Review: The Sewing Room Girl.

sbavinIf Susanna Bavin ever needs an alternative career, I think she should consider being a hypnotist. 

I’m sure she must have had some training already because the minute I see one of her books, it’s impossible to look away; anything could be happening around me and I wouldn’t notice. 

Her third book, The Sewing Room Girl, is a powerfully written story, full of twists and turns, heartbreak and smiles, that will stay with me for a long time. 

Here’s the blurb:

Born into service, sixteen-year-old Juliet Harper has always idolised her mother, Agnes. But Agnes is haunted by what could have been, and the glamorous life she might have lived if she stayed in Manchester rather than settling down in the Lancashire moorland with her husband.

Life takes another unexpected turn when Juliet’s father suddenly dies. Agnes’s reputation as a seamstress leads to her being taken on by local landowners the Drysdales, where she is proud to work. But it will be a bumpy road for both of them as they settle in to their new lives.

Will Juliet ever be able to choose her own path? And what will become of them when Agnes falls ill?

Every single character pulls their weight. As usual, Susanna’s villains are enough to make me shiver when I think about them, even now. Also, I think plucky, courageous Juliet might just be my favourite of Susanna’s leading ladies (and I don’t say that lightly). 

The time period (1890s) and location seem meticulously researched. Susanna has the perfect touch when it comes to weaving in interesting little titbits of the time without making it seem like a history lesson. 

Her wonderfully warm writing style lured me deeper and deeper into the tale until I felt like I was there living it with them. 

I pre-ordered this one and I will be doing the same with book four.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £2.48 (via Amazon).

My rating:  Five stars. 

Susanna was one of my first Behind The Book interviewees last year, talking to me just before debut was published. You can read more here.

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A Look Behind The Book With Shari Low.

B8B6C5EE-10D3-4A57-89C1-6D0BFFC3C49BShari Low is a writer who ticks all the boxes for me – as you will know if you’ve read any of my reviews of her books (I used the word ‘perfection’ to describe one).

Her tangled plot lines, authentic characters and wonderful writing style, which is always bursting with heart, has made her a number one best-selling author. The fact that she is also down to earth, friendly and appreciative of her fans, makes me all the more thrilled for her success.

Currently working on book 24 (wow!), Shari has taken time out to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee (and also my last one of 2018).

I had a proper fangirl moment and struggled to narrow down my questions to a number that didn’t rival a book of its own but here’s what she had to say.

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I love your books and always marvel at the planning that must go into them. I assume you have a huge glass wall where you write complex diagrams using different coloured markers. Am I close?

I so wish I were that kind of writer, positively oozing organisation and structure! The truth is, I plan absolutely nothing. Not a thing. I just start with a vague top-line concept, then type and see where it goes. Every single word of it lives in my head – I don’t write anything down, no post-its, no notes. This is why I become completely consumed when I’m working on a novel, because my mind just lives in that world from the moment I start a book until I type ‘The End’, usually about six weeks later.

While you always wanted to write, it wasn’t until you hit 30 that you actually sat down and wrote the opening chapters of what would be your first book. Do you think the life experience beforehand helped you become a better writer? 

Life experience definitely helped me. I didn’t go to uni or study creative writing in any way. Instead, I worked full time from when I was 16 in a multitude of jobs – sales, recruitment, and managing nightclubs in the UK, China and Hong Kong. By the time I finally sat down to fulfil my lifelong ambition of writing a book, I had loads of stories to tell. Twenty years later, I’m still going.

How on earth do you let your characters go? They seem so real – and I’m just a reader – I imagine they are almost like family to you.

I’m completely hopeless at letting them go! That’s why so many of my characters pop up in later books. In my head, my books are a real world, where you bump into people you haven’t seen for a while, or some of the lives overlap in unexpected ways. One character in particular, Josie, an outrageous, frank, and completely hilarious woman of mature years, stormed into that world back in Temptation Street in 2010, and she’s made an appearance in almost every book since then. She’s based on someone I adored, who passed away many years ago, and it’s my way of keeping that person around.

You’ve written under several pseudonyms, including as Shari King, with your childhood friend, Ross King. I guess the last one is obvious but can you talk about your decision to use pen names?

I think it comes down to style and genre. The books I write under my own name are tales of tangled relationships with heaps of humour and heart. Every now and then, I get the urge to write a raunchy, 80s style bonkbuster, so that’s when I slip on a leopard print jacket with huge shoulder pads and break out the pseudonyms.

You published your most recent book, the brilliant Another Day In December, last month. Will there be any more in this series? (Please say yes). How did you spend publication day?

Yes! I’m working on the third book in the Winter Day trilogy right now – it’ll join One Day In December and Another Day In Winter on the shelves in Oct 2019.

On publication day for Another Day In Winter, I worked all day, then all my mates descended at night. There was definitely gin!

 

As well as your many fiction books, you also published a non-fiction book, Because Mummy Said So, based on your popular parenting newspaper column. Would you consider non-fiction again?

Perhaps. For fifteen years I wrote the weekly newspaper column about the ups, downs, hilarity, and mortifying moments of family life. Because Mummy Said So is a collection of my favourite stories of chaos, mayhem and disasters. However we could only fit so many in the book and there are loads we didn’t use so there’s definitely the possibility of another volume. I was a relentlessly embarrassing, imperfect parent!

On the day you found out about your first publishing deal, you also discovered you were pregnant (big day!). I know your boys are older now but can you share any tips for mums and dads for juggling family life with writing time?

I write everywhere and anywhere, no excuses.  I worked on my newspaper columns and features during the day while the kids were at school, so I had to fit my novels in around that. My boys are both basketball players who have trained every night for the past five years, so my last ten books have pretty much been written while sitting in sports centre car parks drinking tea out of a flask and then overnight while they’re asleep. Oh the glamour! I look fairly close to something from a zombie apocalypse by the time I type the last page.

What’s the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The worst is the ‘head on desk, deadline approaching, oh-I’m-rubbish-at-this’panic that hits me several times during the writing of every book. I’m now on number 24 and it still happens!

shari low

Do you have a top writing tip you could share?

I always like to have at least one character that I’m madly in love with – it makes getting to the desk every morning so much easier!

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Thank you so much to Shari for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m completely blown away by the fact that she doesn’t plan. I’m even more in awe of her work now.

If you’d like to find out more about her please visit her website, Facebook page and follow her on Twitter (she’s very friendly). You can also buy her books via Amazon and all good book shops.

What about you? Are you a plotter or a panster? I was a complete panster until my first go at National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) and now I’m a bit of a mix of both.

 

A Look Behind The Book With C G Stewart.

IMG_1261A little panda looking for a big adventure takes centre stage in the first children’s book by C G Stewart.

The father of two wanted to write a tale that his sons would enjoy – and it was after they were tucked up in bed that he got to work on creating Braw.

When Chris got in touch about his story I knew I had to interview him for Behind The Book and luckily he was happy to take part.

As it’s our half-term this week I thought the timing was perfect.

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The Lost Panda is your first book. Can you tell us what it’s about? What age is it for?

It’s a story aimed at 7-11 year old’s and set in an animal world that is unknown to humans. Braw, a little panda, yearns for a life outside the confines of the zoo, however, he is unaware of the potential he possesses and the danger this puts him in. What follows is a tale of adventure and excitement with our little panda getting a lot more than he bargained for, particularly when he falls into the clutches of the evil Mr. Yeung.

What made you want to write it?

My own children love reading and I wanted to write a story that they would enjoy. One that would excite them and take them on an adventure that we could share together. They both really enjoyed The Lost Panda.

You describe yourself as an ‘occasional writer’, would you like it to be more than occasional? What do you do for a day job?

My day job is marketing and I am also opening my new business venture, a children’s play café in the town that I live. I have two kids with a third due in February so I’m kept  pretty busy. I always make time to write though and once everyone is in bed it’s my time to get to work on my next book.

Can we go right back to the beginning? When did your love of writing start? Have you always wanted to write a children’s book?

I was an avid reader as a child and would write short stories to share with my parents but I honestly never seen writing as something I would take up seriously. It was through sharing stories with my kids and revisiting my old favorite’s such as Roald Dahl that got me back into writing and creating The lost Panda.

Who were your favourite authors as a child?

Roald Dahl by a mile. I loved The Twits, The Witches, BFG and Matilda.

Chris_Stewart_5-683x1024When it came to publishing your book, can you talk us through why you decided to go down the route you did? Did you submit to agents/publishers first?

I had initially looked at the ‘traditional’ methods and sent my manuscript off to a few agents and publishers, however, I have never been very patient and the thought of waiting months, potentially to receive a no, didn’t really appeal to me. Amazon publishing was an easy choice for me – quick and easy! I then just had to put my marketing experience to good use.

Did you learn anything from the experience?

Investing in a good editor and cover designer is essential. It’s sometimes hard to see the errors when your immersed in your own story so pay someone with the skills to do it for you. Freelance editors and graphic designers are always looking for new customers. Use an online platform to connect and pay attention to their reviews.

What did you love most about writing your book?

The excitement of the story coming together. I loved the unexpected twists and turns that I hadn’t planned. As clichéd as it sounds, sometimes the story writes itself as the action unfolds.

Any plans for a second children’s book? Or maybe adult fiction? Are you working on anything at the moment?

Yes I’m currently working on a young adult sci-fi novel that should be my next release. It’s a story that has been knocking about in my head for a while that I’m really excited about. I also have a few ideas for some adult fiction which I will start working on at some point. Watch this space!

Can you share a top tip for anyone wanting to write for children?

Tell the story. Don’t try and water it down to the level you think children may be at.

CG Stewart quote

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Thank you to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions. Best wishes for your second book baby and your third actual baby next year. We’ve been reading to Freya since she was tiny (and now she’s starting to read to us) so I’m looking forward to sharing The Lost Panda with her in a few years.

If you’d like to find out more about Chris you can visit his website, follow him on Twitter and Facebook and, of course, buy the book in paperback or on Kindle via Amazon.

Have you ever thought about writing for children? I know it’s much harder than it looks.