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Today I’m delighted to welcome Sophie Jenkins, the author of The Forgotten Guide to Happiness and A Random Act of Kindness. Sophie lives in London, so I wanted to know how she was coping with lockdown in the capital – and getting that new book done!

I had just finished a book when lockdown started, but I had a plot outline ready for a new one, with an interested publisher, so what could possibly go wrong? Writers are in a kind of self-imposed lockdown anyway – I really should be used to it.But four weeks have gone by and my imagination isn’t working anymore. I’m turning into the main character of The Forgotten Guide to Happiness, a writer who can’t write; but her solution, hanging out with an eccentric feminist writer is, for the time being, out of the question. What’s going on? Maybe it’s because of the dreams. Apparently we are all dreaming more, busily and vividly, as if being deprived of normal life in the daytime is making our minds come up with an alternative reality at night, sucking creativity during sleep.

Last summer at the Society of Authors awards, Jackie Kay said that writing was the only occupation that didn’t get easier the longer you did it. It’s true. It’s about starting from scratch every time. The characters are like people at a party who you barely know, and their stories are as vague and dubious as gossip from a friend of a friend.

I’m hoping to kickstart the story via two workbooks that have helped in the past; they are Ready, Set, Novel! written by the organisers of National Novel Writing Month and First Draft in 30 Days by Karen S Wiesner. They’re a bit bashed and worn, but I’ve taken the old Post-it notes out they’re good to go.  If I start writing constructively, the dreaming might stop. As we all know, reality is a scary place, and the world of books, for readers and writers can be a refuge and a sweet delight.

 

A Random Act of Kindness

Purchase links:

UK edition HERE

US edition HERE

 

Fern is too busy making sure other people feel good about themselves to give much thought to her own happiness. But somehow, without her noticing, life has run away from her.

Suddenly, Fern realises her vintage clothes business is struggling, and the casual relationship she’d always thought she was happy in doesn’t look so appealing.

But sometimes, karma really does come through. And when Fern goes out of her way to help 85-year-old Dinah, little does she realise their new friendship will change her life.

Dinah may have troubles in her past, but she’s lived and loved to the full. Can Dinah show Fern that even the smallest acts of kindness can make the world a better place?

Publication of

The Ferryman’s Daughter!

The bowl is from Cornwall and as for the apples – well you’ll have to read the book to find out!

Today is publication day for The Ferryman’s Daughter, my very first book for Orion. We may be in lockdown, in an uncertain world, and definitely with no opportunities for wild celebrations, but I’m still wonderfully amazed and excited to see my novel sail out into the world.

I loved the time I spent with Hester, the passionate, independent-minded and determined heroine of The Ferryman’s Daughter. The original inspiration for Hester was Rosa Lewis, who in Victorian times rose from a kitchen maid to cooking for royalty and owning her own hotel and who was also the inspiration for the popular TV drama series ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’, which is still repeated now and again.

But when I was writing my story of resilience and friendship overcoming the uncertainties brought to a community facing

St Ives, in Cornwall, where the story is set

WW1, I never thought how much this would resonate in the lockdown life of a global pandemic. On the other hand, it also feels similar because of the way so many of us have been brought together, and that, for the most part, it’s kindness and solidarity that is getting us through.

So I hope you enjoy the story of Hester, who never gives up on her own dreams, while helping the nurses and volunteers nursing the survivors of the battlefield back to health again. I love that Hester remains doggedly positive, whatever life might throw at her. I’m holding onto that too.

The UK edition is available HERE

The US edition is available HERE

To celebrate publication day, here is the recipe from the book for the most delicious apple cake. Simple but tasty – and the very thing to cheer up life in lockdown.

Jan’s Scrumptious Apple Cake (the inspiration for Hester’s mum’s best apple cake)

250 g butter

225 g caster sugar

3 eggs

Half cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

260 g sifted self-raising flour

2 lemons

 

For decoration:

Two or three eating apples (coxes or russet are best) unpeeled

One lemon

Sugar and water for lemon syrup

 

Preheat oven to 180c/ 350f/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm/ 9inch springform tin.

 

Combine butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Slowly add the eggs, milk and vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and the grated rind of two lemons. Spoon batter into the tin. Slice the apples and arrange until the top of the cake is completely covered. Bake in the middle of the oven for one hour (or until a skewer comes out clean).

Meanwhile, cut thin strips of lemon rind and boil in water and sugar until crystallised. Roll into curls. As the cake cools, make holes with a skewer and pour in the sugar syrup. Decorate the cake with the crystallised lemon peel.

Serve warm or cold, with a generous dollop of clotted cream

 

And the sea is St Ives in Cornwall, where The Ferryman’s Daughter is set. This was a wild and windy day a couple of years ago. I was planning to go back this summer – maybe next year!

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jan Baynham to the blog. Jan has always been wonderfully supportive of authors, so It’s a real pleasure to see her debut novel Her Mother’s Secret ,published just a few weeks ago by Ruby Fiction. I asked Jan, who has spent many holidays in Greece, where Her Mother’s Secret is set, how she was coping in lockdown in the UK.

 

 

Coping with lockdown in Wales

These are very strange and unprecedented times, an expression that’s almost a cliché now. Although, as a writer used to working at home, adjusting to the isolation hasn’t been as hard for me as maybe it has been for others, the forced lockdown has taken choice away. We miss the visits from our two little grandchildren who live closest to us and this was the first time our older grandsons who live in Manchester, couldn’t spend Easter with us. With my husband, I have taken advantage of the permitted daily walk, enjoying the spring sunshine.

The peace of the countryside has been noticeable and with all the trees and hedgerows bursting with new growth, nature herself has given us hope. Through virtual Pilates sessions, writers’ group meetings and family gatherings I’ve kept in touch with the outside world. I’ve found I can’t concentrate on writing for very long and with the build up to the publication of my first novel on April 21st, I have been very grateful to kind members of the writing community who have offered me guest appearances or interviews on their blogs. Writing articles or answering questions has given me a focus.

 

At first, I was reluctant to promote my novel on social media for fear of being insensitive to the horror of what was happening in the world. However, after ‘talking’ with other writers, I’ve decided to post photos and little snippets of the story in the week leading up to publication day in the hope it may help readers to escape to a place we can return to once this is all over. I do hope so. Choosing photographs from past holidays in Greece has definitely been therapeutic. Stay safe, everyone.

 

Her Mother’s Secret

It’s 1969 and free-spirited artist Elin Morgan has left Wales for a sun-drenched Greek island. As she makes new friends and enjoys the laidback lifestyle, she writes all about it in her diary. But Elin’s carefree summer of love doesn’t last long, and her island experience ultimately leaves her with a shocking secret …
Twenty-two years later, Elin’s daughter Alexandra has inherited the diary and is reeling from its revelations. The discovery compels Alexandra to make her own journey to the same island, following in her mother’s footsteps. Once there, she sets about uncovering what really happened to Elin in that summer of ’69.

 

UK edition HERE

US edition HERE

 

 

I’d like to welcome best selling author Leah Fleming, whose latest novel A Wedding in the Olive Garden, published by Head of Zeus, is out in ebook today, with physical copies out in August. Be prepared to be swept away by this uplifting novel of love, friendship and new beginnings, set on a gorgeous Greek Island in the sun. Perfect for an escape from lockdown!

Leah lives in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, but is currently being shielded, so gives a real insight of what it’s like for those who are not only living with the restrictions of lockdown, but living behind the shield.

Happy Publication day, Leah!

 

Leah, living behind ‘the shield’

Some say authors are well suited to lockdown discipline. We work in isolation, behind closed doors beavering away at our work in progress. If you are by nature an introvert, all the better but I am not. I join writer’s groups, belong in village affairs, love entertaining with a large family to visit and host.

However as one of the older vulnerable with a rubbish immune system (due to ongoing and never- ending chemotherapy) the thought of being holed up indoors for months on end fills me with dread.

On the plus side, I live with my husband in the country with a big garden, great views and a supportive village and family so I can’t grumble. I have a profession with deadlines to meet and can escape into my creative world each day, a novel to finish and time to garner ideas for another when this one is finished.

It’s the not so little things that I am finding hard at the moment; losing the support system I’ve built over years of cancer treatments. I miss face to face discussions with my consultant, relaxation sessions with my reflexologist and good chiropody. Now my hair is shedding due to the side effects of a stronger drug, no chance of hair therapy.

I do try not to slop around in old clothes but dress as if someone is coming to call. I keep to normal working hours in my shed or office. We eat as healthily as we can. I do cheat each day and either go in the car to walk in the open hills or stroll with the dog at a safe distance around the village for my daily social fix.

I have chosen a comfort book to re-read: Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy, a mighty tome to lose myself in. I may not be able to travel but the story takes me across Europe into a period I have always loved and mined for stories. I can zoom into the RNA norther Chapter online meetings, and message friends and family for a catch up. My daughter and grandkids leave shopping at our door.

 A WEDDING IN THE OLIVE GARDEN, out this month online, is a compromise as the paperback is delayed until August, so talks or launches are off but I couldn’t attend anyway.

I have to confess the outdoors is looking tidy and planted out. Indoors is another matter for “my lady what does “no longer can do so housework here is down to basic hygiene in bathrooms and kitchen, etc. On old friend once said “dust is dust, don’t move it and no one will know how many layers lie beneath.” I have shut off every room not in use so that helps.

I am living for that glorious morn when I can fling open the door to all, nip into town to browse and perhaps have a pile of future bestsellers to email to my agent… plus a perfect garden and pristine cupboards. Until then, I can always dream.

Leah.

A Wedding in the Olive Garden

Sara Loveday flees home and crisis to the beautiful island of Santaniki. Here, amid olive groves and whitewashed stone villas, where dark cypress trees step down to a cobalt blue sea, Sara vows to change her life. Spotting a gap in the local tourist market, she sets up a wedding plan business, specialising in ‘second time around’ couples.

For her first big wedding, she borrows the olive garden of a local artists’ retreat, but almost at once things begin to go wrong. To make matters worse, a stranger from Sara’s past arrives on the island, spreading vicious lies. Can her business survive? And what will happen with the gorgeous new man who she’s begun to love?

This is a gorgeous, warm-hearted and uplifting novel conjuring the local colour, traditions and close bonds of island life.

You can buy the book:

Amazon UK HERE

Amazon US HERE

The copies of The Ferryman’s Daughter have arrived!

The paperback is safely in my hands, and the book is also up on NetGalley

as well as for pre-order on Amazon ready for publication day on May 14th.

It’s well and truly out there!

It’s always and exciting moment, the day your book finally becomes real and there it is, sitting in your hand about to go out into the world and have a life of its own. Receiving a box of boxes in the middle of lockdown was quite surreal. Having my feet photographed instead of signing was a first, and then there was the business of opening it, with much handwashing and hand santiser before I could finally get a glimpse of the beautiful cover.

My lovely editor at Orion had sent me a photograph, so I knew the colours were stunning, but they still took my breath away when I was finally able to liberate a copy from the packaging (with the help of Miss Phoebe, who was under the impression that something so exciting could only be gravy bones, of course).

And since then I’ve been looking at it and taking it everywhere with me – even on the day’s dog walk!

It’s an amazing feeling. I still can’t quite believe it’s actually real! I’m a little sad that I won’t be having the planned party in my garden (which is currently in full bloom and just waiting for a celebration), but I know that will come later.

Meanwhile, I feel incredibly lucky for The Ferryman’s Daughter to have made it out into the world at all. When I was writing the story, I had no idea that Hester’s determination to dust herself down, pick herself up and keep on going, even in the face of panic buying of flour and sugar (no toilet paper at the time of World War One!) threatening to destroy her fledgling business would so soon be reflected in our own world. It made me root for her even more.

So here’s to publication day. I can’t wait to introduce Hester to the world – not to mention her delicious recipes, designed to rebuild the strength of recuperating soldiers and help those she loves to keep up their spirits in a world abruptly changed. Go, Hester!

 

Review copies of The Ferryman’s Daughter are available from NetGalley HERE

It can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK Here  and Amazon US HERE

 

 

Choco-Vanilla Birthday Cake

Guaranteed to chase those social isolating blues away!

Thank you to Ellie, who recently celebrated her 15th birthday under lockdown, for the recipe. And for the photos of this cake, as made for the birthday of her mum, Valerie-Anne Baglietto  

(Ellie made the gluten-free version for her mum, but it’s just as good with ordinary flour)

Lockdown birthday cake!

This is a simple basic recipe, easy for a beginner to follow, or a child (with appropriate adult supervision!)

Ellie and her mum

You will need:

  • 9 inch round cake tin (1 tin, or 2 if you have a second identical tin)
  • Cake board or large flat plate
  • Baking paper
  • Wooden spoon
  • Whisk
  • Mixing bowl
  • Saucepan
  • Metal spoon/offset spatula

 

Ingredients :

The sponge:

  • 225g of unsalted butter
  • 225g of caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp of vanilla essence
  • 225g of gluten-free self-raising flour (or normal self-raising flour, if you wish)

 

The icing:

  • 225g of unsalted butter
  • 6 tbsp of golden syrup
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 115g of icing sugar

Method:

For the batter:

  1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease the cake tin and line with baking paper at the bottom.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon, until light and fluffy.
  4. Whisk in the eggs, one by one, then whisk in the vanilla.
  5. Next fold the flour, bit by bit, into the mixture with a wooden spoon. Stir until all the flour has disappeared into the cake batter.
  6. Bake half the mixture for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, and let cool for 20 minutes. Bake the other half of the batter and let it cool. (Unless you have two identical cake tins, in which case you can cook both at once.)

 

For the icing:

  1. Put the butter, golden syrup and cocoa powder into a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir until the butter is melted and it is all mixed together.
  3. Take it off the heat and let cool for 20 minutes.
  4. Once it is cool, whisk in the icing sugar until it is all incorporated.

 

Decorating:

  1. Place one of the sponges on a cake board or flat plate.
  2. Put half the icing on top and smooth it down with a metal spoon or offset spatula.
  3. Then, place the other sponge on top and gently press down until it is securely in position.
  4. Put the other half of the icing on top and smooth it out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, you can make swirly patterns if you wish.
  5. Now you can decorate the cake with sprinkles or chocolate flakes, or however you want! And don’t forget the candles!

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Mollie Walton, and her alter ego Becca Mascull, to the blog to talk about her work and how she is surviving lockdown. Mollie’s second book in her gripping Ironbridge series is published on April 30th. Congratulations Mollie, and take it away, Becca!

 

 

I’m Becca and I’m surviving lockdown.

Of course I am. I’m not an NHS frontline worker or any other kind of key worker who are essential to the running of the world. So, I can do my bit and stay at home. But it is weird being mostly stuck inside the home for weeks on end, isn’t it? There are good days and bad days, right? Some days I get loads of work done, I exercise, I cook great meals and have some fun leisure time with my daughter and yes, I feel like I’m smashing this lockdown thing. Other days I feel like I barely want to get out of bed or engage with anyone or anything.

I’ve never been a person to say I’m bored, because there are always books and TV and movies and music and people to talk to. But some days, I feel so low, I can’t get joy from a thing. I know I’m not alone though. If I’m truly honest, the main thing that’s kept me going through this is Facebook. I share a lot of edgy memes with a twisted humour every day; they make me laugh and I know others enjoy them, as they tell me so often! I’ve also been playing the piano a lot and sharing these pieces in daily mini concerts on Facebook too. I’ve had people tell me that the soothing piano music has helped with their anxiety, but even one lady said it calmed down her nervous dog! That’s a win-win for me.

But in lockdown, the most difficult thing I’ve found is that my brain isn’t always working as I want it to. I’ve spoken to many other writers about this phenomenon and almost all have agreed: our creative brains are not braining. I’m not sure the precise reason for this, but it’s something to do with the general anxiety and malaise that surrounds us in this worldwide.

So, instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to go with it. Instead of forcing myself to try to write my current book (deadline July!), I’ve spent my time instead doing further, deeper historical research and I’ve found some wonderful stuff, about pit bank girls, strawberry picking, coal mining accidents, Londonhotels in 1875, how to wear a bustle etc etc.

My brain can cope with research. I’ve now finished that and I’m hoping my brain will play ball next week when I continue with drafting chapters. Wish me luck…

 

Becca at her piano – prepare to be calmed!

The Secrets of Ironbridge

 

A dramatic and heartwarming Victorian saga, perfect for fans of Maggie Hope and Anne Bennett.

1850s Shropshire.

Returning to her mother’s birthplace at the age of eighteen, Beatrice Ashford encounters a complex family she barely knows. Her great-grandmother Queenie adores her, but the privileged social position of Beatrice’s family as masters of the local brickworks begins to make her uncomfortable.

And then she meets Owen Malone: handsome, different, refreshing – and from a class beneath her own. They fall for each other fast, but an old family feud and growing industrial unrest threatens to drive them apart.

Can they overcome their different backgrounds? And can Beatrice make amends for her family’s past?

 

You can buy the paperback:

UK edition HERE

US edition HERE