On my blog today I’m very pleased to welcome Helen Barrell. They say that the truth is stranger than fiction and Helen’s book Poison Panic, described as ‘A clever mix of family history and true crime’ – Angela Buckley, is a great read if you’re looking for something ‘different‘. But I’ll let Helen do the talking . . .
Tell us something about yourself, Helen
Librarian by day, and author by night; I’m surrounded by books all the time. I’ve always written, but it’s my non-fiction Victorian true crime which has been published, while my fiction lingers on in a drawer. I live in Birmingham, with my partner and two cats, and drink far too much tea. I dress up in historical costume when the mood takes me. And I didn’t intend that to rhyme. Sorry.
Who or what has inspired you the most/ to become a writer?
My grandad, who used to sit me and my brother on his knee, and make up stories as they came to him. My favourite ones were about his time in France and Belgium during WW2 – he used to turn his adventures into ghost stories. Haunted, abandoned chateaux were his speciality, as well as his retelling of the haunting of Borley Rectory. Some people have commented that I write how I speak, and perhaps it’s that storytelling courtesy of my grandad which is behind that. There were always books in our house when I was growing up, and I loved going to our local library. At some point, I made the connection between the stories that people tell with their voices, and the stories people tell by writing them down.
Being a modern author, Helen has used the power of the internet to bring her stories alive for her readers. Click on this link to watch her fabulous book trailer for Poison Panic.
If you’d like to hear Helen reading from Poison Panic, click here.
When you’re not dreaming about poison (!) describe your typical writing day I fit my writing around my job, so I tend to write in the evening, heading up to my desk as soon as I get home from work. I manage to fit in two hours of writing that way. I spend chunks of my weekends writing as well. I’m a bit of a hermit, really! I will sometimes write during my lunch hour or if I get an idea that wakes me up early, I’ll give up trying to get back to sleep and spend some time writing early in the morning. I commute to and from the day job on foot, and I find walking a wonderful way to get lost in my thoughts. So “writing” happens then, too. When deadlines loom, I take holiday from work to write. Recently I took a day’s annual leave in order to work on my book’s index – yes, an index. Such are the woes of the non-fiction author.
Social Networking – a help or a hindrance? I’m never entirely sure how well social media helps to sell books, but I will say that it’s an excellent way to get in touch with other writers. Getting to know other writers is an excellent way to share your pain! Twitter is even worth using purely as a writing tool: that focus required to fit what you need into the character limit is good discipline for saying much with little.
Tell us a little about your new book- Fatal Evidence – A surgeon and chemist at Guy’s Hospital in London, Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor used new techniques to search the human body for evidence that once had been unseen. A toxicologist, he could also identify blood on clothing and weapons, and used hair and fibre analysis to catch killers. He gave Charles Dickens a tour of his laboratory, and Wilkie Collins owned copies of his books. For Dorothy L. Sayers, Taylor’s books on forensic science were ‘the back doors to death’.
Fatal Evidence is available for pre-order here
Tailcoat and waistcoat by Walker Slater of Edinburgh
. . . and finally, Helen – and tips for fledgeling authors? There’s no point sitting about not-writing, telling everyone “I’d really like to be a writer,” or “I can picture myself musing at a typewriter by a picture window.” Just get on with it! Whatever it takes – fire up your laptop, open “notes” on your phone, grab a pen and paper, the back of an envelope, or a clattering old typewriter if you really must, and write. Even if it’s a few lines of conversation, a description, a plot outline. Something.Get some words down. They might not be amazing words, but get them down. And then you’re not not-writing, you’re writing, and you’ve set your foot on the path to being an author.
I hear you, sister ! Thank you for coming onto my blog, it’s been fascinating and, who knows, I might be knocking on your door for advice if I give up writing romance and go over to the ‘dark side’. (Helen kindly took these photos of Tall, Dark and Kilted when she visited Edinburgh recently.)
Some reviews of Helen’s work
Reviews for Poison Panic “A clever mix of family history and true crime.” – Angela Buckley, chair of the Society of Genealogists.” “These scandalous true stories are as compelling as any crime fiction.” –All About History magazine. “Poison Panic is an intriguing read that brings a forgotten history to light and reveals past attitudes to women – and a national fear that gripped Victorian Britain.” – Family Tree magazine
Finally – what are you working on ATM?
With two non-fiction titles under my belt, I’m focussing on fiction for a while. I’ve started work on a 19th-century police procedural series, set in the riverside village I grew up in. I’ve recently started to write collaboratively with Catherine Curzon – we have historical romance and romantic thrillers up our collective sleeves.
It doesn’t seem possible that almost five years have passed since we launched New Romantics Press. At the time, we each said: “We’ll be happy just to see our novel in print.”
Since then, we’ve been bitten by the writing bug and gone on to write further novels, win accolades, reach the finals of a prestigious book award and achieve bestseller status (historical romance>Scottish) on Amazon. Not to forget, hosting a wonderful book launch at Waterstones in Kensington. Between us, we’ve written ten fabulous novels and gained a host of readers who are hungry for more! With four new novels in the pipeline, we thought it time to thank our wonderful readers/supporters and to celebrate our achievements by uploading a Kindle book, containing the first two chapters of each of our novels to share with you.
The Kindle is almost a novel in its own right – almost forty thousand words in all!
So . . . if you have never read any of our novels, now’s the time to
TAKE A CHANCE ON US
Within the pages of the Kindle you will find: romantic heroes and heroines aplenty; men in kilts, cowboys, Victorian Misses, Twenties Girls, Wild Irish actors who bear more than a passing resemblance to Pierce Brosnan, feisty heroines who live on remote islands in the Atlantic, academics, priests, enigmatic heroes – and women ‘who love not wisely, but too well.’ In short, ten ideal summer reads to take to the beach with you – a book for every mood. Click here to read an extract/buy/share
Since publishing Take a Chance on us, Adrienne and Lizzie have written Fur Coat and No Knickers – a collection of poems and short stories and Girl in the Castle – fall in love with a Highlander
click here to download a copy of Take a chance on us
and, from all of us – thank you very much – have a great summer!
Lizzie, Adrienne, June and Mags
Hi, I’m RAPHAEL FONSECA-FFINCH – 38 – campaigning journalist and adrenalin junkie, born of dual Scottish-Brazilian heritage. Hence the name. Despite what is says in my passport I’m a citizen of no country and travel the world alone in search of the next scoop, the next headline-grabbing story. My life is solitary and often dangerous, but that’s my choice. I have a driven personality and that makes me hard to live with. I have no time for emotional entanglements and that, conversely, makes women eager to ‘be the one’ to tame my free spirit.
I’ve staked out a Boot Camp for Brides on the Norfolk marshes which I believe a Columbian cartel is using to smuggle drugs into the UK. I need to gain access to the camp, and for that, I need a ‘fake fiancée’. I’ve found one in the shape of rookie journalist Charlie Montague. However, I’m a lone wolf and concerned that taking on a partner will slow me down. Worse still – that shaking her off at the end of the assignment will prove harder than dodging the cartel’s bullets.
Acquiring a phoney fiancee will enable me to enter and leave the boot camp without arousing suspicion.
On paper, Montague seems ideal – keen to learn, smart enough to accept any terms and anxious to work alongside me. So far, so good; so why do I have the uneasy feeling I’ve caught a tiger by the tail? That, given half a chance she’ll go off-piste and do her own thing? There’s something about her which attracts me. God forbid that she will be the one who succeeds where others have failed. Bringing me to my knees and forcing me to admit that, underneath the hard-bitten exterior I’ve cultivated, I’m as lonely and emotionally vulnerable as the next man.
At the end of the assignment, will I be able to walk away from the Boot Camp Bride?
If you like what you’ve read, please vote for me, Rafael Fonseca-Ffinch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also hop to all the stops on the Book Boyfriend Blog, collect the candidate’s name at each stop, then submit all 30 names to the same address in order to be entered into the GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY. This giveaway includes a Kindle Paperwhite + 30 e-books, one from each of the authors participating in the hop. Entries for the hop will be accepted until Sunday, May 21st at midnight – EDT.
A winner will be chosen on Monday, May 22nd.
I’ll be gifting Boot Camp Bride so you can read how Charlie and Rafa’s love story unfolds.
If you can’t wait that long, Boot Camp Bride is currently on Kindle Countdown at 99p/99c
And the winner of our Grand Prize is Kathy Davis. I have already contacted Kathy and her new Kindle Paperwhite is on the way to her. As soon as she receives the e-reader and sets it up, we can each gift her a copy of the e-book we promised.
Here are all the participating blogs
Tracie Banister http://traciebanister.blogspot.com/
Becky Monson https://www.beckymonson.com/blog
Hilary Grossman http://www.feelingbeachie.com
Glynis Astie http://www.glynisastie.com/blog
Jayne Denker http://jaynedenker.com
Jennie Marts http://www.jenniemarts.com/blog.html
Barbara Valentin https://barbaravalentin.com/blog/
Beth Labonte http://www.secretary4life.com
Victoria Cooke https://victoriacooke10.wordpress.com/
Holly Kerr http://hollykerr.ca/my-blog/
Meredith Schorr http://www.meredithschorr.com
Stacey Wiedower http://www.staceywiedower.com/blog/
Laurie Baxter http://lauriebaxter.com/blog/
Jennifer Farwell http://jenniferfarwell.com/#blog
Natalina Reis https://catarinadeobidos.wordpress.com/about/
Celia Kennedy http://www.womanreinventsself.blogspot.com
Beth Carter http://banterwithbeth.blogspot.com/
Ellyn Oaksmith http://ellynoaksmith.com/
BJ Knapp http://bjknapp.com/blog
Lizzie Lamb https://lizzielamb.co.uk/lizzies-scribbles/
Sylvia Ashby http://sylvia-ashby.com/?cat=64
Karen M. Cox http://karenmcox.merytonpress.com/blog/
Lindsay Detwiler http://www.lindsaydetwiler.com/
Kirsty McManus http://www.kirstymcmanus.com.au/category/blog-news/
Melissa Baldwin http://www.authormelissabaldwin.com/news.html
Geralyn Corcillo http://thingsthatmakemegommmrrh.blogspot.com
Cassandra O’Leary http://www.cassandraolearyauthor.com/blog/
Cat Lavoie http://www.catlavoie.com/blog
Kate O’Keeffe http://kateokeeffe.com/blog
Monique McDonell http://www.moniquemcdonellauthor.com/blog
Finally – the work in progress is finished, and is available for kindle download, to purchase as a paperback and to read FREE on kindle unlimited. Thank you to all readers, writers and friends who’ve been on this journey with me. Tada, drum roll – I proudly present – Girl in the Castle
Here’s the book trailer
If you’ve followed over from my newsletter – here’s the opening chapter.
There it was, again—a lament; the kind played from the parapet of a castle high above a loch, the piper hidden by swirling autumn mist and fading light. Unable to ignore it any longer, Henriette Bruar ended the podcast—Five Historic Hauntings for Hallowe’en—and, ears straining, glanced half-fearfully over her shoulder in case some madman had got on at the last station, hell bent on making it plain that here was no place for Sassenachs.
No place for lone, female travellers either, come to that.
However, the train was empty, as it had been for the past half an hour. For who, in their right mind, would take the last train out of Fort William on a wet autumn afternoon and travel up the line to MacKenzie’s Halt?
Only her, of course. Henriette Bruar, lately studying history at Saint Guthlac University, Hexham, in the north of England, until—well, until she’d screwed things up so badly that she’d been forced to come high-tailing it up to this remote corner of Scotland until the heat died down.
‘Stop imagining things!’ she admonished herself, her voice unnaturally loud in the empty carriage. That had the desired effect of banishing the piper and restoring her grip on reality. Her iPhone, she reasoned, must have picked up a transmission from a nearby radio station—Highland FM, or similar. That, coupled with the spooky podcast, was enough to make her imagine things.
Yes, that was it.
However, just in case, she cast another look around the carriage. As she did so, the feeling of presentiment which had dogged her since setting foot on Scottish soil returned, accompanied this time by pins and needles and the shivery, shaky feeling which usually heralds a virus. Physical sensations which no amount of foot-stamping, arm swinging or cups of lukewarm coffee could banish.
‘You need to get your blood pumping, Bruar,’ she said in the no-nonsense tone of a games mistress. ‘You haven’t got time for flights of fancy. You’re here for one reason, and one reason only—to undertake a commission on behalf of the university. Keep reminding yourself of that, and how lucky you are to have been given a chance to restore your reputation. Right now, an overactive imagination is an extravagance you simply can’t afford.’
Spectral pipers, indeed!
After further foot stamping and curling and uncurling her toes, she sat down, unfolded her itinerary and read it through for the hundredth time. The train would stop at MacKenzie’s Halt, where she was to get off. The train terminated further up the line but few, if any passengers, went beyond MacKenzie’s Halt. Upon leaving the train, she should cross over the footbridge and make her way to the edge of the loch where she would be taken across to Castle Tèarmannair.
taken across . . .
Forgetting her earlier resolution to stop daydreaming, fancy took flight once more. She saw herself as a Jacobite heroine, plaid wrapped tightly around her to ward off the wind, a white cockade pinned to her hair, being taken across the loch by clansmen loyal to the exiled Stuarts. In her imagination, she saw a castle in the middle of the loch where her lover was waiting, piper by his side, to welcome her home.
Then she shook her head and dismissed the image.
Time she remembered that she was no Highland heroine, she was Castle Tèarmannair’s newly appointed archivist—hired to catalogue the contents of the laird’s library, prior to auction. Most likely it would turn out to be the usual collection of old estate papers, books on the best technique for blasting game birds out of the skies, or catching the salmon with a fly of the laird’s own design. There would be no first editions, illuminated manuscripts, or lost family trees proclaiming the laird the Last King of Scotland for her to discover
‘Castle Tèarmannair.’ She experimented with the unfamiliar Gaelic. ‘Meaning Guardian, or Protector,’ she read from her guide book. ‘A gift from the Lord of the Isles to MacKenzie of MacKenzie for fighting alongside him at the Battle of Largs in 1263.’ Releasing a pent up breath, she put the itinerary in her bag and, getting to her feet, walked the length of the carriage, holding on to the back of the empty seats for balance, and peered through the windows into the late afternoon gloom.
A thick autumn mist had followed the train out of An Gearasdan—Fort William, obscuring the stunning view promised by the guide books and, in a cinematic moment, the train appeared to ‘float’ above the rails. Nothing was visible on either side—not even the lights from the small settlements flanking the loch. Henri wondered, a little self-pityingly, if the mist was a metaphor for the current state of her life, which was mired in gloom and despondency.
She pulled herself up sharp. ‘Positive thinking, Bruar. Remember?’
She was halfway back to her seat when a lilting Highland voice announced: ‘We are approaching MacKenzie’s Halt. Please remember to take your belongings with you when you alight from the train.’ With no more time for introspection, she swung her tote bag over her shoulder, and collected coat, rucksack and suitcase out of the luggage rack as the train came, briefly, to a halt by the short platform.
I hope this extract has made you want to buy a copy of Girl in the Castle and read on –
If you’d like to read the latest reviews for Girl in the Castle, here’s the link
July saw us taking a month long research trip to Scotland. We started at Edinburgh, visited Rosslyn Chapel and Britannia . We called in at Whitburn to visit my family and discovered that Uncle Archie is a great fan of caravaning, too – I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Here he is with Auntie Nellie; they are my dad’s last remaining siblings. When I was talking to them, I lapsed into an East Lothian patois I hadn’t spoken in many a year. Good to know I haven’t lost it, ye ken?
In August we visited Bletchley Park and found a connection there to WHITBURN, Winkie the carrier pigeon who saved the lives of a WWII Bomber crew. They even had Winkie’s ‘parachute on display.Here’s Dave sitting at Alan Turing’s desk . . .
While we were at Edinburgh we visited Doune Castle where many scenes from OUTLANDER (Castle Leoch), and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL were filmed.
I drew inspiration for the Samhain feast in GIRL IN THE CASTLE here.
We then camped at Culloden and travelled as far north as Balnakeil, Cape Wrath, (research for romance #5). We popped into Balmoral but Herself wasn’t in, so I met up with fellow writer Rae Cowie at Banchory for a coffee and presented her with a copy of Scotch on the Rocks. (thanks for reviewing, Rae)
You can’t visit Inverness without going Nessie hunting, so we called in at Urquhart Castle, but Nessie was taking a coffee break. You can see why, inspired by the mist, romantic landscape and mysterious wakes on the loch, how the legend of the monster first arose.
We moved on to Ullapool and, although it rained (a lot!), at least we weren’t bothered by midges. It has long been an ambition of mine to visit the Craft Village at Balnakeil , and we did just that – calling in at the fabulous Cocoa Mountain Cafe for the BEST hot chocolate EVER. If you visit nearby Durness, you’ll see the John Lennon memorial garden; John, Yoko and the kids used to holiday there in the late sixties.
The road from Ullapool to Durness was stunning as we passed through North-West Highlands Geo-Park on a twisting one track road with passing places. Castles, white sand beaches, mountains, mist and small lochs (lochans) covered in water lilies. Can’t wait to return.
During that month New Romantics Press published a tapas selection of our novels for reading on Kindle. At the end of each extract a link takes the reader direct to Amazon to download the novel and ‘read on’. Take a Chance on Us.
Once I returned home, it was straight to East Midlands Airport to pick up Isabella Tartaruga. Isabella and I met through Facebook and have become firm friends ever since. I named a character in Scotch on the Rocks after her. We took Isa to our local pub for a cider and I organised a tea party in her honour – with a little help from my friends.
Talking of friends . . . In August we travelled to Brighton and had a super lunch with writer June Tate, and exchanged books. Later in the autumn, we met up with lovely Carole Matthews; I received her latest book later on in the year and am looking forward to reading and reviewing both. I learn so much talking to such brilliant writers – I hope some of the fairy dust rubbed off.
To ring the changes, New Romantics Press attended the Historical Novel Society‘s annual conference. I like to include lots of history in my contemporary novels – if that makes sense. One sad footnote: the conference was the last time I spoke to agent Carole Blake, who died unexpectedly in October. A great loss to readers and writers alike.
October saw me giving a four hour talk How to Self Publish your novel, at Stamford Arts. Thanks to Rachel Henry of WriteStars for inviting me. Dave was my wing man and worked the pc while I blathered on.
The highlight of November has to be the author event which Adrienne Vaughan and I presented at Aspinall, St Pancras, London. We sold books, talked to customers about writing – and met Tom Parker Bowles (name dropper!) in Fortnum’s, across the way! We’re hoping to be invited back again this spring to give author readings and to talk about the art of writing – watch this space.
It was a great November for Adrienne as she launched Fur Coat and No Knickers, a collection of short stories and poems.
December went by in a whirl, the highlight was meeting Book Blogger, Rosie Amber and her team of reviewers and writers at the Belmont Hotel with the Leicester Chapter.Thanks to Rosie, Scotch on the Rocks was read by her review team and short listed for the contemporary fiction award (silver). It was also one of Book Blogger Cathy Ryan‘s TOP READS OF 2016.
And finally . . . deep breath. I finished my latest novel – GIRL IN THE CASTLE and it is currently with beta readers. I have booked my proofreader and formatter and, with good luck and a following wind, it should be ready for pre-order by the end of March.
Cover reveal and blurb, coming soon.
This summer I spent a month touring Scotland, getting the vibe for my fourth novel which I am currently 87% of the way through. It was a fabulous holiday and I was able to touch base with friends, en route. The weather behaved itself while we were in Inverness and so, feeling ‘gallus’, we erected the awning and put out our sunloungers.
On this stretch of our road trip we planned to visit Culloden, Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart. I’m a great fan of Outlander and DK Broster’s Jacobite Trilogy. And, IMO the Broster novels give a more balanced view of the conflict and there’s less of the #highlandersgood/ #Englishbad subtext found in the Outlander novels. After all, many clans fought on the side of the English at Culloden and had no wish to see the Stuarts back on the throne. For them, the battle provided an opportunity to settle old scores. The downside of the Highland Trilogy is, no Jamie Fraser!
(click over each image to read the caption/copyright details)
If you’ve never visited Culloden, here’s a video to give you a sense of the place. The battle site has a haunting and mournful quality and it’s sad to reflect that, after Culloden, the clan system disintegrated and wearing tartan was punishable by seven years hard labour in the colonies. George IV) visited Edinburgh in 1822, and everything “Scottish” became acceptable once more, a tradition continued by Victoria and Albert who bought Balmoral as their highland retreat.
Sadly, by then many of the tartans had been forgotten and those which we see today are a recent reinvention.
(Above- a fragment of Thomas Fraser of Struy’s plaid said to have been worn at Culloden in 1746) image –
Next, we visited the Prisoner’s Stone where seventeen highlanders were taken out and shot, after the battle. Legend has it that one survived and lived to tell the tale. If you do not feel the weight of history pressing down on you when you visit the site, you have no soul. It’s hard not to stand there and weep for those on both sides who lost their lives.
I found it very poignant that clans from the same highland region fought side by side at Culloden – the Stewarts of Appin and the Camerons of Lochiel, for example. In my mind, this was an echo of WWI when adjoining villages joined the Pals’ Regiments and marched off to war together. (click over each image for further details)
Of course, Outlander – the books and the TV series have helped to reignite visitors’ passion for this beautiful part of Scotland. While we were there, many Americans were visiting the site, anxious to find the cairn erected to Clan Fraser and to lay flowers there. I still don’t understand why the Outlander series hasn’t been shown on UK television and why so few of my (UK) friends have heard about it. Here’s a link to my OUTLANDER pinterest board . . .
It’s interesting to reflect how differently things could have turned out had Bonnie Prince Charlie pressed on to London instead of turning round and heading back up north after reaching Derby – just miles from where I live in Leicester.
On a more personal note, one highlight of our trip was finding ourselves camped right next door to Facebook friend Sharyn Farnaby. Here she is with a copy of Tall, Dark which I gave to her to thank her for reading and reviewing my novels.
I have been inspired by the Battle of Glenshiel (1719) to write my next #contemporary Scottish romance which I hope to publish in March 2017. It contains history, a lost treasure, a gorgeous hero (Keir) and a heroine fighting to regain her reputation after an unfortunate incident at university, (Henriette).
In the meantime, here is my current selection of novels. Something to help you cope with the long, dreary winter days, perhaps? See you soon when I’ll be writing about visiting Balmoral and Royal Deeside and meeting up with another friend.