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Hazel playing her new Celtic Harp
  • I loved your tweet about ordering a new harp to celebrate the publication of Ellie and the Harp Maker. I just had to ask what drew you to playing the harp, and the Celtic harp in particular?

Thanks so much, Juliet! Yes, the new harp was a ‘reward’ for my debut novel, although it ended up being two year’s wait before I actually got it! This was because it was hand-made to order … and then of course COVID made everything take even longer. It’s a beautiful instrument though, and I’m delighted with it.

The harp in the workshop

I first started harp-playing when I was at university, many years ago. I’d always loved music but never played an instrument. It was a happy accident that led me to a locker that contained a battered, broken old harp. It belonged to one of the music societies but I instantly loved it, so I kidnapped it that summer and had it mended. I realised then how much I longed to play it. It took me a long time to learn but I’m so glad I did!

Although it was chance rather than choice that paired me up with this particular instrument, it’s the perfect one for me. I’ve always been drawn to anything Celtic (I have some Scottish blood, which could be a reason) and I do prefer Celtic harps to classical harps. To my ears the sound is more organic, more ancient, wilder and wiser. It moves me deeply and somehow, in this complicated world, seems to heal and help put things right again.

A harp begins …
  • What were the origins of ‘Foxwillow Trio’? Have you managed to keep on playing and composing during lockdown?

I joined Foxwillow a few years ago. Martin and Celia, the other members, had already been together as duo for over a decade. We met at an informal gig where I was doing some harping and they were singing with guitar, flute and clarinet accompaniment. They invited me and my harp over to theirs the following week and I busked along to their lovely, nature-themed songs. They seemed to like it… at any rate they still keep inviting me back! They write all the songs for this group but I compose the harp parts.

We had masses of gigs lined up for 2020, all of which were cancelled, along with my solo performances. It’s been a sad time for musicians (and I’m extremely grateful that writing is now my main income.) Whenever regulations eased and weather permitted we met up in gardens to keep practising. 2021 has, at last, given us opportunities to perform again. We’ve recently been on stage at the Mid Devon Show and will be playing again at Watchet Festival in August. But it will be a long time before I’ll be able to return to Care Homes with my harp.

  • Do you find the process of writing music for your harp differs from writing a book, or do you find there are similarities?

They’re pretty different, but they complement each other well. Writing drives me slightly crazy because there’s so much intensive thinking involved, so I do need the less cerebral process of music-making as a break from it. Songs or harp pieces are much quicker to write than novels, too, so you have the satisfaction of actually completing something more often.

The two creative processes do have similarities, though. Both take a lot of energy and experimentation. I’m not a very systematic person and when I start a new project I tend to blindly follow my gut instinct. But once I’ve found something I like I’ll doggedly hone and hone. I delete a large proportion of everything I write and I never perform a huge chunk of my repertoire, so masses of work doesn’t actually get used. Maybe I’m too perfectionist?

  • Can I ask you what inspired you to write the story of Ellie and the Harp Maker?
The beginnings of Hazel’s harp in the workshop

My first inspiration was all the people who came up to me after harp performances and said: “I’ve always wanted to play the harp.” I was amazed at the number of people (both women and men) who have this dream. I thought about how much of life we spend dreaming and how we sometimes follow these dreams but often don’t; about what happens when dreams come true… and how they have a habit of not quite turning out the way we expect.

A harp skeleton…

As I was pondering, I was going on a lot of walks in the Exmoor countryside and that became an integral part of the story too. Dan (the harp maker) emerged as not only somebody who could make Ellie’s dream come true, but also someone living a solitarily life, immersed in the local landscape. Then came Phineas the pheasant, who plays an important role in the drama. He was inspired by Exmoor as well.

  • The character of Dan and the details of harp making in Ellie and the Harp Maker were fascinating. Do you think it takes a special kind of person to create a Celtic harp? And were you able to see your new harp being made?

I’d say it does take a special person to create a harp, yes. Of course a great deal of woodworking experience is required, and masses of patience, precision and passion. I’ve never met anyone quite like Dan in real life, although I’ve met several harp makers.

Most harps are factory-made these days, but there are still quite a few skilled harp makers around. My old harp (which I still love, by the way!) was made by a German harp-maker called Frank Sievert. To research Ellie And The Harp Maker I went down to Cornwall and quizzed Tim Hampson, who patiently explained a lot of harp-making details to me and showed me around his workshop. My new harp was made by Mark Norris, who’s based near Peebles in Scotland. It was too far to visit to see the harp being constructed (and it was lockdown anyway) but he generously sent me lots of photos of my harp-in-the-making.

This is just how I imagine Dan’s workshop!
  • I loved the description of surroundings, do you find nature important for the creative process?

Absolutely! I couldn’t do without my ‘thinking walks’. It’s unhealthy to be stuck behind a computer screen all day anyway, and the act of walking is scientifically proven to help problem-solving. Fresh air, flowing water, blowing breezes, buzzing insects, singing birds, green hills… I’m greedy for them all and my writing would lose so much without them.

  • Can you say what you are working on now, both for books and music?

I’ve just finished proof-reading my third novel, Call Of The Penguins, which will be out in November. I have something up my sleeve for book 4, which I’m very excited about but not quite sure how it will pan out so I’d probably better not say more than that.

Music-wise I’m out and about with Foxwillow Trio again and getting my solo repertoire together, with a few private gigs booked. Normally at Christmas I play a glorious festive selection at Dunster Castle and I’m hoping that will happen again this year. I’ll be appearing at some literary festivals too (e.g. Taunton, Exeter and Yeovil) where I’ll be accompanying readings with my harp and playing my song about penguins, Waddling On. So it’s a good mix, and all good fun!

Thank you so much for having me, Juliet. It’s a real pleasure and honour to be featured on your website.

Thank you, Hazel, it’s been a huge pleasure – and I’ll keep my fingers firmly crossed for live audiences being able to enjoy performances of Waddling On!

You can find out more about Hazel, her harp and her best-selling books Away with the Penguins (currently just 99p on kindle!) and Ellie and the Harp Maker on her website, and there are also details and buying links below. Enjoy!

https://www.hazeltheharpist.co.uk/

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 Strange how the world can change without warning … 

As, like wonderfully resilient Hester, the heroine of my first book with Orion ‘The Ferryman’s Daughter’, we all settle down to the new reality of a world changed by events from seemingly far away, I’ve decided to abandon my planned posts building up to publication on May 14th. Instead, I’m asking my fellow authors how they are dealing with being in lockdown and a new way of working. Along with any tips they might have for keeping creativity alive – or even using this time of seclusion to finally get those hidden talents up and running.

Today, I am asking multiple Sunday Times best-selling author, Trisha Ashley, about how she is faring as she prepares for the publication of her new book ‘The Garden of Forgotten Wishes‘ this July – and any tips on finally getting that novel written! 

Take it away, Trisha! 

 

Trisha signing at Daunts bookshop, London

Trisha’s new novel, out this July.

I hardly noticed the virus storm clouds gathering, having spent most of the previous month frantically trying to finish my new book. Once I’d sent it off and was about to emerge into the world again, it became impossible. So, here I am, about to dive straight into another new book instead!

I know many of you are wondering if you should use some of your suddenly free time to start to write – so yes, stop thinking about it, and do it!

Trisha, with fellow author Elizabeth Morton – not forgetting Time Lord Peter Davison!

The technique of writing a novel can be taught, just like that of throwing a pot. But no one can teach you how to breathe life into the clay – that has to come from inside yourself. If you are constantly putting up barriers to stop yourself writing, then Natalie Goldberg’s Writing down the Bones will unblock the U-bend of your creativity and get you looking at the world in a different and more inspiring way. And read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, because he really tells it like it is, plus has a lot of practical advice at the end.

 

Question and answer session at the Northwich LitFest

A few years ago I wrote a quirky, offbeat novel very unlike my usual ones, called Written from the Heart (formerly titled Happy Endings), simply because the heroine, Tina Devino, took over my head and insisted on pouring out her heart on the subject of the struggles of being a midlist author, her complicated love life, and the manuscripts sent to her by hopeful authors via her lit and crit agency…. I think some of the letters she included would give you pointers on what not to do.

So – have a go, explore, get words on the page and see where it takes you. But, most of all, enjoy yourselves!

You can buy the UK edition  HERE

and the US edition HERE

 

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes

The brilliant new novel from Top Five Sunday Times bestselling author Trisha Ashley

All Marnie wants is somewhere to call home. Mourning lost years spent in a marriage that has finally come to an end, she needs a fresh start and time to heal. Things she hopes to find in the rural west Lancashire village her mother always told her about.

With nothing but her two green thumbs, Marnie takes a job as a gardener, which comes with a little cottage to make her own. The garden is beautiful – filled with roses, lavender and honeysuckle – and only a little rough around the edges. Which is more than can be said for her next-door-neighbour, Ned Mars.

Marnie remembers Ned from her school days but he’s far from the untroubled man she once knew. A recent relationship has left him with a heart as bruised as her own.

Can a summer spent gardening help them heal and recapture the forgotten dreams they’ve let get away?

UK edition can be pre-ordered HERE

US edition can be pre-ordered HERE

Trisha Ashley is from St Helens in West Lancashire, and believes that her typically dark Lancashire sense of humour in adversity, crossed with a good dose of Celtic creativity from her Welsh grandmother, has made her what she is today…whatever that is. Several of her novels are set in rural West Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Wales. They frequently explore aspects of the three F’s that are a constant in her own life: Food, Flowers and Friendship and include delicious recipes at the back.

Trisha has a website at www.trishaashley.com where you can sign up for her newsletters, and an official fan site at www.trishaworld.net where you can find out more about her, or see a complete list of her books. You will also find her on twitter as @trishaashley.

 

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Congratulations to the winners!

First of all congratulations to Shirley who won the Oapschat competition with a prize of a signed copy of ‘We That are Left‘ and a box of handmade Cathryn Cariad chocolates inspired by the recipes in the book. Choc 1 small

Congratulations to the winners of the Goodreads giveaway of ten (hotly contested) signed copies of ‘We That are Left’ which are currently being packed up all ready to go winging their way towards you.

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My publishers have generously found me a second box of Cathryn Cariad ‘We That are Left’ chocolates in need of a good home.

Watch this space!

And thank you to everyone who tweeted and posted and shouted out loud that ‘Eden’s Garden’ was in the Amazon Kindle sale on April 1st – propelling it to number #1 in the Women’s Historical Fiction Charts for the third time in a year.

Eden's Garden Full Price 1 in Womens Historical Fiction

I think this calls for Elderflower champagne – and cake!

We That are Left’ UK       ‘We That are Left’ USA

‘Eden’s Garden’ UK     ‘Eden’s Garden’ USA

Seed cake

Elderflower 1

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WW1 Seed Cake small

It’s a year (given a week or two) since the publication of ‘We That are Left’.

And what a whirlwind of a year it’s been. After all the hard work getting your baby to as near perfection as it can be (to the point where you hate the very sight of the little tyke), it’s always an anxious moment when your darling/little horror goes off into the world to the most uncertain of fates.

I’m not sure what I thought this time last year. Probably because I was so busy between madly doing interviews and getting bookmarks printed and dancing all over the Internet to think at all.

Juliet at launch from Trisha

Thanks to my lovely author friends, the Novelistas http://novelistasink.blogspot.co.uk/, I had a wonderful, stress free and utterly happy launch party – complete with the WW1 poppy seed cake from the recipe in the book.

WTAL at BBC Radio Wales

I certainly had no idea then that the poppy seed cake would take on a life of its own, making it to the local studios of the BBC and the recipe having over 4300 hits on the Oapschat website alone (you can find the recipe here).

I had never dreamed that We That are Left would become Book of the Month three times over, for Waterstones Wales, The Welsh Books Council and the inaugural Book of the month for the National Museums of Wales.

National Museums of Wales Book of the Month small

Most of all, I absolutely and totally never, ever dreamed that ‘We That are Left’ would reach #4 in the Amazon Kindle store and number 1 in all its categories.

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I think this calls for a party.

So in celebration, I’m working with my publishers, the awesome Honno Press, with a giveaway of ‘We That are Left’ up and running on Goodreads, and two chances to win a signed copy and a box of handmade Welsh chocolates inspired by the recipes in the book.

Chocolates!

The Goodreads giveaway is up and running (click here to enter) – and details of the other two will follow shortly.

Thank you to all my wonderful readers and everyone who has tweeted and re-tweeted and shared on Facebook – and not forgetting all those amazing reviews.

Seed cake

Watch this space!

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Thank you to everyone who tweeted and retweeted and shared on Facebook about ‘We That are Left’ being in the Kindle Daily Deal.

 

 

Seed cake

 

Thanks to all your support it soon became a ‘mover and shaker’ in the Kindle charts. It reached #31 in the Kindle store and the dizzy heights of #1 in the ‘Family Sagas’ category!

WTAL 1 Family sagas Nov 14 full price

 

So thank you to everyone who downloaded it – and everyone who got the word out there. 🙂

Thinking time

 

 

 

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My room 2November is Novel Writing Month and to celebrate NaNoWriMo, Webucator is asking writers for their perspectives on novel writing and to answer the following questions. I may not be trying to write a novel in a month, but I’m in hermit and no-housework mode as I wrestle with finishing one – so I’m delighted to part in answering Webucator’s questions.

 

What were your goals when you started writing?

When I wrote my first novel at the grand age of ten, it was to create my own version of the worlds I adored in my favourite books. The author I loved most was Rosemary Sutcliff and her vivid historical novels – so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that I eventually ended up as a historical novelist.

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The writer’s life …

My room with a view!

My ideal writing room in beautiful Portmeirion. One day …..

When I began to write seriously as an adult, around fifteen years ago, my goal was simply to be published. I knew that what I was actually producing was turgid, pretentious, and dreadful, but somewhere inside me that flame from my childhood passion still burned. As I could feel myself beginning to improve with experience, and even had a few short stories published in magazines, I found a new goal – the one I now know I should have had from the start of my adult writing: to work with an editor.

That chance finally came when Honno Press liked the book that was to become ‘Eden’s Garden’ and gave me the chance to work with the wonderful Janet Thomas. No promise of publication, just to work with an editor. That year working with Janet was the biggest rollercoaster ride of my life. I always say it was like having a personal trainer: I was pushed and prodded and inspired to be more ambitious and explore more depths in my writing than I could ever have believed, and to be more rigorous in my approach. It was the year that changed both my life, and my writing. (And yes, there were times when I wanted to crawl into a corner and for it all to go away – but who said writing was easy?)

You can find out more about my experience on working with an editor HERE and about throwing the best bits away HERE

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The proud moment I first held ‘Eden’s Garden’ in my hands.

 

What are your goals now?

 To earn my living from my writing! It’s begun, but it’s a long, slow process. My two books for Honno Press ‘Eden’s Garden’ and ‘We That are Left’ both reached the top 5 in the Amazon Kindle store earlier this year, so I’m moving in the right direction, but I still earn very little from my writing. I also write serials as ‘Heather Pardoe’ for The People’s Friend magazine, which helps. I find the real problem is time: all writing is speculative unless you have a contract for several books or a serial has been commissioned. Bills arrive come what may! But I’m plodding on. My three month Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary to finish ‘We That are Left’ gave me a small taste. And when I think that only a few years ago just being published seemed an impossible goal and the word ‘bestselling novelist’ was a daydream, to even have this goal feels a miracle!

National Museums of Wales Book of the Month small

Becoming book of the month with ‘We That are Left’

 

 

What pays the bills now?

Some comes from my novels and serials and I have a small amount of PLR (Public Lending Right – the writer’s best friend) each year. But the majority still comes from an admin day job I do for one and a bit days a week, and I also work as a freelance academic proofreader, mainly for students with English as their second language. It’s fascinating – and good training for proofreading my own work.

 

Assuming writing doesn’t pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

I’d die if I didn’t. Like most writers, I sometimes wonder why exactly I put myself through the agony – but I know I couldn’t give it up if I tried. I don’t write to be rich (although that would be nice) but earn enough to be able to write. And I don’t care how long it takes …..

WWI Seed Cake

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Thank you to everyone who downloaded a copy of Eden’s Garden in the Daily Deal

And to all who tweeted and retweeted and shared on Facebook and sent the word out from my little crog loft halfway up a mountain in Snowdonia into the world. 

And sent it to number eleven in the Amazon Kindle Store

And number one in all its categories

And finally enabled me to fulfill my ambition to be above ‘Fifty Shades’!

The only answer to this is cake 🙂

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EG at 11 in kindle store nov 2014 At number 11 EG Nov 2014 EG Womens Hist Fict 1 Nov 2014 Number 1 above 50 shades

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Juliet at Hintons

 

I have to confess I was a little nervous before my talk about the Women of WW1 at Conwy’s lovely new bookshop, ‘Hinton’s of Conwy’. I’ve been busy concentrating on writing up to now, but I’d learnt so much while I was researching for ‘We That are Left’ that I was eager to share it. So off I went, armed with my WW1 poppy seed cake (what else), telling myself that it was a lovely sunny evening and no one would turn up, having sloped off to the beach instead, and I’d just be sitting there with a few friends eating cake.

Hintons of Conwy

How wrong could I be! The quiet room beneath the bookshop was packed full when I finally stood up to speak. Which was great – but did give me a brief impulse to run away! Thankfully one of the advantages of my (very brief) career as a teacher is that there’s nothing quite as scary as 30 disengaged 13 year olds on a Friday afternoon.

It’s the funny thing about research. You do so much of it, and then have to throw it to the back of your mind and hope it comes through and you get the details right. When I started researching, I came across so many things that women did, many of which were famous at the time, but have now been forgotten. They are simply not part of the familiar narrative of the war.

After the first few minutes, passion took over, and it was a great experience to be able to share so many of the roles women played, both on the front line and at home and for which there had been no time or space in the novel. I’d no idea before I began my research that women drove Layout 1ambulances, set up soup kitchens on the front line, ran their own field hospitals, and picked up bodies from no man’s land between battles. It’s a different aspect of the war. At times it’s completely incongruous, and unthinkable in later conflicts, such as the Duchess of Sutherland handing in her card to German officers, and demanding answers about the conditions of British prisoners of war.

So thank you to everyone who turned up to listen. It was great to see a packed house, and to have such a fascinating discussion afterwards about the forgotten role of the brave and resourceful women of WW1.

I’m definitely fired up to do more!

 

Hintons

On the way back, I stopped at Llanfairfechan beach, to one of the most glorious sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was quiet and peaceful, with people just enjoying the evening. A great antidote to reliving the horrors of the First World War.

 

Lighthouse puffin island

And when I got home – well, I’d left ‘Eden’s Garden’ climbing the ranks as part of being the Kindle Daily Deal for that day. After the surprise of ‘We That are Left’ getting to number 4 in the kindle store a few weeks ago, I’d been determined not to get excited. This was an older book, one that had been in a promotion before.

And yet there it was, number 6 when I got home. Number 5 when I woke up the next morning.

Now that was a day to remember!

Eden's Garden 5 in Kindle Store 2

 

Number 1 historical Full price June 2014

Eden's Garden 5 in Kindle Store June 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eden’s Garden

Welsh Book of the Month for May

Stormed up to an amazing #5 in the Kindle Store in the Kindle Daily Deal – and #1 in all its categories.

Still stunned!

 

 

Eden's Garden 5 in Kindle Store 2

Eden's Garden 5 in Kindle Store June 2014

Number 1 historical Full price June 2014

 

an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal – 99 pence for one day only!

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Sometimes you have to run away, sometimes you have to come home.

2011 – Carys agrees, with mixed feelings, to look after her mother after a fall. This decision unsettles everything – her job, her plans, her relationship with Jack. Once home she is drawn back into village life, into her family history hidden in the attic, and into the history of Plas Eden, the ramshackle great house that was so much part of her childhood. Where, at 18 she forced herself to say goodbye to David Meredith. How will she feel when they meet again?

1898 – Ann, destitute, stands on London bridge. She remembers her last visit to London, a spoilt aristocratic bride, sure of the power of her youth and beauty. Now she is running from everything she trusted. Is the river her only option, or will the Meredith Charity Hospital hide her?

Two women struggling with love, family duty, long buried secrets, and their own creative ambitions. But over a hundred years ago, Ann left a trail, through North Wales, Cornwall and London, that may help Carys find her true path. What is the secret of the statues in the garden?

Welsh Book of the Month May 2012

  Read the Welsh Books Council Review

HERE

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WW1 Seed Cake small

So much has been written about The Great War, but it has only been recently that the full of the women who kept the country going at home, and worked to save lives both on the battlefields and behind enemy lines, has been rediscovered.

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If you are in Conwy on June 18th, I shall be at Hinton’s of Conwy from 7 – 9 talking about the women and civilians caught up in WW1, and the inspiration behind We That are Left. Entrance is free, and there will be refreshments, including cake inspired by the recipes of the time.

Places are limited, so please contact Jenny at ‘Hinton’s of Conwy’  Tel: 01492 582212  Email: jenny@hintsonsofconwy.co.uk

It will be great to see you!

 

 

And just because there are some things an author can never quite see enough of – here’s We That Are Left in its recent promotion, at number 4 in the Amazon Kindle store. I might just mention that, too … (still pinching myself)

WTAL full price and movers

 

 

 

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