Welcome to my guest blogging page where you will find guest blogs from other authors, introducing their own work. There are some wonderful people here! And do follow the links to their blogs for more information. If any readers of this page who are also authors would like to appear in An Author’s Mind series, let me know and I’ll send you some questions which will explore how writing works for you. The more, the merrier!
On the blog so far:
Jessie Cahalin – You can’t go it alone
J J Toner – The Gingerbread Spy
Annie Weir – Judith Wants to be your Friend
Denitta Ward – Somewhere Still
Rosalind Winter – Ready, Steady, Dig!
Cath Cole – Home from Home
Tim Walker – Uther’s Destiny
Jane Davis – Smash all the Windows
22nd September 2018
This month’s guest blog is exploring the mind of a woman of mystery! The phenomenon that is Jessie Cahalin rarely appears in photographs. We got quite close but not so close you’ll recognise Jessie in the local supermarket. However, the author of the extremely successful blog, Books in my Handbag, has also published her debut novel this year and we are delighted to peep into the mind of You Can’t Go It Alone‘s author!
Jessie with Sunglasses at Narberth
So down to business! Welcome, Jessie! This has been an exciting year for you with the publication of You Can’t Go It Alone. Can you tell us a little of the story – with no spoilers?
Jessie: It’s a pleasure to be here, Lizzie. I’m really looking forward to this.
You Can’t Go It Alone is a weaving-together of love, music and secrets. Set in a Welsh village, Delfryn, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships.
Lizzie: Who is your favourite character and why?
Jessie: My favourite character is Jim Evans. His wife, Pearl, died, years ago and he has been very lonely. Originally, I intended Jim to be a minor character, but his presence evolved gradually. Jim came to life in the various scenes, and his love for Pearl is moving. His sadness made my heart ache for him. I discovered his past and the way he concealed emotions. Born into a working-class family during the forties, he was expected to be tough. Jim wrestled with expressing his emotions. His wife understood Jim’s issues, but they never managed to discuss everything. Jim and Pearl want me to explore elements of their childhood and how they met.
Lizzie: Who is/are the hero(es)? Who are the villains? And why?
Jessie: All my characters have good points and flaws. Readers have described my characters as ‘real’. Sophie is the linchpin developing the sense of community but neglects her own life. Matteo seems like an obvious villain, but he is more complex than he appears. Gio’s behaviour is all bravado. Pearl seems to have been held back yet she also failed to communicate effectively with her husband. I could go on and on but want readers to discover the characters for themselves. I will confess the obvious villain was removed from the book, as he had a negative influence on Olivia. I had to banish the character for Olivia to be independent and shine.
Lizzie: Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite too? What would you hope to learn?
Jessie: I would invite Rosa to dinner and give her a break from cooking in the Olive Tree café. She is a lively, entertaining characters with lots of stories to tell, but I know she needs to talk. Hopefully, she would tell me more about Pearl. I know Pearl and Rosa met weekly but am not sure what they talked about. Although, Rosa is an exquisite cook, I am sure she wouldn’t judge my cooking. I’d ask her to bring her violin and favourite songs. I’d also like to chat to Rosa about her plans for the next community event in the café. I would also invite Angela Petch, author of Tuscan Roots, to speak Italian. I know Angela would manage encourage Rosa to be herself.
Lizzie: Do your characters change?
Jessie: All the characters change and discover something about themselves and each other. They all learn to be more open about how they feel and to work together. Changes in Olivia and Jim are at the heart of the novel. Jim learns to reach out to other members of the community. I wonder if Pearl ever knew the extent of Jim’s love for her. Olivia is young and grows in confidence as she finds her identity. However, I am not sure how Olivia will develop in the future – sometimes I see her rebellious streak.
Lizzie: What moments in the novel do you like best?
Jessie: I enjoy reading the scenes between Luke and Rosa. The tenderness between the couple feels real, and I wish they had had more time together. Luke and Rosa have very different backgrounds and opportunities but the connection between them is very strong.
Lizzie: What moments do you like least?
Jessie: At times, I have worried about Sophie. She is so absorbed in her wish to have a child that she has neglected to talk to her husband. Her anger and pain have consumed her; thus, she displaces herself with other people’s worries rather than giving more time to Jack. A cloud hovers over Sophie’s life. I do hope she learns to appreciate the simple things in her life rather than trying to help everyone else. The scenes where Jack and Sophie visit the hospital are difficult and uncomfortable.
Lizzie: Could you lose yourself in the novel’s world?
Jessie: I have lost myself in the novel’s world. Delfryn is very real to me. I have walked through the village and seen the characters. Sitting in the café, I observed Rosa and listened to the music. The food was so delicious that I kept a menu as a souvenir of the experience. Delfryn Vineyard made me feel as if I had found a secret retreat from the world – it is no wonder the monks chose this spot for their vineyard. The owners of the vineyard asked me to write a description of their wine. I struggled and ended up thinking of Marcus’s wine tasting. Thus far I have written, ‘a cheeky wine with a hint of sarcasm.’ I will visit the vineyard again to write an appropriate description for the Delfryn wine!
Lizzie: Is there an important theme (or themes) that this story illustrates?
Jessie: The book illustrates the importance of sharing worries and working together. Characters learn to enjoy the simple things in life. Communities can exist in the twenty-first century if we open our hearts and make the effort.
Lizzie: What do you learn about change and social classes in this book?
Jessie: The novel demonstrates different generations of women have different opportunities. Pearl and Olivia are two generations apart and had a different approach to pursuing their music ambition. Rosa is an independent business woman who asserts herself but places her daughter at the centre of her world. Rosa knew she had to adapt her expectations to provide security for her daughter. Sophie worked hard to have the freedom to make choices but expected to become a mother whenever she made the choice – life isn’t that simple. All these women are from working class backgrounds with other cultures integrated into their experiences.
Lizzie: How would you describe the genre of your book, if any?
Jessie: You Can’t Go It Alone is contemporary fiction. It is a book about love and romance without a predictable ending. A male reader has indicated the book ‘appeals to men and women alike’. Another reader has labeled the book a family saga, as she wanted to find out more about the families in the novel. Set in Wales, You Can’t Go It Alone is ‘a novel with a warm heart’ and is the first book in a family saga.
Lizzie: Thank you, Jessie, for an intriguing interview!
Jessie is a Yorkshire author living in Cardiff. Wales, words and Yorkshire folk have a special place in her heart. She loves to entertain and challenge readers with her contemporary fiction and wants everyone to meet the characters who’ve been hassling her for years. If readers want to know more, you can connect with Jessie through her Website or Facebook or Twitter . For You Can’t Go It Alone, the buy link is Amazon.
25th August 2018
WW2 is now considered historical and stories about that conflict historical adventures but there is the overtone – unique in the historical genre – of that setting’s impact on and causality relating to the present day. This month, we have been pleased to explore those possibilities within the context of best-selling author j j toner‘s exciting thriller, The Gingerbread Spy.
Welcome to An Author’s Mind, j j, we’re looking forward to learning more!
Can you briefly describe the story of The Gingerbread Spy?
j j toner: The Gingerbread Spy is Book 4 in my WW2 spy thriller series. Kurt Müller – a member, since Book1, of the German Resistance movement, The Black Orchestra – is in London, working with British Intelligence as a case officer for the Double Cross programme. This programme runs a number of German double agents sending misinformation to the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence). As D-Day approaches, a rogue agent surfaces with the call-sign Gingerbread, threatening the whole deception plan. When Kurt discovers that he is a suspect, he sets out to silence this Gingerbread spy in order to clear his name and save Operation Overlord.
Lizzie: People say all fiction is autobiographical. Have you based this book on a formative experience?
j j toner: Not at all. It’s a pure product of my imagination.
Lizzie: Is there an important theme (or themes) that the story illustrates?
j j toner: All the books in the series carry the theme that very few of the German population were Nazis or should be held responsible for the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Lizzie: An important point! Who are the heroes? Who are the villains? And why?
j j toner: There are two heroes in this book, Kurt and his girlfriend, Lina. Between them they unmask the Gingerbread spy. The villains are more difficult to spot, and some are only implicated through the lens of subsequent history.
Lizzie: Do the characters change?
j j toner: Yes. At the start of the book, Kurt and Lina are living together and Lina is bullied by her workmates. Kurt is riddled with shame and guilt, as he loves another. By the end of the book, Lina overcomes the bullies and shakes free of Kurt. Kurt makes his peace with his true love.
Lizzie: Does your main character undergo a transformation?
j j toner: This is tricky. His major transformation was in Book1, when he went from dutiful Abwehr officer to convinced anti-Nazi member of the Black Orchestra. There are personal transformations in the other books, but they are more subtle.
Lizzie: Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite too? What would you hope to learn?
j j toner: I’d invite Lina. Her story is unfulfilled, but full of promise. I’d love to see how she turned out. Also, I’d invite Walter Schellenberg, the head of the SD. He was a slippery customer, who escaped the gallows by giving evidence against the other Nazis. I’d like to understand his true motivation.
Lizzie: Where did your research take you?
j j toner: Lisbon, Portugal, a beautiful city of hills and valleys.
Lizzie: What was the inspiration for writing this book series?
j j toner: The inspiration for the series and the idea of senior members of the Abwehr working against Hitler, came from reading Irish Secrets, German Espionage in Wartime Ireland 1939-1945 by Mark M. Hull, Irish Academic Press, 2003, ISBN 0-7165-2756-1
Lizzie: How does this book fit into the series?
j j toner: The story of the series follows the progress of the Second World War and this book ends in March 1944.
Lizzie: Why did you use historical fiction as a preferred genre?
j j toner: WW2 provides a ready-made canvas on which to hang a story. And if, as they say, a story needs conflict where better to find that?
Lizzie: What’s next?
j j toner: I have plans for a fifth book in the series, but my wife wants me to stop writing. We can’t afford a divorce!
Thank you for your rapid-fire answers, j j! These are highly appropriate for a man/writer of action!
If you’d like to learn more about jj toner, please see his Amazon author page. You can also read reviews of the series on Goodreads
And here – from Goodreads – is his short biography:
Born: Dublin, Ireland
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Influences : Douglas Adams, Robert Harris, Chuck Wendig, James Thurber, RA Lafferty …
After 27 years working with computers in a variety of industries: Oil exploration, pharma, hospitals, manufacturing, shipping etc., I retired early and began to write. I’ve been writing full time since 2007, and have completed hundreds of short stories and self-published 7 novels.
22nd July 2018
Another exciting guest! This month, I welcome psychological thriller writer Annie Weir to An Author’s Mind. We’re grateful to all our authors for taking time out to discuss their craft with us and no less grateful to Annie who in addition to writing her novels also runs a training company, IVITA Learning, in Cumbria. This is proof that if you want to write that novel, you’ll find the time! So, welcome Annie!
Annie: Thank you, Lizzie, and thank you for asking me along!
Lizzie: You’ve chosen to discuss your debut novel. Can you briefly describe the story of Judith Wants to be Your Friend?
Annie: It’s all contained in the strap-line, of course. If Judith wants to be someone’s friend, she makes it happen. This is the story of how she does that, with what results.
Lizzie: JWTBYF is your first novel and the product of a lifetime’s secret ambition So which three words describe how you feel, having published ‘Judith wants to be your friend’?
Annie: Yes of course.
- Proud – that I was able to bring 85000 words into a story that people have enjoyed reading.
- Thrilled – to see it in print.
- Ready – to writer another psychological thriller
Lizzie: How would you describe the genre of this book, if any?
Annie: My tutor at University of Cumbria described it as a ‘literary novel with psychological undertones’. I thought that sounded wonderful, but I soon learned that Waterstones doesn’t have a shelf for that type of book. I was advised by someone at The Literary Consultancy to call it a ‘psychological thriller’ so I took the advice of the experts.
Lizzie: Were you influenced by other writers or novels you’ve read? What’s the same? What’s different?
Annie: I was most influenced by four books in this genre:
- Notes on a scandalby Zoe Heller
- Enduring loveby Ian McEwan
- Englebyby Sebastian Faulks
- When will there be good news?by Kate Atkinson
They all involve people who behave strangely and who impose themselves on other people’s lives, affecting them profoundly. In each of the books, the person acting strangely has been influenced by different things causing them to be the way they are. In the case of Judith wants to be your friend, it isn’t clear why Judith behaves the way she does. There are hints about her relationship with her parents being different to that of her sister as they were growing up, and also hints about a good friend who had moved away suddenly. I have been asked for a prequel to make it clearer.
Lizzie: Is there an important theme that this story illustrates?
Annie: The theme is that unless we reflect on our past experiences, and especially mistakes, that our personal history can repeat itself.
Lizzie: Who are the heroes? Who are the villains? And why?
- Judith, herself, is the obvious villain although you do wonder why she is the way she is. Some reviews have said that they warmed to her through the story and felt sorry for her at the end.
- Chloe’s friend, Louise, lets local gossip influence her feelings towards Judith and influences Chloe who is nervous of relationships.
- Judith’s sister is the obvious hero. She is endlessly patient and trying to care for all the members of the family. Having said that, she isn’t a ‘goody-goody’, and I like her.
Lizzie: Do the characters change?
Annie: Judith finally changes, but it is a difficult journey that leads to her accepting herself and trusting her family. I am confident she won’t make the same mistakes again…
Lizzie: What is the most significant event for you in the story and why?
Annie: When Judith is having dinner with her boyfriend, one of the managers at the supermarket, he starts to talk about what has happened at work. Judith realises that she has taken her eye off the ball and landed a work colleague in a lot of trouble. She suddenly realises how much she has started to enjoy her life for the first time in a long time, and how much she has got to lose.
Lizzie: What moment in the novel do you like best?
Annie: My favourite moment is when Judith’s recent past catches up with her, and she has nowhere to hide. I love how the strands of the story come together and the personalities of the people in the store manager’s office come through clearly. It is also what pushes her to make changes in her relationship with her sister and niece.
Lizzie: What are the ‘unanswered questions’?
- To me, the main unanswered question is about why Judith is the way she is. I hinted at it rather than explained. There may be another book there!
- A review on Amazon suggested there was a line of police enquiry that hadn’t been completed but an accountant-friend of mine assured me that the money wouldn’t be able to be traced.
Lizzie: People say all fiction is autobiographical. How much of Annie Weir is in Judith Dillon?
Annie: There’s a story I tell at the start of giving an author talk. It goes something like this:
I had a phone call from my twenty-something son about two months after Judith wants to be Your Friend was published.
Him: So, Mum – I mean so, Mam, have you ever been in the situation where you were so fed up with a conversation at work that you made up a lie about yourself? Then had to carry it on?
Him: Have you ever been really cross with someone at work and did something to them that you later regretted?
Him: Have you ever used someone at work to get what you want – just to spite someone else?
Me: (Getting worried about what on Earth he had been doing and saying at work) Look, darling, just tell me what’s happened, and we’ll come up with how you can sort it out.
Him: I’m not talking about me. I’m asking you if you’re Judith!
When I denied it, he started listing the similarities between us, starting with my southern upbringing which meant he wasn’t allowed to call me ‘Mam’. He does, by the way, to wind me up.
Anyway, I say again, no, I am not Judith.
But I do have a very dry sense of humour, and although many people don’t find the book funny, I think that it comes out in Judith’s private thoughts.
Lizzie; Thank you, Annie. I suspect that’s got us all wondering about everything!
Annie Weir’s first novel, Judith Wants to be Your Friend came about after many years of writing in secret. Then, in 2009, she decided to give writing ‘a proper go’, and in 2011, completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cumbria. She is very proud of the fact that Judith Wants to be Your Friend, set mainly in Carlisle, has sold over 5000 copies. And she continues to write books, to support people starting their own business in Cumbria, and to run her own training company, IVITA Learning.
To find out more about Annie Weir, see
To buy Judith Wants to be Your Friend:
19th July 2018
Coming soon – pyschological thriller writer Annie Weir will explain when literary fiction is not literary fiction. In short, it seems, it’s when a bookshop says it isn’t! But Annie will give us this and other insights in her interview for our An Author’s Mind blog! Watch this space!
21st June 2018
This month’s guest is the lovely Denitta Ward who has travelled a long way from her Rocky Mountain hideout in Kansas, USA, to tell us about her new novel, Somewhere Still. An historical novelist, she is particularly interested in how women survive and thrive in changing times. (This is a theme I love to explore too!) So, without further ado, welcome, Denitta!
Denitta: Delighted to be here, Lizzie, and to have this opportunity to talk about my work.
Lizzie: Can you briefly describe the story of Somewhere Still?
Denitta: Somewhere Still is a portrait of a young woman making her way in an era of opulence and abundance, at a time of great division and separation. It teems with resilient characters and takes you back to the Roaring Twenties to a city known as ‘Paris on the Plains’, alive with jazz clubs, speakeasies, and a burgeoning Prohibition bootleg trade. This time and place also deliver a rich tale of women’s social groups changing their corner of the world, the birth of baseball’s Negro League, and fast changes that bring traditional social mores into question. It was a time when the rules were clear and made to be broken.
From the day Jean Ball lands a job at the elegant Empire hotel, she quickly learns the secrets of the entitled class. Dazzled by a Roaring Twenties society on the cusp of radical change, this naive and innocent young woman finds herself dancing, bobbing her hair, and falling for Elden Whitcomb, the handsome son of the wealthy hotel owner. The stakes rise when the Whitcombs’ powerful secrets are revealed and loving Elden comes at a price – one that may be too high for Jean to pay.
Shattered and alone, Jean’s in the battle of her life in a city alive with romance, smoky speakeasies, jazz music and scandal, but divided by race and class. With the help and encouragement of influential women, Jean may find what she has always needed, though her choices could echo through generations. But will the man she trusted and so fiercely loves redeem himself?
Lizzie: What is the most significant event for you in the story of Somewhere Still & why?
Denitta: There are some surprises in the book that I can’t give away. I am disappointed when spoilers leak out and I never skip to the end of a book myself, so the most significant events are a secret. But, there are scandalous secrets revealed that tell you the motivations for some of the characters’ behavior. Elden’s parents, for example, have very rigid thinking and great fear of crossing social classes. Once you know their secrets, you can see the tension our male lead carries with him every day. The poor boy! I also love/hate the scenes where you get a sense of the terrible racial divide in America in the 1920s. Many white people then lived by simplistic ideas of “truth” that were so wrong, and that were just starting to be questioned. When you see this in the book, you can also feel the hope that these beliefs will be broken down by individuals who will make a conscious choice to reach out across race and class to one another.
Lizzie: Is there an important theme (or themes) that this story illustrates?
Denitta: All of my historical fiction features young women coming of age in times of social and cultural turmoil. I think it is fascinating how we raise young women with certain rules, and I know we all recall the rules our parents and grandparents tried to instill in us. In times of social and economic change, as we go out into the world, those rules don’t always seem to apply. How they adapt and find their own resilience makes for wonderful tension and great story-telling.
Lizzie: What did you learn about change and social classes in this book?
Denitta: I love questions. Somewhere Still is ALL about change — social, racial, cultural and economic. Women had just gotten the right to vote in the U.S. and the activism that resulted in those rights continued. Women had figured out the power of collective action and group formation. The book tells the true story of the women’s Consumer League that was active in 1921 in Kansas City. It was a time when barriers were being crushed and opportunities opened.
Lizzie: Who is/are the hero(es)? Who are the villains? And why?
Denitta: The biggest heroes are some of the supporting characters: Otis and Abby and Michele Hayward, all who do the right thing, even when they have nothing to gain. You see the power of one individual to make the good choice, the right choice, the ethical choice, in the moment and to take action. And that makes all the difference – in ways the main characters themselves may never have imagined. I hope seeing those choices and their impacts provides a lasting lesson readers will carry with them and pass on. The villians are those who hold fast to prejudices – of race, gender and class. We can understand these characters, and appreciate that they are grasping for a sense of normalcy that is old-fashioned and, ultimately, not healthy for themselves or society. The 1920s were a critical turning point in American society, and even worldwide, and we see characters who are not yet ready to move forward.
Lizzie: Do the characters change?
Denitta:I felt the biggest change was for the character who was hardest for me to write, Elden, the male protagonist. You see and feel his journey, and at the end you can understand all the forces that held him back and controlled his choices, and you get to see how he won over those forces. For Jean, her life is forever changed and we feel hope and love in whatever comes next for her. Even for Elden’s parents, we can see the change and how they grow and evolve.
Lizzie: Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite too? What would you hope to learn?
Denitta: I would invite Mrs. Hayward Parker (Michele) to dinner in a heartbeat. She is forward-thinking and a can-do person. Never comfortable with the status quo, she will make things happen – even when others would turn away. I love that in her and I value that in any person. I’d want to know about her early life. She and Elden’s mother had so much in common but they turned out as polar opposites. I wonder why and how Mrs. Parker found and kept her strength of conviction, and I’d love to chat with her about it. I’d also like to share with her where women have progressed to in 2018, and the #metoo movement. I know she would have thoughtful insights to share. #Metoo didn’t start in 2018, you know.
Lizzie: Where did your research take you?
Denitta: I grew up in a little town outside of Kansas City and the story probably began when I first set foot in the city’s famed Savoy Restaurant and Hotel back in 1968, when I was 5. The grandeur. The history. I could feel it. I remember it still. Then fifty years passed and finally the story came to life. I did much of my research online and also had a wonderful trip back to Kansas City with my daughter and mother. Kansas City is beautiful. It’s called “Paris on the Plains” for a reason – the Plaza is breathtaking, especially when it’s lit up over the holiday season, and the city has so many ornate fountains and parks. I hope readers will feel my love for this city. I wanted to bring the city to life in Somewhere Still.
Lizzie: What moments in the novel do you like best?
Denitta: The Christmas Dinner scene was such a fun scene to write. Jean is meeting Elden’s parents for the first time. Oh, the drama and the feelings and the glasses smashing against the wall. I am quiet and shy away from any drama in my personal life, but I let it all loose in that chapter.
I love the scene where we learn why Otis is so tender and caring with Jean. That tore me up and was inspired by a conversation with the consultant who reviewed the book for unconscious bias. He wanted to know more about Otis, and with just a few sentences I was able to add that to the book.
There were other scenes that if I shared would spoil plot secrets — you’ll know them when you read the book — they wrenched my heart and it took time to recover from writing them. When devastating things happen in novels, I now understand that the biggest toll is taken on the author. We have to love our characters, heart and soul, to bring them to life. To see them in pain or hurt is so very hard.
Lizzie: I agree. Have you compared Somewhere Still to any other novels you’ve read? What’s the same? What’s different?
Denitta: Readers have and it’s such an honor. I hope those who loved Before We Were Yours, The Great Gatsby, and To Kill A Mockingbird will feel and enjoy the sense of time and place, as well as understand the thin reed upon which lives hung back in the Roaring ’20s. We’re coming upon the 100th year anniversary of the Roaring Twenties and I hope this era captures the imagination of readers worldwide.
Lizzie: What is your next book?
Denitta: There are two. Prohibition Cocktails is now out. Here are the blurb and a link.
It has a promotion in the UK where it will be 99 cents – July 14-21. — though I don’t think that means a thing for your Australian or US readership.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07BHF1NSJ. The book provides historical background on Prohibition and the history, secrets & recipes of 21 of the most popular cocktails of the Prohibition Era. It’s a nice companion to Somewhere Still.
The next novel in the series, Somewhere Else, is in the works. This is a coming of age story set in Havana in the weeks before Batista falls and Castro comes to power. It is written but needs to be pulled apart and put back together – which I truly enjoy!
In addition to writing the Somewhere story series, Denitta holds a Juris Doctorate from Georgetown University Law and obtained her undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies and Political Science from the University of Kansas. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. To learn more about her, see her website, and/or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
24th May 2018
I’m delighted to have the opportunity this month to introduce Rosalind Winter! Rosalind is an historical author with a difference. She is adept at playing with the ‘time-slip’ concept and producing truly original stories! Read on . . .
Good Morning, Rosalind! A very warm welcome to my An Author’s Mind blog! Let’s get started straight away.
Could you briefly describe for our readers the story of Ready, Steady, Dig!?
Roman Britain in the first quarter of the fifth century AD: the legions have withdrawn to protect the Mother City of Rome. With marauding Saxons now terrorising the countryside, a wealthy Romano-Briton leaves his Cotswold villa for the safety of a nearby town, but first (as we know many did) he buries the bulk of his treasures to be retrieved when peace returns. He never comes back. Fast-forward to 1998, when the ruins of the villa come to the attention of the popular TV archaeology programme Ready, Steady, Dig! (Any resemblance to ITV’s Time Team is not in the least coincidental). The novel relates the archaeologists’ efforts to excavate the site, which are seriously hampered by the villa’s Lares and Penates, the little household gods. Sixteen hundred years ago they were ordered to guard their master’s buried treasure, and they can see absolutely no reason why they should stop now.
How would you describe the genre of this book, if any?
Comedy. Comedy is my default setting: I’m currently writing what was intended to be an entirely serious prequel to Ready, Steady, Dig! and almost from the start I have been finding irresistible (to me) comic touches. I suppose this mirrors my experience of life in general. I can generally find the funny – or at least the absurd – side of almost any situation.
Which leads me directly to … Have you compared Ready, Steady, Dig! to any other novels you’ve read? What’s the same? What’s different?
Terry Pratchett is my literary hero. I love his sense of the ridiculous, the way in which he takes situations and ideas to gloriously absurd but somehow entirely logical conclusions. A couple of years after finishing Ready, Steady, Dig! I read his Small Gods, which has a similar basic premise: what happens to the gods when there’s no one left who believes in them? I hugely admire Pratchett’s command of language, which I think is unsurpassed in comic fiction, at least in his early and middle period work. Sadly towards the end, when Alzheimers began to take hold, I find that although the ideas are still there and still as brilliant and original as ever, he often strains too much for comic effect, and sometimes fails. Finally I enjoy the way that Pratchett can move in an instant from the comic to the really rather moving: anyone who doesn’t shed a few tears towards the end of Reaper Man has no heart! This is something I aim for in my own stories, and I think this is what separates Pratchett’s work from that of other comic writers like Tom Holt: Holt is very, very funny, but I can’t remember ever really caring about any of his characters, no matter how superficially engaging they may be.
People say that all fiction is autobiographical. Have you based Ready, Steady, Dig! on a formative experience?
Chedworth Roman villa is the model for Rooks Ridge, and it’s a place I have known for as long as I can remember. One of my uncles came from Chedworth, and indeed his grandfather took part in the original excavations there. It was on a visit to Chedworth that I started to think about the beliefs of its Roman occupants. They would have been Christian, of course, by the date the villa was built, but did they entirely abandon the beliefs of ancient Rome, or were these perhaps gently relegated from formal religion to localised superstition? When Christianity was imposed by the state, would ordinary Romans really have discarded their Lares and Penates, their little household gods, and would they really have ceased to acknowledge the Genius Loci, the Spirit of Place? I think many would have continued to keep the Lares and Penates as talismans or good luck pieces, silently acknowledged even though no longer actively worshipped. I think most of us have at one time or another been aware of what I would identify as a Genius Loci: a very special feeling in a particular place, something you can’t put into words, but which raises the hairs on the back of your neck, and makes you cautious about turning around too quickly, in case you should catch a glimpse of – what? And one thinks of people today who leave flowers and teddies at the site of a fatal road accident, who set an extra place at table on the anniversary of a loved one’s death, or who toss coins into fountains and springs for good luck. Even people without any acknowledged religious belief often feel compelled to do these things; and why should the Romans have been any different? The idea of the Lares and Penates, the little household gods, particularly appealed to me. I have always been a keen student of history, but what really engages my interest is not monarchs, wars, or politics, but the intimate details of ordinary people’s lives: how they lived, what they ate and wore, and what they really believed in. What the early Romans very much believed in was a host of little supernatural beings who looked after every aspect of their households: there wasn’t just Janus, god of doorways, there was a Lar of the Hinges, a Lar of the Door Leaves, and a Lar of the Lintels. There was a Lar whose sole concern was the Broom, another for Pots and Jars, another for Platters, a pair of them for Little Dishes, and yet another for Cutlery. The list is a long one, and that’s just those we know about. I find the whole concept of the Lares and Penates really very endearing in all its domestic detail, and I simply couldn’t resist writing about them.
Who is your target readership?
I don’t have one. I write purely for my own pleasure, so the rise of self-publishing over recent years has suited me down to the ground. On the one occasion when I did have a novel accepted by a commercial publisher, I eventually reluctantly declined the offer because it was dependent on some fundamental edits that I simply could not accept. If pressed, I will say that my book is aimed at older children and adults, and something I do find mildly irritating is the occasional reviewer who says the book is “too difficult” for older children. I was reading H G Wells and Jules Verne when I was eight, and although I’m sure quite a lot of what I read then went right over my head, I don’t think that matters: if children aren’t challenged by their reading, and only read “age appropriate” books, then how are they to develop their tastes and increase their knowledge and appreciation of language?
What are your processes?
The process for me always starts with an abstract idea rather than a character. I always know how the story will begin and end, and there will be some key scenes floating around in my head which I like to get on paper as soon as possible. So I’m constantly dodging backwards and forwards, and that means I have to do a huge amount of re-writing as the book takes shape and the detailed plot develops. I don’t think this would work at all for a character-driven novel, but mine are all very much plot-driven. My characters very quickly take on lives of their own, and frequently surprise me: for example, when I started writing Ready, Steady, Dig! I had absolutely no idea that a low-key gay romance would emerge in the background. I didn’t even realise that the two characters involved were gay until about halfway through writing; then when I looked back, I found they’d been hinting at this all along. After that, what could I do but give them their own minor plot strand, and of course the strong presumption of an eventual happy outcome? I like to think that my way of building a character mirrors what generally happens in real life. When you first meet someone you know very little about them apart from their name and what they look like, and only gradually will you come to understand how they think and feel and how they are likely to behave.
What are your passions?
My passions are: social history, folklore, mythology, language, and especially names. Most of the names in my novels are indications, sometimes obvious, sometimes much less so, of significant characteristics. Several readers have spotted that although Graham appears to be a mildly comic and wholly inappropriate name for a beautiful white stag, it’s actually quite the opposite, since it derives from the Anglo-Saxon graeg hama, “grey coat.” A lot of readers have noticed a number of covert Beowulf references in my nomenclature (the reason for these becomes clearer in the prequel which I’m currently writing), although I don’t think anyone has yet identified Grendel’s descendent in Ready, Steady, Dig!, nor realised what a very nasty surprise is likely to be lurking in Harnstone Lane. My interest in nomenclature, why people, places and things are called what they are, began a very long time ago. I still remember my great satisfaction when I discovered that the apparently meaningless bird name “wheatear” has nothing to do with wheat or ears, but is in fact a bowdlerisation of the Anglo-Saxon hwit earse, and refers to the bird’s most salient characteristic, its white rump.
Is there an important theme (or themes) that the story of Ready, Steady, Dig! illustrates?
I’m afraid not! I don’t aspire to create literature: I just like writing stories.
Which character would you most like to invite to dinner this evening and why? Who would you invite too? What would you hope to learn?
The Lares and Penates – just imagine the information they could provide about everyday life in a Romano-British villa. And with such an opportunity for learning so much that now we can only guess at, it would be very unkind not to invite the splendid Mary Beard to join us!
What moments in the novel do you like best?
The Epilogue. With me, it’s almost always the Epilogue, and I tend to spend a quite disproportionate amount of time on this. It usually gets drafted very early on, and then I constantly re-visit and re-shape it as I write the rest of the novel. I like to aim for a hint of sadness in a beautiful, peaceful setting, with a final line that lifts the spirits. In Ready, Steady, Dig! it’s a lark ascending. I hope I manage to avoid sentimentality – difficult, because I have to aim very close in order to get the effect I want!
Thank you so much, Rosalind, for such an interesting and absorbing interview. Your own story reads very much like a novel too.
Rosalind Winter was born in Shillong, Assam, and educated in England, where she read English Language & Literature at Bedford College, University of London, and gained a Masters in Early English at Queen Mary College. In 1974, she received my PhD for her thesis on Beowulf and the Finsburg Fragment.
In 2006, Rosalind took early retirement, having worked in university education (University College, Cork, and Aston University), and at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. She followed this, as Press and Education Officer for the National Trust in Cornwall, and for the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Medical Committee. From 1982 to 1989 she also served in the Territorial Army with 67 (The Queen’s Own Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry) Signal Squadron (Volunteers).
In 2008, her first novel, the ever-popular Ready, Steady, Dig! was published, followed in 2009 by its sequel, Gnome or Mr Nice Guy. The following year I produced a book of short stories for children, The Mice of St Goran, which was published in aid of St Goran Bell Fund. I then took some time off from my own writing to edit and publish a two-volume novel written by a dear friend, the late Lesley J Nickell, Butterfly: Painted Lady (2013) and Butterfly: Mourning Cloak (2016), set in the English Civil War and based on the life of Lady Mary Villiers. In 2014/5 I encouraged my mother to mark her 99th birthday by writing her memoirs, which I have now edited and published under the title Plucking the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea: The Life and Times of Audrey Winter. The book covers her childhood in Bristol in the 1920s, wartime service in the National Auxiliary Fire Service, and life as a memsahib in Assam in the final days of the British Raj.
Rosalind also writes short stories, for both adults and children, which have appeared in a number of anthologies, and has been working intermittently on a collection of short stories set in a Cornish fishing village. At the same time,she is working on a prequel to Ready, Steady, Dig! set in Roman Britain, which it is hoped will appear in time for Christmas this year.
If you want to find out more about Rosalind and to buy Rosalind’s books, please see:
Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/rosalind.winter
Twitter link https://twitter.com/RosalindWinter
21st May 2018
Coming soon – watch this space for an historical novelist with a difference! Author Rosalind Winter will be telling the tale of how she created ‘Ready, Steady, Dig!‘ – a time- slip novel that comes forward in time!
19th April 2018
This month’s guest is popular author, Cath Cole, whose debut novel, Home from Home, has reached some soaring heights in the charts. Welcome, Cath! Those of us who love a nursing tale, would love to know what was in your mind when you wrote this, your first novel!
Would you start by – briefly – describing the story of Home from Home?
Thank you, Lizzie, for inviting me. Yes, of course! Briefly, the lives of Theresa, Maggie, Jenny, Sarah and Chris are about to change forever as they start their nurse training at The Farnton School of Nursing in May 1966. They soon realise that they have much to learn about life, both on and off the hospital wards. A strong bond is formed as the young women face the challenges presented by families, boyfriends and their nursing responsibilities. Friendships are tested as the young nurses experience the joys and heartbreaks of growing up. But for each of them, for different reasons, the hospitals will become their home from home.
It is said that all fiction is autobiographical. Is Home from Home based on your experiences?
Yes, in that I started my State Registered Nurse (SRN) training in May 1964. I trained at Bolton School of Nursing which is situated in Farnworth. The practical training was between two hospitals one in the same grounds as the School of Nursing – The General. The other in Bolton – The Infirmary. I did not want the location to be readily identifiable as Bolton given that I used real incidents in the narrative, hence the setting is Farnton.
No, in that the five girls are fictitious. Readers ask which character is you. The answer is none. However, each character enjoys at least one social or nursing circumstance related to my personal or nursing experiences.
What is the most significant event in Home from Home and why?
Theresa Booth, the rebel, forms an unlikely bond with Miss Bennet one of the tutors. As her training progresses, against the odds, Theresa proves herself to be a bright, intelligent competent student who has the potential to be a talented nurse. In a heart to heart Miss Bennet recounts a story for her nurse tutor training when a fellow student who “spoke just like Princess Margaret,” told her “you know Bea, considering the way you speak, you really are quite bright.” ‘
The moral of the tale for Nurse Booth is ‘Never be afraid to be yourself, always remember your roots and take strength from them but don’t hesitate to have the courage to move on.’ This is significant for me because a Princess Margaret speak-alike made the comment to me when I was training to be a nurse tutor. The incident in Home from Home is important to me, because no matter what I have achieved I, like Miss Bennet, take strength from remembering my working-class roots.
What did you learn about change and social class when writing this novel?
Change and social class are an underlying premise of Home from Home. The period of the novel 1966-69 in a northern working-class town was a period of change for the student nurses and their families. The Swinging Sixties took a long time to penetrate the home and professional lives of the girls. Their parents, and senior nursing staff, were comfortable with post-war values and attitudes relating to marriage, sex, and social and professional position. While the girls enjoy experiences that widened their personal and social horizons these often conflicted with the adults in their lives Four of the characters change from adolescents to young women, Chris is a mature entrant to nurse training. The achievement of State Registered Nurse training confers a professional qualification on girls who have been denied the experience of university. My SRN training has underpinned my subsequent professional success.
Where did the research for this novel take you?
Back to nursing text books and back to the General and a walk down memory lane. Sadly, the Infirmary, where I was a cadet and staff nurse closed in the early 1990s.
What moments do you like best?
A difficult question. Can I have two? One is when Maggie is sent to fetch a unit of blood from the pathology lab. Her colleague, on nights, tells her a ghost story and then sends her through the deserted hospital and up a spooky side corridor leading to the pathology laboratory past the mortuary and into the blood bank. She is scared yet aware that she needs to return with her valuable cargo of a glass jar containing the life-saving blood intact. The other is during obstetric training when a zealot for breastfeeding of a maternity sister tells the student nurses “There are four types of breasts and they can all do the job….Whoopers, Doopers, Droopers, and Dead Dog’s Ears.” A true incident and one my nursing friends and I enjoy retelling when we get together. It is also a classification my husband uses when we are on holiday and he is people watching on a beach or round a swimming pool.
Thank you, Cath, for a very entertaining author interview!
Home from Home is available from Amazon £1.99 kindle addition. £7.99 paperback
For those who would like to know more, see:
But in brief, Cath Cole had a working-class upbringing in a northern town. She trained as a nurse and health visitor and eventually as a lecturer and nurse tutor. She had a successful career in further education, becoming the principal of a further education college. After rescuing a failing college, she was awarded the OBE. Denied the opportunity of university, nurse training served to give her the key to a professional life as well as the grit and determination to succeed.
She is happily married with a son and two grandchildren. She was awarded a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) from Edge Hill University in 2013. Her first novel Home from Home was published in April 2015. It enjoys four stars on Amazon and has had seventy-four reviews. Cath travels, enjoys the theatre, reads and spends time with family and friends. She has recently been appointed Chair of Trustees for Chorley Football Club Community Trust.
12th April 2018
Just a note to say you can meet the Author of Home from Home, in my series, An Author’s Mind, next week. (19.04.2018) This is all about contemporary fiction meeting a nursing tale with a difference from popular writer, Cath Cole.
An Author’s Mind – posted on March 22nd 2018
This month, I’m delighted to welcome British independent author, Tim Walker. Welcome to the An Author’s Mind slot, Tim. We’re looking forward to hearing about your recently published novel and any works in progress. So many of us love Arthurian legend!
Thanks for inviting me. My new historical novel, published in March 2018, is Uther’s Destiny. Although the third book in A Light in the Dark Ages series, it can be read as a standalone, as it charts the imagined kingship of High King Uther Pendragon of the Britons in the second half of the Fifth Century. He is perhaps better known as the father of King Arthur.
Can you briefly describe the story of ‘Uther’s Destiny’?
The story begins two years into Uther’s reign in the year 469 AD. He has succeeded his brother, Ambrosius Aurelianus, as high king of the Britons, and his main concern is to protect the boundaries of his kingdom – modern day England and Wales – from barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior-king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his desire to possess the beautiful wife of a noble, Ygerne, leads to conflict. Brittle alliances teeter on the brink of collapse as Uther doggedly pursues his quarry, oblivious to other pressing matters of state.
Court healer, and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfill the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who wish for a return to ancient ways and urge him on to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.
Uther is challenged to rise above his domestic problems and raise an army to oppose a gathering Saxon force. In a climactic moment, the two armies meet in a battle that will decide the fate of the island.
What was your inspiration for writing this book series?
On a summer’s day in 2015 I stood on a grassy meadow at the site of former Roman town Calleva Atrebatum (known as Silchester in the Middle Ages) in North Hampshire, trying to imagine what it would have been like at the time the Romans evacuated between 409-410 AD. Unlike other Roman towns, this one was largely abandoned some time after the Romans left, and therefore is a green field site for archaeological excavation. The abandonment took place gradually over a few hundred years, for reasons that are the subject of speculation.
It was the site of the main village of the Atrebates tribe at the time of the Roman occupation that took place after 49 AD, when the legions of General Aulus Paulinius (on behalf of the Emperor Claudius) worked their way across the island. The Atrebates were subdued and became a ‘client kingdom’ in the same way as the Trinovantes and Iceni had to the east. The stone-walled town the Romans built was named ‘Calleva Atrebatum’ meaning ‘Wooded Place of the Atrebates’ – showing a desire by the Romans at conciliation and aimed at getting the cooperation of their new subjects.
I had read Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth at school, and was intrigued to learn that the discovery of a bronze eagle (on display in the Reading Museum) buried in what would later be identified as the Forum in Calleva, was her inspiration. I was also interested in the Arthurian legend, and pondered the historical connection between the Romans leaving (and taking their record clerks with them) and the start of what became known as The Dark Ages – a time from which few written records have survived to tell us what actually happened and how the Britons organised themselves after four hundred years of living under Roman rule.
I decided to research this period and write an historical series that aimed to connect the end of Roman rule to the Arthurian legend and try to pitch it to readers as a believable alt-history. It doesn’t help that the originator of the Arthurian legend is the largely discredited Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing around 1136. His epic work, Historia Regum Britanniae – The History of the Kings of Britain – includes the first full account of the Uther Pendragon and King Arthur stories (aside from brief mentions of Arthur in earlier chronicles). His work is dismissed as ‘history’ by historians due to his bizarre habit of supplementing gaps in his research with fanciful tales and his dubious practice of re-arranging historical sequence to suit the purposes of his narrative. However, there is evidence that he did extensive research and may have had access to a lost text upon which his accounts of Fifth and Sixth century events are based. His work is being re-appraised by some historians who now believe there is some merit in his creative approach to making a timeline of kings.
How does ‘Uther’s Destiny’ fit into the series?
Uther’s Destiny is the third and final installment, as I always intended to end with the coming of King Arthur. The series starts with Abandoned! This is a novella set at the time the Romans left Britannia, around the year 410 AD. It was in this year that the Emperor Honorious advised Briton administrators to ‘look to your own defence’. My story centres on the fictional character of Marcus, a half-Roman auxiliary cavalry unit commander, based at Calleva Atrebatum. At the time the Roman garrison departs, he is out patrolling the south coast, where he witnesses a large Saxon raiding party sack the port of Noviomagus (modern day Chichester). He returns to Calleva to report to his commander, only to find they have departed, and left written orders for him to follow them with his troops. Tribal leader, Vortimer, persuades him to remain and organise their defence against the roving Saxon warriors. In my story, Marcus adopts his Briton mother’s family name of ‘Pendragon’ to show his allegiance to the local cause.
The second book, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, is set some thirty years later, around 440 AD. Roman tribune, Aurelius, raised by Marcus and his family in Calleva as an orphan, returns to Britannia from Gaul with a small army to challenge High King Vortigern, who has murdered his father, Constantine, and claimed the former Roman province as his kingdom. Aurelius is reunited with his adoptive brother, Uther, and together they lead an army against Vortigern. They succeed, and Aurelius adopts the name ‘Ambrosius’ (‘the Divine One’), becoming High King Ambrosius Aurelianus. The book charts his reign and his efforts to unite the Briton tribes in defence of the island. Uther’s Destiny continues the story, following the death of Ambrosius, and builds towards the coming of King Arthur.
Does your main character undergo a transformation?
I dreaded writing this book because I knew Uther would be a character I would struggle to warm to or sell to my readers as having any noble or virtuous characteristics. For me, it was an exercise in writing about a character that I don’t like. However, he has taken on the responsibility of kingship and knows the importance of firm leadership, and I decided to have him as a predictable, solid figure around whom the real drama, involving other characters, swirls. He is a rough, tough unsophisticated warrior who is happiest when in the saddle fighting his enemies. He is getting older and is concerned with two things – his lack of a male heir, and maintaining his ‘tough man’ image before his court, despite aches and pains and a growing belly. He is lonely since his wife, Jessica, died, and relies on the comfort of his daughter Morgana, and slaking his lust on serving girls.
His world is turned on its head when he sees and falls in love with the beautiful wife of one of his nobles – Ygerne. She feels powerless to repel his close attentions at a banquet and this brings Uther into conflict with her husband. This proves to be a pivotal moment in Uther’s kingship, as he stubbornly follows his lustful desire to its tragic conclusion. He is not transformed, rather he acts in a predictable manner that ultimately has repercussions for those around him, and presents an opportunity for one individual in particular. The characters revolve around Uther who is at the centre of a storm of his own making, and all must live with the consequences.
Why did you choose historical fiction as your preferred genre?
I think historical fiction chose me, in as much as I have an interest in history going back to my school days and have a journalistic background that makes me comfortable with doing research. When I left school in Liverpool, my first job was as a trainee reporter for a local newspaper. I was asked to research and write the history of a local grade I listed building that had recently changed hands, and I ended up spending weeks in the library uncovering a history that reflected the glory years of the city. It was serialised in the paper and published as a booklet later on.
When I started writing the short stories in 2014 that eventually formed my first book, Thames Valley Tales, I had unconsciously been drawn to a combination of current affairs, local news and local history as influences in my storytelling. This gave me the confidence to tackle a bigger project – researching and building an ‘alternative history’ of Britain in the Fifth Century. I had also discovered, as I approached my third age, a preference for fiction over non-fiction – it’s far more interesting, I feel, to build dramas around people and situations, and to locate them in a world of my choosing – in the past, present or future.
I’m still intrigued by the King Arthur legend, but put off writing about it (at least as a continuation of my series) because it has been done to death in books and film, and imbued with too many fantasy elements. However, I wrote a short story a couple of years ago about Arthur King – a talented schoolboy in a future Britain who wins a computer games competition and… the rest is yet to be conceived. But having written one dystopian novel already – Devil Gate Dawn – set in 2026, I can feel myself heading in that direction again, perhaps taking elements of the Arthurian legend with me.
Tim, that was a fascinating round-up of your achievements so far and a peek at where you hope to go next. Very Good Luck with your projects and thank you for joining us here on the blog.
To buy A Light in the Dark Ages series:-
Abandoned! – http://myBook.to/Abandoned
Ambrosius: Last of the Romans – http://myBook.to/Ambrosius
Uther’s Destiny – http://myBook.to/Uther
To find out more about Tim, see
Author website: http://timwalkerwrites.co.uk
Facebook page: http://facebook.com/timwalkerwrites
Amazon Author Central: http://Author.to/TimWalkerWrites