Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s with Book Reviewer JB Johnson

Sally Lunns Tea HousemailWelcome Jonty to Tea and Talk, lovely to see you here and to greet another great reviewer.

Right now we’re settled and waiting for refreshments to arrive my first question as always is to ask a bit about you.  Where  you live, your family, your work…oh and also any pets?

Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m thrilled to be here. So, you want to know a bit about me? Well, I’m very dull lol. I live in sunny Northern Ireland in a seaside town called Bangor (yes I know there’s one in Wales).  I’ve lived here all my life.  My husband is desperately keen for us to move away and for me to broaden my horizons! I’ve told him I’ll only go if we move to New Zealand!

I am very happily married for the second time and we will have been married for 6 years in August. I have two children – a son aged 20 and a daughter aged 15 who are affectionately known as Afro Boy and the Fashion Diva. My daughter has special needs so she keeps me pretty busy. I also have a step daughter aged 18 and a step son who is 12. Life can get a little crazy at times when we are all together.  And, last but not least we have a crazy dog called Floyd who provides hours of entertainment with his antics.

Work-wise, I am a social worker and have just recently left my job in child protection to move onto a new area of social work – inspecting nursery schools, playgroups and child-minders. It’s a far cry from the nitty-gritty field of taking kids into care but after 5 years of some pretty intensive work I found the hours and stress were just a bit too difficult with a family at home, especially as my daughter’s needs are changing as she is getting older. I am hoping to return to more therapeutic social work in the future, but for now I will content myself with a much better work / life balance and a huge reduction in stress. I’m also hoping to go back to University part-time and study something like family therapy.

What drew you to reviewing books and how long have you been doing this?

I began to review books in 2011 I think it was.  I won a copy of Kathryn Brown’s book Discovery at Rosehill through a competition at loveahappyending.com and wrote a review for the site. Since then, in addiction to blogging I have continued to write reviews for not only loveahappyending.com but also for famousfiveplus.com and lovereading.co.uk. I have contributed to two anthologies with Plumtree Books also. I have always adored books and part of me holds a secret dream to write something half decent myself someday.  Last year I realised that requests for book reviews were getting to the point where my personal blog could not accommodate them. That blog very much was a place for me to discuss family life and educate about special needs and I didn’t want that getting lost amongst the book reviews. So, Brook Cottage Books was born and launched in December 2012 and now I run two blogs!

Are there any favourite genres or do you have a pretty broad taste in books?

Before I began reviewing books I used to be pretty stuck in my ways with regards genres. I never took a chance and tried new genres or even indie authors. I would have only read books by well-known authors and pretty much stuck to the Classics, horrors and thrillers. Now, I will pretty much read anything and I am amazed by what I find enjoyable now. I’d encourage anyone to try a new genre or read a book written by an indie author. I have discovered some wonderfully talented authors.

Have you any favourite books and why?

Oh that is a difficult question as there are so many books I adore. Some of my favourites would have to be a couple of the classics – Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. I also adore Rebecca. As for modern writing I’m not sure I could answer that question because every time I try to think of a favourite book I end up with a huge list, but books such as The Passage series, Me Before You and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would be among my favourites. One of my favourite books that I discovered through reviewing has got to be Somebody to Love by Sheryl Browne. I love Sheryl’s writing and we have become online friends through my love of her books. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the Festival of Romance in November.

You started a website, Brook Cottage Books, can you tell us something about that?

As I’ve previously said, Brook Cottage Books was started to meet the demand for reviews that I was receiving. I didn’t want the message of my personal blog to get lost amongst all the booky stuff. Brook Cottage Books attempts to be a source of information for those who adore books as much as I do. You can find author interviews, book reviews, book news, cover reveals and a whole host of other posts related to books. I regularly take part in blog tours to promote books and authors and as a result I’ve managed to get myself a little bit of paid work now doing a little bit of proofreading and final read-throughs. I’ve also recently edited a book (under my real name) Little White Lies and Butterflies by Suzie Tullett. It’s a fab read! Safkhet Publishing has been kind enough to take me on as an intern and let me gain more experience. I hope one day to make a bit of a living through the blog.

What is a ‘normal’ day for you?

Oh my goodness, there is no such thing as a normal day for me but I’ll attempt to describe my schedule. I usually wake anytime between 4.30am and 6am and sort some blog posts before getting my daughter ready for school. Once she goes to school I normally send a couple of emails, check the blog diary, clean the kitchen and then head to work. Throughout the day in work I try to check in with what’s happening on the blog, Facebook and Twitter and answer some more emails during any break I get in work. After work its household chores, attending to my daughter, walking the dog, going to the gym, reading, writing some more blog posts and answering emails. In between all that I do managed to squeeze in some time with my husband and son and my step children if they are staying with us. By that time its bedtime and I usually read in bed until about midnight. If I am lucky, my daughter will sleep for a few hours and I get some rest then. Sometimes however she is up most of the night so I read some more! No point in wasting good reading time!

Have you one great indulgence or passion?

One of my greatest passions in life is of course books. I love to be surrounded by them. I love the feel and smell of them and I am addicted to buying them! I am a total author groupie and nothing makes me happier than receiving books signed by the author. Books are actually taking over my life and it makes me so happy. I adore having the house to myself and lying on the sofa reading. I love it when the house is nice and quiet as this doesn’t happen very often. A nice glass of wine also helps me relax.

If you had three wishes to do anything you wanted what would they be?

1.       Be instrumental in educating the world about special needs and actually make a difference.

2.       Give up social work and have a career in the book world.

3.       Write a good book.

If you could invite four guests to dinner who would they be and why would you choose them?

Oh that’s another difficult question but I’ll give it a go!

1.       Temple Grandin – a major voice in the autism world and a lady of extreme courage.

2.       Stephen King –  I adore his books

3.       Daphne Du Maurier

4.       Alfred Hitchcock – you’ve gotta love his movies. Plus, he would get on so well with Daphne!

Thanks Jonty for a brilliant and very interesting interview, I know so much more about you now!  I also love Daphne Du Maurier – I’ve read all her novels and Frenchman’s Creek is my favourite.

If you are interested in learning more about Jonty simply click on any of her social network links below.

www.brookcottagebooks.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/brookcottagebooks

www.twitter.com/brookcottagebks

www.jontybabe.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/jontybabe

www.twitter.com/jontybabe

http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/jb-johnston/67/729/587

Down in Glorious Devon

017 (640x480)It hardly seems possible that a week ago we had just arrived in Kingsbridge, South Devon for a week at Crabshell Quay.  We have stayed in this complex five times since 2005, in four different apartments.  This year, as in 2012, we were in apartment 6 on the second floor with amazing views down the estuary towards Salcombe (which my husband refers to as Bath by the Sea).  I absolutely love it here, not only because the apartments are private with gated security parking, but also for the tranquillity, with our lounge opening out directly onto the tidal estuary.  So each day there is movement with the ebb and flow of the tide which withdraws leaving behind a sculptured pattern of rich brown mud where seagulls, ducks, moorhen, swan and egrets pad about on webbed feet all in pursuit of food. The water eventually returns, lifting boats and buoys and bringing back a diverse selection of craft.  Boarding for the Salcombe ferry is two minutes away from the apartment giving passengers a leisurely journey down to the small coastal upmarket town with its designer shopping, cafes, restaurants and pubs. The Trafalgar is our regular there, a particularly good pub with a great menu and home cooked food.  We’re also lucky enough to have a pub right next door to the apartments – The Crabshell Inn does great seafood.  It was taken over a few years ago has undergone a complete refurbishment both externally and internally.  The pub also offers paddle boarding for anyone wishing to get a little closer to the water.DSCF1934 (640x480)

Arriving mid afternoon after lunch in Honiton we discovered Kingsbridge was in the middle of a music festival weekend.  After unpacking we wandered into the market square to see what was going on.  A great surprise – an assortment of good local bands,  rock, folk – even a taste of Bollywood – and loads of local produce to sample.  Stalls had been set up for wine, beer, cider and all sorts of locally sourced food plus, of course, a deli.  Although the weather was drizzly there were loads of people there and we spent nearly an hour before continuing our journey into the town where we booked a table at the Seven Stars for later that evening.  After our meal we returned to the festival.  The crowds were still there and as with all live music, it was very infectious with people dancing and generally having a good time.   Friends came down with us and stayed over the first three days to celebrate a special birthday.  On Sunday we all met up with another couple staying in Dartmouth for lunch at the Royal Castle Hotel.  Afterwards a walk to Dartmouth Castle helped dilute the after effects of a particularly large lunch – they do a wonderful carvery in the hotel!

On Monday the six of us met up again, this time in Salcombe for lunch at The Trafalgar.  Tuesday was a complete chill out day and then on Wednesday we met up with family for lunch at Torcross.  There is an extremely long  beach there which was used as dummy run for DSCF1941 (640x480)the D-Day landings during WW2.  A Sherman tank which came to grief during the practice run was salvaged and now stands as a memorial.  On Thursday we were in Totnes for lunch with friends at The Forchette Brassiere in the High Street and finally on Friday we bussed to Dartmouth on what was the hottest day of the week.  After lunch at The Floating Bridge we browsed the shops before finding a seat to relax and watch boats and people.  Dartmouth looks fabulous when the sun is out, the passenger cruisers were full, there was bunting everywhere and lots of activity on the water with every shape and size of boat.

Once back at the apartment it was time to pack and wait for our last visitors.  One of the pharmacists I worked with at our local hospital was down for the week with her husband and they spent part of the evening with us.  Over glasses of red wine the men talked about cars and usual boys things and us girls had a catch up and talked about writing in general and ’50 Shades’ in particular.  I’d read the trilogy but my friend said she had not been able to get past the first book.  I think the whole thing has been quite a phenomenon but like everything else there appears to be a division between those who have embraced it and those who find it lacking.  Love it or loathe it, E L James is now a very rich woman so I guess she has the last laugh!

I usually find packing quite a sad event.  The holiday is over, it’s time to get back to the real world.  This time, however, I was returning home wearing a different hat.  No more would I be thinking of work and what was going on when I left for Devon – of meetings and admin to catch up on.  This time there was still work, only it was my work.  I have ditched my nine to five for the life a full-time writer.  Therefore although it was sad to leave Devon with all the happy memories of a great week, I was actually looking forward to getting home and being back in front of the computer again.  I had e-mailed my manuscript to my editor just before we left so while I was waiting for its return could look forward to a more relaxed time where I could catch up with blog posts (like this one) and also interviews which I’d shelved, needing to finish off the manuscript first.  As one friend put it, I was now a liberated woman and I think that’s a great adjective.  I’ve always believed to a certain extent  our jobs say a lot about us: it’s who we are – a defining thing.  I had the idea that once I was no longer employed it would take something away from me, almost like losing part of my identity.  This has not been the case.  The only thing I have really felt is free.  For the first time in many years I can do what I want, I am in control of my own destiny. I’m not tied to someone else’s wishes or needs and it feels wonderful! As my friend so aptly put it – liberating!

I absolutely adore South Devon.  Kingsbridge is a trip back in time; a place where the pace of life is slower and people are very friendly. A place where you can watch the rise and fall of the tides, enjoy red wine and relax.  Salcombe is small with good restaurants and designer shopping. Dartmouth is buzzier; it has its ferries – Higher and Lower – taking their daily cargoes of vehicles back and forth across the mouth of the river.  It has the Dart Valley Railway, a reminder of the age of steam, which ships tourists regularly to Paignton and back.  Then there are the many passenger ferries – from those crossing the estuary to Kingswear, to ones making longer journeys up river to Totnes or out around the coast to Salcombe.  And of course there is shopping, the town is packed with small independent shops which feed the tourists’ needs.  It also has the only railway station in England which has never seen a train.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel brought the railway to South Devon as far as Kingswear.  He wanted to cross the water and link Dartmouth.  He had lined up the purchase of land in order to do this, but when he came to carry out the transaction the landowner backed out.  By that time Dartmouth Station had already been built in anticipation of the link but rail lines and trains never ran past its door.  Today it’s a tea shop/restaurant (pictured left).

DSCF1961 (640x480)So now it’s back to normality.  I did find quiet moments when away to throw some ideas into the mix for my next novel.  It’s at a very early stage of course and I’ll use our time away in Italy in September to flesh the whole thing out.  However, I’m glad to say that my sixth novel will happen.  I always have this moment of concern once a novel has been completed, wondering if this is it, or whether there is, in fact, another book in me.  Happily that’s the case – something else to look forward and plan!

Next weekend I’m planning another Tea and Talk so until then have a good week everyone!