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The Quarry Hospital in Llanberis

Okay; confession time. This blog post is just a teeny bit late. A month or two, in fact. Thanks to one of the nasty little lurgies doing the rounds, followed by Christmas, followed by the usual catching up of the New Year. Oh, and the small matter of a book to finish! So a very belated Happy New Year to you all. It’s great to be back.

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The remains of the huge Dinorwic slate quarry, opposite Dolbadarn Castle

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The stretcher to carry injured quarry workers

It was a strange experience, being in the Dinorwig slate quarry hospital museum , beneath the shadow of Snowdon. I walk past its front doors every few weeks, but usually with a dog in attendance, a box of vegetables to pick up from a nearby farm and a book to get back to. Last autumn I was there with my day job, celebrating the launch of a local heritage project, and so without dog or walking shoes or any pressing sense of guilt.

Standing in the museum I was struck by the atmosphere of calm. Of peace. It was the last thing I had expected in a hospital built in the 1860s to treat the illnesses and injuries – some truly horrific injuries – of the slate workers from the quarry. In a corridor there hung a stretcher woven into the shape of a man and designed to bring injured workers down from the heights of the nearby mountains. It was hard to look at it and not think of the pain and anguish experienced in such a beautiful object.

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Instruments …..

This was especially so with the surgeon’s instruments for amputations and the like hanging all around. Lives were changed in these rooms. I wondered about the families in nearby Llanberis who lost their breadwinner here – either to injuries too severe to survive, or of the life-changing kind that meant he would never be able to work in the same way again, if at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet there were also men and women fighting to save the lives and limbs of the men brought in, with equipment that looks horribly primitive and barbaric to modern eyes. I hoped that the men in the beds on the wards, set out as they would have been, supported and cheered and drew comfort from each other in the way that human beings do when drawn together by the most dreadful of circumstances. And from the window there is the serene view of the foothills of Snowdon, where the train makes its slow journey upwards to the summit.

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The view from the hospital with Snowdon in the distance

For all its horror, I came away from the museum feeling unexpectedly positive. Like the modern Mountain Rescue service – whose helicopters come over my cottage almost on a daily basis – the men holding that stretcher were risking their own lives to save another’s.

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And the selfish part of me was very thankful that my recent dental work was undertaken with modern anesthetic and instruments, and that when the lurgy struck, I was able to take to my bed for a few days without losing my precious income.

Visiting the Quarry Hospital Museum made me feel closer to the characters I have been living with for the past months, both the Welsh gold miners in the mid 19th Century for a magazine serial and the heroine of my next novel, which begins in 1914. Standing amongst those surgical instruments and the lists of lives damaged forever, I could feel the fear underlying the everyday life of working men and women when even a minor injury could leave a family without money for food and a roof over their heads, let alone the expense of visiting a doctor and buying medicines to ease the suffering, for those who did not have the services of such a hospital. It added an extra edge to the families watching their menfolk march off into the horrors of the Great War, and deepened my admiration for the women and men –  the nurses, the doctors, the ambulance drivers and the many other volunteers – who followed to give what help they could both to the men fighting in the trenches and the civilians caught up amongst the shifting lines of battles.

I went to the meeting at the Quarry Hospital Museum vaguely muttering away inside (as you do) that I could be writing the next chapter instead of standing there like a lemon listening to speeches. But then an author is always on the alert …

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GUEST BLOG POST FROM CAROL HEDGES, AUTHOR OF ‘JIGSAW PIECES’

Today, I’m pleased and delighted to welcome Carol Hedges as my Guest Blogger. Carol is the  the successful author of 11 books for children and YA, and her  writing has received much critical acclaim. Her YA book ‘Jigsaw Pieces’ has recently been released as an e-book. Carol has a BA (Hons) in English and Archaeology. She has worked variously as a librarian, a children’s clothes designer, a dinner lady, a classroom assistant at a special needs school, and a teacher. She has one grown up daughter, a husband, a pink 2CV, (Pink 2CV envy here!) 2 cats and a lot of fish.

Over to you, Carol!

First, I’d like to thank Juliet for her generosity in allowing me loose on her blog. I promise I will be on my best behaviour, and not spill cake crumbs everywhere. Well, I’ll try.

I write YA fiction, probably because I work with teenagers. When you spend all day in the company of 16 -18 year olds, they kind of permeate your brain, and then sift into your writing. I love them dearly – funny, heartbreakingly honest, they never fail to surprise.

 

Jigsaw Pieces, my first ebook, is so chockfull of personal stuff that I had to put the line “Not all the characters and events in this story are fictitious” at the beginning. The inner story tells of the suicide of a 16 year old boy, and the determination of two fellow students to unravel the events that lead up to his death.

I was on my first teaching practice when a similar event took place. I remember clearly what it was like as the news spread round the school. When you read the first few chapters of Jigsaw Pieces, you are experiencing exactly what I felt and saw. Maybe you think this is not a subject for a novel, but I have had a lot of feedback indicating that sadly, it happens far more than people realise.

The story is narrated by 18 year old Annie, a feisty, trenchant observer of life. She is a mash-up of numerous teenage girls I taught over the years. I decided to give her a Norwegian background as it resonates with the current interest in ‘Scandi-crime’, and accentuates her outsider status amongst her contemporaries – something I experienced myself, growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s as the daughter of German Jewish parents.

Finally, one of my favourite teaching topics is the First World War poets. I never fail to be moved by the tragic waste of young lives. The opportunity to turn myself into a First World War poet was therefore irresistible – and so I became (spoiler alert) Noel Clarke, the haunted young poet who dies, age 19. I wrote all the poems too.

I uploaded Jigsaw Pieces at the beginning of August. It has some 5 star reviews, and I am thoroughly enjoying meeting loads of lovely people, like you, as I go round blogging about it.

JIGSAW PIECES:

‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’

Annie Skjaerstad had been searching for her identity since being uprooted from her native country of Norway. With a spiky personality winning her no friends, and family members suddenly torn out of her life, she is left seeking comfort from a growing intrigue into the stories of fallen war heroes.

But one day, a boy from her school unexpectedly commits suicide, changing things forever. Confused by the tragic tale of someone she knew, Annie soon finds herself conducting her own investigation into his death. 

What she uncovers will bring her to a dark and dangerous place, as suddenly – her own life is put at risk.

A tense, coming of age crime thriller by the author of ‘Dead Man Talking’.

You can download a copy of ‘Jigsaw Pieces’  here

You  follow Carol at her blog: http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

Or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carol.hedges.779?ref=ts

Twitter @carolJhedges

http://www.Facebook Carol Hedges;

www. Shewrites.com (American).

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Click the cover to read the first chapter for free!

Well, I meant to write an entirely different post today. But last night, completely out of the blue, the totally unexpected happened. The Kindle edition of ‘Eden’s Garden’ hit the Amazon bestseller charts.

Okay, I know ‘Eden’s Garden’ is on a 99 pence promotion in the UK for a few weeks, but it’s not on promotion in the US, and I’m an unknown with a small publisher. Being a determinedly rational creature (at times), it never entered my head that my book would get into the top 100. I had thought ‘wouldn’t it be nice if’, but then I think that about the National Lottery and I’ve never bought a ticket. So there you go.

The funny thing is, that I might have missed yesterday’s excitement altogether. I just happened to stagger up to the office to answer a couple of emails, one of which needed a link to the Kindle edition. So there’s me, pulling up the page, and I notice a hashtag. I’m still on a steep learning curve when it comes to social media, and I’ve been drumming into myself to remember to use hashtags on twitter. So I sat up and took notice.

#97. I clicked the link to the chart. Sure enough, Eden’s Garden wasn’t there. Okay, so it must mean something else. Rats. Never mind. THEN I saw the ‘Historical Fiction’ bit. And there it was. Number 97.

If you were following me on Facebook and Twitter last night, you’ll know that I then got very excited. I had no idea how long it might stay in the chart and I was making the most of it. A bit later I went back to my page to click the link again – and Eden’s Garden was up at 90!

Luckily, some wonderfully thoughtful friends from Facebook mentioned getting a screen shot for the memory. Now, I love my Mac, but could I find how to do a screen shot? Not late in the evening, panicking that I might miss the moment. But after a quick phone call, my lovely brother came to the rescue and emailed the memory.

By the time I checked one last time, I’d worked out how to do a screen shot. Which was just as well, as by that time Eden’s Garden had soared to the dizzy heights of 76!

So thank you to everyone who bought the book and sent Eden’s Garden racing up through the charts, and gave me one of the most memorable evenings of my life. And thank you to the many Facebook and Twitter and Forum friends who joined in the excitement and cheered.

And the next evening, Eden’s Garden shot up even higher – to the dizzy heights number 72. Then into the 60s Amazing.

And then – here is Eden’s Garden at Number 46 in the Historical Fiction Best-Seller Charts. That’s going up on my wall right now!!

Eden’s Garden at 46

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I’m really looking forward to my first experience of the Festival Of Romance this November.

The Festival have just released information on their hugely successful ‘New Talent Award’. This is for writers not yet commercially published. After the success of last year’s award, this year it’s being opened up to all writers, whether or not they are attending the festival. With Georgina Hawtrey-Woore from Random House and literary agent Diane Banks as the judges, this is a great opportunity!

New Talent Award aims to uncover romantic fiction authors of the future

The Festival of Romance is delighted to announce that the New Talent Award will run again this year. The industry judges are Georgina Hawtrey-Woore senior editor at Cornerstones, Random House and Diane Banks, literary agent at the Diane Banks Associates Literary Agency.

The Festival of Romance New Talent Award aims to cast a spotlight on the authors of tomorrow and is open to all writers who have not yet had a book commercially published. Writers may submit the opening chapter (up to 3,500 words) of a romantic novel of any type by 30th September 2012. The winner and runners-up will be announced and presented with trophies at the gala Festival of Romance Awards on Friday 16th November 2012. There is a small entry fee to cover the award administration. Entrants may also gain a critique of their entry written by a professional novelist.

“As part of the Festival of Romance we want to help new writers with talent get their break into the commercial fiction world,” says Kate Allan, chief romantic at the Festival of Romance. “At the Festival of Romance in November we are running writing workshops, an industry conference and chance to meet publishers face to face as well as the New Talent Award. I’m delighted that Georgina Hawtrey-Woore and Diane Banks have agreed to judge this year’s entries.”

Winner of the 2011 New Talent Award Henriette Gyland subsequently garnered a book deal from publishers Choc Lit. Her debut novel Up Close will be published in December 2012.

 

For more details about how to enter the New Talent Award please see http://www.festivalofromance.co.uk <http://www.festivalofromance.co.uk>

 

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The bar. Limbering up for the party to begin!

I spent last weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer conference in Penrith.

This was not my first RNA Conference. The last time was twelve years ago. I’d just made the decision that if I was going to be a writer the time was now or never and joined the RNA. At that time, being published at all felt like an impossible task. The odds against it were overwhelming. I wasn’t young, sexy, or had ever slept with a rock star. The publishing world felt like a closed one and I had no means of crossing the threshold.

My first RNA conference changed all that. I still knew I was a long way from being published, but I’d found a friendly, supportive group of professional women who didn’t seem to mind if you were a household name or unpublished. I came back from my first conference with a flickering hope that maybe, just maybe, my dreams could come true. It would take hard work and persistence and a totally professional commitment to get there. But at least I didn’t need to have a megaboob job or get up to unspeakable things with any convenient MP. So I stood a chance!

The gala dinner.

Going in to register for my second Conference was a bit of a strange experience. The noise level was exactly as I remembered it. Slightly overwhelming at first, but then exhilarating. This time, I was meeting up with old friends as well as meeting new ones. I’ve been to RNA parties over the years and I’ve met so many new friends online, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.

The beautiful countryside just outside the campus.

The strangest thing was remembering that this time I was one of the speakers, and that I was going to be giving a talk about my experiences of working with an editor. It was one of those moments that make you stop and think. So it is possible, after all. Thanks to the RNA and the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme, I was coming back as a published author. Indeed as two published authors, if you count my alter-ego, Heather Pardoe. Wow. Can I just say it again: WOW!!!

The gardens. A place for peace and contemplation

I loved every moment of the conference in Penrith. Good company, good food and wine. A chance to talk in true writerly-obessive way about all things bookish. And to learn once again that I’m not alone – keeping up with promoting one book while writing the next, keeping up with the day job and having a life isn’t easy. Phew.

I hope that every new writer at Penrith this year had the same feeling that I did, all those years ago: with hard work and determination, everything is possible. Because it is. And if I can do it…..

Here’s to another year of inspiration!

Inspiration is a horticultural college!

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The Kindle edition of Eden’s Garden is now up! Hurrah!

And I’ve been tagged by brilliant and thoughtful book-blogger and author Claire McAlpine  of the ‘Word by Word’ blog, as part of the ‘Be Inspired’ blog hop. Thank you Claire! And thank you again for your wonderful review of Eden’s Garden.

To take part in the blog hop, I need to send a link back to my proposer (thank you Claire!) and then answer the following questions. Once answered, I need to tag five people to answer the questions, which don’t need to be the same, but must be about the writer’s book. And then I mustn’t forget to put the links to their blogs so everyone can hop over and see their answers.

Here we go:

Questions:

1. What is the name of your book?

Eden’s Garden’

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

One inspiration is Brondanw Gardens in Snowdonia, which was the home of Clough Williams-Ellis, who built nearby Portmeirion. Part of it feels quite forlorn, 

but with some wonderfully quirky touches.


The other inspiration was a Celtic myth of a woman created out of flowers to be a perfect wife. It all ends in tears, of course, and the woman is stripped of her youthful beauty and ba

nished. But supposing that is only the beginning of her story …..

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

It’s a time-slip. Part of the story is set now and part in Victorian times.

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

I’d chose British actor Sam West to play the Victorian hero. His voice alone is beautiful. I could sit and listen to it for hours…… 

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

Two women a century apart struggle with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions.

6. Is your book already published/represented?

Eden’s Garden was published by the small but mighty Honno Press in March 2012,and was the Welsh Books Council ‘Welsh Book of the Month’ for May.

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

The first idea came about 6 years ago. I worked on it on an off between other projects, always trying to find the right form for the story I wanted to tell and never quite getting there. I sent an earlier version to Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press, a couple of years ago. They didn’t accept it straight away, but they gave me a chance to work with one of their editors. That year was one of the most intensive learning curves of my life, and that’s when the book really came together.

 8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

I think readers of Kate Morton’s time-slip books like ‘The House at Riverton’ would enjoy ‘Eden’s Garden’, and anyone who enjoys Adele Geras’ novels like ‘Facing the Light’.

 9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

I have always loved Dickens, Elisabeth Gaskell and the Brontes. They were all an inspiration for the Victorian strand of the novel. I also love Sarah Waters’ books and Rosamund Pilcher’s ‘The Shell Seekers’.

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

More than a hundred years ago Ann left a trail
 through London, Cornwall and Wales that now leads Carys on a tantalising and 
increasingly shocking search for the truth…

Margaret James of ‘Writing Magazine’ called Eden’s Garden: ‘A great romantic read and also a very atmospheric, ingenious mystery.’ 

Intrigued? Then you can read the first chapters here: 

And so to the people I have tagged to answer the questions:

1. What is the name of your book?

2. Where did the idea for your book come from?

3. In what genre would you classify your book?

4. If you had to pick actors to play your characters in a movie rendition, who would you choose?

5. Give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book.

6. Is your book already published/represented?

7. How long did it take you to write your book?

8. What other books within your genre would you compare it to? Or, readers of which books would enjoy yours?

9. Which authors inspired you to write this book?

10. Tell us anything that might pique our interest in your book.

And the writers tagged are:

Shirley Wells, who writes gripping crime for Carina Press.

Susan Jones, great stories and a lovely blog to check out.

Chris Stovell, who writes for Choc Lit  – with a hero guaranteed to make you go weak at the knees.

Lorraine Jenkin, fellow Honno author, whose blog is as witty as her books.

Marylynn Bast, author of the ‘Heart of a Wolf’ series. No feeble heroine there!

Take it away, ladies!

Once you have answered the questions, remember to tag five more worthy bloggers with the same instructions- especially to link back to your blog!!

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This week I went to the Hay Festival. I’ve been to Hay-on-Wye before, but never to the festival itself. Even better, I was going to join in the celebrations for 25 years of my publisher, the amazing Honno Press.

Hay Castle

After weeks of glorious sunshine, it was a cold, blustery day when I arrived with fellow Honno author Hilary Shepherd at the rather muddy parking field next to the festival site. It was soon clear why most people were decked out in coats and wellies. But luckily the rain held off, the flags waved cheerfully in the breeze and the flowers were blooming.

Rain? What rain?

There was so much to see! I had a lovely relaxing day wandering around the festival, soaking up the atmosphere and meeting up with friends for coffee and a leisurely chat.

In the afternoon it warmed up a bit and the sun began to appear, just in time for the Honno party. There was champagne and a beautiful cake made in the shape of three of Honno’s books stacked one on top of the other. And balloons, of course.

Best of all, it was an opportunity to meet some of the founder members of Honno, part of that determined group of women who met around a kitchen table in Cardiff a quarter of a century ago, with a mission to bring Welsh women’s literature to a wider public. Plus meeting fellow Honno authors and friends I’d knew so well via the internet but had never met face to face before.

Penny Thomas, Honno’s Editor, welcoming us all to the party

Afterwards, there was a lively and thought-provoking discussion about the need for Honno in the 80s, when the literary establishment was most definitely male. The discussion clearly affirmed the continued relevance of a press that nurtures women’s voices in all their diversity and puts women’s experiences and life-journeys firmly centre stage.

The discussion in progress

I had a wonderful time in Hay. I shall be most definitely going again, this time to take in more of the talks and the events.

My only disappointment when I went into the Hay Festival bookshop was the total lack of any sign of ‘Eden’s Garden’. Hey ho. Philosophical won out. Honno is a small press, and this is Hay. It would have been nice, but ….

Then when we arrived at the Honno party, there were our books – all ready to be signed! And when – being book addicts to a woman – we all gravitated back into the bookstore after the discussion, there were our books on the ‘Signed Books’ table. That was one hit of a buzz I will never forget! In all my long years of working towards being published, I never even dreamed I would one day be fearlessly manoeuvring my signed book to a prominent position on the signed books table at Hay. Strictly for the purposes of taking the photograph, you understand.


HURRAH!

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