Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Review ~ Ashes by Steven Manchester

Story Plant
February 2017

What's it all about..

Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life and death has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other s company. It s either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he has left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.

What did I think about it..

This is the story of two estranged brothers who, after their father's death, are brought together to undertake a road trip to fulfil their father's last request to scatter his ashes. Both men are busy with their very different lifestyles when they each receive a letter from their father's attorney informing them of their father’s passing. A condition of their father’s will is that the two of them should travel to together which , it must be said, is never going to be an easy journey for either of them.

As always, this author's canny perception of the minutiae of life shines through and what then follows is a poignant, and, at times, humorous look at the frailty of human relationships. The brothers, once close, have since allowed petty indifferences to cloud their world. Ashes, sees them take the first tentative steps on a journey which makes them both re-examine everything important in their lives.

The author writes with his usual fine attention to detail, his trademark skill of strong characterisation and finely drawn observation comes across, as does his story telling ability.  As the story evolves we start to understand that there is more at stake here than just a journey. It's about the disappointment of family feuds, the danger of being too complacent when it's all too easy to stick, dogmatically, to a path without deviating. And it's also about the power of family, of kinship and of the irretrievable ties that bind us all together, faults and all, and reminds us that we are never too old to make changes.

Best Read with.. An ice cold beer, straight from the bottle..

About the Author

More about the author can be found on his website
Visit his Facebook Page

Follow on Twitter @authorSteveM

My thanks to the author for the invitation to read and review Ashes.


Monday, 27 March 2017

Blog Tour ~ Boundary by Andrée A. Michaud

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting a stop on the 

Boundary Blog Tour


What's it all about..

It’s the summer of 1967. The sun shines brightly over Boundary lake, a holiday haven on the US Canadian border. Families relax in the heat, happy and carefree. Hours tick away to the sound of radios playing ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Children run along the beach as the heady smell of barbecues fills the air. Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, with their long, tanned legs and silky hair, relish their growing reputation as the red and blond Lolitas. Life seems idyllic. But then Zaza disappears, and the skies begin to cloud over…

What did I think about it ..

The story evolves ever so slowly, and there is much to take in, both in terms of the unfolding narration, and also in the evocative description of life in a small and rather cloistered community. Situated as it is, on the US-Canadian border, Bondrée seems to be one of those mistrustful places, filled with secrets, and dark with the menace of its past. But in the blissful summer of 1967, it is also a place where families go on holiday, and where Zaza Mulligan and Sissy Morgan, both on the cusp of young adulthood, feel free to roam. But then Zaza disappears, and everything changes.

Told from the perspective of multiple narrators, the story takes a little getting used to; both in terms of content and also in the way the plot seems to take its time in coming together. The language is redolent with meaning and I think that this is where the overall strength of the novel lies. The sense of community, the isolation and the shattering splendour of the place help to carry the story, perhaps, rather more than the plot itself.

I sometimes worry that books in translation will perhaps lack a certain je ne sais quoi, but that's not the case with Boundary, which has been beautifully translated from its original French. The unhurried nature of its action, whilst not fast paced by any means, is both intelligent and careful and nothing superfluous is allowed to spoil the impact of the story’s final conclusion.

I should point out that if you want a fast action, all guns blazing thriller then this is probably not going to work for you. However, if you want a quietly considered, beautifully descriptive novel that looks at the devastating effect of tragedy on a community then do give Bondrée a chance.

Best Read With...A Kir Royale, and the scent of raspberry jam, gently simmering..

About the Author

Andrée A. Michaud is the multi award-winning author of ten novels. Her latest work, Boundary (Bondrée) was awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction and the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel. As she has done since her very first book, Michaud fashions an eminently personal work that never ceases to garner praise from critics and avid mystery readers alike. She lives in Canada.

About the translator

Donald Winkler is a Canadian documentary maker and Donald Winkler French-to-English literary translator. He won the Canada’s Governor General's Award for French to English translation in 1994, 2011 and 2013.

Boundary was published by No Exit Press on the 23rd March.

My thanks to Anne and No Exit Press for the invitation to be part of this blog tour

Tour runs until the 31st March #BoundaryBook


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Continuing my Spring Inspired WW1 Poetry 

A Girl's Song by Katharine Tynan

The Meuse and Marne have little waves;
The slender poplars o'er them lean.
One day they will forget the graves
That give the grass its living green.

Some brown French girl the rose will wear
That springs above his comely head;
Will twine it in her russet hair,
Nor wonder why it is so red.

His blood is in the rose's veins,
His hair is in the yellow corn.
My grief is in the weeping rains
And in the keening wind forlorn.

Flow softly, softly, Marne and Meuse;
Tread lightly all ye browsing sheep;
Fall tenderly, O silver dews,
For here my dear Love lies asleep.

The earth is on his sealèd eyes,
The beauty marred that was my pride;
Would I were lying where he lies,
And sleeping sweetly by his side!

The Spring will come by Meuse and Marne,
The birds be blithesome in the tree.
I heap the stones to make his cairn
Where many sleep as sound as he.

Katharine Tynan (18861-1931) was an Irish  writer and poet.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Close to Home ...Claire Brown

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 Northern Writer

Claire Brown

Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author

I've been a writer all my life, I don't remember a time when I wasn't telling stories. If there was a story I didn't like as a child, I'd write my own ending. Then if I couldn't find a book I wanted to read I started writing my own. I was also badly bullied as a child so my imagination and writing became my safe haven and a place where the characters were friends you could trust. 

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

I'm a bit of a people watcher, I think most writers are - maybe that should be world watches. I watch life and the people in it and sometimes they spark ideas and thoughts. My Grandfather who was Northeast born and bred is the inspiration behind my latest book, so a lot of the characteristics are based on him. Also some of the locations are based on specific spots in my home town. 

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

I think I'm quite remote from the main publishers and areas where you could get out there and push your work physically. I can't get to a lot of writing conferences and events but I try. I think for me being able to self publish helped me get my work out there and I'm not adverse to taking untraditional routes. The internet is great and social media is a massive advantage to authors now for connecting with readers, fellow authors and I try to use it to it's best advantage - I am still learning but the internet is a great place for that too. 

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

It maybe cold, we may have one day of summer a year, but there is no better place in England to find a warm welcome, the people are magnetic and you will meet all kinds within a small space. You can go from being in a rural center to the rugged coast line in twenty minutes and the mythology and history is everywhere - you couldn't help but be inspired. 

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

I use social media mostly - I'm a member of several writing groups / book groups for authors and readers and find it's great to connect, network and ask questions. I've met a lot of great authors who I would probably not have met in any other way and you can learn a lot from just having those brief conversations. 

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?

I have support from family and friends in the area, and my day job peers have been very supportive since I started publishing my work. Unfortunately in my area our local libraries have all been closed so I tend to donate copies of my books to charity shops in the area. 

What can you tell us about your latest novel, The Poppy Garden?

I have always wanted to write a book about my Grandfather and his experience in WW2 - he was an amazing man and had an amazing story to tell. Unfortunately, he died when I was 16 and left me with a lot of blank pages in the book of his life. I tried numerous times to write his story but the blanks provide too hard to overcome, then one day I realised I was looking at the message of the story all wrong. From then on I was able to write The Poppy Garden, based on how he developed methods to cope with PTSD and how the women in my family had to develop strength and coping mechanisms to deal with hardship they never imagined. 

Claire's Nan and Grandfather's Wedding
Photo by kind permission

This became the story 

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
October 2016

Sky Flynn thought she had it all, she was the happiest she’d ever been from the moment she met Nick Robinson until the moment a military officer showed up at her door, then things changed. 

Fighting in Afghanistan Nick is injured in a roadside bombing. Brought home in critical condition, he faces a long fight to recover from his wounds, traumatic brain injury and PTSD. 

Waking up from sedation he cannot remember the last 12 months of his life, blotting out meeting and marrying his wife, Sky. The more she tries to be there for him the more he pushes her away seeking solace in broken relationship with his ex as it's the only one he can remember. 

Fighting to save her marriage and help her husband recover from both physical and mental scars of war Sky has to find away to cope and overcome. With the support of her in-laws, Nick's uncle, his doctor and family she comes up with an idea to see her through his recovery and to help others like him 

Inspired by memories of her grandfather and how he channelled his undiagnosed PTSD into his garden she sets out to create somewhere for recovering service men to go, to assist in their recovery and create a place of beauty to share with their families. 

Constantly challenged by Nick's demanding ex-girlfriend, Rebecca and Nick's ever-changing condition. She finds hope and encouragement in the garden and those who rally round to help. 

As Nick presses on with his life and decides marrying Rebecca is his only way forward, Sky has to find a way to move on, be that with handsome police officer Joe or on her own. 

Can the beauty of the garden she creates heal her husband’s wounds and bring him home to her forever? 

Now the book is out and published, the story isn't finished - it's now become a charity which aims to build a Poppy Garden to support service personnel. 

You can find more about Claire and her writing on her website by clicking on the following links:

My thanks to Claire for spending time with us today and for telling us about the background to her novel. Jaffa nd I wish you continued success with your Poppy Garden venture.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Barbara Copperthwaite


Friday, 24 March 2017

Review ~ Trouble in Nuala by Harriet Steel

Stane Street Press

What's it all about about ...

When Inspector Shanti de Silva moves with his English wife Jane to his new post in the sleepy hill town of Nuala he anticipates a more restful life than police work in the big city entails. However an arrogant plantation owner with a lonely wife, a crusading lawyer, and a death in suspicious circumstances present him with a riddle that he will need all his experience to solve. 
Set on the exotic island of Ceylon in the 1930s, Trouble in Nuala is an entertaining and relaxing mystery spiced with humour and a colourful cast of characters.

What did I think about it...

Trouble in Nuala introduces us to the delightful, Inspector Shanti de Silva, who, with his English wife Jane, has moved to a new posting in the sleepy hill town of Nuala. Escaping the city, Shanti hopes that his life will take on a more tranquil outlook, that is, until trouble rears its ugly head in Nuala. A suspicious death, on one of the tea plantations, opens up a whole series of complicated questions which mean that Inspector de Silva's ingenuity, and that of his police team, is put to the test.

The author’s descriptive talent comes alive and from the opening pages I was immediately transported back to 1930s Ceylon, which is now modern day Sri Lanka, and taken to a place of great natural beauty, of rich red earth and the jostling of banana and rubber trees and of the scented aroma of jasmine and frangipani blossom. The story gives a lovely portrait of what life could have been like for those colonials who made it their home, and also of the problems faced when living in a small community where everyone's business becomes a matter of great interest

I really enjoyed getting to know Inspector de Silva. I appreciated his wry sense of humour and his steadfast refusal to be beaten by a myriad of complex situations. His interaction with his colleagues, particularity the hapless Constable Nadar, and the slightly more prosaic Sergeant Prasanna made me smile as they are so reminiscent of a bygone time.

Trouble in Nuala is the first of a proposed series of detective books featuring Inspector de Silva and I, personally, can't wait for the next book, Double Trouble, which, I think, is coming sometime in 2017.

Best Read With...Elephant ginger beer and a spicy bowl of Dhal...

About the Author

Harriet Steel is the author of several historical novels including Becoming Lola and Salvation. Her work has appeared in national newspapers and magazines. She is passionate about history and blogs about it at harrietsteel.blogspot.co.uk

Follow on Twitter @harrietsteel1

Harriet Steel

My thanks to the author for allowing me the opportunity to read and review Trouble in Nuala


Thursday, 23 March 2017

Candlestick Press Launches ~ Ten Poems About Home

...Launched today...

Candlestick Press
23 March 2017

This latest title from Candlestick Press is a haunting selection of poems that reflects our complex feelings about the true meaning of home. Mahendra Solanki’s choices encompass the many ways in which we experience that unique sense of being at home through poems that evoke “the daily furniture of our lives” or echo with the memories of a childhood spent far away. Contemporary poems rub shoulders with more traditional selections to create a vivid sense of the abiding spirit of belonging.

Yeats’s famous poem of longing is evoked in the beautiful cover image created especially for Candlestick by artist Sarah Kirby. Yeats expresses what we all instinctively feel – that home is a place we carry with us always “in the deep heart’s core”.

“I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”

from ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by WB Yeats

From Harrison to Larkin and from Cavafy to Dharker there are poems here that will delight and intrigue every reader. 

Mahendra Solanki’s poetry has explored notions of home and belonging for over 30 years. His work has been broadcast by the BBC and published in Britain and abroad in magazines and anthologies. His most recent collection is The Lies We Tell (Shoestring Press, 2014).

Poems by CP Cavafy, Imtiaz Dharker, Thomas Hardy, Tony Harrison, Philip Larkin, Linda Hogan, Grace Nichols, Mahendra Solanki, Wislawa Szymborska and WB Yeats. 

To continue the Candlestick tradition of supporting a range of charities through pamphlet sales, a donation will be made to Shelter. 

What did I think about it..

I few years ago I discovered the stunning poetry pamphlets published by Candlestick Press and, since then, have not only acquired my own collection, but have given away just as many as gifts to people I care about.

As always, I am charmed by the quiet beauty of these poetry pamphlets and I'm really thrilled to be able to support the launch of Ten Poems about Home. And it's not just because in this pamphlet is one is my favourite  W B Yeats poem,  The Lake Isle of Innisfree, and those who share my love of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon will know why I love this poem so much, but it's also because there are nine other beautiful poems which are all poignant reminders of why we all call home, home.

From, Thomas Hardy's The Self-Unseeing, 'Childlike, I danced in a dream; Blessings emblazoned that day:' to the beautiful simplicity of Mahendra Solanki's verse, Home...'It's what brings us back to earth, another ritual, at home' 

And for me, an emotional response to what has happened in London over the last 24 hours can be beautifully summed up in the opening verse of Philip Larkin's ethereal..

Home is so Sad.

Home is so sad, It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of those who were last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft.

Candlestick Press is a small, independent press publishing sumptuously produced poetry pamphlets that serve as a wonderful alternative to a greetings card, with matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message. Their subjects include Cricket, London, Lesbian and Gay, Revenge, Babies and Fathers. Candlestick Press pamphlets are stocked by chain and independent bookshops, galleries and garden centres nationwide and available to order online.

Like and follow on Facebook   or visit their Website

Follow on Twitter @poetrycandle

With thanks to Candlestick Press I have one copy of Ten Poems about Home
 for One UK Winner of this giveaway.

Good Luck


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Review ~ When I was Invisible by Dorothy Koomson

**Out 23rd March in Paperback**

23 March 2017

What's it all about..

In 1988, two eight-year-old girls with almost identical names and the same love of ballet meet for the first time. They seem destined to be best friends forever and to become professional dancers. Years later, however, they have both been dealt so many cruel blows that they walk away from each other into very different futures – one enters a convent, the other becomes a minor celebrity. Will these new, ‘invisible’ lives be the ones they were meant to live, or will they only find that kind of salvation when they are reunited twenty years later?

What did I think about it..

Two girls both called Veronica/Veronika find that their lives are irrevocably bound together in story which flits forwards and backwards in time, and which reveals the very sad circumstances of two lives shattered by life experiences.

Written with all the trademark flair of this talented contemporary author When I was Invisible sheds light on the invisible bonds of friendship which, although bind people together, can also tear people apart. The girls renamed as Nika and Roni find that their live in adulthood have veered off in very different directions, one as a minor celebrity, and the other as a nun and yet, their combined secrets threaten both of their sanity and well-being.

The author writes very well and weaves a story that takes in different time frames and circumstances and does so with assurance and confidence, and, even though the story evolves quite slowly, there is always something to capture the reader's attention and which makes you sit up and take notice.

I've now read several books by this author and I have never been disappointed either by her stories, or of her clever storytelling ability. I think that When I was Invisible is one of her strongest and saddest books to date.

Best Read with...A noodle stir fry and several glugs of white wine..

About the Author

Dorothy Koomson is the author of eleven novels and has been making up stories since she was thirteen. For more information about Dorothy and her writing visit her website  or follow her on Twitter @DorothyKoomson

My thanks to the publishers and also to Darran at edpr for my review copy of this book.

**When I was Invisible is out in paperback today and published by Arrow**

23 March 2017


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review ~ Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Harper Collins
January 2016

Don’t trust this book. Don’t trust this story. Don’t trust yourself.

What's it all about...

David and Adele seem like the ideal pair. He's a successful psychiatrist, she is his picture-perfect wife who adores him. But why is he so controlling? And why is she keeping things hidden?

As Louise, David's new secretary, is drawn into their world, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can't guess how wrong – and how far someone might go to protect their marriage's secrets.

What did I think about it ...

There's been a lot of hype around this book which came out in late January and whilst I'm a little bit late to the party I can sort of see what all the fuss was about, although there's a little bit of me that was ever so slightly disappointed by that ending.  However, that could just be because I read so many books in this genre that nothing really surprises me too much, but I have to admit that I did guess the ending before it came along, so the hastag #WTFthatending has, I'm afraid, been lost a little bit on me.

Still, I digress, back the story of the relationship triangle between psychiatrist,Oliver, his damaged wife, Adele and David's secretary, Louise. Really, this trio should have nothing in common, the three lives should never have had any real need to come together in the way that they did, but then the fickle finger of fate intervened, and that's when the trouble really started.

As David's secretary, Louise should have been content to keep his diary and manage his appointments but a chance encounter with David before he became her new boss meant that they already had personal history together. By far the most compelling character in this menage a trois is the very beautiful but, oh so vulnerable, Adele, who entices and snares Louise into a situation which develops into something which, if I say more, will start to give the game away... so I won't say another word..

I thought that the book was an interesting look at the lengths that people will go to in order to maintain utter control, whilst at the same time keeping a facade of relative normality. It was scary and deeply troubling and yet, there were also parts of the story where I , sort of,  had to suspend belief and go ..no way jose... but then that's what fiction is all about. It takes you to places beyond the ordinary and leads you into situations where you really wouldn't want to go, even in your wildest dreams.

I think Behind her Eyes would translate really well to the screen and I could see that it would make a clever TV drama or movie..

Best Read With...copious pots of Peppermint tea..

About the Author 

Sarah Pinborough is an award winning YA and adult novelist and screenwriter. She's written for the BBC and her last YA thruller 13 minutes has been optioned by Netflix and is in development. 

More information on the author's website

Follow on Twitter @sarahpinborough #wtfthatending

My thanks to Jaime at Harper Collins for my review copy of this book.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Review ~ To Capture What We Cannot Keep by Beatrice Colin

Allen & Unwin
Atlantic Books
February 2017

What's it all about...

In February 1887, Caitriona Wallace and Émile Nouguier meet in a hot air balloon, floating high above Paris, France--a moment of pure possibility. But back on firm ground, their vastly different social strata become clear.As the Eiffel Tower rises, a marvel of steel and air and light, the subject of extreme controversy and a symbol of the future, Cait and Émile must decide what their love is worth.

What did I think about it...

This interesting love story is set during the glory days of the La Belle Époque when the world was innovated both by design and invention. Widow, Caitriona Wallace, is the paid companion of brother and sister, Jamie and Alice Arrol, and their arrival in Paris is the culmination of a European tour. Caitriona does not expect to find love again, nor does she seek it out, but a chance meeting with, Émile Nouguier, the Eiffel Tower architect, starts a delicate relationship which opens up a wealth of unseen possibilities for Caitriona.

The story is nicely written and brings eighteenth century Paris alive in the imagination. I enjoyed getting to know the characters and think that the author did a good job in demonstrating the expectations of people in different social classes. There are a few really interesting female characters that help to give the book its light and shade. I particularly liked Gabrielle, Émile's feisty mistress, whose chaotic lifestyle clearly showed that life, for some women was never going to be easy. However, I'm not sure that the men come across with any redeeming qualities, Jamie Arrol, in particular, is a bit of a loose cannon and I think that the author captured what it was like for an aimless young man who had too much time and not enough common sense. Émile Nouguier is rather an enigma, and whilst I wanted to like him for Caitriona's sake, I found him rather disappointing as a romantic lead character. The detailed description of the construction of the Eiffel Tower was particularly fascinating as was the people’s reaction to its construction and completion.

To Capture What we Cannot Keep is a quietly confident and intelligently written historical novel. It captures the atmosphere of nineteenth century Paris really well both in terms of its social constraints and also of the magic of living in such a wonderfully inventive age.

Best Read with ... Delicate French pâtisserie..

Beatrice Colin is a novelist based in Glasgow. The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite, a novel set in Berlin in the early twentieth century was translated into eight languages and was Richard and Judy pick. Beatrice has been shortlisted for a British Book award, a Saltire award and a Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award. She also writes plays and adaptations of BBC Radio 4.

My thanks to Karen at Atlantic Books for my review copy of this book


Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Continuing a Spring-like theme

The Place by Francis Ledwidge

Blossoms as old as May I scatter here,
And a blue wave I lifted from the stream.
It shall not know when winter days are drear
Or March is hoarse with blowing. But a-dream
The laurel boughs shall hold a canopy
Peacefully over it the winter long,
Till all the birds are back from oversea,
And April rainbows win a blackbird's song.

And when the war is over I shall take
My lute a-down to it and sing again
Songs of the whispering things amongst the brake,
And those I love shall know them by their strain.
Their airs shall be the blackbird's twilight song,
Their words shall be all flowers with fresh dews hoar.—
But it is lonely now in winter long,
And, God! to hear the blackbird sing once more.

Francis Ledwidge was an Irish writer and poet. He was killed in action at Passchendaele in 1917

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Close to Home ~ Kate Rigby

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.

Please welcome Northern writer

I was born in Crosby in the late 1950s but don’t remember much before the age of three. We moved away when I was seven and returned to Thornton when I was 13, about a mile away from Crosby, but I see those as two very different phases of my life. Crosby very much associated with my childhood and Thornton with my teenage years and growing into adulthood.

Of course, Beatlemania was happening in my living memory in Liverpool in the early 60s. I was just a tot, though one of my earliest memories is of singing ‘She Loves You’, and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ not only makes reference to our family name but its haunting strings and poignant lyrics evoke strong memories of our last few months in Crosby! It evokes childhood angst on autumn Sunday evenings, tied up with Evensong at St Faith’s High Church, and the fear of school the following day. My teacher put the fear of God into me with a perishing look of her eye and a stern presence. It’s hardly surprising then, that moving away to the Cotswolds, seemed to my young mind, like an adventure and a great escape!

But during those early years at Crosby, some of the most striking memories are in relation to the landscape and the shore. When we ventured down there as a family, we took our buckets and spades and had a paddle, though the tide was often a long way out, but there were dollops of oil coated in sand across Hall Road beach - deposits from passing tankers no doubt.

 My sister and me (right) at Blundellsands in 1964

Sometimes we would venture further afield to New Brighton or Freshfields. We’d do the interminable walk through the pine woods at Freshfields (or so it seemed to my little legs) with red squirrels delighting us along the way, before coming out to rock pools and dunes with long grassy clumps where caterpillars uncurled while we crunched our sandy sandwiches.

But when we returned to Thornton in the early 1970s, it seemed like a backward step and so Crosby was avoided where possible. We (that is me and my sister closest to me in age) were soon venturing regularly into town (Liverpool city centre). That was the place to be. For the size of it, Crosby didn’t offer much for the young who’d outgrown youth clubs.

My sister and I doing the bump (74) before going out on the town in Liverpool
Photo courtesy of Chris Rigby

So it was with a certain amount of incredulity, when, some thirty odd years later, I heard Crosby was the chosen place for Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ exhibition. His 100 iron men became a permanent fixture, putting Crosby well and truly on the map. I last returned to Crosby in 2009 for a trip down Memory Lane and to see the Iron Men. It is quite an experience and Crosby beach, cleaned of oil, is still unspoiled.

 One of the Iron Men in a Waterloo sunset, and me resting my head on an an Iron Man

Naturally all these early experiences on Merseyside have had a big influence on my writing. My first novel ‘Did You Whisper back?’ was written when I was still living in Thornton. It’s about a young woman who slowly descends into mental illness and is largely set in Blundellsands and Waterloo, with many references to Liverpool and Seaforth in a 1970s setting. It won a Southern Arts Bursary in 1991 under its previous title (Where A Shadow Played).

However, the book of mine that is most influenced by my early life in Crosby and Liverpool is ‘Suckers n Scallies’(previously published in paperback as Sucka! by Skrev). It begins in the 1960s, moving through the 70s and 80s, interweaved with present day (1990s in this case). It’s a gritty story with lots of Scouse dialect and retro sweets and is about a life long friendship between two men from different backgrounds, beginning in 1960s Liverpool when they are children. It’s a bit of a marmite book as there are a lot of time and viewpoint shifts but these are clearly marked with sub-headings. There are no actual references to Crosby as such, but rather north Liverpool, and also Kirkby. References to Terry’s grandpa painting ships in his blood came from a similar story about my own great grandfather. My father also painted the docks in the 1970s/early 80s.

Pier Head picture (taken by my father in 1964 as a slide – the skyline has sprouted more buildings since!)

My very short novella ‘She Looks Pale’ is also set in Liverpool and has references to Waterloo Park school in the 1970s. In fact the title is taken from a schoolgirl ritual we used to do in lunch hours! It is quite a sad and poignant tale, however, about a child confined to the house by her over-protective parents, until her only view of the world is through diaries and photo albums of her mother’s past. It is an e-book in its own right but also fronts a short story collection of mine in paperback. ‘She Looks Pale & Other Stories’.

‘Our Marie’ is about generational differences and conflicts between a mother and her daughter, and is also available in the e-collection of short stories ‘Tales By Kindlelight’.

Liverpool is also referenced in some of my other books and short stories, for instance, the Freshfields walk makes a brief appearance in The Dead Club and the novel I’m working on at the moment has the main character from Crosby, although she now lives in Devon! I think that’s called coming full circle as that’s where I live now. I am hoping to write something autobiographical in the future so Crosby will definitely feature again.

Find out more about Kate on her website

Many thanks to Jo – and Jaffa! - for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.


Warmest thanks to Kate for sharing her thoughts about growing up in Crosby and of how her childhood in Liverpool has shaped her stories.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Claire Brown


Friday, 17 March 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting the last day of  

The Possessions Blog Tour

Scribe Publications
March 9th 2017

What's it all about ..

Who will prevail – the woman or the ghost? A worker at an organisation which channels the dead for the grief-stricken begins an illicit affair with a client. But as she gets closer to him, she begins to question whether he is telling the truth about his wife's death.

What did I think of it ...

The first time I meet Patrick Braddock, I’m wearing his wife’s lipstick..

Working for the Elysian Society, Eurydice (Edie) is just one of  a number of ‘Bodies’ who rents her services so that the recently bereaved can take advantage of her disassociated state to communicate with their loved ones beyond the grave. Using objects which were once linked to the deceased, the Bodies then swallow the Lotus, a small white pill which allows a metamorphosis to take place. Intimate contact between user and Body is not encouraged and whilst there are protective considerations in place to safeguard this exchange, inevitably some users want more than can be safely offered.

In her role as a Body, Edie is bound by a strict moral code but she’s also an enticing enigma, prone to her own brand of secrecy, and, as such, she is destined to become inextricably linked with a mystery that opens up, for her, more questions than it does answers. Her association with client, Patrick Braddock is intense, as is her connection to his dead partner, Sylvia. Both situations are fraught with irregularities, and, as the plot starts to diverge beyond the connection laid down as acceptable by the Elysian Society, a dangerous subplot starts to develop between Patrick and Edie.

The Possessions is set in what could be a dystopian world, a place where the past stays hidden and the future reaches out into white space which, at times, appears bleak and unfathomable. Memories surface and linger and a shimmering disquiet bubbles away just beyond reach. The concept of communicating with the dead takes the image of dusty séances that bit further and succeeds in delivering a story which is in part ghost story and part illicit romance.

The premise of the story is cleverly addictive and I enjoyed being taken into a very different world. I think that the author has shown considerable imagination in delivering a story which goes beyond the ordinary, and which make you think about life and death in a different way. By the time the story finishes, the concept of something like this existing in a parallel universe is perhaps not so unbelievable after all...

Best Read with...strong coffee, tart as poison.

Sara Flannery Murphy was born in Little Rock, Arkansas and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, she lives in an Oklahoma college town with her husband and son. The Possessions is this author’s first novel.

Visit Sara on Facebook
Follow on Twitter @sflannerymurphy 
#The Possessions

My thanks to Adam at Scribe for his invitation to be part of this blog today.

At Christmas I was one of the lucky bloggers to be given a wonderful goodie box

 to promote The Possessions. Here's the link 


Thursday, 16 March 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Girl in the Painting by Kirsty Ferry

 Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be involved in the Choc Lit Blog Tour for
 The Girl in The Painting by Kirsty Ferry

 I am delighted that Kirsty has written this special guest post to share with you

A discovery at the V & A Gallery: The Girl in the Painting by Kirsty Ferry

Thank you so much for letting me come onto your blog. What I thought I’d do, is chat about some of facts behind The Girl in the Painting. The book is the second in the Rossetti Mysteries series, and immerses us in the world of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, thanks to a timeslip caused by a haunted diary. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the main people I fictionalised in the historical part of the book, was one of the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of Victorian artists who were quite rebellious in the way they wanted to portray art. 

Rossetti fell in love with Lizzie Siddal, a red-headed beauty plucked from her work in a milliner’s shop and catapulted into fame as one of the most famous Pre-Raphaelite models – some people say she was, in fact, the first supermodel; and she definitely became a celebrity of her time. I also fictionalised her in The Girl in the Painting, and it was intriguing to trace Dante and Lizzie’s relationship and wonder at the psychology, almost, behind it. Lizzie and Rossetti had what some might say was an obsessive relationship; but it was certainly passionate, and, quite possibly mutually dependent. Rossetti, however, did have a penchant for falling in lust with redheads, and many of his paintings depict them. However, one notable exception was Jane Morris, the wife of his good friend William Morris, who had long, dark hair. 

Rossetti also fell for Jane, and they were lovers from about 1865 until 1894 (Lizzie died in 1862, so this relationship, at least, didn’t seem to be one of his numerous affairs!). Anyway, a couple of weeks before The Girl in the Painting was published in paperback, I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. My intention was solely to see the clothes – I love historical fashion and one of the first things I do when I’m researching a book is to search for clothing my characters can wear, then put the resulting images on my Pinterest board so I can look back at them. To get to some of the V & A galleries I wanted to see, I had to go through the paintings and I scurried through the first couple of rooms as we were quite time-limited (my husband and son had almost agreed to go there on sufferance, so long as we did the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum afterwards!). I rounded a corner in the paintings gallery and had to admit I let out a yelp of delight. Fortunately, we were the only people in that particular room, or I might well have been escorted off the premises! Right in front of me, was a huge portrait of Jane Morris – and in gold block lettering on the bottom was the legend Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The picture in question was The Day-Dream, and even my husband was quite impressed. My son was still focused on space shuttles and dinosaurs, but never mind. 

The only thing that would have been better (and no disrespect to Jane Morris!) was if I’d seen a picture of Lizzie Siddal. Lizzie plays a huge part in The Girl in the Painting, and the painting in the book is Ophelia, by John Millais. It was after Millais painted Ophelia that Rossetti declared Lizzie could model only for him in the future. It’s a shame that Dante, though, was allowed to be all lax with his affections and chase after other famous ‘model’ redheads such as Fanny Cornforth – but I guess if he was dull and boring, there would be no story there to develop in my book. And there would certainly not have been a chance that Rossetti might have fallen for another redheaded beauty during his relationship with Lizzie – that redhead is Daisy Ashford, the girl who wrote the diary in The Girl in the Painting, and the girl who, so many years after her death, is desperate for people to know the truth about her life with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood…

More about Kirsty

Kirsty is from the North East of England and won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 with the ghostly tale Enchantment. She has also written North East based novels, short stories and articles for magazines such as Weekly News, Peoples Friend, Ghost Voices and It’s Fate.

Her timeslip novel, Some Veil Did Fall, a paranormal romance set in Whitby, was published by Choc Lit in Autumn 2014. This was followed by another Choc Lit timeslip, The Girl in the Painting in February 2016 and The Girl in the Photograph in March 2017. The experience of signing Some Veil Did Fall in a quirky bookshop in the midst of Goth Weekend in Whitby, dressed as a recently undead person was one of the highlights of her writing career so far!

Kirsty’s day-job involves sharing a Georgian building with an eclectic collection of ghosts – which can sometimes prove rather interesting.

Visit Kirsty on Facebook and follow on Twitter @kirsty_ferry

And here's some more about the Books

The Girl in the Painting

Choc Lit

What if you thought you knew a secret that could change history?

Whilst standing engrossed in her favourite Pre-Raphaelite painting - Millais's Ophelia - Cori catches the eye of Tate gallery worker, Simon, who is immediately struck by her resemblance to the red-haired beauty in the famous artwork.

The attraction is mutual, but Cori has other things on her mind. She has recently acquired the diary of Daisy, a Victorian woman with a shocking secret. As Cori reads, it soon becomes apparent that Daisy will stop at nothing to be heard, even outside of the pages of her diary ..
Will Simon stick around when life becomes increasingly spooky for Cori, as she moves ever closer to uncovering the truth about Daisy's connection to the girl in her favourite painting?

The Girl in the Photograph

Choc Lit

What if the past was trying to teach you a lesson?

Staying alone in the shadow of an abandoned manor house in Yorkshire would be madness to some, but art enthusiast Lissy de Luca can’t wait. Lissy has her reasons for seeking isolation, and she wants to study the Staithes Group – an artists’ commune active at the turn of the twentieth century.
Lissy is fascinated by the imposing Sea Scarr Hall – but the deeper she delves, the stranger things get. A lonely figure patrols the cove at night, whilst a hidden painting leads to a chilling realisation. And then there’s the photograph of the girl; so beautiful she could be a mermaid … and so familiar.
As Lissy further immerses herself, she comes to an eerie conclusion: The occupants of Sea Scarr Hall are long gone, but they have a message for her – and they’re going to make sure she gets it.

Buy The Girl in the Painting: www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-girl-in-the-painting/

Buy The Girl in the Photograph: www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-girl-in-the-photograph/

For more information on Kirsty Ferry, follow her on Twitter @kirsty_ferry

Huge thanks to Kirsty for being my guest today and also to Choc Lit for the kind invitation to be part of the blog tour today.