk as we signed contracts. I won’t mention names in case we get the horses head in the bed or the concrete boots to swim with. But, there are some seriously dangerous dudes out there and I think we have met and done business with many of them. Several were in the Payola scandals of the late 1970s when Pink Floyd and others were kept off USA radio stations because their management wouldn’t pay for air-time. ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ nearly collapsed sales-wise.

Books have been written about many of these all powerful movers and shakers and so far no-one has been sued for what they’ve written. Many found themselves before Grand Juries and had to take ‘The Fifth’ to avoid incriminating themselves. Others disappeared off the face of the earth without a trace. Not guilty!

https://www.stereophile.com/news/080105sony/index.html

With all this experience and our amazing connections you can see why crime writing was and is what I want to do.

I soon discovered that an interest in all things crime is not enough. I needed some background knowledge to help me write authentic and – I hope – mistake-free stories. Kathy Reichs is an author who is also a Medical Examiner, a real-life pathologist, and I love her books. It rapidly became clear to me that I needed to inform myself better so I enrolled in seven online university courses taught by the best in their field – internationally recognised tutors. I undertook six Forensic Science and Criminal Justice courses and a basic course in Archaeology to help me with my crime scenes, victim identification (even from shallow graves and a few bones and no ID) through detection and prosecution of perpetrators. Fascinating stuff. I’m not an expert but I can see what sort of weapons make cut marks on bones, how blood splatter can give so much detail about how a victim was attacked by a knife, axe or gun. Bullet hole identification, finger-print and DNA analysis, and how police interviews should be conducted – just some of the knowledge I gained to help my writing. I also studied and followed investigations of famous miscarriages of justice. Vey unsettling.

I don’t write police procedurals so you won’t find details of how an investigation works in my books. I don’t put too much blood and guts into my stories – my writing is a little different. However, it’s good to know these things in-case I stray into writing a little more detail than usual. No-one wants emails from irate detectives or knowledgeable readers shouting ‘rubbish that could never happen,’ or worse.

I’ve also made friends with a few former murder detectives and a counter-terrorism expert which has been very helpful when writing my series, ‘Ms Birdsong Investigates,’ featuring a former MI5 Intelligence Officer (still to be published), hoping to find her way back into the fold having been ‘voluntarily’ retired from the Security Services. It’s also helped with various stories I’ve contributed to in anthologies, magazines, and newsletters.

Being able to bounce stuff off of them has been invaluable especially when writing ‘Undercover: Crime Shorts,’ (Plaisted Publishing House), where my collection of short stories feature various methods of murder in everyday situations. Forensic knowledge was especially useful when devising methods of murder where I wanted the murderer to be long gone from the scene when my victims died.

You can come back now, get down from the chandelier and enjoy your tea once more without fear of reading something nasty. I’ve kept it clean. My road to writing has been an interesting one personally and my experiences have provided me with endless ideas for stories.

Every writer uses personal experiences at some point. I know Christina and I used those we shared in the 1960s when she was fan-club secretary to my boyfriend’s band, and writing ‘Only One Woman,’ was an amalgam of people, events and situations at that time. I am happy to say that murder is not something I have experienced first-hand, although as I mentioned earlier, crime and espionage has never been too far away during my various careers. Perhaps I’ve whetted your appetite and you’ll find your way to reading some of my work. That would be grand.

***

SWEET SABLE – The Red Siren 

From Undercover: Crime Shorts by Jane Risdon

Chapter One

Closing the safe door quietly and with an expert spin of the dial the black-clad woman straightened up, slinging the grip with her haul over her shoulder. She stood listening intently before moving towards the office door. Again she waited, her ears straining, before gently prising the door open and stepping silently into the corridor of darkened offices. She eased the door closed calculating she had barely two minutes before the night-watchman made his rounds, trying the doors and checking the building was secure.

The woman headed for the fire escape where she’d made her entrance to the three storey building some ten minutes earlier. Gently raising the window she climbed out on to the metal staircase with the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, giving the dark alley below a quick once-over to ensure no-one was around she hastily made her way down the rusting stairs. Her tar- toned unremarkable and unmemorable automobile was parked across the street, hidden in the gloom of another narrow alleyway. Glancing at her wrist-watch – an expensive pay-off from a married lover – she knew she’d better step on the gas. She’d less than fifteen minutes to get back to the night-club, park her car at the darkest end of the outside lot, and leg it back to her dressing-room with enough time to change into her gown for her last set of the evening. 

The red-head chuckled to herself as she repaired her lipstick pouting seductively at herself in the mirror, waiting for the stagehand to knock on her door with her final call. She was buzzing. She’d done it again, she’d pulled it off. It was better than any sex she’d ever had and that was saying something. She chuckled, puckered her ample lips and blew herself a huge wet kiss.

*****

As the spotlight found its mark the band-leader nodded to the scarlet-clad shapely figure who took up position in front of the microphone. Her hips swayed in time to the jazz trumpet and she took her cue. Her sultry sable-clad tones sucked her audience into her lair.

The figures outlined in the flickering candle-light adorning circular tables dotted around the smoke-hazed, expectant venue, stopped talking and turned their heads towards the elevated stage where Desi Garcia’s Syncopators went into full swing behind Sweet Sable – also known as the Red Siren – neither was her real name but no-one cared. When her song ended there was a moment’s silence before they pounded their tables shouting, ‘more, more.’

Sweet Sable wiggled her slender but shapely hips, leaned over the stage giving more than an eye-full of her full bosom on display in her tight-fitting, strapless gown and blew huge smackers into the air, aimed at no-one in particular but the full-blooded men in the audience got the message and so did their partners who silently seethed.

Her set over for the evening Sweet Sable made her way back to her dressing room, accepting compliments and congratulations on her ‘wonderful performance,’ smiling, blowing kisses and with a toss of her luxurious red mane, closed her dressing room door to keep the stage door Johnnies out. There was always a small stud congregated outside her door and gathered around the stage door following her shows. Sometimes she allowed a particularly handsome or obviously loaded guy inside who was good for a dinner or two – or for something else – if rich enough. They were ripe for the picking; such patsies.

This particular evening Sweet Sable was anxious not to have any company. She had plans and getting pawed by a fawning, slobbering man who felt ‘entitled’ after giving her dinner, was not part of them. She had to get her haul to a safe place so she could take a proper look at it before deciding what she had to do. Sweet Sable loved having options – and she had plenty. 

© Jane Risdon 2019

***

Jane with Only One Woman and Undercover: Crime Shorts

Jane’s Links:

https://janerisdon.com

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8

https://wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShow2.html

https://twitter.com/Jane_Risdon

https://www.facebook.com/JaneRisdon2/

https://www.instagram.com/janerisdonwriter/

Buy Links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8

Only One Woman: Christina Jones Jane Risdon (Headline Accent)

ISBN: (Waterstones and all good book stores) 9781783757312

ASIN: (Kindle, Tablet, Phone) BO75D88JBP

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Only-One-Woman-Christina-Jones/dp/1783757310/

Undercover: Crime Shorts  (Plaisted Publishing House)

ISBN: (Waterstones etc) 9780359397839

ASIN: (Kindle, Tablet, Phone etc) BO7RFRVL4P

https://books2read.com/b/4jD0wo 

***

Huge thanks Jane. What a great blog!

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny. xx

Opening Lines with Lynne Shelby: There She Goes

Opening Lines time is here!

This week Lynne Shelby is with me, sharing the first 500 words- exactly- of her latest romance, There She Goes.

Blurb

When aspiring actress Julie Farrell meets actor Zac Diaz, she is instantly attracted to him, but he shows no interest in her. Julie, who has yet to land her first professional acting role, can’t help wishing that her life was more like a musical, and that she could meet a handsome man who’d sweep her into his arms and tap-dance her along the street…

After early success on the stage, Zac has spent the last three years in Hollywood, but has failed to forge a film career. Now back in London, he is determined to re-establish himself as a theatre actor. Focused solely on his work, he has no time for distractions, and certainly no intention of getting entangled in a committed relationship… 

Auditioning for a new West End show, Julie and Zac act out a love scene, but will they ever share more than a stage kiss?

FIRST 500 WORDS…

On shaking legs, I took one step and then another, until I was standing directly in front of the guy. His mouth lifted in a smile, and he put his arms around me, holding me close against his hard chest. My heart started beating so furiously that I felt sure he must be able to hear it. Telling myself firmly that I could do this, that it wasn’t as if it were the first time, I tilted up my face and looked directly into his eyes. He bent his head and kissed me on the mouth, softly at first, just a brush of his lips, but then more firmly, his hands moving smoothly down my back to settle on my hips. When we came up for air, he led me to the bed and drew me down beside him. We lay facing each other on the bare mattress, our bodies pressed together, and kissed for a long time. I tried, unsuccessfully, to remember his name.

I thought, there can be few professions apart from the obvious that require you to simulate desire for a stranger on a regular basis.

The director said, ‘Cut.’

The guy stopped kissing me, and we both sat up. While the director conferred with his assistant, who’d videoed our audition, I stole a glance at my fellow actor’s profile. He was a few years older than me, I thought, in his mid- to late-twenties, and extraordinarily good-looking, with his dark hair falling over his forehead and just the right amount of stubble on his tanned face. I wondered if he might be Italian, or maybe Spanish.

‘We’ve got all we need for today,’ the director said. ‘Thank you.’

The guy (what was his name?) got off the bed and said, ‘Thank you. Good to have met you.’

I swung my legs over the side of the mattress and stood up. I tried to think of

something, anything, to say that might persuade the director to cast me, but decided that throwing myself at his feet and begging (please, please, please, give me the job. I’m an out of work actress, and my rent’s due next week) would be unprofessional. The dark-haired actor was already heading towards the door of the studio, so I echoed his ‘thank you’, snatched up my bag and coat, and hurried after him.

We’d just stepped out into the corridor when the director’s voice drifted after us quite clearly: ‘Like watching paint dry. Absolutely no sexual chemistry between those two.’ Seriously? At nine a.m. in a cold studio, it hadn’t been easy to act like a girl and boy madly in love – or in lust, as the director had put it – but until that moment, I’d thought the dark-haired guy and I had done pretty well. Apparently, I was mistaken.

The guy shut the door and rolled his eyes. I followed him across the reception area, where a crowd of actors were still waiting to audition, and out into the car park…

***

Buy link for There She Goes:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/There-She-Goes-Lynne-Shelby/dp/1786156555/ref=sr_1_1?crid=R9A40JQVD91D&keywords=there+she+goes+lynne+shelby&qid=1573928576&s=books&sprefix=There+She+Goes+lynn%2Cstripbooks%2C326&sr=1-1 

Bio

Lynne Shelby writes contemporary women’s fiction/romance. Her debut novel, French Kissing, was published when it won a national writing competition. Her latest novel, There She Goes, is set in London’s Theatreland. She has worked at a variety of jobs from stable girl to child actor’s chaperone to legal administrator, but now writes full time. When not writing or reading, Lynne can usually be found at the theatre, or exploring a foreign city –  Paris, New York, Rome, Copenhagen, Seattle, Athens – writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband, and has three adult children who live nearby.

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

Twitter: @LynneB1

Instagram: lynneshelbywriter

Website and Blog: www.lynneshelby.com

***

Many thanks for sharing your great opening lines today Lynne.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Opening Lines by Kelly Florentia: Her Secret

For this week’s Opening Lines I’m delighted to welcome Kelly Florentia, with the first 500 words from her romantic suspense novel, Her Secret.

Over to you Kelly…

Her Secret is the sequel to my second novel, No Way Back, and follows the ups and downs of girl-about-town, (well, woman-about-town, she’s forty-two), Audrey Fox. The book is set in affluent Muswell Hill, north London. It’s a romantic suspense novel with a thriller edge. It’s about the consequences of rushing into a marriage, secrets, lies, obsessions and….shoes! Although Her Secret is part of a series it can definitely be read as a stand-alone novel.

BLURB:

You know something.
You can’t share it.
You can’t discuss it.
You can’t stop thinking about it.

Audrey Fox never thought she’d tie the knot, especially after wasting eight years of her life with a man who couldn’t commit. But at the age of forty-two, fate throws her a lifeline and she finally has it all; gorgeous husband, thriving career, beautiful family and fabulous friends. Life couldn’t be better….until someone tells her a secret at a boozy dinner party; something that she wishes she could unhear; something that could wreck lives.
Burdened by the secret, Audrey’s perfect life begins to spiral out of control and the cracks begin to show. She longs to tell her husband but is fearful of the consequences; she’s desperate to discuss it with her friends, but her hands are tied. Then one morning, on impulse, Audrey does something drastic, but will she live to regret it? Because there’s no smoke without fire and everyone has secrets…don’t they?

FIRST 500 WORDS – HER SECRET

IF YOU COULD TURN BACK TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY? I stare at the swirly white writing set against the backdrop of a sunset in wry amusement. It’s just the type of thing you’d expect from Vicky, right up her street. I heart my sister-in-law’s Instagram post, just to show my support, notching up her likes to thirty-six. She’ll love that. I don’t bother adding a comment to the twenty-four already listed. I’m not into dwelling on the past, not anymore. I’ve let go–moved on. I’m a new woman now with a new name.

I slide my thumb up lazily, a picture of a fluffy cat fills the screen followed by a bouquet of flowers, then a photo of my gorgeous nephews with George, my brother, looking awful, eyes half closed, mouth ajar. George will have a fit when he sees it. I laugh as I pinch the screen to zoom in, but as I gaze at their familiar faces on my iPhone, curiosity burns in my chest like a hot rod. I flick back to Vicky’s meme and click on ‘View all 24 comments.’ A quick peek at what her followers think won’t hurt, will it?

Comment 1: I’d stay on at school – Did that and came away with two A levels, not a great help in my job as a junior web designer but nice to have all the same.

Comment 2: I would have had my kids later in life – Of no interest.

I slide my thumb up the screen. Comment 3 (from someone called xx_timetraveller_x99): I’d travel more – I’m not that keen on flying, to be honest. The furthest I’ve travelled is the four and a half hour flight to Cyprus, and that was only to visit my parents, because, much too my protest, they retired there earlier this year. But no sooner had I waved them off at Heathrow Airport blubbing hysterically like a five-year-old child abandoned by her parents, than I was sipping a vodka and tonic on a British Airways flight to Larnaca. Pathetic, I know, for a grown, married woman. What can I say? I miss them terribly.

Comment 4: I’d have started using anti-wrinkle cream as soon as I could read! – I snort at that one. I suppose we’d all like to turn the clock back where youth is concerned. Although, thanks to my mum’s genes, I’m often told I look much younger than my forty-two years. I certainly feel it.

I read the next few comments with a smile on my face. Vicky’s got some amusing friends, no wonder she spends so much time on social media, despite my brother’s protests. But it’s the eighth comment that catches my attention. That makes me sit bolt upright in my seat.

Comment 8: I wouldn’t have rushed into marriage. The writing becomes a blur and I have to blink a few times, then as I glance up at the road I cry out in horror. “Watch out!” My mobile phone…..

***

Buy a copy from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Her-Secret-page-turning-sequel-Back-ebook/dp/B07CK9JHM1/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&linkCode=sl1&tag=books0c3-21&linkId=0ef3dd3a9d2e1d3c82daf2ed05fb72fb

BIO:

Kelly Florentia was born and bred in north London, where she continues to live with her husband Joe. HER SECRET (2018) is her third novel and the sequel to NO WAY BACK (2017).

Kelly has always enjoyed writing and was a bit of a poet when she was younger. Before penning her debut The Magic Touch, relaunched and updated in 2019, she wrote short stories for women’s magazines. To Tell a Tale or Two… is a collection of her short tales. In January 2017, her keen interest in health and fitness led to the release of Smooth Operator – a collection of twenty of her favourite smoothie recipes.

As well as writing, Kelly enjoys reading, running, drinking coffee, scoffing cakes, watching TV dramas and spending way too much time on social media. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

Website: www.kellyflorentia.com

Twitter: @kellyflorentia

Facebook: @KellyFlorentiaAuthor

Instagram: @kellyflorentia

***

Many thanks for your opening lines, Kelly.

Happy reading everyone,

Jen xx

Opening Lines with Anna Legat: Sandman

This week’s ‘Opening Lines’ come from Anna Legat, creator of the DI Gillian Marsh Mysteries.

Why not sit back and enjoy the first 500 words (exactly) of her crime novel, Sandman?

Blurb

When the heart declares bankruptcy, bad things happen to good people…

When Christmas shoppers board the 7.15pm train from London Paddington to Bath Spa, they don’t expect to never see their loved ones again. Retired Major Oscar Holt is on that train returning from a fishing expedition with a ten-year old Tommy, and so are Harry and Will – father and son reunited for the first time after a tragedy that occurred years ago in Zimbabwe. Charlie and his mates board that train, on their way to a stag do. Andrzej is driving the train – it is his last job before he goes back to his wife and daughter in Poland.

When a co-ordinated terrorist attack derails the train, the passengers are left fighting for their lives.

As the manhunt for the terrorists begins, D I Gillian Marsh must act on her instincts to find the ones responsible for this tragic attack.

FIRST 500 WORDS…

A convoy of five jeeps cuts across the desert at blinding speed – a series of five bullets. The vehicles stir the eroded soil and a cloud of dust lifts and lingers, irritating the eyes and nostrils of the men inside. Haji is well used to desert sand, but some of the fighters – youngsters brought up in Europe’s wetlands – don’t have a clue. They haven’t learnt to cover their mouths, so their throats are dry, their voices gravelly and they grind sand between their teeth. They drink gallons of water from plastic bottles recovered from humanitarian relief drops, most of which never reach their intended recipients. The truth of the matter is that the intended recipients are either dead or have long evacuated this area. There is no point letting water go to waste. Water has the value of pure gold in these parts – you don’t say no to it when it falls from the sky free of charge. The youngsters waste it; Haji doesn’t. It would be a sacrilege. Saving water is in his blood. Besides, the more you drink, the more you need. Haji is like a camel – he can go without water for days. He is ready for when there is no water, and that time will come because this is desert.

The whites of the young men’s eyes and teeth flash in their sun-ripened faces as they laugh and make plans for their destiny. They’re excited to make war – they see it as an opportunity to earn glory. For Haji, war is an everyday necessity, like water is for them. In war there is no retirement, only death. You live war – you die war. No exceptions. Haji watches the blossoming youth, his hooded eyes narrowed as if he is dazzled by them. Their beards are black, his is laced with dusty grey – the colour of the desert sand. He has sand embedded in the pores of his skin. Back home, in Afghanistan, his brothers used to say Haji was made of sand, for he could disappear into it without a trace. He is even better at it now that he is sixty years of age, grey and musty – an invisible old man.

He tries to catch up on some sleep while his young comrades boast and joke, and issue bloody threats to Assad and the West as the convoy heads for the Iraqi border. What border, Ismail asks cockily, there are no borders. Show me the border, he shouts and waves his machine gun. The boy is twenty-five at the most, and he sounds the same as those British soldiers that Haji has come across in Helmand Province. Others call him Geordie-Is, and that is supposed to account for his accent. Something to do with where he comes from, not that it makes any difference here except when Geordie-Is gets to appear in a video to send a message – loud and clear – to the Infidels. He loves that. He can talk for Asia, and he takes credit…

***

About the series:

My crime series The DI Gillian Marsh Mysteries include Swimming with Sharks, Nothing to Lose, Thicker than Blood, Sandman and finally Nobody Among Equals, which is due to be published under the Headline-Accent imprint next year.

Sandman is the latest instalment in the series. In this book DI Marsh has to take on a seasoned Afghani veteran of two wars, the war against the Soviets in the eighties and the latest War on Terror. Things turn personal for Gillian when Sandman’s action affect those closest to her, Tara her daughter and her future son-in-law.

Bio

A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna Legat has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications from Wellington College of Education (Victoria University, New Zealand). She inhabited far-flung places where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. She writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Links

https://annalegatblog.wordpress.com/

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sandman-betrayal-hunting-justice-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B07MZBG5Z3/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=anna+legat&qid=1571839304&sr=8-1

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/sandman/anna-legat/9781786154958

Twitter- @LegatWriter

https://www.facebook.com/AnnaLegatAuthor/

***

Many thanks for your opening lines Anna,

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

Opening Lines: Dark Magic by Tom Williams

This week’s Opening Lines is just perfect for Halloween.
Please welcome Tom Williams, with the first 500 words of his latest novella, Dark Magic.
Over to you Tom…
Here’s a Halloween treat – the first 500 words of my novella, Dark Magic. It’s a big change from the historical fiction I usually write. I’m not sure quite how to describe it. It’s part thriller, part supernatural horror story (don’t worry, it’s not scary), and part (I hope) comedy. It grew out of an evening spent with a bunch of magicians and a few drinks and it just sort of grew by itself. It’s being published today, as Halloween seems a particularly appropriate launch date. I hope you love it.
Blurb
Two magic shows: the Maestros of Magic touring the country, playing provincial theatres; the Carnival of Conjurors successful in the West End. When the Maestros learn that the Conjurors are using real magic – Black Magic – to do their tricks they decide that they must use their own, distinctly unmagical, stage skills to stop them. Soon people are dying on stage – but can the Maestros really beat a team that has the devil on their side?
FIRST 500 WORDS
“Baby’s blood?”

“That’s what it says. Mix in baby’s blood and use that to mark the pentagram.”

There were six of them, and Claudia looked from face to face waiting for someone to say that this was a ridiculous idea. She could, she supposed, have said it herself, but it was not as if anybody would have listened. Nobody ever listens to the magician’s beautiful assistant.

In fairness, they didn’t exactly rush to agree with the plan either. When Jerry spoke, he had the decency to sound embarrassed.

“Does it have to be a human baby?”

Jerry’s role in their conjuring show was to do the tricks that appealed mainly to children. It brought in family audiences, but the other magicians secretly – or, to be honest, not that secretly – despised him. Still, Claudia thought that one or two might have taken his side here, but Daniel didn’t allow time for any of them to join Jerry in questioning his plan.

“It’s true that it doesn’t specify human.” Daniel smiled. It was an unconvincing smile and Claudia thought he did it mainly to show off his teeth. They were quite startlingly white, though marred, in her opinion, by rather over-developed canines. “But human seems fairly clear from the context.”

“Well, could we try it with something else first?”

Daniel’s smile vanished. It was as if someone had flipped a switch. Where there had been a big white smile, all you noticed now was a very square jaw and full, but rather sulky, lips. And, if you raised your eyes to his, something about his irises that made you look away again very quickly.

“It’s hardly as if the other ingredients were easily come by. We don’t want to mess it up and have to do it again.”

They were quiet at that. Claudia had the impression that they were all thinking of different things. She reckoned they would say the worst was the virgin’s tears. Despite all the tired old jokes, finding a virgin had been the easy bit. It was keeping her crying for long enough to collect a vial of tears that had been wearing on their nerves.

After a pause, long enough for all of them to remember details they would rather have forgotten, Daniel spoke again.

“Baby’s blood, then.”

There was an uncomfortable nodding of heads.

“How much blood are we talking about?” That was Tor – almost certainly not his real name but there was something about the way he looked at you if you questioned him which discouraged you from asking twice. He was an illusionist, constantly fretting about the mechanical details of his act. “And what about clotting? Are we going to add an anti-clotting agent?” Claudia remembered an illusion that involved an arm being cut off. Tor had been dissatisfied with the stage blood most magicians used and had experimented with various concoctions of his own. Claudia had never enquired as to what they were, but one had clotted and spoiled the act and…

***

Links
Bio
TOM WILLIAMS has published six books of historical fiction but this is his first contemporary story and his first novella (33,000 words). He has spent far too much time hanging round with magicians.

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Many thanks Tom.
Happy reading everyone,
Jenny x

Opening Lines: The Weekender by Fay Keenan

One of the lovely things about running the ‘Opening Lines’ series, is that I get to read so many beginnings from authors I’ve followed for years as well as lots of new voices.

This week I’m welcoming established writer and friend, Fay Keenan, is sharing the first 500 words of her brand new novel, The Weekender.

Over to you Fay…

‘The Weekender’ is the first in a new series of novels set in the fictional town of Willowbury in Somerset, which, in the right light, can look a lot like the iconic town of Glastonbury! Inspired by several things, including an old photograph, a lifelong love of politics, many visits to Glastonbury and the real life campaign to get new generation drugs for cystic fibrosis patients, the novel centres around Holly, a wellbeing shop owner, and Charlie, the new member of parliament for the area. Ideologically they seem to be on different sides, but soon it becomes clear they may have more in common than they think! Set in both Willowbury and Westminster, this book is both a love story and an exploration of what happens when you find yourself in the middle of what could be, literally, a heart breaking matter of life and death.

Blurb

When Charlie Thorpe met Holly Renton, they were not a match made in heaven…

Holly lives and works in the beautiful town of Willowbury in Somerset. An incorrigible optimist, she is determined to change the world for the better.

Charlie Thorpe on the other hand, is the ultimate pragmatist. As Willowbury’s new member of parliament, he has to be. While he’s determined to prove himself to the town, as far as Holly’s concerned, he’s just another politician on the make.

But when their paths cross again, it’s clear they’ve got more in common than they think. Can Holly and Charlie overcome their differences and work together, or are they destined to be forever on opposite sides? And why does Holly have a funny feeling she has met Charlie before…

Let Fay Keenan whisk you away to a world of glorious country views, unforgettable characters and once-in-a-lifetime love. Perfect for all fans of Fern Britton, Veronica Henry and Erica James.

FIRST 500 WORDS…

‘White sage is all very well,’ Holly Renton reflected, ‘but the ashes are a bugger to get out of the carpet.’ Earlier that morning, before the shop had opened, Holly had carried out a ritual called smudging, which was meant to purify the energy in a building, promote positivity and remove negative energies. Picking up the dustpan and brush, she emptied the pungent remains of the dried herb bundle she’d ignited and then wafted around the windows and doors of the shop into the bin.

‘I know you recommend this all the time for other people’s houses, but why are you so bloody obsessed with doing it in the shop?’ Rachel, Holly’s sister, glanced down at where Holly was still brushing the rug under the mullioned front window of ComIncense, the shop specialising in herbal remedies and well-being aids that Holly ran in the sleepy but nonetheless New Age small town of Willowbury and smiled. Just beyond the shop’s counter, the door that led to Holly’s small back yard was open and Harry, Rachel’s three-year-old son and Holly’s nephew, was playing happily with a set of wooden animal-shaped blocks in their own lorry, which had come from a box of assorted toys that Holly kept specifically for the younger customers. Holly didn’t believe, unlike some of her business-owning neighbours, that children should be banned from places like hers, and since the early-spring weather was warm and pleasant, Harry had trundled out into the sunlight to play.

‘You’ve got to refresh places from time to time,’ Holly replied. ‘Especially when there’s been a lot of negative energy about, and since all of the scandal with Hugo Fitzgerald, I really felt like this place needed a spiritual cleanse!’

‘You can say that again,’ Rachel reached under the wooden apothecary’s dresser that displayed countless jars and pots of dried herbs and flowers, all purporting to be of some spiritual or physical benefit, to retrieve one of the toy llamas that Harry had thrown under it. ‘What a way to go…’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Holly replied, still sweeping. ‘At least, having had a massive coronary, he wouldn’t have known much about it.’

‘But what a waste of a good plate of scones and jam!’ Rachel grinned. ‘Mum told me that his constituency agent found him face down in them at his desk.’

‘I wouldn’t have fancied digging him out of them,’ Holly said. ‘But from the size of him, the heart attack was an accident waiting to happen. And gossip has it, he had his finger in a lot of pies, not just the odd plate of scones.’

‘Oh, you know how the rumour mill goes into overdrive when something like this happens.’ Rachel, who had more of a tendency to see the good in people than her sister did, dismissed Holly’s comments with a wave of her hand. ‘I mean, I’m not saying he wasn’t a prat, but nothing was ever proven about his financial misdemeanours. Although, I have to admit, since…

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You can pre-order The Weekender via-

tiny.cc/theweekender and on Kobo at https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/the-weekender-9

Bio

Fay Keenan is the author of the bestselling Little Somerby series of novels. She has led writing workshops with Bristol University and has been a visiting speaker in schools.  She teaches English in a local secondary school and  lives in Somerset. Fay’s new series for Boldwood will begin with The Weekender, in November 2019.

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Many thanks for your fabulous 500 words Fay.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny 

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