Sunday 30 April 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

Bloody April 

The Royal Flying Corps was the air arm of the British Army which had been formed by George V in April 1912 and its motto was Per ardua ad astra  - Through Adversity to the Stars which is still the motto of the Royal Air Force.

Bloody April is the term loosely given to the British air support operations during the Battle of Arras in 1917, during which heavy casualties were suffered by the Royal Flying Corps by the German Lufstreitkrafte. The differences in technological and training between the two countries resulted in British losses being almost four times greater than their opponents and resulted, not just in loss of life, but  also in a decline in morale.

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 0553)

Military aviation was still relatively new and untested and British pilot training was sporadic, badly organised and inconsistent and due to heavy losses pilots received little preparation before being subjected to ferocious air bombardment.

...the worst carnage was amongst the new pilots – many of whom lasted just a day or two...

To support the Battle of Arras in 1917, the RFC deployed 25 squadrons around 365 aircraft. During this time the losses were great with 245 aircraft and 211 crew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The Germans lost just 66 aircraft.

Royal Flying Squad Western Front

© IWM (Q 12049)

However, by the summer of 1917 the introduction of more technically advanced aircraft like the SE5, Sopwith Camels and the Bristol Fighters ensured that losses fell and the damage inflicted on the enemy increased.

Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5a aircraft of No. 85 Squadron at St Omer aerodrome, 21 June 1918

 © IWM (Q 12051)

As always, I am indebted to the Imperial War Museum for the chance to read the personal accounts of WW1 Airmen and for the opportunity to share these pertinent photographs taken at the time by WW1 photographers.

Saturday 29 April 2017

Close to Home ...Sue Featherstone

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

Today I welcome Northern  Writer

Sue Featherstone

Hi, Sue and welcome to Jaffareadstoo. Thank you for spending time with us today.

Confession time: I’m not really a northerner. I was born in the Midlands and lived there until I was nine when the family upped sticks to Yorkshire.

It was a bit of a culture shock – phrases like ‘put wood i’th’oil’ (shut the door), ‘lug ‘oil’ (ear hole) as well as words such as ‘chuddy’ (chewing gum) and ‘silin’ (raining heavily) had me completely flummoxed (confused).

But now I love it and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

So here are five reasons to visit my home city of Wakefield:

Sculpture Triangle: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the UK’s leading outdoor art gallery, and the award-winning Hepworth Gallery, both in Wakefield, are arguably the crown jewels of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.

The YSP, winner of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year in 2014, is set in 500 acres of glorious parklands, and hosts a changing programme of exhibitions whilst the Hepworth, named after sculptor Barbara Hepworth, who was born in the city, is one of the largest and most visited art galleries outside London.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park  was the first UK museum to exhibit work by the American artist KAWS

The bluebells are in bloom at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

In all, around 200 of the world’s leading artists are featured at YSP and the Hepworth and their sister galleries – Leeds Art Gallery and the Henry Moore Institute, both in Leeds.

Find out more at:

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb: Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb, grown by candlelight at farms in the geographical triangle between Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford, was given protected name status in 2010.

Every February, Wakefield goes rhubarb crazy with its annual Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb. Highlights this year included street entertainment, a family rhubarb trail and demonstrations by celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and Rachel Green, from ITV’s Flying Cook and World on a Plate.

Make a date for next year’s festival: Feb 23–25, 2018.

The Price of Coal: Pick up a hard hat and battery lamp and descend 140m underground at the National Coal Mining Museum for England where guided underground tours, led by former miners, allow visitors to get their hands dirty and experience life at the coal face as it would have been for the pitmen, and the women and children who once worked alongside them. 

The Grand Old Duke of York: Local legend claims Richard, Duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III, as the nursery rhyme duke who marched his army up and down a hill.

The hill in question is at Sandal Castle, now a nationally recognised Scheduled Monument, built on the site of a former Norman motte and bailey fortress. 

Richard died in December 1460 after he marched his army down the hill against a much larger Lancastrian army, which challenged his claim to the throne.

Two months later his eldest son Edward became king.

Time is ticking at Nostell Priory: This 18th century Palladian mansion, now a National Trust property, is home to one of the first long case clocks made by inventor John Harrison, who was born nearby in 1693, and whose marine chronometer revolutionised sea-going navigation, saving countless lives and ships.

Join in a year of ‘Clock Work’ celebrations to mark the 300th birthday of Harrison’s invention and have a go at putting together cogs and levers to see exactly what makes a clock tick.

One more reason to come down my way? Pontefract, a few miles east of Wakefield, celebrates its annual Liquorice Festival on July 10 and promises a smorgasbord of liquorice food and drink – including liquorice stout. Who could resist?

Here's more about Sue

Sue Featherstone is a former journalist and public relations practitioner turned academic.

Her career started in local newspapers before switching to PR to become internal communications manager with a large utility company.

She completed a degree in English Literature as a mature student and subsequently moved into higher education, teaching journalism to undergraduate students at Sheffield Hallam University.

At the beginning of 2017, Sue left Sheffield Hallam to focus on her writing.

Together with her friend and writing partner Susan Pape, she has written two successful journalism text books - Newspaper Journalism: A Practical Introduction; and Feature Writing: A Practical Introduction.

Their first novel, A Falling Friend, was published by Lakewater Press in 2016 and a sequel will follow in summer 2017.

They now write about books at

Sue is on twitter @SueF_Writer

A Falling Friend is available to buy on Amazon here. 

Lakewater Press

After spending her twenties sailing the globe, making love on fine white sand, and thinking only of today, Teri Meyer returns to Yorkshire – and to studying. That’s when she discovers John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, and poet of all things depraved. What she doesn’t realise is even beyond his grave, his influence over her is extraordinary. To hell with the consequences.

Having gone out on a limb to get old friend Teri a job at the university at which she teaches, it doesn’t take long for Lee Harper to recognise a pattern. Wherever Teri goes, whatever she does, every selfish choice she makes, it’s all setting her up for a nasty fall. But Teri’s not the sort to heed a warning, so Lee has no choice but to stand by and watch. And besides, she has her own life to straighten out.

A clever, raw and hilarious character-driven masterpiece that follows the lives of two friends with the same ambitions, but who have vastly different ways of achieving them.

On the first Anniversary of the publication of A Falling Friend, Sue is kindly giving away a copy of her book to 3 lucky UK winners of this giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Huge thanks to Sue for being such a lovely guest today and for sharing her love of her adopted county of Yorkshire with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Amanda Brooke


Friday 28 April 2017

Blog Tour ~ Time to Win by Harry Brett

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to host today's stop on the 

Time to Win Blog Tour

The first in an unmissable crime series from an exciting new voice in the genre

27 April 2017
When local crime boss Richard Goodwin is pulled from the river by his office it looks like suicide. But as his widow Tatiana feared, Rich collected enemies like poker chips, and half of Great Yarmouth's criminal fraternity would have had reason to kill him.

Realising how little she knows about the man she married, Tatty seeks to uncover the truth about Rich's death and take over the reins of the family business, overseeing a waterfront casino deal Rich hoped would put Yarmouth on the map.

Out of the shadows at last, it is Tatty's time now, and she isn't going to let Rich's brother, or anyone else, stand in her way. But an American has been in town asking the right people the wrong questions, more bodies turn up, along with a brutal new gang. The stakes have never been higher.

With her family to protect, and a business to run, Tatty soon learns that power comes with a price...

What did I think about it...

When Richard Goodwin is pulled from the river, his death opens up, not just a can of worms within his business interests, but also highlights the growing unrest within his family. And, as the story progresses, you start to realise that there are so many hidden secrets stored away that trying to piece them all together is rather like sitting with a complicated jigsaw puzzle.

The coastal area around Great Yarmouth works as the setting for the novel and the author does a good job in recreating the essence of a town slightly down on its luck. The petty squabbles and indifferences of those who once came into contact with 'Rich' Goodwin shows that he was a wheeling and dealing entrepreneur with too many fingers in far too many different pies. For his wife Tatty, trying to unscramble the mess that Rich's death leaves behind is, for her and the rest of the family, a growing nightmare. 

Overall, the story works well and the mystery at the heart of the novel is well explained and keeps the reader guessing, although I have to say that I had my suspicions quite early on in the story, but that was ok as I enjoyed how the author took the reader through the whole of the journey. The multiple strands within the plot come together, with the ending leaving room for further continuation. 

However, with any new series it takes time for the main characters to become established, and for readers to invest in the time needed to follow each successive story. I think that Time to Win  gets the series off to a good start and I am sure that both the writer and the series will go from strength to strength.

Best Read with...newspaper-clad fish and chips and a slug or two of champagne..

Harry Brett is a pseudonym for Henry Sutton, who is the author of nine previous novels including My Criminal World and Get Me Out of Here. He also co-authored the DS Jack Frost novel, First Frost, under the pseudonym James Henry. His work has been translated into many languages and he has judged numerous literary prizes, including the John Lewellyn Rhys Prize and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. He is the co-founder of the Noirwich crime festival and has been the Literary Editor of Esquire magazine and the Daily Mirror. He teaches Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where he is a Senior Lecturer and the co-director of the MA Prose Fiction course. He is also the director of the new Creative Writing MA Crime Fiction. He lives in Norwich with his family and is available for interview and to write features.

Follow the Blog Tour on Twitter @hesutton #TimeToWin @CorsairBooks

My thanks to Hayley at Little, Brown and Corsair for the invitation to be part of this tour and for sending a  copy of the book to me to read and review.


Thursday 27 April 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Body in the Ice by A J Mackenzie

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting a stop on 

The Body In The Ice Blog Tour

I am delighted to be able to share this tantalising extract from

The Body in the Ice 


Centuries before, Hope had been a thriving Marsh village and All Saint’s Church had been the bustling heart of a community. Plague and fever had killed its people or driven them away, and now all that remained was the ruin of the church, its roof long since fallen in, its floor a bed of grass and moss. Lantern-light flickered around the nave, casting wavering shadows on stone walls, windows like eyeless sockets giving onto the night beyond.

Joseph Parker lay sprawled on his side, one hand flung out where he had clutched at the turf in a final spasm before he died. He had been struck a massive blow to the back of the head, shattering his skull. The lanterns showed a dark shadowy stain where his blood had poured out and soaked into the grass. The light showed also the jewelled buttons on his waistcoat and the glittering gem on his watch fob. The cameo rings were still on his fingers.

The rector knelt over the body, studying it. Unless I stop you, there will be yet more killing, he had said to Parker. And more killing there had been. But Hardcastle had not expected him to be the next victim.

‘Has Dr Mackay been sent for?’

Stemp nodded. ‘I sent the lad to fetch him.’ 

The corpse had been found by a boy from Old Romney, coming back from an evening’s fishing. That was the story, at least; it might be true, but Hope Church was also a favourite rendezvous point for smugglers. Foucarmont knows this too, the rector thought. Parker was killed and left his body here to ensure he would be found

‘One thing’s for certain, reverend,’ said Stemp. ‘This was no robbery.’

‘No,’ said the rector. ‘This was a calculated killing.’

Foucarmont was back on the Marsh. And Clavertye was still hunting him far away among the downs of Sussex, looking in the wrong place.

Parker had been dead for hours; Foucarmont and his men could be miles away by now. They would have to start a new search for them, and of course Lord Clavertye would have to be informed. That last cheered the rector a little, for he quite enjoyed the sight of Lord Clavertye in the wrong. But the cheerful thought did not last long, for another, deeply unhappy task lay ahead of him. He began to walk back to St Mary in the Marsh, leaving Hope Church with its flickering ghostly lanterns behind, rehearsing in his mind the words of consolation he would use and the questions he would have to ask.

Tendrils of fog snaked over the marsh, blown on a faint fluttering breeze. Apart from this little wind the night was utterly silent and still. He had just crossed the bridge over the New Sewer, St Mary in the Marsh about three-quarters of a mile away, when he stopped dead in his tracks. Booming in his ears, muffled and yet magnified by the fog, came the sound of a gunshot, followed swiftly by another...


Christmas Day, Kent, 1796

On the frozen fields of Romney Marsh stands New Hall; silent, lifeless, deserted. In its grounds lies an unexpected Christmas offering: a corpse, frozen into the ice of a horse pond.

It falls to the Reverend Hardcastle, justice of the peace at St Mary in the Marsh, to investigate. But with the victim's identity unknown, no murder weapon and no known motive, it seems like an impossible task. Working along with his trusted friend, Amelia Chaytor, and new arrival Captain Edward Austen, Hardcastle soon discovers there is more to the mystery than there first appeared. 

With the arrival of an American family torn apart by war and desperate to reclaim their ancestral home, a French spy returning to the scene of his crimes, ancient loyalties and new vengeance combine to make Hardcastle and Mrs Chaytor's attempts to discover the secret of New Hall all the more dangerous.

A.J. MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a collaborative Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife duo. Between them they have written more than twenty non-fiction and academic titles, with specialisms including management, medieval economic history and medieval warfare.

The original idea for The Body…series came when the authors were living in Kent, when they often went down to Romney Marsh to enjoy the unique landscape and the beautiful old churches. The authors now live in Devon.

Follow on Twitter @AJMackNovels

My thanks to Imogen at Bonnier Zaffre for the invitation to be part of this blog tour and for the kind permission to feature this extract from The Body in the Ice.


Wednesday 26 April 2017

Candlestick Press launches ~ Ten Poems of Kindness

The pamphlet is being published in memory of Felix Alexander, the 17 year-old-boy who took his own life after years of online bullying.

Felix Alexander
1998 - 2016

Candlestock Press
26 April 2017

Candlestick Press is launching Ten Poems of Kindness edited by Jackie Kay at Pershore High School, Worcestershire on April 26th. At the launch event Jackie Kay will be reading the two poems she has written specially for the anthology and introducing some guest readers.

This new title from Candlestick Press brings something very special to the list. Edited by Jackie Kay and containing two new poems she has written specially for the anthology, Ten Poems of Kindness is allied to a compelling cause. ‘Felix’s Campaign of Kindness’ was instigated by the mother of Felix Alexander, a 17-year-old boy who took his own life after years of online bullying. The pamphlet is dedicated to the memory of Felix and contains the inspirational ‘Open Letter’ written by his mother after his death. The beautiful cover illustration is of elderflower, traditionally used to represent compassion and kindness.

Kindness can be an underestimated value in our increasingly hectic and impersonal world. It is a word that we use most often in our conversations with young children when we tell them to be kind to a fellow creature or a new friend. These generous poems remind us that kindness can take many forms and that a kind gesture doesn’t have to be either time-consuming or complicated. On the contrary:

“Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses,”

from ‘Kindness’ by Yusef Komunyakaa

Jackie Kay is one of the foremost poets writing in Britain today. She has published numerous poetry collections and a memoir, Red Dust Road, about her quest to find her birth parents. She is the third modern Makar, the Scottish Poet Laureate.

Poems by Fleur Adcock, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ian Duhig, Sarah Howe, Jackie Kay, Yusef Komunyakaa, Norman MacCaig, Sylvia Plath, Rabindranath Tagore and Kate Tempest.

Donation to young people’s mental health charity Place2Be

More about Candlestick Press:

Candlestick Press is an independent publisher based in Nottingham, UK. We’ve been publishing poetry pamphlets since 2008 not only for people who already love poetry, but also for those who will love it but perhaps don’t know that yet. Our ‘instead of a card’ pamphlets make an ideal alternative to a mainstream greetings card and are a small gift in their own right. They have matching envelopes and bookmarks left blank for your message, and are excellent companions on journeys or for a bedtime read. By supporting us, you help an independent press and our supported charities at the same time as treating yourselves, your friends and family to some wonderful poems.

My thoughts about Ten Poems of Kindness...

The notion that we should always be kind to one another is something which, at times, I am afraid that far too many of us forget. And in the hustle and bustle of today's world we so often leave little time for those random acts of kindness which should always be right at the core of our daily lives.

The Ten poems of Kindness reflect so thoughtfully what it means to be kind...

From the poem Kinder by Jackie Kay which urges us to:

" ...Choose to be kind:
Not duplicitous, not two-faced,
Not passive-aggressive, not dishonest,
Not spiteful, not cowardly anonymous,
Have a good grace..."

To the simple beauty of Yusef Komunyakaa's, Kindness

"...When deeds splay out before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in... "

Ten Poems of Kindness reminds us that we should look around us and see what's happening - online bullying is a devastating problem, especially when vulnerable are people are stripped of kindness by cruel and unnecessary words which bully, break and shatter lives.

Lucy Alexander's Open Letter to her son Felix, broke my heart into a million pieces.

If you only buy one poetry pamphlet this year, then let it be this one...

Purchasing link 


Tuesday 25 April 2017

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

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

Helen Irene Young 

Author of 

Crooked Cat
25 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next ?

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

About the Author

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

Visit Helen's website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @helenireneyoung

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


What did I think about it ..

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

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

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

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

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


Monday 24 April 2017

Review ~ Strawberry Sky by Jan Ruth

The Midnight Sky Series - Part 3
April 2017

What's it all about...

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

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

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

What did I think about it...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read an interview with Jan here

Huge thanks to Jan for sharing Strawberry Sky with me.


Sunday 23 April 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

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

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

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

A view of devastated ground near Arras, 1917

© IWM (Q 87756)

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

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

© IWM (Q 7801)

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

Battle of the Scarpe. 

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

© IWM (Q 2031)

Voices of the Great War

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


Saturday 22 April 2017

Close to Home ....Carys Bray

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

Today I welcome North West Writer

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

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

Windmill Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windmill Books
Paperback edition
published April 2017

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

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

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

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

Windmill Books

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

Follow on Twitter @CarysBray #MuseumofYou

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

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Sue Featherstone


Friday 21 April 2017

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

Silverwood Books
March 2017

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

What's it all about..

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

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

What did I think about it...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find Michael on his website

Follow him on Twitter @MWillsofSarum

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

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