Monday 31 October 2016

It's Hallowe'en......

Hallowe'en is one of our oldest traditions which is believed to have its roots in the Pagan festivals, and more particularly in the Gaelic ritual of Samhain. 

Traditionally observed around the world on the 31st of October, Hallowe'en heralds that special time between the worlds on the eve of the Christian feast day of All Souls.

At this time of year I always try to have a Hallowe'en themed story on the go and this year I am highlighting some really special spooky stories from the publishers, Alma.

After-Supper Ghost Stories by Jerome K Jerome

As they relax after dinner on Christmas Eve, the members of a family and their guests turn to telling ghost stories. These ghoulish accounts range from the melancholy to the macabre, and get increasingly bizarre as the ghosts leap out of the tales and make an appearance in the family’s home. Fact and fiction, the real and unreal collide, until the reader is not sure who is haunting whom.

A masterful work of comic horror, Jerome K. Jerome’s After-Supper Ghost Stories is a witty look at why Christmas Eve is so perfect for ghost stories and why ghosts love the Yuletide season.

Tales of Horror by Edgar Allan Poe


A murderer is forced to reveal his crime by the sound of a beating heart, a mysterious figure wreaks havoc among a party of noblemen during the time of the plague, a grieving lover awakens to find himself clutching a box of his beloved blood-stained teeth, a man is obsessed with the fear of being buried alive – these are only some of the memorable characters and stories included in this volume, which exemplify Poe’s inventiveness and natural talent as a storyteller.

Immensely popular both during and after his lifetime, and a powerful influence on generations of writers and film-makers to this day, Edgar Allan Poe is still counted among the greatest short-story writers of all time and seen as one of the initiators of the detective, horror and science-fiction genres.

The Horror Handbook by Paul Van Loon and Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

What happens to a vampire when he dies? How does somebody become a werewolf? How can you protect yourself from witches? All of these questions and more are answered in this book, which will finally give you all the information you ever wanted to know about ghosts, zombies, monsters and all kinds of creepy-crawly creatures that give us the heebie-jeebies.

Full of tips, anecdotes and trivia – and delightfully illustrated by Axel Scheffler – Paul van Loon’s Horror Handbook is a fun and fascinating reference book for all fans of scary stories and things that go bump in the night.

***Giveaway question *** 

Who or what is your favourite spooky story or spooky character?

Leave your answer in the comments below with a contact email or Twitter address and which book you would like to win.

** UK ONLY **

Jaffa will pick 3 spooky names out of his witches hat on Wednesday 2nd November!!

**Just to add if you have problems commenting than do get in touch with me jaffareadstoo(at) hotmail(dot) co (dot) uk  and I will add your details to the comment list**

Huge thanks to William at Alma Books for generously providing these amazing giveaways.

*** Good Luck ***


Sunday 30 October 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Little Known Fact

Did you know that there were roughly 25,000 miles of trenches dug on the Western Front? 

Soldiers would usually spend no more than two weeks at a time in them. The average life expectancy was around six weeks, with junior officers and stretcher bearers being most at risk. German trenches tended to be superior to British ones, many having shuttered windows and even doorbells.

Trenches were approximately 6 feet wide and 9 feet deep. They were invariably dirty and due to the exposure from the rain, were filled with, not just levels of dirty water oozing mud, but were also home to rats, lice and frogs. The exposure to bad weather meant that the soldiers were always wet and therefore at risk from frostbite, trench foot and dysentery. 

Soldiers of 'A' Company, 11th Battalion, the Cheshire Regiment, occupy a captured German trench.

Somme. July 1916

© IWM (Q 3990)

Trenches typically had an embankment with a barbed wire fence which offered some degree of protection along with sandbags and wooden boards which helped to stabilise the sides of the trench. The floor of the trench was covered in wooden boards which became known as duckboards. 

There were three methods of trench building:

Entrenching was digging straight into the ground but this meant that men were even more exposed to enemy sniper fire.

Sapping was extending a trench at one end but this was slow and laborious.

Tunneling involved digging a tunnel and then removing the roof. This was the safest option but took longer.

It took 450 men six hours to build around 250 metres of British trenches.

The men would eat, sleep and relax in the trenches but hot food was not supplied until late 1915. Up until then men had made do with a diet of tinned food , often served cold. Howver, some trenches did set up a primitive cooking system in order to make meals more palatable.

Men of the 2nd Australian Division in a front-line trench cooking a meal, Crois du Bac,

 near Armentieres

© IWM (Q 583)

Saturday 29 October 2016

Close to Home ....Marie Laval

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 am thrilled to feature Lancashire based author

Marie Laval

Hello Marie and a warm welcome back to Jaffareadstoo...

Hello Jo, and thank you very much for welcoming me on 'Close to Home'. I only hope that people won't think I am an impostor because although I have been living in England and had a long-term love affair with the North of England (and a Northern man!), I am actually French and only moved to Manchester after graduating from University.

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

My first contact with the North of England was a three-month training in Wigan back in 1984. I had finished a secretarial course and had the opportunity to work in the Arts and Libraries Section there. I loved every minute of it. I met great people, and had a wonderful wonderful that I couldn't wait to come back. It took me a little over five years to do so, and when I finally returned I lived in Bolton and worked at the University of Manchester. It was the early nineties, great bands were around such as the Charlatans and the Stone Roses, and we had great nights out in Manchester. 

You asked what got me started as an author. There was a strong connection between my writing and the North West. Although I had been writing short stories for some time, I lacked confidence, especially because I was writing in English and wasn't sure my writing was good enough. One day I saw a flyer for a short story competition in Manchester Central Library. The competition was organised by Manchester publisher Commonword, and I thought 'why not?' A few months later, I received the fantastic news that my short story would be included in Commonword's anthology NO LIMITS. One of my proudest moments was to be interviewed by the Manchester Evening News (I was eight months pregnant with my first son and absolutely enormous), and to attend the launch at the Cornerhouse in Manchester.

After attending a romance writing course organised by Calderdale Libraries, I started writing A SPELL IN PROVENCE, published by รccent Press, and never looked back.

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

I probably don't do as much promotion as I should, and most of it is online so my location doesn't really matter. I would love to attend more RNA meetings and parties, but they are usually mid-week and in London and there is no way I could ask time off work to go.

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

I have made wonderful friends on Facebook, and they provide a lot of support, reassurance and advice. I am lucky to be able to meet some of them several times a year in Hebden Bridge for a meal and a good chat, and I always come back home from our meetings invigorated and upbeat.

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

As you can see I love the North West. There are so many different landscapes - there is the beautiful Rossendale Valley where I live, the lush Ribble Valley and the moors near Bolton. A short drive away and you are on the coast - Southport and Lytham and great places to shop and visit. The only thing I could criticise is the weather, since the Rossendale Valley where I now live seems to be a lot wetter than anywhere else!

What makes the North West so special for me are the people. I'll never forget how welcome I always felt here. One of my first memories of Wigan when I was eighteen was how friendly everybody was. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that everybody I met called me 'love', 'pet' or 'flower'! 

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

I think I should do more and approach local reading groups, but I am quite shy and self-conscious about it. So far, I've only done one author talk. It was in my lovely village library, and only three people turned up - one of them by mistake, the other one coerced by the librarian, and the third one because he wanted a coffee and a chocolate biscuit! I would have loved to do another talk there some time in the future but it closed down at the end of September because of budget cuts, and it is a great shame.

Otherwise, two of my author friends - Helena Fairfax and Melinda Hammond (aka Sarah Mallory) - held a romance writing workshop at Todmorden library last year and it was a very positive experience. That's all so far...

And finally, if someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?

How could you ask me to choose between my 'babies', Jo?
No seriously, it depends if readers prefer contemporary or historical romance. If they like contemporary romance, they could try A SPELL IN PROVENCE. If they like historical romance, then they could read ANGEL HEART, which is the first of my novels featuring a member of the Saintclair family.

Thank you very much for welcoming me to your blog.

 24349803 26007369

You can find out more about Marie on her website

Find on Facebook

Follow on Twitter @MarieLaval1

Huge thanks to Marie for taking the time to share her thoughts about the North West and for answering my questions so thoughtfully

I hope that you have enjoyed reading today's Close to Home feature.

Coming next Saturday : Author, Margaret Moore writing as A.D Garrett and Forensic Advisor, Helen Pepper


Friday 28 October 2016

The author in my spotlight is ...Jane Jackson

I am delighted to welcome back to the blog , the author, Jane Jackson to talk about her latest historical fiction novel, The Master's Wife


Hi Jane and welcome back to Jaffareadstoo. Thank you for spending time with us today and for sharing your book with us.

Hi Jo, Thanks so much for inviting me onto your blog and allowing me the opportunity to tell readers about my latest historical romance.

‘The Master’s Wife’ is a ‘stand-alone’ book, but it is also a sequel to ‘The Consul’s Daughter’ (shortlisted for the RoNA historical prize 2016) 

That story ended with Caseley and Jago having been through hell to reach their richly-deserved happy-ever-after. Finding the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life is an emotionally satisfying ending to a romantic novel. But in real life it’s only the beginning of a new and different life as a couple. 

By 1881, seven years after the end of ‘The Consul’s Daughter’, Caseley has two young sons so can no longer accompany Jago on his voyages.

What is the worst that could happen to a loving mother and how will she deal with it? This is the story’s premise. But I needed a dramatic background that would echo the crisis Caseley and Jago are facing in their marriage.

I found it when I read Wilfred Blunt’s account of the 1882 uprising in Egypt – a war few in this country have ever heard of – which led to the British Navy’s bombardment of Alexandria. 

This beautiful, cosmopolitan city, founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great, grew to be the largest in the known world. Even as Rome reigned supreme, Alexandria remained prosperous and a magnet to visitors from all over the globe, drawn to the magnificent library of over 500,000 books.

Over the next six centuries it was ravaged by wars then rebuilt. By 646 CE Egypt was under Islamic rule and, according to Christian legend, Muslim conquerors burned the great library. By 1323 war and earthquakes had destroyed the city including the lighthouse of Pharos, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

In 1805 Egypt was a satellite state of the Ottoman Empire. Mohammed Ali was appointed viceroy, and the resurrection of Alexandria began. In the 1820s Egypt began growing cotton and by 1840 demand from Europe was making Alexandria rich. As wealth increased so did the importance of banking and commerce. 

A rail link was built between Alexandria and Cairo in 1856; the Malta to Alexandria Telegraph was opened in 1861; the cotton boom created by the American Civil War in the early 1860s; and the 1869 opening of the Suez Canal all increased prosperity. Important foreign diplomats established consulates and created a European-style atmosphere. The city remained the capital of Egypt until 1863 when Ismail Pasha came to power.

But by 1879 Ismail’s grandiose schemes had driven the country into bankruptcy. Deposed by the sultan in favour of his son Tewfiq at Britain’s insistence, Ismail left for Italy. Britain and France became joint managers of Egypt’s finances. 

Taxed into abject poverty by Ismail, and furious at Tewfiq’s close ties with British and French financiers, ordinary Egyptians had had enough and found a charismatic leader in Egyptian-born Colonel Ahmed Arabi. 

Claiming concern for the safety of the Suez Canal (which was never in danger) the British Government sent Admiral Beauchamp Seymour to Alexandria with fifteen Royal Navy ironclads to support khedive Tewfiq. A French flotilla joined Admiral Seymour. This strengthened nationalist feeling throughout Egypt. 

On 11th June, after anti-Christian riots in Alexandria, the city's European residents fled and the Egyptian army began strengthening the harbour forts. Admiral Seymour warned Colonel Arabi to stop the work or face his guns. The khedive (prompted by the British) invited him to the palace to discuss terms. But without the sultan’s consent Arabi had no power to negotiate. If he didn’t go to the palace, Alexandria would be fired on. If he did, he would be arrested, charged with treason, and Egypt’s fledgling struggle for self-determination would be over. 

At this point the French Admiral declined to take part and took his fleet to Port Said.
At 7.30 on the morning of 11th July, the British fleet began a 10½-hour bombardment that destroyed much of Alexandria.

This is the background to Caseley and Jago’s journey to fulfil the mission with which he has been entrusted. Why is Caseley there at all? Desperate to escape home and its tragic memories, believing this is the last chance for their marriage, she overrides Jago’s objections by reminding him she speaks French - the official language of Alexandria – he doesn’t. For this at least he needs her. I have laughed, agonised, loved and wept with my characters even though I’m the one who created the situations that sweep them from happiness to disaster. 

I cherish the illusion that I’m in control. The truth is that when I’m writing they aren’t ‘characters’, they are real people. I step into their world as an invisible observer. But I’m also inside their thoughts and emotions, living events with and through them. I believe I know who they are and how they will react. Then they say and do things I hadn’t anticipated, revealing unexpected aspects of their character. I might have planned the route, but suddenly they are controlling their own destiny. All I can do is hang on for the ride

‘The Master’s Wife’ Jane Jackson Accent Press ebook £2.99

Find the author on her website by clicking here 

Follow on Twitter @JJacksonAuthor

My thoughts about The Master's Wife...

I read and reviewed The Consul's Daughter and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Caseley and Jago and travelled every step of their exciting adventure with them.

In this second book in The Captain's Honour series , The Master's Wife, it is good to meet up again with these well loved characters and to see where life has taken them, and as expected their intertwined lives continue to be filled with challenges which have a devastating effect on both Caseley and Jago,

What I have enjoyed about this series, is the way that the author continually draws you into the story. And with warmth, and fine attention to detail, the characters become real in your imagination and as you become involved in their lives you can't help but become emotionally involved with them. As the story starts to evolve, it becomes noticeable that life is not always very kind to them, nor is life ever predictable, but with fortitude and their challenging love for one another, you start to hope that things may, eventually, turn out well for them.

I thought that this second book was slightly stronger than the first with this story being both sad and dramatic in equal measure. The details of the time spent in Egypt was well researched and what was of particular interest to me was reading about events in history of which I had no knowledge. I thought that the author has done a commendable job of allowing the story to evolve gradually whilst at the same time keeping all the different strands of the story together.

Whilst The Master's Wife sits very comfortably on its own merits as a stand alone story, and yet, as with any book series, I do think it's best to start at the beginning and work through the books in order. However, it is easy to pick up Caseley's and Jago's story and won't detract from the overall enjoyment if you haven't read book one.

Best Read with...salted fish and cool clear water...

My thanks to Jane for this fascinating guest post and also for sharing her novels with me.


Thursday 27 October 2016

Guest Author ~ Susan Grossey

It's always a real delight to welcome this talented writer back to the blog as I'm a huge fan of this well written historical crime series.

Today the author, Susan Grossey is sharing an extract from Portraits of Pretence which is the latest Sam Plank adventure published on the 21st October.

Hi and welcome back to Jaffareadstoo, Susan

Tell us a little about Portraits of Pretence...

An elderly French artist is found dead in his rooms in London clutching a miniature portrait of a little girl. Intrigued, Constable Sam Plank delves into the world of art dealing and finds himself navigating the fragile post-war relationship between England and France. What is the link between this and the recent attacks on customs officers in London Docks? And will a beautiful mademoiselle put paid to Martha Plank’s matchmaking? In this fourth novel in the series, set in the chilly spring of 1827, Plank and his junior constable William Wilson meet Frenchmen in London and daring blockademen in Kent to uncover smuggling and even more dangerous ambitions.

And here's a tantalising extract which I'll let Susan introduce..

The book is set in the spring of 1827 and this extract comes from the second chapter of “Portraits of Pretence”, after Sam has found a miniature portrait of a little girl clutched in the hand of a dead artist. Keen to learn what made the picture so precious to the dead man, Sam takes it to a curio dealer in Piccadilly.

"...The curiosity dealer certainly practised what he preached.  In the room where I waited, every surface was covered with ornaments, statuettes, gilt boxes and coins, while the walls displayed drawings and paintings of every size, from grand landscapes to tiny, intimate sketches.  There was even a pair of miniature portraits side by side near the mantelpiece and I was just walking over to examine them when the door opened and the maid said that Mr Causon would receive me in the drawing room.
In his sombre black jacket and snowy cravat, Henri Causon stood in sharp contrast to the profusion of colour and excess in his drawing room, which was even more filled with examples of his trade than the parlour I had just left.  He was a tall man with defined features, in particular a long, straight nose down which he looked at me now.  He came toward me and bowed before putting out his hand.
“After many years in your fine city, Constable Plank, I have learned how the Englishman does love to shake hands.  With this firm grip, you can tell that I am a man to be trusted, no?”
“I can tell that you are a man not armed with a sword,” I replied.
“Which is also useful to know,” he said with a smile.  “Come: you will join me in a little cognac before we turn to business.”  It was a statement rather than a question, and I took a seat on the small sofa that he indicated.  He poured two measures from a decanter and handed one to me.
“To your health, and to my santรฉ,” he said and raised his glass.  I did likewise.  It was an uncommonly fine wine and I looked at him in appreciation.  “All duty paid,” he said with a wink.  “One of the many benefits of the renewed friendship between our two countries.”
“You say that you have lived in London for many years,” I prompted.
“Many,” he replied.  “My late wife and I came here at the end of the last century, as did plenty of our countrymen.”  I nodded: London had provided sanctuary to many who had fallen foul of the new regime in France.  “We were young then, of course – all of us.”  He smiled at me.  “My wife died nearly twenty years ago now, and my son returned to France.  He was a babe in arms when we came to London, but he always said he felt more French.  And he died for her, for France.  Leipzig.”  I said nothing: what is there to say to a man who has lost a son?  He was silent for a moment or two and then seemed to remember me.  “I, on the other hand, well, there is little for me now in France, and so I stay.  My daughter and I, we stay.”
His mention of a daughter brought Elizabeth to mind and I put my hand to my pocket.  Causon saw the movement and put down his glass.
“Ah, you have something to show me,” he said.  He leaned towards me and I handed him the miniature.  He carefully unwrapped the cloth and held the portrait in the flat of one hand while reaching into his pocket with the other, bringing out a small oval mother-of-pearl case.  He passed it to me.
“Would you open that for me, please?” he said.
I pushed the side of the case and a magnifying lens swung out.  “A neat device,” I said, handing it back to him, but his attention was elsewhere.  He bent forward and looked closely at the miniature, moving the magnifier across it as he examined the picture itself, the frame and even the reverse.  I waited.
“Exquisite,” he said finally, still looking through the magnifier.  “The finest quality.  Where did you obtain it?”  I said nothing, and he looked up at me, blinking.  “I see, I see.  Still, no matter.  You have come to me for a professional appraisal and this I can offer.”
I took my notebook out of my pocket.  “Do you mind?” I asked.  “The memory is not always reliable.”
“It fades, does it not, constable?  The memory, the eyesight,” he waved the magnifier at me.  “It all fades.  By all means, take your notes.”  His voice became business-like in tone.  “Miniature three-quarter portrait of female child in formal wear and setting.  Watercolour on ivory.  Unknown sitter and unknown artist – which does not mean that we shall never know, constable, but simply that the work is unsigned.  Estimated date – I shall say 1800, from the look of the frame, and the way the little girl’s hair is curled.  I cannot be sure, but I would guess that it was painted ad vivum – from life, that is – or at the very least by someone who knew the child well.  The – how to put this? – the emotion of the piece would not be present in a mere copy.”
I looked up from my notebook and nodded.  “I felt that too – and my wife.  She has taken to calling her Elizabeth.”  I flushed slightly.
“Hah!”  My host smiled.  “Your wife is a woman of feeling.  Elizabeth: it suits her, I think, and will work as well in French as in English.”  He took another close look at the miniature.  “Yes, she is definitely French, our little Elizabeth.”

©Susan Grossey

You can find more about Susan and her writing by visiting her website ~ click here

Follow on Twitter @ConstablePlank or @susangrossey

Find on Amazon UK

Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

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Huge thanks to Susan for sharing this enticing extract from Portraits of Pretence and for sharing Sam's world so eloquently.


Wednesday 26 October 2016

Reviews ~ The King's Greatest Enemy Series by Anna Belfrage

 Book One


A bit of blurb..

Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Lord Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Lord Roger thinks she is. So when Lord Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

My thoughts about the book..

1321 was a momentous year, not just for the king, Edward II, but also for those families who were caught up in the deadly baronial revolt and political ramifications of the Despenser War. The barons, led by Roger Mortimer and Thomas of Lancaster realised that the country, led by a weak and indecisive king,  was on the brink of disaster, and that Hugh Despenser, the king's current favourite, wielded more power than was politically advisable. However insurgence, comes at a price and for Mortimer's man, Adam de Guirande, being involved in such a volatile rebellion places both himself and his family at great risk.

The story opens with an abduction and an arranged marriage between two people who would rather not enter into the bonds of matrimony. Not only is it a deception on a great scale, as the bride, Kit de Courcy, is not who she claims to be, but also the bridegroom has heard disturbing things about his intended bride’s reputation. All does not bode well for Adam de Guirande and his new wife, and when the country is swept into turmoil, Adam has no choice but to follow where his master, Roger Mortimer dictates. What Adam hadn’t bargained for was his burgeoning romantic feelings towards, Kit, his beautiful, and passionate, new wife.

What then follows is a well written story which combines authentic historical fact with a rollicking good adventure. The complicated and irrational history of the time is  well explained and the author does a good job of explaining the complicated political ramifications whilst at the same time allowing the romantic element, between Guy and Kit, to develop. The story is rather dark in places, which is entirely in keeping with the nature of the story, and the author does a credible job of bringing to life those characters who are less likeable, especially her depiction of Hugh Despenser who demonstrates, by his actions, just why he is known as the 14th century’s ‘worst Briton’

If you like well written medieval adventure which is both action packed and authentic, and which has more than a hint of passionate romance, then I highly recommend In the Shadow of the Storm as a wonderful way to start a new historical series.

Book Two


A bit of blurb..

Adam de Guirande has barely survived the aftermath of Roger Mortimer’s rebellion in 1321. When Mortimer manages to escape the Tower and flee to France, anyone who has ever served Mortimer becomes a potential traitor – at least in the eyes of King Edward II and his royal chancellor, Hugh Despenser. Adam must conduct a careful balancing act to keep himself and his family alive.

My thoughts about the book..

Those who have read book #1 in The King's Greatest Enemy series will be aware of what happened in that first book and of how the story ended, so I'm not going to repeat what has already has gone before except to say that if you haven't read book one , then stop here and make amends.

What I enjoyed about this second book was the way that the continuation of the story followed seamlessly so that there was no confusion of where you are in the events of the time. We meet up again, very quickly, with Adam and Kit and follow their developing involvement with Queen Isabella and the young Prince Edward. England remains in turmoil and following the rebellion, Roger Mortimer is now exiled in France, but if you know your medieval history you will be aware that Mortimer is not a man to stay away from danger and in continuing to plot and scheme, he once again involves Adam and Kit in this most deadly game of thrones.

In this second book, Adam and Kit are maybe, due to past events, a little wiser but they are no less passionately in love with each other and although their future is as ever uncertain, they conduct themselves with great fortitude. I think if anything this book is stronger than the first. Some of the characters are no less repugnant particularly Despenser, whose own particular brand of political skulduggery continues with vile precision, and his despicable involvement at Edward’s court forces the country into a very bleak place.

Revenge, retribution, political dishonesty and vengeance are all themes which run throughout the novel but there is also a very fine mix of loyalty, allegiance and love, which ultimately, for me, gave the book its heart and soul.

Book three is the series Under the Approaching Dark is due to be published in 2017. I can't wait !!

Best Read with ...platters of smoked herring and flagons of rich red wine...

About the Author

You can read an interview with the author by clicking here 

Find the author on her website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter@Anna_Belfrage

Find the books on Amazon 

My thanks to the author for sharing her books with me.


Tuesday 25 October 2016

An interview with Paul Van Loon and Axel Scheffler....

To celebrate the release of The Horror Handbook, Alma Books caught up with the author, Paul van Loon, and the illustrator, Axel Scheffler.

A bit about Paul van Loon and Axel Scheffler

A highly successful children’s author from the Netherlands, Paul van Loon is best known in the English-speaking world for his Alfie the Werewolf series (published by Hodder in the UK). Originally an illustrator, Paul became a writer by accident when he could find no one to put into words a story he had thought of. He is never seen without his dark sunglasses, which has led to rumours that he is a vampire.

Axel Scheffler was born in Hamburg, Germany. He studied History of Art, before moving to the United Kingdom to study illustration at Bath Academy of Art in 1982. Since then he has worked as a freelance illustrator in London. He is best known for the children’s books he has illustrated through his partnership with author Julia Donaldson. Together they created The Gruffalo, which has sold over five million copies, in almost 50 countries throughout the world. He lives in London.

Paul van Loon

Q. How old were you when you first started writing?

I was 22 when I wrote my first story. I had made a drawing and I thought it needed a story. I didn’t have any writer friends at that time, so I wrote the story myself. And so I discovered that I really liked writing.

Q. What was the inspiration behind The Horror Handbook?

I had written several books about vampires, werewolves and other grisly characters and I thought that my readers would like to learn more about all this horror stuff...

Q. Out of every book for children you’ve ever written, which was your favourite and why?

Ooh, that’s a tough one! I've written eight books about a ‘horror bus’ (De Griezelbus). Together they sold over a million books and made me famous in Holland and I love them. The same goes for the books about Alfie the werewolf. I've written 17 books about Alfie. I've lived with him for 20 years now and he just won’t get out of my head. He just sits there and waits for a new story, so I guess he's my favourite character.

Q. If you were to recommend one of your children’s books for a child to read, which would it be?

Again, it‘s Alfie, I think. He’s a loveable little werewolf.

Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?

It was a book about a little gnome who lived in the woods and his name was Paulus (Paulus de Boskabouter). He had my name and I loved the stories about Paulus and his friends and foes, particularly the witch Eucalypta.

Q. What is your favourite book now?

I love ‘Where the wild things’ are from Maurice Sendak. I read this book when I was 18 years and it showed me the beauty of children’s books again.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young writer, what would it be?

Read, read, read. Write, rewrite, rewrite!

Q. Do you have a special place where you write?

I have my own room full of books, guitars, film props from films that are made of my books, puppets and secret cupboards. It’s a bit like a museum. Somewhere in there is also my computer and an old desk. There I write my books, mostly at night, when the moon is full.

Q. If you could organise a dinner party to be attended by characters from books, which three guests would be at the top of your list?

Of course my little friend Alfie the werewolf and I would like to see Winnie the Pooh. And Dracula... I think that would be an interesting and a little dangerous combination.

Axel Scheffler

Q. How old were you when you first started illustrating?

I can't remember when I first drew something – as a small child. It depends what you mean by “illustrating”. But if you mean illustrating a text, it was a bit later than that… I’ve drawn since I was a child, and I’ve been illustrating professionally since 1986.

Q. What drew you to The Horror Handbook?

The Horror Handbook was published in Germany first – about twenty years ago. I thought the text had a nice humorous touch and I enjoyed illustrating it very much.

Q. Out of every book you’ve ever illustrated, which was your favourite and why?

I don’t have one favourite book. I like some more than others – usually the more quirky ones like Highway Rat, Stick Man or The Smartest Giant in Town.

Q. You’ve illustrated books in many languages – do you have a favourite language to work with?

I’ve only illustrated books in three languages – German, French and English; although, of course, some are translated into many languages afterwards. I don’t really read French very well, so that’s a bit more difficult. To illustrate a text it doesn't matter to me which language the text is in – as long as I have some understanding – however, I think English is a great language for picture book texts.

Q. What was your favourite book growing up as a child?

I think my favourite was about a little bear called "Petzi" – it was originally a Danish comic strip (but without speech bubbles). The cover is on my new website – Petzi is a bear with red dungarees with white dots and has many adventures with his friends which include a penguin and a pelican. This would’ve been my favourite when I was five or six.

Q. What is your favourite book now?

I don’t have one favourite book but many. Nowadays I tend to read less fiction, more non-fiction, in German as well as in English.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to a young artist, what would it be?

If you mean an illustrator – I feel it's a little self evident but: draw lots, go to museums, be curious, look at lots of (good) illustrations.

Q. Do you have a special place where you draw?

I work from home, in a studio at the top of the house: there is chaos, and I wish there was order. Every now and then I tidy my desk, but three days later it looks the same again. It used to be even smaller – I bought a bigger one, but the mess just grows with the table surface. I have given up hope that it'll ever be tidy.

Q. Your most well-known project to date is The Gruffalo – were you inspired by anyone in particular when creating it?

I wasn’t inspired by anything – it’s not based on somebody I know! The Gruffalo is just a furry monster… he’s sort of how I imagine monsters, living in deep, dark woods, with a name like that.

Q. If you could organise a dinner party to be attended by characters from books, which three guests would be at the top of your list?

I’ve got no idea! I think I’d probably invite the three little pigs, so they can shelter from the Big Bad Wolf.

Alma Books are really excited to be publishing The Horror Handbook

Alma Books

and are running this fabulous monster story competition 

There's a fabulous chance to for children to write their own monster story, and for the five winners to have their story printed in a special book, signed by Axel Scheffler. If  you are interested, you can find more information on that by clicking here 

A bit about the book...

What happens to a vampire when he dies? How does somebody become a werewolf? How can you protect yourself from witches? All of these questions and more are answered in this book, which will finally give you all the information you ever wanted to know about ghosts, zombies, monsters and all kinds of creepy-crawly creatures that give us the heebie-jeebies.

Full of tips, anecdotes and trivia – and delightfully illustrated by Axel Scheffler – Paul van Loon’s The Horror Handbook is a fun and fascinating reference book for all fans of scary stories and things that go bump in the night.

Available from Alma Books and all good book stores

Huge thanks to William at Alma Books for the opportunity to feature this delightful book and to share not just the interview with this fascinating  author and illustrator, but also for the chance to feature some of the amazing drawings from The Horror Handbook.


Monday 24 October 2016

The Author in my spotlight is...Penelope Jacobs

I am delighted to welcome the author 

Penelope is talking to me about her debut novel

Silverwood Books

Hi Penelope and a huge welcome to Jaffareadstoo..

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

When I started working in the City 20 years ago, my experiences as a woman in that environment were extraordinary. Extraordinary in the sense that women were given unprecedented opportunities to succeed, but we had to be tough. It was a very male-dominated industry and no place for wilting flowers. My book was inspired by the many amusing stories that my friends and I experienced from those days.

When I stopped working a few years ago, I decided to start writing. It was so much fun that I enrolled in a writing course and never looked back.

What comes first in a story– the idea or theme, the plot, place or characters?

The big picture theme comes first and the characters and place mould into that theme. Often they become so intertwined that the theme then moulds with the characters. Always, the plot changes subtly every time I sit down at my desk and I allow the characters to carry on the journey.

Will you explain to us a little more about the plot without giving too much away?

The plot is about a young woman making her way in the City. Against the odds, she becomes very successful, but her personal life grows increasingly erratic. She experiences the humiliation of a disastrous office affair and, compounded by the corrupting influence of money, her morale compass slips away. The book is about the conflicting powers of success and self-sabotage.

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

I always plan my story, but I never stick to the original plot. It’s part of the fun of writing.

What do you consider to be your strongest points as a writer?

I’ve enjoyed writing dialogue. Dialogue livens up the story but can also help the plot move forward. It is also a great way to develop different personalities.

How would you describe your book in 5 words?

Ambition, money, friendship, sex & self-harm.

And finally, if your life was a book, what would be the title ?

I have always been a foreigner, in every country I have lived. So I think a good title for my life is “Searching for roots.

A bit about the book


When Melanie Collins joins an investment bank as a young graduate, she quickly discovers that femininity is an invaluable asset. But it must not be abused. She witnesses other women falling victim to office affairs and is determined to be taken seriously. In an industry where abilities are rewarded handsomely, she rises rapidly through the ranks. But her increased profile attracts the attention of a senior colleague and she is ill equipped to handle his advances. Balancing a demanding job with a confusing personal life proves difficult and soon their relationship threatens to jeopardise her career. As events move beyond control, her glamorous world becomes tainted by betrayal and bitterness. Set against London's financial markets, 'Playing FTSE' explores the dynamic of ambition, friendship and love in the City. A woman can reach the top, but at what price?

You can find out more about the author on her website by clicking here

My thanks to Rebecca at FMcm for the opportunity to interview the author and also to Penelope for her insightful answers to my questions.