Wednesday 30 November 2016

The author on my spotlight is ...Marie Macpherson

I am delighted to welcome to the blog on St Andrew's Day

Scottish Author 

Marie Macpherson

Marie is celebrating the publication of the second book in her trilogy of historical novels about the Scottish reformer , John Knox

The Second Blast of the Trumpet

Hi Marie, welcome back to Jaffareadstoo and thank you for answering my questions about your novel.

The Second Blast of the Trumpet

The fiery Scottish Reformer, John Knox is the main protagonist of the Knox trilogy; tell us a little about him.

Knox was tantalisingly tight-lipped about his early life but it’s now accepted he was born in Haddington around 1513 and studied at St Andrews University before being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. He abandoned the church after falling under the spell of the charismatic Protestant preacher, George Wishart, who was burnt at the stake in 1546. Galvanised by his mentor’s martyrdom, Knox answered the call to become preacher at St Andrews Castle where he was arrested as a heretic and sentenced to toil as a galley slave. Freed after 19 gruelling months in the French galleys, he was welcomed by the English church and appointed chaplain to Edward VI. On the young king’s untimely death, the Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne, forcing Knox to flee to the continent to consult Calvin in Geneva. Months before her death, Knox wrote his notorious tract The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women denouncing Bloody Mary’s reign of persecution. Though Protestant, Elizabeth I was not amused and refused to have him back in England. In 1559 he returned to Scotland to head the Protestant rebellion but no sooner had Protestantism been established as the official religion in Scotland than the widowed Mary Stewart returned to claim her Scottish crown. The Protestant firebrand preacher clashed with the devout Catholic queen not only over religion but her choice of unsuitable husbands. The persecuted preacher who feared he would end his life atop a burning pyre, died in his bed in 1572. 

Illustration: Portrait of John Knox from Theodore Beza’s Icones

John Knox famously ranted against the Monstrous Regiment of Women why was he so vehemently opposed to women as monarchs?

Knox used ‘monstrous’ and ‘regiment’ in the archaic sense to mean ‘unnatural’ and ‘rule’, and quoted Scripture to support his argument that female dominion over men was against divine and natural law. While echoing the era’s widespread assumption that women were inferior to men, he trumpeted it much more vehemently than most to the point of advocating regicide to bring down the ‘abominable empire of wicked women’ – Mary Tudor in England and Mary of Guise, regent in Scotland. Even John Calvin was appalled and washed his hands off any association with the fiery Scot’s extremism.

Illustration: Title page of The First Blast of the Trumpet, 1766 edition

In this novel, John Knox travels across Europe, in researching the book, did you visit any of the places he visited?

Despite his health being ravaged in the galleys, Knox must have had incredible stamina to endure arduous, dangerous journeys of over 600 miles as he criss-crossed the continent from Dieppe to Geneva, as well as numerous voyages back and forth to Scotland. Although I’ve been to Frankfurt, the opportunity to visit Geneva hasn’t arisen – yet. Fortunately, nowadays writers can travel ‘virtually’ in time and space using 16th century maps, diaries and documents to get a flavour of what cities were like then.

Illustration: Map of Geneva 

Seeking to make John Knox into a more sympathetic figure must have taken a great deal of time and commitment – what have you learned about him that has taken you by surprise?

Embarking on The Second Blast filled me with trepidation. How could I write about a man who, though admired by some, was loathed by many? How could I, a woman, write sympathetically about the notorious misogynist? 

However, to my great surprise, I discovered that not only did Knox love women but they loved him back. He married twice – to much younger brides – fathered five children, caused tongues to wag about his intense relationship with his mother-in-law, and corresponded with his flock of female followers. He must have had some charisma.

His letters reveal his tender ‘feminine side’ and also betray fears and doubts about his mission as ‘God’s messenger’. After a courtship strewn with obstacles, his marriage to Marjory – the perfect wife in Calvin’s view – seems to have been happy. More interesting was his relationship with the poet and translator, Anna Locke, the only woman he truly loved – according to Robert Louis Stevenson. 

John Knox ladies’ man? Knox the star-crossed lover? This portrait of patient pastor and affectionate husband, devoted father and faithful friend is in striking contrast to the strident bigot thundering fire and brimstone from the pulpit. All this spurred me on to uncover more about the man behind the myth.

I enjoyed reading the quotations which head each chapter – where did you find them and do you have a favourite?

The literature of the 16th century, including the Scottish makars and the English poets of the Silver Age, has always fascinated me. Besides, their work presents authentic source material for the historical fiction author as many of them were courtiers who paint a vivid picture of the courtly love and treachery at the brilliant but violent Stewart and Tudor courts. Seeking appropriate quotations gave me the opportunity to read them again. So, it’s difficult to say which is my favourite – I like them all!

I’ll choose the one in Part III: Chapter 1 that comes from Robert Henryson’s Abbey Walk, because it touches on one of the major themes in the novel – whether predestination or chance determines our lives. 

This changing and great variance

Of eardly states up and down

Is nocht but casualtie and chance

As some men say is without reason

The Second Blast of the Trumpet is the second novel in the Knox Trilogy – did you feel more of an obligation to make this book even better than the first?

I must admit that I did feel the sword of Damocles hanging over me while writing the Second Blast! The ‘what if?’ question plagued me! What if it doesn’t live up to expectations? What if readers who loved my first novel don’t like this one? What if… what if... 

Readers expect second novels to be better than the first. After all, you must have learned something in the process of writing, editing and publicising your debut. Some writers have such traumatic second book nerves that they take years to produce it – others not at all!

And then, just as the second novel is published I’m starting to worry about writing the third. Be careful what you wish for!.

What can we expect to discover in The Third Blast of the Trumpet?

The Last Blast as I think I’ll call it, covers Knox’s arrival in Scotland in 1559 to his death in 1572. Those thirteen years are packed full of drama and conflict. On one side, Knox has to contend with the Scots nobles who are using religion as a pretext for seizing wealth and power; on the other he faces Mary Queen of Scots whose Catholicism poses a threat the the incipient Protestant state. I’m looking forward to depicting the confrontations between these two charismatic characters. 

I’d also like to explore Knox’s role in the politics of the time, including the murders of Rizzio and Darnley, and his relationship with the key players such as Secretary Lethington and his kinsman James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell. His second marriage to Margaret Stewart, a distant kinswoman of Queen Mary which infuriated her, offers exciting possibilities. And, of course, I must resolve his troubled relationship with his godmother, Prioress Elisabeth Hepburn.

Illustration: John Knox admonishing Mary, Queen of Scots

Marie Macpherson developed a love for literature and languages from an early age. She studied French and German at school, followed by Spanish and Italian at university. After gaining an honors degree in Russian and English, she spent a year in Moscow and Leningrad (St. Petersburg).

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Follow on Twitter @MGMacpherson

Find The First Blast of the Trumpet on Amazon UK

Find The Second Blast of the Trumpet on Amazon UK

Huge thanks to Marie for sharing this fascinating insight into Scottish history. 

Jaffa and I wish you continued success with The Second Blast of the Trumpet and thank you 

for spending time with us today and for sharing your books with us.


Tuesday 29 November 2016

Review ~ Learning to Fly by Jane Lambert

Some things happen for a reason...

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

A bit of book blurb..

Forty-year-old air stewardess Emily Forsyth has everything a woman could wish for: a glamorous, jet-set lifestyle, a designer wardrobe and a dishy pilot of a husband-in-waiting to match. But when he leaves her to ‘find himself’ (forgetting to mention the bit about ‘…a younger girlfriend’), Emily’s perfect world comes crashing down. Catapulted into a mid-life crisis, she is forced to take stock and make some major changes. She ditches her job and enrols on a drama course in pursuit of her childhood dream, positive that, in no time at all, she’ll be sexily sporting a stethoscope on 'Holby City', and her ex will rue the day he dumped her. Wrong! Her chosen path proves to be an obstacle course littered with rejection and financial insecurity. If she is to survive, she must learn to be happy with less, and develop a selective memory to cope with more than her fair share of humiliating auditions. She tells herself her big break is just around the corner. But is it too late to be chasing dreams?

My thoughts..

Some things happen for a reason and that's the theme which runs through this delightful story of one woman's survival against all the odds. Emily Forsyth gives up her successful career and a philandering husband-to-be in what must be one of the bravest moves ever. Now in her early forties Emily knows that if she wants to make it as an actress it's literally got to be now, or never.

What then follows is the charming, and, it must be said, often angst ridden, story of how Emily tries her darnedest to get her acting career to take off but along the way she encounters rejection, insecurity and constant self-doubt. It's all very well thinking that success is just a stage role away, but for Emily, the reality is far more complicated.

What I enjoyed about this story was the way the author obviously shared her own experiences of the acting world and speaks with authority on what it's like to be up against another actor for an acting job which may or may not hurtle you into the big time. The fickleness of the acting world is brought to life in a way that only someone who has experienced it can relate with any degree of authenticity. I found myself laughing out loud in places, especially the Pattie Pineapple debacle, which stretches even Emily's enthusiasm to its limit.

Overall, Learning to Fly kept my attention from beginning to end. It's the story of ambition, and determination, of good times and bad, of learning to take chances when the odds are stacked against you, and most importantly, it’s the story of good friendship and having people around you who will always stand your corner.

 Written with gentle humour and great insight into the acting world, the author brings the story alive with great story telling technique. I felt like I connected with Emily and wanted everything to work out for her, whether it does, or not, is for you to find out for yourselves.

This is one debut novel which will, definitely, sit on my bookshelves just waiting for the sequel to arrive, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Best read with …A large caramel cream Frappuccino and a generous portion of Nonna Maria’s Arancini di Riso..

About the Author

Jane taught English in Vienna then travelled the world as cabin crew, before making the life-changing decision to become an actor in her mid-thirties. She has appeared in "Calendar Girls", "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time" and "Deathtrap" in London's West End. "Learning to Fly" is her debut novel.

Find  Jane on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter @janelambert22
Read a guest post by Jane by clicking here

Huge thanks to Jane for sharing her novel with us. Jaffa and I wish you continued success with both your writing ...and acting career.

Come back and see us again soon.


Monday 28 November 2016

The author in my spotlight is ....Harriet Steel

I am delighted to welcome back to the blog

Harriet Steel

Hi Harriet, thanks you for coming back to see us again. It's always a pleasure to welcome you to Jaffareadstoo.

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

Reading has been a passion for most of my life and the crammed bookshelves in the little study where I write are a testament to that. The invention of the e-book came just in time, even though I still find there’s something special about reading a ‘real’ book.

Perhaps, with my love of reading, it was inevitable that I would eventually decide to try my hand at writing too. I began, as many people do, with short stories. They’re fun to write as, being short, one can easily try out a variety of genres and if an idea doesn’t work, you haven’t lost too much time. I sent my better efforts up to magazines and was encouraged when they were accepted. I always remember the buzz of getting my first cheque! I also entered competitions. One of those was a national competition organised by the BBC who used it as the springboard for a six-part series called End of Story. The idea was that six well-known authors would write the first half of a short story, then contestants would have a thousand words to add the ending.

I chose a story by Joanne Harris and, to my delight, ended up in the final three of my section. This meant that I took part in one of the episodes, which was a fascinating experience. Our presenter (Claudia Winkleman in her pre-Strictly incarnation) and the charming production team whisked the three of us off to the Dartington Literary Festival where we read our stories and took part in a Q & A session with the audience. After that, it was off to the Dales to meet Joanne at her lovely Victorian house where she talked to us about our writing and delivered the final verdict. I came second, but the experience was in no way dimmed by that.

It was during a session in the Japanese Garden, something that Joanne and her husband didn’t even realise was there when they took over the house and its overgrown grounds, that Joanne gave us the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard for aspiring authors: ‘Drop the word “aspiring” and just write.’

That’s what I’ve been doing ever since, and I’ve published five novels so far. My first was Becoming Lola, a biographical novel about the notorious Victorian adventuress, Lola Montez, who was in her day second only to Queen Victoria in fame. An Elizabethan adventure and two historical novels set in nineteenth century Paris followed, and now my first venture into the crime genre, Trouble in Nuala

What can you tell us about Trouble in Nuala without revealing too much?

CreatSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Trouble in Nuala is the first in a planned series entitled The Inspector de Silva Mysteries. The setting is Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1930s, a time when the island was still a British colony. My main character, Inspector Shanti de Silva, has had a successful career in the police force of the bustling capital city, Colombo, but in middle age, he’d like something more restful. For the first time in his life, he also has a happy and settled personal life with his new English wife, Jane; the offer of promotion to a post in the hill town of Nuala seems the perfect solution. Unfortunately for de Silva, Nuala isn’t quite as sleepy as he’d hoped and an arrogant tea planter with a lonely wife, a crusading lawyer and a suspicious death present him with a riddle he will need all his experience to solve. 

How did your recent visit to Sri Lanka shape your novel?

It was crucial. Without the visit, it would never have occurred to me to choose the island as my setting. To me, Sri Lanka encapsulates the best of all worlds. It has the beauty and exotic culture of India but none of the terrible poverty and overcrowding one sees in the island’s larger neighbour. The charm and friendliness of the people are very beguiling too. It was wonderful to see how, in only a few years, they have managed to put the tragedy of civil war behind them and take their country forward. I was so impressed by the reverence for education which is seen as something to prize. When we saw children walking to and from school, or in the playgrounds, I was struck by how immaculate their uniforms were (all white in the case of the girls) even though there’s a lot of dust around. People are patriotic. On several occasions, our guide explained we must wait quietly while the national anthem was played over loudspeakers. This pride in the country and love of learning were some of the characteristics I wanted to give to Shanti de Silva. 

The experience was also a rich one in terms of scenery and wildlife. Sri Lanka is a feast for the senses with its abundance of exotic birds, animals and flowers. I came home filled with enthusiasm for getting the flavour of it all down on paper. 

Why did you chose to set Trouble in Nuala in the 1930s and not in the present day?

The 1930s appealed to me because it was a time when Ceylon was still a British colony. That gave me the chance to explore conflicts and contrasts between the British colonials and the people of Ceylon. I felt these would add another layer to the story that would help it to stand out from the general run of murder mysteries 

In your research for Trouble in Nuala, which of the places you visited made a lasting impression and why?

It has to be the hill country where the tea plantations are situated. Of all the areas we visited, it was the most beautiful, very green and lush with marvellously clear air and balmy temperatures. (At least to those of us used to an English winter. In February, when we were there, many of the locals had their coats on!) The main town, Nuwara Eliya, is the model for Nuala. Rather like Simla in India, it has a very English feel to it. 

And finally, how would you describe Trouble in Nuala in 5 words?

Colourful, exotic, humorous, entertaining and relaxing.

Thank you so much Jaffa and Jo for a lovely interview. I’ve really enjoyed being with you. 

Best wishes, Harriet

If readers would like to know more about my books, they can find information on my Amazon page 

Trouble in Nuala is available on Kindle or in paperback 

Visit Harriet on Facebook 

Harriet blogs about history, art and writing in general at

My thanks to Harriet for being a lovely guest today and for sharing her thoughts about her novel, Trouble in Nuala.


Sunday 27 November 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Inspirational Women of the First World War

Edith Cavell


Edith Cavell was a British nurse working in occupied Belgium during the First World War. She was responsible for helping war casualties regardless of their nationality and helped hundreds more allied soldiers escape the Germans. She was arrested, tried and executed by the Germans in 1915.

Edith Cavell was born in Swardeston, Norfolk, the daughter of a rector, she had a brother and two sisters. Edith first worked as a governess in Belgium before training as a nurse in London. After working in London hospitals, Edith accepted a post as Matron of a training hospital in Brussels where she was largely responsible for recruiting and training nurses. She is considered to be the founder of modern nursing in Belgium.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, Edith was visiting her mother in Norfolk but returned to immediately to Brussels where her nursing school became a Red Cross Hospital, treating civilians and casualties from both sides of the war.

Following the Battle of Mons in August, 1914, Edith arranged for soldiers to be smuggled out of occupied Belgium and into neighbouring Netherlands, which remained neutral. She was arrested in August 1915 and imprisoned in St Gilles Prison in Brussels,

Edith was tried at court martial on 7 October 1915, along with 34 other people involved in or connected to the network. She was found guilty and sentenced to death. Edith Cavell was shot by a firing squad at the Tir National the Brussels firing range, on 12 October 1915.

Although her execution was legal under international law, it caused outrage in Britain and in many neutral countries, such as the United States. She became a symbol of the Allied cause, and her memory was invoked in posters and messages in Britain and around the world.

After the war, Edith's body was exhumed and escorted to Britain. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey, and she was reburied in Norwich Cathedral.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Close to Home ....Lyn G Farrell

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 feature Northern Author

Lyn G Farrell

Today, Lyn is talking to me about what it means to her to live, work and write in the North of England..

Hi Lyn, tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I’m an online tutor in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University and part time author. I was born in Littleborough, right on the border with Yorkshire (it’s on the Halifax to Manchester train line) and go back quite often to see friends and family. I was there a few weeks ago, for a literature festival event in my home town, which was fantastic. I live in Leeds and have been here for about 25 years now so, as my Twitter account says, I’m very much a Lancs-Leeds lass

I always enjoyed reading and writing stories from being very young but was too busy trying to catch up on my education to do anything about it as an adult. I also had to find a career I liked after graduation. Despite having the idea for my novel buzzing around in my mind for many years, I didn’t start the actual writing for The Wacky Man until I was in my late thirties and it took me just over ten years to write! I ditched the first seven years’ or so worth of writing thought it wasn’t wasted as all that work taught me a lot about the craft of writing. In hindsight a creative writing course could have saved me a lot of time and I’ve enrolled on several of them, free and paid, since the novel was published. ☺

As a Lancashire-born author, how much do you think the north west, its people and its landscape have shaped your writing?

I see myself as being shaped by many events and many different places in later life but with firm roots in Lancashire. I’ve got a very strong accent which identifies me to other people as Lancashire born. I also have many stories and sayings, handed down by great aunts and uncles and my gran and granddad, that I hope to write about one day. And I think I’ve picked up from them a typically Lancashire dry sense of humour.

The landscape has very much shaped my writing though perhaps in a different way to how you might think. As a child I was a chronic truant and used to spend quite a lot of my time walking on the moors. I would take the dogs to the local reservoir and let my mind just drift. Sometimes I would imagine stories or a different life and hours would fly by with me just daydreaming and watching the landscape. It’s had a powerful effect on my imagination. If I need to think about characters or plot, I imagine I’m sitting there, listening to the water and the sheep and the dogs and I find I can focus better.

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

The Pennine scenery is just spectacular. My Tibetan friends think it looks like Tibet and they’re from the roof of the world, so it shows just how special the landscape of the North West is. When you walk on the moors you really feel that mix of beauty and bleakness. Everything about that beauty sets the imagination alight and that makes it a wonderful place to be creative.

Leeds is a great place as I have everything at my fingertips but now that I’m older I would love to move away from the city and closer to where I grew up. As an online tutor, with technology enabling me to connect to students and resources, I could live up on the hills as long as I have an internet connection! I think the pace of life is less frantic than in a city yet you’re still connected to places like Manchester or Leeds, and to London and beyond. Fresh air and peace and quiet without being cut off from the world – what’s not to love?

As a northern author, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your work?

I’m a relatively new author – published in May 2016 – so perhaps there are stumbling blocks I’ve just not realised yet, but I haven’t perceived any major problems yet. The publisher works at the national/international level for me regarding book fairs and similar promotions and I work in partnership with them regarding local events as authors are actually better placed to know how to market and promote in their own region. For example I approached Rochdale Literature and Arts Festival and told them I’m a local author. This then led to me getting a slot in the festival to give a talk. I’ve also done this for other local festivals close to Leeds.

I’m slowly building up networks that spread further from my local region and will be looking to my publishers to help me set up events in London or areas that I don’t know so well. I use technology to help promote my work which cuts across distance. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and the internet all help with making connections to others in the business. And Goodreads and Facebook groups have really helped me connect with book bloggers and reviewers who have done a sterling job of reviewing my book and promoting it via their social media networks. I think the important thing is to realise that you have to work very hard at this, it’s not going to fall into your lap. And take advice from the publisher on everything you can do to promote and market your work, either alone or in tandem with them.

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

Technology again comes into its own for this. I’m part of several Facebook groups, follow authors on Twitter and have connected with other Legend authors via social media and email. I’m currently trying to establish a group made up of women novelists so that we support each other in the world of publishing and writing and we’re using Facebook and Twitter for this. It’s never been easier in many ways to stay connected, you just need to ensure that you keep the momentum going.

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’ve had lots of support so far, both in Leeds and in Littleborough. I had a wonderful welcome in Littleborough for my event and it meant the world to me. I was reunited with school friends and my English teacher and it will stay in my memory as a glorious experience. In my home city Andrew Edwards at BBC Leeds radio invited me onto his show on the day my novel was published and it was great fun (he’s a wonderful and friendly host). I’ve since been back on his show as part of his ‘Big Yorkshire Book Club’. I’ve been to sign books in a few local bookshops already and will be looking to do many more events in bookshops in the new year. Finally, I’ve met a fantastic reading group in one of the libraries in Leeds and they’re reading my book as their November choice. Leeds Libraries are stocking a lot of copies of my novel and I will be doing reader groups events at libraries across the city in the near future. I’ve been extremely fortunate in the support I’ve received and can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store.

And finally, if someone is new to your work, how would you describe The Wacky Man in five words??

Amanda’s story: heart-breaking, raw, compelling. 

Blurb about the Book

Amanda secludes herself in her bedroom, no longer willing to face the outside world. Gradually, she pieces together the story of her life: her brothers have had to abandon her, her mother scarcely talks to her, and the Wacky Man could return any day to burn the house down. Just like he promised. As her family disintegrates, Amanda hopes for a better future, a way out from the violence and fear that has consumed her childhood. But can she cling to her sanity, before insanity itself is her only means of escape?

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

Follow on Twitter @FarrellWrites or Facebook 

Find her book on Amazon UK

Huge thanks to Lyn for taking the time to answer my questions about her impression of living and writing in the North.

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

Coming next week : Northern writer, Cath Cole


Friday 25 November 2016

Review ~ The Accidental Dictionary by Paul Anthony Jones

The remarkable twists and turns of English words


A bit of blurb..

Our everyday language is full of surprises; its origins are stranger than you might think. Any word might be knocked and buffeted, subjected to twists and turns, expansions and contractions, happy and unhappy accidents. There are intriguing tales behind even the most familiar terms, and they can say as much about the present as they do the past.

My thoughts..

 Like all voracious readers I fell in love with the power of words once I was old enough to understand the importance of a good vocabulary. At primary school I had teachers who instilled the fundamentals of good grammar, punctuation and spelling, so that by the time I left primary school, aged eleven, my reading age was quite  advanced.

My love of words has lasted throughout the whole of my life. I enjoy reading a good list, and to have a fascinating plethora of words all contained in one sparkly volume has been a real delight. The Accidental Dictionary focuses on the etymological origins of 100 words that are in common usage but whose meanings were once very different to what we know today. If you want to flip through the book at whim, which is what I did, then a really good content list allows you to choose at random the hidden gems which nestle on every page.

Take the original meaning of Flirt, which popped into the English language around the late Middle Ages as an onomatopoeic word meaning to flicker or flit, and then by the 1500s it had evolved into an entirely different connotation, that of, to sneer scornfully. It wasn’t until the mid-1600s that flirt came to be used more romantically in a term which described the way that ladies flirted coquettishly with their elaborate fans.  However, I think my favourite evolution of the word has to come in 1755 when Samuel Johnson defined flirt in his Dictionary of English Language to mean ‘a pert young hussy’. Hence, by the mid-1800s, the term flirting had evolved into the word we are quite familiar with today.

The dictionary starts and ends with Affiliate and Zombie, with the other 98 words, in-between, being equally as absorbing.  All are presented in fascinating randomness, and in a clear and concise way their origin meaning is emphasised along with the word’s fascinating evolution.

The Accidental Dictionary is a real hidden gem of a book which will sit comfortably on my book shelf just waiting patiently until I need to know the original meaning of a word.

Did you know that the original use of oaf was elf, or to be more precise, an impish hobgoblin?

Somehow "Oaf on the shelf" doesn’t have quite the same festive connotation, does it? Or maybe it does...I'll let you ponder that one!!

Best read with…a firkin of good English ale, strong and sweet…

Paul Anthony Jones

Paul Anthony Jones is a writer, etymologist and language blogger. He is the author of several books on trivia and language. A piano teacher and musician , he lives in North East England.

Follow on Twitter @HaggardHawks

My thanks to Alison at Elliot & Thompson for my review copy of The Accidental Dictionary.


Thursday 24 November 2016

The author in my spotlight is .....Lynne Barrett-Lee

I am delighted to introduce to the blog 

Lynne Barrett-Lee

Today Lynne will be sharing her thoughts about her book Able Seacat Simon

Simon and Schuster

Hi and welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Lynne. Please tell us about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

I have wanted to be an author since I was still quite a little girl. I particularly remember reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (the first was Little House In The Big Woods) and as well as feeling bereft at having to say goodbye to Laura’s life and world, I also recall a sense of something like agitation; something I later identified as a constant bedfellow to the ‘I so enjoyed reading that’ feeling - the ‘oh, how I wish I’d written that!’ response. It’s never really gone away. It hit me hard, recently, reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. 

I’ve been a committed writer since my teens, when I had a little flurry of confidence-building agent attention, but I was in my thirties, with three little ones, before the writing stars aligned for me and I was finally able to take the biggest step – to make it my priority, and give it my best shot to get published. I gave myself a year, and just sneaked in at the 11th hour, earning £90 for a piece in the Times Educational Supplement. It took me another nine months of slog to sell my next piece – a short story for The People’s Friend. For which I got £50. I was a very poor writer for a very long time… I feel very lucky to be well paid now for doing something (to loosely paraphrase Mark Twain) that I’d be doing anyway, for love.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for your novel, Able Seacat Simon?

I didn’t! I was approached by the publisher, with whom I’d already had a number of books published as a ghostwriter (including one about a very large dog) because they thought it might be the kind of project I’d enjoy. It came about because my editor also had a black and white cat called Simon, and her partner stumbled upon the story of the other, more famous, Simon – and duly rushed home to tell her all about it. I’d never heard of Simon, much less the story of the Yangtse Incident, but, being the owner of two RSPCA rescue cats, one of which looked just like him, it was as if the project was made for me. I said yes immediately, without really thinking about whether I could fit it in, let alone do it! But, of course, I just knew I could and would… 

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

It’s a factual piece of history, but it has everything a riveting story needs. It’s full of tension, excitement, drama, and heroism, and (if it doesn’t sound too cheesy) is also full of characters who embody both what’s finest about the human spirit and, of course, what’s finest and noblest about cats; animals which are often described as being aloof, solitary and selfish. It’s also perfect escapism. It takes the reader away to a time and place most won’t have been before; from Hong Kong, via the high seas, to the famous Yangste river. 

The story is inspired by real life events - when you were researching the story about Simon did you discover anything which surprised you?

I learned so much researching the book. I had to, in order to do the story justice – from learning the lingo of sailors, which is actually called ‘jackspeak’, to being able to describe all the parts of a ship and understand exactly what makes felines tick. In terms of surprises, no big ones, but lots of fascinating ones – such as the legend that, if crossed, cats could conjour terrible storms from magic stored in their tails. That’s why, to this day, a ship’s cat – even a stowaway like Simon – would never be thrown overboard. 

What were the challenges you faced in writing the book from a cat’s perspective?

Remarkably few, considering I'm not one! I’ve written a few short stories down the years from animals’ points of view, and always enjoyed it, which was one of the reasons I said yes to writing the book without hesitation. It’s great fun for an author to get inside the head of different characters, and ‘becoming’ Simon was no different. My first, and really only, challenge was to decide on how things would work logistically e.g. that Simon could understand every word the humans around him said, as Anna Sewell did with Black Beauty, and having him naรฏve initially about all the strange things humans did. For example, Christmas Crackers – why would humans rip something they’d made apart and make such horrible noises, for fun? And why would they cry when they were happy? I also had to give Simon a human-inspired personality, and, since he was orphaned so young, but had learned so much from his beloved mother, always saw him as a plucky survivor; a kind of mixture of Oliver Twist and The Artful Dodger.

What were the most rewarding aspects of bringing Simon’s story to a wider audience?

For me personally, the level of contact I’ve had from readers. I’ve had letters and postcards and emails - not to mention a couple of gifts - from people of all ages and from all walks of life. I had no idea so many people still remembered Simon’s story – a couple of people even wrote to tell me they had met him, when, in 1949, the Amethyst returned home to Plymouth after the Yangtse incident. Back then he really was something of a celebrity. And though it sounds a bit weird, I’ve been so moved to receive correspondence from retired naval men, to tell me they were physically moved to tears. For an author, that’s pretty special. So I suppose most rewarding is the knowledge that Simon’s story – and that of the heroic young men he served with – is being kept alive for another generation. 

You’ve recently published a special children’s adaptation of Able Sea Cat Simon, did preparing the book for children present any problems in terms of book content?

Simon and Schuster

Not for me, happily. The book was adapted by a professional abridger, who is experienced in creating narrative suited to a 7 years+ readership. Had it been left to me, I'm sure it would still be full of my favourite long words, and myriad (that’s one of them) complicated sentences… My role was actually rather simple. To read it through at each stage and check I was happy with the changes. And, apart from the odd tussle over a sentence or phrase I was determined to keep, I was. They did a wonderful job, I think. 

What is the main thing you want readers, young and old, to take away from your book?

Anything they want, because that’s not down to me, of course. Obviously, I hope everyone who reads it enjoys it, even if it does make them cry at the end. Though, if pushed, I suppose I’d like the young people to take away that important slice of naval history, which I hope has been delivered without sounding too much like homework… For the more mature readers, who might already know about the Amethyst and Simon, I’d like it if I gave them a few hours of escapism, back into a world they once knew. For all readers, well, that’s simple. A reminder that the relationship between humans and animals is very precious, and that we should always treat them well. ☺

More about Lynne can be found on her website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @LynneBarrettLee

Amazon UK

Amazon UK (children's story) 7-9 yr old

My Thoughts..

I have been privileged to read Lynne's lovely story about Able Seacat Simon. At first I was drawn to the book cover as Simon looks exactly like a cat I once had called Sneeky-Peeky.

From the very first page I was completely enamoured with Simon, he's such a sweetie and oh so frightened to be left all alone on Stonecutters Island, Hong Kong. He's hungry and lost and never sure where he will be able to scavenge his next meal. So when he was picked up by Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom and smuggled on board HMS Amethyst and given a whole pilchard all to himself, well I just knew that this little kitten was going to have a grand adventure.

The adult version of Able Seacat Simon is certainly readable in few hours and I really enjoyed seeing how the story evolved. I must admit that I had never heard of the Yangtze Incident and Simon's story wasn't at all familiar but what's so special about this story is that it explains what happened to Simon and the crew of HMS Amethyst in an entirely readable way. I loved Simon, his voice is strong and unique, he was such a brave little fellow, full of valour and enthusiasm and I would image that he was a real joy to have on board ship especially as he had a special knack for catching rats!!

The children's version is equally enchanting it’s one of those special stories that would make perfect bedtime reading for a confident young reader.  The text is clear and concise, the font is a good size for comfortable reading and the added inclusion of a glossary at the end of the book is a really useful addition and explains words which young readers may not be familiar with

This little snippet caught my eye; it's a quote from Simon's mother to Simon when he was a kitten - a saying which, I think, will ring true for humans too.

"...Remember every day holds the capacity for adventure, kitten, but never forget that every day holds the capacity for misadventure too..."

Able Seacat Simon was awarded the Amethyst Campaign medal and is the only cat ever to be awarded the PDSA’s Dickin Medal. 

He was quite a hero - I'm sure that everyone will fall in love with Simon's story as much as I did.

Huge thanks to Lynne for spending time with us today and for sharing her wonderful story.

And also to Jade at Simon and Schuster for her help with the children's book image.


Wednesday 23 November 2016

Review ~ Holding by Graham Norton (Audio)


A bit about the book..

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn't always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn't always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn't always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke - a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn - the village's dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community's worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.

My thoughts..

When offered the opportunity to listen to Graham Norton's debut novel, Holding which is narrated by the man himself, well, as a huge fan, I couldn't resist spending 7 or so hours in his congenial company.

The small Irish town of town of Duneen is, on the surface, rather a gentle place, and for the local police officer , PJ Collins,  the only excitement is perhaps where his next bite of breakfast is going to be coming from. However, as with all small towns what you see on the surface is not necessarily what you get, and when human bones are discovered on the edge of an old farm, well, the anticipation generated is beyond anything that PJ has ever experienced.

There is a very good mystery at the heart of the novel which is explored in sympathetic detail. And as the story progresses, and despite gentle hints of humour, there is genuine pathos and more than a hint towards a darker time in the town's history. I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, particularly Brid and Evelyn, but I also had a whole bucket load of sympathy for the enigmatic Mrs Meany and longed to be sitting in the Garda House with PJ tucking into one of her sturdy Irish breakfasts.

What I loved about this story, and yes, I did love every word, was the subtle way the author teased the reader with sly innuendo and tantalising little snippets of gossip so that it became like sitting down in a cosy chair, with a plate piled high with scones and biscuits, and having a good old natter with your best friend.

Graham Norton narrates Holding with his inimitable charm and flair. It’s beautifully written, splendidly narrated and a real joy to listen to from start to finish and every minute of the 7 hours and 20 minutes of the audio file was, for me, time well spent. 

Without doubt, this is a commendable debut novel which I hope is the start of many more by this talented author.

Best read with....a hearty breakfast and maybe a glass or two of strong Irish stout but not necessarily at the same time..

About the Author

Graham Norton is one of the UK's best loved broadcasters. He presents The Graham Norton Show on BBC1, has a weekly show on BBC Radio 2, and writes a column for the Telegraph. He is the winner of eight BAFTA awards. Born in Dublin and raised in West Cork, Norton now lives in London. Holding is his first novel.

Twitter @grahnort

My thanks to for the opportunity to listen to Holding and also to Francesca at Midas PR for the invitation to review the book.


Tuesday 22 November 2016

Killer Reads ~ After Anna and Killing Kate by Alex Lake

There's something rather special about these books and this author.

I am delighted to share my reviews  in a double dose of book excitement !


The blurb...

A girl is missing. Five years old, taken from outside her school. She has vanished, traceless. The police are at a loss; her parents are beyond grief. Their daughter is lost forever, perhaps dead, perhaps enslaved. But the biggest mystery is yet to come: one week after she was abducted, their daughter is returned. She has no memory of where she has been. And this, for her mother, is just the beginning of the nightmare.

My thoughts...

Every parents worst nightmare is arriving at the school gates half an hour late only to find that their child has gone. For Julia Crowne and her husband Brian , the nightmare has only just started. With no clues as to the whereabouts of their five year old daughter Anna they can only trust that the investigative team will do everything they can to find her before it's too late,

What then follows is a tight, emotional roller-coaster of a ride which examines that very modern phenomenon of a modern parenthood, that of , who is going to be around to wait at the school gates. Understandably, the press and social media have a field day with Julia who is branded a heartless and cruel mother for daring to be late. The inner anguish of a mother coping with tremendous sorrow and devastating guilt really comes across and you can't help but be sympathetic towards her plight.

What worked so successfully for me in this novel was the very clever intertwining of two stories. We get the family turmoil and utter heartbreak of a missing child but we also get an insight onto the chilling and anonymous mind of the perpetrator both of which, I think, was handled very well.

There's a subtle obviousness about the story, so if you are a canny reader, as I most probably am, there are very clever clues as to the identity of the perpetrator which I rather enjoyed. At times I think you maybe have to suspend belief a little but taken as a whole the book is a very cleverly controlled 'whodunit' by an exciting talent in crime suspense.

Best Read with...A glass of ice cold vodka, sharp and crisp..


The blurb..

A serial killer is stalking your home town. He has a type: all his victims look the same. And they all look like you.

Kate returns from a post break-up holiday with her girlfriends to news of a serial killer in her home town – and his victims all look like her. It could, of course, be a simple coincidence.

Or maybe not.

She becomes convinced she is being watched, followed even. Is she next? And could her mild-mannered ex-boyfriend really be a deranged murderer?
Or is the truth something far more sinister?

My Thoughts..

Kate Armstrong is hoping to put her broken relationship behind her, but her ex-boyfriend Phil refuses to accept that Kate is trying to move on with her life. A holiday to Turkey with her friends allows Kate the opportunity to relax but her return home is fraught with danger and suspicion as she begins to suspect that someone is watching her. A spate of killings in  Kate's home town does nothing to dispel her feelings of disquiet, particularly as all the victims look very similar to Kate.

What then follows is a very clever psychological thriller which gets decidedly more creepy as the story progresses. I really enjoyed becoming involved in the action and felt much sympathy for the characters at the heart of the story, particularly Kate's ex boyfriend, Phil who I felt had a raw deal. There is a deliciously sinister edge to the story which kept me turning the pages almost as fast as the story which is pacy and exciting and which kept me on the edge of my seat.

I did guess the perpetrator quite early on but that didn't lessen my enjoyment of a fast and furious story especially the last few chapters where the tension really starts to bite deep and where the outcome is never always going to be guaranteed.

Best Read with...a glass or two of house red, gently warmed by an open fire..

About the Author

Alex Lake is a British novelist who was born in the North West of England. After Anna was the first book to be written under the author's pseudonym, and was a best selling ebook sensation. Killing Kate is Alex's second novel, published by Harper in 2016. The author now lives in the North East of the US.

Follow the author on Twitter @Alexlakeauthor

Follow Killer Reads on Twitter @KillerReads

My thanks to the publishers Harper and the amazing team at Killer Reads for my review copies of After Anna and Killing Kate.