Sunday 31 August 2014

Sunday War Poet...

Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson

1888 -1918

Magpies in Picardy

The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.

(The blackbird flies with panic,
The swallow goes with light,
The finches move like ladies,
The owl floats by at night;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as artists might.)

A magpie in Picardy
Told me secret things—
Of the music in white feathers,
And the sunlight that sings
And dances in deep shadows—
He told me with his wings.

(The hawk is cruel and rigid,
He watches from a height;
The rook is slow and sombre,
The robin loves to fight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as lovers might.)

He told me that in Picardy,
An age ago or more,
While all his fathers still were eggs,
These dusty highways bore
Brown, singing soldiers marching out
Through Picardy to war.

He said that still through chaos
Works on the ancient plan,
And two things have altered not
Since first the world began—
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.

(For the sparrow flies unthinking
And quarrels in his flight;
The heron trails his legs behind,
The lark goes out of sight;
But the great and flashing magpie
He flies as poets might.)

Theodore Wilson was born in Devon and educated at Oxford but left without a degree. He enlisted in the Sherwood Foresters and reached the Western Front in  February 1916. His poem Magpies in Picardy was published in the Westminster Gazette in August 1916.

He was killed in Hermies in France in March 1918 during the great German assault.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras memorial.


Friday 29 August 2014

The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar Book Tour ~ Guest Author ~ Kim Rendfeld.


And her latest historical novel 

Fireship Press

Kim ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for inviting us to be part of your virtual book tour and for sharing this guest post with us.

Five Surprising Facts about the Early Middle Ages

When I first sat down to write my debut novel The Cross and the Dragon, a companion to The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I knew very little about the Middle Ages, let alone 770s Francia. The history of early medieval times continues to fascinate me, and the reality is more complex than I originally thought. Here are five things that surprised me in my research.

Fact One: Medieval people bathed. 

In school, teachers told me medieval folk thought sitting in a tub was unhealthy. As an author, I assumed all I needed to decide was whether the characters would notice how bad they smelled. So imagine my surprise to find out Carolingian princes took baths and changed their clothes once a week. OK, so that’s not as often as Americans who can’t live without their daily showers, but it’s a lot more frequent than my first impressions.

Baths were a requirement for palaces, and bathhouses contained hot and cold pools. Abbeys also had baths for the residents, guests, and the sick. So much for bathing being bad for health. Frequent hair-washing in the winter was to be avoided, but that’s not exactly a surprise when you consider how cold it was indoors.

Some medieval people didn’t bathe, but the reason had nothing to do with health. Abstaining from the bath was a form of penance, just like giving up wine or meat or something else you enjoy. Between baths, people of all classes would wash using basins of cold water. Just like most of us, medieval people wanted to be clean.

Fact Two: Free medieval women were not chattel. 

With wife-beating as a right and arranged marriages for child brides (and grooms for that matter), the early Middle Ages is not an ideal time for women, but women played an important role beyond producing a healthy heir. In the 770s, Charlemagne’s mother, Bertrada, for example, was a diplomat working to ensure peace between her sons, both of whom were kings of Francia, as well as Rome and Lombardy.

Charlemagne's Mother

Frankish queens were the guardians of the royal treasury, and they controlled access to their husbands. Alcuin, an influential scholar, wrote to the queen to find out where Charlemagne was spending the winter. When houseguests were foreign dignitaries, royal hospitality was key to international relations. Hospitality was more than just showing good manners. Frankish royalty would want their guests to report to their own rulers that the palace was beautiful and sturdy, the baths were hot, the table was laden, the host well dressed, and the guards and servants well cared for. All signs of power, important to project even to one’s own allies whose support could shift.

The reality was different for slaves. Both men and women were at the mercy of masters who could do anything they wanted, a frightening reality for my characters who lose their freedom in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.

Fact three: Some early medieval teachings on religion will sound familiar to modern Christians. 

Christianity was practiced differently in the Middle Ages than it is today, but some lessons are timeless.  Rudolf, St. Lioba’s hagiographer, writes that her mentor, St. Tetta, told nuns furious with a deceased prioress “to lay aside their resentment, to accept the ill treatment they had received and to show without delay their forgiveness: if they wished their own sins to be forgiven by God they should forgive others from the bottom of their hearts.”

Alcuin, a scholar in Charlemagne’s court, wanted the Christian mission to convert pagan Saxons to succeed, but he was concerned with the lack of education for those new to the faith, among other issues. In letters, he pleads with his fellow Christians to teach the faith first, then baptize converts. “Moreover faith, as St. Augustine says, is a matter of will, not compulsion,” he writes. “A person can be drawn to faith but cannot forced to it.”

Alcuin presenting manuscripts to Charlemagne
Victor Schnetz

Fact four: Childbirth was considered part of life, not medicine.

No men were allowed when a woman was in labor, not the father, not even a doctor. Considering that medieval medicine was based on the ancient philosophy of humors, it might have been for the best.

Childbirth was so risky that expectant mothers were encouraged to confess their sins before they went into labor and midwives were the only laypeople permitted to baptize newborns if the baby was likely to die.

Children were born at home. If they were peasants, babies would be delivered in a one or two room house. The aristocracy, however, had special lying-in chambers, to which the mother would retreat when her time was close. When the mother went into labor, the entrance to the lying-in chamber was shut, and the windows were sealed to block out light. With the mother were a midwife, who had learned her craft from her own mother, the midwife’s assistants, and five or six female friends and relatives.

Fact five: There was such a thing as too many sons. 

When a Frankish king died, each son born in wedlock got a kingdom, and that might have weighed heavily on Charlemagne, whose family had a history of the disputed inheritance becoming civil war.

After the death of his fourth wife, Fastrada, Charles married Luitgard, probably after dating her for two years. Luitgard did not bear Charles any children, and that might have been why he married her. At the time, the king had three grown heirs. If he had any more sons born in wedlock, it could lead to civil unrest.

He did not remarry after Luitgard died. Instead, he had several mistresses, who bore children. Those concubines proved Charles’s virility and thus his physical perfection, a qualification for a king to rule.

Bonus fact for my hostess: There were cat lovers during this time period. In fact, one literally waxed poetic at an abbey in today’s Austria. A ninth-century Irish monk wrote about a cat named Pangur Ban, whom the poet calls “he” rather than “it.” In the poem, the author compares his hunt for knowledge to the cat’s hunt for mice and describes the satisfaction both get from their arts.


I can’t quite get all five facts into the following excerpts, so I’ll settle for a piece reflecting the first one, which takes place in a bathhouse.

Sunwynn poured rose oil on her trembling fingers and smoothed the oil on Gerhilda’s hair. She placed the bottle in the basket and picked up the comb.

“Soon you will be mistress of your own home.”

“Yes, I will be.” Gerhilda smiled.

“You will need servants,” Sunwynn said, kneeling to work on a tangle near Gerhilda’s waist.

“I’ll have you, of course, and two guards, my falconer, a dog handler, a groom, two menservants, and your mother.”

The comb slipped from Sunwynn’s fingers. Smiling, she picked up the comb, cleaned out the hairs, wiped it on her sleeve, and resumed working on the tangle.

“My mother will be so glad to join your household,” Sunwynn breathed.

“I couldn’t live without your mother’s tarts, but I thought she feared Pinabel as much as you do.”

“She does. But she wants to serve you, my lady, as does Deorlaf. He’d make a fine manservant.”

“I need big, burly menservants.”

“But Deorlaf is strong.” Sunwynn scooted to her left to comb out another tangle.

“He’s not big enough, and I want Pinabel to see I have four large men who do my bidding, not his.”

“I thought you liked Pinabel.”

“I do.”

“Then why the guards? Why the large menservants?”

Gerhilda laughed. “I’m not harebrained. Pinabel should know I’m protected.”

“But Deorlaf would protect you,” Sunwynn protested. “And he wants to accompany you to Le Mans.”

“He’s too thin,” Gerhilda said firmly.

“Could you arrange to have Deorlaf join your household with the other menservants?”

“Sunwynn, I know you don’t want to be parted from your brother, but you will see him again when I visit my family. For the final time, the answer is no; he cannot join my household.”

Only the threat of a beating prevented Sunwynn from pulling her lady’s hair so hard it would make her shriek.

 ©Kim Rendfeld.


Women at the Court of Charlemagne, Janet Nelson

Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, Pierre Riche (translated by Jo Ann McNamara)

Charlemagne: Translated Sources, P.D. King

Daily Life in Medieval Times by Frances and Joseph Gies

Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000 by Julia M.H. Smith

“Capturing the Wandering Womb” by Kate Phillips, The Haverford Journal, April 2007

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, like her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

My thanks to Kim Rendfeld and her publishers Fireship Press for their help in organising this book tour and for inviting Jaffareadstoo to be part of the fun.


Thursday 28 August 2014

Review ~ The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar ~ Blog Tour 2014

August 2014

When Leova’s husband is lost in combat during a particularly vicious conflict with Charlemagne’s army, she has no choice but to try to protect her children Deorlaf and Sunwynn by whatever means she has, in order to survive. Sold into slavery, Leova watches as her children grow into adulthood, but, life is always complicated for them and there are many obstacles to be overcome.

The story opens in 772AD and steps right into the dark ages of our time when there was little respite from treachery, and where hope for justice and compassion was a lonely road to travel. Leova shows great determination and strength of will, and as she seeks retribution against those who destroyed her faith and  family, her hope for the future is constantly tested. However, throughout the story , her strength of will shines through despite the sorrow and sadness which shadows her life.

There is no doubt that the author has a love of early history and uses her considerable knowledge and extensive research to shed light on stories which could all too easily be lost in the mist of time. The historical events sit comfortably alongside a story of loyalty and religious strife and by interweaving historical fact and fiction; a story emerges of a strong family changed by extraordinary historical events.

I found the story easy to read and follow and even though this is a period of history of which I have very little knowledge, very soon the people and events started to become familiar. The trials of their interwoven lives are handled with understanding and sensitivity and soon become the driving force of the novel.

 This companion novel to the author’s earlier story, The Cross and the Dragon, highlights the author’s love of storytelling. Her desire to keep these forgotten stories of the past alive is commendable.

My thanks to Fireship Press for my copy of this book 

The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). 

To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit

You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, like her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.


Kim Rendfeld is my guest on the blog on Friday 29th August.

Come and read Five Surprising Facts about the Middle Ages.


Wednesday 27 August 2014

Jaffareadstoo's Guest Review...

Simon and Schuster

Jaffa and I were delighted to be given the opportunity to be a guest reviewer on Lindsay's excellent blog 


Do pop across and read what we thought about

In the winter of 1792, Pierre Renard, the eponymous silversmith, is found dead in London’s Berkeley Square. With his throat cut and his pocket watch stolen, his murder could have been the work of an opportunist pickpocket, but as the story progresses it becomes obvious that, whilst on the surface, Pierre Renard was a man of means and self importance, he had more than enough enemies who wished him dead. At the heart of the story is Mary, the silversmith’s wife, who is completely overshadowed by her erstwhile husband, and yet by necessity, must play a pivotal role in the evolution of events. It’s a time of great uncertainty, not just for Mary as she copes in the aftermath of her husband’s murder but also for the continuation of Mary’s silversmith business, when a woman alone and defenceless was seen as the ultimate weakness.

From the beginning, I was drawn into the dark and dismal world of Georgian London where the patrolling night watchmen sink their sorrow into the bottom of an ale cup and where the great and the good of the city divide their time between squandering their wealth and interfering in other people’s lives. The Silversmith’s Wife takes the reader on a journey into the complicated world of Georgian melodrama and into the hub of the silversmith trade in the very heart of Bond Street, a place where petty jealousies run rife, and where thwarted passions and long buried hostilities threaten to overshadow everything.

There is no doubt that the author has a real skill for storytelling and in The Silversmith’s Wife, she conveys an introspective story, which whilst keeping at its heart the mystery surrounding Renard’s untimely death, also looks at the minutiae of daily life and the sadness which pervades Mary’s role as the unhappy wife. Reminiscent at times of Michel Faber’s, The Crimson Petal and the White, this story oozes quiet elegance and a decadent charm, which lingers in the way the story, evolves at its own pace. I found much to enjoy in the story, the plot kept me guessing, and I was so sympathetically drawn to Mary’s character, that by the end of the novel I only wished for her a long and happy life.

I would definitely recommend The Silversmith’s Wife to those readers who enjoy well written historical fiction.

Thanks to Lindsay and Simon and Schuster for the chance to read this book.


Tuesday 26 August 2014

Review ~ The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed..

I fell in love with this book when I saw the cover, as it reminded me of the doll’s houses that I loved to play with as a child, and there is something uniquely clandestine about peering into the hidden contents of someone else’s life and being privy to their innermost thoughts.

The story begins in 1686, and we are introduced to Nella Oortman, whose arrival at the grand house, at the side of the Herengracht canal, in Amsterdam, is set to disturb the equilibrium of all who live within it. For Nella is the eighteen year old bride of the illustrious trader, Johannes Brandt, and her presence in the house is set to disturb the balance of power of its current chatelaine, Marin, Johannes’ elder and irascible older sister. When Nella is presented with a cabinet sized replica of her home, as a wedding gift, from her largely absent husband, she starts to uncover a set of household secrets which threaten to disturb the equilibrium of the house forever.

What then follows is a compelling and intricately woven story of scandalous deceit and scurrilous gossip which, when taken as a whole, allows a fascinating glimpse into the lives and petty squabbles amongst the social elite of old Amsterdam. Time and place is captured quite perfectly, and for the time I was reading, I was so immersed in seventeenth century life, that I had to forcibly bring myself back to the 21st century. There is much to take in, not just Johannes’ unusual relationship with his wife, but also with the way in which the house functions as a whole. Marin is an enigmatic figure, she is both controlling and uncontrollable but cares deeply for her brother and as reputation matters above all else, Nella soon learns to listen surreptitiously and to keep her own counsel.

Reminiscent at times of Tracy Chevalier’s, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, I can easily see this book being transformed into a stunning film. The narrative unfolds like beautiful cinematography and there are just enough layers waiting to be peeled away, so that when the final dénouement arrives, you feel complete and know that this is indeed a story well worth the telling.

A Highly Recommended read  for lovers of good historical fiction.

My thanks to the publishers Picador and to Sandra Taylor in the Picador Press Office 
for my copy of this book


Monday 25 August 2014

My guest on the blog is the author Dinah Jefferies...

©Dinah Jefferies 

Dinah ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for sharing the joys of writing with us...

How did I become a published author, when initially I hadn't the faintest idea if I could write a novel at all? I knew nothing about the bricks and mortar of writing, I just knew I loved reading. At that stage even finishing a novel was an achievement. It’s funny, but when you’re unpublished and sending out submissions like confetti, getting that call when an agent says, ‘I loved your book and I want to represent you,’ is the only thing that seems to matter.

Instead of that, I received dozens of one liner rejections. Thanks but no thanks.

Teddy the Terrier

Having a great family helped to get over the disappointment, plus walking the dog for hours, while trying not to cry. Then I made a huge effort to learn, as well as trying to work out what hadn’t worked in my first novel. But it felt like wading through treacle and, because I was becoming more and more stuck, I sent my novel to a Literary Consultancy. They read it and wrote a report, so then at least I knew what was wrong, though I still had to figure out how to fix it.

A massive rewrite followed. When I submitted it again, one lovely agent said she thought I had potential and to please send her my next novel when it was written. At that stage I binned that first novel and began a new one. It was the best decision.

Fast forward another year and a half. My second book was ready. I sent it to just one agent, the woman who’d said I had potential. Six weeks later, while shopping and wondering if this novel was fated to go the way of the first, my mobile rang. My excited husband was saying that the agent had called, but she hadn’t said told him why. I didn’t want to call her back from the middle of a noisy street, so raced home hardly able to breathe.

When she said, ‘I loved your book and I want to represent you,’ I shrieked like a child of six. That was nearly the end of August and on September 20th  The Separation, set in Malaysia, was bought by Penguin. It is now available all over the world and has been translated into six other languages. The Tea Planter’s Wife, set in Sri Lanka, will be published next year, and I’m already writing my third, set in Vietnam.

My life has changed. I’ve been on a book tour in Norway and have been to Vietnam and Sri Lanka for research. I still love spending time with the family, although I am ridiculously busy. Recently, I was publicising The Separation, editing The Tea Planter’s Wife, and researching book three all at the same time. My editor wants to publish a book a year, which is fabulous, but it’s a fantastically tight schedule, especially as the niche I've discovered requires considerable research.

Malaya                                                Hanoi

I write about slices of 20th Century history with all its intrigue and social upheaval and usually in exotic locations. I write about loss. I write about how hard it is to move on when the past won't let you go. I write about families torn apart. I sometimes have fun with a little dash of romantic love. But above all I write about the unbreakable bonds of love. That's the heart of my writing and it comes from the heart.

So what is it really like to be a writer? I think it’s the best job in the world and I feel fantastically lucky that my agent spotted potential in those early days. But all the old insecurities remain. Will they like it? Can I do it? The great thing is, once you’re published, you’re not on your own. You have an agent and an editor: both offer feedback and advice. That’s the best bit. It’s a phenomenal roller-coaster ride with wonderful ups, and equally awful downs, but knowing there is somebody you can turn to makes all the difference.

More about Dinah can be found on her website 
Twitter @DinahJefferies

A huge thank you to Dinah for telling us what's it's like to be a writer and for giving us such a fascinating insight into the background to her writing.


Dinah is kindly offering one lucky UK winner a copy of her book The Separation

Sunday 24 August 2014

Sunday War Poet....

The Angel of Mons

One hundred years ago, in August 1914,  The Battle of Mons was taking place. The British Expeditionary Force met the advancing German troops in the small mining town of Mons in Belgium.
 It was the first military confrontation on European soil since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

 There is anecdotal writing of The Angel of Mons, A phenomenon, which was reported following the Battle of Mons in August 1914. When soldiers fighting in the thick of battle were alleged to have seen a cavalry of angels who were purported to have come to the their aid and helped to save them from possible massacre.
Others were convinced that they had seen the legendary Agincourt bowmen come to their assistance.
There were over 1600 British casualties.

The mystery of The Angel of Mons is one of the best  known legends  of twentieth century warfare.


 Soldiers who fought at the battle of Mons were awarded the 1914 star which became colloquially known as the Mons Star.


Often when Warring

Often when warring for he wist not what,
An enemy-soldier, passing by one weak,
Has tendered water, wiped the burning cheek,
And cooled the lips so black and clammed and hot;
Then gone his way, and maybe quite forgot
The deed of grace amid the roar and reek;
Yet larger vision than loud arms bespeak
He there has reached, although he has known it not.
For natural mindsight, triumphing in the act
Over the throes of artificial rage,
Has thuswise muffled victory's peal of pride,
Rended to ribands policy's specious page
That deals but with evasion, code, and pact,
And war's apology wholly stultified.

Thomas Hardy


Saturday 23 August 2014

Review ~ The Separation by Dinah Jefferies

When Lydia Cartwright returns to the family home in Malaya after a brief absence, she is startled when her arrival is met, not with an exuberant welcome from her daughters, Emma and Fleur, but by an ominous silence which permeates throughout the dusty remnants of the house on stilts. What then follows is the story of a painful separation, the consequences of which lead Lydia into the very heart of the Malayan jungle and into a desperate search for her beloved daughters. The story uses the exotic background of Malaya in the 1950s when the country was at war with itself and when every step into the unknown was fraught with danger

From the beginning of this fascinating story I was taken on a journey of discovery and heartbreak and as Lydia delves deeper into the mystery of her daughters disappearance she uncovers a story which is alive with intrigue. Emma and Fleur’s story runs alongside, and is no less compelling for all that it takes a very different turn, but what really binds the two stories together is the unshakeable bond between a mother and her daughters.

There is no doubt that the author has a real skill for storytelling and by using her own experiences of living in Malaya, is able to paint a vivid picture of what it was like to live through this time of great unrest. Throughout the whole of the story the writing is confident and assured. The narrative flows well and very quickly draws a realistic portrayal of motherhood, which continually shows Lydia’s vulnerability alongside her utter strength of will.

I loved every bit of the novel, from the exotic background of the Malayan jungle, to the dismal background of rain swept England; there is never a lull when the story doesn't pull you into a captivating story of love and loss.

 My thanks to the author and Penguin Books for my copy of this book

I have a fabulous guest post by Dinah Jefferies on Monday 25th August
with the chance to win a copy 


Thursday 21 August 2014

Author Spotlight and Giveaway...Shelan Rodger

I am delighted to welcome

Author of

Cutting Edge Press

Shelan ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for sharing your book Twin Truths with us.

What is it about your writing that will pique the reader’s interest?

I’m hoping the title will already start to do this, as it is deliberately ambiguous.The protagonists are twins and this is a story of discovery, an unveiling or dismantling of the very concept of truth in people’s lives. We all search for answers at one level or anotherover the course of our lifetime and Jenny’s search when her sister disappears is a journey of twists and turns. My hope is that the psychological suspense will grip the reader early on and that the writing is evocative enough to carry him/her to places they may have never been to. Not just geographical places but the hidden places inside someone’s head. I have tried to create a story that is both compelling and thought-provoking.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of Twin Truths?

Actually a surprisingly difficult question to answer. I started to write Twin Truths over 10 years ago at a tough time in my own life when I couldn’t walk – perhaps it was this lack of mobility that triggered the introspection I needed to write. Anyway, Sunday was my writing day, alongside a full time job, but as I recovered I got busier with work and the book kept getting parked. I think it took 2 to 3 years to finish the first draft. Then I moved to Kenya and it stayed quiet for a long while, before I revisited it and did a huge edit - including a total rewrite of the ending. So, it really is a book that has grown with me over time. I actually finished the first draft of my second novel before I went back to the rewrite of Twin Truths.

Your main character Jenny is on an emotional journey - how important is location to your story?

A fascinating question.How much does location shape us and influence the river of life? As someone who was born in Africa, grew up in an aboriginal community in Australia and has lived for large chunks of time in Argentina, England, Kenya and Spain, this is a question I have lived with all my life…

When Jenny’s sister disappears, Jenny flees to Argentina in an attempt to discover what happened and rebuild her life and sense of self without her sister. Location – or dislocation – can be very defining in terms of understanding who we are, powerfully grounding or alienating or liberating. How much does changing where we live change who we are? Jenny’s interaction with Argentinian culture, self-expression in a foreign language, the reaction of others towards her, the shared sense of exploration of people in their twenties travelling and living abroad – these are all factors at play.

There is also a subtle link between the history of Argentina and Jenny’s own character. In my own experience of living there in the 80s and 90s, the consciousness of Argentina’s 30,000 ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship that ended with the Falklands war was a slippery animal under the surface of bubbly Buenos Aires, a darkness many tried to bury. Jenny becomes close to someone who lost her own sister because she was one of the disappeared, an important parallel in the story.

Then there are the falls at Iguazu, stunningly moving and the setting of a crucial scene in the story. Water plays an almost metaphysical role in Jenny’s life and the Devil’s Throat in Iguazu falls is a place where water is mesmerizing enough to tempt you to jump to your death.

But the book is also partly set in England and Greece. Different geographical and emotional contexts, different landscapes shaping the river of someone’s life…

In your research for Twin Truths did you discover anything which surprised you?

This is a hard question to answer without giving away the plot! I think above all it confirmed the amazing complexity of the human spirit and how little we really understand about how our minds work. What makes us who we are? Can we change who we are? What is this thing called ‘I’ that we carry with us on life’s journey?

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

Over the last few years I have lived on two different flower farms in Kenya and then on the volcanic cape of Cabo de Gata in the south of Spain, so my writing venues have varied quite a lot! Wherever I am, I like to write in front of a window. When writing really flows it is almost a form of meditation and I find that looking through a window helps get me into the quasi-conscious state that opens the gates to the subconscious and lets the writing flow.

As for finding the time, this is a challenge! I continue to juggle my writing around a full time job and I certainly don’t have a disciplined or consistent approach. I am a bit of an all or nothing person and when I write I like to lose myself and spend hours at a time. I have wonderfully happy memories of a writing highlight in Kenya: a writer friend and I rented a house on the beach at Watamu for a week, swam every morning with the sunrise, and filled our days with writing, fresh fish, conversation, sea, and white wine.Not possible every day of course but highly recommended!

Can you tell us if you have another novel planned?

My second novel is in its last stages and will be published by Cutting Edge Press, who also published Twin Truths. Set in England and Kenya during the post-election crisis of 2008, Yellow Room is a drama that explores the power of secrets to run our lives.

The third novel exists in my head but I have yet to really get stuck into this one. Working title: ‘A Paper Trail’. It’s another multi-layered psychological tale with dark undertones. In this one, an unpublished manuscript by the father she never knew falls in to the hands of Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet.

You can find Shelan here:

blogging at


My thanks to Shelan and Harriet Ash at Cutting Edge Press for their help with this interview.

There is one copy of Twin Truths up for grabs in this great UK only giveaway


My thoughts on Twin Truths

Truth is an uneasy concept which we all adapt to suit ourselves and in Twin Truths Shelan Rodger takes the concept of truthful identity and turns the question on its head in a story which keeps you guessing from beginning to end.

In many ways, this cleverly suspenseful tale divulges the story of the emotional connection between, Jenny and Pippa. When one of them disappears in mysterious circumstances, the remaining twin, Jenny, sets off on a journey of discovery, not just to determine what happened to Pippa, but ultimately to find out more about herself. Jenny is the quintessential unstable narrator, what she tells us we believe, because that’s how the truth is presented, but as the story progresses, what becomes obvious is that there are far more questions than answers, and that truth is all too often a misused commodity.

The concept of credible evidence is a skilfully manipulated until it becomes the driving force of the novel and with lyrical precision the shocking story of love, loss and culpability is revealed in a story that is as profound as it is beautiful. Without doubt, this is a very commendable debut novel, and well worth a read.

Highly Recommended.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Quarter Past Two On A Wednesday Afternoon by Linda Newbery

Random House
September 2014

This is a story about family secrets, and of the unending quest for answers to a series of questions for which there is only ever endless speculation. Through the gradual layering of time, we learn the story of what really happened at a quarter past two on a Wednesday afternoon, which left Don and Sandra Taverner without their daughter Rose, and which gave their remaining child, Anna, a burden of sibling guilt, which at times threatens to overwhelm her.

Anna is the main protagonist of the story and it seems that all her adult life she has struggled to understand why her lively and enthusiastic elder sister suddenly and without warning disappeared without trace. We get the impression that Anna, now in her thirties, is always on the outside looking in, and that her personal and private life suffers as a consequence. Don and Sandra now in late middle age, are also undergoing some personal turmoil, and Sandra’s sudden irascible and unusual behaviour seems strangely out of character.

The story switches impeccably between past and present; we get snippets of family life and flashbacks to Anna, Rose, and Sandra’s youth, which when added together make up the bulk of the story.  The gradual uncovering of a devastating family drama is done with skill and precision, and such fine attention to detail, that the story becomes quite compelling to read. There is hurt and anger, and all the emotion that exists when a person goes missing, and in the search for answers, it is inevitable that some responsibility lies more heavily with some than with others. And as the story delves deeper, Anna’s character quietly draws you in, and although it took me a while to ‘warm’ to her, I couldn't help but be sympathetic to her; neither could I fail to be moved emotionally by Sandra’s seemingly bewilderment as she struggles to maintain the status quo.

Overall, this is a well written and sympathetically portrayed family drama, which steers the reader though to its ultimate conclusion, with warmth and understanding.

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

Linda Newbery

Monday 18 August 2014

Review ~ Who Are You? by Elizabeth Forbes

Cutting Edge Press

Post Traumatic Stress disorder is at the heart of this disturbing novel which rips away the veneer which all too often shrouds this distressing condition in secrecy and silence. Alex has been an elite career soldier, who is now attempting albeit unsuccessfully, to make a new career as a security advisor. Meanwhile, his wife Juliet and small son Ben are learning to adjust to life with Alex back at home with them. On the surface, all should be well, but Alex’s increasingly volatile and often brutal behaviour is set to spiral out of control and neither Juliet nor Ben can escape his mood swings.

This is a tight and well constructed psychological suspense story which grabs you by the scruff of the neck and wallops you into hanging onto every word. It’s a dangerous and vicious look at just how two individuals, who are both irrevocably damaged, can wreak havoc, and as their despicable behaviour reverberates throughout their personal lives there is little to choose between them in the unlikeabilty stakes. I felt like I should have liked Juliet more than I did, and believe me, I truly sympathised with her plight, but she also knew just how to wind Alex up so that he snapped, and then, of course, there’s Alex with his smooth talking charm, whose total disregard for what is right and proper really cranked up the menace.  Overall, there is much to both like and dislike about both Juliet and Alex as neither of them appears to be truly honest, but what really strikes a chord is the plaintive voice of five year old Ben, whose vulnerability in the face of his parent’s worst excesses is heartbreaking.

 It’s a long time since I read a story in which I was viscerally and emotionally involved with the characters to such an extent that I really couldn't put the book down but Who Are You really does get underneath your skin, so much so, I breathed a sigh of relief when the book was done and I couldn't be upset any further.

Highly Recommended.

My thanks to Harriet Ash..... at Cutting Edge Press for my review copy of this book.


Author Spotlight and Giveaway ...Elizabeth Forbes

I am delighted to welcome to the blog

Elizabeth Forbes

Author of 

Cutting Edge Press
July 2014

Elizabeth ~ welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions about your latest book 

What can you tell us about Who Are You? which won’t give too much away?

Meet Alex and Juliet Miller and their five year-old son Ben. They’re a year into their new life post Alex’s retirement from the Army. For all of their married life Juliet has longed to be able to live in the way that she wants to live, like other – normal – families. She’s sick of being posted away every two years, or having to wait at home in Army quarters with all the other wives, terrified that Alex is going to be wounded or killed. Now at last she’s got what she wants: a house in a smart London suburb, her husband safely away from a war zone, and like-minded people around her to make friends with. But is Alex really OK? And are they really OK together? Or are they just pretending? And if they are pretending, just how much are they trying to hide – both from each other and from themselves?

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for the story?

I was intrigued by the idea of sock puppets, people who use fake identities on the web in order to pretend to be someone they’re not. And there’s so much sophisticated spy equipment available over mail order that it seems impossible to ever know not only who you can trust on line, but to know that even your own computer is safe. But that was just one aspect of the story. I was also struck by how much we expect from the men and women in our armed forces, what we are prepared to expose them to ‘in our name’ and what the long-term effects of such experiences will have on them. I was privileged to sit in on a lecture at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst which was all about the morality of killing. I remember listening to the padre explaining how he’d felt when he’d gone on his first tour; about seeing the horrifically wounded men; trying to comfort the dying, and witnessing the dead. He said something that I’ll never forget: ‘You will wish to get back to the person you used to be before… but you never can…’ These experiences change people forever, and not only is it hard for them, it’s also really tough on their loved ones.

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 Who Are You? to life?

What a lovely thing to say, thank you.

I think Who Are You? has quite a claustrophobic feel about it because most of the action takes place within the home over a relatively short period of time, and there are very few characters.  Hopefully this serves to intensify the focus on Alex and Juliet’s consciousness, letting the reader inhabit their minds more fully – uncomfortable as that might be. I am fascinated by the dangers which can lurk in a supposedly safe domestic environment, and marriage and close relationships which are going wrong are very claustrophobic places to be, aren't they? I think the other thing which comes out in the novel is maybe the sense of isolation and loneliness and the tension lurking just below the surface.

I read lots of accounts of soldiers in the front line, and books by people who have suffered from combat stress. I talked to psychotherapists and psychologists about the effects of trauma, and I read a lot of reports about the latest theories on why some people are more susceptible than others. I was particularly inspired by Jake Wood who wrote the amazing Among You: The Extraordinary True Story of a Soldier Broken by War. He is one of my major inspirations for the book – although as I keep stressing, Jake is nothing like Alex.

But Who Are You? is not just about Combat Stress, it’s also about PTSD generally, and how people attempt to employ their own coping mechanisms when things go haywire. People can try so hard to cover things up, to pretend that they’re all right when they’re really falling apart, and sometimes I think that you can pretend so much that you lose sight of the person you really are. The real person has got lost somewhere. I imagine if you are with a very secure and nurturing partner then you might stand a chance of rediscovering yourself, but imagine if you’ve chosen someone just as damaged as yourself? Someone who’s also trying to cope with their own demons and past; what then? Everything just gets more and more knotted up.

What Scares You About Writing Books?

What a great question! Everything scares me about writing books. I jokingly tell people it’s a really horrible job – you shut yourself away for months at a time, you never know whether or not all the work will see the light of day, and if it does you don’t know what kind of reception it will get. There’s the agony of getting the words right, the sentences… not to mention the characters and the plot. The worry of who you might offend… honestly if anyone was to ask me if they should take up writing I’d probably say ‘no’, get a proper job. But when it’s going well it’s bliss, and when it goes out into the world and people start giving you nice feedback then all the pain and angst – like childbirth – are forgotten. And besides, if I didn’t write I’d definitely go insane.

What Books do you Like to Read?

It depends on what mood I’m in and I generally have about four or five books on the go. I love psychological suspense, the darker the better. I thought Alex by Pierre Lemaitre was particularly good. Our local book club have just read The Rosie Project which I enjoyed because the voice was so original and very funny. I’m reading The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst at the moment. One of my favourite writers is J. M. Coetzee because his writing is sublime, and I also admire Ian McEwan. Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a favourite because it fits so beautifully into the mad woman in the attic domestic-gothic ‘conversation’ which stretches back through Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso SeaRebeccaThe Yellow Wallpaper and Jane Eyre – all of which are particular favourites.

What’s Next?

I’m about to start work on the number three. I have the overall theme, but the detail of it and the characters are all a bit blurry at the moment. I wish I could tell you more, but all I can say is it might focus on a struggle over sexual identity, and the psychological cost of conformity.

Thanks so much for inviting me on to your blog and for posing such interesting and challenging questions. 


Elizabeth ~ it's been a real pleasure to host this interview , Jaffa and I wish you continued success and look forward to reading book three.


Elizabeth's books are available from all good book shops 

Nearest Thing to Crazy  Who Are You?

My thanks to Harriet Ash at Cutting Edge Press for her help with this interview and for generously providing a giveaway copy of Who Are you?

Enter this fabulous giveaway to win a copy of Who Are You ? ( UK only )