What I did on my Holidays. 37 Years Ago

Ferniehirst Mill, Jedburgh, Northumberland 1979.

Day one, and we stopped in a vast forest throbbing with birdsong to gather mushrooms, easily filling one of the saddlebags with our cache. Hopefully, we’d picked a non-poisonous addition for breakfast the following morning. My horse for the day, Cinnamon, was the colour of, well, cinnamon. Standing at 16h I needed a handy rock to perch from in order to scramble back on as he wasn’t keen on standing still and I’m on the short side. We’d already passed some sort of horsemanship test together by hurtling down the steep grassy slopes of an ancient fort, galloping out through what would have been a drawbridge. An excersise our leader informed us, ‘Sorts out the wheat from the chaff,’  before we got onto the serious part of the ride, a four-day trail across The Cheviots.
jans-horses-015The Cheviot Trail – a loop reaching from Jedburgh in Northumberland all the way to Kirk Yetholm, just inside the English border – was no pony trek. Our horses were thoroughbred-cross, corn-fed and super-fit. To the uninitiated, this meant it wasn’t for novice riders. John Tough (pronounced Tooch, although tough suited him just as well), was no ordinary leader. If I had to make a short list of people who’d made an impression on me in my life then this guy would be close to the top. Not one to pander to any British Horse Society regulations, Tough set his own high standards and had little regard for officialdom, preferring to trust his own instincts about people, as well as horses. Hosting riding holidays for total strangers, some of whom spoke no English was clearly not for the faint-hearted, but if Tough decided after day one he didn’t like the way you handled his horse then your holiday ended right there with a full refund and a lift to the train station. There’s nothing like the burr of a Scottish accent in full flow to overcome any language barriers. No one, argued with him.
jans-horses-009I was bunked-up in the local village with Hope, an Irish woman who claimed to work in the only undamaged building in Belfast – the library. She’d travelled with two male companions, Mike, a solicitor, and Barry, a TV news reporter. Mike was perhaps the least capable rider of the three and the butt of many jokes. Since he was allotted a sturdy cob – Midnight Sun – he was also saddled with the saddlebags, which other than a token first-aid-kit and a hoof pick, were mostly stuffed with cans of beer. Part of the lunch-stop ritual was finding a suitable stream to cool down the cans. After three hours of bouncing they’d built up a considerable head of steam. The saddlebag straps even came adrift on one occasion, hanging beneath Midnight’s belly in full gallop and I don’t think Mike and Barry ever got over losing two cans of lager in a bog. All three of the Irish contingent partied hard, able to drink copious amounts of whisky, perform a reasonable demonstration of Irish dancing – with the aid of two riding crops crossed on the floor, and a good ‘diddler’ – and still ride for five or six hours the following day. Like the best of stories though, it wasn’t all laughs. By midweek, the drama cranked up several gears. Five thoroughbred horses and a cob carrying booze high on the moors in a high wind was maybe the precurser for some sort of misadventure. But before all of that, we were lulled into a sense of false security in the June sunshine; trotting through bubbling burns and stopping for ice creams and cigarettes in quaint hamlets such as Mossburnford and somewhere called Bloody Laws.
11-15-2011_20On Tuesday at the start of the serious trail, I was allocated a different horse – a chestnut mare called Flick. Tough told me she disliked men. Not all men, but most of them, and there was no knowing her level of tolerance until it was too late. This was one of her two, less endearing idiosyncrasies. Since I discovered she was perfection to ride, I worried about the other trait for most of the morning. There was plenty of distraction though, in the form of big scenery and fast riding. Northumberland is designed for premier horse riding, it’s simply the best terrain. Whereas my native Snowdonia lends itself more to pony trekking because of the mountains and hard tracks, the Scottish border country is softer, combining undulating grassy hills crossed with Roman roads such as the famous Dere Street. Miles of uninterrupted moorland dotted with mysterious stone circles and the relics of hilltop settlements, long since deserted to the Jacob sheep and the wind, decorate a landscape that probably hasn’t changed much since Roman times. And Tough had a good liaison with local landowners and this meant we could wander across territory normally inaccessible, riding virtually road free for the entire day.
jans-horses-007Lunch was as civilised as it could get up on the remote heathland by a disused farmhouse at Pennymuir, and brought to us via our own personal Roman chariot, the Land Rover from The Mill. Rolls filled with thick slices of beef, a buttery fruit and treacle cake and gallons of coffee. Why does simple food taste so good outside? This was despite being fortified only hours before with a full cooked Scottish breakfast – including haggis, and those wild mushrooms. The horses had earned a break too, and rolled free of tack in a huge meadow. True to form, they all trotted to the furthest point until they were a spec on the horizon.
And then the catch. After lunch, I discovered that my horse was the only one which was basically uncatchable. My companions were all tacked-up, remounted and ready to go, whilst my mare watched from afar with pricked ears, her saddle still perched on an old gate and her bridle slung over my drooping shoulder. ‘You’ll be alright walking for a wee while, won’t you?’ Barry deadpanned, already out of the gate and on the track heading towards Capehope Burn. It was only when my mare thought she was actually being left behind for real – and so did I at this point – that she finally cooperated and came flying down the hill like Black Beauty, mane and tail streaming behind. She even paused mid-gallop to throw out a beseeching whinny. She looked pretty amazing, but then I guess she knew how to work the crowd! As soon as she came within touching distance, Tough caught hold of a chestnut ear as if she were a recalcitrant teenager, and she stood patiently.
jans-horses-001Saddle and bridle back on and a leg-up from Tough, and we were back on the trail, cantering alongside the foaming burn and scattering long-eared Border Leicester sheep, disturbing rabbits, partridge and pheasant. The occasional stag leapt from cover, startling ourselves as well as the horses. The open hills grew steadily more remote as we climbed, where the cry of the curlew became a constant, familiar wail. Where possible, the riding was fast, challenging and exhilarating. We were assured of the safety under-hoof, as long as we stayed in single file behind Tough and his horse, Carita. This was the general guideline for not descending into a bog, or encouraging the horses to race alongside each other on open ground. Tough would raise an old, battered riding crop to signal he was slowing down, or there was a gate across the track (good excuse to take a nip out of the hip flask) or something needed negotiating at a slower pace. We knew we were in for a long steady amble when the whistling started (usually Mull of Kintyre) and then it was a slow descent into Hownam where the Land Rover was waiting for us at our designated B & B. First though, it was dinner for the horses – a tasty selection of oats, nuts and sugar-beet tipped into a selection of washing-up bowls. Several acres of grazing stretched towards the horizon, and I was concerned about the distance Flick could put between us overnight but I needn’t have worried. The orange washing-up bowl proved key…
jans-horses-018Our destination for the following day was Kirk Yetholm, over the border into England, an area well known for its turbulent history between the Scots and the English. There was no sign of any turbulence as we resumed the trail with blue skies and light cloud, splashing through wide burns and meandering the sheep tracks as we headed towards a remote hill farm above the Bowmont Valley. The Billinghams were Flick’s previous owners and in both senses, we enjoyed a warm welcome in the hills. Tea out of big copper kettles. Fruit cake slathered with butter on willow-pattern plates. Shortbread warm from the Aga and a trio of drooling sheepdogs. We lazed in the garden until the sun slowly withdrew and the clouds began to roll stealthily over the Pennines, but it was the increasing wind which had us gather ourselves together, ready for the final push into Kirk Yetholm. Horses and strong winds are never the best companions. Barry’s horse, Silus, a lean ex-steeplechaser, was perhaps the most perturbed and Barry had his hands full from the off. The weather worsened as we climbed onto higher ground. Craik Moor, Blackborough Hill and Windy Rigg already had predetermined personalities, and they lived up to them. Gunmetal grey skies and powerful crosswinds – the sort that could lift a well-secured riding hat – made for heavy going. And then the rain started.
Most of us had set out in waterproof attire, but Barry’s jacket was still tied around his waist. His mistake was to try and put it on with his reins in one hand. Tough said he didn’t think it was a good idea, twice. Barry had about three seconds to realise he was probably right, when the wind whipped the kagoul from his grip like flotsam. The real problem started when the toggles somehow wound themselves around the reins and then the flimsy material clamped itself limpet-like to the side of Silus’ head. Silus reacted predictably; reared, then bolted, covering the rise of boggy ground to our left as if it were a stretch of flat turf. Man and horse seemed to melt into the windswept moorland, lost to sight in the blink of an eye.
jans-horses-010Tough prepared to set off after them. ‘Stay right here, on this track. Don’t move an inch.’  Midnight, Flick, and Hope’s horse, Kelly, were not happy that two of the party had set off without them, and we had our own battle trying to keep them more or less stationary. The errant pair did eventually return, with Barry walking down the hill leading Silus. It didn’t look good, but at least they were both still walking. Both of them were plastered in bog. Amazingly, other than looking and smelling pretty bad there was no real damage, although Barry was white-faced. Silus had clearly run an impossible race against the wind, flanks heaving, eyes bulging. The culprit, the bright blue kagoul, was shredded and got stuffed in a saddlebag out of harm’s way. The hipflask came out. Should I have been flattered that Tough insist that I swap horses with Barry or was it down to my unflappable jacket? I wasn’t overly keen on losing my mare to a powerful thoroughbred with wind-fright, but at age 22 I was always up for a challenge where horses were concerned. Taking into account the amount of mud between horse and rider, Barry and I looked an odd duo, but no one was quite ready to laugh at that point. Tough was angry with Barry for not heeding his earlier warning, and the mood dropped. Every time Carita moved into canter, Silus was like a coiled spring right on her tail. It was a tough afternoon and none of us really settled until we’d dropped down a few hundred feet and left that dark hill and the screeching wind behind.
jans-horses-011We joined the Pennine Way and a small group of wet hikers stumbled alongside us for the last couple of miles, warming their hands on the horses and feeding them polo mints. The long, final stretch of this 267 mile long hike from Edale in Derbyshire is boggy and desolate, and many walkers are defeated by it where the terrain is mostly peat moor and incredibly inhospitable. None of the walking party had seen anyone quite so filthy as Barry (it was especially strange since he was riding a relatively clean horse). ‘Hell, man! What happened to you?’ Barry, recovered by then, obliged with an embellished version of events such as a herd of kelpies enticing his horse into a bog. Despite the mud and the chill wind, the atmosphere warmed-up considerably and as the village came into view Tough struck up Mull of Kintyre. The hikers began to sing along and we clattered off the hill and down the main street flanked by several footmen, all of us anxious to get within sniffing distance of a pub and a hot bath. Our billet for the night was a stone house full of faded opulence, and its fair share of clocks and antiques. Virtually everything ticked. But there were rocking chairs and books around a roaring fire – yes, after all it was still only June – and a rattling Georgian tea trolley materialised, loaded with a substantial afternoon tea. The diminutive landlady took a moment to take in Barry’s appearance. ‘Och, now, has the wee man taken a tumble?’ Tough waited till he’d selected a cream scone and tested it. ‘Aye.’
We didn’t make the pub.
The sinister mood of the hills continued the following day. We ate breakfast in silence, aware of tree branches tapping the windows, warning of another furiously windy day ahead to negotiate College Valley. Barry was impressed that his riding gear had been cleaned and dried overnight, less impressed about riding Flick for another day, claiming she was hot to handle. Since Tough wanted me to take Silus again, neither of us had much choice but to get on with it. Trotting out of Yetholm, Silus shot across the village green and we narrowly missed a leaning telegraph pole. Barry was struggling with Flick too and at the first opportunity a playful buck had Barry halfway up her neck. We paused on a track above the village and Tough lit a cigarette, using his hat as a wind shield. He decided that I was best riding Flick again. Barry scrambled onto Carita and Tough took care of Barry’s overwound steeplechaser.
jans-horses-016We were enchanted and battered in equal measure by every weather condition as we left Kirk Yetholm and crossed back into Northumberland, hit first by rain, and then hot sun would break through thick, swirling mist. Ethereal and atmospheric. Not much imagination required to expect a Roman army to come marching over the horizon. We cantered across the sodden heathland, stretching into a gallop up a long hill which eventually pulled us up and out of the Scotch mist, and then we were looking down at skeins of floating cloud. But then by afternoon we were in pale sunlight again, riding across a labyrinth of rolling countryside through the renowned College Valley. Vivid and intense, rainbows would be there one second, gone the next. It wasn’t only the scenery which was mesmerising, it was the growing bond with our horses, too. Riding the trails certainly evoked a deeper connection to this historical land, those ancient routes of the Border Reivers and the bloody battles between the Scots and the English. We fell into companionable silence, enjoying the low moan of the wind, the clink of horseshoe against stone, the creak of a leather saddle. Cold and wet, or dirty and sweaty ceased to matter. Minor discomforts became inconsequential, small victories where we’d pushed our personal boundaries became more important. How could we go back to ordinary jobs after this? I think I even told my parents not to bother collecting me.
jans-horses-008The final day and we headed back to The Mill via Sourhope, along steaming wet lanes in bright sun, trotting into a flat-bottomed valley like a Scottish prairie. There was a herd of feisty bullocks grouped beneath the trees, flicking tails and watching our progress with interest. A breath-taking gallop, the horses full of spring on the lush expanse of damp turf, knowing they were homeward bound. The thud of hooves seemed to echo in that hollow space and then we realised why it was so loud – we had serious company. About 200 head of cattle had decided to follow us! Fortunately, they lacked the pace and stamina of our horses and we soon left them behind. A warning clink-clink on the tarmac warned of a loose shoe. Of course these were the days long before mobile phones and we had to find a phone box. An hour later, the Land Rover trundled towards us and Tough, ever resourceful, pulled out his farriers last and secured Flick’s nearside hind shoe. Problem fixed, we completed our ride across familiar territory as we dropped down through Birkenside Forest again. Soon, the mill house was in sight and our horses whinnied advance greetings to stable-mates they’d not seen since Tuesday.
It was our leader’s birthday – he’d kept that quiet all day – but we made up for it with a night of dinner, drinking and diddling at The Carter’s Rest in Jedburgh. The Irish trio were actually late, turning up halfway through the starters, still in grubby riding gear and holding each other up with leery grins. All of this attracted the attention of the next group of riders assembled in the bar. Barry made a makeshift sling from a couple of big white napkins, and began to hobble towards them. ‘Are you here for the Cheviot trail? No, don’t be put off by the bandages. We all really enjoyed it.’
‘Don’t listen to his tall tales,’ Tough said.
jans-horses-005Once upon a time, John Tough bought a rundown mill on the River Jed and restored it. Then he bought horses, some of them with problems, both physical and otherwise, and nurtured them to full health. His reputation for riding the Cheviots, grew. In 1980 he built a lodge on his land, for rider accommodation. I returned – of course I did – from 1979 to 1986, riding in many different seasons, including colourful autumn trails and once, during the heavy snow of early spring. Tough retired at the end of the eighties due to ill health. Did I set out to write a book about John Tough, and Beryl, the young interior designer from London who never went home after her riding holiday? Surely, this was the stuff of fiction! Not that I was aware of, but I guess it’s an example of how more than 30 years later, the subconscious finds a story somehow, pulling together characters, historical facts, impressions and experiences… one I’ll never forget.



The Myths of Publishing

Self-Publishing is a Last Resort.

No. To self-publish or operate as an Individual Publisher or an Indie, is often the best creative choice. Without the shackles of commercial pressure, genre-blending or your own personal genre, is the new kid on the block! The author retains global selling rights across all platforms and retains the majority share of any royalties. Most importantly, the author is in complete control of the entire process, from designing the cover to organising events, to advertising and pacing the release of new material. The more you invest of yourself the greater the opportunity for growth, development, and experience, not only as a writer through valuable on-line networking but in all aspects of the publishing world.
Depending on your technical skills, it’s quite possible to design your own covers and 13735790_873470892758672_4699674544226635043_opromotional material using a range of high quality software, some of which is accessible for free. Learning to format for ebooks and paperbacks cost nothing more than your time. If you make a mistake, fix it, learn from it, and move on. There are many publishing platforms out there now – to produce both ebooks and paperbacks – all of which are user-friendly and free. Print-on-demand allows an individual to invest in small quantities of paperbacks which are easily manageable from a financial point of view, and allow the author to either produce copies simply for their own use or order in sizeable quantities for shops and events.
12339449_755681737870922_2320413221731760214_o However, not every author has the skill nor the inclination to want to deal with every aspect of publishing. Some authors find it enjoyable, some find it stressful. And it’s fair to point out that if you don’t have the necessary technical skills then of course, not every aspect of self-publishing is free. The material needs to be professionally edited, proofread, formatted and designed to a recognisable industry standard if you wish to compete with the traditional market and produce something to be proud of. There are many excellent, experienced freelance professionals working in the self-publishing sector to enable you to achieve this. The quality (both in terms of the writing and the book itself) of self-produced work can vary from mediocre, to a standard which is actually way above that of some small press publishers because quite often the editing and designing of your book is a bespoke, individual process. After this, it’s perfectly possible to approach libraries and independent book shops. 
Beware of: Experts. There are plenty of swish looking websites and unscrupulous folk willing to take your money for advice and services offered, from editing to advertising, from special award badges for your book, endorsements, amazing reviews, to everything in-between. Don’t pay for anything – unless the service offered comes from a reputable source and you are happy with their examples. Ask around on the many forums available and choose carefully. 

Self-Publishing is the same as Vanity Publishing.

No. Vanity Publishers have no selection criteria. Vanity publishing is a complete service to authors who have no wish to become involved with the nuts and bolts of producing a book as an independent, or perhaps they don’t possess the knowledge or inclination to send out endless applications to agents and traditional publishers. Maybe they’ve simply become worn down by rejection letters, and we all know how that can feel. Some flattery from an editor is all it needs to get you to sign on the dotted line…
dollarphotoclub_92155465-676x451You will more often than not relinquish all rights to the material. The author is expected to cover all costs out of their own pocket, usually upfront, and the publisher will collect the majority of the royalties on the book. It’s an expensive, often disappointing route – because quite simply the publisher has been paid for his trouble and has no further interest in the material as they’ve already made their profit – from the author! Vanity Publishers have no relationship with bookshops or suppliers.
Beware of: Huge costs (running into several thousands of pounds) and vague promises. Quite often these types of publisher come across as the real thing through cunning advertising (sometimes they refer to themselves as self-publishers). 

A Good Book will be Published by a ‘Real’ Publisher.

Not necessarily. There is still the belief that agents and publishers secure the best material out there, and you may wish to try this route first. Lots of smaller publishers can be approached directly without the need for an agent to represent the author. This is where signing a contract can be confusing and in some cases, detrimental. However, a genuine publisher will never ask for a financial contribution towards producing your book. If they do, you could be dealing with a vanity press.
Traditional publishers are mostly interested in commercial fiction which fits neatly into a genre they are familiar with. This makes the job easier for them and less of a financial risk. 
hoes_six-cylinder_pressYou will of course relinquish all rights to the material and the majority of the royalty payments will go first and foremost to your publisher. This is not necessarily a bad deal if the publisher is knowledgeable about the current market, is selling lots of books and is proactive in maintaining those sales. In a lot of cases though, this simply doesn’t happen. Publishers rarely promote consistently and effectively. The risk of taking on books that don’t sell isn’t much of a deal breaker to them because ebooks are remarkably easy to produce and who knows, your book just might take off without too much effort or investment from them. They can also control expenses by only publishing print versions on demand; exactly as per the self-publishing route, and many of them use the exact same platforms. The alternative to this is that you’ve negotiated a traditional ‘print-run’, in which case the publisher may be keener to recover those costs and work harder on your behalf to shift the copies. The finished product may well look exactly the same as a self-published book but will retail at a much higher cost because of course, the publisher needs to factor in his cut. In some cases, the print book may even be of inferior quality. You will probably be expected to pay for copies of your own book or to buy any stock at trade price, around 40% of the retail cover price.
Beware of: High expectations, grey hybrids and contracts which tie you in to several works, or years of commitment at a low rate of royalty. You won’t necessarily see your book in a major retailer on the high street for example, or in libraries. You may be expected to produce a novel every 3-6 months if the publisher is mostly concerned with commercial ebook sales in a current popular genre. They’ll want to catch the market trends and a steady stream of material will (hopefully) make money.
vader-litreactorSome small presses are blending traditional methods with services approaching those required by the self-publisher. It’s perhaps a way of capturing everything which is going on in a fast moving, constantly changing market. The material may be better treated from an editorial point of view and usually the author will retain all selling rights, but at the end of the day it’s the author who is footing the bill and choices can be limited. Additional services such as offering an author a Facebook page is an example of how new and confused authors could be attracted to a ‘gold package’ when everything seems scary and complicated. Making a Facebook page for example, is simple and free, and yet in some cases, this is listed as a service. This hybrid type of publishing is often the sister arm of a reputable publishing company, encouraging authors to submit under the impression that the experience of the genuine publishing house will spill over into the self-financed version. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t… grey area?

Do I Need An Agent?

literary-agent-commission-contractNot necessarily. You only need an agent if you intend to approach publishing companies who don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts and/or you wish someone to act on your behalf to wade through the legal jargon of a complicated contract. Bear in mind that around only 1% of manuscripts are selected in this way. An agent may be able to secure a good contract for you, but remember they take around 15% of whatever they negotiate. This could be well worth it if the agent has great connections and you have a great manuscript which everyone wants…

How Much Money Do You Make?

If you are looking to make money from your writing, then you may be shocked to discover that the profit on a paperback can be as low as £1. This is without factoring in the time spent writing the novel, paying for an editor, a cover designer and a formatter. This is based simply on the printing costs of a physical book. Nothing beats seeing your work in print, regardless of how you arrived at that point, but unless you’ve written a commercial best-seller and it’s handled by one of the ‘big six’ in publishing, then it’s unlikely you’ll make any cash from selling paperbacks.
how-to-use-the-internet-to-make-moneyThis is why the ebook market is so lucrative and why lots of small presses have popped-up offering contracts for material. Some of them are pretty good, but an awful lot of them are best avoided. If you self-publish an ebook and it starts to sell, then you can make a reasonable return, especially if you have the technical know-how to produce the book file to a good standard and you’ve studied the market for trends. While some authors fail to break even, some make a reasonable living from writing, usually supplementing their income with author services or non-fiction publications. There is a multitude of levels in-between, depending on how much time and effort you are willing to invest, but there are no guarantees.


In The Chair 78: Amelia Chambers

Welcome, Amelia Chambers

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nHow would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Amelia: Varied, with panache.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Amelia: Not wanting to sound trite but I feel I have a very close relationship with all my fictional characters because I make an effort moulding them, getting to grips with their background, their way of life and their inner selves.  However, I’d love to be good friends with Gladys in the It Out series.  She will be back in the New Year along with William, Laura, Oliver, Karen et al to experience more mayhem in the village.

I wouldn’t mind having a hot, torrid affair with Lance in Reprehensible, but then I’d have to dump him very quickly.  He’s really not my cup of tea for a long-term relationship.  I think the professor in Make All The Difference would be more dependable.

If you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Amelia: Oh, I’d love to haunt the village near Bury St Edmunds in the Puzzling It Out series.  I wouldn’t want to live there or be a character, but drifting in and out of the pub, around the houses, into town and over the fields would be very entertaining and nobody would know I’m there.  I suppose that’s what authors do; be an ethereal presence in the setting they create.  I imagine myself as an invisible woman eavesdropping on conversations and watching events unfold.

Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

featured-alcohol-drinksAmelia: I am the world’s worst cook so I would have to hire caterers and discuss a menu with them.  It’s wonderful what some chefs can conjure up and make appetising.  Who’d have thought chocolate and beetroot muffins would be so yummy?  Many of my characters dine out and they usually eat what I’ve recently seen on menus in eateries I frequent.  Wine is important though and I’d make sure there was a fine selection of red, white and rose wines, as well as whiskies, gins and vodkas.  Oh to hell with it, I might as well have a fully stocked bar!

Now, who would I invite?  Well, William Shakespeare would be first on the list.  I’m a huge fan and I hope my guides to his tragedies are helping many students with their studies.  I’d have to ask Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie too as they were the first authors I remember reading in my youth.  Wilbur Smith is a must as Eagle in the Sky was the first book to make me cry and Robert B Parker as well.  I just love his character, Spenser.

shakespeareI suppose I’d be living dangerously inviting Steinbeck, Hemingway and Ian Fleming as I think they are all misogynists, but I do admire their work.  Hopefully Shakespeare and Thomas Hardy would put them in their place.  Hardy is my favourite novelist and the only male writer, beside Shakespeare, who has any clue about women.  He has to be a guest.

The table is getting full and I’ve invited too many men, better even up the numbers, so I’m dumping Hemingway and Fleming.  I met Jennifer Johnston fleetingly and didn’t get a chance to fully discuss her masterpiece How Many Miles to Babylon.  I’d think she’d get on with Hardy too.  A S Byatt and Margaret Attwood would be my final choices.  I know nothing about either but I loved the books Possession and A Handmaid’s Tale.  The former was very skilfully written, the latter gave me the heebie-jeebies long after I’d put it down.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Amelia: Sci-fi, without a shadow of a doubt.  I love it.  I just don’t know enough about science to write knowledgeably.  I’m a huge fan of Philip K Dick, who I really should invite to my dinner party, but then I’d have to get rid of Blyton and I don’t want to do that.  I’d rather go for a coffee with Philip and discuss conspiracies theories.  I watch all films with spacecraft in them, even if they are rubbish.  My favourite film is Blade Runner, a Ridley Scott classic, based on Dick’s story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  What a title!  A short story in the up and coming Take Another Ten includes my first attempt at sci-fi: Surviving Paradise.  I’d like to think it’s an homage to PKD.

amelia-chambers-bio-picWhat do you dislike the most about being an author?

Amelia: Editing, editing and more editing.  I don’t know how editors do it.  I really don’t.

Favourite word? Amelia: Panache.  Although I really like the ‘F’ word.  It’s so versatile.  It’s a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a noun and as an interjection, it just makes some things sound so much better or so much worse.  It’s a shame some people find it offensive.

Amelia Chambers was in the chair, author of: Reprehensible, Puzzling it Out, & several non-fiction titles assisting student study in classic literature.

Web: http://ow.ly/2GTp304xjap

In The Chair 77: Rebecca Stonehill

Welcome, Rebecca Stonehill.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nHow would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Rebecca: Historical, thought-provoking, heartfelt.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Rebecca: Definitely Kamau from The Girl and the Sunbird! I must confess to falling a little in love with him! He is very kind, calm, intelligent, handsome and tender. He is the kind of man that, had he been born in a different time, would have gone on to truly great things.

I also became fond of Alberto from The Poet’s Wife. Whilst not a main character, something about the big, dark eyes and sensitivity was pretty appealing! I think I’ll stop there, because my husband is a little unsure about that question…

Nairobi2If you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Rebecca: Living in the busy metropolis that is Nairobi, I would love to exist as a character in my second novel, The Girl and the Sunbird, so I could experience the emptiness of Nairobi a little over a hundred years ago. I wouldn’t like to be Iris, my protagonist, as the poor girl didn’t have an easy time of it what with her arranged marriage to a deeply unpleasant man. I’d much prefer to be another English woman living in Nairobi in 1903 who befriends Iris – but then again, had Iris had even a single friend, the plot would not have unfolded in the way it did!

Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

guest-list-1-alamy_2272670bRebecca: I’d invite along Maya Angelou, who had the most tremendous sense of humour, dry wit and sassiness and I know she’d liven up any dinner party with her stories. I’d also invite Isabel Allende as she inspired me probably more than any other author in my early days of experimentation with writing. I’d cook something from Isabel Allende’s book Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses. Part memoir, part cookbook, it’s filled with outlandish recipes that would be really fun to have a crack at. To drink? Lots of cocktails to begin with to get Maya & Isabel suitably merry and then some good Chilean wine to keep Isabel happy!

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Rebecca: Children’s book, definitely, for around the age of 8-12. I think this is one of the hardest genres to achieve well in writing. Children are critical and discerning readers and any whiff that they are being talked down to, it’s game over. In the words of EB White, fantastic author for children: ‘Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down.’ I am passionate about literature, storytelling and creative writing for children and would love one day to turn my hand to writing for children.

What do you dislike the most about being an author?

MeRebecca: With the internet and the explosion in digital and self publishing, opportunities abound for authors. This is fantastic as it’s more of an even playing field these days, but what it also means is that in this saturated market, it’s much more difficult to get your books noticed and read. For authors today, we have to think of new and original ways to get our books out there – this is time consuming and can divert considerable time away from the actual craft of writing.

Favourite word?

Rebecca: Chutzpah. This is a Yiddish word roughly translated as possessing spirit and guts. My father, who was Jewish, often used to say that I had chutzpah.

Rebecca Stonehill was in the chair, author of: The Poet’s Wife & The Girl and the Sunbird.

Web: www.rebeccastonehill.com


In The Chair 76: Kate Frost

Welcome, Kate Frost.

KateFrostHeadShotHow would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Kate: Moving, heartfelt, honest.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Kate: Ooh, now there’s a question! I think it would have to be with Ashton from Beneath the Apple Blossom. As for why, not only is he good looking (imagine dark hair, defined cheek bones and a rugby player physique), but he’s also family orientated and wants to settle down, get married and start a family. However, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t go for me over Sienna, his feisty, confident and striking (both in looks and personality) girlfriend.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nIf you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Kate: It would be in my time-travel adventure series for children, the first of which, Into the Past, will be published in October. In real life I’m someone who would always watch from the sidelines – I’m quite happy not being centre of attention, but I think if I got a week to exist in my book I’d be twelve year-old Maisie, the protagonist of the story who is up for adventure, fearless and welcomes new and exciting experiences with open arms as she time-shifts between 1471, 1666 and 1940 along with class bully, Lizzie, and her best friend, Danny.


Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Kate: I’d invite George RR Martin, get him drunk on wine (or whatever his favourite tipple is) and see if I could get out of him how he plans to end Game of Thrones. I think Stephen King would be an interesting character to add to the mix and I would like the chance to pick his brains (so to speak) about writing. Geraldine Brooks and Leif Enger (who wrote two of my favourite books, Year of Wonders and Peace Like a River respectively) would complete the guest list. With such an eclectic mix of authors I think it would be appropriate to have a buffet where guests could choose what they fancied eating, although the focus would be on lots of Middle Eastern flavours (my favourite) – tagines, pita with homemade dips, salads, grilled meats and halloumi. 

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Kate: It would be a dystopian novel. I love reading books and watching films about the end of the world and I like the idea of dropping a group of characters into a destroyed and dangerous environment and seeing how they would cope (or not).

What do you dislike the most about being an author?

Kate: Self promotion. I’m no good at talking about myself or my books but I know it goes hand in hand with being an author. I’m forcing myself to contact local radio for an interview and speaking in public fills me with fear. I think this is the hardest part of being a self-published author – having to make myself do these things, rather than have a publisher putting me forward for such opportunities.

13592599_1127236474014115_888177963847925978_nFavourite word?

Kate: Kapoozi. It’s actually the Greek word for watermelon (my husband is Greek and I’ve been struggling to learn Greek ever since we got together nearly sixteen years ago). I love the sound of it, and it reminds me of sunshine and happy times visiting family in Greece.

Kate Frost was in the chair, author of: The Butterfly Storm & Beneath the Apple Blossom.

Web: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kate-Frost/e/B00D8YJ1EG/ref=la_B00D8YJ1EG_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1468053881&sr=1-1

In The Chair 75: Sue Moorcroft

Welcome, Sue Moorcroft.

DSC_3417How would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Sue: Flowing. Attention-grabbing. Pacy.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Sue: Sam, from my forthcoming book, The Christmas Promise. He surprised me a bit. He’s sophisticated and strong but his vulnerabilities are what make him unusual. He’s a real ‘go to’ ‘can do’ heroic hero. He’s highly imaginative and creative and that seems like it would be fun …

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nIf you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Sue: I’m going to say The Wedding proposal because it’s set in Malta and I love to be there! I’d watch the story unfold from the sidelines but it would be like watching a train wreck, seeing things conspiring against Elle. I’d want to warn her but I don’t know how she can act or react any differently as issues mount up against her.

Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

81f985c03b1cca527822783d2df8fcccSue: On my guest list would be Nevil Shute, Georgette Heyer, Stephen Fry, and some romantic suspense authors such as Suzanne Brockmann. I’m not too worried about the main course but I’d make a stonking chocolate dessert. (No calories at this dinner party, right?) And we’d drink champagne.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Sue: I always try and duck this question because all genres other than my own seem equally unlikely! I could probably pull together a fantasy because I like the idea of creating an unbelievable world for people to believe in.

What do you dislike the most about being an author?

Sue: My annual accounts. Sometimes I find first drafts hard but I don’t dislike them (much).

Favourite word?  Sue: Success.

Sue Moorcroft was in the chair, author of contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor.

Web: www.suemoorcroft.com.


In The Chair 74: Isobel Costello

Welcome, Isabel Costello.


How would you describe your writing style in only three words?

Isabel: Taut. Sensual. Evocative.

If you could have a relationship with one of your fictional characters who would it be and why?

Isabel: Without hesitation, Alexandra, first person narrator of my debut novel Paris Mon Amour. As an intelligent 40-year-old woman she is acting totally out of character when she embarks on an affair with the much younger son of her husband’s best friend. Whilst it’s human fallibility and vulnerability that interest me and drive me to write, in many ways Alexandra becomes stronger as she pursues her desires, both physical and emotional. So many women don’t, and I found myself empathising with her to a surprising degree. She’s not a cuddly character but she has a sense of humour; this and her honesty make me think she’d be great at the kind of frank conversation I like. I could be my own complicated self around her.

11102784_844407928976852_7866671121152746412_nIf you had to exist for a week in one of your books … which one would it be? Would you be a central character or simply watch the story unfold from the sidelines?

Isabel: Since my book centres on a clandestine relationship, watching from the sidelines isn’t really an option! In any case, it would be a revelation to spend a week (but no longer) as Alexandra’s 23-year-old lover, Jean-Luc. I’m happy being a woman but masculinity and the male perspective fascinate me – since we’re talking hypothetically I would love to experience sex as a man, for example (however weird that sounds). The main reason is the way Jean-Luc thinks about the ‘big questions’ and acts on his instincts rather than conforming to social expectations – I admire that. His passionate and unpredictable nature would guarantee an eventful week but it’s also quite a scary prospect!


Dead or alive literary dinner party: who would you invite, and what would you serve?

Isabel: Firstly, although I’m a keen cook and enjoy entertaining, I find if you have the right combination of guests, nobody actually notices the food. Conversation would be unlikely to dry up with Flaubert, Baudelaire and Simone de Beauvoir at the table, contemporary wit and brilliance courtesy of A M Homes, Jeffrey Eugenides, Lisa McInerney and Grégoire Delacourt. Late night gatecrashers: Byron and Kevin Barry.

If you had to write in a different genre which would it be and why?

Isabel: Not currently on my career plan, but being comfortable with sex scenes I might stand a chance at erotica.

What do you dislike the most about being an author?

Isabel: The fact that so much is beyond your control.  It bothers me – and not just for myself – that the fate of books is so dependent on money, timing and dumb luck.

Favourite word?  Isabel: Yes

Isabel Costello was in the chair, author of: Paris Mon Amour

Web: Paris Mon Amour  Summer Reads 2016