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

Tag: Exeter Author Assocation

A summer of events

The summer, dare I say it, is almost over – and what a busy couple of months it’s been. From children’s writing workshops, to freezing cold festival fields and a singles club- I’ve encountered them all.

There’s no doubt that summer is my busiest time of the year- and the most rewarding.

This year I was lucky enough to teach three children’s writing workshops for Devon Libraries (Cullompton, South Molton and Crediton), as part of the Summer Reading Scheme for 2018, on the subject of ‘Mischief Makers’. I was heartened and impressed by the range of stories the children created and I’m happy to report that the next generation’s imagination is alive and well. (They also have a much firmer grasp on the stories of Dennis the Menace than I do- my memory of the Beano has certainly slipped with age!)

The children of Barnstaple also proved their imagination is in tiptop shape, when I taught a creative writing class at St Anne’s Community Centre (a 10 week series of writing classes for children begins there in September- email me at for details).

In July, I was invited to teach a short story writing workshop at the Chudleigh Literary Festival. A wonderful event; I had a great day surrounded by loads of talented writers, special guests and book lovers. Huge thanks to Elizabeth Ducie for inviting me along.

Last weekend I, along with many of my fellow Exeter Author Association members (PJ Reed, Richard Dee, Tracey Norman, Mark Norman and Susie Williamson), returned to Chilcompton for their annual fringe festival.

In 2017, when we attended Chilcompton, it was so hot that some of us suffered from heat sickness. This year that was never going to be a problem. To say it rained doesn’t really do the persistent and heavy downpour that lasted all day, justice.

Dressed as characters from out books, we all looked the part; from elf, to steampunk man, to medieval lady and beyond…however…as we were freezing cold we rather overdid the layers. Six layers in my case- and you can tell!

Never ones to give up easily, the EAA carried on regardless! Our talk audiences were rather smaller than usual, but the smiles were still wide. I had great fun talking to this little gathering about Robin Hood. Fingers crossed for a mild dry day next year!

As well as my usual workshops, my summer events finished off with an author talk to the Young at Heart singles club in St Sidwells, Exeter. Chatting away about how my writing career began was great fun. It soon became clear that a couple of the ladies in the group had always wanted to write, but had never been brave enough. By the time I left one had written the start of a short children’s story, and another had told a whole story via answering random questions. Fantastic!

Thank you to everyone who has hosted both me and my fellow EAA members this summer.

Now- if you’ll excuse me I’d better go and edit my next novel…

Happy reading,


Interview with Simon Miller: Ebolowa

Today I’m delighted to welcome debut novelist, Simon Miller, to my blog to tell us a little about his book, Ebolowa.

Why not pop the kettle on, put your feet up for five minutes, and join us for a chat?

What inspired you to write your book?

I lived in Cameroon in the 1970s and heard about the rape and murder of a young American woman back in the mid-1950s.  I was never convinced by the official account of what happened (she’d been allegedly assaulted and strangled by her Cameroonian secretary) and years later I decided to write an alternative version.  EBOLOWA is the result.

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

To make a convincing case I had to get the background right.  I had to research the history of Cameroon and the global picture of ‘the scramble for Africa’ for natural resources like titanium, palm oil and petroleum – – as well as the means governments used to secure them.  I knew about researching history from my work at university but I discovered (a painful lesson) that academic writing is no help at all in telling a thrilling story.

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

I write with the voices of my characters rather than as myself or with a strong narrative voice.  In EBOLOWA there are four points of view, two men and two women with different angles on the same events spread over two weeks in the spring of 1974.  Obviously the women, Candace and Eileen, were more difficult but the men, Harry and Gitan, are very different from me as well and I found creating all the personalities and their voices a real challenge.  The creation of characters with credible motives and actions is crucial to any story telling and nothing undermines a thriller more than the author taking liberties with the possible.   I will have failed if you stop reading with an exasperated cry of “oh no, that’s just ****** ridiculous!”

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

I’m a plotter.  I have to be in order to offer a credible alternative to EBOLOWA’S official version.  I have to blend fact with fiction and give you important background without clogging up the pace of the action.  A historical thriller must reflect the complex reality of real events, but at the same time the characters must be given the space to flourish. You need to care about them and identify with the thrills and jeopardy they experience; that’s what sets your heart racing and makes for a page-turner.  The plot gives me control over that balance and enables the all-important climax – – and, as you know, nothing spoils a thriller more than a dud ending.

What is your writing regime?

I don’t really have one.  I should have, but I’m weak willed – – there’s always another nugget of reality to research or a coffee to make or a dog to walk – – anything to delay the return to the coalface. On the other hand, once forced into action I get a real kick in writing and getting the story right, but I need to know somebody out there is enjoying it.  I enjoy having an audience and am trying to set up sessions in libraries, so maybe there’s a bit of the history lecturer left in me.

What excites you about book?

The challenge of taking on the official version was exciting, a sort of David and Goliath feeling.  I wanted to emerge from the research and writing with an alternative that grabbed your attention and made you question what really happened.  The cover design by Mark Ecob is brilliant and I hope your experience of reading the story lives up to it.

Writing is a solitary pursuit and any reaction from readers is great to have!  Meantime I am working on the next Harry Kaplan case, THE WRONG DOMINO, based on another true story from the 1970s but in Iran – – an early draft of which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association’s Debut Dagger award.


Here’s the blurb-

The official verdict was accidental death.
In 1956 photojournalist Annie Fayol had drowned in a rip tide off the coast of Cameroon. They said she shouldn’t have gone skinny-dipping on her own.
Nearly twenty years later her sister Candace finds a cache of old photos and is convinced someone had been with her – someone Annie had fallen for. Candace hires Harry Kaplan to find out who he was and why he hadn’t come forward. Right away it’s obvious the man is no ordinary missing person; there’s a whiff of a cover-up in the air and it seems somebody powerful is trying to stop the past from seeping into the present.
Based on a true story of courage, complicity… and murder

Buy Links

Book/author links

http://historicalthrillers. com/this-new-thriller-plot-is- radioactive/

Simon Miller has a PhD from Durham and has taught history at universities
in the UK and USA (Manchester, Essex, Cambridge, Belfast
and UC Davis). He has published work on the Mexican Revolution
and the English culture of land and landscape, but was always drawn
to a more flexible genre of writing about the past. His first attempt,
The Wrong Domino, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association
Debut Dagger award.

Many thanks for dropping by Simon. Good luck with your novel.
Happy reading everyone,
Jenny x



Mark Norman: Folklore Thinking

Today I’m joined by one of my fellow members of the Exeter Author Association; folklore expert, Mark Norman.  So go and grab a cuppa, then come back and have a read…

Hello. My name is Mark Norman. I am a folklore researcher and author based on the edge of Dartmoor, in the South West of the UK. Although I sometimes stray into the world of fiction, most of my writing is non-fiction, being based around my research. So today, I would like to introduce you to the world of folklore, and my writing within that area.

Folklore essentially boils down to being an examination of the traditions and beliefs of individuals and communities: literally, folk-lore or the beliefs (lore) or the people (folk). It can be seen to span various broader disciplines such as psychology or anthropology, but I prefer to think of it as a part of social history and it is therefore as a history discipline that I tend to work most.

Although I am a committee member of the Folklore Society, the UK’s oldest academic organisation for the study of the subject, I am not affiliated to any institution, being an independent researcher. I am therefore free to focus on whatever aspects of the subject I choose to explore.

My interests within the field of folklore are quite broad, but the areas that I mostly focus on are the more regional aspects of folklore within the area that I live and most particularly, the phenomenon of ghostly apparitions of phantom Black Dogs. This is the aspect of folklore upon which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle drew when he wrote what is arguably one of his most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

My most involved publication to date is my book, Black Dog Folklore, which was published in 2015 by Troy Books. To date, this book is the only academic investigation of the subject by a single author. I hold what is thought to be the UKs largest archive of Black Dog sightings, traditions and eyewitness accounts (probably over 1,000 now) and around 700 of these are included in a gazetteer in the appendix of the book.

Publication of Black Dog Folklore was the culmination of around ten years of research, on and off; an undertaking which could have continued for longer had I not taken the decision to draw a line under the research at the time and decide that the book should come out at that stage. One of the difficulties of working in an area of cultural history such as this is that one story will inevitably lead to many more. New information comes to light all the time and stories change and develop. So, although the book is out on the shelves, the work on the subject most definitely continues.

Aside for this full-length study, I publish a lot of short-form articles for magazines, websites and in other places where I am invited (or sometimes cajoled) to contribute. Amongst these, for example, are pieces for Mythology magazine on Christmas traditions, an article on dog bones discovered at an archaeological dig and related to my research for Folklore Thursday website, an article for a personal site on the folkloric links of The Hound of the Baskervilles and a piece on the links between Sirius (the dog star) and dogs in folklore. I was also asked by the producers of one of Sir Tony Robinson’s documentary series’ to advise on some Black Dog lore in the area being discussed.

I have been asked to contribute to, or contribute myself to, various books and anthologies. Most recently I co-authored a chapter on fairies in Devon for a new book called Magical Folk published by Gibson Square and a chapter proposal I was asked to make for a new academic book published by Palsgrave Macmillan is being looked at currently. My fiction short story The Padding Horror which sets some of my research against a fictional backdrop of Victorian Dartmoor in Lovecraftian style was published in the UK as part of a charity anthology called Secret Invasion, to raise money for the mental health charity MIND and is published this month in America in another anthology called Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined.

Another large chunk of my writing time is taken up in script writing. I am the creator and host of The Folklore Podcast which is quite widely listened to around the world. In fact, just a couple of hours ago as I write this, I learned that it is currently ranked at #141 in the US iTunes charts for History. The podcast is released twice a month, with one episode being a guest interview and the other a presentation written by myself. It is admittedly a lot of work to script this frequently alongside other projects and so sometimes I share my research across other projects that I do to help with this. For example, as I speak relatively frequently at conferences or public events, I will sometimes adapt talks for podcast episodes or vice versa.

As far as future book publications go, I am currently planning to release a volume of extended essays on a range of folklore subjects. The backbone of these will be from past scripts I have written for the podcast episodes, which will then be expanded and researched more tangentially to form longer studies suitable for book chapters. I am also looking to work on another longer study of an area of folklore in the same style as Black Dog Folklore. There is another well-known piece of widespread folklore which has not been seriously studied or collected together since the 1930s to which I am hoping to turn my attention.

It is certainly the case that books and writing form a large part of my life. At home I live with my wife Tracey who is also a writer (see her recent blog on this site about her play WITCH for example) and, with a colleague, we also produce and narrate audiobooks. I am also on the judging panel for a national book awards for non-fiction titles and with what remaining time I have left in the week, I work for Libraries Unlimited, the umbrella organisation for Devon Libraries.

I hope that you have found this short insight into my research and writing interesting. I am always happy to talk about my research and you can contact me easily via my social media pages below. If you are interested in the subject, please do get in touch.


Black Dog Folklore is available at

Magical Folk is available at

Fairy Tales and Folklore Reimagined is available at

Secret Invasion is available for charity donation at


The Folklore Podcast:

The Folklore Podcast:

Research and writing:

The Folklore Podcast: @folklorepod

Mark Norman: @Mr_Mark_Norman


Many thanks Mark,

Happy reading everyone.

Jenny xx

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