A Conversation with Author Jenny O’Brien

Today in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Jenny O’Brien who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

You are very welcome, Jenny, please introduce yourself:

Firstly, thank you for inviting me onto your blog, Pam.

I view myself as a mum who writes. I have three teens and spend most of my spare time acting as taxi driver. But I always carry around a notebook and pen and, when I have a spare minute, write. I’ve been doing just that for the last 12 years and, funnily enough, am about to publish book number 12. I’m also a qualified nurse and still spend my mornings at the local hospital doing what nurses do. Although born in Dublin I now live in Guernsey and spend my time between there, Wales and France.

Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?

I’m currently writing thrillers. I started out writing romance and, whilst I’d never say never, my writing has moved on from there. I also write for children. There’s something engaging writing for this age group. The skies the limit as far as imagination goes – it’s fun. Writing thrillers isn’t fun. It can be enjoyable but it’s also complex and emotionally demanding.

Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

I read every day when perhaps I don’t get to write. It’s my first love. I own 2 kindles just in case one breaks or something. I know – madness. But I don’t watch TV so it’s my main form of relaxation. I read romance, crime and a smattering of literary classics.

What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?

Start late and leave early. Something I read many years ago and still practice today. Basically, it means jumping straight into a scene rather than beginning with a long intro. And, at the end, leave early – leave the reader with a need to turn that next page to find out what’s next.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

I find I have to squeeze my writing in between work and running around after the kids but I do enjoy that first half hour when the rest of the house is asleep.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?

You name it I’ve tried it. Knitting is my first love, but I’ve tried all sorts of crafting projects with varying degrees of success. I’m the proud owner of numerous woollens and a variety of patchwork. I even make my own jewellery not that I ever wear it. Reading would also feature – there’s nothing like curling up with a good book.

You have been chosen as a member of the crew on the first one-way flight to Mars – you are allowed to bring 5 books with you. What would they be?

Probably the complete works of Jane Austen barring Sense and Sensibility, my least favourite. There’s always something new each time I read them.

Please tell us about your latest published work, which I have just pre-ordered.  

My latest book is Missing in Wales, the first in a crime series which features DC Gabriella Darin, half Italian, half Liverpudlian and living and working in Pembrokeshire. I’ve included the blurb below:

Alys is fine – don’t try to find us

Izzy Grant is haunted by the abduction of her new-born daughter five-years ago. When a postcard arrives from her missing partner, the man she believes is responsible, saying they’re fine and asking her not to try to find them, she knows she can’t give up hoping. Then she sees a face from her past. Grace Madden. Just where did she disappear to all those years ago? And is there a connection between her disappearance and that of her child?

DC Gabriella Darin, recently transferred from Swansea, is brash, bolshie and dedicated. Something doesn’t fit with the case and she’s determined to find out just what happened all those years ago.

Available in paperback now or pre-order as an e-book here.

Thank you for inviting me. I love hearing from readers. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram as Scribblerjb and on Facebook here

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Historical Fiction Cover Competition July 2019

What draws you to a historical fiction book cover? 

Welcome to my monthly historical fiction cover competition. I hope you find some new books and authors for your ‘must read’ list. If a cover interests you, just click on the link to learn more about the book. Continue reading “Historical Fiction Cover Competition July 2019”

New Release from William Todd

I have a very special guest today on my blog. If you haven’t read any of William Todd’s Sherlock Holmes’ stories, you are definitely missing out. I love them. His collections of short horror tales are rather special, too. William’s new release, Something Wicked This Way Comes, is now on pre-order, going live on 8th July (you’ll find the link below). I’ve ordered my copy; what about you?

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Continue reading “New Release from William Todd”

1886 LADIES’ FASHION

Peterson's Magazine Sept 1886

The mid 1880s were notable for the increasing size of bustles, often made of steel with horsehair padding. Some were even collapsible to enable ladies to sit down! Intricate folds of fabric were draped over these structures, adding even  more volume.

Peterson's Magazine Jan 1886

Postcard_depicting_Liane_de_Pougy,_dated_1886
Liane de Pougy, French Actress 1886

Drama was the order of the day with exaggerated silhouettes, lush and expensive fabric and highly decorative details. Long trains on evening dresses, particularly for married women, and v-necklines were also extremely popular.

Patterned fabric added drama, ranging from checks, plaids to stripes. Colour, as ever, played an important part with strongly contrasting colours, such as stripes of red and blue being utilised. Although, some ladies preferred more muted colours.

And the bling? That was provided by lots of silk ribbon, braiding, tassels and beading. Embroidery incorporating precious stones and metallics gave dresses that extra pizzazz.

In No Stone Unturned, my heroine Lucy Lawrence attends a Christmas Eve banquet at her family home. This is her impression of the fashionable people present:

“It was as if the salon had been invaded by a flock of exotic birds, each displaying their plumage in a kaleidoscope of colour. Every conceivable shade of silk, satin and velvet was on display and it appeared likely the jewellery boxes of Yorkshire had been emptied for the occasion. It almost hurt to look upon so much glitter and sparkle in such a confined space. Thankfully, the gentlemen in full evening dress were perfect foils for their more vibrant companions.”

♠♠♠♠♠

No Stone Unturned is the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series.

NoStone-EBOOKA suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward; who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart.

When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?

Amazon Buy Link

Penny Dreadfuls – Only a Bit of Fun?

If you enjoyed a good old execution in the 18th or early 19th century, it was possible to buy a crime broadside at the hanging which was produced by specialist printers. These would feature a crude picture of the crime and the culprit, a written account of the crime and trial proceedings and a doggerel, thrown in for good measure. Most of the poor could not read but they enjoyed the lurid pictures, and there was always someone on hand to read out the cautionary poem.

Varney_the_Vampire_or_the_Feast_of_Blood 1845During the Victorian era, however, literacy rates increased. Combined with technological advances in printing and the advent of the railways making wide-spread distribution viable, the demand for cheap, entertaining reading matter increased rapidly. This led to the first penny serials (originally called penny bloods) being published in the 1830s, and by 1850, there were over 100 publishers of penny-fiction. The penny dreadfuls were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and were predominantly aimed at young working class men and boys. They usually had eight pages with black and white illustrations on the top half of the front page. Working-class readers could afford these and they did a roaring trade. In contrast, serialised novels at the time, such as Dickens’ work, cost a shilling (12 pennies) per part and were out of the reach, therefore, of most working class readers.

The subject matter of the penny horrible, penny awful or penny blood was always sensational, usually featuring detectives, criminals or supernatural entitles. Popular characters included Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber, first printed in 1846, who murdered his clients so his neighbour, Mrs Lovett, could cook them in her meat pies. Then there was the endless retelling of Dick Turpin’s exploits and his supposed 200 Pennydreadfulmile ride from London to York in one night! Supernatural characters, such as Varney the Vampire were extremely popular. But the most successful of all time was the Mysteries of London, first published in 1844. It ran for 12 years, 624 numbers (or issues) and nearly 4.5 million words.

Many famous authors began their writing careers writing penny dreadfuls including, GA Sala and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. She reputedly said “the amount of crime, treachery, murder and slow poisoning, and general infamy required by my readers is something terrible.” Many authors took the melodrama of the dreadful and infused it into their later very successful novels.

When highwaymen and evil aristocrats fell out of fashion, true crime, especially murder, was the most popular. These were then overtaken in the popularity stakes by detective stories with the focus on the police rather than the criminal. By the 1860s, the focus changed again and children became the main target audience.

It was easy for the middle and upper classes to look down on the penny dreadfuls as cheap, sensational nonsense. Some even went to far as to blame them for infamous crimes and suicide. But I suspect many read them surreptitiously – for who doesn’t enjoy a good yarn now and then?

In No Stone Unturned, Lucy’s maid, Mary, is huge fan of the penny dreadfuls and cheap sensational novels. Lucy, feeling obliged to look out for her maid’s moral welfare (so she claims!), often reads these books and thoroughly enjoys them, too. When the women’s lives are in danger, Mary comes to the fore with her penchant for intrigue and spying. Lucy suspects Mary’s favourite reading material may be at the root of it.

No Stone Unturned is the first book in the Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series.

NoStone-EBOOK

A suspicious death, stolen gems and an unclaimed reward: who will be the victor in a deadly game of cat and mouse?

London October 1886: Trapped in a troubled marriage, Lucy Lawrence is ripe for an adventure. But when she meets the enigmatic Phineas Stone, over the body of her husband in the mortuary, her world begins to fall apart.

When her late husband’s secrets spill from the grave and her life is threatened by the leader of London’s most notorious gang, Lucy must find the strength to rise to the challenge. But who can she trust and how is she to stay out of the murderous clutches of London’s most dangerous criminal?

Amazon Buy Link

A Conversation with Author Judith Arnopp

This evening in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Judith Arnopp, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

You are very welcome, Judith, please introduce yourself:

JudithThank you for inviting me to your blog. I write historical fiction from my home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales. I like to put myself in the shoes of the women who lived and breathed under the rule of the Tudors, sometimes my characters are members of the Tudor family, sometimes they are subjects but they all share one thing – the fight to survive the political upheaval of the day.

The Tudor novels include: Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace; The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series); A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York; Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr; The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn; The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII.

Early in my career I wrote in the medieval/Anglo Saxon era and produced three novels, The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers, and Peaceweaver. I also write nonfiction – my articles appear in several anthologies.

Books

Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?

I write historical fiction, mostly in the Tudor period. I have always loved history so when I graduated from university it made sense to stay on a while longer and study for my masters in medieval/Tudor history. When I could find no more excuses not to leave full time education I began to write, turning my hobby into a career. My first novel, Peaceweaver, was published in 2009 and I am now writing my eleventh (I think). I live very quietly, and am a bit of a recluse so I feel much more at home writing in the Tudor period than I do in the present day.

Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

I used to read historical fiction exclusively but now I am an author I try to avoid it. I don’t want to taint my own voice or style so I read crime fiction, or classics. The book I most enjoyed last year was The Mermaid’s Daughter by Ann Claycomb, a rewrite of The Little Mermaid – I was totally gripped by it and sorry when it came to an end. Of course, there are always a few historical fiction titles I can’t resist and I am very excited to hear the Hilary Mantel has finally got around to finishing the sequel to Bring up the Bodies. I will certainly be reading that one.

What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?

Time in which to get the first draft written. There doesn’t seem to be enough hours to do everything expected of an author today. I’d love to be able to just sit and my desk and write but if you neglect marketing, social media, keeping your covers updated and producing new attractive posters your current books will cease to sell. There are so many authors these days that is has become very difficult to be ‘seen’ and it can be disheartening to pour hours into a blog post that nobody reads or comments on. I’d love to have time to deal with all these things but the older I get the shorter my working day becomes, and something has to be sacrificed. I just do what I can. If my whole morning is spent marketing, I get very few new words on the page, if I spend the morning writing, I sell fewer books. I really need a team of enthusiastic marketing managers so I can just write but I am not rich enough. I just do what I can, when I can – my working life is a desperate muddle of seeing what can be achieved before I drop – I don’t have an answer to this difficulty.

What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?

I was advised to write, write, write, to hire an editor and to never believe I was good enough. I stick to this advice. I try to write every day. I have a fabulous editor Cas Peace, who ensures my commas are in the right place and hunts down the typos. Between us we produce something worth reading. The piece of advice I pass on to new authors is to never think I am good enough. This doesn’t mean one should tear out your hair and wail that your writing is rubbish – it means to strive to be better, always see the faults and failures in your own work (then you won’t be so disappointed when others call you out on them). Do the best you can and then, next time, try to do better still. Complacency has ruined many a fine author.

Do you have a favourite time of day to write?

I write in the mornings while I am alert enough to think clearly. I start the day answering emails, tweeting and responding to social media messages while I fuel myself with coffee and cornflakes. Then I edit what I wrote the previous day before launching into the next part of the story. That is the plan anyway; sometimes I have to research, or life gets in the way in the form of grandchildren or appointments, or answering interview questions as I am today.

If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?

That is a very good question. I have no idea. I can’t really see myself doing anything else. My side line is making French hoods, coifs and medieval bags etc. which I sell in my Etsy shop so perhaps I would do that in a more serious way. I could never work in an office or a shop. I like to work from home and have become used to being my own boss. Or perhaps I’d enjoy interior design, I do a lot of that and I am running out of rooms to make over at home. Or garden design – I love my own garden and have transformed the one we have now. Come to think of it, there are heaps of other jobs I could do but I have learned that if you turn a hobby (in my case writing) into a job inevitably some of the shine is rubbed off.

If a movie was made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?

A movie! What a lovely thought. I am not very good at remembering the names of actors but I will give it a shot. If The Winchester Goose was being filmed I’d choose the following.  Francis Wareham is the main male character. He is very dashing and handsome but not very old so would need to be played by someone like, erm …Simon Woods who was Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice, the Keira Knightly one.

GooseI think Alex Kingston would make a brilliant Joanie Toogood, the ‘goose’. She did a great job with Moll Flanders and I think she has all the necessary credentials.

Isabella and Evelyn Bourne are gentlewomen from court. Emma Watson would be good as Eve or maybe Jenna Coleman, the girl playing Victoria at the moment,. The actress who plays Edith in Downton Abbey, Laura Carmichael, would make a lovely Bella. For Peter, who is a costermonger from Southwark it would have to be Rupert Grint – wonderful actor who played Ron Weasley in Harry Potter. Henry VIII would not be played by Jonathon Rhys Meyers (as gorgeous as he is) I think the role is better suited to Steven Waddington who played Lord Buckingham in the Tudors. As to Katherine Howard and Anna of Cleves, goodness, I have no idea. I will leave that to the directors!

If you could travel back in time, what era would you go to? What draws you to this particular time?

This is an easy one to answer. I’d visit the Tudor period to see if I’ve got it right in my novels. I’d like to discover for myself what changed Henry VIII from a virtuous, golden prince into an embittered ‘monster’. At the start of his reign he had great potential yet something happened to change him after 1536. Some say it was a fall from a horse that damaged his mind, others that it was nurture and some believe he was born that way and the decline in his character was inevitable. I’d like to find out for myself at close quarters but not so close that he would notice me. I’d not want to end up on the scaffold.

Please tell us about your latest published work. 

SistersMy latest release is Sisters of Arden and it is set during the dissolution of the monasteries in Henry VIII’s reign. The plight of those affected by the dissolution has always intrigued me and I enjoyed revisiting the period. The records of Arden Priory are scanty but by piecing together what little we know with wider records of the dissolution and the Pilgrimage of Grace, I have explored the closure of the abbeys and the uprisings that followed from the perspective of a group of three insignificant nuns.

Sisters of Arden follows the path of Margery, Grace and Frances, after the closure of Arden. Their adventures take them the length and breadth of Yorkshire. They move from determination to despair, from hope to disillusion but, with their world in pieces, the only thing they can do is try to rebuild it.

Blurb

Arden Priory has remained unchanged for almost four hundred years. When a nameless child is abandoned at the gatehouse door, the nuns take her in and raise her as one of their own.

After the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536, the embittered King strikes out, and unprecedented change sweeps across the country. The bells of the great abbeys fall silent, the church fragments and the very foundation of the realm begins to crack.

Determined to preserve their way of life, Margery and the sisters of Arden join a pilgrimage thirty thousand strong and attempt to lead the heretic king back to grace.

Sisters of Arden is a story of valour, virtue and veritas.

Buy link: mybook.to/sistersofarden

If you would like to know more about Judith and her work, please check out her links below: 

Webpage

Amazon Author page

Blog

 

Next Stop – King’s Cross Underground!

Early History of King’s Cross

The area now known as King’s Cross is reputedly an ancient crossing point of the River Fleet, and it is believed to be the site of the legendary battle between the Romans and Queen Boudicca. The queen’s resting place is said to be under Platform Nine of the present station. The locality remained predominantly rural during the 18th century and was a popular retreat for Londoners availing of its health spas and country inns. Continue reading “Next Stop – King’s Cross Underground!”