A poetic weekend ahead!

For a long time, when I started attending creative writing workshops, I was mainly writing poetry. I tried to stick at NaPoWriMo a couple of times, and really enjoyed a month of learning about found poetry too. But in the last couple of years, I’ve not really tried anything poetic.

That could all be about to change, this weekend…

On Sunday, I’m off to a walk and workshop with Colette Bryce and the Dove Marine Lab as part of the Iron In The Soul festival. We’re having a guided tour of my lovely home-town of Cullercoats, hopefully picking up some trivia tidbits along the way, and then heading to the workshop proper. I must confess, a part of me is a little anxious about jumping in at the deep end, but I loved Colette’s collection Balasting The Ark, from her time in residency at the Dove, and am also really excited about trying to capture some Cullercoats magic on paper. I’ve even selected an appropriate notebook for the next in line, as I’ll have finished my current one in time!

lobsterThis workshop is being followed up on Monday to my first visit to the Poetry Society’s Stanza group in North Shields, run by Harry Gallagher. I’ve been a member for a while, but not made it along to any before. At least, after Sunday, my head should be attuned to poetry, and having a temporary break from prose.

I’ve never wanted to move completely away from poetry, so I’m chuffed that the events have fallen so close together.

I shall report back…

Author Dream Series: Jen Wilson

What are your writing dreams? I talked about mine on Tam May’ s blog…

The Dream Book Blog

Author Dream Series BannerI’m so pleased to offer up this week’s Author Dream Series post with author Jen Wilson!

Hi Tam, and thanks for inviting me to join you on your blog today.

I’ve always loved reading about history, mainly non-fiction as a child and teen, then historical fiction once I had left university, and found time to read proper stories again. Deep down, once I began writing, it was always my dream to write historical fiction, but with a full-time job, then studying again, then working again in the job I’m in now, there simply wasn’t time for the research and hard work a ‘proper’ historical fiction novel requires, ensuring the right people are at the right place at the right time. So I tried other things for a while, short stories, then poetry. I loved writing poetry, but history kept pulling me back, and in 2009, I gave National Novel Writing…

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Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile – Launched!

Well,  the mania and madness (both in the positive) are over for now, and I am gradually coming down from the rushes that were Thursday’s online launch, and Saturday’s “live” launch, for Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile.


Both versions of the launch were very different to those for Kindred Spirits: Tower of London in October 2015. Then, I set up an online event, but didn’t really know what I was doing, and accidentally left it alone to go for lunch with my parents early afternoon. And the “live” launch was fun, but essentially just a gathering in the pub!

Not this time.

Thanks to excellent advice and examples to follow from other Cats, this time I had guests, chat, and more competitions. It was a great day, immersed in the Royal Mile world for the duration, and getting such lovely feedback from everyone. Huge thanks again to everyone who clicked on through and got involved throughout the festivities.

And then there was Saturday. In one word: Wow. I’m a natural-born worrier, and had visions of it being me, my parents, Elaine and Sandy, launching a book to an empty room. Or the bar somehow falling apart. Something going wrong, at any rate.

This did not happen. Saturday was unbelievably brilliant, and I simply could not have been happier with the way things went. I am determined NOT to get soppy here, but seeing so many people there, being so supportive, it’s a good job that for me, only water and lemonade were consumed until it was finished, or there may well have been tears in the second half. I commented on the day (to many people, sorry!) that it felt like a wedding of sorts, and even now, I’m waiting, with excitement, to see what the pictures from the fabulous photographer (Peter Robinson, Positives from Negatives) look like!

I’ll be posting some of those photos from the day when I have them, but as I’ve done nothing but grin since Saturday, I had to write something now.

So it’s time for more thanks, to everyone who came along to the Town Wall at the weekend, and for helping make the day so special. Here’s to (hopefully) another one in the future!

Sunday Sojourn – Roma Nova

Morning everyone, and welcome to the first Sunday Sojourn of June (where is this year going?). Today, I’m welcoming Alison Morton to the blog, and she’s taking us somewhere you may feel you know, but not as you know it, and explains how to create a new, fictional state…

Alison MortonNov16_sm

Hello, Jennifer. Thank you for inviting me into your blog world. Let me take you to an imaginary one in Central Europe, to a city state in the mountains. Its people are tough, its history long and its heroines valiant. Well, nearly always valiant; they do have their bad days.

This is Roma Nova! Founded sixteen hundred years ago when the Roman Empire was crumbling, this tiny country has struggled its way through history, survived  and thrived. Silver in the mountains, Roman engineering genius and a robust attitude to threats has brought them through. Roma Nova lives by core Roman values, but with a huge twist: it’s run by women. You can find the whole story here. At the heart of each of the six books lies a complete thriller story. My latest book, RETALIO, tells of resistance against a dictator in a darker period in Roma Nova’s recent past. More of that later!

Technically, this genre is called alternative history as it changes the standard historical timeline at a particular point. Events then veer off in a different direction. Some alternative history stories are a bit fanciful, but many deal seriously with the concept of ‘what if?’. The Second World War seems to top the list of possibilities as we’ve seen with SS-GB and The Man in the High Castle, but other popular topics include the Spanish Armada succeeding or the Norman invasion in 1066 having a different outcome.

I’ve been rather vague about exactly where Roma Nova lies, but it’s bordered by ‘New Austria’, the ‘North Italian Federation’ and the ‘Helvetian Confederation’ or Austria, Italy and Switzerland as we know them in our timeline.

Now, the obvious problem when showing you photos of this imaginary setting is that the country doesn’t exist! However, there are some clues. First of all, like many alpine countries, it has high mountains to the north.


These give way to typical valley towns and villages just below the snow line resembling those found in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy and Slovenia.

Alpine town

But then we rapidly reach the lower part of Roma Nova where they grow wheat, oats and spelt…


…and still lower, grapes from which in the west comes the famous Castra Lucillan white wine. and in the east Bracadorum champagne. Both feature often in the Roma Nova stories!


How can I be so sure of this landscape? While Roma Nova is an imaginary country, I’ve based it on sound geographical principles. Austria and Switzerland both have this kind of scenery and land use, and Austria and Slovenia are known for white wine.  The trick with world building is to make it plausible and consistent. and the best thing is to ‘borrow’ a landscape that already exists! Although the ancient Roman Empire was a military society, it was also an agricultural one; every metre of land available was exploited for crops. Their descendants are no less industrious.


When we get into the towns of Castra Lucilla, Aquae Caesaris and Brancadorum and the city of Roma Nova itself, you would see more obviously Roman structures. The triumphal arch, at the end of the decumanus maximus (the main street)…

Triumpohal arch

…and  in the forum.

Forum building

The central market is busy every day, and the galleried macellum, or shopping centre,  would be familiar to most people…


…as the streets would be to most people in central and southern Europe.

Roma Nova citystreet

So how did I create this image of a non-existent place?

In the same way that the Roma Novan landscape ‘borrows’ from alpine and southern European countries, so does the cityscape. Most of the city photos were taken from my Rome album. It’s highly likely that Roma Nova will have evolved its cityscape in a similar way but with classical touches of central southern European cities like Vienna, Trieste and Ljubljana.

The trick is not to overwrite the description, but let the flavour and appearance of an imagined country emerge through the plot, the characters’ lives and actions. I particularly enjoy evoking scents (and sometimes smells) as well as textures and tastes, but the best way to connect with readers is through the characters’ eyes and ears, their reactions, whether good or bad, to what they are seeing and hearing. In RETALIO, heroine Aurelia’s reaction to the state Roma Nova has been reduced to under dictator Caius Tellus tells us more than anything:

Instead of the noisy, sometimes boisterous, seething mass of a year ago – shoppers, traders, hucksters and tourists, all pushing past and exchanging insults and greetings – it was dead. Instead of over two hundred stalls, there couldn’t have been more than thirty. One or two had a good selection of fruit and vegetables at outrageously inflated prices, several were selling second-hand irons, toasters, hairdryers and electrical toys for just a few solidi each. Others displayed curtains, sheets, towels and tablecloths; all neatly folded, but faded. Grey faces, desperate faces, worn clothes and even some people without shoes or boots. It looked like the third world.


So what’s RETALIO about? In three words, resistance, resilience, retaliation.

Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.

 Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. Without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.


You can watch the RETALIO book trailer here: https://youtu.be/Mql2Mm3ytJc and find RETALIO in ebook and print format from your favourite retailer here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/retalio/where-to-buy-retalio/


About Alison

Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.

AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing. Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton

Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

Back for a limited time…

Today, I’m delighted to be handing the reins over to Ailsa, a fellow Cat and good friend, to tell you her news…


You thought you had lost it but Shaman’s Drum is back on the market for six moths only. From 1st June it will be available in Kindle form for only 99p or cents as a special re-introductory offer.

WHAT? A mixed genre book which can be read as a stand-alone or as the sequel to Alchemy. It has variously been described as slightly futuristic magical realism, fantasy and romantic thriller.

WHEN? Set in our own word in just a few years’ time after a world-changing scientific discovery frees mankind from dependence on fossil fuels.

WHY? The banning of public religious practices was thought to bring an end to terrorism and war but unexpected consequences turn the new ideal world into a nightmare. Pagans having been left out of the ban are the only groups left to combat the new threat and they are fighting between themselves.

WHERE? The Capital is never named so it could be in your country.

WHO? Iamo, a priest of the Goddess with an aristocratic background who has just been released from prison for breaking his vow of chastity. A woman Black Shaman avenger who was the cause of Iamo’s downfall, rescued from her prison by her lover.

Between them they have to solve the mystery of who is allowing demons into the world of Men and find a way to stop them. Who can they trust in the chaotic world of pagan clans?

About Ailsa


The author, Ailsa Abraham, knows her subject having been a student of religions and a practising pagan most of her life. Friend of Druids, Hedge-witches and other assorted magic-users she is the village shaman in her home.





Amazon Author Page UK

Reviews on Amazon

Number 15 at the moment with an average rating of 4.7, with comments including: Shaman’s Drum sucked me in and swallowed me whole! and  Unique, ingenious and well crafted, plus: Just the right mix of danger, mystery, history, a possible future, and tastefully exciting romance,.I want more of Iamo and Riga. I just want more! 🙂

The sequel to Alchemy, brings heroine and hero back together for another scrap amongst the netherworld. Fairly ripped through this cracking read, which for me indicates a winning combination of pace with great writing.

International Amazon Link http://bit.ly/1mgdIhL

Publication Eve…

Well, we’re finally here… The eve of the launch of Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile, and just about the time that, last time, I started fretting that somehow, between author, editor, publisher and printer, the whole thing has somehow been translated into Martian, or that every other word / page / chapter has been mysteriously deleted! I worried about this so much last time that I didn’t dare open the e-book I had downloaded for days after the launch.


Of course I needn’t have worried.

Because of course, it was all fine, and it will all be fine tomorrow when Royal Mile hits the electronic shelves. But I do wonder whether I’m the only one who feels like this ahead of their Big Day?

Enough of worries though, and onto celebrations! I’m having an online launch party (click here), with guests, games, chatter and competitions. There’s even the chance to win a Mary, Queen of Scots bath duck! Yes, you read that right – you’ll have to come along and take part to find out… So, do come along and take part in the fun. We’ll even have virtual tablet – the greatest culinary creation the world has ever known!

If you do get yourself a copy, I’d love to hear what you think!

Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile: Along Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile, royalty and commoners – living and dead – mingle amongst the museums, cafés and former royal residences. From Castle Hill to Abbey Strand, there is far more going on than meets the eye, as ghosts of every era and background make their home along the Mile.

Returning to the city for her annual visit, Mary, Queen of Scots, is troubled by the lacklustre attitude of her father, King James V of Scotland, and decides to do something about it, with the aid of her spiritual companions. More troubling, though, is the arrival of a constant thorn in her side: her second husband, Lord Darnley.

Can Mary resolve both her own issues and those of her small, ghostly court?



Sunday Sojourn – Gallipoli

Morning everyone, from a very sunny Whitley Bay. Today on the blog, I’m joined by Denise Deegan, to take us to Gallipoli, in Turkey, to talk about the emotional setting for her novel, Through the Barricades.

I want to visit Gallipoli, in Turkey – to remember, though I’ve never been there.

I have spent the last two years researching and writing a novel called Through the Barricades set in revolutionary Dublin and Gallipoli during WW1. The biggest surprise for me is how connected I felt to the young men who lived and died in the trenches. I long to visit Gallipoli because of that connection. I am drawn to the place like a murderer to the scene of his crime.

At some point, my research went beyond research. I began to inhabit my story. I lived in the trenches with the men. I saw their horror, smelled it, tasted it, touched it, heard it. Breathed it. I felt their fear, boredom, homesickness, thirst, optimism and pessimism.

And so, I will land on the beach at Suvla Bay on a misty dawn, as did Daniel, Michael and the rest of The Pals Regiment. I know that I’ll hear the sounds of shelling, gunfire and exploding mines. I know that my heart will pound. I know that I’ll sweat and very possibly break into a run to the base of the ridge hiding the enemy. I will taste army rum, bitter in my mouth and I will look back towards the hospital ships in the bay, their red and green lights bobbing.


By Archives New Zealand from New Zealand – Landing at Gallipoli, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47036764


I’ll hear the order to march inland. And I will go. The sun will beat down. The air will hum with heat. Flies will form a welcoming party, feeding on my sweat. I’ll ignore them and the thirst. Up ahead, I’ll see a mine explode into the 5th Royal Irish Fusiliers and I’ll hear the whispered curses of the men beside me.

Without knowing it, I’ll have halted. I’ll remember how to pray. Then I’ll urge myself on with images of my loved ones in my mind.

I’ll hear the sounds of war explode all round me. I’ll see bodies ripped apart and men fall like puppets. I’ll hear the groans of the wounded I step over.

I will cry.

And survive.

I’ll cling to friends who have made it.

I will live in trenches and fill my letters with lies so my loved ones don’t worry. I will feel the cold at night. I will watch for the enemy. And I will see it coming. Again.

I will know the panic of running out of ammunition. I will witness my friend catch enemy grenades and fire them back until one explodes him to kingdom come.

I will relive it all in Technicolour and surround sound.

Visiting Gallipoli will not be fun. It will not be pleasant. But it will be important. It will be a thank you to the souls of those men who entered my mind and heart as I wrote, sharing with me their story. It will be a proper ending to a humbling writing experience. And it will be a reminder that war is never the answer.

About Denise

Denise Deegan lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies.

Denise has been a nurse, a china restorer, a pharmaceutical sales rep, a public relations officer, an entrepreneur and a college lecturer. Her most difficult job was being a checkout girl, although ultimately this experience did inspire a short story… Denise writes for both adults and teenagers. Her novels have been published by Penguin, Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing. Writing under the pen name Aimee Alexander, Denise’s contemporary family dramas have become international best-sellers on Kindle.

Through the Barricades

Through The Barricades ebook cover

She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country.

He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. 

‘Make a difference in the world,’ are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.

‘Don’t go getting distracted, now,’ is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.

A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realises that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.

The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people who are prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?


Through the Barricades on Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2ipY5WI

Through the Barricades on Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2iq7762

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ – !/denisedeegan Websites: http://www.denisedeegan.com & https://aimeealexander.com/

Sunday Sojourn – Tuscany

Having been watching BBC 2’s Second Chance Summer in Tuscany, and dreaming of running away to a dream life in Italy, I’ve been looking forward to hosting my guest today, Katharine Johnson, to talk about her upcoming novel’s inspiration…

katy j

Hello Jennifer and thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I love reading your Sunday sojourns so it’s a real treat to be taking part in one.

Today I’d like to take you to Tuscany where my psychological/coming of age novel the silence is set.

tuscany 1

Most people probably associate Tuscany with the gentle rolling hills, art cities and cypress-lined roads around Siena that we see on calendars and postcards. But the landscape in north Tuscany where my novel is set is wilder and less hospitable with jagged mountains, narrow gorges and thick forests. The hills are crowned by Medieval villages which are enveloped by cloud some of the year and can often only be accessed on foot. It’s a land of myths and magic with stories passed down through the generations about the devils, witches and imps that inhabit the area.

tuscany 2

Among the best known of these is the buffardello, an imp who lives in the Garfagnana and Lunigiana. He gets in through keyholes  at night, hiding and moving objects, leaving sulphurous smells, shaving men’s beards off, removing bed covers and knotting young girls’ hair and horses’ tails as they sleep. He also sits on sleepers’ chests or covers their mouth to stop them breathing.

Tree spirits also appear at night in the form of lights through the branches. Walnut trees are especially to be avoided. Whoever answers their call falls into a cataleptic state that slowly leads to death.

Some of the stories serve as an explanation for how the landscape was formed. In the mountains of the Apuan Alps between Pania Della Croce and Pania Secca is the Uomo Morto (dead man.) If you look carefully you can see the face of a man lying looking up at the sky. The story goes that a shepherdess was abandoned by her lover who went off to become a sailor. She spent her time staring out to sea from the meadows of Pania Della Croce pining for him. A young man was so struck by her beauty and sadness that he fell in love with her and tried everything to make her happy again. When he realised she would never love him he asked the gods to turn him into a rock that would unite the two mountains and block out her view of the sea forever.

Another story explains how Monte Forato (the holed mountain) was formed. The highest point of the Garfagnana is San Pellegrino in Alpe. It is here that the hermit San Pellegrino met the devil who did everything he could to tempt him. The saint resisted for as long as he could but in the end he lost patience and gave the devil a smack. This sent him flying across the valley into the Apuan Alps. The rock where the devil landed gave way leaving a big hole.

tuscany 3

The village of Santa Zita in my novel is entirely fictional but probably contains random bits of lots of places in the area. Some of the residents of Santa Zita still believe in tree spirits and the villa where Abby stays that summer is thought by locals to be cursed. It is hidden by trees in summer and mist in winter so a tragic incident there could remain a secret for many years.

The Silence is a psychological/coming of age story.

the silence

Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could destroy everything. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she is forced to confront the memories she has suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992. A summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.

The Silence is published on June 8th. You can pre-order now on Amazon – The Silence or join in the online launch here (and you really should – these things are great fun!)

About the author

Katharine Johnson is a journalist with a passion for crime novels, old houses and all things Italian (except tiramisu). She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, three children and madcap spaniel. She plays netball badly and is a National Trust room guide.

You can find her online, at the following links: Amazon author page

Website/blog     https://katyjohnsonblog.wordpress.com

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Royal Mile at the ready!

Today, I received an email from Amazon, letting me know that my next novel is ‘coming soon’, and was now available for pre-order. I knew it had started drifting slowly out on emails, with two friends having received similar emails, but seeing it pop up in my own inbox? That truly brought it home.


Especially as it was in pretty good company in the email!

So, I am delighted to announce that Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile is now available for pre-order (international Amazon link here). Also, to remind you that I’ll be hosting an online launch party over on Facebook (click here), where I’m chuffed to be joined by fellow Crooked Cat writers, and will be sharing virtual food, drinks and entertainment, along with real competition prizes.

Looking forward to seeing you there x