Last week I promised to come back with photos taken on holiday in Europe. Although it’s great to laze around the pool, it’s also lovely to get out and about – and that means photo opportunities. Tonight I’m featuring three destinations:
September 2005: LE BUGUE, DORDOGNE, FRANCE
We rented an isolated twelve bedroom farmhouse for a week. The owners, an English couple, were still in the process of renovating some of the bedrooms and moved into a caravan in the woods behind the house when it was being rented out. The kitchen had a homing spider who lived in a small blue bucket. No matter how many times it was persuaded that the garden might be a better place to live, by the next morning it was back. I have great memories of beautiful countryside, fabulous food and pre dinner Kir Royal. There was also the most expensive piece of cheese I’ve ever purchased in a market and ‘bio’bread (organic bread) which when stale became so hard even the birds turned their beaks up.
June 2006 – ST STEFANOS, CORFU
Memorable events: Wrecking my ankle 48 hours before our flights and ending up in A & E. The triage nurse cheered me up with ‘never mind, you’ll get a wheelchair to take you to the plane and you’ll be on first.’ In actual fact it was a very bad sprain and by the time we got to the airport, although the ankle was still painful at least I was mobile. The island was beautiful, the people friendly and the villa amazing. We had a small cat family who visited daily and mum would leave her kittens to play in the villa garden while she went off to hunt. Greek food? Well that goes without saying…it’s one of my favourites. The only downside was I had to wear sensible shoes all week in order to support my ankle….no strappy sandals or high heels…which obviously meant a complete overhaul of my holiday wardrobe.
September 2008 – FUNCHAL, MADEIRA
We came here to celebrate a milestone wedding anniversary. The hotel was an old colonial mansion once used by the British Consulate. Unlike the modern hotels which are clustered around the coast near the marina, this was set on a steep hillside at the top of the city – fifteen minutes walk down and forty five minutes back as the hotel receptionist informed us with a smile – yes it was steep. It’s an amazing island, the north coast is similar to Cornwall, very rocky with rough seas while the calmer south coast bathes in warmth. The mountainous interior, is more often than not covered in cloud which brings rain to irrigate the island. The rain is channelled into levadas, which carry the water across the island to where it is needed. These water channels also provide routes for those who come to the island on walking holidays.
Memorable Events: The friendliness of the people, the fabulous food and a wonderful guy we hired who took us around the island in his taxi. We spent a whole day with him and everything was tailored to our requirements. He stopped whenever we wanted to take photographs, took us to a great local restaurant for lunch and gave us a great insight into the history of the island. Another taxi driver who will live forever in our minds was one who took us back to the hotel after a night out. It was one of the scariest moments I think we’ve ever experienced in a vehicle -even worse learning that he was 84 and still licenced!
That’s all for now but I’ll be back soon to share some more memorable places…
As part of The Song of the Sea Maid’s Book tour I was pleased to be able to catch up with Rebecca Mascull for a chat… about writing, travel, cakes and cuppas…
Hi Becca, can I start by asking you a little about yourself?
Hello Jo! I’m a 44 year old novelist with two books out published by Hodder and Stoughton and a third on the way. I’m also a busy mum and I love reading, cinema and baking (particularly the cake eating part). I live by the sea and feel very lucky to do so.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer and how did you begin that journey?
I’ve been writing stories since I was a little girl. My first major work, aged 13, was a western totally ripped off from the back story of Romancing the Stone and my second major work was a hospital drama about a dodgy radiologist also ripped off from St Elsewhere, because I had a crush on the radiologist in that show. Since then, I have tried to be less derivative and come up with some of my own ideas. I decided in 2001 to leave full-time teaching and do a Masters in Writing, because I figured that I’d never make it as a writer if it was always done part-time i.e. if it was always Plan B. So I made it Plan A and took a big pay cut (which I’ve never really recovered from!) and got my Masters. Then followed quite a few years of rejections by agents and publishers until I finally got my first book deal with Hodder in 2012 and my first published novel The Visitors came out in 2014. It’s been a long old journey to get here and, of course, there is still a long way to go and I mean that in a good way! I honestly think I’d go mad if I didn’t write stories, so I hope to keep doing so as long as I live.
Both of the books you have written have been historical novels. Are you staying with this genre or have you any plans to write a contemporary novel?
I don’t have any particular plans to write contemporary novels, largely because I feel so comfortable writing about the past. Part of the joy of writing, for me, is the historical research and all the stuff I learn by doing it. I love the challenge of setting myself the task of trying to understand how it must have been to live through a particular time and particular events, to render those in a way that is faithful to the time and yet also resonates with the present day. However, you never know, and if a story grabs me and it happens to be contemporary, then so be it. Of course, whether you’re writing a contemporary story or an historical one, if it’s about a subject that is new to you, there is going to be some research involved, perhaps a lot. For example, if I wanted to write about a polar bear expert in the Arctic, I’d have a lot of work to do! For me, novels are escapism and that can be either into the past and/or into a very different environment from my own. I couldn’t bear to write a story about a novelist and mum who lives by the sea and likes baking cakes – I’d die of boredom writing the damn thing, even if someone on the other side of the world might find that fascinating! I want to escape to a different life in my writing, even though I’m perfectly happy in my own! Fiction, for me, is about other minds and other places and, yes, perhaps other times too.
Are you a panster or a plotter? What works best for you?
Now, this is interesting – I had to look up the word ‘panster’, as I’d never heard of it! So, thank you for teaching me something new today! I’m still not entirely sure what it means though! I have a feeling it’s about how much planning you do before you write. If so, I am most definitely a plotter. I spend a good year or more researching and then organising my research notes; then comes a detailed synopsis; from that develops detailed chapter plans and only then do I feel able to sit down and start drafting. Once I start the drafting process, it actually doesn’t take that long, because a lot of the legwork has already been done in the planning process. I have a clear story arc already in place, but this always changes in the writing. This suits my brain and also, I think, suits writing historical fiction, for me. Personally, it would annoy me if I were constantly having to look things up that I didn’t know about the setting as I’m going along, having to stop and start the flow of the narrative to get the details right. I still do this to a certain extent, as even a year of research is never enough to find out every tiny thing you need to know, so I leave quite a few gaps in my first draft with phrases typed in capital letters such as CHECK THIS or very specific little messages to myself like EDWARDIAN HAT! Then I go back in the second draft, with my research files open around me, and I fill in all the little gaps. So mostly I’m a plotter, but I am totally open to allowing the characters and the narrative to take over and go their own way and I follow that wholeheartedly, as I know that most of the important work in a novel goes on in the subconscious and, let’s face it, we have little control over that – thank heavens!
Can you tell us something about your current WIP?
I can tell you a little bit about it, though I am always a bit fearful about revealing too much before the book is actually finished. So, I’m not being mysterious on purpose, just paranoid! It’s set in the Edwardian period, beginning in 1909 in Cleethorpes, which is just down the road from me. If all goes to plan, it’ll be out in April 2017, so there’ll be more details on this in the forthcoming months. Suffice to say, it’s about a young woman with an unconventional ambition – my kinda gal!
Are you a beach or city girl? Name a few of your favourite holiday destinations.
Well, I hate really hot weather, so my favourite time of year to walk on the beach is spring or autumn, where I can enjoy the beauty but not have to worry about sun cream or heat stroke! I live a few minutes from Cleethorpes beach and it’s so beautiful at all times of year, just a paradise for me of big blue Lincolnshire skies, soft sand and rolling waves as far as the eye can see. As you can probably tell from Song of the Sea Maid, I adore the sea and I am fascinated by it, so I love visiting English seaside places such as Whitby or down
to Dorset or Devon. If I could choose one place to live in the world, it’d be Cornwall. But I love cities too. I travelled quite a bit in my youth, and visited wonderful cities like Paris, Vienna, Rome, Prague, Berne, Bonn, Madrid, Delhi, New York, Boston, Los Angeles. More recently I’ve visited and really enjoyed Edinburgh, Manchester and, of course, I’ve been to London countless times. I live not too far from Lincoln, a beautiful cathedral city and I also love York. I adore beautiful
buildings, such as cathedrals, like the one in Exeter where I went to university, or other lovely city centres with parks and quaysides or rivers and fascinating shops, like Bristol where I did my teacher training, or Bath or Canterbury or gorgeous old places like Stratford-upon-Avon. I was raised near Oxford and loved wandering through the college sector. So, I have a great affinity with cities and like to be a bit of a flanheur – but most importantly, there must be bookshops and cafés with cake and Earl Grey tea, to make it a perfect city excursion for me. I also love small towns like Horncastle near us, that has brilliant second-hand bookshops (and lovely plum bread!) One thing not included in the beach/city idea is the countryside, which I
adore too: I love walking through woodland or beside fields, watching the birds dip over the corn or the treetops waving in the breeze. I love trees almost more than anything, apart from the sea
And lastly, if you were a castaway on a desert island, what four things couldn’t you possibly live without?
Oh my word, a desert island would be my idea of hell. Firstly, I am not good at being on my own for long periods of time. I love having peace to write but I know from past experience that I would soon go nuts if I were alone all the time. Secondly, I hate the heat and constant full sun, so I’d be really miserable there! However, having written in Song of the Sea Maid about my main character Dawnay Price studying the flora and fauna of the
Berlengas Islands and Fornells on Menorca, I quite like the idea of a brief sojourn in one of those, maybe a writing retreat. I can dream, can’t I?! But the key difference would be that I’d have access to people and civilisation, which is what I’d miss most of all, I think. So, on this desert island, the four things I would need would be: shelter from the sun, books to read, writing materials and facilities to make cake and a cuppa. As a castaway, I suppose I’d have to make do without people, so the books I read would have to serve as my company. They do a pretty good job of that, books…
In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher.
Against the conventions of the day, and the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint as a previously undiscovered civilization, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.
Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy. She has previously worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. SONG OF THE SEA MAID is her second novel.
Dawney Price starts life with every disadvantage. As her story commences she is a nameless child whose brother is taken by a press gang, abandoning her alone on the streets of London. All that she is left with is the piece of paper he pressed into her hand before he was taken with words on it she cannot read.
Trying to survive on the streets she attempts to steal a gentleman’s wig but is apprehended by the wearer and taken to the Asylum for Destitute Wretches. The Matron at the asylum gives her the name Dawney Price. Dawney after the gentleman who brought her there and Price because the piece of paper her brother gave her reads ‘Price 1d’. Dawney proves to be a curious and talented child, who breaks the asylum rule of only being allowed to learn reading and mathematics by secretly teaching herself to write. She is brought before the asylum’s founder and his committee expecting punishment. Instead one of them, Markem Woods, a rich merchant offers to sponsor her education under the tutelage of his friend Stephen Appleby.
By the age of twenty three Dawney is a well-educated young woman living a comfortable life. But her curiosity about the world beyond London sees her persuading Woods to sponsor a trip to Lisbon so she may make a six month expedition to the Berlengas Islands. A passage booked aboard a research ship sees her first meeting with its captain, Robin Alexander, someone who will play an important role in her future.
Written from Dawney’s viewpoint the book opens a whole window onto eighteenth century life in London. There terrible poverty and the asylum attempts to education orphan girls to ensure they found jobs rather than an existence on the streets. However, no one gets to follow their dreams; their work aspirations are limited to the dictates of We travel with Dawney to Lisbon and then to the islands she is so keen to investigate. Returning to Lisbon she survives an earthquake and a tidal wave. Eventually she travels on to Minorca. There she not only finds the fabled mermaid often spoken of, but love as well.
I absolutely loved this book. From the first page it made compelling reading, drawing you into Dawney’s eighteenth century world in vivid detail. She’s a great heroine; quite fearless – not afraid to question as a child or challenge as an adult. In the historical period she lived, she was a unique young woman, breaking most, if not all of society’s rules in a male dominated world. A wonderful story.
I would like to thank Hodder and Stoughton for donating a complimentary copy of this book in return for an honest review.
Following on from last week, I’m now turning my attention inland. I live just east of Bath in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. For some time now we’ve have also found ourselves labelled as part of the Cotswolds. I always believed this title related to the Gloucester area to the north of us, but no, you can now see these road signs on the edge of our village, so it’s official.
Although I love Bath very much for its history, diversity and, of course, amazing restaurants and shopping, I’ve always been a country girl. When I was small the village we lived in had no services at all – shop, school, post office, pub – they were all found in the next village. We did have a bus service but had to walk a couple of miles to catch a train. When I passed my 11+ I left behind the few miles I cycled to school and found myself doing a round trip of twenty miles a day on two different trains to Marlborough (photo 1). It was certainly a complete culture shock from the small world I’d previously occupied. I did this for a year until my family moved west where I swapped trains for buses (again two) but thankfully this time my school was only 8 miles away in Bradford on Avon (photo 2).
Marlborough Grammar School
Fitzmaurice Grammar School Bradford on Avon
Today I’m lucky enough to still be able to call myself a village dweller and the local landscape enables me to capture some fabulous photographs of the countryside which surrounds it.
Next week I’ll be taking a trip abroad to Spain, the Czech Republic and Italy, three of my favourite holiday destinations.
I love historical fiction and this book’s wonderful cover drew me in even before I had read the back page synopsis.
This is an amazing story about a young eighteenth century Irish woman, Kit Kavanagh, whose husband is taken one night and pressed into army service. Kit has always dreamed of adventure away from the day to day work in her family’s bar so when her Aunt Maura suggests she leaves to find him, Kit has no qualms about setting off on this great journey. She enlists in the army, disguised as a man and is transported to Italy. On arrival she is chosen to join the Scottish Grey Dragoons. After training she eventually goes with the regiment to fight in northern Italy. Captain Ross, the young commander who trained them is everything a good soldier should be; brave, handsome, honest and above all devoted to his men. Ross looks out for Kit, believing her to be a 16 year old boy and the ‘baby’ of the regiment. As they travel Kit’s respect for him grows into something far deeper. Pushing aside these feelings, she fixes her mind on finding Richard, her husband.
Kit goes through an amazing array of experiences as she journeys through Italy. Involved in fighting, injured in battle, challenging the regiment’s bully to a duel and being thrown into prison are only some of the things which happen to her. Then just when she feels her search is hopeless, someone brings her news of her husband’s whereabouts. And if you thought this is going to be the end of the story…well actually there is far more to come.
This story moved with great pace. Kit’s journey was a roller coaster of events with some heart stopping and quite sad moments. It’s also an amazing chronicle of historical events written with the kind of skill that raises it above many similar novels. I loved the writing and the story kept me reading right to the end. In fact was the kind of book I was reluctant to put down and always keen to pick up again.
I thoroughly recommend The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh – a very deserving five star read.
I would like to thank Hodder and Stoughton for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Good morning Jan and welcome. Can I start, as always, by asking you a little about yourself?
Morning, Jo. Thank you for that lovely greeting. I live in south-east London with my husband Dave. He’s a painter and decorator and, alongside my writing and any freelance proofreading jobs I take on, I look after the admin side of his business.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer and how did you begin that journey?
I don’t think I ever consciously decided. I just knew that I loved reading and creating little fictional scenarios either in my head or in story form for school friends and family and recognised this as being something I hoped to further explore at some point in my life. The opportunity later arose to enrol on a creative writing course which eventually sparked the idea for my novel. I then immersed myself in all things writerly from text books to attending events to connecting with other readers and writers on social media to absorb as much knowledge and advice as I could, which set me off on my journey.
How did you become a Choc Lit Author?
As Weekends Go won their 2014/2015 Search for a Star competition which subsequently led to a contract offer.
Are you a panster or a plotter? What works best for you?
Oh, definitely a plotter. Methodical to a point, with lists and notebooks full of pre-draft notes and ramblings to prove it.
Can you tell us something about your current WIP?
It’s the sequel to As Weekends Go, in as much as it tells my main gal Rebecca’s story going forward and how she copes with the fresh set of trials, challenges and dilemmas the new world she’s entered into brings with it. It’s a standalone, though, so can be read without having to first read Book 1.
Are you a beach or city girl? Name some of your favourite holiday destinations.
Ooh, I like both in equal measures. Rome and New York are two of my favourite cities, yet I’m equally happy lying on a beach with a good book in one hand and a long cool drink in the other. I’ve been going to Spain’s Costa del Sol for years, so love that particular coastline from Malaga to Gibraltar. The Maldives hold a special place in my heart too as Dave and I spent our honeymoon on the island of Meerufenfushi.
And lastly, if you were a castaway on a desert island, what four things couldn’t you live without?
Well, assuming I’m all alone and have no access whatsoever to anything remotely techy-fied, a chunky notebook, a set of pens, a photograph album with all my nearest and dearest’s faces to peer at for inspiration when I’m writing, and probably my lucky crystals. (I’d say chocolate – obviously – but it would melt before I’d get the chance to savour its divine yumminess!).
Jan is a former member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. An avid reader and all round book devotee, Jan is also one eighth of online group blog The Romaniacs who last year proudly received the RNA Industry Media Award and even got a mention in The Bookseller.
Social Media Links: Facebook: Jan Brigden Twitter: @Briggy44 Blogs: Jan Brigden Writer The Romaniacs
ABOUT AS WEEKENDS GO
What if your entire life changed in the space of a weekend?
When Rebecca’s friend Abi convinces her to get away from it all at the fabulous Hawksley Manor hotel in York, it seems too good to be true. Pampering and relaxation is just what Rebecca needs to distract herself from the creeping suspicion that her husband, Greg, is hiding something from her.
She never imagined that by the end of the weekend she would have dined with celebrities or danced the night away in exclusive clubs. Nor could she have predicted she would meet famous footballer, Alex Heath, or that he would be the one to show her that she deserved so much more …
But no matter how amazing a weekend is, it’s always back to reality come Monday morning – isn’t it?
Today I’m pleased to welcome Julia Wild whose latest book MOON SHADOW has just been published.
A member of the Romantic Novelists Association since 1993, Julia came through the New Writers Scheme to win the New Writers Award (now known as the Joan Hessayon award) with Dark Canvas.
She is married and lives in Bedfordshire and has three fantastic children – all grown up now – but all still very much part of her life.
Julia worked in the local mobile House bound library for nine wonderful years, and then was re-deployed to a local library until 2014. When the huge cutbacks came, she took redundancy and is taking some time to be self-employed; doing what she loves best – escaping into the writing world.
‘You’ll destroy me if I let you…’
Ellie Morrison is an actress by trade.
So what’s she doing on a ranch in Montana posing as
a housekeeper and investigating the murky past of its
good-looking owner, Declan Kelloway?
And why does she find herself attracted to her new boss?
After all, she has a perfectly satisfactory man in her life.
And Declan is just part of her job, isn’t he?
E book just £2.10 for a limited period only; Paperback £7.10
OTHER BOOKS BY JULIA WILD
Dark Canvas winner of the RNA’s NWS Award in 1997
ABOUT DARK CANVAS
Abbey is at the height of her career, has a lovely home and a steady boyfriend. All is wonderful until someone begins to threaten her. Jake Westaway comes into her life when he brings Abbey a message. He has no intention of sticking around, since she’s definitely not his type, but somehow, he has difficulty leaving…
Nick knows that there is something wrong. Surely he would remember being engaged to someone as quirky and gorgeous as Kayanne? But she insists they are to be married and that she is passionately in love with him. And so the wedding goes ahead and Nick is soon honeymooning with his bride, though it is a honeymoon in name only.
But out in the darkness there is someone who is determined to keep it that way – someone who has reason to want Nick dead and Kayanne “widowed”…
Blue Silk Promise Available as an Ebook: just 99p from 11th – 18th Feb only