Guest Posts

Surviving Me – Jo Johnson

I am joining the blog tour for Surviving Me today, and I am delighted to be welcoming author, Jo Johnson, to my blog to talk about staying mind fit in 2020. Many thanks to Jo for taking the time to talk to us today, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour. Before I hand you over to Jo, here are the all important book details.

BLURB:

Deceit has a certain allure when your life doesn’t match up to the ideal of what it means to be a modern man.

Tom’s lost his job and now he’s been labelled ‘spermless’. He doesn’t exactly feel like a modern man, although his double life helps. Yet when his secret identity threatens to unravel, he starts to lose the plot and comes perilously close to the edge.

All the while Adam has his own duplicity, albeit for very different reasons, reasons which will blow the family’s future out of the water.

If they can’t be honest with themselves, and everyone else, then things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

This book tackles hard issues such as male depression, dysfunctional families and degenerative diseases in an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way. It focuses particularly on the challenges of being male in today’s world and explores how our silence on these big issues can help push men to the brink.

PURCHASE LINKS:

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Surviving Me Cover

Now, without further ado, I will hand you over to Jo.

If for the whole of this year you eat high fat and sugary foods, smoke and don’t take any exercise, there is a good chance by next year you will be less physically healthy than you are now.

If you have a body, you also have a mind and the same principles apply. We all need to understand the way our minds work and make a conscious decision to prioritise and practise what helps.

In my debut novel “Surviving Me” the main character is a regular bloke who finds out to his detriment what happens when you don’t pay attention to mind health.

Tom Cleary has never felt good enough but a successful job and a pretty wife enabled him to ignore the voices in his head that shout “inadequate”.

When he is bullied out of his career by a younger colleague and his wife doesn’t get pregnant, old thoughts resurface about being weak and unmanly. Over time, he listens more to this inner voice and less and less to the people around him. He loses contact with the things he cares about and life becomes meaningless.

Eventually Tom goes to see a psychologist and learns some good news that could help us all. There are simple techniques to diminish the power of our negative thoughts and the way they influence our behaviour.

Here are two examples.

  1. Manage your thoughts.

Everyone experiences thoughts that are unhelpful or upsetting a lot of the time. Be aware of these thoughts and their impact on your mental health. Last year I published a book called ‘Shrinking the Smirch’. In the book we ask the reader to imagine their thoughts are being played on an imaginary iPod. Become aware of how much of the time you are listening to your mental iPod and how often it is playing unhelpful tunes. These could be to do with your health, relationships or about other issues in your life. Playing those tunes over and over will make you feel sad, upset and fearful and make it harder to feel mentally well. Managing your thoughts needs practice.

TRY THIS:

Notice when you are listening to unhelpful thoughts and then imagine tugging out your mental iPod as if it were playing music you hate. 

  1. Learn to live in the ‘now’ and spend less time in your head.

Research shows that staying in the present helps mental health. Some people call this mindfulness but it just means concentrating on what is right in front of you instead of being on automatic pilot. Most of us spend a lot of time caught up in our heads, regretting the past, fearing the future or just trying to manage the challenges of the day. Getting hooked up in our head causes stress but it also can mean that many moments of pleasure pass by unnoticed because we aren’t paying attention.

TRY THIS:

Take a moment to focus on what is happening now. What can you smell or see?

Are you hot or cold? Tense or relaxed?

“Surviving Me” tackles hard issues such as male depression, suicidal thoughts and degenerative disease in an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way.

A Goodreads review says “Surviving Me is a refreshingly different novel which cleverly combines difficult emotional issues with just the right amount of humour. Be prepared to laugh, cry and think about the big stuff.”

Thanks Jo, for such an interesting guest post.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Surviving Me - Jo Johnson PHOTO 2I’m very excited that my debut novel ‘Surviving Me’ is due to be published on the 14 November. The novel is about male minds and what pushes a regular man to the edge. The novel combines all the themes I can write about with authenticity.

I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1992 and initially worked with people with learning disabilities before moving into the field of neurology in 1996. I worked in the NHS until 2008 when i left to write and explore new projects.

I now work as an independent clinical psychologist in West Sussex.

Jo speaks and writes for several national neurology charities including Headway and the MS Trust. Client and family related publications include, “Talking to your kids about MS”, “My mum makes the best cakes” and “Shrinking the Smirch”.

In the last few years Jo has been offering psychological intervention using the acceptance and commitment therapeutic model (ACT) which is the most up to date version of CBT. She is now using THE ACT model in a range of organisations such as the police to help employees protect their minds in order to avoid symptoms of stress and work related burnout.

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GIVEAWAY:

Win two signed copies of Surviving Me &  five Surviving Me fridge magnets  (Open INT)

1st Prize – 2 winners each winning a signed copy of Surviving Me

5 Runners Up – each winning a Surviving Me Fridge Magnet

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for dispatch or delivery of the prize.

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For more information about this book, please pay a visit to the other blogs taking part on the tour.

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Guest Posts

We Are Animals – Tim Ewins

I am delighted to be welcoming Tim Ewins to the blog today with a guest post about research, as part of the blog tour for We Are Animals. Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to talk to us, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

A cow looks out to sea, dreaming of a life that involves grass.

Jan is also looking out to sea. He’s in Goa, dreaming of the passport-thief who stole his heart (and, indeed, his passport) forty-six years ago. Back then, fate kept bringing them together, but lately it seems to have given up.

Jan has not. In his long search he has accidentally held a whole town at imaginary gunpoint in Soviet Russia, stalked the proprietors of an international illegal lamp-trafficking scam and done his very best to avoid any kind of work involving the packing of fish. Now he thinks if he just waits, if he just does nothing at all, maybe fate will find it easier to reunite them.

His story spans fifty-four years, ten countries, two imperfect criminals (and one rather perfect one), twenty-two different animals and an annoying teenager who just…

Will…

Not…

Leave.

But maybe an annoying teenager is exactly what Jan needs to help him find the missing thief?

Featuring a menagerie of creatures, each with its own story to tell, We Are Animals is a quirky, heart-warming tale of lost love, unlikely friendships and the certainty of fate (or lack thereof).

For the first time in her life the cow noticed the sun setting, and it was glorious.

You can purchase your copy of We Are Animals here.

We Are Animals Cover

Now, without further ado, I will hand you over to Tim.

A Research Battle (and my delightful day at the zoo)

 Every writer will tell you how important research is. It can make or break a story. A novel set in history needs the right context to make sense, and a character that isn’t well researched, isn’t always believable. My wife, who works in marketing and has spent a good portion of her career as a copywriter, once reeled off facts about peat to me. To be clear, that’s peat, the substance that accumulates in bogs and out on the moors. She’d spent a week researching it and, to her surprise, she ended up finding it fascinating (I didn’t).

So, when I started researching for my first novel, We Are Animals, I was excited. I wasn’t going to write about peat (or indeed any type of turf), I was going to write about animals. This was the kind of research I could get on board with.

Chapter one. A crab. Not any kind of crab though; a sand bubbler crab, the type of crab that rolls sand into balls whilst scouring the sand for food. You wouldn’t believe how much information there is out there about these crustaceans. I lost a whole morning. Chapter one includes the line:

‘In both directions, he saw several gatherings of bubbler crabs, all rolling the sand into tiny balls behind them. That’s what bubbler crabs do.’

Later in the chapter it says:

‘I’m sixty-four!’ said the man, as a small wave washed away hundreds of the bubbler crabs’ small balls of sand.

One morning of research, right there in two sentences. To be fair, those sentences weren’t all that I gained from that research, I also confused a group of friends in the pub as to why I kept trying to drop sand bubbler crabs into the conversation.

As the book progressed, I learnt about different types of fish, the various religious beliefs surrounding cows and the eating habits of cockroaches. I also got invited to the pub less frequently. When I found that a sub-plot in the book required me to write about otters and their parental relationships, I opened google and typed ‘Otters’…

I called to my son.

‘We need to go to the zoo. It’s for research purposes.’ It’s strange, he doesn’t normally show much interest in my writing…

It turns out that the otters at Bristol Zoo Gardens are brothers. Me and my son watched them together. When one was in the pond, they were both in the pond, when one was relaxing on the little island, they both were. They seemed inseparable. We didn’t learn much about their parental relationships, other than that they leave their mothers around the age of one. After that we researched chips and a small helicopter that moves if you put a pound in it.

The zoo offered a boar, a quail and a rat to add to the book. In this instance, the research had changed the narrative of the book. It’s nice when that happens. It feels productive. (Often, the narrative of the book dictates what you research, and that’s why I spent a month reading various memoirs of everyday life in Soviet Russia).

Eventually, I put the final full-stop on the last sentence of We Are Animals. I sat back looking at the screen. It was an odd feeling. I’d spent four years writing the document in front of me, and four years learning about animals. What would I do with my time now?

I opened google and typed ‘types of cockroaches’ again. I wasn’t ready to let go just yet.

Two hours later I sat next my wife on the sofa.

‘Did you know,’ I said, ‘cockroaches can survive a month without food, and can survive underwater for half an hour. They can hold their breath for up to forty minutes!’

I looked at her expectantly. Why wasn’t she sharing my enthusiasm?

‘Forty minutes?’ she asked and then thought for a second. ‘Did you know that peat can burn underground for over a hundred years.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

We Are Animals Author PhotoTim Ewins has enjoyed an eight-year stand-up career alongside his accidental career in finance.

He has previously written for DNA Mumbai, had two short stories highly commended and published in Michael Terence Short Story Anthologies, and enjoyed a very brief acting stint (he’s in the film Bronson, somewhere in the background).

He lives with his wife, son and dog in Bristol. We Are Animals is his first novel.

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Guest Posts

Songbird – Karen Heenan

As part of the blog tour for Songbird, I am thrilled to be hosting author Karen Heenan for a guest post today. Many thanks to Karen for taking the time to talk to us, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

Bess has the voice of an angel, or so Henry VIII declares when he buys her from her father as a member of the music, the Royal company of minstrels, best grows up with in the decadent Tudor Court navigating the ever-changing tide of royals and courtiers. Friends come and go as cracked voices, politics, heartbreak, and death loom over even the lowliest of musicians. Tom, her first and dearest friend is her only constant but as Bess becomes too comfortable at court, she may find that constancy has its limits.

You can purchase your copy of Songbird here.

Songbird Cover

Now you know all about the book, I will hand over to Karen to tell you all about the inspiration for it.

It’s funny how one small thing—a fact, a character name, a random occurrence—can send you down the rabbit hole of story.

In my case, I was reading a biography of Henry VIII, and something jumped out at me. It shouldn’t have; it was just a fact-in-passing that the King had once purchased a child for the chapel choir. He heard him singing in a street procession, had a purse thrown to the mother, and the boy was put up on the back of a horse. New musician for Henry, money (and possibly survival) for the mother and any other children, a new life for the child.

But at what cost?

It wouldn’t let me go. I finished the biography, started something completely different, and it was still there, asking, What would it feel like to have your life changed in an instant? To know that your parents had sold you—even if it was the best thing that could have happened?

Trying to answer that question led me to my protagonist, Bess, a young girl with a beautiful voice, born into desperate poverty. She’s been punished all her life for wasting time with music, so she’s confused when her father drags her across London to sing for someone she later finds out is the King of England—and then sells her to him.

Bess makes a new life at court, with friends and a substitute family, but the uncertainty of her beginnings never leaves her, and informs many of the choices (good and bad) that she makes. Who can she trust, when her own family was willing to let her go? Is it safe to love people, when they can leave you so easily?

I wanted to explore what effect this would have on a young girl, and just as much, I wanted to wander around the backstairs of the court of Henry VIII. I’ve been interested in the period since a childhood viewing of the BBC’s Six Wives of Henry VIII with my mom, who was also a big reader of historical fiction (though she preferred the bodice-ripper format).

While Henry and two of his queens do appear in Songbird, they are only peripheral figures. They’ve had plenty of airtime in other books, series, movies, etc. It’s always the “real” people who fascinate me, the ones who worked behind the scenes and, in this case, made the pageantry come alive for the nobility.

Bess becomes a member of the King’s Music, the group of musicians who live at court, travel with the King, and perform at his whim. As jobs go in the Tudor court, it’s a good one. She’s servant, but at a higher level—she certainly isn’t going to be doing laundry, which was her mother’s job, and would likely have been hers if she’d stayed with her family.

She interacts with all levels of people at court, but has some difficulty figuring out where she belongs. In a sense, Bess’s story isn’t that far removed from any of us—growing up, uncertain of our place, not knowing who to rely on. She just lives in a time and a place where loss comes from many different directions: people can die of disease or childbirth or execution, they leave for reasons of marriage, work, or just to find their own place.

Like any teenage girl, Bess has trouble seeing what’s right in front of her, and she often doesn’t want to hear the advice of people who know better. This makes her journey more difficult, and more satisfying when she finally reaches a place where she can rest.

I thought that writing Songbird would get my lifetime interest in the Tudors out of my system, but alas, I’m now neck-deep in a not-sequel featuring a secondary character from the story who stepped up and announced that he felt slighted by his treatment. (Of course he did: the day characters are happy with the way we treat them is right after the words “the end,” when we’re finally done putting them through the wringer).

It looks like historical fiction and I are going to stay together. The more I write, the more the ideas keep coming. I started late, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Songbird - karen heenan headshotKaren Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia. She fell in love with books and stories before she learned to read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams – which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband.

 

 

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Guest Posts

Cloth of Grace – Rachel J Bonner

I am delighted to by joined today by Rachel J Bonner who is sharing a fascinating insight on birthdays as part of the blog tour for Cloth of Grace, book four in the Choices and Consequences series. Many thanks Rachel for taking the time to write this piece, and also to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting my to be a part of the tour. Before I share Rachel’s post with you, here are the blurb and purchase details for Cloth of Grace.

BLURB:

When the fate of the world rests on your shoulders, how do you choose between what you ought to do and the only thing you really want?

Leonie finally knows who she is. But now she needs to decide who she is going to be. Her choice will affect not just her family, not just those she knows, but tens, hundreds of thousands, millions of people that she doesn’t. And every path that’s open to her will put Perry under the pressures that caused his breakdown before. How can she do what she must and still protect Perry?

Perry desperately wants to make things easier for Leonie. Somehow he has to find the strength to face the things that all but destroyed him in the past. But every way he turns, some aspect of his past lies waiting to pounce – even during his happiest moments. And he can never forget that Leonie’s life is in danger from someone, somewhere.

Gabriel has managed to negotiate peace, at least in theory. Now he must put that into practice and reunite Leonie with the family she never knew she had. Then disaster strikes right in the middle of his own sanctuary. Can he still protect those he loves, or has he been harbouring a villain the whole time?

PURCHASE LINKS:

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Cloth of Grace final front

GUEST POST:

Birthdays. We all have them, of course. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t been born. Most of us – though perhaps not all – know when our birthday is, and consider the date a fact, a fixed piece of information. It’s probably registered somewhere, on our birth certificate, our driving licence, our passport. But if you research your family tree you’ll find that birth dates are rather more fluid than you’d think.

For a start, the year can vary. Not so much now but in the past people might alter their declared age – and hence their implied birth year – for any number of reasons. I’m sure we’ve all heard of young men who’ve lied about their age to enable them to join the military in times of war. Both men and women would misrepresent their age at their marriage so that the woman appeared younger than the man – or so that they were both old enough to marry without parental approval. And I have several ancestors who have only aged six or seven years in the ten years between censuses.

It’s not only the year you can’t trust. In the early days of birth registration in England there were fines for late registration. Rather than declaring the correct date of birth and paying the fine, parents would give a later date of birth for their child to avoid the fine. And, once in the formal records, that later date of birth would then follow the child throughout their life. If the family celebrated the birthday on the correct day, this could lead to a lot of confusion as to when their birthday really was.

Of course, it’s much harder to create an incorrect birth date in today’s information age. But as a child, at what age do you learn and understand the significance of your date of birth? Perhaps around four or five, when you start school and learn about the calendar. If as a child you lose those people who know your birth date from first-hand experience, and you don’t have access to any records, how can you be sure you know the right date? You could tell someone that date in good faith, but equally how confident can they be that you’ve got it right?

In my Choices and Consequences series, the heroine, Leonie, loses her immediate family by the time she’s five years old. But she knows her birthday because it’s a distinctive date. As she says in the prologue to Weave of Love, book 3 –

“It’s my birthday,” she said to him proudly. “My first real birthday. The one that doesn’t happen every year.”

Her birthday is leap day, 29th February, a distinctive date, one a child can remember without knowing the actual date, and an adult can interpret from limited information. After all, there’s no other date that doesn’t happen every year. Of course, that causes its own problems as Leonie describes in Strand of Faith, the first book in the series –

The big problem was that if it wasn’t a leap year I didn’t know whether to have my birthday on the last day of February, or the first day of March.

And such a distinctive date makes it easy to work out how old Leonie is when the books start – this quote is also from Strand of Faith, just two months before Leonie’s eighteenth birthday.

“That’s Leap Day,” Prospero said. “Last year was leap year, and that means you’re seventeen.”

But now you know why Cloth of Grace, the fourth and final book in the Choices and Consequences series is launching on 29th February – it’s Leonie’s real birthday and, given it only happens once every four years, it would be a real shame to miss it!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cloth of Grace_Rachel-036_webRachel J Bonner is the author of the compelling and enthralling four book Choices and Consequences series.  The first book in the series, Strand of Faith, was published in November 2018. Book 2, Thread of Hope, released on 2nd May 2019, followed by Weave of Love on 24th October. The story concludes with Cloth of Grace, released on 29th February 2020.

Rachel has a degree in engineering, which she followed with a career in accountancy which is probably not a conventional path to becoming an author, particularly in fantasy or romance.  Rachel says that, although accountancy isn’t anything like as boring as everyone thinks, writing is a lot more fun.  When not writing, she can be found walking in the beautiful countryside near where she lives, which has influenced much of the scenery in her books, or shooting things with her local archery club.  Shooting targets only, honest.  Nothing to worry about. (Okay, sometimes we shoot Polo mints. Or cabbages. Still nothing to worry about.)

She also enjoys swimming, eating chocolate chip cookies and growing aromatic herbs, especially thyme and rosemary.  It’s no coincidence that her heroine likes the same things.

You can find out more about her books and sign up for Rachel’s newsletters at www.racheljbonner.co.uk.

Newsletter subscription link  https://www.subscribepage.com/webpage

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CHOICES AND CONSEQUENCES SERIES:

If you haven’t discovered the Choices and Consequences series yet, here are all the details for the first three books.

Strand of Faith (Book 1)

A girl. A monk. An unthinkable sacrifice.
When the choice is between love and life, how can anyone decide?

In a post-apocalyptic future, a girl and a monk, both with extraordinary mental powers, have compelling reasons not to fall in love. But their choices will have consequences for the rest of the world.

After the troubles of his youth, Brother Prospero has found comfort and fulfilment in the monastery. Then he discovers something that forces him to reconsider his whole vocation. How can it possibly be right to leave a life of worship and service for human desire? And if he does leave, will the pressures from his past destroy him?

Orphaned and mistreated, Leonie has found sanctuary and safety at the Abbey. When she comes into contact with Prospero everything spirals out of her control. Everyone she’s ever loved has died. She can’t do that to him. But how can she walk away from the first place she’s truly belonged?

Abbot Gabriel is faced with an impossible choice. He can do nothing and watch the world descend into war. Or he can manipulate events and ensure peace – at the cost of two lives that he is responsible for. Is he strong enough to sacrifice those he loves?

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Thread of Hope (Book 2)

What if your secrets are so dangerous they could destroy the one you love?
Is honesty always the best policy?

Leonie may have run away but Prospero will find her. He loves her and he wants a future with her by his side whatever the consequences. Only when he does find her, he ought to tell her who he really is, outside the monastery. That’ll make her run again. Dare he risk it? But if he doesn’t tell her, someone else may…

Marriage to Prospero is what Leonie wants most and the one thing she knows she can’t have. If he found out what she was really like, what she’d been, what she’d done, he’d despise her and she couldn’t bear that. Better to leave now than live a lie – but it’s harder than she expected. If only…

Gabriel is starting to discover the secrets inherent in Leonie, secrets that not even she knows, secrets that will tear the world apart. And the secrets he is keeping are tearing him apart. How can sacrificing those he loves possibly achieve peace when everything he discovers risks the death of millions?

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Weave of Love (Book 3)

What if the choice you have to make has devastating consequences for others?

How can anyone know the right thing to do?

Leonie chose to sacrifice everything to save other people. Now those around her have to face the consequences – and those consequences are not what they expected.

Prospero must deal with his own guilt. He was the one who gave Leonie the tools she needed – her life was in his hands. To make the most of what she did, he will have to face up to all the family issues he has avoided for so long. Whatever he chooses to do, someone he loves will be hurt. For Leonie’s sake, is he now strong enough to make the choice he couldn’t make before?

The crisis predicted by Lord Gabriel has come and gone. But his task isn’t over. Leonie’s very existence may be out in the open but Gabriel discovers that the past is never what it seems – and nor is the present. How can he use what he now knows to bring together those who have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember? If he fails in this, everything he’s had to do so far will be in vain.

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GIVEAWAY:

Cloth of Grace Giveaway - IMG_20200214_103643294Win a complete, signed Choices and Consequences series and matching bookmarks (Open INT)

  • Prize includes signed copies of Strand of Faith, Thread of Hope, Weave of Love and Cloth of Grace.

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Guest Posts

Beyond the Margin – Jo Jackson

I am joined today by Jo Jackson, who has kindly come to tell us all about the books she remembers, as part of the blog tour for Beyond the Margin. Many thanks to Jo for taking the time to talk to us, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the blog tour. Without further ado, over to you Jo.

GUEST POST:

Reading is something I have enjoyed all my life. When I talk to friends who say they never read a book I wonder what they do last thing at night, first thing in the morning, on a hot summer’s day in the shade of the lime tree or on cold wet Sunday afternoons when  the log burner is on and its cosy inside.

I don’t have shelves of books. I won’t often read a book twice and I believe books are for sharing not for sitting on a dusty shelf. If you’ve read it and enjoyed it, pass it on and when it comes back to you, pass it on again.

My favourite book is God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and my favourite author is Gerbrand Backer author of The Twin and Ten White Geese. The books below are books I remember for many different reasons.

Heidi by Joanna Spyri. I read this as a child. I no longer own a copy, but I can still see the illustrations so clearly. The beautiful alpine scenery, Heidi’s self-contained grandfather sitting outside his hut. Heidi snuggling into her attic bed. Then there was Clara, the lonely little girl who because of her illness couldn’t run and play and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine as Heidi did. This is essentially a book about love and how it grows when it’s shared. Perhaps it was reading Heidi that made me want to discover other countries and to always feel at home amongst mountains.

As a teenager on one of my regular visits to the library I brought home John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. This was like something I’d never read before set in a landscape quite alien to me. The story depicts the hardships of a family migrating west from the Oklahoma dust bowl. On one level it’s about family unity, on another about exploitation and greed set against growing political unrest and a rising fear of communism. I’m sure I didn’t articulate those points at the time, but I loved Steinbeck’s poetic prose and his imagery. His characters were brilliantly drawn and whilst I was reading it I was part of the family. Fifty years later it’s those characteristics that still draws me to a book. I devoured every one of his novels and by the time I studied Of Mice and Men at school, Lennie was already a character I would never forget. Recently I found To a God Unknown. Written in 1933 and described as literary fantasy it has a haunting spiritualism. It is a beautiful book. The scene in the glade remains forever with me.

Content For Mai's Musings - My photo 3 (1)In recent years I have travelled to the beautiful country of Ethiopia and on another occasion camped in the Empty Quarter after travelling through the Oman.  These places were special to me because I felt I had already been there after reading Wilfred Thesiger’s wonderful travel books. He was born in 1910 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Life of My Choice is an account of his childhood and how, as he grew older, he became repulsed by the trappings of western life. He travelled extensively with the Bedu people and immersed himself in their way of life. His writing is succinct, descriptive and insightful. I suspect he was a troubled man trying to live at a time when having an unconventional personality was not applauded. He would have been difficult to know being controversial in his views and habits. I may not have liked him, but I wish I’d had the opportunity to know him because his books are wonderful.

My final book has a personal story attached but it is a book I believe everyone should read. Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa was published in 2006 and explores life in post 1948 Palestine. It shows how love and loyalty can survive amongst the horror of war and why the Middle East question remains as insoluble today as it was then.

It is a meaningful book for me because in 1983 my husband and I and our three children were returning to England after living in Egypt for two years. Our plan was to drive back through Israel and take a ferry from Haifa to Venice before driving home through Europe. The journey out of Egypt was complex and ‘making friendships’ a necessary but slow part of the process along the way. The consequence being we were too late in the day to import the car at the Egyptian/ Israeli border and our only option was to take a taxi to the nearest hotel 70 km away. Our taxi driver, a Palestinian, offered instead to take us the short distance to his house near Gaza, let us sleep there and he would bring us back to the border early the next morning to collect our car, all for the price of the taxi fare.

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When we arrived his whole extended family were there to greet us. He and his wife gave up their room and their bed and moved mattresses in for our children to sleep on. We had tea and pastries in the courtyard and anyone in the village who could speak a word of English popped in to say hello. At night he and his brother took us out for a meal and wouldn’t allow us to pay. Before we left in the morning, we had to have our photographs taken with each member of the family and his little daughter had proudly put on her best dress for the occasion.

We remember the kindness of that family with such fondness. As we watch the terrible destruction in the Gaza strip, we often think of them and hope their lives have been spared.

Of course there are many more wonderful books I have read but when I set myself this task these were the first ones to spring to mind. Perhaps you will have enjoyed some of them too.

BLURB:

Is living on the edge of society a choice? Or is choice a luxury of the fortunate?

Joe, fighting drug addiction, runs until the sea halts his progress. His is a faltering search for meaningful relationships.

‘Let luck be a friend’, Nuala is told but it had never felt that way. Abandoned at five years old survival means learning not to care. Her only hope is to take control of her own destiny.

The intertwining of their lives makes a compelling story of darkness and light, trauma, loss and second chances.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Beyond The Margin Cover

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Beyond - Author P9200709 Beyond the Margin-2Jo Jackson reads books and writes them too.

Having worked with some of the most vulnerable people in society she has a unique voice apparent in her second novel Beyond the Margin.

She was a nurse, midwife and family psychotherapist and now lives in rural Shropshire with her husband. She loves travelling and walking as well as gardening, philosophy and art.

Her first novel Too Loud a Silence is set in Egypt where Jo lived for a few years with her husband and three children. Events there were the inspiration for her book which she describes as ‘a story she had to write’.

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GIVEAWAY:

Win signed copies of Beyond the Margin and Too Loud a Silence by Jo Jackson. (UK only)

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*Terms and Conditions –UK entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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To find out more about Beyond the Margin, have a look at the other blogs taking part in the tour.

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Guest Posts

When We Say Goodbye – Michelle Vernal

As part of the blog tour for her latest book, When We Say Goodbye, I am delighted to welcome Michelle Vernal to my blog today to talk about the inspiration behind the novel.

When We Say Goodbye is a story about Ellie Perkin’s journey through grief and how an old house holds the key to helping her heart heal. The idea for the setting of a broken-down house came from having lived in my own version of this. Back in my early twenties I’d been flatting for several years but of recent was having a bad run. I’d had to move a couple of times for different reasons but the last house I found myself in was with two young men I’d never met until I answered the flatmate wanted advert in the paper. They were personable and easy going at first everything was fine but then things began to change.

I was heading out one night and as I climbed in the car, I saw my flatmate in my bedroom watching me through the window. He made some inappropriate comments over the next week and I overheard him having a heated conversation with himself about me in the shower. I began to feel unsafe, moving things in front of my bedroom door before going to bed. My parents weren’t happy about his situation but they lived fifty minutes from the city and it wasn’t an option to go home. I didn’t want to land on friends either. In hindsight, I should have gotten out of there right away, trusted my instincts but I didn’t and luckily things worked out. Fed up with helping me shift all the time, my mum and dad decided the time had come for me to buy a house of my own.

In the interim, I told the other chap I was house-sharing with what was happening and it turned out our flatmate had a history of mental health issues. His parents picked him up one day and took him home and that was the last I heard from him.

As for my folks well, they told me they’d loan me the money for a deposit which I would pay back at a later date. It was a big leap of faith on their part especially given that at that stage of life my main concern was what to wear on Friday night. A real estate agent was enlisted and we set about looking. I had a clear idea of what I wanted. A character cottage with plenty of personality. What I got with the amount of money I was able to borrow from the bank was an ex-government owned, State house in a less than salubrious part of the city.

The first morning I’d woken to find myself in my new home, I was sipping a coffee in the kitchen when I glanced out the window to see a sight that nearly made me spill the hot liquid all over myself. There on the front lawn next door were my neighbours. If you remember that hard-hitting Kiwi film, Once Were Warriors well, that was what I was looking at. Fully patched, gang members. Not once on all those visits to see the house with the friendly real estate man had he made mention of the fellas who lived next door.

You can’t always judge a book by its cover though and I lived in that house for four years without any bother. It saw me through the worst of times, the loss of someone I was close too and the best of times, meeting my husband of nearly eighteen years, Paul. It’s the house where the seeds for When We Say Goodbye were planted.

There’s a line in the book, I love because it sums up how I felt about my old house and what my parents had done for me. ‘Uncle Colin and Aunty Paula had invested in me, and I was stepping up. I was turning something old and broken into something beautiful again.’

I hope Ellie’s story makes you smile because even though it runs the gamut of emotions it is a story ultimately about finding the beauty in life.

Many thanks Michelle for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to speak with us today.

Now for the all important book info!

When We Say Goodbye_Final cover

BLURB:

Can you love when all seems lost?

Ellie Perkins life was right on track until her boyfriend Sam suffers a near-fatal car accident, leaving him in a coma and all their future plans in limbo.

Desperately in need of something to fix, Ellie has to find a project and when her grandparents old house is put up for sale, she jumps at the chance. Because, like Ellie, the house is broken. And if she can fix the house, then surely, it’s just a matter of time before she and Sam are back on their path to happily-ever-after…

In life, when the worst happens how do you pick up the pieces?

A heart-breaking story of love, loss and the path to forgiveness, perfect for fans of Faith Hogan and Amanda Prowse. To be read with tissues.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Apple

Google

Kobo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

btyMichelle Vernal loves a happy ending. She lives with her husband and their two boys in the beautiful and resilient city of Christchurch, New Zealand. She’s partial to a glass of wine, loves a cheese scone, and has recently taken up yoga—a sight to behold indeed. She writes books that she hopes make you feel you are curled up with your best friend having a cosy chat.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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Thanks again to Michelle, and to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of this tour. Head over to the other blogs taking part for more information on Michelle’s book.

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Guest Posts

Sixty Minutes – Tony Salter

I am joined today by Tony Salter, who is here to talk to us about the evolution of Sixty Minutes as part of the blog tour for the literary thriller. Over to you Tony.

This is the first blog tour, so please bear with me.

I thought it would be good to talk a little about the evolution of Sixty Minutes which is somewhat tricky without including spoilers, but I’ll try.

Unusually for me, I started at the end. Every now and then, I spend a few hours thinking of ideas for future books. Sometimes I will simply jot down a couple of words, sometimes a page or two and I occasionally I will write a chapter and see how a character starts to develop. The idea for Sixty Minutes was slightly different as I started by picturing the final scene (I can’t remember why) and then deciding to write it, almost as an exercise in descriptive prose.

That led me to thinking. What happened beforehand? How did that moment of crisis come about? The rest flowed from there. I decided to use the one-hour period as a constraint in order to add pace and I also decided to add another four characters to give the story depth and layers. But from the very beginning I felt uncomfortable with the core subject matter which is sensitive. To make things even harder on myself, I wrote it chapter-by-chapter, moving each character’s story forward side-by-side and sent it to a small group of readers one chapter at a time for comments.

I’m not sure that was an experiment which worked and, when I got to the end (and decided how it would actually finish), I concluded that something was wrong with the book, although I couldn’t  (or wouldn’t) see what it was. I put it in a drawer and got on with writing Cold Intent, the sequel to Best Eaten Cold.

I dug it out a year later and sent it to my new editor. She gave me very clear advice – one of my five characters had no place in the book and needed to go. He was a great (very creepy) character and I’ll find a place for him somewhere else one day, but I knew she was right and started the process of stripping him out and replacing him  – with a young woman called Nadia.

I have never been a believer in the idea that cultural appropriation in literature is somehow wrong. I am a white middle-class male from the South of England and I can’t change that, but my characters in Sixty Minutes are an East End Cabbie (ex Army), a young Pakistani man from Bradford, a wealthy South African mother-of-two, a seventy-six-year-old Canadian professor of literature and a young, female, half-French, half-Lebanese MI5 officer, Nadia.

Writing in Nadia was a fascinating process as all of the characters are so tightly interwoven, but I didn’t find it difficult as I knew quickly that I was doing the right thing and that I would end up ‘healing’ my book and making it coherent and balanced.

At the same time, the one-year wait had helped me to clarify the way I wanted to deal with the more sensitive elements of the book and I am happy that the overall message is the one that I would like to convey. Not all readers will agree with me, but that’s absolutely fine.

Hopefully readers will find that the characters are real and believable and enjoy the story – it’s a thriller, after all.

Many thanks Tony, for that fascinating insight into how Sixty Minutes developed into the book it is today.

Now, here comes the all important blurb and book info.

Sixty Minutes - Kindle Cover

BLURB:

Five different people. Five separate lives. Sixty minutes to bind them for ever.

Hassan, Jim, Shuna, Dan and Nadia come from very different worlds. If life were straightforward, their paths would never cross. But our lives are rarely that simple and, as the clock ticks away the minutes of a single hour on a July morning, fate draws all five together in a headlong rush towards disaster.

Who are the heroes and who are the villains?

Tony Salter’s latest novel leaves us guessing right up to the last page.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tony’s latest thriller, Sixty Minutes, was released on 29th August 2019. Tony is the author of bestselling psychological thriller, Best Eaten Cold. He writes pacy contemporary thrillers which explore different themes, but all share Tony’s thought-provoking plots and richly-painted characters. Sixty Minutes is his fourth novel. His second novel, The Old Orchard – a gripping family thriller – was published on the 7th of November 2017 and the sequel to Best Eaten Cold, – Cold Intent – was published in November 2018. Highlights of his early career include (in no particular order) three years as an oilfield engineer in the Egyptian desert, twelve years managing record companies for EMI Music in Greece, India and across Eastern Europe, running a caravan site in the South of France and being chauffeur to the French Consul in Sydney. Having survived the Dotcom boom, he went on to be a founder of the world’s largest website for expatriates, a major music publisher and a successful hotel technology business. In amongst this, Tony found the time to backpack around the world twice (once in his twenties and once in his fifties), learn six languages (including Norwegian and Greek) and to find a beautiful Norwegian wife. He now lives in Oxfordshire and writes full-time. He has recently turned sixty and is married with three children and five grandchildren. You can find out more about Tony at www.tonysalter.com

SOCIAL MEDIA:

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GIVEAWAY:

Giveaway to Win 5 x PB copies of Sixty Minutes (Open INT)

*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter link below.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs taking part in the tour for Sixty Minutes.

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