Not long ago I featured author John R McKay on my Northern Reads series. I was so fascinated with his WWI novel, The Sun Will Always Shine, that I had to read it.
Oh, friends, I’m glad that I did. I was introduced to McKay’s work with his WWII novella, V for Victory, so I was hoping for great things, and he delivered.
What I love about McKay’s writing is his ability put you into the shoes of the characters, and he did it straight away. His characters are nuanced and I felt I was in the middle of the dysfunctional Davenport family with man about town but abusive father Alfie, his cowering wife, sympathetic but abused daughter, and two sons, Charlie and Harry, that have a love/hate relationship with their father.
It’s a tale that sucker-punches you from the beginning until the heartbreaking end. Brothers Charlie and Harry have different ways of coping with life and conflict, and their actions after their father mysteriously disappears, including their reasons to join up in the Great War are prime example.
Every character in The Sun Will Always Shine is so well-developed that just like in life, while we think we have someone figured out, we truly never know them.
McKay’s evocation of the time and place beautiful and his local knowledge of his native Lancashire is on full display. While I’m not a huge fan of battle scenes, it’s clear that the author’s research is impeccable. What drives this story, however, are brothers Charlie and Harry. Their experiences during the war set against the lives they are trying to leave behind will keep you reading.
I was so hooked into this novel that I read it easily in a day or two. Well recommended. Five stars.
Today on my blog, I welcome author KT King as she introduces her Little Eden series and the inspiration behind it, and two lovely excerpts! Welcome KT!
The Little Eden Series
Little Eden – A Magic Book – Book One
Released 2018 eBook and paperback
A Magic Book opens the heart and expands the mind.
2012. Little Eden, London, England.
The beautiful sanctuary town of Little Eden is under threat.
Human greed, selfishness and disregard are about to turn the last 1,000 years to dust.
Robert Bartlett-Hart must make a choice.
With the help his friends (plus plenty of tea and cake), Robert learns that there is more at stake than just Little Eden.
Something lies at the heart of Abbey; something that stands between mankind and Armageddon.
The friends must navigate past lives, other dimensions, and even Heaven itself, to find a way to save Little Eden and themselves.
Will Little Eden survive to usher in a new age, or will humanity perish with it?
Little Eden, Another Magic Book,Book Two
Released 2020 eBook and paperback
A Magic Book opens the heart and expands the mind.
The story continues…
2012. Little Eden, London, England.
The beautiful sanctuary town of Little Eden is still under threat of sale and demolition.
The friends must re-awaken the past to change the future. But when the spirit world comes closer to help them, there is a price to pay that no one could foresee.
Reviews for The Little Eden Series
Book Two has just come out so here is the very first review of Book Two by unseenwritings…
I loved reading Little Eden so much that I couldn’t put it down…It felt like KT was weaving a beautiful tapestry of magic rather than writing a novel…I enjoyed the mix of all types of spirituality and loved the way ME/CFS was presented. This book deserves all of the stars. Five just isn’t enough…
What readers are saying about Book One…
Magical…My heart is singing…Cosy and delicious….I literally couldn’t put it down…Quirky…Thrilling… Captivating…Enchanting characters…A rollercoaster ride…I was always on tenterhooks…Charming…
A great escape…I opened it and blue sparkles flew out…It really is a magic book…
Little Eden Books thrillingly combine the supernatural and spirituality in a magical mystery set in the cosy, idyllic and ancient sanctuary town of Little Eden. The hero, Robert Bartlett-Hart, goes on a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment with the help of his friends and plenty of tea and cake! The novels are a comical yet genuine look at the spirit world based on the work of psychic, healer and ascension coach, KT King.
Excerpt from Book One:
~ * ~
It was a sad beginning to 2012 for the residents of Little Eden, and as it would turn out, it would not be a good year for the rest of mankind either – but more about that later!
First things first…
New Year’s Day was almost over as Robert Bartlett-Hart sat alone in his library sifting carefully through the mounds of newspapers which were strewn all over a capacious mahogany table. The sombre shadow of dusk began to seep into the clear blue January sky, and all at once multifarious reading lamps, scattered randomly amongst the furniture and piles of books, turned themselves on, in perfect unison. Robert poured another cup of tea from his Kyushu and sighed. He fought, ineffectually, with the oversized, dry, rustling broadsheets, trying to tame them by folding and flattening them the best he could. For posterity, Robert attempted to glue the numerous obituaries into the Little Eden archive (a huge, slightly musty, leather-bound book), but the scissors kept losing themselves amongst the unruly sheets and little scraps of paper kept sticking to his hands; no matter how much he tried to shake them off, they just re-stuck somewhere else!
Robert’s silent contemplation was suddenly shattered by the brusque opening of the library door and his mother’s voice slicing through the peaceful air.
“Did you find the obituary I asked Lancelot to put in the Kolkata Times?” Jennifer Bartlett-Hart asked him. She went straight to the large mirror which hung majestically over the sideboard and began adjusting her black, feather-laden hat. She caught sight of a picture of Lilly on the front page of Tatler magazine which lay amongst many others on the table. The magazine was running an old photograph of the glamorous stage star, Lilly Rose, from 1964. Lilly was posing in a ‘Vivienne Westwood’, wearing white go-go boots, long curling fake eyelashes, and her blond hair was peeking out from beneath a jaunty velvet cap.
The headline read:
“A celebration of the life of a Parisian Diva who became a very English Rose. Lilly Rose D’Or. Her life in pictures: pages 10 – 14.”
Jennifer turned away to look in the mirror again. “Lilly hasn’t been Lilly Rose, star of stage and screen, for decades!” she huffed. “I doubt she even has any fans left who remember her! All this fuss and for what? She owned a Café for most of her life for goodness sakes and put on far too much weight eating all those afternoon teas. I don’t think that is much of anything to shout about.”
Robert sighed and ran his fingers through his brown tousled hair. “Thousands of people come every year to her charity concerts, Mother, you know that,” he replied. “And she has been a Trustee with us for over twenty-five years, and a friend to us – all my life at least. I don’t know what we would have done without her all these years.”
“I was the most beautiful woman in London once upon a time,” Jennifer replied, tilting the brim of her hat this way and that to make the most of her features. “I don’t suppose I will be on the cover of a magazine when I die. I had to give up any chance of fame to marry your father and have you boys.” Absently, Jennifer picked up a couple of newspaper clippings and added, “I hope you are nearly ready to go? Collins will be here any minute. Did you hear me Robert?” Jennifer looked admiringly at her long, manicured nails. “It’s just one funeral after another these days. It could just have easily have been me.”
“They say only the good die young,” Robert said under his breath, trying, in vain, to get the glue off his hands.
Jennifer took off her hat and rearranged her hair again, scowling into the glass. “I don’t see why your father insisted Lilly be buried with our family. Lillianna Rose D’Or or whatever she wants to be called this season is not family and never will be, and it is embarrassing for me! Your cousin Lancelot insisted on it. He can find a legal loophole when it suits him – but not when it suits me it seems.”
Robert sighed again. “It was in father’s will, Mother; you know there was nothing anyone could do. We have been over and over it.”
Jennifer grimaced, and wiggled her hips to prevent her black skirt from riding up her long, slender legs. “Your father went on about Lilly endlessly whilst he was alive; I never understood it. We always had to do whatever he wanted! What did he ever care about Little Eden? Off he goes to America with that floosy, Christabelle, without as much as a by your leave! Well! I am not going to go to this sham of a ceremony. The whole thing is just to embarrass me!” With that, she launched herself out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
Robert shrugged, and raised a resigned eyebrow as he dolefully drank the rest of his, now cold, cup of tea, and continued to cut and paste.
After the stomping and the banging of doors had finished, he could hear the sound of his brother, Collins, calling jovially from the hall, “Are you ready?” he called, “Varsity says we’ll be late if you don’t hurry.”
“Varsity can wait!” Jennifer shouted down from the landing. She came tottering back down the stairs wearing a different hat and stiffly kissed her son on both cheeks. “Whoever thought of a memorial service in the evening? I ask you!” she complained.
Jennifer stood on the bottom step of the stairs and started to rearrange her son’s clothing, brushing fluff off his black suit. “This is off the peg!” she said, in disgust. “Where did you get it? The fit is terrible!”
“It’s ‘Lanvin’, Mother,” Collins replied. “Varsity picked it out.”
“I don’t care!” Jennifer replied, straightening his tie. “You have perfectly good bespoke suits. Go upstairs and change. You left an Anderson-Sheppard here last week. Go and put that on. If only Robert had your looks and you had his sense of style – I would be less embarrassed to be seen with you both!”
Collins smiled, and kissed his mother. “The fit is perfect, Mother. Only you would ever notice, no one else will.”
Jennifer snorted. “Well those Lawrence girls certainly won’t notice such details. Lucy dresses dreadfully! They were far too self-confident when they were little girls and I don’t see much improvement over the years.” Jennifer fussed with Collins’ mop of blond hair and he tried to get away from her, afraid she might pull out a hanky and start dabbing his face at any moment! “Robert tells me Sophie isn’t feeling well and is staying at the Café indefinitely. She has some sort of fatigue. I ask you! Tiredness is an illness now, apparently! As if we are not all tired all the time! They are as bad as Lilly and your father with their freedom of speech and their women’s liberation and all that environmental nonsense. Robert’s in the library. There’s caviar on the sideboard – your favourite.”
Collins nonchalantly kissed his mother again, flung open the large panelled door into the library and headed straight for the champagne and canapés. Collins admired his appearance in the mirror and then, turning to the table, he poked at the papers whilst he munched his aperitifs.
“What’s all this?” he asked, in his usual casual manner.
“The obituaries,” Robert responded, without looking up.
“What all of these? Good god! You would think the woman was a saint.” Collins laughed, nearly choking on a piece of crostini.
“I think she was,” Robert mused. “Or she should be!”
Collins smirked, and looked at Robert in the mirror’s reflection. “I suppose I quite liked the old girl myself,” Collins admitted. “Baked a damn good cake! Shame she’s dead.”
“Shame?” Jennifer retorted, marching through the doorway whilst pinning her third choice of hat on her head. “It’s no shame!” she said, pushing her son aside with her hip. “Move, Collins, I need to look in the mirror! Now, perhaps we can have some of the family money to spend for a change?”
Collins downed another quick glass of champers and said, “Talking of money, Mother, I’m a bit short this month.”
“So am I, my dear. Ask your brother! He holds the purse strings around here. He is the one who won’t let us have our own money! Always spending it on the poor or giving it to a charity. Well! Charity begins at home!”
Wearily, Robert pulled on his long cashmere overcoat and replied soberly, “This is not the time to talk about money.”
“Oh come on Bobby, old boy!” Collins said. “With Lilly out of the picture you can hand out the family fortune a bit more. I promised Varsity she could…” Collins paused and grinned, “F**k! Varsity! I left her in the car. She is probably steaming by now!”
Jennifer surveyed herself in the full-length hall mirror. She smiled at herself again in the looking glass but only until she caught sight of Varsity, who was walking up the front steps wearing a magnificent silver fur coat and looking as if she had just finished a photo shoot for Vogue. Collins rushed out onto the porch, put his arm around his wife’s tiny waist and hastily ushered her back into the car.
Robert escorted his mother to the Bentley. Jennifer slid onto the leather seat and into her best finishing school position. She greeted Varsity with a ‘good evening’ and a ‘you look awfully nice.’ She couldn’t help pouting at Varsity’s youthful beauty. To comfort herself, she checked that her finger nails were still in perfect condition.
As the car passed by the end of Adam Street, the ice on the road was treacherous and Dyson, the chauffeur, was taking it slow. By the time they had reached the old Assembly Rooms, on the corner of Knight’s Walk, Jennifer had run out of things to say, so she began rooting about in her handbag for her hanky, pretending she was unable to find it, whilst Varsity occupied herself by refreshing her lipstick.
Eventually, the car pulled up outside the gates of the graceful gothic Sainte Chappelle. It was a dark winter’s eve, but the street lamps gave a cosy glow to Dovecote Street and softened the harshness of the icy chill in the air. As Jennifer stepped out of the car she cockled over on the curb. Robert caught her just in time before she landed face down on the cobbles! She had expected to see some famous guests outside the Chappelle, but looking anxiously around she was relieved that no one was there. She took Robert’s arm and paraded up the lantern-lined path, to be greeted by the singular Reverend Sprott, who was looking rather chilly, but who had been determined to wait outside, in the high and very ornate porch, to meet and greet the Bartlett-Harts. Robert gladly gave his mother over to the Reverend Sprott’s care.
The Chappelle was full of shadows – peppered with sudden bursts of flickering candle light. The glorious gold leaf of the majestic pillars seemed to be on fire, and the towering cobalt blue windows shimmered in a heavenly dance. The delicate, sweet scent of pale pink roses played amongst the deeper, muskier odour of beautiful bright white lilies. The melange of ancient church odours – a faint dampness of stone, wood polish, and carnal fresh flowers – invoked a shiver of ancient memories in the mourners.
Tonight, this holy and most sacred palace of light played host to the friends and family of Lilly D’Or. Not least, to her two beloved nieces, Lucy and Sophie Lawrence, who were standing by a small table which was covered in flowers, bottles of water and a mound of pink crystals. The sisters had been greeting the many mourners for at least half an hour already.
Excerpt from Book Two
~ * ~
Thunder rumbled over the Sainte Chappelle. As she became aware of her surroundings, Sophie was overwhelmed by the scent of damp earth and fresh roses. Oh crap, she thought. I’m in another time portal. Wake up before something horrible happens! But Sophie didn’t wake up…
Five nuns stood, like sentinels, gazing into the stone font in silent prayer. An ivory talisman, carved with the scene of the crucifixion, shimmered beneath the holy waters. In the shadows Sophie couldn’t quite make out the faces of the sisters. She wondered if they were the ones in the photograph, or perhaps they were the saints from her vision dream, but she had a strong feeling this was a different time in history. A bolt of lightning flashed through the cobalt blue windows illuminating the hallowed scene with an unearthly aura. The nuns were unsettled and on edge. Sophie had an uneasy feeling that there was something clandestine about their gathering.
“There will come a time when Little Eden is under threat of being raised to the ground,” Mother Superior said softly to the others. “Not from plague, not from fire and not even from the Kings men, but from the Devil himself.”
A deafening thunder clap rumbled directly overhead and a flare of lightening was hard on its heels, flashing midnight blue, wildly through the Chappelle. The nuns crossed themselves. “The true faith is lost here in England,” Mother Superior continued. “Jesus Christ has replaced the protection of the Holy Mother. The spells of the crucifixion are used to perpetuate the evil men do. They build a false Heaven in the astral realms and it will be too late for those who follow the counterfeit God – they will find themselves trapped in an alternate spirit world instead of released into the arms of the Angels.”
The other nuns tried not to appear frightened, but as another thunderous roar rolled ominously overhead, a sharp fork of lighting pierced the gloom, and the fresco above them was thrown into sharp relief. The face of Jesus loomed down upon them from his cross – watching them with an evil eye. “One sacrifice to end all sacrifices,” one of the nuns muttered.
“If we deny our own sacrifices and follow blindly the King’s priests, we will never find our own way. The responsibility for our soul remains in our own hands, now and forever,” Mother Superior said as she rolled up the wide sleeve of her habit and plunged her hand into the icy water. She pushed aside the ivory plaque and delved deeper into the font. Pulling a leather bag out from the concealed central hole, she shook the water from it and placed it on the stone rim. “Even in our own church, if we do not have the courage to look the Devil in the eye, we will never see the truth,” she said. Thunder boomed as if it were in the room with them – rattling the towering glass and shaking the pillars. The full force of the following lightening fired up the Chappelle with an incandescent blue flame.
They all gasped in fright, including Sophie!
Raising awareness for National ME Awareness Week 2020
Imagine if the self-isolation and social distancing you have been experiencing these last few weeks was going to continue for the rest of your life?
That’s right, for the rest of your life – without let up, without reprieve, without end.
On top of being stuck inside, unable to shop, see your friends, go on holidays, go to the pub, a café or the supermarket, you feel as if you have the flu 24/7. Your body won’t function. Everything aches. You find even the smallest tasks, like taking a shower, cooking a meal or reading a chapter in a book take all your energy.
Millions suffer from this misunderstood illness worldwide but there is little research and no known cause or cure. The World Health Organisation has registered it as an epidemic but governments are still not helping those affected.
It can happen to anyone at any age.
Living in isolation, often bed and housebound, without an income or state support, without medical help or carers, sufferers of ME are forgotten by society and rely on family charity to survive.
We were never supported on TV, by our neighbours or communities, the NHS or carers, we were not given mental health support or had our wages paid at 80% when we had to give up work or lost our businesses. Most of us live in poverty, forgotten and blaming ourselves because no one believes us.
When you return to normal, we will still be in in lockdown without hope.
KT King has suffered for over 27 years with the chronic and invisible disability called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She is trying to help raise awareness for this terrible, debilitating and life destroying disease.
The main heroine of Little Eden, Sophie Lawrence, also suffers with CFS but she is still a heroine none the less.
You can follow the global campaign called MillionsMissing and/or KTKing on Twitter.
Many may wonder how I can write novels if I have ME/CFS. I am able to write when I don’t need to do anything else. The fluctuation of the illness baffles everyone as does the resolve of those with it to battle on trying to make a living. I lost my home, my income and my independence in 2012 coming back to live with my elderly parents on whom I now rely for physical daily help and financial support. By age 40 I had lost the battle with ME.
Writing too much gives me migraines so I can only write a few days a week for about an hour at a time on what is called ‘a good day’. I write through chronic pain and fatigue but it keeps me alive and it keeps me sane.
Mental and emotional health deteriorate for all of us because we can rarely socialise or see friends. We feel we have no purpose or usefulness and many of us are in terrible pain 24/7 with Fibromyalgia which often accompanies ME.
We can either give up or we can try to do something even if it’s just a little thing on ‘a good day’.
Becoming a published writer is a lifelong dream come true and escaping into Little Eden helps keep the suicidal thoughts at bay. I hope it’ll be a beautiful escape place for you too. One of the main things readers say is that they would love to live in Little Eden which makes it all seem worthwhile!
I’m an indie author, using my savings from before 2012 to publish. I can’t meet deadlines of publishers or do the usual sales promotions.
I can spend months, even years unable to get out of bed so I need all the help I can get spreading the word about my books, especially from kind book bloggers like Debbie.
I find crafting is good for mental and emotional health so when I can I make handmade jewellery to give to friends and to sell in my Etsy shop where all the gifts inspired by Little Eden. I rarely have the energy to bake but now and again I manage to make a cake or some cookies! Some of my recipes have made their way into the novels.
Both novels have recipes at the back based on the delectable delicacies served in the No.1 Daisy Place Café-Bookshop such as Strawberry and Cream Shortbreads, Late Night Cheesecake and Over the Rainbow Cake. The Ebooks have wiki-links and links to Utube for the soundtrack. You can find everything Little Eden on KT’s Blog www.ktkingbooks.wordpress.co.uk
Look out for…Little Eden, Book Three, Haunted or Not…Available (hopefully) 2021
Ellie Midwood peers behind the camera in this must-have novel for fans of silent and classic film, if not film period. Exploring the world of Weimar Berlin and German cinema through the eyes of Margot, Grafin von Steinhoff, Ms. Midwood allows readers to go behind the scenes in one of the most ground-breaking films of the silent era, Fritz Lang’s brilliant masterpiece Metropolis. As someone who has seen the titled film, I was curious how Midwood would approach this novel, and I wasn’t disappointed.
What I loved about this book is how it captures what was so revolutionary about silent film: the presence of diversity within the industry, especially women behind the camera. Before the Hays Code overtook in the mid-thirties in Hollywood, the scope of subjects was unparalleled. Margot and her companions richly bring this to life as the reader gets swept away into the bohemian world of musicians, filmmakers, actors, models, and photographers. While reading I could easily hear a Kurt Weill song sung by a chanteuse, all while undertoned by the shadow of pending fascism represented in the brown shirts that would sweep the country just a few years later, forboding the exile of many filmmakers and actors that would become part of Hollywood legend. Those legends, such as Lang, would leave lasting imprints on filmmaking that we feel today. I can’t wait to read the next novel in this series! Highly recommended!
I’m pleased to welcome back Patricia M. Osborne to Northern Read again, this time discussing her new release, The Coal Miner’s Son.
Hi Kellie, thank you for inviting me back to ‘Northern Reads’, this time, to talk about The Coal Miner’s Son.
The Coal Miner’s Son is a riches to rags story and the second book in family saga ‘House of Grace’ trilogy. It opens in 1962 and is set in a two-up and two-down terrace in Wintermore, a fictional coal mining village on the outskirts of Wigan in Lancashire.
I was born in Liverpool and moved to Bolton in 1962. The experience of growing up in a two-up and two-down terrace with an outside toilet and bathing in a tin bath in front of the fire not only influenced my writing in The Coal Miner’s Son but was fabulous material to use.
After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents.
Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel?
Will George ever learn to forgive?
Step back into the 60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope.
Patricia M Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. She was born in Liverpool but now lives in West Sussex. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton).
Patricia writes novels, poetry and short fiction, and has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her first poetry pamphlet ‘Taxus Baccata’ is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in Spring 2020.
Patricia has a successful blog at Patriciamosbornewriter.com where she features other writers and poets. When she isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers and as an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau.
Her debut novel, House of Grace, was published March 2017 and The Coal Miner’s Son, the second book in the ‘House of Grace’ trilogy was released 9th March 2020.
You can find Patricia on social media or the web here:
Today on my blog I’m pleased to welcome the lovely Clare Flynn as she discusses her novel Storms Gather Between Us, partially set in Liverpool.
Welcome, Clare! Please tell us all about your book and why you chose Liverpool as a setting.
The book is an indirect sequel to my first novel, A Greater World, which has its opening chapters in the North of England, including Liverpool, but then transfers to Australia. Storms Gather Between Us focuses on one of the secondary characters whose career in the merchant navy brings him to Liverpool – where he becomes involved with other characters who were in the back story of the first book.
It’s a book about loss, domestic violence, the oppressive nature of religious bigotry but most of all about the redeeming power of love. It’s set in the late 1930s up to the outbreak of World War Two. It’s possible that at some time I may return to the characters and write another novel to take them through the war. I always endeavour to make my books work on a stand-alone basis and to complete the story arc – but that doesn’t stop people asking for more though – sometimes quite forcefully!
I was born in Liverpool but left as a child. I came from a large extended family so throughout my childhood we went back frequently for holidays – something I kept doing even through my years at university, often escaping to the Pool for weekends. As someone born in the mid-fifties, my childhood memories were tinged by the relics of the war – there were still empty plots on street corners where bombs had fallen, lots of ruin and decay and smoke-blackened buildings. Yet it felt magical and exciting to me as a child. Some of my favourite memories were taking the ferry across the Mersey to Birkenhead and New Brighton from the Pier Head, shopping in the big department stores especially Lewis’s and going to the seaside at Crosby and Formby. I have been able to draw on these memories in my writing.
Yet Storms Gather Between Us isn’t all pre-war Liverpool – the book also pays brief visits to Naples, Lisbon and Zanzibar – I’ve never been able to resist the lure of romantic locations.
Fascinating! What’s it all about?
Since escaping his family’s notoriety in Australia Will Kidd has spent a decade sailing the seas, never looking back. Content to live the life of a wanderer, everything changes in a single moment when he comes face to face with a ghost from his past on a cloudy beach in Liverpool.
The daughter of an abusive zealot, every step of Hannah Dawson’s life has been laid out for her… until she meets Will by chance and is set on a new path. Their love is forbidden and forces on all sides divide them, but their bond is undeniable. Now, they will have to fight against all the odds to escape the chains of their histories and find their way back to one another.
About the Author:
Clare Flynn writes historical fiction with a strong sense of time and place and compelling characters. She is the author of ten historical novels and a collection of short stories. Her books often deal with characters who are displaced – forced out of their comfortable lives and familiar surroundings. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.
Born in Liverpool she is the eldest of five children. After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels, London and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she writes full-time – and can look out of her window and see the sea.
When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel – sometimes under the guise of research.
Clare’s latest novel, The Pearl of Penang, was published in late 2019.
Where can we buy your books and follow you on social media?
Today on my blog, I’m having a chat with historical fiction author Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger about her books, research, and latest projects. Welcome, Chrystyna.
Tell us about your books. What topics inspire you? Are there any particular settings that you’re drawn to?
My stories tend to focus on the things that make my blood boil. One of my greatest values is fairness, tolerance and justice. Combine that with my love for discovering stories beneath the surface of things, and you’ve got a writer who writes the institutionalized stories: join ‘em, leave ‘em or take ‘em down.
My Reschen Valley series is set in northern Italy, in the province that was once Austria, and is based on the building of a dam. The fascist regime destroyed the entire valley and displaced hundreds of German-speaking families.
Souvenirs from Kiev is based on my relatives’ histories during WWII in Ukraine and takes readers on a perilous journey from the Underground to the DP camps of Germany.
Magda’s Mark, which is releasing in a collection, The Road to Liberation, this May, is based on a true story about my friend’s husband. Her father-in-law was a district SS officer in Moravia. When his son was born, he was returned to the mother circumcised.
Now, can you imagine the repercussions? My first thought was, “Holy ****! Who had the cajones to do that —pun intended—and what had pushed that person to take that great of risk?” My next question was, “And when we are pushed that far, are we not just becoming ‘one of ‘em’?”
As soon as I start asking those questions, I know I have a story—or an entire book. Magda’s Mark started off as a short story but when I got invited to take part in the Road to Liberation collection, it was burning to be expanded into novel length. I’m so glad I tackled that. I loved going to the beginning and to the end of Magda’s story.
What inspired you to become a historical novelist and write about the Second World War?
I had no intention of being a historical fiction novelist. It just happened that way. First, was the project I undertook in my mid-twenties to record the events my relatives experienced in WWII Ukraine. After I was done with writing what would become an publishable piece of work, I drove down to South Tyrol—that area of northern Italy I mentioned above—to recover. I passed Reschen Lake as I always did, haunted by that steeple poking out of the water. But this time the community had set up an exhibit illustrating exactly how the valley had been flooded. I took a walk after that, and wham! Like spirits rising from the waters, I had a whole cast of characters hovering before me, just above where those villages had once stood. I took in a deep breath and thought, another historical? Really? But they all crawled into my Nissan Micra and accompanied me for the next ten years.
I’ve got two more books to go and when I hit the WWII years with the current WIP, I realised I still have quite a few WWII stories in me. Souvenirs…came out in January and to rave reviews! Magda’s Mark was written in parallel and releases May 5th. I’ve got at least two more in me that I will tackle after the current series.
How do you go about researching your books?
I always, always visit the places I write about. I’m grateful to be able to do that. I live in central Europe, so hopping into the car and driving to my locales is hardly a challenge. In January this year I visited Litomerice, Czech Republic with my friend and cover designer. She goes on these research trips with me because she finds them inspiring and enriching. The visit was a surprise. I had written ahead to some of the libraries and ministries requesting to meet with sources I needed. Litomerice is not a terribly small town but a number of people knew who we were when we arrived. They’re kind of excited that someone from America is writing about them.
How do you think fiction, especially historical fiction, help us learn about different eras?
I think stories help us to understand the past, the present and the future. We function on narrative as much as we do on air and water. Now, in my opinion, historical fiction and science fiction serve the purposes of helping us to understand ourselves as a species, and the societies we live in. Surely, we learn historical details from our novels, but these stories are character-driven. They should resonate with the reader. Otherwise, we are writing non-fiction. I made that mistake of not drawing the lines in my first manuscripts. I still read some historical fiction and think, uh-oh, the author is info-dumping and the characters—as one mentor of mine remarked about my first drafts—are just being moved around like pieces on a chess board. I even saw a play like that in London a week ago. I was at the theatre with Marion Kummerow, who also writes WWII, and the story took place in Austria from 1899 to 1955. There was so much info-dumping done by the characters through monologues, Marion and I would glance at each other in the dark and kind of roll our eyes.
What can we look for next with you?
I’ve got a number of audiobook projects in the works—three to be exact, but the virus is preventing us from moving further on certain aspects—and then I will be releasing at least Book 5 of the Reschen Valley series by the end of October and perhaps the last one in December or January. Then possibly a whole slew of non-fiction books for my other business, two more WWII novels, and then I’m switching to a series that takes place in the 16th century in the Ottoman Empire. It’s going to be a doozie. In either case, if I have to be quarantined for a long time, I have a thousand ways to keep busy.
Can you give us a teaser of Magda’s Mark?
When the German military rolled past Voštiny, they were on the road opposite the Elbe River. Magda and her mother were singing “Meadows Green” and threshing the wheat but at the sight of those black automobiles and grey-green trucks, their song dissipated like smoke into the air. Magda’s mother straightened, one hand on her headscarf, like a gesture of disbelief. No tanks. No marching soldiers. Just the caravan, moving on south, growing smaller in size but larger in meaning.
When she looked towards the fields, Magda saw her father and her two brothers also pausing, one at a time, to witness the Germans chalking off the Sudetenland boundary with their exhaust fumes. The Nováks’ farm lay within it.
Magda’s father faced the cottage, and an entire exchange silently took place between her parents.
Then the rumors are true, her father said with a simple lift of his head.
What now? her mother asked via a glance toward the river and the pursing of lips.
Her father lowered his head. We finish the wheat.
And with that, Magda, her two brothers, and her parents stuck their heads in the sand and went back to work.
Later, at midday, urgent knocking rattled their door. Everyone froze except Magda. She looked around the room, as if this was to be the last scene she should remember. Her father held the edge of the table. Her mother stood. She was straight and proud and beautiful with an open face, the kindest light-brown eyes, and full lips. Magda’s brothers sat rigid in their chairs. Each of their wives held a child. And her grandparents sat so close to each other on the bench against the oven that they might as well have been in each other’s laps.
The knocking came more insistently, and this time they stirred into action. Magda’s father pushed himself from the table and left the room. The rest were in various stages of trying to look normal. A moment later, her father returned with the village heads. With baffling lightness, he offered them Becherovka, as if it were Christmas, and shared a joke about a cow and a farmer—Magda could never remember the story or the punch line that had made them laugh so.
The Sudetenland, the village wisemen announced, was now part of the Third Reich. Hitler was protecting his people. And that was why none of the other countries called foul on breaching the treaty.
“But we will not go to war,” one village elder had said, “as we may have feared.”
“Imagine that,” Magda’s father had said abruptly, in the tone he used when angry.
Her brothers, however, had visibly relaxed. They shouldn’t have.
Today I’m thrilled to welcome saga author Mary Wood (who also writes as Maggie Mason) to my blog as she discusses her Sangronian Trilogy series set in Blackpool by Maggie Mason. For those of you who have read my debut novel, you’ll know that Blackpool has a special place in Lydie’s heart. The Sangronian Trilogy Set in Blackpool by Maggie Mason.
Welcome, Mary! Tell us about how you chose Blackpool as your setting and how the north influenced your writing.
About the books – why I chose your setting – how the north influenced my writing.
The trilogy begins in the late 19th Century, in a Blackpool that is only just seeing its famous tower being built.
I have lived in, and around the outskirts of Blackpool for thirty-seven years. During my last ten years of my working life for The National Probation Service, I was posted in Blackpool, Fleetwood, Blackburn and Lancaster.
Working and living in the north has given my writing a depth, as even for my Mary Wood Books, which are set in many places from London – to France to Poland, I have always brought in a Northern Lass.
I love the north of England, for its down-to-earth people, its culture, its varying dialect and its beautiful countryside scenery.
Since living in Blackpool and surrounding area, I have come to discover that it is far more than the heart of its economy – The Golden Mile, its spectacular illuminations, and its accolade of being the most popular, British Holiday Destination.
It is home to a transient and cosmopolitan population.
And in its back streets and housing estates, the community spirit that was once the backbone of Great Britain, still thrives amongst the Sandgronians – those born in Blackpool, and the Blackpudlians – those who have made their home here, of which I proudly number myself.
Since beginning to set the books I write under a pen name of Maggie Mason in the town, I have also discovered that it has a fascinating history.
This trilogy spans a period of change both in Blackpool and the world as it takes us through life in the latter part of the 19th century through the 1920’s.
The Books, their availability and Blurb.
BOOK ONE: BLACKPOOL’S ANGEL: Published by Sphere, 25th July 2019 available on kindle and to order in paperback from Waterstones, and all online stores
BOOK TWO: BLACKPOOL SISTERS: Published by Sphere, available on kindle now, and in paperback on June 25 2020 from Supermarkets, Waterstones, and online.
BOOK THREE: A BLACKPOOL CHRISTMAS Published by Sphere in all formats on November 12th 2020, available on kindle, Waterstones and Supermarkets as well as on all online outlets.
Tilly is a young wife and mother of six-year-old twin daughters, Beth and Babs. She is happy and very much in love with her husband, when suddenly tragedy strikes and she is left alone to care for her children, in a world where the only help is charity handouts.
A talented basket maker, Tilly collects willow and hedgerow material to craft her wares and trudges the streets of Blackpool and nearby St Anne’s on Sea trying to sell them. But she cannot keep the wolves from the door.
When she secures a job with the local greengrocer, she thinks her life will improve, but he wants more than help in the shop. A desperate Tilly gives into his demands sealing her fate of sending her life into a downward spiral and she loses everything.
Homeless and penniless, Tilly and her children are offered help by the local gypsies in exchange for her teaching them her craft.
Falling foul of the women, as her vibrant and voluptuous looks turn the eyes of their men, she is duped by them. One night they drug her. When she wakes in hospital, they and her twins have gone and she doesn’t know where to, or if she will ever see her children again.
The gypsies have introduced her to gin – loving the effects of drinking this fiery liquid, Tilly finds solace in the bottle setting off a series of events that leave her out of control of her life and in a deep pit of misery.
But friends she makes sustain and help her.
The twins grow up as gypsy girls, they love the couple who are now their parents, but never forget Tilly their real mother and yearn to be reunited with her.
They take different routes to try to achieve this, Babs, runs away when she is just fourteen years old, which leaves her vulnerable to predators and floundering alone, resulting in her losing her way.
Beth leaves much later, by which time she has learnt to manipulate the gypsy couple to get her own way in life.
As Tilly begins to prosper, having met a man who takes care of her and whom she adores and at last realizes her dreams to follow her talents – for both of her girls,The First World War is a turning point in their lives, bringing each a taste of happiness, and yet heartache as events unfold that change the course of their lives – through it all they always long to reunite with each other and with their true mother.
Will this ever happen? And if it does, will it bring the happiness all three desire? Or will hidden forces work against them making it impossible for them to live in harmony?
It is never easy to go back to a place in life you long for and yet, you are may be seeing through rose-tinted glasses.
I am the author of 22 novels to date – as we go to press, four of those are in the pipeline. I write under my own name,
Mary Wood published by Pan Macmillan – Historical Saga Fiction
Maggie Mason published by Sphere, an implant of Little Brown Books and Hatchet –
Regional Sagas, set in Blackpool
Molly Kent – Self-published on kindle, writing Gangland Thrillers – to date, I have just one title – The Sweet Taste of Revenge on sale.
I like to think that my talent comes from my Great Grandmother, Dora Langlois, a late 19th century – early 20th century author, who in her day was not only known for her novels, but her informative books, her stage plays and as an actress, and also for her short stories in The People’s Friend. I am honoured to follow in her footsteps to be a contributor to that wonderful magazine – over a hundred years later.
Born the 13th child to a family of 15 children, life hasn’t always been easy, but I am lucky to say, it has been happy.
My education consisted of the four r’s – reading, writing, arithmetic, and religion, but I have since accumulated a wealth of knowledge from The University of Life.
I have a large family of my own now, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and during the summer, live with my adored husband of 57 years in a beautiful lodge in a small village on the outskirts of Blackpool. In the winter months we head south to Spain – this is my writing retreat months, which I love.
If you want to check out my books, or interact with me on social media, where you will be so welcome, here are some links to point you in the right direction.
Amazon page for Maggie Mason – links to all ‘Maggie’ books can be found here:
Today on my blog, I have a stellar book review of Judith Barrow’s latest novel, The Memory, out today from Honno Press. Many thanks to Honno for an advanced review copy.
Hauntingly poignant, The Memory by Judith Barrow had me hooked from the beginning. Relationships between mothers and daughters aren’t always the picture-perfect images we see on social media. In fact, sometimes they are anything but. The relationship between main character Irene and her mother evolves around the birth of baby sister Rose, who was born with Down’s Syndrome during a time when children with handicaps or special needs were treated with shame by society.
Barrow’s beautifully written narrative perfectly captured the tensions that sometimes we inherit from one generation to the next beween mothers and daughters, and our ability to hold on to something we love at any cost.
I loved Irene as a character because although at times heartwrenching, she never gave up on the people that needed her. Her bond with her little sister, Rose, her gran Nanna, her father Derek, and the love of her life, Sam, painted an honest portrait over time of the joys and utter despairs of being a carer for nearly everyone else. I so wanted for her to finally have some peace in the end.
A must read for any mother and daughter as we navitage this challenging thing called sisterhood. Highly recommended. Five stars.
As I always try to show support for my fellow art in fiction authors, it’s a pleasure to welcome historical fiction author Drēma Drudge to my blog today with an excerpt of her novel Victorine, releasing on March 17th by Fleur de Lis Press
Chapter One: Portrait of Victorine Meurent, Paris, 1862
I am called The Shrimp, Le Crevette because of my height and because I am as scrappy as those little question-mark-shaped delights that I used to study when my father took me to Les Halles. I would stand before the shrimp tank and watch the wee creatures paw at the water, repeatedly attempting to scale the tank, swimming, sinking, yet always rising again. I hoped eagerly for one to crest the tank, not realizing until later that the lid was there precisely to prevent their escape.
So why am I reminded of that tank today?
Today, while I am giving a guitar lesson in my father’s lithography shop, the gifted yet controversial painter, Édouard Manet, enters the shop. He gives me the nod.
I cover the strings of my guitar with my hand to silence them.
Pѐre has mentioned Manet’s recent patronage of his shop, of course, but I have never been here when the artist has come by.
“M. Manet, this is my daughter, Victorine. I believe you’ve. . . .”
“We’ve met,” I say.
“And where is it we have met, Mademoiselle?” he asks, wincing as he looks in the vicinity of my nose.
Is this a snub? I run my hand over the swollen, crooked lump of flesh on my face.
“I must be mistaken.” I turn away, smiling bitterly at my quick temper, at my trying to turn up a nose such as this. Of course he doesn’t recognize me.
I motion for my student to put her guitar away: “That’s enough for today, dear.” Though she looks at the clock with a puzzled brow, she does as I say.
My father graciously allows me to give lessons in his shop, claiming he loves to hear young musicians learning to play, though I suspect it’s more because my mother hates allowing anyone into our house besides her regular millinery clients.
Manet moves toward me, puts his face close to mine; I don’t pull away, but only because that is the way painters see. I would have punched another man for standing so close. He snaps his fingers. “Le Crevette?” he exclaims, backs away.
I raise my chin to regard the posters on my father’s wall. The Compagnie Francaise de Chocolats et des thes declares my father’s fine sense of color, his signature mingling of coral and scarlet. The other posters reveal his repeated twinning of these colors.
Manet grasps my hand with frank friendliness that I almost believe. Want to believe. “It is you; I’ve seen you model at Coutoure’s. But what has happened to your nose?”
I rise on my toes, though the height it gives me is minimal. I motion for Gabrielle to gather her music, and she shuffles the sheets.
I move closer to him while withdrawing my hand from his, take out my emerald green enamel cigarette case (a gift from a wealthy student at Coutoure’s studio) and light a cigarette. I empty my lungs straight at the yellowing ceiling, though my torso is not a foot from his.
My father frowns and waves the smoke away; how many times must I tell him that I am eighteen and I will smoke if I please? He smokes a pipe sometimes. What’s the difference?
“I give guitar lessons now. Obviously, I’m no longer a model.”
Manet’s eyes graze on me. I stand straighter. When I realize it, I relax.
To continue reading, purchase your copy of Victorine here:
In 1863 Civil War is raging in the United States. Victorine Meurent is posing nude, in Paris, for paintings that will be heralded as the beginning of modern art: Manet’s Olympia and Picnic on the Grass. However, Victorine’s persistent desire is not to be a model but to be a painter herself. In order to live authentically, she finds the strength to flout the expectations of her parents, bourgeois society, and the dominant male artists (whom she knows personally) while never losing her capacity for affection, kindness, and loyalty. Possessing both the incisive mind of a critic and the intuitive and unconventional impulses of an artist, Victorine and her survival instincts are tested in 1870, when the Prussian army lays siege to Paris and rat becomes a culinary delicacy. Drema Drudge’s powerful first novel Victorine not only gives this determined and gifted artist back to us but also recreates an era of important transition into the modern world.
About the Author:
Drēma Drudge suffers from Stendhal’s Syndrome, the condition in which one becomes overwhelmed in the presence of great art. She attended Spalding University’s MFA in Creative Writing Program where she learned to transform that intensity into fiction.
Drēma has been writing in one capacity or another since she was nine, starting with terrible poems and graduating to melodramatic stories in junior high that her classmates passed around literature class.
She and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, live in Indiana where they record their biweekly podcast, Writing All the Things, when not traveling. Her first novel, Victorine, was literally written in six countries while she and her husband wandered the globe. The pair has two grown children.
In addition to writing fiction, Drēma has served as a writing coach, freelance writer, and educator. She’s represented by literary agent Lisa Gallagher of Defiore and Company.
For more about her writing, art, and travels, please visit her website, www.dremadrudge.com, and sign up for her newsletter. She’s always happy to connect with readers in her Facebook group, The Painted Word Salon, or on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Today on my Northern Read series, I’m proud to have fellow historical fiction author John R McKay on the blog discussing how growing up in Wigan influenced his WWI novel, The Sun Will Always Shine.
Welcome, John. Tell us about how The Sun Will Always Shine and why you set it in the north?
The book is set before and during World War One and is about two brothers who live on a dairy farm with their parents and young sister (who has learning difficulties). Their father is abusive towards them, and, not to give too much of the plot away, they commit a gruesome crime to free themselves and their sister from his evil ways. To escape the fallout, one of the brothers joins the army and ends up in the trenches of the Western Front, whilst his older brother stays at home to face the consequences of what they’ve done.
I chose the north of England for two reasons. The first is that I am from Wigan in Lancashire/Greater Manchester and wanted to write a novel set near to my home town. The second is that I wanted to write something about the ‘Pals Battalions’ of the First World War, many of which hailed from the north of England. These were groups of friends who joined up together and paid the ultimate price together on the Somme and other battles. Rather than just write about what happened to those young men, I decided to incorporate a drama around those events to show the human element to an awful historic event. Being from the north of England myself and having been stationed near to a lot of WW1 sites when in the RAF in Belgium, this is a period of history that has always fascinated me.
I have managed to incorporate a couple of scenes into the novel that are set in my home town of Wigan, including a convalescent home that actually existed at the time.
I am proud to be a northerner and my latest project will also be set in the north west of England.
Can’t wait to read it!
More about The Sun Will Always Shine:
Set before and during the First World War The Sun Will Always Shine tells the story of brothers Harry and Charlie Davenport, who live on a farm in northern England, and their attempts to protect their mother and sister from their abusive and violent father. They believe that their father’s increasing brutality needs to be stopped and they will need to carry out strong action to do that in order to protect their family. With war approaching they realise that these actions could have terrible consequences upon the very people they have sworn to protect. As suspicions grow ever stronger, could they find an escape in the trenches of the Western Front before their secret is revealed and their world is ripped apart? This is a tale of war, grief, horror, lost love and sacrifice and is John R McKay’s most powerful novel to date.
About John R McKay:
John R McKay was born and raised in Wigan, Greater Manchester where he lives with his wife, Dawn. He has two grown up daughters Jessica and Sophie. John has recently become a USA Today Bestselling author following the success of the anthology ‘The Darkest Hour – Tales of WW2 Resistance.’ John’s contribution to the anthology ‘V for Victory’ has now been released as a standalone novella. His other works include ‘The Absolution Of Otto Finkel’, a historical novel covering largely unknown events of World War 2 and how war affects people in different ways. His latest novel, ‘Codename: GREYMAN’ concludes the tale. In ‘Mosquitoes’, which is a break from his normal genre, John has produced a contemporary study of how a man can ‘lose the plot’ when circumstances in his life change suddenly. A black comedy, Mosquitoes is a uniquely written story, told from the perspective of a man unable to cope with the both the pressures of modern society and those pressures he puts upon himself in a constant struggle to accept the situation fate has given him. His novel, ‘The Worst Journey In The World’ is set aboard a Royal Navy frigate which carries out perilous journeys to the Soviet Union during World War 2. He cites his modern literary favourites as Sebastian Faulkes, Robert Harris and Wilbur Smith.
John is a qualified Advanced Open Water Scuba diver and also enjoys cinema, reading books of various genres and following the fortunes of his beloved Liverpool Football Club.
I loved V for Victory! Where can we find you on social media?