I like to think it was fate. Just as I settled down to read Jen Gilroy’s latest book, Back Home At Firefly Lake, snowflakes started to float past my window.
A light dusting of snow wasn’t essential to my enjoyment but, as it was summer last time I visited the lake, it certainly helped get me in the right mood for this winter’s tale.
Whatever the weather, I think I would have loved this wonderfully told heart-warming story – and I was delighted to be invited to review the book as part of a blog tour to celebrate its release.
Once again Jen casts a spell on the reader, transporting us back to small-town Canada to a place that already feels like home.
Some familiar characters from the two previous books make a welcome return but it is Cat McGuire and Luc Simard who are the main focus of this final book in the trilogy (which can also be read as a standalone).
Here’s the blurb:
She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay?
Cat McGuire’s return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is–and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn’t help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.
Luc’s homecoming has been bittersweet. He’s lost his wife and his career, but there’s no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids’ hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete–until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who’s stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?
I don’t know much about hockey but I do know Luc made my heart beat a little faster – even when he wasn’t on the ice. Pitched just right between macho and sensitive, Luc (I did have to look up how to say his name, was it Luck or was it Luke?) is definitely a book boyfriend to remember.
Slightly awkward Cat was easy to relate to and she made me nostalgic as I remembered my own high school crush. I really wanted Cat and Luc to work and found the various ups and downs they go through an emotional read. The relationship between Cat and her daughter was also really well written.
The story kept me engrossed right to the end – long after the snow had stopped – and the feeling I was left with was one of warmth; like everything was right with the world.
This was actually my favourite of the three books – and I really enjoyed the other two so I don’t say it lightly.
Thank you to Jen, her publishers, Forever, and Barclay Publicity for the ARC in return for my honest opinion.
Price: £3.49 on Amazon.
My rating: Five stars.
Jen was one of my Behind The Book participants this year, you can read her post here.
Taking part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) hadn’t even crossed my mind – until the author Susanna Bavin suggested it.
Susanna, who has appeared in my Behind The Book series, wrote a blog post featuring quotes from her writer friends about their experiences of NaNo. Having completed it in 2015 (just), I added a comment and thought that was the end of it.
It wasn’t until a Twitter conversation later where Susanna invited me to be her buddy this year – and some of her friends and mine encouraged me – that I first thought ‘maybe I should do this?’ I talked it through with Mark because I knew from last time that I would need his support if I was going to manage it. He was all for it (I moan about him but he’s a good one really), so I signed up.
Did I mention it was already October 22nd and NaNo starts on November 1st? Not only that but I was just about to head off on holiday for half term week so not much time for prep. I decided to continue with the book I’ve been working on for Friday 500 – and luckily I convinced my writing buddy, Kate, to join in.
We began our Friday 500 project in September 2016 (the idea was that we would email each other a minimum of 500 words each week of our respective novels). It’s worked really well. I’ve had a lot of fun trying out different things. I’m writing third person but alternate between characters. I started with two main characters, went up to three, went back down again and then tried writing first person. I also realised that I really REALLY needed to have some sort of plan. So I stopped and spent a solid couple of weeks plotting and then I started again, almost from scratch.
By October, I had two chapters and a really quite detailed idea of where my story was going but I would have happily continued to plod along had Susanna not offered to be my buddy for NaNo.
I was really excited to get started. I didn’t include any of the words I had already written but, because I had spent so long thinking about the story (even dreaming scenes some nights), the words really flowed. I was still getting up at 5am and writing some days so I could get my word count up but, unsurprisingly, having Freya at school all day this time was a big help.
As you can see, some days were better than others. I realised at the start that I really needed to get some words in the bank because there were days, particularly weekends, where it would be a struggle. Once I had that safety net it pretty much sailed along. I even managed to finish a couple of days early – unlike last time when I was almost still typing up to deadline.
I actually found it quite emotional writing the final chapter, maybe because I had actually written all the chapters before it (I only had six and an ending last time and the rest were scenes).
What’s also been really great this time is having a supportive group of writing buddies to talk to via Twitter DM every day. Writing can be a lonely pursuit but they always gave me something to smile about.
And here it is, my certificate (isn’t it nice that it goes with my blog colours). I think even those who didn’t reach the 50k are winners. We all had our own goals but more importantly we all wanted to write – and that’s what we’ve done.
Thank you very much to everyone who has supported me – and especially Susanna. I’m very excited to have an actual draft. Now on to editing.
Did you take part in NaNoWriMo this year (or in the past)? How did you get on?
There are some characters I continue to think about long after I’ve turned the final page of a book – and ex-soldier, Sam, the hero in Carla Burgess’ first novel, Marry Me Tomorrow, is one of them.
Luckily, Carla seems just as unwilling to let them go and one of the joys of reading her second and third novels was coming across little updates about Sam and her other creations (must try and remember they are not real people).
She released Stuck With You (which I adored, even though it starts with people trapped in a lift and I’m claustrophobic) in April this year and has just published her most recent, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe (review to follow).
I’ve been wanting to chat to her for ages and I was thrilled when she agreed to feature in my Behind The Book series. Thank you to Carla for not only answering my questions but also giving us peek at her very first (as yet unpublished) book she wrote and illustrated, which I think you’re going to love.
Marry Me Tomorrow was published after you responded to a Tweet from HQ Digital asking for submissions of stories that start with a proposal. Had you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes, I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I was little. It’s weird but I remember being amazed when I discovered that someone had actually physically wrote the books that I read and loved. I don’t know how I thought they’d been made, but I was only little at the time. I suppose I just thought they were written hundreds of years ago and passed down through the generations, and no new books were ever made! But when I found out, I thought what an amazing job that would be. So when I got a bit older, I decided to write my own. I was so in love with Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers books that I wrote my own book about a boarding school. I also adored horses so it had a lot of horses in it too. My daughter was looking through it the other day and laughing at my home-made illustrations!
What happened after you submitted Marry Me Tomorrow? Did you already have the story written? If not how long did it take to write? Had you written any stories before?
I had only written one chapter and a synopsis for Marry Me Tomorrow, and that was completely in response to the tweet. Prior to that, I’d been writing a short story for an online writing course I was doing, and that had been about a homeless teenager who was in love with a girl he’d seen in a café. There had been lots of media coverage about the increasing rate of homelessness and how each homeless person has a different story to tell. Once you start hearing the stories, it becomes clear that it could happen to any one of us if our circumstances were to change. Basically, I really wanted to write a story about a homeless man, so I decided to adapt my initial idea and start from there. HQ (or Carina, as they were called then) phoned me back shortly after receiving it, and said they would like me to write it. I think I was given four months to write the first draft, which was daunting as I’d spent the previous ten or so years writing and rewriting just one book. But, at the same time, I knew I could do it because the previous November I’d participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and managed to write 50,000 words in a month.
You’ve just published your third book, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, and, as I’ve already revealed, characters from your previous books make little cameos, which makes me so happy. Did you always plan for that?
Ah, I’m so glad you liked that aspect of it. I love books where characters from previous stories pop up and readers can check how they’re getting on with their lives (Yes, they have real lives!). For instance, many years ago I read Rivals by Jilly Cooper and fell so in love with Rupert and Taggie’s story that I look for updates about them whenever she brings a new book out. I feel so excited and happy when they actually do pop up that it’s made me want to do that in my own books.
How do you know when your books are finished? Is there ever a temptation to write just one more chapter?
Definitely. I think that’s why I’m writing a sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe! Rachel and Anthony have so much more to give and I don’t want to say goodbye to them yet.
Writing is often said to be a lonely profession. Do you find that? Does it bother you and if so how do you combat it?
It can be, but I have my lovely dog to keep me company, and I share my writing room with a bearded dragon who is very friendly too. I listen to music while I work so it doesn’t get too quiet, and I drop into Twitter and Facebook fairly regularly. Too regularly, to be honest. Also, the children are back from school before I know it.
How hard is it to come up with titles? Do they usually come as you’re writing?
Titles are so, so hard! Anything I come up with is usually changed by my editor anyway, but I trust her to know the market and what works so I’m quite happy to go with whatever she suggests.
How long have you been writing for? Do you do it full time now? If you don’t, how do you make time to write?
As I said before, I used to write a lot when I was a child. It tailed off as I got older and homework and studying took over, but I always had stories in my head and would often daydream about them instead of getting on with what I was supposed to be doing. After doing a degree in English literature and Psychology, I took a job as an editor on a trade journal called Medical Device Technology and really that took care of my urge to write for a long time. Also, I got married, bought a house and started having children, so I felt like I didn’t have the time. But then, in 2004, I lost my sister to cancer and I felt like I needed an outlet for my feelings so writing became a sort of therapy for me. So, for the past thirteen years I’ve been writing properly. In the beginning, when I was still working, I’d write in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, but after having my third child and being made redundant, I decided to stay home with the children and now I am able to write full time. It’s funny because I used to feel guilty about the time I spent writing. I would constantly be thinking ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be doing some housework instead’. So now, as well as being a dream come true, being published has also been quite liberating because now I think ‘Yes! I am doing what I should be doing!’
How do you write your heroes? They all seem so different. Do you have to fall for them a bit too or are you matching them to your heroine? Speaking of which, are any of them based on you?
I think I’m a little bit in love with all of my heroes and I find it helps if I pick an actor or some kind of famous person to gaze at while I’m creating them! This, I find, is a major perk of my job! I suppose they have to match up to the heroines as well as the plot, and I think for the reader to love them they have to be kind and funny, and treat the heroine right. Sam from Marry Me Tomorrow had to be quite rugged because he was a homeless ex-soldier. Daniel was a tree surgeon and also a guitarist in a band, so I wanted him to be quite outdoorsy and confident. And Anthony is basically Tom Hiddleston. There, I said it. Obviously, the reader will create their own impression of what the hero looks like, so I shouldn’t really influence them in anyway, but that is who I based him on. Oooh, imagine if Tom Hiddleston walked into your flower shop?! Swoon! As for my heroines, I suppose all of them will have some aspect of me in them because I wrote them, but at the same time, I’m quite conscious of the fact that I don’t want them to be too much like me either.
I know you’ve just published your latest book but are you already working on something new? If so can you tell us anything about it?
I am frantically writing the sequel to Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, which should be out sometime in the spring.
Any writing tips you can pass on?
My one big tip is to try and join a writing group. It was easier for me because Authonomy was still in existence, so you could put up your manuscript and people would read and critique it. I wrote for years without showing anybody what I wrote, so it was a big boost to my confidence when people read my work and said it was actually okay. Authonomy has shut down now, but I know there are various online writing groups out there. On top of critiquing each other’s work, you get to share tips and information about the industry, and that can be invaluable. And as for the actual writing:
Reading Carla’s answers really put a smile on my face, I hope you enjoyed them too. I know just what she means when she talked about feeling guilty for writing before she was published. I am exactly the same. In fact, I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo at the moment and have been lucky enough to buddy up with an amazing group of women, many of whom have also spoken about similar issues. Does anyone else feel guilty about time they spend writing?
You can discover more about Carla and her wonderful books by following her on Twitter, checking out her website or heading straight for Amazon where you can buy her books, including her latest, which is only 99p at present.
I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you next month.