Category Archives: Interview

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.

mountains

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…

wheatfield

…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!

grapes

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…

Macellum

…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

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.

640px-Landing_at_Gallipoli_(13901951593)

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?

Links:

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 – A writer and her café

Happy Sunday everyone (our first in May!). Today, I’m inviting fellow Elementary Writer Emma Whitehall to the blog, telling us why she (and every writer) needs a good café. I entirely endorse this! Over to you, Emma.

Emma HeadshotEvery writer, I think, should have a good café.

I simply can’t write when I’m at home. I can read at home – most of my slush pile is completed in bed – but, when it comes to finishing an article, or plotting a story, I will literally do anything else before I work. I’ll binge on Netflix, do the laundry, and bathe the gecko before a single word hits the page. That’s why so much of my time is taken up in cafes, or coffee shops. Every important email, every significant story, has been written at least in part while sitting in a public space.

As I write, I am sitting in Quilliam Brother’s Teahouse in Newcastle City Centre. It’s a gorgeous old red-brick building right in the heart of the city, revamped by the titular brothers (yes, Quilliam really is their last name) a few years ago. It’s all wood furnishings and quirky decorations (the chandelier is made of tea spoons!) and I love it. I’m on my second Strawberry Iced Tea, and my dessert of a caramel brownie after a really hearty mushroom burger – setting me up for a dull evening shift at my Day Job. I have a long history with this teahouse; I actually worked with one of the owners in the months just before it opened. I had first date with my partner downstairs – terrifying him when he was presented with a menu with over 50 different types of tea. I wrote most of my upcoming collection at Vic Watson’s writing group, which is held here every Monday night, and made some amazing friends in the process.

There’s something about writing in public that really sparks my motivation. Maybe it’s the “performance” of writing – living up to the stereotype of the hipster writer, tapping away at her laptop with a fancy drink for company. Maybe it’s the idea of this being “my time” to write, without thinking too hard about work, or commuting, or the thousand tiny distractions that are always there at home. It could be the white noise around me that helps my brain focus – I’m one of those rare writers who can’t stand to have music playing while I work. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is programmed now, to associate sitting at a table with a hot drink and something sugary to be Writing Time. Whatever it is, I know I’m not the only writer in Newcastle to be thankful to all the staff at Quilliam Brothers for their patience (I’ve been here for nearly three hours), their delicious food and drink, and for providing a space where we can come and think, and create.

About Emma

Emma Whitehall is a writer and spoken word performer based in the North East of England. She specialises in supernatural fiction, and has been published in the United Kingdom, America and Mexico. Her Flash Fiction has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award. She also writes book reviews for genre publications such as Unnerving Magazine, and her guest blog posts have been praised as “invaluable advice” by their readers.

Janine’s Good Life in France

Over the last six months or so, I’ve really enjoyed writing pieces for The Good Life France, and today, I’m excited to be hosting it’s editor, Janine Marsh, to tell me about her new book, My Good Life in France, out now, published by Michael O’Mara.

Janine Marsh - My good life in France - portrait

Here’s the synopsis, to get you in the mood…

My Good Life in France high res book cover

It’s a short journey across the English Channel from the UK to France but the differences are enormous as you’ll find out when you read My Good Life in France by Janine Marsh.

One dismal, grey February day, Janine took a day trip to Calais to buy some wine for her dad. She returned a few hours later having put in an offer on a bargain basement barn in the rural Seven Valleys, Pas de Calais, something she had not planned for or expected.

Janine eventually decided to move with her husband to live the good life in France. Or so she hoped. Getting to grips with the locals, taking in stray animals at an alarming rate and renovating the dilapidated barn, which lacked heating or proper rooms, with little money and less of a clue, she started to realize there was more to her new home than she ever imagined.

Warm, uplifting and effervescent (like a glass of your favourite champagne), Janine’s voice and humour bubbles right off the page. These are the true tales of her rollercoaster ride through a different culture – one that, to a Brit, was in turns surprising, charming and not the least bit baffling.

As somebody who would love to do this, I had to ask Janine some key questions…

What would be your ‘top three tips’ to anyone tempted to follow in your footsteps?

  1. I bought an incredibly cheap, dilapidated bargain bucket house in a town I didn’t know on a whim. I’d gone to France to buy wine for my Dad on a miserable wet, cold day at a time when the cafes were shut and it seemed like a good idea to look at houses! This is the only house in France I visited, I pulled up outside its location in a muddy cul de sac and a ray of sunshine burst through the clouds, bells started ringing at the local church, a duck was quacking close by and it sounded like laughter. I felt like I heard fate calling me. Although it worked out for me – I’d recommend you do a bit more homework on the area you want to live in.

 

  1. Never go to a public swimming pool wearing “normal” swim shorts if you’re a man. You have to wear skin tight Speedo style trunks in France – it’s the law. There are lots of rules in France, some are fun to discover like this one (well sort of fun if the pool is full of Daniel Craig look-a-likes though in my opinion there are more Ed Balls than Daniel Craigs). Some rules are not such fun and I recommend you make friends with the staff at your local town hall who will generally help you to settle in and explain the rules to you.

 

  1. Never try to hug a French person. They don’t hug. They kiss – a lot. 2 kisses, sometimes 3, 4 or even 5 depending where in France you are and what your relationship is. I’ve seen people kiss at the till in the supermarket, kiss their colleagues at work in the morning, commuters kiss on trains. But hug – non. If you try to hug a French person most likely they will be horrified.Quite why you want to press your body to theirs is beyond them.

 

What has been your highlight of the move so far?

Ooh that’s a toughie. The street markets, learning to cook, discovering the local traditions and the French love of heritage. Honestly though, the most joyful moments for me are when I wake in the morning and I open the back door to let the dogs out, the cats in and take food to my chickens, ducks and geese and put wild bird food out. I never had an animal in London and I didn’t intend to get an animal in France. Quite how I’ve ended up with more than 60 animals is beyond me but they bring me great happiness and I now know that I would like to come back as one of my own cats as the maid service is fantastic. Oh yes. I like French cakes too. They make amazing cakes in France. And bread. Cheese. Wine. I will stop now.

And what about The Good Life France – how did that come about?

Well you’ll have to read the book for the full details but… in a nutshell, renovating my French house, taking in stray animals and giving up city life for rural bliss seemed to fascinate my friends and family. They would ring me constantly to ask if I’d managed to work out how to fit a fire, grow a pumpkin, wormed the cat, mended my broken finger (renovation on this scale is not for the faint hearted). They were incredulous that we learned how to replace a roof, build walls, lay 100 tons of concrete and a whole lot more. They wanted to know about my crazy neighbours, the giants I met, the amazing food I ate and the places I visited. When you’re flat out renovating it takes time to explain all these things so my husband suggested I start a blog. My friends dubbed me “The Good Life France” after the UK sitcom series about a couple who gave up city life to try to live off the land so that’s what I called my blog http://www.thegoodlifefrance.com/. In the first month I got 480 views – I was ecstatic! 6 months later I was getting 60,000 views and now I get more than a million page views a month – to say I’m humbled that people like my writing is a massive understatement. After a while I decided that I wanted to be able to write longer features, share more pictures so I started a free ezine called The Good Life France Magazine and it’s become one of the most popular magazines about France. It’s completely free to read, download and subscribe to and here’s the latest issue: http://bit.ly/TGLFMAGSpring2017

 

Sunday Sojourn – Clamecy

Welcome to the last Sunday in April – how did that happen?? Today, I’m delighted to welcome back Angela Wren, who was my first Sunday Sojourn guest, taking us to Paris. Good to have you back, Angela!

AEWBlackWhite

Hello Jennifer and thanks for inviting me back onto your blog. I’m in Clamecy today, a small town in the département of Nièvre (58) and I thought I’d tell your regular readers about the importance that this town once had in relation to the logging industry.

Clamecy

Clamecy

 

Situated as it is, on the river Yonne, which is flanked by the Nivernais Canal, and within easy reach of the forests of the Morvan, the town became central to the logging industry and remained so for many years.  The local men who worked the logs were referred to as ‘Flotteurs’, Raftsmen, and their contribution is commemorated by a statue on the centre of the bridge across the river as you come into town.

Nivernais

Nivernais

 

So, what’s this all about?  Come with me to the port.  Before All Saints’ Day (November 1st) each year, the trees that had been felled during the previous winter and stacked throughout the Morvan were logged.  Consisiting mostly of beech and oak they are cut into ‘bûches‘, logs, of 1.14m in length.  All Saints’ Day was the designated day for the ‘Foire aux Bois’, The Wood Fair, at nearby Chateau-Chinon. This was the day that the timber owners sold the cut wood to merchants and dealers who would then negotiate and sub-contract a deal for the transportation of the wood to this very port here, in Clamecy.

What happens next is the really interesting bit.  At the beginning of November, once all the deals were struck, the logs were marked with the individual ‘signe‘ of the new owner with the aid of an engraving hammer.  These marks enabled the identification and sorting of the logs after their journey down river.  From the point of felling and logging to the final destination, the logs would be marked many times as commercial transactions changed and new deals were cut.  And it was only marked logs that could be transported.

At the end of November, the logs are thrown into the rivers and streams whose flow has been artificially increased by the opening of the reservoir sluices located upstream.  The logs floated up to one of the 22 locations on the upper reaches of the river Yonne.  Stopped by ‘arrêts‘, artificial barriers, the logs were then withdrawn from the water and stacked and left to wait for the annual spring floods ‘le grand flot’.

In March in the following year the wood from all the 22 collection areas was thrown back into the river at once and left to float down to Clamecy.  Men women and children – whole families – would follow the logs and keep them moving using long spiked poles to push any that got trapped back in to the main flow of the water.  At Clamecy the logs were halted and held by the one of the locks.  It’s here that ‘Les trains’ the rafts, were created.  The logs were spliced together and then cross-spliced with each other again and again until a raft as long as a modern barge was created.  A small lean-to was created at one end and a long oar was used to navigate le train, down the river and through the linking waterways and canals until the outskirts of Paris were reached.  By this time the rafts had been spliced together creating a vast platform of logs – over 700,000 individual logs – more than 70 metres in length.  On arrival at port de Charenton in Paris the rafts were dismantled and the wood sold to heat the ovens and fires of the city.  The men would then make the long journey, over 200K, back home on foot.

ClamecyLock02

 

Sadly this form of work has died out with the last ‘train de bois’, wooden train, making its final journey in 1880.  But the river and the canal remain as a testament to the men who undertook such risky work.

Author Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Novel blurb – Messandrierre

CoverArt

Sacrificing his job in investigation following a shooting in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a rural gendarme.  Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

But, as the number of missing rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way.  Steely and determined Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.

Can he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

Messandrierre – the first in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.

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

Link:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wings-Fly-Emma-Mooney-ebook/dp/B01LWM5L5T

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 www.emmamooney.co.uk

* 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.

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

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.

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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+

Sunday Sojourn – Our Planet Earth

Today, we’re visiting somewhere very special to all of us, whether we accept it or not, with fellow Crooked Cat author, Jeff Gardiner.

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I wanted to suggest a setting that we all know, but perhaps don’t always fully appreciate. Our own amazing planet Earth.

My Gaia trilogy (Pica, Falco and Gaia) explores our relationship with the natural world. Gaia is, of course, Mother Nature – a personification of life itself. Teenager Luke finds himself entangled in adventures that involve shape-shifting, surviving the wilderness, and – perhaps hardest of all – trying to convince people that we are destroying the very planet we live on. But who is going to listen to one boy?

While the most recent United Nations Climate Change Conference meant 195 countries agreed to reduce carbon emissions, some critics were left wondering if the resolutions were in fact enough. Friends of the Earth described the agreements as “not sufficient”. For the UK, we need to ask whether leaving the EU will affect our continuing and important environmental achievements. The Green Party argue that, “It’s only by working with our European neighbours that we can tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution”. We’ve done too much damage in such a short space of time. We are killing our planet rather than facing our responsibilities towards it.

 

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I’ve always been inspired by nature. The times when I most feel alive are when I’m walking in a forest, on a hillside or by a lake. It’s difficult to explain to someone else the thrill of seeing a murmuration of starlings, or of sailing on the ocean alongside a breaching whale, but these moments affect you in ways you can’t easily express.

Our relationship with nature as a human race is an odd one. After all, we are animals – part of nature. And yet we often seem to be at odds with nature, as if we’re not actually part of it. We cut down forests and build concrete jungles; we pollute and urbanise as if we own the place Rather than struggle against it, we should embrace it and rediscover the ancient magic of nature.

Imagine if we could shape-shift into an animal that represents our soul? In the first book of the trilogy, Pica, these ‘spirit-animals’ are known as ‘numens’, which is an archaic word linked with ‘numinous’, which implies the presence of a deity or something supernatural. If there is a creator or a mother nature then perhaps it’s not something ‘out there’ at all – not a lurking distant presence – but instead it’s part of us…within us…or it is us.

If my Gaia trilogy makes readers aware of the threat to our dying planet, or prompts us to appreciate our beautiful world and the awe-inspiring creatures within it, then it will have done its job.

 

Jeff Gardiner is a UK author living in West Sussex. Accent Press are publishing his ‘Gaia’ fantasy trilogy, starting with Pica, a novel of transformation and ancient magic. Falco develops the eco-fantasy theme, and Gaia is due out in September 2017

His other contemporary novels include, Myopia which explores bullying and prejudice; Igboland set in Nigeria during the Biafran War; and Treading On Dreams, a tale of obsession and unrequited love. His work of non-fiction, The Law of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock, (Headpress) examines the work of an iconic British author.

His collection of short stories, A Glimpse of the Numinous, published by Eibonvale Press, contains horror, slipstream and humour. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.

For more information, please see his website at http://www.jeffgardiner.com/ and his blog: http://jeffgardiner.wordpress.com/

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)

Purchase links:

PICA – Amazon UK

FALCO – Amazon UK

Thursday Sojourn! Attention to Death…

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YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE.

A different day for a Sojourn, and a different line of writing for my guest today, the wonderful Ailsa Abraham.

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Thank you for inviting me to talk about my latest release today.

This is a departure from my previous series in magical realism. Here I take off on murder mystery. Why? Erm… limited attention span? Love of variety?

Attention to Death is released on 10th March and here is the info on it.

“Find Attention to Death on pre-order on Amazon: http://mybook.to/AttentionDeath

“In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn’t have thought possible – a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next.”  ~ India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany.  The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship. Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret? The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.”

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I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men to research this book. Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems that men who have to be “in the closet” and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it, although this doesn’t stop them leaving reviews. Me? I’ve never been too sure. I’m gender-neutral which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people isn’t “What do they do in  their bedrooms?”

Read it for yourself and decide. Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

Bio and links

Ailsa Abraham is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman’s Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes mystery romance.

She has lived in France since 1990 and is now naturalized French. She enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell’s Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family. She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care (pirate gear is her favourite!)

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