Thursday, 24 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is ....Linda Gillard

I am delighted to welcome back to my blog

as she chats about her inspiration for her

 latest book

Linda ~ welcome back to Jaffareadstoo 

What inspired you to write Cauldstane?

At one level the inspiration was a visit to Cawdor Castle which, although ancient, is still family-owned and inhabited. As I was touring the castle, I had the idea of writing about a family who are struggling to hold on to their home and heritage. 
At another level the inspiration for CAULDSTANE was being treated for breast cancer. Many people suggested I write about my experience, but it was bad enough living it, I didn’t want to write about it. But I felt I had to find a way to assimilate it, so I decided to write an allegorical novel, about my experience, but not describing it. Cancer haunts me still, even though my treatment ended in 2012.
You don’t need to know any of this background to enjoy the novel, which is basically a gothic romance and a book about fear.

Photo courtesy of the author

What can you tell us about the story which will pique the reader’s interest?

Cauldstane is a decaying 16th century castle in the Highlands. It’s been the home of the MacNabs for generations, but in the 21st century they’re finding it hard to hold on. The family is divided. Should they just sell up or try to use the castle and estate as the basis of a business? Cauldstane is blessed with quirky architecture, red kites and a riverside location, but there’s also an ancient MacNab curse and a malevolent ghost who poisons lives and relationships and wants to drive the family out.

Cauldstane is a money pit, but the real damage is caused by fear – fear of what might happen – and, as one of the characters says, “If you live in fear, you fear to live”. Fear is a kind of wasting disease that affects each of the MacNabs in different ways. (No prizes for guessing that my ghost is how I personified cancer.)

How many rough drafts did it take before you were happy with the story?

I don’t do drafts, not complete ones. I draft a few pages, maybe as much as half a chapter, then I edit it thoroughly before moving on. When I’ve completed the chapter, I edit again. I’ll edit many times until I’m happy. Progress is slow, but by the time I get to the end of the book, it’s almost ready to publish. I edit again, but I never change much.
I don’t think I could face re-drafting a novel. I think if I knew how a book was going to turn out, I’d have little interest in writing it. For me writing fiction is about investigation and discovery. I like to be surprised!

Although your books are difficult to categorise, you do have a penchant for strong heroines and slightly damaged heroes – is there anything of Linda Gillard in any of the characters?

Oddly enough, I think you’ll find me in my heroes, rather than my heroines, but I don’t think I've ever put myself into a book, only aspects of myself.

I suppose the most “autobiographical” books are EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and UNTYING THE KNOT. In those books I used aspects of myself to create both heroes and heroines. Calum, the hero of EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY is a teacher and I used to be a teacher. There’s a lot of me-as-a-teacher in him.

Your writing is very atmospheric – how do you ‘set the scene’ in your novels and how much research did you need to do in order to bring Cauldstane to life?

I always write about places I know or I’ve invented, but I do quite a bit of research, especially studying photos. You can absorb so much detail and atmosphere from photos.
I’d already visited a lot of castles as research for a previous novel, UNTYING THE KNOT (yes, I have a thing about castles!) but my main sources of inspiration were Cawdor, Crathes and Craigievar Castles, all of which were local for me, living in the Highlands.
Readers often comment on the atmosphere and settings in my books but I don’t make a special effort to create them – rather the reverse. I don’t like writing description, so I always try to keep it brief. I tend to select telling details and focus on those. If you give readers a few vivid details, they’ll “fill in” and visualize the rest of the setting.
Perhaps my books are strong on atmosphere because everything seems very real to me. I see it all in my head, like watching a film. Stephen King said writing is telepathy. An author sits at her desk and visualizes the scene. A hundred years later, someone reads the book and sees the same scene. It’s a kind of magic.

Cauldstane has a malevolent spirit – do you believe in ghosts?

I think perhaps I do. I’ve written two paranormal novels featuring ghosts. (THE GLASS GUARDIAN is the other one.) When I was researching ghosts, I came to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to dismiss all the eyewitness accounts. There’s a substantial body of evidence, some of it quite convincing. I read two books by journalists who started out as ghost-sceptics and ended up converts. As a scientist explains in CAULDSTANE, physicists are beginning to come up with theories that could explain some paranormal experiences.
I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve often sensed a “presence”. There was one room in my old house on Skye where I really wasn’t comfortable. I sensed it immediately when I went to view the house before I bought it. Even though I lived there for six years, I never felt OK in that room. Neither did my daughter. We both sensed something.

Scotland is very much a character in your novels – what enchants you about the place, its people and its history?

I love the light, the accents, the wildlife, the emptiness of the landscape, the energy. I even like the awful weather! Although I'm English, Scotland is the only place I've ever felt at home. When I was a student I visited Edinburgh and fell in love with the place. Then over the years, as I saw more of Scotland, I became determined to live there one day. There’s not much of Scotland I haven’t seen and I've lived in a lot of different locations, including on a couple of islands.
I wrote my first novel (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, set on a Hebridean island) when I was living in a Norfolk suburb, pining for the Hebrides. That book allowed me to live there “in my head”.

Cauldstane is book number seven for you – do you have a favourite, and will there be a book 8?

I think my best book is A LIFETIME BURNING, but I wouldn't describe it as my favourite. At the moment my favourite is probably UNTYING THE KNOT. It was the very devil to write and I gave up on it twice, but I've since grown fond and rather proud of it.
I have an idea for an eighth novel, but I'm just at the daydreaming stage, gathering books together for research. But if the novel gets written, the main character might be a garden.

You can find Linda on her website and also on her author page on Facebook 

Linda ~ It's been a real pleasure to have you spend some time on Jaffareadstoo.

Thank you so much for sharing with us your inspiration for




Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Bard is 450....

April 23 2014

is the 450th anniversary

of the birth of

23 April 1564 - 23 April 1616

William Shakespeare

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves

Whilst the actual date of Shakespeare's birth is not known, it has been assumed that he was born on or around 23rd April. His baptism date is given as the 26th April 1564. Born and brought up in Stratford-upon -Avon, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway at 18 and had three children, Susanna, and twins Hamnet and  Judith.

By 1585-1592, Shakespeare was in London making a career as a writer, playwright and part owner of a company of players, known as The Lord Chamberlain's men, later known as The King's Men.

Producing most of his work between 1592 -1613, he at first wrote comedies and histories, but by the end of the 16th century he was writing tragedies and tragicomedies and was collaborating with other playwrights.

He died in 1616 and is buried at the Holy Trinity Church Stratford-upon-Avon and is also commemorated at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, London. 


I recently reviewed two books which feature William Shakespeare as one of the leading characters.

Myriad Editions
March 2014

Aemilia Bassano, the daughter of an impoverished court musician, uses her intelligence and her considerable beauty to make her way amongst the upper echelons of Elizabethan high society. As the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, the patron of Shakespeare’s theatre company, Aemilia, is soon noticed by the charismatic playwright William Shakespeare, and it is this abiding love/hate relationship between Shakespeare and Aemilia which is the real focus of the story. There is much debate about the identity of the mysterious ‘Dark Lady’ who features in the sonnets of William Shakespeare. This novel cleverly explores the alleged fascination which the playwright had for Aemilia Bassano, and it is entirely possible that she could have been muse and his one true love.

Beautifully written, with a real authenticity, the story reads like a time travel journal, and effortlessly takes the reader into the very heart of Elizabethan London, to a land alive with political mayhem and society scandal. The glitterati of the great, and the not so good, of Elizabeth’s court are shown as bright and brittle butterflies, who flit into and out of the story with comparative ease, and yet, it is in the minutiae of daily life where the story really comes alive. With comparable ease, we are taken from the squalor and stench of death-carts and plague-pits, through to the posturing and raucous swagger of the actors who parade centre stage at the Globe theatre.  Throughout the novel, there is an authentic ripeness to the narrative with the inspired use of colourful and slightly risqué language, which helps to support the time travel idea, and thankfully, there is a good glossary which places the vocabulary into context.

There is no doubt that Aemilia’s unrivalled charm, wit and intelligence gave her the impetus to become the first professional female poet, and yet, it is her struggle for control, appreciation and survival in a male dominated world, which is her lasting legacy.

February 2014

This imagined autobiography of the life of the eminent bard starts as William Shakespeare, on his death bed, attempts to exit this mortal coil by recounting his life story to his lawyer Francis Collins. Making sense of this enigmatic playwright’s life and times is no easy feat and the author has done a commendable job in fleshing out the details of Shakespeare’s life from his early childhood in Stratford, through to adulthood amongst the glittering court world of Elizabethan politics and Jacobean skulduggery.

There is no doubt that the author has done his research extremely well and has unearthed snippets of Shakespeare’s life which shows that the bard lived a colourful and extremely lively existence. There are some lovely descriptive accounts of both Elizabethan and Jacobean England when the glittering prose really does leap off the page and by leaving nothing to the imagination the sights, sounds and smells of the era really do come gloriously alive.

There is a compelling lyricism to the narrative which is rather poetic and it certainly has more than enough historical content, in fact, there were times when I forgot that the book was a novel as it is presented more like a non-fiction account and some of the lovely literary prose is achingly reminiscent of some of Shakespeare’s own writings.

I’m not sure that this book will appeal to reading groups per se unless they have a real interest in complex historical content. My view is that this book stands rather as a multifaceted personal read and more as one to be savoured slowly rather than read at full speed.

Both these book were originally reviewed for newbooks - the magazine for readers and reading groups


Monday, 21 April 2014

Review ~ Beautiful Day by Kate Anthony

April 2014

I was rather surprised by this story as on first glance I thought perhaps that the story would be a little bit fluffy. However, very soon into the book there is a real temptation to read through it very quickly, not because the book is light on content but because the story takes hold and makes you want to know what’s going to happen next.

On the surface it’s a gentle story about Rachel, who is a young single mother, trying to support her children by taking a job in a care home looking after vulnerable adults. Rachel’s confidence has been battered by a disastrous marriage but her resolve in caring for her family means that she must make sacrifices and working in such a demanding job is never going to be easy.

I think what makes the book so readable is that the story explores relationships in realistic detail. I especially enjoyed following Rachel’s interaction with her fellow care workers, and more especially with Philip, a vulnerable adult in the home, who needs a special brand of cosseting. Rachel’s chaotic private life echoes the sort of journey many single mothers make every day, as they try to juggle the responsibilities of parenthood with the very real need to make ends meet. Rachel’s return to work is never going to be easy but the deftness of the story and the realistic way in which the characters are allowed to evolve, make this book an absolute joy to read and enjoy.

On the whole I think that this is a commendable debut novel. The author has shown a real empathy with the characters she has created and more importantly she has the skill to share this vision with her readers. I look forward to more books from this talented author.

My thanks to Real Readers for my review copy of this book.


Sunday, 20 April 2014

Sunday War Poet....

Siegfried Sassoon

(1886 - 1967)

Siegfried Sassoon by George Charles Beresford (1915).jpg

A Child's Prayer

For Morn, my dome of blue, 
For Meadows, green and gay, 
And Birds who love the twilight of the leaves, 
Let Jesus keep me joyful when I pray. 

For the big Bees that hum
And hide in bells of flowers; 
For the winding roads that come 
To Evening’s holy door, 
May Jesus bring me grateful to his arms, 
And guard my innocence for evermore. 


Siegfried Sassoon was an English poet, writer and soldier. In 1916, he was decorated with the Military Cross for his bravery on the Western Front.

A Child's Prayer written in 1918 recalls the innocent joy of childhood and is in direct contrast to his grittier war poetry.
It is perhaps an appropriate choice for this Easter Sunday.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The author in my spotlight is .......Amanda Hodgkinson

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Author of

Spilt Milk



Amanda ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for taking the time to answer our questions 
about your latest book.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Spilt Milk?

I begin writing with an image. Some small scene that captures my imagination. With Spilt Milk I saw in my mind a young woman running barefoot along a riverbank. A tall girl with long dark hair and strong legs, holding her skirts up as she ran. Why was she running so fast? Was she escaping from something? Around the same time that I began seeing this girl in my thoughts, I was staying with friends in rural Suffolk and went for a walk in the country, ending up on the banks of a small river. We were not far from main roads and modern life but there was an extraordinary timelessness to the river. I knew then, that this was the riverbank the girl ran along. This was where the novel would begin.

What can you tell us about the story which will pique the reader's interest?

Spilt Milk is a story about sisters, motherhood and love. It begins in 1913 and traces the lives of sisters Nellie and Vivian Marsh up to the 1960s. When a flood washes up a giant pike onto the sisters' cottage doorstep, Nellie is convinced that this is an omen, a sign of change. Then a travelling man arrives and both sisters fall for his charms, putting in place events that will affect not only the sisters lives but the lives of other generations to come. As Isabel Berwick says  in her recent FT review of the novel, “Spilt Milk is a refracted version of real life, that impossible mess we inherit and muddle through, yet transmuted here into something shining and meaningful, told in beautiful prose.”  

In your research for Spilt Milk did you discover anything which surprised you?

During my research into womens' lives during the twentieth century, I read a lot about the strict and controlling attitudes towards birth control and was utterly dismayed by the lack of choice and education available for most women. So often throughout that century, women faced heartbreaking choices concerning their own sexuality, love, children and marriage. Governmental control, public morality and women's lives seemed bound together in ways then which today, I think we would find hard to believe.  

Spilt Milk is your second published novel – did you feel more of an obligation to make this book even better than the first?
I did feel the pressure of writing a second novel after the first had been so well received but I also knew that I had to get on and do it anyway! And once the characters in Spilt Milk came to life, I became so caught up in the writing that those kind of worries faded from view. But yes, I do feel I am always pushing myself to write something that connects with the reader. That's the most important thing. Like most writers, I am always trying to improve my craft. 

When do you find the time to write, and do you have a favourite place to do your writing?

I am an early morning kind of writer - I love to get up when the rest of the household are asleep and go straight to work. My writing room  is my favourite place to write. I have lots of bookshelves in there so I am surrounded by my favourite authors who give me inspiration. I also have a wall covered with post-it notes and ideas. It's my dreaming room. 

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

I do! And I am writing it at the moment. It's set during the Second World War in south west France. The novel was inspired by two things: an image of a woman having her head shaved as a punishment for collaborating with the enemy and an old photograph I found of a peasant girl picking armfuls of wild red tulips to sell at market. 

Amanda - thank you so much for spending some time with us and for  giving such insightful answers to our questions.

It's been a real pleasure to host this interview with you. 

Jaffa and I are really looking forward to reading your next book.

Both Spilt Milk and 22 Britannia Road are available to buy from all good book shops and are available in both paperback and ebook format.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Historic House Short Story Competition.....

Historic House Short Story Competition (#historichouseshortstory)

Publisher Corazon Books has partnered with the Historic Houses Association to launch a special short story competition with fantastic prizes. Writers are invited to submit a short story which is either inspired by or set in a historic house.

Ian Skillicorn, publisher of Corazon Books, says: "We are looking for a compelling tale with lots of atmosphere. It can take place in the past or present, in either a real or fictional setting, so writers can let their imaginations take them, and us, whenever and wherever they wish!"

The competition is being run to celebrate the publication of the The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin. This modern classic by the bestselling "Queen of Storytellers" has recently been reissued by Corazon Books in ebook format, in time to celebrate its 40th anniversary. It is the first of Gaskin's novels to be published digitally. The Property of a Gentleman is a tale of intrigue, mystery and romance, set in a fictional earl's ancestral home, in the dramatic landscape of England's Lake District.

The competition's unique prizes are in keeping with its theme. The winning writer and a guest will be treated to a private tour and afternoon tea with the owners of Levens Hall in Cumbria. The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150, and a double Friends membership for the Historic Houses Association. Two runners up will each receive a double Friends membership to the Historic Houses Association. Corazon Books also plans to publish an ebook anthology of the best entries, with each writer receiving royalties for their published story.

Richard Compton, President of the HHA, says: "A HHA Member property will offer great inspiration for budding writers and will make a fantastic setting for a short story. We look forward to partnering with Corazon Books and reading the entries in this unique competition."
Susie Bagot of Levens Hall says: “The Bagot family is very pleased to be associated with the Historic House Short Story Competition and looks forward to welcoming the winner to Levens Hall and telling them the story of this fascinating ancient house and garden.”

The competition will run from March 10th to September 26th 2014, and the winner will be announced during National Short Story Week (17th to 23rd November 2014).

There is no fee to enter the competition.

Good Luck 


Monday, 14 April 2014

Review ~ The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

January 2014
Random House, Ebury Press

Claire Armstrong is a strong, feisty protagonist whose downward spiral into early onset Alzheimer’s disease is written with such acute evaluation that I feel like I have travelled the whole of The Memory Book wrapped up in Claire’s skin.  Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mocking Bird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Well, that’s exactly how I felt when I finished this book and sat reflecting on what I had just read. I was immensely moved by the way the author really gets into the heart and soul of Claire, she tells it like it is, doesn't pull any punches and yet reveals a story which is rich in the telling and which involves the whole family; from the acute and canny observations of Claire’s three year old daughter Esther, to the heartbreak of twenty year old Caitlin as she tries to become less of a daughter and more of a mother to Claire. Shining throughout the whole of the story is Greg, Claire’s young husband, who confused and baffled by the loss of the woman he loves and desires, attempts to encapsulate the essence of Claire within the pages of The Memory Book. Claire’s mother is served a double whammy as seeing Claire’s father struggle and deteriorate at the mercy of this harsh and hostile disease makes it doubly difficult for her to witness her own daughter’s rapid disintegration into the no man’s land of merciless confusion.

The book is filled with beautiful observations written with skill and precision and such fine attention to detail that I could have continued to read on long after the book was finished. The emotional involvement with the characters is so acute that you really miss them when the story is finished.

There is nothing remotely sentimental or contrived about The Memory Book. It is bold and beautiful, heart warming and life affirming, tender and merciless all at the same time. The beautifully balanced narrative is a real joy to read and reminds us quite forcibly that "what will survive of us is love".

Without doubt this is one of my reads of the year.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for my review copy of this book.


I know from personal experience just how all consuming this disease can be as piece by jagged piece I've seen my own mother fade slowly away. It’s rather like watching the colour seeping out of a brightly painted picture and as one by one the colours of her memories bleed away I like to think that the memories are still there and that she’s just misplaced them for a while.