Hi Jenni, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?
You are very welcome – it’s lovely to be here. Your virtual sofa is very comfy!
Hmm… how to sum up my book. I guess The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a heart-warming story with a variety of themes. I set out to write a romance but the book became so much more and, in a way, is two love stories; Lucy and George, but also Lucy and Brenda. It was the powerful intergenerational friendship between these two women and how they deal very differently with Brenda’s dementia diagnosis, that became the central theme. For the romance, I was initially inspired by a locket of my mother’s and my working title was Lucy’s Locket until it was picked up by the publisher. This mysterious piece of jewellery leads to lots of mishaps and comedy moments for Lucy but also makes her reassess her romantic options in life. It was a fun book to write.
What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence?
I weave my writing around part-time work, care for my mum and the hectic taxi service I appear to be running for my four teenage sons. My most productive times are during the school day – when the house is silent, and evenings – when it is not. I also work at the weekends when I can. I’ve developed a cunning strategy that involves wearing enormous headphones as a signal that I’m writing. If there is a lot of noise, I play music (I have a playlist of familiar songs so I’m not distracted by them) but I also cheat and pretend I’ve got music on so the boys leave me alone. It’s coffee during the day, and wine or tonic water at night – although the wine is only for weekends. Interestingly, some of the best comedy scenes have been wine-fuelled.
The other thing I do, to combat the isolation and to spur me on, is to meet up with my writing buddy, Clare Marchant, in our “virtual” office. It means we check in throughout the day with wordcounts and this accountability helps us both to focus. I do hate it when she leaves the virtual biscuit tin empty though…
Do you have a certain place you like to write?
I have an office – which is actually a desk in the corridor between the living room and the downstairs loo. I’m lucky to have this permanent space as a lot of writers work on the kitchen table or on their laps. It’s a total mess, like Lucy’s desk, but it’s mine. I have two screens set up (invaluable for editing) so it’s tricky for me to move. Research and planning I can do anywhere.
What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?
Planning – ha ha ha. You are funny. I am such a pantser and every time I begin a new novel I’m determined to plan. My second book for Avon (out next summer) was the first time I’d had to write a synopsis before writing the book and boy was that hard – but I did it. I’d like to get better at planning, but my brain doesn’t work that way and I’m what I like to call “an onion writer” – I write in layers. I get a rough first draft down and then I go over and over and over it, perfecting, editing, adding description etc. until I’m happy. Luckily, I love editing and always see it as an opportunity to make the story even better. Some of my best ideas come right at the end of the process and then I have to go back and weave it all in. I honestly don’t know how people plan.by
I am happy to be welcoming Zoe May to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her novel, When Polly Met Olly.
Polly might spend her days searching for eligible matches for her elite list of clients at her New York dating agency, but her own love life is starting to go up in smoke.
Even worse, she can’t stop thinking about the very person she’s meant to be setting her latest client up with… surely it can’t get any worse!
But then Polly bumps into oh-so-handsome Olly, who heads up a rival agency, and realizes that perhaps all really is fair in love and dating war…
I have reviewed the book below but first, Zoe and HQ have shared an extract today.
***** beginning of extract*****
Surely, I’m not qualified to be a matchmaker?!
You’d think getting a job at a dating agency might actually require you to have found love, or at least be good at dating, but apparently not. I’ve been single for three years and I haven’t had a date for six months, yet I’m pretty sure I’m nailing this interview.
‘So, what kind of message would you send Erica?’ Derek asks, handing me a print-out showing a dating profile of a pretty, tanned brunette. Derek is the boss of To the Moon & Back dating agency, although with his nicotine-stained teeth, lurid purple shirt stretching over his giant pot belly and cramped city office, he’s not exactly what I imagine when I think of Cupid.
What kind of message would I sent Erica? When Derek says ‘you’, he doesn’t mean me, as in Polly Wood. He means me pretending to be 34-year-old bachelor Andy Graham, because that’s what my job as a matchmaker would involve. While Andy, and the rest of the busy singletons on the agency’s books, are out earning the big bucks, too busy to trawl internet dating sites looking for love, I’ll be sitting here with Derek, firing off messages on their behalf in the hope of clinching dates. It’s a little morally questionable I suppose, since the women will be chatting to me beforehand, and will no doubt become enamoured with my witty repartee and effortless charm, but to be honest, I haven’t really given the moral side of it much thought. According to Derek, it’s what all dating agencies do, and anyway, ethics somehow stop being so important when you really need cash.
I try to put myself in the mindset of Andy, while thinking up a message for Erica. I only know about him from reading a form he’s supposedly filled in, which Derek gave me to study five minutes earlier. According to the form, Andy is an ex-army officer turned property surveyor. He grew up in a small town in Ohio where his family still reside. His younger brother, aged 31, has already settled down with a wife and three kids, and reading in between the lines, I get the impression that Andy feels he’s beginning to lag behind. He works long hours, reads Second World War history books in his spare time, enjoys visiting aviation museums and likes to play tennis at the weekends. Oh, and he has a penchant for Thai food.by
A land under occupation. A legendary sword. A young man’s journey to find his destiny.
Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. Unless they can somehow break free . . .
But what lies beyond the prison walls is more terrifying still. Rescued by a man who hates him yet is oath-bound to protect him, pursued by inhuman forces, Aren slowly accepts that everything he knew about his world was a lie. The rules are not there to protect him, or his people, but to enslave them. A revolution is brewing, and Aren is being drawn into it, whether he likes it or not.
The key to the revolution is the Ember Blade. The sword of kings, the Excalibur of his people. Only with the Ember Blade in hand can their people be inspired to rise up . . . but it’s locked in an impenetrable vault in the most heavily guarded fortress in the land.
All they have to do now is steal it . . .
Set in fantasy world with echoes of our own, The Ember Blade is part of the Darkwater Legacy and is one of the most enjoyable pieces of fantasy writing I have had the pleasure to read in some time. The story centres around Aren, a young man living in a country under occupation.
Raised to believe that the occupiers, the Krodans, are superior and that he should emulate them, he is in for a rude awakening when his Father’s past catches up with him.
He finds himself with a band of rebels seeking to regain control of their country’s most sacred relic; The Ember Blade.by
A few minutes of courage might change your life…
Emotionally, Tara Porter finds the festive period a challenge. Christmas Day is a reminder of the family she lost, and New Year’s Eve holds bitter memories of the biggest mistake of her life: marrying Garth Tewkesbury. Shunning invitations to celebrate, she seeks refuge in her flat with only her giant house bunny, Hercules, for company.
Professionally, though, it’s the best time of year. Tara’s thriving café, The Chocolate Pot, is always packed. With the café hosting a wedding and engagement party, it’s shaping up to be the café’s best Christmas ever.
When former nemesis, Jed Ferguson, threatens the future of The Chocolate Pot, Tara prepares for a fight. The café is everything to her and she’s not going to let anyone or anything jeopardise that.
Tara badly misjudged ex-husband Garth and, since then, has refused to let anyone in. After all, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. But has she misjudged Jed too? Is it possible that he’s not the arrogant, deceitful man from whom she bought the café 14 years earlier? Can she find the courage to find out for sure?
Tara runs a successful café and has done for the last fourteen years. However, she lives quite an isolated existence preferring to spend time alone with her house bunny, Hercules rather than socialising. She also has a complicated history surrounding her family and secrets she has preferred to keep hidden from people, even those she would call her friends.
These past events have caused her to be guarded but can she find the courage she needs to move on?
First… oh my, this book cover. I am totally in love. Immediately, before I’ve even started to read, I am in this Yorkshire town surrounded by snow and Christmas. With my husband being from Yorkshire, it brings back some lovely memories.
Tara is a wonderfully complex main character but she felt very real to me. I found her extremely relatable.by
It is Christmas time, and the school has been getting ready to perform their Nativity play.
With lines learnt and songs to be sung, it is time for the dress rehearsal. The teacher knows there might be a few problems to sort out, but at least they will know what to improve on or change along the way.
The Christmas Play Rehearsal is a picture book that focuses on a class of primary School children as they prepare for their Christmas Nativity play.
This book brought back so many memories of the Nativity plays I took part in when I was in first school. (I love this time of year. I was an angel.)
Sue has captured the process perfectly – how the prep and build up can be challenging but just as much fun as the main event.
This story is so much fun and I think it is a perfect book to share with your child whether they are currently taking part in a nativity or not.
It’s also good for little ones too I think as the illustrations are very colourful and beautiful. They capture the fun element perfectly.by
It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual.
Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming.
Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future.
One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4.
First thing I want to mention is the amazing cover on this novel. At first glance, it seems simple and beautiful but there are so many layers to it. Look at it long enough and you’ll see what I mean.
One? primarily follows Penelope and Zara as they navigate themselves through 90’s London joined by a few people along the way.
The characters have unique voices. All have their own personal goals, triumphs and struggles. They are all developed well as is the plot. I was desperate to know what would become of them all.
I could identify so much with these two ladies especially. I found myself moving to London in my early twenties having never been away from home before so Zara’s feeling seemed partially familiar. The overwhelming feeling of being alone in a big city.by
When her stepmother dies unexpectedly, Caro returns to her childhood home in Derbyshire. She hadn’t seen Elizabeth in years, but the remote farmhouse offers refuge from a bad relationship, and a chance to start again.
But going through Elizabeth’s belongings unearths memories Caro would rather stay buried. In particular, the story her stepmother would tell her, about two little girls and the terrible thing they do.
As heavy snow traps Caro in the village, where her neighbours stare and whisper, Caro is forced to question why Elizabeth hated her so much, and what she was hiding. But does she really want to uncover the truth?
Caro has spent most of her adult life trying to escape her childhood and her step mother.
When a death brings her back to the house that holds so many unhappy memories, she begrudgingly comes back.
The welcome she gets from most of the village isn’t warm. There is something that every one is holding back. Things at the house are even stranger.
Cuckoo is the kind of thriller I love! I devoured it quickly wanting to know what happens.
The pace and style of writing is great. There is a gothic theme to it. The atmosphere that is created is wonderful.
I ended up second guessing myself a lot. I thought I had it sussed but then something would happen and I’d quickly settle on something else. It wouldn’t be long until that changed again. It seriously kept my interest all the way through.
At the beginning, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t figure out if it was the house, the village and its inhabitants, the house or the nature of the death of her step mother. Nothing is as it seems.by
Engella Rhys is alone, adrift and on the run. Pursued by a secret agency, known only as the Hunters, she must stay ahead to stay alive.
As she travels through space-time using dangerously experimental technology, she only has one wish: to be reunited with her lost parents. After a close shave with a Hunter on the streets of New Shanghai, Engella escapes to find herself on a deserted beach. When she meets a kind stranger, who offers her food and shelter, Engella feels safe and protected for the first time in years.
But who is this woman? And why did their paths cross at the most convenient of times?
Engella soon discovers their lives are intertwined in more ways than she could ever imagine.
The cover of this novel is so beautiful and I love the title.
Engella has been running from the hunters for so long, she’s started to lose track of time.
She knows she can’t hide forever. Just when she thinks she’s been caught, she gets help from an unexpected source.
This is the first book in the Chronicles of Engella Rhys series. As it is the first one, there is a lot of scene setting as well as world and character building. However, I didn’t feel like this slowed the pace of the plot down. From the beginning, I was obsessed with reading this novel.
Engella is many things. She’s mysterious, fierce, vulnerable and strong. There is more to her than we see I am sure. All of the characters seem strong actually.
I very much got immersed into this world of time travel, sci-fi and mystery.by
You hate school. Your family is beyond annoying. Your only friend comes from a different planet, and she’s about to leave.
What’s a girl to do?
Fed up with life on Earth, Esme stows away on the spaceship taking Stella back to Planet Kratos.
So begins Esme’s adventure into a world beyond the stars. A world of strange creatures, thrilling journeys, heroic rescues and instant fame.
Oh, and school. Lots of school.
Along the way she discovers that friends may be greener on the other side, but they still can’t be trusted.
Millions and billions of light years away from Earth, she sets in motion a plan to escape. Unfortunately for her, they aren’t about to let their prize exhibit leave anytime soon…
Esme doesn’t feel like she belongs either at home with her family or at school. Her only friend, Stella comes from another planet and she is about to leave.
So Esme finds herself stowing away on a spaceship back to Stella’s home planet and is not quite prepared for what awaits her.
This book is a series of letters from the main character to her mother back on earth (they have some brilliant sign offs.)
This book is marketed for the younger reader. I am in my thirties and I loved it. I feel as though it is a story for all ages.by
Charlie hates the holidays, and this year is shaping up to be her worst yuletide ever.
Her boyfriend has left her for his personal trainer, her flat is out of bounds after a gas leak, and her mother has gone to spend Christmas in Melbourne with her fifth husband.
Finding herself single, mildly concussed and temporarily homeless, Charlie hesitantly agrees to dust off her wellies and spend the festive season in Devon, looking after Cosy Canine Cottages, her cousin Jez’s dog-care centre.
However, her plans for a quiet rural Christmas with only the four-legged friends for company are dashed as soon as she meets Malcolm the deaf Great Dane, Hugo, his gorgeous (but engaged) owner, and Cal, the undeniably attractive but unbearably haughty and patronising local vet.
I am very happy to be kicking off the blog tour for Not Just For Christmas, the new novel by Natalie Cox which is due to be released in paperback on 29th November by Orion.
Not Just For Christmas focuses on Charlie. Having just become single, she then has to move out of her flat when it gets damaged in a gas leak. Her mother is in Melbourne, her father in Russia, Charlie has no choice but to go and spend Christmas in Devon with her cousin, Jez. She soon finds herself alone though running Cosy Canine Cottages.
The setting for this novel drew me in to begin with. I love to visit Devon and this brought back memories of lovely holidays I have spent there and the friendliness of the residents.by
Would you swap sea and sunshine for tinsel and turkey?
Gabby Sanderson is used to being let down – even at Christmas. Which is why she’s happy to skip the festive season completely in favour of a plane ticket and sunnier climes.
But this Christmas could be different, because this time she might not be spending it alone. Can Owen Cooper charm Gabby into loving Christmas in the same way he’s charmed his way into her life, or is he just another person who’ll end up disappointing her?
This book is part of the Christmas Wishes series but it is also perfect as a standalone.
Gabby is used to being disappointed and let down so she has built up a few walls around her. Instead of celebrating the season, she goes as far away as she can from the festivity. I empathise with her.
Gabby is an interesting character. She has a confidence to her but she’s also vulnerable when you dig deep enough. I wanted it to work out. Whether it’s with Owen or not, I am not going to tell. I actually warmed to Gabby a lot quicker than I did to Owen. I could tell that there were reasons she was so guarded and the more you get to know what happened to her, the more I just wanted to reach in and give her a hug.by
It’s Friday and we have a treat today. A lovely big hello to Nicola Avery and the blog tour for her new novel, Within The Silence.
Jon Stone is a revered psychiatrist, doting husband, loving father. But he has many secrets.
Maddy Stone, Jon’s daughter, has her own secrets. But she can’t tell anyone.
Zara, Maddy’s stepsister and best friend, faces a race against time. Can she unearth the family’s dark secrets before a tragic history repeats itself?
Two girls: one living and lost, the other scarred and silent, must join forces to prevent the unspeakable…
I have reviewed the book below but first, Nicola has shared an extract.
***** start of extract*****
‘You’ve been swimming already!’ Pippa scolded.
‘Less of the attitude, missy,’ said Zara, unwrapping her towel just enough to envelop her wriggling, laughing sister.
‘Can we go swimming now?’ Pippa asked, her smiling face lifted towards her sister’s.
‘You can come in with me in a minute,’ answered Zara, acknowledging Jon’s presence on the pool terrace.
‘Morning, Zara,’ Jon said, moving towards her and kissing her on the cheek. ‘Did you sleep well? And where’s Gareth?’
Zara smiled. ‘Last time I looked he was flat on his back, catching flies and snoring loudly.’
‘Some of us don’t have such luck, do we?’ said Jon, pointedly looking at Pippa, who bounced off across the grass towards the pathway leading down to the beach.
‘Have you seen Maddy?’ called Pippa, looking out at the Phoenix.
‘No, I haven’t seen her yet,’ replied Zara, watching Pippa’s shoulders drop in disappointment. ‘Are you sure she’s not still asleep?’
‘Nope,’ said Pippa, returning to the patio. ‘Her bed’s made up, so she must be down on the beach or on her boat. Can I go down and get her? We’re going out to the secret beach today, and she’ll need a good breakfast. And I want to check if my stuff’s already on board.’
Zara laughed as she attempted to hold onto her excited sister. ‘Wait a moment, sweetie, you can’t go down in your PJs.’
‘Oh!’ Pippa exclaimed, laughing as she peeled off her favourite Frozen pyjamas and tossed them under the table before running to get her tiny red swimsuit which was hanging by the showers. ‘I forgot. Nearly ready,’ she shouted, wriggling into the tight costume.
‘Here, let me help you,’ Jon offered, moving towards her.
‘No thank you, Daddy. I can do it myself,’ she answered.
Zara smiled at her sister’s feisty independence – and the fact that her bathing costume straps were all twisted around one armpit. Quickly readjusting the tiny costume, Zara grinned. ‘Why don’t we leave Maddy for a bit? She could be sleeping on the beach; you know how she loves the early mornings down there. She’ll come up when she’s ready.’
‘But it’s late. We’ve got lots to do today. She told me. And I need to make sure she hasn’t forgotten our plans.’
Zara dropped to one knee, pulling Pippa towards her and kissing her on the nose. ‘It’s still early, especially after a party. I’m sure she hasn’t forgotten.’
Pippa moved away from Zara, standing perfectly still as she stared longingly out to sea. Then, turning back towards her sister, she tried again.
‘Please come with me, Zara. I can’t go down there on my own. You know Daddy’s rules …’ Pippa tilted her head in her father’s direction, then gave Zara one of her lopsided grins.by
A second chance at love…
When globe-trotting Emmy first fell for first-aider William on a freezing New Year’s Eve, she really believed that their love would go the distance.
But when she returns to Australia, her letters start to go unanswered and her emails bounce back unread, Emmy decides it’s time to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and start afresh in London.
So she’s shocked when William walks in on her very first day at her new job! Even worse, he’s hotter than ever. But why did he disappear for so long? What has he been hiding? And could this really be their second chance at falling in love…?
Emmy first meets William on New Years Eve. Even though she has to return home to Australia, she thinks what she and William have will go the distance even with the miles between them.
However, her letters and e-mails suddenly start going unanswered. Just like that, William is gone. Emmy is heartbroken.
She tries to start afresh in London. She’s succeeding until her path once again crosses with William.
Could this be their second chance at happiness?
I loved this book from beginning to end. I knew it was going to give me warm fuzzy feelings but also break my heart in places too.
I immediately fell in love with Emmy and William. They are both very likeable and their relationship feels realistic (even if it does move quite fast.)
The scene that is set with Edinburgh and London is incredible and pulled me into the story and it really sets the tone nicely for the whole novel.
When these two main characters lose touch, I felt as heartbroken as Emmy did. I did wonder if things were not as they seemed. That’s all I am going to say. I don’t want to give away the plot and events of the book too much as that would spoil it obviously.by
A big lovely hello to Kate Rigby and the blog tour for her novel, Thalidomide Kid.
Daryl Wainwright is the quirky youngest child of a large family of petty thieves and criminals who calls himself ‘Thalidomide Kid’.
Celia Burkett is the new girl at the local primary school, and the daughter of the deputy head at the local comprehensive where she is bound the following September. With few friends, Celia soon becomes fascinated by ‘the boy with no arms’.
The story of a blossoming romance and sexual awakening between a lonely girl and a disabled boy, and their struggle against adversity and prejudice as they pass from primary to secondary school in 1970s Cirencester. The story deals with themes and issues that are timeless.
Kate has shared an extract today. In this excerpt, the headmistress Miss Bond reveals to Celia’s family that Celia has been seen skiving lessons school with Daryl.
****** start of extract******
When they got to the pudding – fruit salad with lychees, continuing the Chinese theme – Celia fought back tears as she racked her brain.
Her dad spoke first. “Was that you, Celia?”
“Was that me what?”
“What Barbara was just saying?”
Celia looked blank, whereupon Miss Bond repeated her question with due emphasis. “I thought I saw you yesterday, Celia, walking down the Tetbury Road during school hours with the young Wainwright boy.”
Shit bricks! Miss Bond had seen them.
“I wasn’t feeling well.” She said the first thing that came into her head. “I … had … I had a stomach ache. Daryl said he’d walk with me as far as town and I had to sit down so we went to a coffee bar. I needed to drink something.”
Her father had a look of restrained incredulity. “You didn’t tell your teacher or think of reporting to the sick bay?”
She had no answer to this but to say: “I didn’t think. I just wanted to go home.”
“That doesn’t explain why the Wainwright boy wasn’t attending his lesson,” Dad said.
“A case of skivitis, I suspect,” said Miss Bond. “Though he shouldn’t really be treated any differently from anyone else who breaks school rules. That won’t do him any good at all.”
Celia wished they’d stop calling him the Wainwright boy. She wished they’d give him a chance instead of thinking the worst of him all the time, but the matter didn’t rest there. After Miss Bond had thanked them for a lovely evening and driven off in her Rover, her father’s smile evaporated, his face clouding over all serious.
“I mean, how d’you think it made me look,” he said, “hearing it second-hand from Barbara that my own daughter was absent from class?”
“It’s not fair. Other people don’t have to have the head telling their dads things. It’s like being spied on, isn’t it, Abby?”
But Abby was keeping out of it, collecting up the best glasses for Dad to wash, the best glasses being Dad’s department.
“Well, I want you to go upstairs immediately and write two letters of apology; firstly to the teacher whose class you missed and secondly to Barbara. Do I make myself clear?”
Mum started drying the glasses, dripping soap suds on the draining board as she picked them up. Then she said: “What were you doing with that boy anyway, Celia? We’d rather you didn’t keep that sort of company.”by
I am loving all the Christmas stories being released and I’m very excited to be part of the blog tour for Christmas Spirit, the novella from Nicola May.
It’s two days before Christmas – and Evie Harris finds herself both manless and jobless. After a chance encounter with handsome Greg (and egged on by her toy-boy-eating friend, Bea) she agrees to work at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day.
Striking up an unlikely friendship with homeless Yves, Evie begins an unwitting journey of spiritual awakening, all set against the sparkling winter backdrop of London landmarks.
A New Year’s Eve revelation is on its way . . . but will it leave Evie with a happy heart, or will she allow the pre-Christmas past to dictate her future?
Two days before Christmas, Evie has found herself without a job and without her boyfriend.
By chance, she meets Greg and ends up volunteering at a homeless shelter on Christmas Day.
This is also where she meets the mysterious Yves.
Evie embarks on a spiritual journey she doesn’t expect but could be the start of better things.
Oh my! This book.
From beginning to end this novella had me hooked. I don’t have anything bad to say about it. It’s not a long book but I devoured it very quickly because I did not want to stop reading.
Evie has many things happen to her. Still reeling from one thing something else quickly comes along. We’ve all had experience of that at one time or another.
Greg is a smashing love interest and the mysterious Yves adds some additional magic to this festive plot. Who is he? Where has he come from?