Book Review: Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At The Christmas Fair.

SleighridesIf you haven’t read any of Heidi Swain’s books before, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At The Christmas Fair is the perfect place to start but if you’re already a fan, I predict it will quickly become your new favourite.

As I was reading, it reminded me of something but for ages I couldn’t quite put my finger on what that was – and then it came to me, Jane Eyre.

Not so much the plot – although there are some similarities. Thankfully there’s no Bertha Mason in the attic, although there is something surprising up there, but the two main characters do come of age in one way and the heroine, Anna, is all on her own.

However, it was more Anna’s voice. She seems quite uptight and authoritative but underneath there’s a layer of vulnerability that I instantly warmed to.

Here’s the blurb:

When Anna takes on the role of companion to the owner of Wynthorpe Hall, on the outskirts of Wynbridge, she has no idea that her life is set to change beyond all recognition.

A confirmed ‘bah humbug’ when it comes to Christmas, Anna is amazed to find herself quickly immersed in the eccentric household, and when youngest son Jamie unexpectedly arrives home it soon becomes obvious that her personal feelings are going all out to compromise her professional persona.

Jamie, struggling to come to terms with life back in the Fens, makes a pact with Anna – she has to teach him to fall back in love with Wynthorpe Hall, while he helps her fall back in love with Christmas. But will it all prove too much for Anna, or can the family of Wynthorpe Hall warm her heart once and for all…?

It’s lovely to see the relationship between Anna and the hero, Jamie, unfold. Their chemistry is evident from the start but there are all sorts of things that stand in the way, not least that he is her employers’ son and she has a rule about mixing business with pleasure.

The supporting cast are fabulous and only added to my enjoyment. I loved learning the back stories of various family/employees as well as the healing magic that seems to happen at the hall.

The fictional town of Wynbridge is the backbone of Heidi’s books and while Wynthorpe Hall is out in the sticks, Anna makes multiple visits and it seems especially lovely at Christmas time (some of the stars of previous books also make welcome cameos). She even takes a trip into Norwich and, maybe it’s because I’m a local, but it made me smile to read about a place I had visited earlier in the day.

In fact, the only bad thing about this book is that I raced through it and it was over too quickly.

More please!

Format: Kindle.

Price: 99p:

My rating: Five stars.

If you’re interested, you can find out more about Heidi from my Behind The Book interview here.

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Book Review: Charlee And The Chocolate Shop.

Charlee“Why has that shop got its Christmas tree up when its barely October?” I raged to Mark last week.

That was before I read Jessica Redland’s new festive treat (one of two she has released this month!), Charlee And The Chocolate Shop.

Afterwards, I was tempted to head into the loft and get all our decorations down. The only thing stopping me was the thought of (continuously) explaining to Freya that we still have MONTHS until the Big Day.

This book is full of Christmas magic, though, and you’d have to be pretty hardhearted not to be moved by it.

I’m a big fan of Jessica’s work and, as always, it’s beautifully written with a natural warmth and good humour that just seems part of her style.

Her heroine, Charlee, is both strong and at times vulnerable while her hero, Matt, is absolutely perfect – apart from having a fiancee, of course. Oh wait, you didn’t know that last bit.

Here’s the blurb:

Master chocolatier, Charlee Chambers, has plenty to be excited about as Christmas approaches. She’s moved in with her boyfriend, Darren, and she’s about to open a chocolate shop, following in her late granddad’s footsteps. If only Darren would show more interest in helping her refurbish Charlee’s Chocolates ready for a December opening.

When water starts pouring through the shop ceiling, and Darren can’t be contacted to help, emergency plumber Matt comes to the rescue. From that moment on, Matt does more to support Charlee in achieving her dreams than Darren ever has, and she finds herself drawn to him. But Matt’s engaged and Charlee loves Darren … doesn’t she? And Darren loves her … or at least, she thinks he does, but he’s been behaving a little strangely recently.

Then Charlee discovers that Darren has a secret. But so does Matt. And so, it seems, does the woman who abandoned her at birth …

Not only are her main characters always really well developed but the supporting cast also add colour and excitement. If you’ve read any of her other books you’ll be pleased to see some familiar faces pop up.

There are some wonderful, really did not see that coming, surprises in this book, which must have taken a lot of planning but it all comes together like a perfect jigsaw.

There are also some truly gorgeous scenes, including one involving a Christmas light switch on (I won’t spoil anything) that had me swooning. Her fictional creation of Whitsborough Bay sounds like a fabulous place to live at any time of year but at Christmas it truly transforms into a winter wonderland.

A warning though; I wanted to eat a bit of chocolate – specifically Christmas chocolate – approximately every other page. If you have no will power, like me, I’d stock up before you start so you don’t have to interrupt the story to pop to the shops.

Format: Kindle.

Price: 99p.

My rating: Five stars.

I was lucky enough to interview Jessica for my Behind The Book series, which you can read here. Don’t forget to check out her other new book, Christmas At Carly’s Cupcakes, which I have waiting for me next.

 

A Look Behind The Book With Jan Baynham.

jan baynhamWhile currently searching for a home for her debut novel, Jan Baynham is already hard at work on her second.

It could be that she’s making up for lost time – having only really been bitten by the writing bug since she retired.

I was so inspired by Jan’s story that, while I normally feature authors who are either about to be published or already in print in my Behind The Book series, quizzing Jan about her experiences seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

Here’s what she had to say.

Can we start by talking about how you got into writing? Has it always been a passion? When did you start to write for publication?

I’m always full of admiration for people who are so passionate about writing that they have always written and found time to write while working full time. My writing journey has not been like that. Other peoples’ writing has always been a passion for me, in that I’ve loved reading from as long as I can remember. As a teacher, it was teaching pupils to write stories and poetry that gave me the most pleasure. Often, I modelled the writing and you could say that was when I first began to write stories. This continued when, at the end of my career, as a teacher adviser for English, I trained other teachers in the art of teaching writing.

When I retired, I joined a local writing group and began writing short stories. I was hooked. Very soon, I took a Telling Tales short story course at the university, followed by one on novel writing. The tutor for both the courses was a published author and it was after these that I began to submit my writing for publication.

I know you write novels, short stories AND flash fiction (I think you have also written some non-creative work for teachers, too). Do you have a favourite? How difficult is it to switch between them?

I think my choice of favourite has changed over the time I’ve been writing. At first, I loved the fact that in a short story you can complete a story in relatively few words and feel the satisfaction of having achieved something. However, my stories tended to be becoming longer and longer and I often found it difficult to keep to the word counts specified by a competition, for example. Certainly, after the novel writing course, I began to think that maybe I could attempt something more involved. I’d have the opportunity to write a more intricate plot and develop more characters to interact with one another. My tutor, Lynne Barrett-Lee, instilled that confidence in all of us. So, now, I think my favourite has to be the novel. I love getting immersed in the story and thinking about my characters all the time. However, in between writing and editing, I still like the freshness of writing shorts, especially flash fiction,

You are currently looking for a home for your debut novel. Can you tell us about it? How long did it take to write?

My debut novel is entitled A Mother’s Secret and took me a number of years and several drafts to write. It had a major re-vamp after an editor I met at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference in 2016 kindly sent me some suggestions for tightening the structure. It is a dual narrative family saga set in rural Radnorshire in 1946 and 1965. The novel follows three generations of Jenkins women, who are part of a family torn apart by secrets of Black Market dealing, forbidden love, illegitimacy and prejudice. When one of those secrets is exposed, Angela Jenkins’s life is thrown into turmoil. A year long journey to find her true identity takes her to Sicily and an Italian family she didn’t know existed. Only when she knows who she really is can she move on with her life. I hope the novel is a reflection of the social history of both eras and explores the role of women for whom the conventions of the times meant family secrets were deeply buried for fear of disgrace.

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Are you able to talk about the experience of submitting it? Do you try and find a publisher who you think fits? Have you considered self-publishing?

I’m in the process of submitting directly to publishers who are looking for family sagas and to agents, especially those who are looking to build their list of authors or are open to new writers. I haven’t considered self-publishing because I don’t think I have the confidence to be in charge of every stage of the process. With a very limited experience of working with an editor or a critique partner, I don’t know if I could make all the critical edits myself. I know there are people that you could get to do that with you and I very much admire those writers who do self-publish successfully.

I submitted one of my stories for publication, it was rejected and it felt like someone had trampled on my dream. I was a proper drama queen about it. Have you experienced rejection and, if so, how do you handle it?

Yes, I have experienced rejection many times and you never get used to it, do you? However, last week, I received what I like to call a ‘positive rejection’. Last month, I took part in a Twitter pitch where writers were invited to pitch their novels in 140 characters. Along with novel number two, both pitches were ‘liked’ by the publisher and I was invited to submit the first three chapters and the synopsis of each. Novel two didn’t get any further but the publishers then asked for the whole manuscript of The Mother’s Secret. I was delighted!

When the rejection came, the email contained a number of very positive comments – they liked the dual-narrative structure, the strong characterisation, the way the women’s experiences differ so markedly makes their linked tales all the more gripping for readers with a suggestion of how it could be improved further. The novel’s complete manuscript is currently with two other publishers so I’ll have to see what they say.

What about that all-important synopsis? I’ve read so many “how to” posts and they all seem to say different things about length, style and detail. How did you decide what to do?

I find writing synopses hard. I follow the synopsis guidelines for each submission as what each publisher or agent asks for may be different. Generally, getting the synopsis down to one side of A4, single spaced, is what I aim for.

You joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme in 2016, how useful has that been? What do you get out of it?

I’d heard from various writing friends what a wonderful scheme this is and I’m now in my second year. My first critique of the completed draft of The Mother’s Secret was very detailed and helpful, and I was able to undertake a full edit with the readers’ points in mind. This year, I was only in a position to submit a partial manuscript of my second novel, Whispering Olive Trees, (46,000 words) but I added a detailed outline of the second half. I have recently received a very positive and encouraging critique from my reader. The main advice is obviously to finish the novel but she has given many helpful suggestions and ways forward when I come to the editing stage. So a big thank you to her.

What about social media? I know you’re connected to other writers. How important has that been to your personal journey?

Social media has played a vital part in my writing journey. It’s through FaceBook and Twitter that I’ve ‘met’ other writers who have been such a support to me. Several of these I have now met in person, too. I’m thinking especially of Susanna Bavin, Susan Jones, Judith Barrow, Carol Lovekin and Wendy White. I started a Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page to keep anything ‘writerly’ away from my personal FB page and my Twitter following has increased considerably since it started, too. I also run a blog about my writing journey and although the comments are often from a very loyal band of writer friends who regularly comment, I’m amazed to see how many people read the blog from all corners of the world. Just as I appreciate their support, I try to reciprocate when other writer friends have some exciting news to share by tweeting, re-tweeting and inviting them onto my blog.

Lastly, do you have any tips for writers?

Just to keep going. Enjoy your writing and keep writing. I also recommend finding a writing group or, as we did, forming your own. I love meeting up with a few writing friends and we’ve become very close. After every meeting, we all go home enthused, ready to get writing again.

Jan quote

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Thank you very much to Jan for answering my questions. I love how she is inspired by her friends’ successes. I’m the same. I have everything crossed that soon we will be raising a glass to Jan. A Mother’s Secret sounds like a gripping story to me.

You can find out more about her writing by visiting her Facebook page, following her on Twitter or reading her blog.

Thank you also to the wonderful Susanna Bavin, author of The Deserter’s Daughter, which is getting glowing reviews, for introducing us.

Next up I will be chatting to Isabella Davidson about her novel, The Beta Mum: Adventures in Alpha Land.

And, just in case you’ve missed any, you can find all my previous Behind The Book posts here.