Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Author in my spotlight is ...Helen Irene Young

I am delighted to introduce today's Author in the Spotlight 

Helen Irene Young 

Author of 

Crooked Cat
25 April 2017

Hi Helen and welcome to Jaffareadstoo....Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for The May Queen?

A photograph of my grandmother aged about ten at Fairford carnival. On the back someone has written Irene as spring, carnival 1935. First prize awarded by David Niven. In the image she is squinting at the sun behind the photographer, she looks shy, but her smile is warm and inviting. I think that’s what made her win. She had a quiet strength. It’s something I knew I had to write about. It’s something I knew May would have had too.

Without giving too much away – what can you tell us about the story?

It’s a coming-of-age tale of one girls search for love and belonging. As a young girl May lives in Ma’s shadow, bearing the brunt of her fierce temper but always at her side. Things change when war comes. May makes a new life for herself in London and although branching out by herself, she is still Ma’s girl. It is only later, when she returns to the past and her small town, that she is able to re-evaluate her place in it as someone new.   

The May Queen is your debut novel, have there been any challenges in getting the book to publication and if so, how did you overcome them?

Many! But that’s the fun isn’t it? The biggest challenge was finding the inner strength to continue. I had agents ask to see the full manuscript but then tell me it wasn’t for them. I had Indies ask too, only to say the same. My good friend Karen Hamilton (whose book is publishing next year with new imprint Wildfire) told me to write down any positive comments I received, because it’s so easy to focus on the negative and forget the good. That was sound advice. I have always been quite headstrong though and I think it worked to my advantage when dealing with rejection. I knew I’d never give up.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How did you feel about them when the book was finished? Did they turn out as expected?

They worked out better than I expected, for me at least. I adored May and her friends. Ma was the most difficult to write because she had aspects of my own mother and grandmother who both died some years back. It was hard going back to that. It made it very personal. I was happy to close the book on May though in the end. I left her in a good place. It was like saying goodbye to an old friend who’s gone to live in a faraway land – bittersweet but beautiful

Which character in the story did you identify with the most?

May, of course. She was me, but wasn’t. She made me laugh and cry. Seriously, she did actually make me cry. I remember in one scene towards the end I started crying as I was writing. I think it was relief more than anything that I was taking her on the absolutely correct journey. I really went there.

Are you a plotter...or ...a start writing and see where it takes you, sort of writer? 

Plot is all. It doesn’t have to be locked in because things will change as you move through the narrative, but for me, you absolutely must have an idea of where you’re heading. On the Faber Academy course, Richard Skinner said that a narrative is like a river, sometimes it flows fast and others not, but beneath the surface there are always obstacles (rocks, unseen curves) that determine its pace. That’s something I think of often when I’m plotting. You have a responsibility to keep the river moving; otherwise you’ll end up in stagnant water.

Do you write the type of books you like to read and which authors have influenced you?

Always. You are only as good a writer as the books you have read and then, only on a fine day with a fair wind behind you. I swear by regular doses of Anton Chekov, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Henry Green, Elizabeth Taylor and Irène Némirovsky. They’re masters of the everyday and on the whole, share an ability to turn a phrase with the lightest of touches.

What’s next ?

Where rather! Bogotá, Colombia, 1948 and a broken architect trying to build something new. My narrative centres on an event (El Bogotazo) that changed the country forever and is told through the eyes of British architect, Luke Vosey. I’ve had the absolute best time writing this novel and getting to know my second home (I have family there). I only hope others will enjoy it too.

About the Author

Helen Irene Young is the author of The May Queen (published by Crooked Cat) and a digital editor. She attended the Faber Novel Writing course and splits her time between London, Wiltshire and Colombia, when she can get there. The May Queen is her first novel.

Visit Helen's website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @helenireneyoung

Huge thanks to Helen for sharing her thoughts about her novel, The May Queen with us today. It's been a real pleasure to have your company today.


What did I think about it ..

The consequences of family secrets, and of those events which are sometimes best left buried, is the focus for this family drama which uses as its focal point the troubled years of the Second World War.

When the book opens, in the summer of 1935, we are introduced to May, and her family. Her father works as a gardener at the local manor house, May’s mother is a rather brusque sort of figure and Sophie, May’s older sister has brought disgrace upon the family. May is a young adolescent, just on the cusp of young womanhood and her burgeoning relationship with Christopher, the young son of the manor owner, forms the basis for much of the early part of the novel.

The author has written a considerate and thoughtful coming-of-age story which follows May through the formative events which shape her life during the years of the war, and which will see May grow into maturity and understanding. The story is divided into three distinct sections and the author has done a good job in making each section easy to follow and enjoy.

The author writes well, I enjoyed her turn of phrase and the way she allowed the story to develop at its own pace. Nicely presented with an interesting cover, this is a debut novel by an author who I am sure will go on to develop her writing skills in each successive story.

Best Read With...A glass of home made lemonade and a slice , or two, of cake...


Monday, 24 April 2017

Review ~ Strawberry Sky by Jan Ruth

The Midnight Sky Series - Part 3
April 2017

What's it all about...

A rosy future seems certain but Laura has some tough decisions to make.

Maggie is devastated by her daughter's plans, but Jess is determined to remove the past from her life no matter the upset it will cause. James is no longer running from his past, but a multitude of unresolved issues are set to catch up with Laura.

As an orphaned foal and a motherless teenage girl slip seamlessly into her life, are they key to a positive change or an omen for impending danger? Armstrong is a troubled young man and a trail of minor events ends in a catastrophe no one could have predicted. Can the family ever recover, or should they simply trust in destiny?

What did I think about it...

For those readers, who like me, who have followed the Midnight Sky series from the beginning returning to the lives of James and Laura in this final part of the trilogy is like coming home after an absence and hoping that once the door opens a warm welcome from loved ones will await you inside.

Despite the catastrophic events which occurred in book two, James and Laura are getting on with their lives together, they share the ups and downs of running their successful equestrian business and even though their objectives clash on occasion, there is always the noticeable warmth and passion of the love they share. For Laura's sister, Maggie, life is less accommodating and Maggie’s flighty daughter, Jess once again proves that she only has her own selfish interests at heart by leaving her mum, Maggie and dad, Pete, to care for her baby. A situation which is fraught with worry as Maggie and Pete try desperately to keep their own lives from spinning out of control.

As always, this clever author gets right into the intricacies of life, and with warmth and wisdom draws together the final strands of a story which has seen much action take place. Those who have followed the story will know just how bumpy a ride it has been for James and Laura, certainly the path of their true love has never been allowed to run smooth and neither has the complex family drama which seems to have shrouded Maggie and Pete’s lives from the very beginning.

Strawberry Sky once again draws on the author’s love of horses and it is in the moments of equestrian housekeeping where the story becomes truly fascinating. The lure of horsemanship and the remarkable power of an animal’s spirit to heal those who are damaged are so well explained that I almost wish I could take a trip to James and Laura’s new equestrian centre to see the set up for myself.

Of course, the story is not just about horses; it’s about love and healing, it’s about tragedy and misfortune. It shows both the best and the worst of human nature, but ultimately, what shines throughout is the power of really good story telling by an author who knows just how to draw readers into a story and what’s more important, keeps them reading page after page, and it must be said, leaves them always wanting to read more.

Best Read with...sweet and tender Welsh strawberries and a sparkling glass of strawberry pink prosecco 

Jan Ruth writes contemporary fiction about the darker side of the family dynamic with a generous helping of humour, horses and dogs. Her books blend the serenities of rural life with the headaches of city business, exploring the endless complexities of relationships. 

You will find the Kindle copy of Strawberry Sky on Amazon UK 

Find Jan on Facebook, Follow on Twitter or visit her Website

Read an interview with Jan here

Huge thanks to Jan for sharing Strawberry Sky with me.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

I am a frequent visitor to the History of the Great War website and I am always fascinated in the timeline of events which are so clearly marked out for each month of the war.

The Battle of Arras took place in the spring of 1917 and was one of the principal assaults undertaken by the British Army on the Western Front. Under Allied control, but situated just a few kilometres from German lines, the town of Arras formed a significant vantage point and was a regular target for German weapons.

Due to the increased hostilities in the area, by early 1916, Arras had very little civilian population remaining. Much of the town had been destroyed and it was, to all intents and purposes, a British town, which managed its business in both French and English.

A view of devastated ground near Arras, 1917

© IWM (Q 87756)

On the 23rd April 1917 and following days of poor weather and freezing conditions, The Second battle of the Scarpe began at 04:45.Casualties were expected to be high and a field hospital had been stationed near to a quarry, an area known colloquially as 'Thompson's Cave' after Colonel A.G Thompson, the architect who designed it. It was expected to deal with hundreds of  wounded soldiers and indeed, the Battle of Arras collectively saw the worse bloodshed of the war with thousands wounded or killed.The hospital was fully functioning and was fitted out with waiting areas for the wounded, an operating theatre, and a mortuary. 

German and British wounded going to the dressing station, together. April, 1917

© IWM (Q 7801)

Despite German counter-attacks ,by the morning of 24 April, the British held the areas around Guémappe, Gavrelle and the high ground overlooking Fontaine-lez-Croisilles and Cherisy.

Battle of the Scarpe. 

British cavalry resting alongside the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917.

© IWM (Q 2031)

Voices of the Great War

As always, I am indebted to the Imperial War Museum for the chance to read the personal accounts of the soldiers who were at Arras and Vimy Ridge and for the opportuity to share these pertinent photographs taken at the time by war photographers.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Close to Home ....Carys Bray

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Today I welcome North West Writer

Hi and welcome back to the blog, Carys. Please tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I grew up in a very religious family and married young, as was expected. I had five children in the first seven years of my marriage. When I was thirty and my youngest child started nursery, I knew that I wanted to go to university (I had previously dropped out in order to get married) and I started doing a BA in Literature with the Open University. It was wonderful, like waking up after a long sleep. I went on to do an MA at Edge Hill University, during which I wrote my short story collection Sweet Home. Then I did a PhD while writing my first novel A Song for Issy Bradley. Those years of studying and writing were some of the happiest of my life.

Windmill Books

Your books are written in North West England - how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

When I first started writing I had this strange idea that I couldn’t and/or perhaps shouldn’t write about a small, northern town. I’m not sure why I felt that way – it was pretty silly, but it was something that bothered me: was it okay to set my novels in Southport? Once I’d decided that yes, of course it was okay, I started to look at the town differently. I noticed the eeriness of the beach and the marshes, the lovely Victorian houses, the profusion of trees and so on. I started to think about how the landscape might feature in my stories. In my first novel, the beach is a really important place. Much of my second novel takes place in an allotment plot at the edge of Churchtown. I’m just working on a third novel that takes place on the moss, an area of farmland that used to be a lake and was drained over a period of three hundred years. It’s quite a strange, liminal landscape and I hope it will contribute to the uncanny atmosphere of book three (fingers crossed!).

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

People are very friendly here, they chat on the bus and in the shops, neighbours talk to each other and my son’s friends pop in and out of our house whenever they feel like it – I like that, I like feeling part of a community. Houses are (relatively) cheap and there are museums, art galleries and theatres etc. not very far away in Liverpool and Manchester (I love Liverpool – the waterfront is beautiful and it’s a great place to go shopping). Plus, you’re only a 2 hour train ride from London if you need to pop to the capital for any reason.

As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t been aware of any problems. There have been a few funny moments: for example, I had to explain myself after mentioning one of the Liverpool underground stations in The Museum of You as the person who was reading my manuscript didn’t know that there were any underground stations up here and thought that I had made a mistake, but that’s a pretty tiny thing.

Windmill Books
Paperback edition
published April 2017

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

Mostly online in Facebook groups and via messenger and email, but I have a few friends who I try to see at least a couple of times a year. Some of them are local writers (the lovely Rachael Lucas and I discovered that we live in the same town and our sons are in the same class at school!) and others live in various parts of the country meaning that we occasionally arrange to meet at places like Gladstones Library to catch up and discuss our latest projects.

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

We have an amazing independent bookshop in Southport called Broadhursts and we also have a Waterstones. I’ve launched each of my books in Broadhursts and Waterstones has been supportive by putting my books on a table beside a ‘local author’ sign. Sadly, my nearest library (Churchtown) closed – I still feel angry and impotent whenever I think about the way that Sefton Council behaved. But I have spoken at the main Southport Library and at several local writers’ groups, something I really enjoy doing. It’s great to meet new people and to chat about books (plus there’s usually cake, so what’s not to love?!).

Windmill Books

You can find out more about Carys and her writing by visiting her website 

Follow on Twitter @CarysBray #MuseumofYou

My thanks to Carys for spending time with us today and for telling us about her love for the North West and for sharing her writing with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Sue Featherstone


Friday, 21 April 2017

Review ~ Children of the Chieftain : Bounty by Michael E. Wills

Silverwood Books
March 2017

Children of the Chieftain: Bounty is the third installment in this excellent Viking series which is aimed at young readers.

What's it all about..

The orphan children of the late chieftain, Sten Brightsword, have been banished from their island home after they disobeyed the instruction of the “Ting”, the island parliament. In order to be allowed to return they must bring with them a warrior’s helmet filled with silver.

The brother and sister, Ahl who is now seventeen and Ingir who is a year older, get the help of the Governor of a town in northern Russia after Ingir becomes engaged to the Governor’s son. But things go wrong for them when the town is threatened by an attack from enemies. They escape south and after many adventures Ahl and his crew reach Constantinople. At last things look better for them when the Emperor offers them work which is so highly paid that they must surely earn enough silver bounty to fill a helmet.

What did I think about it...

When I was ten or eleven I loved reading historical adventure stories and I am sure that if the Children of the Chieftain books had been around at that time I would have devoured them just as eagerly as I did the work of Alan Garner and Leon Garfield.

I’ve followed this series from the beginning and have seen both the story telling and the characters grow in confidence, and as each story comes along there is a clever continuance of the historical adventure which unfolds in every story. In The Children of the Chieftain: Bounty the young crew of the Viking ship, Eagle set off on a new adventure, on a journey which will take them to new and exciting places, and which will be fraught with danger and cruel mischance.

As always the author writes a really good, rollicking adventure and never compromises on accurate description nor does he patronise his young readers by omitting the dangerous aspects of this time in history. The historical research is as ever impeccably achieved and there is a real feeling of authenticity to the story which those who have read the series from the beginning will recognise as typical of this author’s fine attention to detail.

Whilst Bounty may be read as a standalone historical adventure, as always, my advice is to read any series from the start, as that way you notice the progression, and the story becomes far more meaningful when you become emotionally invested in the characters.

For younger readers who may struggle with some of the terminology, or even for adults like me who may need some clarification, there is a helpful word explanation at the end of the book.

At the start of this Viking adventure I was informed that it was to be a trilogy of work, I am especially pleased to find that there is now to be a fourth book, The Children of the Chieftain: Bound for Home which will oversee the conclusion. Most certainly the ending of Bounty lends itself to even more adventures in the final conclusion.

Best Read With …smoked meat and porridge...and a foaming tankard of ale for the grownups...

You can read an excellent guest post by the author about The Lure of Miklagård by clicking here

Find Michael on his website

Follow him on Twitter @MWillsofSarum

My thanks to the author for sharing his book with me.

Children of the Chieftain: Bounty is out now and published by Silverwood Books


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey

I am delighted to host today's stop on the  The Fortunate Brother Blog Tour

A warm welcome to you, Donna and thank you for spending time with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing?

I was a high school drop-out, traveled around the country wearing beads and head bands for several years, had a “love-child,” married and then had another. A family tragedy sent me back to Newfoundland and it was then, during a horrible illness of my own, that I started back to schoo. A divorce and a university degree later, I started writing.

How did you get started as a fiction-writer?

I met this eccentric, knowledgeable a woman who prompted me to start writing, arguing it’s one’s duty to bring tragedy to the realm of myth. To give it meaning and a place of honour. The tragedies I’d suffered took me to that place where pain can be felt as holy. And holy can be felt as sublime. I picked up the pen and was instantly addicted. I've been writing every single solitary day since. And I wouldn't recommend it to anybody for it imprisons you for life.

What can you tell us about The Fortunate Brother without giving too much away?

The Fortunate Brother is the story of Kyle who is mourning the loss of his elder brother. He is caught between a mother who is attempting to sweep her house of grief, and a father who drinks to dull his pain. The family’s trauma is escalated when a local bully is murdered and his blood is found on Kyle’s doorstep.

What do you consider to be the strongest elements of the book?

The dichotomy between despair and hope. Between judgement and understanding. The hero, Kyle wrestles with all of those concepts as he works through his grief and anger re the death of his brother, his mother’s illness, and the involvement of both savory and unsavory characters from the community that are impinging on his life.

How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer?

I sit in the muck and struggle for firm footing, day after day, minute after minute. Everything comes in a big smudge and nothing is ever defined. So, yeah, the later…no plotter here.

What do you hope that readers will take away from the story?

A sense of, ‘Wow, that was great. I want to go there.’

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?

Having a reader approach me, holding my book in one hand, and his other covering his heart and tears in his eyes. And I knew that he suffered grief and our hearts connected. May God bless all of us.

Out of all the books you've written, do you have a favourite?

Yes. The one you are about to read…..eh eh….okay, now I’m being clever. Why, this one, of course. Ok, ok…..it’s….well….To quote someone: Every artists feels their greatest work is ‘just about to happen.’ That’s why we live so uncomplainingly in the discomfort of poverty….hope that each one will be greater still!!

About the Author

Donna Morrissey is the award winning author of five novels. |She grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland, and now lives in Halifax, Canada.

Follow on Twitter #thefortunatebrother 

**The Fortunate Brother is published today**

20 April 2017

What's it all about...

The Fortunate Brother is a dark, atmospheric and compelling novel about the aftermath of a murder in a claustrophobic rural community in Newfoundland. When a body is found in the lake suspicion falls on the troubled Now family. As the mystery unfolds other, far deeper, secrets are revealed.

What did I think about the book...

This dark, and somewhat brooding story, is set in a small coastal community in Newfoundland and focuses on the petty indifference of a small town at odds with itself.  Sylvanus Now, his wife, Addie and son, Kyle, have had their share of family tragedy which has left an indelible mark, not just in the relationships between themselves, but also in the way the community reacts to their misfortune.

Told through considerate dialogue, a story emerges of a brutal sort of truth, which lays bare the thoughts and feelings of a family in complete disarray. When tragedy, once again, strikes at the heart of the Now family, they each deal with the fall out in their own inimitable style.

Considerately written, The Fortunate Brother is one of those stories which make you want to take your time over reading. It is the third book in a trilogy which started with Sylvanus Now and continued in What They Wanted, and whilst it possible to read and enjoy The Fortunate Brother as a standalone book, I do think that it is better to have read the series from the start in order to have a more rounded view of the Now family, of their past tragedies, and also of their place in this small town environment.

Whilst this is not a fast action, all guns blazing sort of story, there is no doubt that the book works well, both as a character driven drama, and also as an emotionally complex human story, which looks at the complicated layers between grief and loss, misfortune and tragedy, and which then brings the whole together in a story of hope over adversity.

Best Read with ...Line caught fish and a mug of sweet tea.

My thanks to Becca at Canongate for her help facilitating this interview

 and for sending my review copy of The Fortunate Brother.

Canongate20 April 2017


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Review ~ He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton
20 April 2017

What's it all about ..

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

What did I think about it..

None of us really know what we would do if we witnessed a seemingly despicable act of sexual violence. Would we walk away or would we do what Laura did and challenge the perpetrator, comfort the victim and then report the incident to the police? Either way, whatever your actions,  the consequences would live with you for the rest of your life and that's just what happens to Laura and her boyfriend, Kit who are in Cornwall to witness the total eclipse in August, 1999. What they see there will shape their lives, and that of Beth and Jamie's lives forever.

The story is told in current time and also in flashbacks which take us back to that fateful summer of 1999, and also to what happened in the fifteen years afterwards. In many ways it's a salutary warning of being careful of what you get involved in and of the consequences of misguided actions which could, inadvertently, reverberate down through the years.

It's rather a slow burner of  a story which has, at its heart, a whole series of secrets and lies which threaten the safety and well being of everyone who is involved. There are some strong moments of dialogue, particularly in the trial scenes which show just how easy it is to be bamboozled by clever law teams, who, it must be said, simply want to win a case. 

I found the whole concept of centering the story around the five descriptive phases of an eclipse and juxtaposing them within the context of the story to be really clever and even though the subject matter is emotive, I never felt like the information or the consequent actions of the characters wouldn't have happened in real life.

The author has done a commendable job of talking about a really difficult subject in a way that doesn't sensationalise what happened but which, realistically,  shows just how lives can change in a heartbeat.

Best Read With..A wheatbran muffin and a decaff latte...

Erin Kelly is the author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air,T he Ties That Bind and Broadchurch:The Novel inspired by the mega-hit TV series. The Poison tree was a Richard and Judy summer read in 2011 and became a major ITV dram in 2013.
Twitter @mserinkelly

**He Said/She Said will be published 20 April by Hodder & Stoughton**

 Follow on Twitter #HeSaidSheSaid

My thanks to Louise at Hodder for my review copy of He Said She Said