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Well, that was a week! Instead of walking my dog over Welsh hillsides, I was pounding the streets of London and attending a book launch in Daunt’s of Marylebone for Trisha Ashley’s ‘The Little Teashop of Lost and Found‘.

Trisha with author Elizabeth Heery and her husband Peter Davison

 

 

Trisha with writing tutor and Choc Lit author, Margaret James

I loved the launch, and meeting up again with old friends (more of which later, as it deserves a blog post all of its own). Having lived for nearly ten years in London, it was also a real buzz to sneak off on a dog-free adventure as a proper tourist.

My first stop was Piccadilly Circus, and a location of one of the tearooms my characters in ‘The White Camellia’ pass by on their way to the less grand Alan’s Tearooms in Oxford Street. Alan’s Tearooms no longer exist, but the Criterion is still there at Piccadilly, looking as magnificent as I remember it. Sadly, I did not venture inside for afternoon tea – maybe one day!

Seeing the Criterion reminded me again of the restrictions placed on young Victorian and Edwardian women, like my heroine Bea, which meant that it could be scandalous just to walk alone on the streets in broad daylight without a male or family member in charge. It made me even more thankful for the brave women of the suffrage movement who, long before the suffragettes (and even before such women had any legal existence of their own), met in tearooms to battle the government of the day for the freedoms I have taken so much for granted all of my life.

It gave an added zest to a sunny day visiting old haunts, and being a proper tourist, complete with boat ride up the river from Tower Bridge to Westminster, free to do as I wished, before meeting up with friends in the evening.

I loved being back in London on a sunny spring day, with the parks bursting with flowers and tourists enjoying the sights. Much as I love my little cottage tucked away on a hillside in Snowdonia, it was good to get back to the rush and bustle of the city. It gave me perspective on the book I’m writing (relax, don’t try so hard, you can do this!), and reminded me that it’s possible to be equally in love with dark-sky nights filled with stars and the bright lights of the city, with the peace of the countryside and a small, close-knit community, and with city life.

No wonder London always creeps its way into my books somewhere! I’m now once again in my little cottage, pounding the keys, with my dog impatient for the morning walk over the hillsides.

But London is not so very far away, just a few hours by train. I shall be back!

Loving this interview with fellow historical author, Pam Lecky!

Vintage Treasures

Today I am delighted to have Juliet Greenwood in the library for a chat. Juliet’s beautiful cover for The White Camellia was my very first monthly historical fiction cover winner. (See: Historical Fiction Cover Competition January 2017)

juliet-and-hat-small-versionYou are very welcome, Juliet, please introduce yourself:

After living in London and near Birmingham, I now live in a small traditional cottage halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia, in North Wales. I write stories and serials for magazines as ‘Heather Pardoe’, as well as novels under my own name. My books have reached #4 and #5 in the UK Amazon Kindle store, while ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a finalist for ‘The People’s Book Prize’ and ‘We That are Left’ was completed with a Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary. I have a passion for gardening and walking, as well as for history – and my camera goes with me everywhere!

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Thank you to Pam Lecky for choosing the cover of The White Camellia as Historical Fiction Cover winner for January 2017!

Vintage Treasures

Do you love historical fiction? What makes you choose one book over another? For most of us, the cover is the first thing that attracts our attention. For me, the cover has to look professional and must convey genre and a hint of what the story is about.

Each month I will be taking a look at historical fiction covers and choosing my ‘Pam’s Pick’ for the month. Hopefully, you will be intrigued enough to look beyond the covers I feature and find your next favourite author. If a cover interests you just click on the image to learn more about the book and buy if you wish.

My first winner is The White Camellia, by Juliet Greenwood. When this cover landed in my inbox, I knew immediately it would be one of my top picks. The image is beautiful, romantic and delicate. If I saw this in a shop I would…

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Loving this review of ‘The White Camellia’ by Jill’s Book Café – I love it when a reader ‘gets’ my books!

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From the back cover 1909. Cornwall. Her family ruined, Bea is forced to leave Tressillion House, and self-made businesswoman Sybil moves in. Owning Tressillion is Sybil’s triumph ̵…

Source: The White Camellia by Juliet Greenwood – 4.5*s #bookreview @julietgreenwood

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When creating characters, they need to be built from their past experiences, from their back-story. Like all of us, it’s those experiences, and the way each individual deals with them, that forms their motivation, grabs (or even repels) the reader’s sympathies, and forms their character. It’s that funny thing with writing, it’s only when the characters start to take on their back-story that they really come to life. It’s also the point where they tend to take on a life of their own. As a writer, you can no longer direct them. You can give them a nudge in the right direction, but if they don’t want to take it, if it goes against their motivation and their character, then it rings false – just as it does in life. Of course characters in books, as in life, also change, and it’s the emotional journey that the main characters follow that forms the heart of any story.

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Feuding families are always effective means of creating emotionally rich back-stories – think Romeo and Juliet and the Forsyth Saga for starters – and where would Eastenders be without a good feud? The central tension is there, danger is there, and there are endless possibilities and machinations to keep the plot zinging. Plus, let’s face it, there aren’t many families where there aren’t any tensions between acquaintances or different branches of the family.

Two feuding families always lay at the heart of my latest historical novel for Honno Press, The White Camellia. When I was first working on the book, I didn’t want to take the route of star-crossed lovers, but the story of two very difference women across the divide who – like so many women do – are the
ones who have to pick up the pieces as the unforeseen consequences rumble down the generations.

White camellia with dewSo while in Cornwall Sybil has fought her way out of destitution with nothing more than her wits, and is determined she and her family will never again face the horror of being out the streets, Bea loses her materially comfortable life, and is faced with trying to support her mother and little sister in Edwardian London, with few opportunities for women to work, let alone support a family.

Of course, at some point they have to meet, when the past catches up with them, and the two women have to decide whether to continue as enemies or make their peace. Strangely enough, it was that part of the story that was both most challenging and most intriguing, and where the back-story really came into its own.

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The White Camellia began as a very simple idea, but in writing the book, the characters of Bea and Sybil, and the obstacles the past puts in their way by their interlinked back-stories, took on a life of their own, so in the end I just followed, and was taken to emotional places I could not have found as a simple puppet master directing the action according to my original plan. What I had not foreseen was that, for both my heroines, the background of the family feud was also one that set them on a path to self-knowledge, to forgiveness, and (hardest of them all) to self-forgiveness. It’s a journey we all take through life, but it’s the intensity of events and emotions surrounding something as extreme as a family feud that really gives them an edge.

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The book I’m working on now does not have a family feud at the centre. In some ways it’s a relief not having the emotional complexities to resolve, but I also miss it as a structure. I have a feeling it’s a back-story I’ll be returning to again in the future – and send a new cast of characters on their own emotional rollercoaster ride!

 

 The White Camellia

UK edition

US Edition

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I’m excited to find that my latest book from Honno Press, ‘The White Camellia’ is currently in both the Amazon and Kobo sale at 99p, and in the Amazon US sale at $1.22  

(links below)

 

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Cornwall 1909

Sybil has fought her way up from nothing to become a successful businesswoman. It seems she has the world at her feet.

Against her better judgment, she buys faded Tressillion House on the wild Cornish cliffs. A house with a tragic past of greed, folly and revenge, linked to the goldmine in its grounds. Sybil cannot forget that the Tressillion family once destroyed everything she held dear, or the revenge that, in a moment of bitter fury, she took to pay them back. Her actions have had consequences that have haunted her ever since, and surround her with secrets that could destroy everything she has fought so hard to become.

But help comes from the most unexpected places, from the very family she has destroyed, setting Sybil off on the long, hard road towards self-forgiveness and the chance of happiness once more.

A thrilling, moving and uplifting story of loss and redemption, of the power of friendship, and the enduring power of true love.

AMAZON

99p from Amazon UK HERE

$1.22 From Amazon US HERE

KOBO

99p From Kobo UK HERE

 

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Praise for The White Camellia:

This was an effortless read that glided through the scenes perfectly… a great book for reading on a rainy Sunday or on the beach while waiting for afternoon tea.“
 Katie Scott, Blooming Fiction

There’s nothing I enjoy better than being wrapped up in the pages of a book that totally transports you into its world, to such an extent that you really don’t want to leave… Beautiful writing, wonderful storytelling, and onto my Books of the Year list without a moment’s hesitation.“
 Anne, Being Anne

This book effortlessly transports us to a time where much of what we as women take for granted was definitely not a given!… This is one of those books that you don’t want to put down….to hell with the washing up and the laundry! It will wait until the last lines are read!“
 Andrea, A Chance To Blog

“The White Camellia is a moving story, portraying the lives of ordinary women who take huge risks in standing up for themselves and fighting for justice… full of suspense, mystery and engaging characters, with a small portion of romance and plenty of drama.“
 Rachel Carney, Created To Read

This is Juliet Greenwood’s third novel and in my view, her best to date. Her writing has matured, settings are beautifully drawn; characters leap off the page insisting on being heard.“
 Word Bird, amazon.com

The setting is immediate and revealing. The author has used all her senses to portray the era the novel in based in. And this talent continues throughout the book, in every scene described… I’ve always held Juliet Greenwood’s work in great esteem; her style of writing, gentle but with an honest reality about it. This is one book I can thoroughly recommend. A great read.“
 Judith Barrow

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The range at the Squatters’ Cottage in Blists Hill

I loved the BBC’s ‘The Victorian Slum’. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a reality TV series in which a group of twenty-first century families and individuals were sent to live the lives of the inhabitants of a Victorian Slum, in the conditions of the 1860s to 1900.

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The Squatters’ Cottage

I was initially interested because of my research for ‘The White Camellia’, which included the campaigns to improve the lives and working conditions for women, which was part of the suffrage movement’s struggle for women to have the vote. I’ve also been researching the Victorian period for the book I’m working on at the moment. It’s all very well reading about conditions, and the struggle to pay the rent each week in a system stacked against you however skilled and hardworking you might be, but watching the struggles – and the anger – of people you get to know as they live the reality week by week really brought home what it must have been like.

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

 

It also reminded me of the inspiration for my own fascination with history, which came from stories of my Victorian great-grandmother, forced, like so many, from a rural life to the industrial heartland of Lye in the Black Country near Birmingham, and who rocked the cradle with her foot while hammering nails to keep the family afloat. This wasn’t a side of history I’d heard from anywhere else, and brought home vividly the realities of women’s complex lives and complex roles at the centre of a family’s survival. Ever since, I’ve loved visiting living history museums like Blists Hill in Ironbridge, and the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, where I stepped inside a nail-making workshop just like my great-grandmother’s, where women supplemented the family income, being paid half the rate men were paid for making exactly the same nails (unless you could say they were made by the men, of course). You can see the nail shop HERE

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The pantry of the Squatters’ Cottage

Like the inhabitants of the Victorian Slum, this wasn’t the unfair practice stacked against my ancestors, paid the lowest possible piece-rates, so that however skilled, and however hard you worked, you could never make any more than the rent and, if you were lucky, enough to eat. Even in the 1920s, when my father started work at 14, he wore his mother’s shoes, as there were no others.

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The bedroom of the Squatters’ Cottage

Like many such families, mine survived against the odds, and with the help of campaigners, libraries and adult education (not to mention the protection of the welfare state), broke free of the tyranny of the weekly rent. To be honest, I spent much of ‘The Victorian Slum’ in tears, at the unfairness and the total lack of understanding by many of the prosperous, made rich by perpetuating grinding poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. It also gave me added respect for social campaigners like Josephine Butler, who gathered the facts to prove that the true price of cheap hats was paid by the milliners who, even on a 70 hour week, could not make enough to survive, and were forced into part-time prostitution to keep a roof over their heads.

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Blists Hill

Most of all, ‘The Victorian Slum’ brought home the strength of family and community to overcome the odds. It reminded me of my mother’s family, the nail-making side, centred around my aunts, and the slightly eccentric great-aunts who lived in the house with the nail-making workshop at the bottom of the garden until they died.

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The garden of the Squatters’ Cottage

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The pigsty

Many of my memories as a child are sitting in a garden while the menfolk tinkered with their cars and their vegetable patches, and the women ‘gossiped’. What I only began to understand later was that this exchange of conversation between a group of closely-knit women was, as it had always been, the invisible and unheralded glue that held the centre together. And they were making sure that we, the next generation (even the girls), were part of the small percentage at that time who got to university, so we would never dread the rentman’s knock on the door.

 

The Victorian Slum can feel like ancient history, but it’s not. The grandmother who held me in her arms was the baby rocked in that cradle as her mother hammered nails to survive. That close.

I’m not sure I’d have had the stamina to live through the conditions of ‘The Victorian Slum’, and I have the greatest admiration for those who did. And I shall be keeping the DVD at hand in case I ever feel my life is uncertain or hard as a reminder – along with the Victorian nail found when my cottage was being repaired, and which still gives me goose-bumps.

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