Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on the living dead.

Happy Easter Monday everyone! After all the chocolate I hope you’ve consumed this weekend, how about settling down with a book? Crooked Cat’s Easter Sale is in its final day, featuring Kindred Spirits: Tower of London. I talked to Vic about my dose of paranormal historical fiction on her blog on Friday…


cover on devicesHave you ever thought about what the dead get up when you’re not looking? Not in a terrifying, trying to drive you out of your house sort of way, just in a ‘getting on with their own lives’ sort of way? That’s what got me thinking, and what led to me writing Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, my debut novel, published in October 2015 (international Amazon link here, to take you to the country of your choice), and currently just 99p/c in the Crooked Cat Easter Sale.

Come and find out what Richard III, Anne Boleyn, Queen Jane Grey and a host of others talk about whilst we’re not listening, and what they get up to when the staff of the Tower of London are busy elsewhere. With family feuds having had centuries to build up, star-crossed couples trying to find each other, and a certain King of…

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Sunday Sojourn – Heidelberg

Happy Easter Sunday everyone! Today, I am delighted to welcome back to the blog Nancy Jardine, to tell us about Heidelberg.


Hello, Jen. It’s lovely to pay you a return visit to add a little more to your Sunday Sojourns. Your readers will find that my chosen location for this post is the German city of Heidelberg.

I regularly sell paperback versions of my novels at Craft Fairs around my home area of Aberdeenshire and one question I’m often asked is ‘Why have you included the city of Heidelberg in your novel Topaz Eyes?’ I’m always delighted to wax lyrical.


When planning the mystery thriller, I particularly wanted to create a European ancestral/family tree structure for my character list because that meant I could include contemporary third generation cousins who presently lived in fabulous world wide locations—one of which is Heidelberg.

Heidelberg 5 own photo

At the outset of the novel, my main female character Keira Drummond receives a mysterious invitation to Heidelberg to attend the private opening of a small art gallery in the centre of Heidelberg’s old town. The gallery owner is willing to pay all of her travel costs from Edinburgh, Scotland, and to put her up in one of Heidelberg’s best hotels but Keira’s only connection with Heidelberg is that she spent time there as a student. Overcoming her initial sceptical reservations, she can’t resist a free return trip though she immediately finds herself embroiled in a family quest that’s full of intrigue, danger and even death!

Why did I begin the tale in Heidelberg? And where did my ideas come from?

Anyone who knows me personally will know that my elder daughter, Fiona, spent her final university academic year at Heidelberg University. Since German was her prime language of study she was required to spend a year in Germany to fulfil her degree requirements. When discussing potential places to apply to, I had no hesitation in recommending Heidelberg which we’d visited in 1980 when she was only 9 months old. Some judicious research convinced her that Heidelberg was a brilliant choice. During her time there, I popped over for a holiday so it was natural to include Heidelberg in the treasure trail that’s at the heart of Topaz Eyes. It should come as no real surprise that in Topaz Eyes Keira also studied languages there and is a translator.

 Heidelberg University Old buildings wiki

Heidelberg is the loveliest city that’s crammed full of interesting things to see and do. The food and drink is superb, geared towards a more limited student budget yet also caters for those who want fine dining. By day or night it’s an incredibly lively place to wander around in. Often named a college town, it only has a population of c. 156,000 (2015 census) who live in a geographically small area. Around a quarter of that population are transient students. Visitors and tourists, like I was, are often there because they have some sort of relationship with people studying, or working, at the university.


Heidelberg University dates back to 1386 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Europe. Though there are facilities and associated research buildings in the new parts of the city, it’s the Altstadt (old city) which draws most tourist attention. The baroque style of the old city means romance and nostalgia abound on every cobbled street. Cobbles are tough on the feet but, in my opinion, walking around gives you the best rewards: the architecture is striking and the atmosphere is friendly and welcoming. Much of the Altstadt is pedestrianised, the Main Street a mile long which teems with unique shops and would you believe?—tiny art galleries!


Heidelberg Castle sits proudly on the hill above the Altstadt. Its mixture of architectural styles, from Gothic through to Renaissance, dominates the surrounding views. There are habitable castle areas next to parts which have been ruined for centuries: the whole structure encircled with beautiful gardens at different levels for tourists who aren’t so interested in history. There’s an impressive ‘King’s Hall’ that’s currently used for public events that was built in 1937. However, the best memory of my castle tour was of visiting the small Deutsches Apotheken Museum (Apothecaries Museum) which was crammed full of stunningly preserved objects dating from the mid 1700s. TIP: I had a personal translator but an audio guide would be useful since the signs were in German (though maybe they are also in English now). The Museum made such an impression on me that it’s included in a scene where Keira’s suspicions intensify, the disquiet that she’s being stalked becoming more of a reality.


The Alte Brucke (Karl Theodor Bridge built 1788) straddles the twinkling River Neckar in great style. Though named the old bridge there have been many bridges across it. As a Roman history enthusiast, I’m deeply sad it’s no longer possible to walk across the first known timber bridge across the Neckar that was built by the Romans in the first century AD. That timber construction was replaced in stone around the year 200 AD but after it collapsed the city of Heidelberg was without a bridge for almost 1000 years. New structures were built over the next centuries at the same location, using the original Middle Ages foundations, the Karl Theodor Bridge being the ninth. The hugely impressive Bruckentor, the bridge gate on the south end, dates from the Middle Ages. Keira loves the river views but not the fact that she can see 3 shadows as she chats to Teun Zeger, the main male character in the novel.

Heidelberg 3 own photo

Now here’s a secret for blog readers – In reality the shadows in my photograph are of myself, Fiona, and my younger daughter Sheena who accompanied me on that trip.

Heidelberg 3 shades black

A wander across the Alte Brucke will take you to the Philosophenweg (Philosopher’s Walk). This is a pedestrian pathway that twists and bends part way up the hillside through leafy glades. The views across to the old town of Heidelberg are stunning. Traditionally, professors and philosophers did a power of talking as they exercised there though nowadays it’s also known as a lovers’ haunt! Keira finds the Philosophenweg an exciting place to be for different reasons!

If you read Topaz Eyes you’ll find out how many typical aspects of Heidelberg are featured, though I name only a few of the multitude that are available for the tourist to take pleasure in.

In real life, I found Heidelberg a wonderfully sociable city to visit, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet been there, but for the purposes of my novel a reader will discover that Keira’s finding it less friendly than it used to be!

new TE

A final note would be that Heidelberg is only one of the wonderful cities I’ve given feature to in Topaz Eyes, each location sparked by some form of personal involvement!

Topaz Eyes is available at a *SALE* price of 99p (99c equivalent) across the Amazon network from 14th – 17th April 2017. 

About Nancy

Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in 1st century northern Roman Britain whereas her contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014. All are published by Crooked Cat Books.

The Taexali Game, a time-travel adventure set in 3rd century Roman Scotland, acquired second place in the Barbara Hammond Competition for Best Self Published Book March 2017.

Her week vanishes in a blur of reading, writing, blogging, keeping up with news and politics, gardening and regular grandkid minding—anything left is for breathing and sleeping. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers Scotland.


You can find her at these places:

Blog:  Website:   Facebook: &

email:  Twitter @nansjar

Amazon Author page

Retreating for Easter

I am currently two working days away from a glorious run of four days off work – my first days off since Christmas, and I cannot wait. And this Easter, I won’t be vegging out with a mountain of chocolate (I’ll limit myself to a hill, to be good), I’m going to set myself up on a DIY writing retreat.

Obviously, on such retreats, life needs to be as simple as possible, so food will be provided by my two favourites – Mr Marks and Mr Spencer. Every retreat needs a bit of luxury, after all!


I’ll be trying to channel the vibes from Ozu Cultural Centre, Monteleone Sabino!

As for the actual writing, I’ve got my plans, and I’ll be doing my best to stick to them. Final edits on the second draft of one project and then, excitingly, starting full-on research for a new project.

I love this bit, reading around a topic, scribbling down all those notes; it’s like the fun bits of being a student, without the inconvenience of an exam at the end of it all…

Add to that a couple of walks along the seafront and a visit to Tynemouth Market, and all being well, it should be a productive weekend.

Wish me luck!

Sunday Sojourn – Soap-making in Marseille

Happy Sunday everyone! Today, we’re visiting Marseilles with Vanessa Couchman, and learning about soap-making in Marseilles…

Vanessa Couchman

Thank you for inviting me, Jen. It’s great to be back.

As it’s Sunday, here’s a nice clean subject. We all use soap, don’t we? (At least, I hope so!). It’s the kind of product we take for granted these days. I certainly did until I decided to set part of my latest novel in a soap factory in the southern French city of Marseille.

Soap has been made for centuries and Marseille became a centre of production. The olive oil needed to make the soap was in plentiful supply. Also, the city was a major port and imported other soap ingredients and exported the finished product. In addition, Marseille’s warm but windy climate helped to solidify the soap.

By the time of the French Revolution in 1789, the Marseille area had 65 savonneries (soap factories), which between them boasted 280 soap-making vats. The industry was at its peak during the 19th century. Traditional Savon de Marseille has a distinctive cube shape and comes in two colours, green (made with olive oil) and beige-white (made with copra or palm oil).

Savons de Marseille Wikimedia Commons C Arnaud 25

Okay, but how do you turn a liquid into a solid? This question exercises my heroine until she sees the process for herself. The master soap-makers’ work must have seemed like alchemy. The oil had to be heated with soda ash in a giant cauldron and then went through various other stages until it was poured into large flat trays to solidify and dry. It was cut into cubes and stamped with the savonnerie’s own mark. The whole process took about 10 days.

Marseille savonnerie 1873 Wikimedia Commons C Library of the University of Seville

Soap had many uses. People in the 18th century, when my novel is set, used it mainly for washing clothes and for household cleaning. It was also used in medicine for relieving skin allergies and in the textile industry for washing fabric.

By the 19th century, almost every household in France had its cake of Savon de Marseille. In the days before washing machines, women did their laundry at lavoirs, washing places, often sited at the source of a spring. Where I live, in southwest France, you can still see many of them. My heart quails when I think what hard work doing the laundry must have been!

Lavoir at Bach SW France

During World War II, soap was rationed like everything else. By the end of the war, the monthly soap ration had fallen to 75 grams. That’s not very much when you consider people had to make do with it for washing laundry, as well as themselves.

Today, industrial processes have simplified soap-making. But authentic Savon de Marseille is still made according to the long-standing methods and prescribed ingredients.

What I love about writing historical fiction is the opportunity to research into topics like this.


About Vanessa

Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in southwest France since 1997. Her first novel, The House at Zaronza (Crooked Cat, 2014) is set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I. She has just completed her second novel, The Corsican Widow, and plans further Corsica novels. Vanessa’s short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Front cover final 2


Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

Amazon author page

Facebook author page




The House at Zaronza is available in paperback and e-book format from:


Barnes & Noble



Writing to kill for

A couple of weeks back, I headed over the river on a sunny Sunday to The Word in South Shields, for three workshops from members of the Killer Women collective: Erin Kelly, Kate Rhodes and Helen Smith.

Now, when it comes to crime, I’ve said before that I’m a watched, not much of a reader, and definitely not a writer. But between Crime Story 2016 and Swanwick’s crime specials last year, and now the Killer Woman workshops, perhaps that might just change…

Thanks to Kate Rhodes’ workshop on building suspense, I was able to redraft a better version of an opening scene which has been buzzing about my head for a couple of years, but the main thing that struck me across all the sessions was how transferable so much of the advice was.

Book and Brew highlighted Erin Kelly’s top tips in this article, and they would certainly help anyone improve any fiction they were working on. Plenty of thought-provoking ideas to keep our work going.

This was built on even further in the final workshop with Helen Smith, entitled “Diagnostics, Tools and Hacks.” Tips and advice were fast in coming for the whole hour, including my two favourites: stay organised with a different notebook per project, and to watch good examples of the type of thing you want to write, and note how they do that.

An excuse to buy new stationery, and keep watching crime dramas? Count me in! Especially with so many options to choose from at the moment…

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have my evenings sorted for a while!

Taming the Tango Champion!

New release from Crooked Cat, out today!

There’s passion on the Dance Floor On return from a trip around the world, TV presenter, Ava Whittaker, has a baby by Matthias de Romero, Argentine Tango champion, hacienda owner, and the man she loves. The problem? He doesn’t know. Fast forward two years, and Ava reluctantly agrees to be a contestant on a new dance show on TV, but to her shock, Matthias – the man she never expected to see again – is one of the judges. Matthias de Romero is leaving his beloved stallions in Argentina to assuage his pride. Two years previously, the one woman he thought he could care for walked out on him after just one glorious night. He arrives in London ready for revenge. Will Ava’s secret cause their intense feelings to burn out, or fan further the flames of love?

taming tango


Buy here!


First line:

“Ava, wait until you hear what I’ve got for you… The pilot of a new dance show, To Dance or Not to Dance.”

Ava Whittaker choked on her cup of tea, dropping the phone in her fluster. Her agent must have gone mad if she thought this totally preposterous idea was anything but. She picked the phone back up and caught it between her ear and shoulder to clear away the lunch dishes.


“Absolutely not. Sorry, Caroline, I don’t dance.”

So what does she do? What would you do? Ava is a single mum on maternity leave from her job as breakfast television presenter…she has been out of the spot light for nearly three years, travelling for the first and oh…guess you need to buy the book to see what happens. Then again, my favourite passage might give you a hint:

“Ah, good.” Daniel raised his voice and held his hand up to beckon someone over. “Matt managed to make it. We’re over here, Matt.”

Ava shook, the bubbly in her glass held halfway to her mouth mimicking the tremors running through her. For pity’s sake, get a grip. A tingling sensation accosted the base of her spine. Matthias had no reason to be in London to judge a dancing competition.

But he was a dancer…

She grimaced to herself, making a mental note to get out more. Jeez, the first time she left the house and look what happened, imagining every man was Matthias. Perhaps her ability to socialise had been stunted from the time spent in the safety of her own home. Maybe her brain was a stuck record. Oh, who knew…

Ava stepped back from the circle to allow space for the newcomer, and maintained a tighter grip on her shaking glass. Her heart hammered as though someone had put it on loudspeaker. Keeping her eyes downcast, she felt a presence loom closer. Apprehension squeezed her heart. She drew a shuddering breath, a breath which told her all she needed to know. The tantalising smell of dark amber and spices sent her nerves sky-high. Daunted, she closed her eyes to the flickering images of her and Matthias in the firelight, until she summoned the courage to open and take him in.

Wide shoulders encased in a white silk shirt, opened at the neck. The sleeves, rolled to his biceps, enhanced the muscles defined beneath the sheer material. Black, fine wool trousers hugged a tapered waist, and while the light silk of his shirt did nothing to disguise the six-pack, the thin fabric of his trousers showcased the powerful thighs honed by years of breaking horses.

Shivers raced up and down her body, and she fought against leaning closer to him.

The first time she met him, she’d been in a heap at his feet, having just fallen off a horse on his ranch. Her weakened legs now threatened to put her in the same position once more. Swallowing hard, she summoned her courage and raised her chin.

Glacier eyes met hers. The gold flecks hadn’t been imagined, but the temper crackling from the steady green gaze made her jump, spilling champagne. The last time she’d looked into his eyes, they had held nothing but passion; she had been the most beautiful girl in the world. That memory slipped away shyly under a new contemptuous glare.

Matthias de Romero was in town.

About Cait

There is a lot of me in Ava, I travelled the world on my own but no, didn’t make passionate love with a hot Argentine rancher deep in the Andes. But falling in love when I travelled was something I was so conscious not to do—for the very reason that Ava leaves in the first place. Love across continents is no easy thing, and I would’ve done the same as she.

cait o s

You can generally find Cait when she’s not in her writing cave or hanging around her favourite spots in nature somewhere on the internet:

Cait’s Place (blog)


Facebook Author Page





Buy link for Tango

Sunday Sojourn – Bathgate

Is it just me, or is it scary that we’re already in April? Anyway, let’s ease into the second quarter of 2017 by reading what Emma Mooney has to say about a place that means a lot to her – Bathgate.

For World Book Day this year I was invited to give a talk to the first year students of my local secondary school. As well as being the school my three children attend, it’s also the school I went to as a teenager in the 80s.

bathgate acad

A warm reception from students at Bathgate Academy


Bathgate Academy plays an important in my latest novel, Wings to Fly, and I think our secondary education is a time we all remember, probably with mixed emotions. Since the 80s, Bathgate has witnessed many changes. The local Leyland plant closed in 1986 and this led to a sharp rise in unemployment in the town and a mention in The Proclaimers’ first hit song, Letter from America. The original Leyland site is now filled with modern townhouses and blocks of fashionable flats – all features of its industrial landscape are erased but the scars on the previous generation still remain.

british leyland

The British Leyland Site


When I was growing up in Bathgate there were two secondary schools in the town – Bathgate Academy and St. Mary’s Academy, and the only thing that separated them was Kirkton Park. In the 80s, the park contained a derelict band stand, two paddling pools, left abandoned and filled with leaves, twigs and shards of broken glass, and tennis courts, which were only ever filled during the two weeks of the year Wimbledon was on. The park was neutral territory and school lunchtimes always seemed to be filled with talk about fights. But talk is all it was. Bravado and tribal posturing.

kirkton park

The entrance to Kirkton Park, Bathgate


I grew up in a time when you wouldn’t dare talk to a boy from the ‘other school’ and as I sat down to write the book I wondered what would happen if a girl fell in love with a boy who went to school on the wrong side of the park. The main character in Wings to Fly, Cathy, wonders if she’ll go to hell because she doesn’t pray like the Catholics do. She sets out on a mission to talk to God in the hope of securing her place in Heaven. So when the miracles start to happen, she’s sure she’s on the right track. But Cathy soon learns that her miracles have consequences and that life’s not as simple as she’d once thought.

st marys

St Mary’s Academy, Bathgate


St Mary’s Academy closed in 1994 and it was interesting speaking to the first year students who no longer have another secondary school on their doorstep. However, when I mentioned fights at lunchtime they smiled knowingly and I wonder if tribalism will perhaps always be a part of growing up.



Wings to Fly confronts small minded prejudices and this feels especially relevant in the current political climate. When I spoke about the importance of welcoming people regardless of their religion or culture, the youngsters nodded in agreement. They seem to me to be far more aware of politics than my generation ever was, and I came away filled with hope for the future.

Visit me at

* A range of events were organised for World Book Day by some sixth year students and it was an honour to be included. I’d like to extend my thanks to the staff in the English Department, the school librarian, Tom Oliver, and to the students of Bathgate Academy.

A Spirited invitation

It’s here, it’s here!!!

I was stupidly excited on Friday, when the cover for my second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was announced. Firstly, obviously, because it is beautiful, but secondly, because I was genuinely unsure whether the day would happen, after being convinced Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was a crazy one-off I would never follow. And here it is… Big, I know, but worth shouting about!


But nope, and Friday was made even more special by the fact that I was heading up to Edinburgh that very afternoon to celebrate a friend’s birthday. There was even champagne…

So that’s my first piece of news. My second is that once again there will be an online launch happening when the novel is released, and you’re all invited! The link to the Facebook event is here. We shall have plenty of themed activities, and virtual food and drink to keep the party going…

Hope to ‘see’ you there x

Sunday Sojourn – London

A late-evening Sunday Sojourn this week, and we’re visiting a place I’ve grown to love over recent years – London. And our guide this week is historical romance writer Christina Alexandra. Over to you!

Thanks for having me! I chose London for the place because it acts as the setting for my writing, a place that means a great deal to me, and to my characters.

I write historical romance set in Georgian and Regency England (the late 1700s and early 1800s). Most of these stories take place in London, but not as London as we know it today. Today’s London is a vibrant, active city with both underground and above ground trains, numerous well known landmarks, streets, buildings and parks.

London in the Georgian and Regency periods was very different. Many of the well known landmarks such as the Palace of Westminster and the Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben) hadn’t been built yet. In fact Westminster wouldn’t be built until more than forty years after my story takes place!


Westminster Palace & the Elizabeth Tower.

Oddly enough, what are now public access parks used to be green spaces used for agricultural purposes.

In one scene I have my Hero, Graeme, walking through London and as he leaves his club, he walks down Birdcage Walk, through the gate and across St. James Park. Today, St. James park is a public park with gravel paths, a lake with pelicans, and flower beds.

st james

St. James Park today.

In 1811 when my story takes place, it was full of dairy cows and the famous Birdcage Walk was a private road only used by royalty. Needless to say I had to change my scene otherwise Graeme would have been dodging cows and their…remains.

I believe hands-on research is the best thing for authenticity, but it’s difficult to get a sense of what life was like over 200 years ago. I can research online and read books, first hand accounts and look at engravings and paintings from back then. But in order to get a feel for the London of the early 19th century, in order to pick up on the nuances and experience all five sense, I had to make the trip out there.

So I did.

I spent a wonderful ten days in London and Bath last spring. I made sure to see some of the historical homes that would give me a sense of what it would be like to live in a London townhouse of the 19th century. To see the walls covered in patterned silk instead of wallpaper, tables decorated with sugar sculptures and candied fruits.

royal crescent

The sitting room at no. 1 Royal Crescent with its silk panelled walls.

The acrid smell of a coal burning fireplace–an odor so unique that you’d know it by the way it burns the back of your throat and makes your eyes sting. To see the paintings and portraits hanging in homes that acted as an artist’s resume when art galleries didn’t. The damp chill in the air of London in early March, the sound of the gulls and the slap of the water on the Thames.

To walk the streets of both cities, knowing I tread the same paths as Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, and the Duke of Wellington.


I went looking for information to make my story complete; to get an accurate picture of what my characters’ homes could have looked like. To make them real and three dimensional and believable to my readers. I ended up losing my heart to a city. Knowing that I can visit as often as I can, I could live there for years and still discover it’s secrets and history.

That is a priceless experience and I can’t wait to return.



About Christina

Christina Alexandra writes historical romance set in Georgian and Regency England. She crafts true-to-life characters and emotional stories with a unique twist on modern issues. When not researching, writing or working, Christina spends her spare time travelling, cooking – oftentimes with a historical flare – and staying active on social media.

Her debut series, The Reluctant Lords, is currently in submission awaiting news from agents and editors.

You can connect with Christina online at web ~ facebook ~ twitter ~ instagram ~ g+

Book review: From Light to Dark and Back Again

Last year at Swanwick, I had the pleasure of meeting Allison Symes, and now I am having the pleasure of reviewing her collection of, as she puts it: very short stories to suit every mood.

from light

And they definitely do that.

There’s a clever twist to many of the stories, plenty of which make you stop and think twice, often reading them twice, like you would a poem, to really savour them and get the full picture.

Whether a tooth fairy determined to get her just reward, or a neighbour with a cunning plan to save kittens from a terrible fate, the range of characters really stand out – not easy in such a limited word count.

But each tale is fully self-contained; the perfect collection to dip in and out of, which is what I’ve been doing. As an avid reader, but one who has struggled to complete any fiction in over a year, flash fiction is excellent. This is a collection I’ve really enjoyed.

Allison’s collection can be found on Amazon here.

Find out more about Allison and her writing online at her website here.