The brilliant Jon Rance is back with his new novel, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide (perfectly timed for the approaching summer holidays.)
Two parents. Three children. One senile grandad. Six weeks. How bad could it possibly be?
For teacher, Ben Robinson, the school summer holidays mean one thing – spending six weeks with his kids. This year, however, he also has his father and one very angry wife to contend with. The name of the game is simple: survive.
Ben embarks on a summer of self-discovery that includes, amongst other things, becoming besotted by a beautiful Australian backpacker, an accidental Brexit march and a road rage attack. There’s also the matter of saving his marriage, which is proving harder than he imagined, mainly due to an unfortunate pyramid scheme and one quite large bottom.
But when Ben learns his father has a secret, it takes the whole family on a trip to Scotland that will make or break their summer – and perhaps Ben’s life.
On the last day of his blog tour, Jon has joined me today to talk about his evolution as a writer. Welcome Jon. Over to you.
Hello! A huge thank you to Novel Kicks for having me on their blog. It’s exciting to be here! So, my new book, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is out and just 99p for a limited time! Today, the last stop on my blog tour, I’m going to be talking about my evolution as a writer. Let’s get started!
For those of you who don’t know me, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is my seventh novel. It all started way back in the heady days of 2011! We had our daughter in 2009 and our son was on the way, and I was a stay-at-home dad. I chose to be a stay-at-home father so I could write. I’d written a couple of unpublished novels, but then I suddenly got my big break. My self-published novel, The Thirtysomething Life, unexpectedly shot up the charts and broke into the Kindle top ten. I was as shocked as anyone. On the back of that success, I got a two-book publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton and then an agent. My novels are usually comedies that deal with issues like marriage, family, parenting, falling in love, growing up or as it says on my website – author of contemporary novels about life, love, and all the icky bits in-between. I think, to be fair, it’s usually the icky bits in-between I’m most interested in.
So, now you know a bit about me, let’s talk evolution. My first novel, This Thirtysomething Life, was a diary about one man, Harry Spencer, early thirties, trying to get through the pregnancy and birth of his first child. My latest book, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is the diary of one man, Ben Robinson, 44, trying to get through the summer holidays with his family. Evolution? Well, yes. I wrote my new book because I realised last summer, as I was on a six-week holiday with my own family through England and Scotland, how far we’ve all come and how much has changed. I wrote, The Summer Holiday Survival Guide, as an update on my first book. It’s what happens down the line when the kids are older, the parents are older, and all the complications that come with that. It was as much a reflection on my own life as anything else.by
A big lovely hug and a warm hello to Bella Osborne who is back on Novel Kicks today with the blog tour for her latest instalment of the Ottercombe Bay series, Raising the Bar.
Escape to the Devon coast, with Part Three of a brand-new four-part serial from the author of Willow Cottage.
Daisy Wickens has returned to Ottercombe Bay, the picturesque Devon town where her mother died when she was a girl. She plans to leave as soon as her great uncle’s funeral is over, but Great Uncle Reg had other ideas. He’s left Daisy a significant inheritance – an old building in a state of disrepair, which could offer exciting possibilities, but to get it she must stay in Ottercombe Bay for twelve whole months.
With the help of a cast of quirky locals, a few gin cocktails and a black pug with plenty of attitude, Daisy might just turn this into something special. But can she ever hope to be happy among the ghosts of her past?
Bella is chatting today about using Pinterest for research when starting a novel. Over to you, Bella.
Thanks for having me on the blog today. I’m a project manager by profession so I’m a big planner when it comes to pretty much everything I do, so it’s no surprise that I plan my writing. I love the planning stage when a new idea pops up and characters start to form in my mind. I spend quite a long time with them working out who they are, their life history, what their drivers are and what makes them tick. While I’m in the early stages (before I get out the post it notes) I set up a board on Pinterest and start pinning things on it. Not everything will stay but as a visual person it really helps to see pictures of things to help bring them to life.
While I was planning Ottercombe Bay I set up a board on Pinterest, here’s the link – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/bellaosborne9/ottercombe-bay/
I like to picture my main characters and Marlon Teixeira is a model that captures the look of Max perfectly. I struggled more with Daisy. There are a few pictures of Shakira because her hair is similar to Daisy’s but otherwise she’s quite different to Shakira. I am a Rufus Sewell fan so it was no surprise that an image of him popped up when I conjured up the character of Pasco, Max’s dad. But it was very much the rough around the edges, lovable rogue look that Rufus does rather than the neat and well turned out version. I love looking at the pictures of Marlon and Rufus next to each other – I can definitely see a similarity or perhaps I see the Max and Pasco connection that I want to be there?by
The blog tour train is here. Today, Claudia Carroll joins me to talk about her process when writing a new book. Her latest novel, Our Little Secret was released by Avon on 8th February.
Over to you, Claudia.
Before starting any new book, I’d write out a pitch for it first, just a page or so, nice and short. Then I send it to my agent and editor and see what they think. If I get the thumbs up from them, one of my little tips is to write it out as a short story first, nothing that’ll ever see the light of day, it’s just an exercise for me really, to see if the story idea has legs. Sometimes, I’ll start the short story and the fizz will run out of it, in which case I know that it’s back to the drawing board for me. But if the short story leaves me feeling there’s so much more I want to write, but don’t have room for, then I know I’m onto something.
When it comes to plot, I’m a planner and I think every author is, really. I always think that starting off a novel without a plan is like getting into a car without knowing where you’re going…you’ll just end up driving round in circles.
Once my editor, agent and I have agreed on a pitch, then I do a skeleton outline of any new story before I’d even sit down to write a line. It makes life so much easier later on, on the days when I find I’m a bit stuck. It takes me quite a long time to get to really know my characters, so I’d begin by writing out a rough biography for everyone of them, to try to make them as three dimensional as possible, it helps me hugely.
A reader will quickly lose interest if they just don’t like the hero or heroine. You really have to try to layer them carefully so that they really jump off the page. Remember at the start of a new book, you’re asking a reader to go on a 400 page journey with your characters, and particularly your leading lady, so it’s vital to get character right early on.by
Hi Tessa, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us a little about your new book, Higher Ed and what inspired the novel?
The novel was inspired by teaching in higher education and by current issues of austerity and funding cuts in the public sector. I wanted to examine how in difficult financial times people cope and how these issues affect relationships. I also wanted to see if I could write a novel the way a filmmaker makes a film, by editing elements together that exist separately, outside of the ‘frame’ of one another. So I wrote each character’s story separately and then interwove them in the editing process.
How much planning did you do before beginning Higher Ed? What elements needed to be in place before you started?
I planned to write 4 different strands of the story and then weave them together. I added the fifth strand because it seemed like the right balance, the right number of voices. I saw the whole thing as a hand, with the five fingers contributing to the whole picture of how we work together.
Your book features five people who live in London. What challenges did you face writing from five peoples point of view?
I loved the challenge of writing from five points of view. In each one I had a special relationship with character and voice. The challenge was to make them sound distinct.by
Can you tell us about your book, a Cinderella Christmas.
It’s a festive, fun read about a girl called Lucy, who gets the worst job in the Christmas panto. Assigned to being the back end of the comedy cow, she also has to contend with the fact that Ryan Aspall, her superstar heartthrob of a crush, is also starring in the show. Lucy tends to lose the ability to speak when Ryan’s around, which is a little irritating when she’d quite like the confidence to flirt. Then there’s diva Charmaine to contend with, the reality TV star playing Cinderella. Lucy is massively star struck by Charmaine, but Charmaine has a few secrets to hide and things aren’t quite as they seem. Lucy needs to up her confidence to improve her love life and career, but things keep going horribly wrong for the poor girl. There’s a lovely ending though, promise!
Is there a character from fiction you’d like to meet?
Great question! I’d like to meet Continue readingby
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.
Penguin, August 2013.
The Husband’s Secret firstly focuses on Cecelia who seems to have it all – a wonderful husband and perfect children. However, when she finds a sealed envelope addressed to her, in her husband’s handwriting saying ‘To my wife. To be opened in the event of my death,’ hidden among his things, she battles with the choice to open it.
It then turns to Tess who has just found out that her husband has fallen in love with someone else. Trying to escape the betrayal she feels, she takes her son and retreats back to her mother’s house in Sydney.
Finally, we have Rachel whose daughter was murdered many years before. Her main focus is now on her small grandson whose parents now want to take him out of the country.
These three women are soon bound together by this letter. The first part of the book sets up the characters and looks at their lives before Cecelia opens the letter. The second half is dealing with the aftermath once the letter is opened. I have to admit, when the book first began to focus on these three women, I wasn’t sure where the story was going to go. I love a good mystery though and once I’d got my head around who everyone was, I was hooked to the story and couldn’t put the book down.
It poses a very interesting question. If you found a letter addressed to you but with instructions not to open it, would you? I’m not sure I’d be able to resist.
Rachel’s and Tess’ stories are heart-breaking and although she was my least favourite character, I felt sorry for Cecelia when having to make a difficult choice – the truth or protecting her family and her life. It’s hard to know what anyone of us would do in that situation. The revelation in the letter I didn’t see coming straight away and I actually liked the fact that the secret was only revealed half way through. It established the characters well and the plot was well thought out – not giving too much away too soon.
I was intrigued as to how it was all going to be resolved at the end. I enjoyed this book and recommend it as a good holiday book.by
Hello Liane. Thanks for joining us today. How did you get the idea for The Husband’s Secret?
Two years ago I stumbled upon a fascinating article about real-life deathbed confessions. I learned about Christian Spurling, who confessed on his deathbed to faking a notorious photo of the Loch Ness Monster. There was a famous songwriter who was dying of cancer who wrote a letter admitting, after years of adamant denials, that she had plagiarized a lullaby melody. Then there was the hapless man who, after suffering a stroke, confessed he’d killed his neighbour thirty years earlier. The only problem was that he didn’t end up dying. After he was released from hospital, he went straight to jail. These stories, particularly the one about the man who didn’t die, got me thinking. I was intrigued by that overwhelming desire to share your darkest secret. So I came up with the idea of a man who feels such a powerful desire to share a secret that he sits down and writes a letter to his wife, to be opened in the event of his death. It’s a deathbed confession, except he’s not dead.
So far, what’s the best thing about being a writer?
The first memory is of sitting on a Sydney ferry and seeing the woman next to me open her handbag and pull out a copy of my first novel, Three Wishes. She then proceeded to read it. As if it was a real book! Until then I’d secretly wondered whether the whole process of publication had been a giant (cruel) practical joke.
The second memory is of sitting on my back steps watching my son play in the yard, while I was on a conference call with my literary agent, a film agent, and a Hollywood film producer. The producer was buying the film rights for What Alice Forgot. “We were thinking of someone like Jennifer Aniston or Reese Witherspoon for the role of Alice,” he said, just as my little boy bellowed, “I’m hungry!” It was quite surreal.
Which superpower would you have?
To fly. I know everybody has dreams about flying, but mine feel so very real. Each time I dream-fly, I think, “That’s right, of course I can fly—how could I have forgotten!”
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not writing?
I read in bed, read in the bath, read in the TV commercials, sleep, eat chocolate, work off all that chocolate in gym classes, ski (not that I ski every weekend, but I thought I should mention something outdoorsy), and now it occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned my children, and I don’t know how I could have forgotten them, because they are currently with the babysitter, screaming their darling little heads off in the hallway just outside my office door. What I actually do when I’m not writing is take care of my five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, and I like that very much.
Actors who would play characters:
Rose: Rebecca Hall – she played the vindictive, nasty Sylvia Tietjens in Parade’s End so well, I think she’d make a great Rose. I loved the way she played Beth Raymer in ‘Lay the Favourite’ – she survived in a brutal world through the force of her character and I think Rose is all about survival.
Ma Dwyer: Helena Bonham Carter – because she plays cartoonish, larger-than-life characters brilliantly. I thought she made a fabulous landlady in ‘Les Miserables’ and I’m sure she could carry off a great Ma Dwyer.
Revered Sutton: Jim Broadbent – he’d so versatile and brilliant, he’d carry off a sleazy, hypocritical reverend better than anyone else. I really admired the way he played Lord Longford in the film ‘Longford’ which was about Lord Longford’s relationship with Myra Hindley and, in my very very wildest dreams, I’d love him to be in an adaptation of The Night Flower.
I really can’t think of anyone to play Miriam – all the young English actresses I can think of are all so posh and pretty. We need someone really gritty for her. And northern. She definitely needs to be northern
My review will be coming up soon and be sure to stop by the Reading in the Sunshine blog tomorrow for more content from Sarah.by
Claudia is the author of A Very Accidental Love Story, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and Personally, I Blame My Fairy Godmother. Her latest book, Me and You has just been released. Claudia stopped by Novel Kicks for a chat, as part of her blog tour. We talked about her typical writing day, who’d she have over for dinner and what makes her laugh.
Can you tell us about your new book, Me & You.
I’d be delighted to! ME AND YOU, centres around a heroine called Angie, who’s arranged to meet up with her best friend Kitty at a swanky health spa…only Kitty stands her up. No answer to her mobile or house phone, absolutely nothing. Which is so not like her. So Angie of course, does what any concerned pal would do, spirals off into a complete tailspin of panic. Calls just about every mutual friend they have, who all say, ‘but we thought Kitty was with you!’ Turns out though that no one has seen her in days, so Angie calls Kitty’s boyfriend Simon and between them they start searching, but yet again nothing. Just dead ends everywhere they turn. Course, pretty soon their initial concern morphs into full-blown panic. So in desperation, Angie and Simon go to the police and pretty soon, a nationwide search follows. But bubbling under it all is a whole other development; Simon and Angie’sby
Angie knows a lot about her best friend Kitty. She knows Kitty is mad and wild and loves to wear clashing colours. She knows she’s incredibly funny and generous but also very unreliable. And she knows that there is a perfect explanation for Kitty standing her up on her birthday. She thinks she knows everything about Kitty, except she doesn’t. Kitty knows that she is the happiest she has ever been. She knows she’s so lucky to have a lovely boyfriend, Simon and a best friend like Angie. But what she doesn’t know is that on this night, her past is finally going to catch up with her.
From the moment I received this book, I was looking forward to reading it. The cover was really cute and the story interesting – how could someone disappear into thin air? Why would they? Also, would we ever find out what happened? From the first page, I was hooked. There was mystery in the plot. I can’t resist a good mystery as I try to work out what has happened whilst I read. Angie is a warm, if slightly crazy character and, like her friends in the book, you can’t help but like her from the first page. Simon sounds like a lovely boyfriend to have and I also liked Jack; feeling there was more to him than first appeared and hoping it would be he if ended up with Angie (although you will have to read the book to find out if he does!) Written in part like a diary, this helped the plot along nicely (and helped establish between Angie and Kitty,) and I really felt as though I was on the same journey as the characters – like I was on a quest to find Kitty. I was intrigued to maybe know more of Kitty’s story once she left Ireland as I feel there’s a whole load of her story we didn’t get to see which, I understand wouldn’t have helped the pace of this book. I couldn’t put this book down (reading when I should have been packing up for a house move..oops.) I loved Me & You. It was my first proper introduction to Claudia’s books (there were others in my to read pile that are now definitely being pulled up the list,) and I’ve very firmly become a fan.by
I was HUGELY excited to be asked to take part in Claudia Carroll’s blog tour for her new book, Me & You (Avon, 1st August 2013.) In her guest post, exclusive to Novel Kicks, Claudia talks about writing her two main characters, Angie and Kitty…
Just to tell you a wee bit about the book, ME AND YOU, it all centres around a heroine called Angie, who’s arranged to meet up with her best friend Kitty at a swanky health spa…only Kitty stands her up. No answer to her mobile or house phone, absolutely nothing. Which is so not like her.
So Angie of course, does what any concerned pal would do, spirals off into a complete tailspin of panic. Calls just about every mutual friend they have, who all say, ‘but we thought Kitty was with you!’ Turns out though that no one has seen her in days, so Angie calls Kitty’s boyfriend Simon and between them they start searching, but yet again nothing. Just dead ends everywhere they turn.by
I was very excited to have been asked to take part in Catherine Alliott’s blog tour. Her new book, My Husband Next Door (1st August, Trade paperback £12.99/ebook £7.99, Michael Joseph) was my introduction to Catherine’s books and very good it was too, (click here for my review.) In her guest post, exclusive to Novel Kicks, Catherine talks about her tips for having houseguests.
Top Tips for Having House Guests
1) I love having house guests but one or two ground rules need to be established before they stay, like for how long. A friend of my sons’ was still in his habitual spot at the kitchen table eating cereal as the taxi arrived to take us to the airport and thence the South of France. I fully expected to find Arthur still in the kitchen eating cereal on our return.
2) I fail miserably on this front but the correct response to “Can I bring anything?” is “Yes please” or, even better, “A pudding would be lovely “. Don’t, as the weekend approaches, sit on the kitchen floor and cry about how much there is to do, or kick the dog/ husband instead.
3) Some people start drinking the moment they cross the threshold and since we’ve already built up a head of steam and would hate to peak without them, we’re thrilled. More troubling are the “flinchers at the bottle” to borrow a splendid phrase. Should such a guest materialise and a frantic search of the larder reveals only a sticky bottle of Ribena circa 1998, jerk your head meaningfully at one of the teenagers to make haste to the village shop, ignoring assurances that “tap water will be fine!”
4) Visiting children tend to be on their best behaviour and no trouble at all. In fact these days some even suggest that they make you a gin and tonic and light your cigarette for you. The same, however, cannot be said for dogs. If a guest asks to bring a dog, swallow your disappointment and check it doesn’t chase chickens. “I’m not sure” means “Yes.” One Irish terrier appeared at the lunch table having clearly had tremendous fun with the poultry. Her owner leaped to her feet shrieking: “I didn’t know Billie could get such a big cock in her mouth!”
5) Still on dogs, owners swear blind they are housetrained, but they always get over-excited in a strange house and make unerringly for the Aubusson carpet in the drawing room – the only thing Aunt Marigold left you. As you trill “it couldn’t matter less!” and scrub away with a J cloth, suggest that Co-Co from Belgravia kips in the car for the night? As a look of horror crosses the owner’s face, agree that she can of course sleep by the Aga, but perhaps not on the spareroom bed where you’ve nervously noticed her velvet cushion has been placed.
6) Keep the fathers off the trampoline after Sunday lunch. We’ve been to A & E too often.
8) Likewise keep a dinner party book if you must. (You didn’t know they existed? They do). I found mine the other day. Clearly bought in a flush of young bridal enthusiasm twenty five years ago, a single entry records that on the 21st January 1989 I subjected eight people – who’s names, apart from my brother’s, mean nothing to me – to Chicken Marengo followed by pineapple cheesecake. The snowy white pages that follow suggest this wasn’t a resounding success.
9) Weekend guests always want to know how to leave the bed, which is lovely, but strippers are a bore. If they’ve stripped before you can shout “Leave it!” try not to mind. It means you can’t just flip the duvet, check the bottom sheet for watch springs and leave it for the next visiting teenager, but you’ll feel virtuous as you carry the pile of sheets down to be washed on Monday.
NB – I always change for grown ups. Standards must be maintained.
10) Even more about dogs. Hopefully your houseguests won’t fight after a long and intoxicating weekend, but your canine guests will. Just as when the children were young, your own dogs have to learn that a visiting dog can do no wrong and it is ALWAYS their fault. On no account put your hand into the teeth-gnashing fray, and if you must set about with the turquoise espadrille, make sure you only whack the home team.
NB – just like the dogs, you too will be tired and emotional and keen to see the back of your very dear friends, but on no account should you bite anyone.
11) A word about presents and recycling them, in particular, chocolates deemed Too Nice to scoff in front of Morse repeats. I recently took a recycled box of Charbonnet and Walker to a friend’s party and left them on the hall table. Unaware they were from me, she brought them back to my own dinner party three weeks later. The girl who’d originally given them to me was present. She told us she hadn’t bought them either. When we opened them, they were grey with age.
12) If you have very smart friends they might leave a tenner on the bedside table for your Daily. Resist the temptation to hoover it up yourself, muttering darkly about there only being one person who does any REAL work around here, and threaten any teenagers who loiter knowingly outside the spare room door. Instead, on Monday morning, pass the money on to the intended recipient, who will almost pass out with shock. Your warm glow will last about twenty seconds.
Tomorrow, head along to Chick Lit Chloe for more exclusive content.