When you’re inspired…

Many moons ago, when my three children began to be less dependent, I embarked on a Creative Writing Course with the Open College of the Arts. I had always wanted to find space to write and I loved every assignment.

At about the same time, I read East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. I lcouldn’t put it down, and decided to write to the author. I was more than delighted when Julia replied and we’ve swapped a few e mails over the years. I revealed that my dream was to write a book and she was so encouraging.

I love all her work and am delighted to have here on my blog today. The writing community is so special: the way authors share tips and are so approachable. Julia read my first novel (which back in 2012 was called Never Forget and was in dire need of a good edit or two. Nevertheless, she gave a copy to her own publisher. It wasn’t accepted – it took a few more years before I found Bookouture, who helped me polish up The Tuscan Secret.

Anyway, enough about me.

Let me introduce you to Julia Gregson

 I love your work, Julia, and I wrote to you more than ten years ago after having read “East of the Sun”. You were so encouraging and told me how a group of you, (not so very young ladies) met in a pub regularly to chat about writing. And you told me not to give up. If you only had one piece of advice for a would-be writer, what would it be?

I would still say the same thing. Don’t give up – look what happened to you!

I would add patience. I have a quote by the Danish writer, Isak Dinesen on my noticeboard: “I write every day without hope without fear.”  If you expect quick results you will be frustrated. Luck and timing will play their part, but perseverance is key.

It’s worth confessing here I am both fearful and impatient. It’s funny you mention, ‘East of the Sun’, because only last week, during a lockdown clear out of cupboards, I found a diary I was writing at the same time.  I opened it on a page where I told myself the book was a disaster- best thing would be to chuck the whole thing in the river and give up.

I’d been so happy with East of the Sun when I first started it, done one fascinating research trip to India, was planning another, had written, maybe 50,000 words, but suddenly I  felt I’d hit a wall, and had no idea how to finish.  It was horrible, and devastating, and somehow shaming to have put so much of myself into something that suddenly felt so worthless.  

This is the point when I think it is so important to have the right people around you.  When I confided some of this to my husband, also a writer, he asked to read the book. He said he loved it, (that, in my mood of despair, I discounted, he had to live with me!), but, more importantly, he pointed out, it was a book about female friendship. Such a simple, even throwaway remark, and of course I knew it, but it gave me the key to my way in again, and how to finish. That book sold over a million copies. It changed my life.

East of the Sun is a book that I have read several times. I have visited India and vow to return one day. At the moment, when we can’t travel, I recommend travelling via Julia’s words into this story.

  Which of your books was easiest to write, Julia – and why?  

I don’t find any books easy to write. I think I’m partly drawn to the work by the fascination of what’s difficult. What has changed is that I have learned how to handle my own temperament better.  If I have a difficult day, I’m much more likely to say. ‘OK, here’s the bit when I want to chuck it.’ So what?

 The writer, Eudora Welty, put the stages of writing a book so well when she describes the first few chapters as feeling “like a walk in the spring rain.” It’s all new and fresh and everything’s possible. The second part she called, “the Gobi desert,’ because it’s inevitably trickier: the engine of the story has to start to fire, the characters to find direction, this can feel like a slog. The last part, was like skiing down a hill.

What I’m better at now is not forcing it, but relaxing into the work, and meeting my unconscious half way. I work most days because I want to be there, it’s not an act of will – novel writing is addictive

When my husband died in 2019. I became even more aware of how lucky I am to have this work to do – work that is engrossing and energising.  This has been a hard time in different ways for all of us, but also a time of stripping back, of understanding what our engines are.

How true. So sorry about your loss. I cannot imagine a life without my husband. He is my best friend.

Where do you do your writing and do you have any photos of this place to share? Do you have a writing routine?  

All my working life I have longed for a shed of my own, and after the publication of my fourth book, ‘Monsoon Summer,’ I finally got one. My hut is half a horse shelter and, in summer, two horses, peer in through the glass and watch me typing. 

How absolutely idyllic. I love the view of the trees too. I could easily become distracted.

It has a wood burning stove and a tiny kitchen, a compost loo, and views of a rushing stream, woods and fields. Having it has been life changing.

Up there I feel free It separates me from the house where I’m more liable to make a soup or load a machine, and be distracted by almost anything.

When I’m working, I do three to four hours in the morning, when it gets to the more hectic parts before publication, or deadlines, I’ll carry on in the afternoon. 

Another great read. Here is my review

Please can you tell us a little about your path to publication? 

Uneven! And baby steps.   I left school very young, 16, and had a lot to catch up with. First, short journalism pieces which taught me a lot; later, a career as a feature writer, including a spell in New York and Los Angeles as a foreign correspondent.

Years later, I was in my fifties, I was very lucky that my first published short story won the Literary Review/Rymans, short story award which gave me confidence to go on and also an agent, (Curtis Brown). I’m aware nowadays how difficult even that agent step is. About that time, I was commissioned, by the Sunday Times, to write a travel article which involved a 7 day ride on horseback from Wrexham to the Lleyn Penninsula .  I had the idea for my first book, ‘The Water Horse,’ on that ride, and that book was bought by Century Hutchinson.

(Here is Julia researching for The Water Horse)

Loved this story too. I am always totally swept up into Julia’s locations

What are you working on at the moment?

While I was researching my last book, Monsoon Summer, I interviewed a young midwife, Anna Kent, who’d delivered babies in S Sudan, Haiti India.  Her life was so astonishing that, half way through our talk I said, ‘Bloody hell! You should be writing your own book.’ Turned out she’d written extensive diaries, and she and I have spent the last year turning them into a book to be published by Bloomsbury this year. While we wait for proofs, I’m going to work on the second draft of a novel set in New York in the seventies.

Wow, you are so busy, Julia.

Finally, please can you tell us something about yourself that we wouldn’t guess.

I was once a cowgirl (jillaroo) in the Australian outback.

Now, that is so intriguing. Yet another book, perhaps?

I’ve loved chatting with you, Julia, and I wish you continued success. Thanks for sharing with us and good luck for your next books. There is plenty of room on my shelves for many more by you.

Another great book on my shelf that Julia hasn’t mentioned is Jasmine Nights

For all details, here is a link to Julia’s website

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Open your eyes…

This morning I was stupidly excited: I was going on an outing that I usually dread – a breast screening appointment at our local hospital.

For days, during this lockdown, I’ve slopped around the house in comfy trousers and baggy sweaters. Showered, hair washed, I opened my wardrobe doors and chose something coordinated. I had forgotten about the hat I eventually chose – I wore other clothes too 😉 . A quick spray of my favourite perfume, a dab of makeup and I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror.

‘I’ll walk,’ I told my husband, who offered to wait in the car during my appointment.

‘But it’s pouring with rain.’

‘I’ll be fine,’ I replied.

And I was.

The kind, professional nurse asked me to wear one of the hospital masks instead of my floral one and to put on lots of sanitiser. The horrid squashing of my boobs in the horrid machine that presses down and squeezes until it can’t squeeze anymore (and that I always fear won’t stop at the critical point) – that was all over in less than ten minutes and then I was free and out into the drizzly, salty air.

And, magically, as soon as I started to walk, it stopped raining and, boy, did I relish my hour and a half. I kept stopping when I noticed sights that I’ve no doubt seen dozens of times before. I paused and gazed and enjoyed.

The strange fungi growing on the bark of a tree in the park:

I know that my Italian friends eat certain tree mushrooms. I’ll ask them to identify. The daffodils poking through yesterday’s frosty soil, announcing that spring will be here soon. The fishing boats resting on the pebbly shore near the pier.

The patterns in the shingle where the tide had tossed seaweed and shells. My two characters, Mavis and Dot http://mybook.to/MDot, sitting on a shop shelf, staring at the wet promenade. They bossily told me to get on with writing their next adventures…

I’d made myself a flask of coffee and half way along the sea front, I sat on a groyne, watching the tossing sea:

and lo and behold, as if entering stage right, some hardy swimmers passed by in the cold foam, providing me with entertainment, their colourful safety buoys bobbing behind them.

I passed a couple of signs which up until now I’ve ignored. They told me of past shipwrecks and courageous World War Two stories. I hadn’t realised the Canadians were garrisoned in the Worthing area. More stories to track, perhaps…

Once again, this morning reminded me to appreciate the little things. Somebody had decorated one of the shelters along the prom with painted stones, showing flags from all over the world and it reminded me of what the breast screening nurse had told me an hour earlier: ‘We’re all in this together. Stay safe!’

Indeed. Stay safe, everyone. We’re getting there. And open your eyes and drink in our world.

Now, back to writing my next book

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FAREWELL…

I was thinking of saying good riddance to 2020, but I’ve had a rethink. And I’ve changed my wording to “farewell”:  a leave taking; an expression of good wishes at parting…

This year has been so difficult for us all. Harder for some, I know, and there has been a lot of suffering. But I want to extract the positive from the grief and fear.

Looking back on just a few of my photos, I realise it is the little things that I will take from 2020. The little things that have turned into big things for me.

I fully realise that I am writing this from the position of somebody fortunate: being retired, without mortgage or work worries.  But it has still been very hard not to be together with friends or to help with family. There was a brief interlude while we were in Italy, during August, when the Covid-19 numbers went down dramatically and we were able to be with some of our family for a short while. (Always sensibly… hugs were off limits ☹).

On one hand, I will count the “little things” that are now “big things”:

  1. The members of my family and friends whom we haven’t been able to see. They mean far more to me now than before the epidemic. I love them so much. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it’s much more than that. How I miss sharing food and conversation round the table with them and taking them in my arms for a cuddle. As I write this on New Year’s Eve, we should have been celebrating our youngest daughter’s wedding, but that has been postponed until the end of this year. ☹
Baking our first pizzas in our newly-built oven, with two little helpers
Building dams in the river with Grandpa
The bride to be – next year…

2. The slower pace of life that isolation and lockdown enforced on us has been a revelation. There’s been time to bake, to discover new interests, to take long walks and to try out new recipes. Time to stop and literally smell the roses, gaze on the countryside both here and in Tuscany. Time to research and to write. It has been precious and I don’t want to forget about slowing down when all this is over.

3. Social media has been a lifeline. I think about what my Italian mother-in-law told me about her early life in England as a young war bride. How homesick and lonely she felt. How her letters took ten days to get to Italy and how she then had to wait ten further days for an answer. She had no access to a phone – or the internet as we do now. This summer I have taken part in several Zoom talks and caught up with family and fellow writers through this medium. I was able to share the amazing day when my books reached the hitherto-dreamed-of target of 100,000 sales. I celebrated by plunging into the April sea, fully clothed.

I wish you all a far happier new year. Keep safe, hold onto your dreams and keep appreciating the little things. And look forwards to when you can hug and kiss your loved ones again. 

Seen on one of my lockdown walks

 

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I do like to be beside the seaside…

Why are we so in love with our seaside? I asked an author friend who recently published her latest story set in the fictitious resort of Borteen. Let me introduce you to Morton S. Gray.

Angela asked me to talk about the series of books I have written based in my fictional seaside town of Borteen.

Everyone asks me if Borteen is based on a real place and I can truthfully answer that it isn’t. Borteen and it’s surrounding area are just a figment of my imagination, albeit after writing so many books set there, it seems very real to me. I can walk down the streets and go into the shops, pubs and cafes in my imagination vividly. I have now published five stories set in Borteen, the sixth is with my publisher and there are at least another three books in various stages of completion.

I have a map of Borteen in my study, with pictures of the buildings stuck on to it and I also have a document called The Borteen Bible, which details all of the inhabitants and buildings I have used in the various books.

I love to see how other authors work.

The reason for choosing a seaside town is that I live in Worcestershire which is about as far from the sea as you can get in England, but my happy place is definitely by the sea. I love nothing better than walking along a beach and collecting stones and sea glass as I go. So if I can’t be at the seaside in reality, I can be there in my writing life all of the time.

Angela asked if I prefer the British seaside or somewhere abroad. I don’t get on particularly well in hot climates, so I am perfectly happy holidaying in the UK. My favourite seaside destinations are Bamburgh in Northumberland, Woolacombe in Devon, Llandanawg and Llanbedrog in Wales. Having said that, I have enjoyed some wonderful beaches abroad in the past, notably in the Bahamas and Australia.

Morton tells us that The latest story about Borteen to be published is Christmas at the Little Beach Café and she can think of nothing better than being at the seaside at Christmas. She’s never managed it yet, but maybe one day.

I have read and enjoyed Morton’s latest book. I won’t give too much away, but the hero (gorgeous, I will add) does not like Christmas very much – for reasons you can find out if you read this seasonal book. I’ve met a lot of people who hate the festive season, but I am not in that clan.

Even when it’s cold and grey outside, the sea always fascinates me. My indie book, Mavis and Dot http://mybook.to/MDot is set in the fictitious 😉 seaside resort of Worthington-on-Sea and stars two redoubtable ladies of a certain age. It doesn’t take them too long to get into scrapes of different kinds. (All profits go towards research into cancer. At the moment, I am donating to the Institute for Cancer Research https://www.icr.ac.uk/

Mavis and Dot, as illustrated by Gill Kaye

If you want to escape from the frenetic preparations and can find a corner to curl up in, with a glass of your favourite tipple and a Christmas nibble, then Morton’s new book is a very pleasant read. (I’m wondering if the cheeky gull on the over ever lands on Mavis and Dot’s beach nut, by the way).

You can buy her book here: Christmas at the Little Beach Café

Biography for Morton S. Gray

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Morton’s latest release is Christmas at the Little Beach Café published as an e-book, paperback and audio.

Run away to the little beach café this Christmas …

Five years ago at Christmas, solicitor Justin Sadler made the decision to leave his comfortable existence behind and move to the coast. Since then, he’s tried his best to ignore the festive season and, as he sits in the little beach café and reflects on that fateful night when his life was turned upside down, he expects his fifth Christmas alone to be no different to any of the others since he made his escape.

But when he encounters a mystery woman on the beach, he soon realises he may have found a fellow runaway and kindred spirit. Could Justin finally be ready to move on and let Christmas into his life again?

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. This story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon. The book is available as a paperback and e-book.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel, The book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. This book is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook.

Christmas at Borteen Bay was Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse with her mother, and local policeman Ethan Gibson, as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.

Bestselling Sunny Days on the Beach, is her fourth novel for Choc Lit. Again set in Borteen, this book is the story of what happens when craft shop owner, Mandy Vanes takes in an abandoned teenager, Nick Crossten and the repercussions when Graham Frankley, a gin distiller, arrives in town to say he has received a letter telling him he is Nick’s father.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can catch up with Morton on her website www.mortonsgray.com, on

Twitter – @MortonSGray, her Facebook page – Morton S. Gray Author – https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/ and

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/morton_s_gray/

Purchasing links for The Girl on the Beach at http://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-girl-on-the-beach/ e-book and paperback

Purchasing links for The Truth Lies Buried at http://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-truth-lies-buried/ e-book, audio and paperback.

Purchasing links for Christmas in Borteen Bay at https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/christmas-at-borteen-bay/ e-book and audio

Purchasing links for Sunny Days on the Beach at https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/sunny-days-at-the-beach/ e-book, audio and paperback

Purchasing links for Christmas at the Little Beach Café at https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/christmas-at-the-little-beach-cafe/ e-book and audio.

Find me on Twitter @MortonSGray and Facebook Morton S. Gray – Author

New Christmas book out as an eBook on 17 November 2020 – CHRISTMAS AT THE LITTLE BEACH CAFE

Bestselling SUNNY DAYS AT THE BEACH published by Choc Lit as eBook, Audio and Paperback.

THE GIRL ON THE BEACH  published by Choc Lit as eBook and paperback – Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Google Play. Winner of Choc Lit Publishing’s Search for a Star 2016.

THE TRUTH LIES BURIED published by Choc Lit as an eBook, paperback and audio book.

CHRISTMAS AT BORTEEN BAY published by Choc Lit as  eBook and audio book.

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Parting is such sweet sorrow…

We came to Italy in July, crossing France, Switzerland and Northern Italy with trepidation. Once here in eastern Tuscany, isolated in this unspoiled corner, we felt very safe. We were able to go on long mountain walks, make a long-awaited trip to Venice, which was eerily empty, but perfect to visit without crowds. Some of our children also visited, which was a wonderful bonus. An Italian friend showed us how to use the pizza oven that my clever hubby built and, for a few weeks, we have lived in a bubble.

We have found our Italian friends to be very careful about wearing masks and distancing but, suddenly, the numbers of Covid-19 cases are scarily high and so we are returning to England. We are driving today when Tuscany goes into the red zone (level 3 equivalent), and we hope that all our paperwork will be in order for us to travel.

Who knows when we will be able to return to our Italian home?

I am not usually political on social media, but Brexit will have kicked in by then and… what a mess that will be. It has already impacted on our life here. We will no longer be able to stay for longer than 90 days (in 180); we will not be allowed to drive a car with British registration after a certain period. My phone network will not include Roaming in my contract; our medical cards (EHIC) will probably not be valid… the days of only being permitted to bring back two bottles of wine through customs will probably be the rule… so many inconvenient changes. But, of much more importance: I wonder if people who voted to leave properly thought through all the financial impacts that will result from Brexit? In this time of huge uncertainty in the world, I feel that we Europeans should stick together and not hanker after a Britain that used to exist. It is all totally embarrassing. It is poo.

Anyway, enough of negativity. Thank heavens for the gifts of these past four months. I have been able to concentrate on my next book – to be published in spring. No title as yet. But watch this space. I fitted in research too – socially distancing on a visit to the partisan museum in our nearest town of Sansepolcro. (Our first gelato in the piazza felt wickedly decadent and tasted delicious too).

Fingers crossed our journey today goes smoothly. We will be very careful. I shall try to stay calm and remember our wonderful break in Venice.

Stay safe, my friends.

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One step at a time

Autumn is my favourite season. Where we live in the Tuscan Apennines, at the dying end of summer, colours are on fire. The weather suits me better. There are still sunny days with blue, blue skies and the mountains call to me to walk.

The way my writing schedule has worked out over these past couple of years, autumn is also when I receive my structural edits.

And just as with the latest news of the virus, I struggle a little, because for a while I seem to take one step forwards and two steps back.

I am very lucky to have a loving, helpful partner and he understands when I need to hide away to write. But he’s also available for brainstorming.

So, our conversation last Saturday when we climbed up to Monte Carpegna at 1,400 metres will have sounded strange to anybody who didn’t know what we were up to.

‘I have to kill off somebody,’ I tell him ‘and another probably needs to go mad. That evil female needs to get the chop too. What do you think?’

‘Why don’t you?’ he goes.  ‘What if? Perhaps you could…’

And so on. Oh, the power!

Walks in autumn have become a kind of allegory.

A break from the desk helps me gain perspective and I can see clearer. When I walk, there are smooth sections, but there are steep climbs to navigate and I need to slow down. At the summit, observing the view spread below me, I see the better parts of the landscape, the least picturesque. And so it is with my draft. Back in my writing cubby hole, I begin to edit.

Walking, my lovely editor at Bookouture, plus my favourite creative writing course book from the university of East Anglia are my saviours as far as structural edits go. Unfortunately, this text is out of print at the moment, but grab a second-hand copy if you can: 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Writing-Coursebook-JuliaBell/dp/B002MTI9C8  

In this book, Paul Magrs advises me to try to be as objective as I can about my writing.

So, armed with a summary of my chapters, and using coloured post-its to show my main characters and events, I can see whether my story is balanced, and move scenes around or, indeed, cut them.

“You have to clear your mind somewhat to do this. You must regard the writer as someone who isn’t you.” 

David Lodge stresses the importance of reading my work: “When you read yourself you should be trying to assess the effect your writing will have on your readers”.

James Friel tells me that John Steinbeck’s practice when redrafting was to ‘become’ three people. “One speculates and one criticizes and the third tries to correlate. It usually turns out to be a fight but out of it comes the whole week’s work”.

Friel also says; “Let the unconscious mind solve problems, too.” I take that to mean I should take breaks and allow the ideas to come to me when I’m not hunched over the laptop. Hence the long walks.

So, onwards. There might be a few more walks needed in the next ten days before I submit my redrafted novel to my editor. But I’m not complaining.

As we are into our last month here in Tuscany, those walks will be in our beautiful mountains. Bring them on.

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It’s beginning to look a lot… But, remember! A dog is not just for Christmas…

My lovely friend, Carol Thomas

I first met Carol when I was an indie author with CHINDI AUTHORS. We joined the RNA and recently I was invited to join her with https://www.facebook.com/ApricotPlots , a group of romance authors passionate about writing smart, fresh romance for the twenty-first century.

A mother and teacher, Carol also writes books for children and I chatted with her about her latest and, if you want to get ahead for “C” – (yes, I’m mentioning that word already), and buy a stocking filler for a child – then here you go! Tick it off your list.

I’ve read your lovely book, Carol, but for those who haven’t, please tell us a little about it:

Thank you for having me on your blog, Angela. Being a Friend at Christmas is the second in my Little Pup series of books – though each book can be read and enjoyed as a standalone story. In this book, Little Pup is looking forward to his first Christmas in his new home. But he remembers the dogs he has left behind in the shelter and wants them to have a happy Christmas too. He has a plan, but he needs Father Christmas’ help to make his wish come true.

It’s an absolute pleasure. I wish you all the best with your new publication xx

The book is aimed at under 7s, how have you made it appealing to its young audience?

The text is rhythmic and rhyming so children can anticipate words and phrases. The illustrations are bright and colourful. And the main characters, a puppy and a boy are relatable to young readers. I am a teacher, a mum of four (with three school-aged children) and a grandparent too, so I’ve had lots of help and guidance, in hopefully, getting it right.

As well as being able to discuss the thoughts, feelings and actions of the little pup in the story, at the end, readers are asked to think of their own Christmas wish. I like to write children’s books that can be shared and inspire a conversation as well as a smile.

I am certainly looking forward to sharing Being a Friend at Christmas with my five grandchildren over the festive period and wish you every success with it.

Thank you. I hope you all enjoy it. With the unusual year we are having, I released it a little early thinking parents and grandparents, like me, might want to be prepared and shop early.

At least, as Father Christmas has been in isolation in the North Pole all year, children can rest assured he’ll be fit and well come December!

About Being a Friend at Christmas (Little Pup book #2):

Little Pup’s looking forward to Christmas

and he knows just how lucky he’s been

because some dogs are still in shelters,

a warm home and best friend yet a dream.

Hoping a small gift of kindness,

will help them feel loved, not alone,

Little Pup has a wish that might come true,

when Father Christmas visits his home!

“A lovingly illustrated, and beautifully written, Christmas story you’ll want to share again and again!”

View the book trailer: https://youtu.be/q8Yhj7AfwPE

Purchase link: http://getbook.at/BAFAmazon

Also, by Carol Thomas:

Finding a Friend (Little Pup book #1).

When Little Pup finds himself at the shelter,

he doesn’t know quite what to do.

Big dogs all around, feeling lost and alone,

Little Pup needs a friend… but who?

“A delightfully written and wonderfully illustrated picture book, with a heart warming ‘tail’ of friendship.”

View the book trailer: https://youtu.be/66ypEpoNTd8

Purchase link: http://getbook.at/FAFAmazon

About the author:

Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children, guinea pig, two hamsters and lively Labrador. She has been a playgroup supervisor and has taught in primary schools for just over twenty years – but we don’t mention that as it makes her feel old!

To find out more about books by Carol Thomas:

https://carol-thomas.co.uk

https://facebook.com/carolthomasauthor

https://twitter.com/carol_thomas2

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/carol_thomas2/

https://www.instagram.com/carol_thomas2/

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A change is as good as a rest…

It’s been a difficult time for everyone. I began to feel guilty about taking time out and travelling to Venice for a couple of days. Would it be safe? Were we keeping to guidelines? Then, a local shopkeeper, listening to my fears, told me that if everybody thought like I did, then the economy would grind to a halt. So, with facemasks and hand sanitiser packed, we set off.

My mask was upside down, but no matter…

It was partly in order to finalise research for my next book which will be published in spring 2021, but mainly because we were ground down and needed a change.

I hadn’t visited Venice since I was eleven. To tell the truth, the only image I remember from all those years ago is my parents holding hands in a gondola. It was the first time I had seen them do this and it made me giggle. But Venice is a romantic city and umpteen years later, as we wandered around the calli and took the vaporetto (instead of riding in a vastly expensive gondola), I held my own husband’s hand as Venice worked her charm.

It was an excellent time to visit. Venice was not busy and we managed to find a little guest house that looked on to the Gran Canale. We packed a lot in but it was details that captured my interest: the reflections in the murky water, the strange Spanish influenced names of squares and courtyards, the carnival masks and the feeling that this magical place belonged in a story book. I shivered as we passed by the dungeons and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. In the Ducal Palace, I wondered how many citizens had posted information about their neighbours into the mouths of the stone lions that served as secret message boxes. Today, I listened to BBC Radio and the news that if our own citizens do not follow new isolation rules, hefty fines might be incurred and neighbours might report on those who do not comply. Nothing changes…

We moved on to Trieste. A very different Italian city that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for more than five hundred years. What a complicated history. I spent time in a bookshop (after being asked to wear gloves AND to use sanitiser on top), and I have a few more ideas for stories brewing in my head. We were told that people of Trieste do not like staying at home and we spent a couple of evenings with them in the piazza, people-watching while we drank aperitivi. I tried to talk to James Joyce (who loved this city), but he didn’t reply…

Our final stop was the beautiful city of Padua, known as Padova in Italy. I have fallen in love with Giotto (1267 – 1337). His amazing work is over seven hundred years old; the characters in his paintings are so real. I imagine that in ordinary times we would have had to queue for our fifteen-minute slot but that was not the case for us. I would happily return and return to the Scrovegni Chapel to sit and drink in the images on the walls and ceiling. If anybody can be bothered to read my books in ten years’ time, I will be ecstatic. But seven hundred years later???? I don’t think so.

I’ve only dipped into our five-day adventure and this is rather a “photographic blog” . We saw far more than I have described , including the ruins of the Roman town of Aquilea, which is reputed to be one of the largest cities of its era.

There is so much to discover in this world of ours, so many more stories to tell.

We were physically tired on our return, having walked miles in 33 degrees, but the trip inspired me and I am ready to put pen to paper again (and fingers to keyboard). The cobwebs are gone.

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A writer in lockdown…

I haven’t checked in for several weeks, so I thought I’d catch up with you. Lockdown has given me plenty to lock into, if you’ll forgive the overuse of the verb.

I needed to finish a new book and send the first version off to my editor by September 1st. I can’t give too much away but it is another World War 2 novel, set in a different area of Tuscany and, a departure from the Starnucci family featured in my first three Tuscan novels.  We will leave them to live their lives unobserved and in peace for a while, poor characters 😉 I have had a couple of reviews asking me to continue the story of Alfie and Alba and I am considering that request. I love it when readers believe in the characters and want them to continue living. Job done for an author…

I was so excited to have a couple of days off but my brain wouldn’t stop buzzing. The mist that greeted us as we drove down the mountain to our main city of Sansepolcro was a kind of metaphor: I’d sent off my work and, blanketed with doubts and lack of confidence, I couldn’t imagine how my editor would receive it.  How were my words faring now that I had thrown them into the clouds and I couldn’t touch them?

In the city we came across a little exhibition of clothes and family heirlooms which reminded me of a couple of scenes from the book that I had sent off. There was an outfit that one of my characters could have worn and a pair of baby’s booties that could have belonged to another.

I couldn’t switch off. When you’ve spent months writing each day and living in a world that you have created, it’s hard to step away.  

On the following day, my mind still didn’t rest. My husband and I took a picnic with us to explore the river bed. We met nobody else and each bend we rounded threw up more surprises: unusual rock formations, waterfalls, dragonflies, the sounds of the river like musical notes gurgling over stones and pools deep enough to plunge into. I had forgotten my costume but had to jump in and skinny dip in the refreshing water. What would we come across around the next bend, behind the next rocks? How would I start off my next book that Bookouture have commissioned? Would my editor cut much of the book I had sent? Would I be able to develop the ideas for my next novel? Whir, whir, whir went my brain.

On the final stretch back to our home here in Tuscany, we walked along higher terrain and came across a flock of sheep. Sadly, this is a sight that we seldom see in our area. The number of wolves that were reintroduced is spiralling out of control are and farmers cannot cope with the threat. Last week, a calf and its mother were taken in broad daylight by a pack.  

The flock reminded me that on September 7th, one of my indie books is being republished by Bookouture. It used to have the title of Now and Then in Tuscany. The revised version is A Tuscan Memory. https://amzn.to/2ZVOQ5B It took me more than seven years to complete as it entailed lots of local research.

For centuries, the annual trek from the mountains down to the Tuscan coast in the Maremma region used to take place for our local inhabitants. Shepherds and herdsmen walked with their animals over ten days each September to better pastures. They stayed away for five months. This is the inspiration behind this book. It was fascinating to delve into this practice, find out what happened during those months of separation from the family, to talk to elderly local folk who used to take part… and to imagine what may have happened too. I hope that readers will enjoy this book, which is quite different from my war novels.

Here are some photos I took seven years ago when the idea for the book came about and I walked twenty seven miles of the shepherds’ route to visualise what they might have experienced.

You can buy A Tuscan Memory from this link: https://amzn.to/2ZVOQ5B

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Chatting…

Today I chatted with a writer friend about how my love affair with Italy started.

Here is the link: https://t.co/wu99ZpQrHq?amp=1 if you would like to read what we spoke about.

This is the invitation that my Italian mother-in-law used to get into a dance organised by the British army who were in Urbino in 1944.

She was not officially invited but tagged along with another young girl and met her future husband: Captain Horace Petch of the 8th Army. He was not supposed to be there either. It was out of bounds for him.

They fell in love and he crossed mine fields to visit and court her. It worked!

Love knows no boundaries. He didn’t speak Italian and she didn’t speak English but they managed 🙂

I used a lot of the stories Mamma (as I call her) when I wrote The Tuscan Secret https://geni.us/B07Q38YX7XCover which I am delighted to say is riding at number one in its Amazon category at the moment. It is only 99 pence for a little while longer.

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