Guest Posts

Space Academy – Hannah Hopkins

I’d like to give a very warm welcome to Hannah Hopkins, who has kindly written a guest post on her mission as a writer, as part of the blog tour for her MG Fantasy novel, Space Academy. Many thanks to Hannah for taking the time to do this, and also to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

It’s the year 2100. Earth is dying. A young woman, Elsie, has risked everything to get her newborn son, Will, aboard ‘The Mayflower’ – a spaceship that will transport a select number of people to a new planet they can call home. Elsie’s luck takes a turn when she discovers the captain of ‘The Mayflower’ is an old friend. He allows her to board with her son, giving them a place on the luxurious Floor One, where they live amongst the most honoured of ‘The Mayflower’s’ passengers.

Thirteen years later, and Will is ready to start school at Space Academy, an institute specialising in subjects such as Alien Studies, Technology, and Rocket Control. While a pupil there, Will starts to uncover secrets about his father’s death, becoming wrapped in a mystery that he and his friends must solve if they are to have any hope of saving humanity from the threat that lies in wait.

Lose yourself in this brilliantly addictive novel as it takes you on a journey through the stars. But be warned – you might be surprised by what you find.

PURCHASE LINKS:

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Space Academy Cover

I’ll pass you over to Hannah now so she can tell you all what she wants readers to take away from her stories.

As a writer, first and foremost I want to entertain my readers. I fell in love with the magic of the written word at a young age, and have since spent my life either buried in books or my own imagination. Giving somebody the opportunity to escape into a different reality and explore another world brings me such joy, and I love the idea that my readers can connect to characters and settings that I have invented. It’s like sharing a piece of your imagination or a piece of your soul, and it creates a unique and enduring bond. I love it when readers become invested in my stories, and hearing phrases like ‘when is the sequel?’ or ‘I felt really sad when I finished the book,’ is so rewarding! I know how it feels when I fall in love with a novel, and knowing I can give that to someone else is giddying.

 In terms of a message, I think the most valuable thing I can give to readers is the feeling they are not alone. Whether they befriend the characters in their mind or simply relate to what they’re growing to, I truly believe the best power of a story is allowing you to feel as though you are understood. The idea that as human beings, we all experience the same hardships is incredibly unifying, and helps release the burden of thinking we are the only ones who struggle. Stories can help us make sense of our own lives. They use beautiful prose to summarise ideas and feelings we cannot articulate, and make us feel a part of something bigger. They give us hope when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel and help us believe in the magic and mystery of life. Part of my mission as a writer is to reach people who feel alone and give them something that eases their pain. Whether that is a piece of entertainment or a deeper message of support, a story is a tremendously important and valuable tool.

 Recently, I have tried my hand at writing as advocacy. As a young woman, the feminist cause is incredibly important to me, and is something that I have become deeply passionate about. I have always been fascinated and saddened by the stories of well-known women in history, and I started to imagine how things might have been if we had had more power. I started writing about a fictional world, where inherited power is passed from woman to daughter instead of father to son, and began to realise the issues I was exploring in the novel are extremely relevant to real life and modern society. If I can create a gripping and immersive story which also serves to further a cause I care about, then I feel I will have completed my mission as a writer! Writing makes the world a better place, and it is a privilege to be able to tap into that power.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Space Academy - hannah hIn 2017, Hannah Hopkins released a self-published novel entitled ‘The Split’; the story of four teenagers navigating life after Earth as they journey through space to a new planet. Two years later, the book was picked up by ‘The Conrad Press’ and re-vamped as ‘Space Academy,’ with a new cover, new title and new additions to the story. ‘Space Academy’ was released in 2020, kickstarting Hannah’s career as a writer.

Hannah is currently busy writing a historical fiction novel with a feminist twist. She spends the rest of her time working at a University and caring for her two young children in the UK.

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Have a look at the other blogs taking part in this tour for more on Hannah and Space Academy.

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Guest Posts

The English Wife – Adrienne Chinn

In the second of today’s guests posts, I am delighted to welcome Adrienne Chinn to my blog, along with lots of seriously tempting photographs! Many thanks Adrienne for taking the time to write a guest post for me, and also to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part in the blog tour for Adrienne’s book, The English Wife.

BLURB:

Two women, a world apart.

A secret waiting to be discovered…

VE Day 1945: As victory bells ring out across the country, war bride Ellie Burgess’ happiness is overshadowed by grief. Her charismatic Newfoundlander husband Thomas is still missing in action.
 
Until a letter arrives explaining Thomas is back at home on the other side of the Atlantic recovering from his injuries.

Travelling to a distant country to live with a man she barely knows is the bravest thing Ellie has ever had to do. But nothing can prepare her for the harsh realities of her new home…

September 11th 2001: Sophie Parry is on a plane to New York on the most tragic day in the city’s history. While the world watches the news in horror, Sophie’s flight is rerouted to a tiny town in Newfoundland and she is forced to seek refuge with her estranged aunt Ellie.
 
Determined to discover what it was that forced her family apart all those years ago, newfound secrets may change her life forever…
 
This is a timeless story of love, sacrifice and resilience perfect for fans of Lorna Cook and Gill Paul.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

The English Wife Hi Res Cover

Now, without further ado, here is Adrienne to tell us about eating like a Newfoundlander, and those photos I promised you.

Bread is the staff of life, so they say, but Newfoundlanders don’t limit themselves to a single fundamental like bread. Oh, no, m’dear. Newfoundlanders love their food, and I couldn’t write a book where half of it is set in Newfoundland, without talking about food (and drink, of course). If you visit, be sure to try bottled iceberg water!

In The English Wife, Florie is constantly cooking up hardy Newfoundland staples like Jiggs Dinner and stew and dumplings. Ellie, trying to navigate herself around her new life as a fisherman’s wife in a remote outport after the war, is faced with learning how to make salt cod and brewis (pronounced “brews”) with scrunchions.

So, exactly what are some of these local culinary delights? Jiggs Dinner is a favourite weekend dinner meal. You place a whole piece of corned beef in a pot on the hob with enough water to cover the meat. Cook for several hours until tender, then add cabbage, carrots, potatoes, swede, turnip… and boil. Then eat. I like mine with HP Sauce.

I remember growing up on fish and brewis as a kid in Newfoundland – I teethed on Purity hard tack biscuits – biscuits literally as hard as rocks, which, when soaked overnight soften into a dense bread which becomes brewis. Cooking up fish and brewis is easy – soak the hard tack overnight in one pot, and the salt cod in another. Change the cod water again in the morning and simmer until cooked.  Then you heat the hard tack until it comes to a boil and drain it. Cook up some chopped onions and diced salt pork in some butter, add the flaked up cod and fry it all up with the brewis until golden. Believe me, this is very tasty.

Newfoundland is full of delicious berry plants, from red partridgeberries and orange, raspberry-like cloudberries to the best blueberries on the planet – tiny balls of blue deliciousness. You haven’t had a blueberry until you’ve had a Newfoundland blueberry. Here’s an easy recipe for Newfoundland blueberry duff (a steamed pudding):

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups (500 grams) of flour

3 tsp baking powder

½ cup (170 grams) sugar

½ tsp salt

½ cup milk (235 ml) whole or half-fat milk

1 egg

¼ cup (85 grams) unsalted butter

1 cup  (340 grams) fresh blueberries

Preparation:

Cream butter with sugar, salt and egg with a mixer. In a separate bowl combine flower and baking powder. Add milk and the flour alternately to the butter mixture. Fold in blueberries. Note: If you use frozen blueberries, these will stain the whole pudding blue. Grease a pudding bowl with some butter and pour in the batter. Cover with greaseproof paper or aluminium foil tied with a string or held in place with a large elastic band. Put a couple of inches of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Set in the pudding bowl and cover with a lid, letting it boil for about 1 ½ hours. Be sure it doesn’t boil dry – add more water if necessary. Place the bowl upside down on a rack to cool for 15 minutes then slowly lift off the bowl.

Sweet Sauce:

Ingredients:

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

¼ tsp salt

1/3 cup (115 grams) brown sugar

1 cup (470 ml) boiling water

¼ tsp vanilla

Preparation:

Melt the butter in a pot. Add flour and salt and stir till smooth. Add brown sugar, stirring constantly. Remove the pot from the heat and add boiling water. Stir till smooth. Place pot back on the heat and continue to stir until it comes to a boil. Add vanilla and serve with pudding and clotted cream. Yum! A million calories but worth every one.

If you don’t have time to cook up a Jiggs Dinner or make a blueberry duff, just do like a Newfoundlander and grab a couple of Jam Jams and a mug of tea with Carnation tinned milk and a few teaspoons of sugar. You’ll be a Newfoundlander in no time.

If you visit Newfoundland, be sure to stop by these terrific restaurants if you want to taste some delicious Newfoundand food: Norton’s Cove Café in Badger’s Quay, The Bonavista Social Club on the Bonavista Peninsula, Fogo Island Inn on Fogo Island, and Mallard Cottage in St John’s.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

The English Wife Author PhotoAdrienne Chinn was born in Grand Falls, Newfoundland, grew up in Quebec, and eventually made her way to London, England after a career as a journalist. In England she worked as a TV and film researcher before embarking on a career as an interior designer, lecturer, and writer. When not up a ladder or at the computer, she can usually be found rummaging through flea markets or haggling in the Marrakech souk. Her second novel, The English Wife — a timeslip story set in World War II England and contemporary Newfoundland — is published in June 2020. Her debut novel, The Lost Letter from Morocco, was published by Avon Books UK in 2019. She is currently writing her third novel, The Photographer’s Daughters, the first of a 3-book series, to be published in 2021.

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Guest Posts

War Bringer – Aaron Hodges

Happy book birthday to Aaron Hodges and War Bringer, and welcome to Aaron who has written a fascinating guest post for us today. Many thanks to Aaron, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources, for inviting me to be a part of the birthday celebrations.

BLURB:

Centuries ago, the world fell.
From the ashes rose a terrible new species—the Tangata.
Now they wage war against the kingdoms of man.
And humanity is losing.

Recruited straight from his academy, twenty-year-old Lukys hopes the frontier will make a soldier out of him. But Tangata are massing in the south, and the allied armies are desperate. They will do anything to halt the enemy advance—including sending untrained men and women into battle. Determined to survive, Lukys seeks aid from the only man who seems to care: Romaine, the last warrior of an extinct kingdom.

Meanwhile, the Queen’s Archivist leads an expedition deep beneath the earth. She seeks to uncover the secrets of the Gods. Their magic has been lost to the ages, yet artifacts remain, objects of power that could turn the tide of the war. But salvation is not all that waits beneath the surface. Something else slumbers in the darkness. Something old. Something evil.

PURCHASE LINKS:

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Warbringer Cover Final

Now I will hand you over to Aaron to talk about plotting versus pantsing in fantasy writing (which is perhaps the perfect guest post for me at the moment!)

They say there are two types of writers—plotters (those who carefully plot out every detail of their novel before writing a single word) and pantsers (those who make things up as they go along). in my experience in discussions with my author friends, I’ve found this to be more or less true, with the exception that its less of a duel choice and more of a continuum between the two.

Certainly, there are elements of epic fantasy novels spanning multiple characters and grand plot arcs that are likely to require a certain amount of plotting before hand in order to create a coherent story. That’s not to say it can’t be done—if I’m honest, most of my first trilogy was written while I was pantsing in my early days as a writer. However, that series required a lot of rewriting when the time eventually came to publish it, in order to remove dues ex machina scenes and create a more cohesive plot.

For my later series I’ve managed to find what I think is a good balance between plotting and pantsing. I usually by a pantsing mind map session in which I put down every interesting scene I can think of that might fit into the realms of my story. This usually takes place over the course of a week and I’m always having to jot down ideas on the go, as you never know when one will come to you! After that, I then begin to connect the dots, so to speak, and work out what order the scenes come together. Once I have a skeleton of a plot in place, I’ll start to write outlines for each chapter/scene in the story that will help trigger my writing in the coming months.

At the point I have about two thirds of my chapters outlined, I begin to feel confident about starting to write. On the first draft, while I have those outlines to follow, I often find myself veering off-track because of plot points that didn’t work or characters that develop a life of their own (I’m serious, some of my characters over the years have been a real pain!). For this reason, I generally write my first draft as quickly as possible and don’t worry too much about details in this early version—as often chapters will need to be completely rewritten or even deleted in later drafts.

Which brings me to the second draft. By this point I have usually developed a good understanding of my main characters, so I am able to return and rewrite earlier chapters to ensure a clean plot arc throughout the book. I’ll also add in more important details, names (sometimes I just leave them blank in the first draft!), and settings

Once the second draft is complete, I send it off to my editor who finds all my repeated words and incorrect grammar, before I go over it one more time myself. In the third draft I am mostly just polishing sentences and paragraphs to make sure they flow, as well as hopefully catching spelling mistakes—although my proofreader and ARC readers then have one last read over the manuscript to catch the last of these.

And walluh, I have a complete book!

When I’m working full-time, all of that generally only takes me 3 months from start to finish.

Not bad ay?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Warbringer Aaron Hodges Author PictureAaron Hodges was born in 1989 in the small town of Whakatane, New Zealand. He studied for five years at the University of Auckland, completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and Geography, and a Masters of Environmental Engineering. After working as an environmental consultant for two years, he grew tired of office work and decided to quit his job and explore the world. During his travels he picked up an old draft of a novel he once wrote in High School (titled The Sword of Light) and began to rewrite the story. Six months later he published his first novel, Stormwielder, and hasn’t looked back since.

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Guest Posts

Celeste Three Is Missing – Chris Calder

Please give a warm welcome to Chris Calder, as he joins me today as part of the blog tour for Celeste Three is Missing. Many thanks to Chris for taking the time to talk to us, and to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

BLURB:

The world’s first earth-orbit passenger plane, the sensational Celeste Three, takes off from its base in Arizona, also the only place where it is designed land. On a routine flight the craft disappears.

On board is Viktor Karenkov, billionaire oil magnate who has used his wealth to evade prosecution for a murder he committed years earlier. Gregory Topozian, the murdered man’s friend, has been waiting for a chance to bring Karenkov to justice. With dogged determination and considerable ingenuity, he conceives an audacious plan.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon US

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Celeste Three Is Missing Cover

Now, I’ll hand you over to Chris to tell you all about his upcoming novel.

Following the successful re-launch of my novel Celeste Three is Missing, I am delighted to be able to tell you that the manuscript for my latest book, provisionally entitled Growing Apart, has just been completed.

The first part of the story is set in India. Rupert Chilcott is an English civil servant who is sent there in 1936 to work for the government. He has an affair with a vivacious Anglo-Indian girl who subsequently gives birth to twin boys. But she dies in childbirth while he is in England on leave. When he gets the news, Rupert rushes back to India by air, the quickest way to make the journey. At that time it took over a week (six overnight stops!) and by the time he arrives, one of the boys has already been adopted by a childless couple in Bombay. Rupert takes the other to England.

I have a feeling that you have guessed why the book is called Growing Apart. The twins finally meet in England, when they are twenty-five years old. That happens in a tense scene where one, who does not even know of the existence of the other, is in a life-threatening situation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Celeste Author PhotoAfter ten happy years of retirement in rural France, Chris Calder is back in England. He came late to writing novels, penning his first whilst incarcerated in a French hospital following cancer surgery. At the time he spoke little French. Unable to communicate effectively with the staff, he spent his time fleshing out his first novel. Five more have followed; light thrillers leavened with humour. Best of all, the cancer is now history.

Chris knows that readers of fiction expect to be diverted and entertained. He loves feedback and believes passionately that taking on board readers’ views improves what what he does. You can email him at chris@chriscalder.com. Go on, he’d love to hear from you.

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Guest Posts

Words of Alchemy – Camilla Downs

I am delighted to welcome Camilla Downs to my blog today to tell us all about her book of poetry, Words of Alchemy, and to share one of her poems with us. Thank you so much Camilla for taking the time to talk to us, and for sharing your work.

Words of Alchemy - Pre-Order November 2019 copy

Thank you Mai, for having me as a guest on your lovely blog. I deeply appreciate your time and effort.

My latest book, Words of Alchemy, is a culmination of a six year journey. A journey of turning into my writing, of a solid walking practice, a journey of going within, a journey of travelling to the past, a journey of living, and of healing.

Six years ago I wrote my first free-verse poem. This continued through to the publication of Words of Alchemy. I’m currently taking a break from writing, a break from the intensity of the past thirteen years. I reached the tipping point of my healing journey in the beginning of 2020. On the other side of it now, I can look back and see that it was one hell of a ride. Thirteen years of going within, excavating, confronting, feeling, feeling, feeling, and getting to know myself.

I share this to convey how much writing was a vital component of my healing. All that was written, all that I write, is from my experiences. I openly share with others as I know I am not the only one with these experiences, these feelings, similar journeys. It is my hope that everyone who is inclined, make time to write. I’m not speaking of becoming a published author, simply writing for the benefit of it, getting things out of one’s mind, giving oneself a bit of peace.

I’d like to share a poem from the book.

Emerge

And out of the darkness

We shall emerge

A darkness that

Has been necessary.

 

A vital and pivotal point

Of confronting the

Shadows within.

 

For to have more

Than brief glimpses

Of the light,

This acceptance, forgiveness,

And dissolution of shadows

Must be met.

 

As what awaits is

The eternity of light and love,

Ever there, ever lovingly

And patiently waiting

To welcome us home

BLURB:
In Words of Alchemy, Camilla Downs invites you to walk with her to share her love of Nature and Life through a heartfelt free-verse poetry memoir.

During her daily strolls she is mindfully present as she delves into life in the raw and experiences her heart’s observations.

Camilla embraces what happens when she opens her heart and invites the written words to flow. The Alchemy of Love and Healing is what happens.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Photo #1 Words of Alchemy Wilbur May Arboretum Rancho San Rafael Lillian and Camilla 5.2.19 #3 camilla selfieCamilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of MeetingtheAuthors.com and lives in Northern Nevada, USA with her two kids.

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Camilla has kindly agreed to let me share a couple more poems from Words of Alchemy with you and I will also be sharing my thoughts on this book in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for those posts.

Guest Posts

Through Dust and Dreams – Roxana Valea

It’s the one day blog blitz today for Through Dust and Dreams by Roxana Valea, and Roxana has very kindly taken the time to write a guest post for me to share with you all. Many thanks Roxanne for this, and thanks also to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the blitz.

BLURB:

At a crossroads in her life, Roxana decides to take a ten-day safari trip to Africa. In Namibia, she meets a local guide who talks about “the courage to become who you are” and tells her that “the world belongs to those who dream”. Her holiday over, Roxana still carries the spell of his words within her soul. Six months later she quits her job and searches for a way to fulfil an old dream: crossing Africa from north to south. Teaming up with Richard and Peter, two total strangers she meets over the Internet, Roxana starts a journey that will take her and her companions from Morocco to Namibia, crossing deserts and war-torn countries and surviving threats from corrupt officials and tensions within their own group.

Through Dust and Dreams is the story of their journey: a story of courage and friendship, of daring to ask questions and search for answers, and of self-discovery on a long, dusty road south.

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon UK

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Through Dust and Dreams Cover

Right, now I am handing you over to the lady herself, to talk about the forgotten art of adventure.

I wished I had been born in the 19th century, the time of the great explorers and adventures. There were unchartered territories to discover, indigenous populations to make contact with, unclimbed mountains to conquer and far away lands to travel to.

But fate decided I would be born in mid 70s and come to age in a world that had not much mystery left. In this world, people buy a travel insurance before they leave home so that  they can claim damages in the event of anything not going to plan. They expect trains and planes to leave on time and arrive on time and get irritated for a ten minute delay. In this world, a smartphone with an automatic translation app lets you communicate in a foreign country, a Lonely Planet guide gets you anywhere and a credit card magically sorts out any issues you may come across.

I though there was no real adventure left. But I was wrong.

Because when you really look for something, the thing you look for, finds you.

Adventure came to fetch me one Monday morning, at my marketing executive desk. It starred me in the face, winked and said:

“Here I am. Do you really want to follow me?”

It was an add I saw on an online travel forum. A guy had a Land Rover, was planning to drive from London to Cape Town and was looking for two others to share the journey.

I stayed there a long time, looking Adventure in the eye and not daring to move.

“What will you do?” Adventure asked me.

“What will I do?” I echoed it.

And that what the first moment I realised the deep beauty of adventure. It’s that of not knowing. You come face to face with situations you have not met before. You don’t know what you will do. You don’t know what will happen. You can’t control the outcome. And no travel guide, credit card or insurance policy can do that for you.

I clicked the reply button of that add and this small gesture started it all: 8 months, 17 countries and 20,000 miles by car. I didn’t know it then, how could I? I didn’t know what an amazing adventure this would turn out to be. How unsafe, unexpected and raw it will be. How it would test me to my limits and beyond and how it would show me beauty that would stay in my heart forever.

As I said yes, Adventure told me that it had been patiently waiting for me. That not all is known even in our super connected world. That there are still places not chartered on any map, jungles to cross and indigenous people to connect to, just like there were in the last century. It thanked me and promised me many beauties along the way. It whispered to me the sound of the dunes of the dessert in night and told me stories of dust and dreams.

I followed its voice. I took my insurance policy, guide book and credit card with me when I left but Adventure taught me that these things mean nothing at times and that’s the whole beauty of it.

I followed it wherever it took me and I loved it for what it showed me. And I promised I would write it down so that others would learn to recognise its call.

And I did. The book is called Through Dust and Dreams. The Story of an African adventure.

Many thanks Roxana for taking the time to share this with me and the lovely people who read my blog.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Through Dust Author PicRoxana Valea was born in Romania and lived in Italy, Switzerland, England and Argentina before settling in Spain. She has a BA in journalism and an MBA degree. She spent more than twenty years in the business world as an entrepreneur, manager and management consultant working for top companies like Apple, eBay, and Sony. She is also a Reiki Master and shamanic energy medicine practitioner.

As an author, Roxana writes books inspired by real events. Her memoir Through Dust and Dreams is a faithful account of a trip she took at the age of twenty-eight across Africa by car in the company of two strangers she met over the internet. Her following book, Personal Power: Mindfulness Techniques for the Corporate World is a nonfiction book filled with personal anecdotes from her consulting years. The Polo Diaries series is inspired by her experiences as a female polo player–traveling to Argentina, falling in love, and surviving the highs and lows of this dangerous sport.

Roxana lives with her husband in Mallorca, Spain, where she writes, coaches, and does energy therapies, but her first passion remains writing.

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Guest Posts

A Thoughtful Woman – K.T. Findlay

As part of the blog tour for his book, A Thoughtful Woman, today I have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from K.T. Findlay with you. Many thanks K.T. for taking the time to do this, and to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour. Before I hand you over to the man himself, here are all the details about A Thoughtful Woman.

BLURB:

They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but where’s the fun in that?

Artist Sally Mellors has planned the perfect revenge, but with two secret agents on her tail, and her best friends running the police investigation, getting away with murder is going to be tricky…

Everybody loves Sally. She’s a funny, generous, warm hearted friend, without a nasty bone in her body.

Isn’t she?

Unknown to her friends, Sally’s discovered another side to herself, cool headed and relentless, as she hunts down the three men who killed her husband. But Sally’s not the only one with an interest in the trio. Unknown to her, two agents have arrived in town, urgently hunting a missing man and his diary, which could blow their organisation apart. Their best leads are the very men that Sally’s hunting, and she’s getting in the way… 

The inspiration behind A Thoughtful Woman.

The justice system is an intriguing beast. We expect it to be fair, which is why we allow it to resolve our disputes instead of simply taking revenge ourselves, but watch an individual case play out in court and it can seem more like a high stakes game between lawyers than the pursuit of absolute truth. And if you think it’s a game, do you still accept the result if you lose? Is that still justice? At what point will a perfectly normal, perfectly decent person snap, and what happens when they do? Is it possible to plunge into the darkness of revenge and remain the normal, decent happy person you were before you started? Sally Mellors is about to find out.

PURCHASE LINKS:

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A Thoughtful Woman - 4 June 2019

Now, I will hand you over to K.T. Findlay to share his thoughts on what it is to be “normal.”

“Goodness me, that’s just not normal!”

Well, perhaps before we decide if that’s true, we should make sure we know what the word normal actually means.

NORMAL Definition 1 – A normal variety of something; esp. a sound, healthy, or unimpaired person.

NORMAL Definition 2 – Conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural

NORMAL Definition 3 – A person who conforms and blends in with society; one who expresses no elements of individuality; flat and boring; extremely straight and perpendicular person; cannot cope easily with chaos; could also be described as the living dead; does not dare express over the top displays of emotion in case they might be seen to be mad.

The first two definitions are from dictionaries. The third is from “the county of Bonkershire”, a group of people with a variety of mental health issues who are trying to reclaim some of the older, more useful words for madness that have been turned into terms of abuse since they were originally conceived. You can see and hear them talking with comedian Jo Brand in Series 2, episode 1 of Victoria Coren Mitchell’s Balderdash and Piffle TV series.

Human beings are naturally tribal in nature, or at least most of them are. They cluster together into groups, either little or large, and by definition, anyone outside the group is excluded to some degree or another. These groups often come up with various cultural or behavioural elements they require of their members, to consistently prove their loyalty and commitment to the group. These can be as simple as saying hello instead of hi, as arcane as Victorian middle class manners, or enforce critical hygiene practices such as only eating with your right hand, maintain religious orthodoxy as in going to church on Sunday, right the way up to mutilating yourself or your children.

This is normal. Oh dear… There’s that word again!

The word normal can very easily become a weapon when it’s used to place people deliberately outside the group. “You’re not normal!” But all it really means is that “You’re not one of us.”

Perhaps the real definition of normal could be more along the lines of: “That which me and mine sincerely believe, use, eat, drink and do most of the time.” And that makes the word normal very personal indeed, to the person saying it. It makes the third definition in the list at the top of this article perfectly valid, because it’s that group’s definition. Whatever you yourself might think about that!

So it’s very context specific. Normal food for someone living in rural China in the nineteenth century would be quite different to normal food for a German peasant in the same period, which would be different again for a German noble in the eighth century. The word normal only works if you understand the context in which it’s being used.

You might think that this is all a little bit academic, but it can have real world consequences. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM, is the handbook used in the USA and much of the rest of the world as the authoritative guide  to diagnosing mental disorders. It offers descriptions, symptoms and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. Fair enough you might say, but of course it changes quite dramatically over time as society evolves its view as to what it considers to be natural, and what it views as an aberration worthy of treatment.

This is all fertile ground for an author to walk over, because every single character in their books will have their own definition of what normal means to them. Even the best and closest of friends may suddenly discover that their pal has a weird side, and isn’t anywhere near as normal as they thought they were! “I mean, the fellow actually has a monthly bath! Shockingly dangerous… he’ll be dead by Christmas, just you see!”

So while it’s normally not normal to think about normal, it’s good for an author to make sure that their character’s normal. Or not.

Many thanks K.T. for that fascinating insight, and for taking the time to share it with us all.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A Thoughtful - KT FIndlay above swing bridge 1 - CroppedK.T. Findlay lives on a small farm where he dovetails his writing with fighting the blackberry and convincing the quadbike that killing its rider isn’t a vital part of its job description.

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Guest Posts

One Last Shot – Stephen Anthony Brotherton

I am joining the blog tour for One Last Shot today, the final book in the Shots trilogy by Stephen Anthony Brotherton, and I have the honour of welcoming Stephen to share with us an original, unpublished short story. Thank you so much Stephen for this! My thanks also go to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be a part of the tour.

Keep reading after the short story for all the details about One Last Shot.

One Last - Brotherton Paperbacks

Duke

I walked along the carriages of the ten past six train from Birmingham New Street to Walsall. The only vacant seat was taken up by his sprawled out legs and red Doc Martens.  I threw my bag into the overhead storage and tapped one of the boots. ‘Excuse me, mate.’ 

          He lifted the brim of a black bowler hat, which had been covering his eyes, and looked me up and down. He was wearing a Crombie coat pulled tight around his body and had tufts of a blonde goatee beard sprouting from his chin.

‘I’d like to sit down,’ I said.

He started pulling lightly at the stud pierced through his top lip.

‘Look, mate, the train’s full and I’m having …’

‘Terribly sorry,’ he said, dropping his feet to the floor and sitting up. ‘I must have dozed off.’ 

I sat down next to him and he held out his hand. ‘Henry,’ he said, ‘but some people call me Duke. Take your pick.’

‘Freddie,’ I said, shaking his hand. 

‘You’re a copper.’

‘How did you…’ 

‘The boots, the clip on tie, the civvy jacket. You might as well have left the tit hat on. Could be worse. One of my mates is a mortuary attendant. We’ve all got to be something.’

****

Two days later we met up for a beer. He’d suggested a pub in the centre of town, but I’d asked if we could go somewhere quieter, one of the old man pubs by the market. I was a bit early and waited for him in a shop doorway. I smoked a Park Drive to pass the time.

At 7.30 he swaggered through the empty square, his closed umbrella held aloft in salute. I threw my cigarette away and looked around the empty stalls. Two workmen, who had been sweeping up the fish and chip wrappings, the pizza boxes and the crunched up Coca-Cola tins, were leaning on their brooms and staring; a middle aged couple out walking their Jack Russell shook their heads and whispered something to each other. 

‘Freddie,’ he said, patting me on the back. ‘Why didn’t you wait inside?’

‘No reason. Shall we go in?’

‘Lead the way. First round’s on me.’

The pub was empty. Adam and the Ants’ ‘Stand and Deliver’ was playing on the jukebox. We walked over to the bar and sat down on the worn leather stools. A smiling barmaid walked out from the back room. ‘Gentlemen,’ she said. ‘What can I get you?’

I ordered a pint of Murphy’s. 

‘Ah, a fine beverage,’ he said. ‘I’ll have the same.’ He waved two, one pound notes in her direction. ‘Keep the change,’ he said, winking at her.

She pulled the pints, took the money and disappeared into the sanctuary of the snug.

‘She thinks you’re mad,’ I said. 

‘I do hope so,’ he said.  

I took a sip from my pint and we walked over to a small table by the window. I could see the workmen still sweeping the streets. We sat down, the table rocked. I tore a beer mat in half and placed it under one of the legs. Henry was watching me.

‘Tell me about the police,’ he said.

****

Twenty minutes later, I took two gulps of beer to stop myself from talking. He’d sat in silence all the way through. 

‘Fancy another,’ he said.

‘I wouldn’t mind a JD and coke.’

He came back with the drinks, sat down and shook his head. ‘And these skinheads are there every night?’

‘Every night,’ I said, taking a slug of whiskey. ‘There’s four of them. They sit on top of the underpass and gob on me as I walk through.’

‘Why not go another way?’

‘There is no other way out of the bus station. Anyway, they run to the exit and meet me on the other side. I don’t know what to do.’

‘And then you found me?’

‘You?’

‘I know exactly how to sort these guys.’

‘You can’t get involved. I’m a police officer for god’s sake. I’ll report it.’

‘If you were going to do that you’d have done it already.’

I took another slug of the short. ‘So what do I do then?’

He stood up and picked up the empty glasses. ‘I’ll get us some more drinks and talk you through the modus operandi.’

****

Jonesy, the skinhead with the Union Jack tattoo across his forehead, sniffed me up and down, and looked at me with big wide eyes, crusts of dried glue stuck to his unshaven chin. ‘I can smell pig,’ he said. ‘Are you a piggy man, copper?’     

‘He’s a pig alright,’ said one of the others. ‘I can smell him from here.’

All four of them started walking round me, snorting and oinking. ‘Pig, pig; pig,’ they chanted. ‘Oink, oink, oink; snort, snort, snort.’ They started shoving me backwards and forwards; snorting, oinking, chanting – ‘Pig, pig; pig…’

 ‘Gentlemen, gentlemen. This no way to behave.’

They all stopped and faced the exit to the underpass. Henry strode into view, wearing a pin-striped suit and patent leather shoes. He was carrying a blue leather attaché case with a crown and sceptre insignia embossed on the lid. An ear piece was fixed into his left ear with a connecting wire running inside his jacket. He put his mouth next to the lapel. ‘Can you confirm everyone is in position, sir?’ 

‘Who the fuck are you?’ said Jonesy.

‘I must caution you, young man, to choose your words very carefully. Everything here is being recorded.’

‘Record that,’ said the skinhead, putting up two fingers.

‘Very droll,’ said Henry. ‘Now, shall we get down to business? I understand you have a grievance with this officer.’ He knelt down and flicked open the attaché case. There were two duelling pistols inside, sitting on a red velvet base. ‘You can take your pick. They’re both loaded with a single shot.’

The skinheads all stepped back.

‘Wait a minute, mate,’ said Jonesy. ‘No one said anything about guns. We’re just having a bit of fun.’

  ‘Constable Shaw,’ said Henry, handing me a pair of black leather gloves. ‘I need you to make the challenge in the traditional way.’ He turned back to Jonesy. ‘Did you choose your gun, sir?’

‘I’m not using any gun, mate.’

‘Well, it’s up to you, but at least this way you have a chance.’

‘Screw you. We’re off.’

They all turned and started to walk away. Henry leaned again into his lapel. ‘Can you put the snipers on stand-by, sir? I think we might have an escape attempt.’

The skinheads stopped walking. 

‘Snipers?’

‘Just a precaution. Now, if you choose your gun, we can get started.’ 

Jonesy walked back to Henry. ‘Look, we’re sorry, okay.’

‘You’re sorry?’

‘It was just a joke.’

‘You want to apologise?’

‘Yeah, there’s no need for any guns.’

‘Well, I suppose the challenge hasn’t been issued yet. What do you think, Constable?’

‘Come on, mate,’ Jonesy said, turning towards me. ‘No one wants a gun fight.’

‘He will require a formal apology of course,’ said Henry.

‘Yeah, of course. Sorry,’ he muttered.

‘No. I’m afraid it will have to be said, using the prescribed form of words.’

‘What?’

‘We need it for the records. As I said, this is being recorded.’

‘Okay. Whatever. Tell me what to say and I’ll say it.’

‘Excellent,’ said Henry, reaching into the attaché case and pulling out a gold coloured card. ‘It’s always better when these things are resolved amicably’ He handed the card to Jonesy. ‘You need to read this to Constable Shaw and then it’s up to him whether he forgives you or not.’

‘Forgives me?’

Henry put his finger on the ear piece. ‘Yes, sir. We’re just negotiating. If you could bear with me for a moment.’ He nodded to the skinhead. ‘Ready when you are.’ 

Jonesy looked up at the walkway and then down at the card. The rest of the skinheads stood at his side with their arms folded. He started to read. ‘I unreservedly apologise to Constable Shaw…’

‘A bit louder please.’

‘What?’

Henry pointed upwards. ‘For the tape. They’re telling me you need to speak up a bit.’

 Jonesy coughed and started reading again. ‘I unreservedly apologise to Constable Shaw for my unacceptable and ungentlemanly behaviour. This behaviour will never be repeated and I humbly request Constable Shaw’s forgiveness.’

‘Well, that sounded pretty sincere to me, Constable.’

‘I’m not sure he meant it,’ I said.

‘Do you want me to beg, mate?’

Henry looked at me. ‘It is an option I suppose. What do you think, Constable?’

If that has tempted you to read more of Stephen’s writing, read on for everything you need to know about One Last Shot.

One Last Shot Cover

BLURB:

CAN FIRST LOVE EVER BE REIGNITED?

One Last Shot concludes the trilogy of Freddie and Jo-Jo, which has moved through time in a series of flashbacks, showing how the couple fell in love as teenagers, why they drifted apart, what happened in their lives away from each other, and what happens when they meet up again over three decades later. At the end of the second book, An Extra Shot, Jo-Jo tells Freddie about her dark secret. Confused, vulnerable and in a state of shock, he says he needs time to think about what to do next. Jo-Jo’s right to be worried. Freddie doesn’t react well…

PURCHASE LINKS:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

One Last Shot AuthorI was born in Walsall, grew up in the West Midlands and now live in Telford with my two cats, Boris and Tai.

After working in the health and social care sector for over thirty years, I have now written the trilogy that has been rooted in my head for most of my life.

The Shots trilogy is based on a first love relationship I had as a teenager. It tells the story of Freddie and Jo-Jo, who are reunited in a coffee shop three decades after the end of their teenage romance. How they originally met, why they parted, what happens in their lives apart, and what happens when they reunite is all told through a series of first person vignettes.

Getting these stories down on paper has been a cathartic process. I hope you enjoy them.

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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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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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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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