Saturday, 22 October 2016

Close to Home ~ Deborah Swift

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Today please welcome Lancashire Author

Deborah Swift

Hi Deborah. A warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo...

Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I've always loved reading and used to haunt my local library and always came away with the maximum number of allowed books. I guess I always wanted to write. I used to write a lot of poetry, and still pen the occasional poem. My first novel was not published until after my daughter left home for University - because then I had more time to devote to writing, and a novel is an enormous task.

I wanted to write historical fiction because I love history and have always enjoyed costume dramas since working as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. For a long time I was based in and around Manchester, and I used to enjoy choosing furnishing fabrics from Abakhan's to reproduce the heavy Elizabethan fabrics of the past for the stage, and the Asian shops of Manchester provided me with diaphonous sari fabrics which made for perfect Regency gowns. The North West is full of interesting history, and at one time, between theatre contracts, I had a part-time job in Oldham Museum. I enjoy looking at antiques, old houses and museums, and love doing archive work which is necessary if you write historical fiction.

Your novels are not always set in the North West but I wonder do the people and its landscape shape your stories in any way?

One of my novels; 'Past Encounters', written under pen name Davina Blake, is a novel set in Carnforth, Lancashire in 1945 and ten years later in 1955. This meant the period is on the border of slipping into memory and on the border of historical fiction as a genre. Because of this it meant I was able to interview people who had first hand memories of the times, although those people were often housebound or elderly.

My novel is set during the filming of Brief Encounter, the classic film, which features Carnforth railway station as one of its main locations. Quite a few people who worked in Carnforth in and around the station were drafted in as extras for the film, and it was these people I traced and interviewed in order to construct a fictional lead character who might have been an extra during the filming. I took some of my other research along, eg newspapers from 1945 and books about WWII with good photographs, and this gave a natural start to the conversation whilst we looked at the pictures together.

Sometimes it was a cue for their photo album to come out, and those were great insightful conversations. I drank vast quantities of tea and coffee and ate lots of biscuits and cake! The Heritage Centre at Carnforth Station was extremely helpful, and they still stock the finished book in their shop, and display a poster of it in the underpass between platforms. It was a pleasure to meet people who'd lived their wartime years close to my home.

My first novel, The Lady's Slipper, is set on the Cumbria/Lancashire borders and has scenes in Kendal Market, and a quite gruelling scene inside Lancaster Castle when it was the local hanging gaol. Lancaster has a great maritime history, so when I needed to know what a seventeenth century ship looked like, I was able to consult the Maritime Museum. I love setting my books locally, although not every book can be local. My most recent series is set in Hertfordshire, but I used my trusty northern readers to give it the once-over before it went for publication.

As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

So much marketing and promotion is now done online, that it really makes no difference where you live. Email means communication is quick and effective wherever you are. There are some excellent local magazines in which I've done features, such as Lancashire Life, who have always been very good to me in terms of getting an article out to highlight a new book of local interest.

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

Local bookshops have been incredibly supportive, particularly with my locally-set books. Carnforth bookshop (which also has 10,000 second-hand books - heaven!) continues to stock Past Encounters, and the Cumbrian bookshops stock my other books. Also, the Cumbria and Lancashire Library Services have been fantastic at organising talks for me in libraries where I can discuss how I researched my books with readers. They also have many reading groups, and I've been to quite a few - from as far north as Workington, to as far south as Preston.

You have to have quite a thick skin, as inevitably, as well as the people who loved my book, there is always someone who hated it! Lancashire and Cumbria are huge areas, so my trusty red Fiat Panda has done a lot of miles over the last few years. But it is always a treat to talk to readers and hear their opinions face to face.

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

The North West is a warm and friendly place to live and the backbone of the M6  means you can easily connect to other places. And it is beautiful - the lakes and mountains of the Lake District, and the coast around Morecambe Bay are all within a few miles drive. 

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

I am part of two networks of North West writers who meet on Facebook, The Pendle Literary Salon (!) and the Westmorland Writers. I also meet familiar faces from the North West at conferences such as the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historical Novel Society conference. But lots more informal networking goes on with writers at Booth's coffee shop in Kendal, or the 1652 Chocolate Shop where you can indulge yourself in chocolate treats as well as look around their chocolate museum.

And finally, if someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?

If you like WWII women's fiction, start with Past Encounters. For a more 'period' read, start with The Lady's Slipper.


Thank you so much to Jo for hosting me. 

You can find me on Twitter @swiftstory

Or sign up for my newsletter and a free book at

Huge thanks to Deborah for taking the time to share her thoughts about the North West and for answering my questions so thoughtfully

I hope that you have enjoyed reading today's Close to Home feature.

Coming next Saturday : Marie Laval


Friday, 21 October 2016

Blog Tour ~ The Devil's Feast by M J Carter

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on The Devil's Feast Blog Tour

Here's a little bit about the book ...

Blake and Avery #3

Investigative team Blake and Avery find themselves entangled in a case involving political conflicts, personal vendettas, and England s first celebrity chef. 

London, 1842. Captain William Avery is persuaded to investigate a mysterious and horrible death at the Reform, London s newest and grandest gentleman s club a death the club is desperate to hush up. What he soon discovers is a web of rivalries and hatreds, both personal and political, simmering behind the club s handsome facade. At the center is its resident genius, Alexis Soyer, the Napoleon of food, a chef whose culinary brilliance is matched only by his talent for self-publicity. 

But Avery is distracted, for where is his mentor and partner in crime Jeremiah Blake? And what if this first death is only a dress rehearsal for something far more sinister?

I'm delighted that the author, M J Carter is sharing her thoughts about one of the book's characters..

Welcome to Jaffareadstoo, Miranda. 

Tell us about the genius of Alexis Soyer, and why he’s a brilliant book character

Apart from a few enthusiastic foodies, the Frenchman Alexis Soyer (1810-1858) is all but forgotten now. But in his day he was the most famous chef in Britain, and he lays claim to being the greatest chef of the 19th century.

But more than that, Soyer was a fabulously, gloriously modern and eccentric personality. When I encountered him in the course of research a couple of years ago, I realised at once that I had to put him in a book — he leapt so easily onto the page, he hardly needed any embroidering at all. And so he graces my new book, The Devil’s Feast, which is set in the extraordinary, cutting-edge kitchens of the Reform club, which he designed and opened in 1841, where he was head chef and where he first caught the attention of the press and the public.

Soyer was the first true celebrity chef. Everything we think of as new about the current kings of celebrity cheffing, Heston Blumenthal and Jamie Oliver, was done by Soyer in the 1840 s and early 50s. The papers called him ‘the Napoleon of food.’ Like Heston he loved cutting-edge culinary technology and cooking methods. He was the first to use and champion gas ovens, thermometers and accurate clocks; he invented dozens of clever kitchen gadgets, like the first heavy duty kitchen scissors. Like Heston he loved a crazy dish that looked like one thing and tasted of something quite different. He would serve up a plate of roast beef or lamb chops and mashed potatoes at the end of a meal, then reveal that it was pudding: sponge, cream, and meringues and peach cream made to look like gravy (I have to say this does sound mildly disgusting). Like Jamie Oliver he was a champion of seasonality and an educator and philanthropist, determined to improve the country’s diet and alleviate the sufferings of the poor. A genius logistician, he devised menus for London hospitals and workhouses, reinvented the soup kitchen and took it to Ireland during the famine; went to the Crimean war with Florence Nightingale, completely reorganizing the provisioning of British army and inventing a portable army stove which was still being used during the second Gulf War. And he wrote a series of bestselling cookbooks aimed squarely at middle class and working class cooks, in which he included the first written recipe for fish and chips, and homemade crisps.

Most if all, however, Soyer is a gift to a writer. Apart from being a brilliant, inventive chef, he was an irrepressible, joyous, sometimes ridiculous figure, manically energetic, crazily ambitious, enthusiastic about everything; appallingly sycophantic to the rich; a shameless self-publicist, dreadfully pretentious, and very big-hearted. He dressed in lavender-coloured velvet suits, wore at least two rings on every finger and never appeared in public without his hat set at a precarious angle on his head, which he called a la zoug zoug’, ‘I abhore a straight line’, he said. Everything that he does in The Devil’s Feast—well almost everything— he did in real life.

To find more about the author on her website click here
Find on Facebook click here 
Follow on Twitter click here

The Devil's Feast is published on the 27th October but is available to pre-order on Amazon UK by clicking here 

My thanks to Sara at Penguin Random House for the invitation to be part of this tour and to the author for her informative guest post.

Blog Tour runs 20th -30th October

Do please visit the other stops for more interesting content.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Author in my spotlight is ....Melissa Daley

I am delighted to welcome Melissa Daley to Jaffareadstoo

Today Melissa is talking to us about her latest novel Christmas at the Cat Cafe

20 October 2016

Hi Melissa, a very warm welcome to Jaffareadstoo. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the cats in your life?

I live in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, with my husband, two kids, two cats (Pip and Nancy) and our most recent addition, Paddy the puppy. Nancy has been something of a local celebrity since she was a kitten, due to her extreme friendliness and her tendency to follow strangers home, jump into their cars, or make herself comfortable in the local pubs. I set up a Facebook page for her (Nancy Harpenden-Cat) as way of keeping track of her whereabouts, and things snowballed from there. She now has around 2,000 Facebook followers and her own memoir (or ‘meowmoir’) was published in 2011, called Sex and the Kitty. 

Cats are so enigmatic. How do you get inside the mind of a cat and how easy is it to transfer this to a story?

I actually think cats are far more expressive than we sometimes give them credit for, it’s just that their facial expressions and body language are much subtler than, say, a dog’s. But of course their enigmatic qualities also allow us to project our own emotions onto them, which is why they lend themselves so well to being anthropomorphised in fiction. Having spent my entire life living with and observing cats, I find it surprisingly easy to imagine my way into the mind of a cat. The challenge when writing a story from a cat’s point of view is making sure my cat characters have enough emotional depth to resonate with (human) readers, whilst always remaining convincingly feline too.

Christmas at the Christmas Cafe follows the story of Molly who we met in Molly at the Cat Café. Tell me is Molly based on any of your cats?

Pip and Nancy were both excellent muses when I needed to describe something specific about cat behaviour, for instance the neat semi-circle cats form when they sleep, with their tail tucked around their paws. It was very useful to have two models so close to hand! But in terms of Molly’s emotional journey and the way she responds to the upheavals she faces, I would have to say there is probably more of me in her character, than my cats.



What do you enjoy most about writing?

The freedom to let my imagination run wild – there’s nothing else like it, in terms of unfettered creativity. I love the planning stage of the writing process, coming up with characters, working out the plot, trying to play the whole thing out in my mind and then getting it down on paper in a chapter plan. It’s when that’s done that the hard work really starts. The challenge is producing a book that does justice to the story I have in my head.

Do you have a special place to do your writing and do any of your cats like to interrupt the writing process?

I write at the computer in our front room, which serves as my study. Both Pip and Nancy have been known to wander in and drape themselves across my keyboard, or settle down for a lengthy wash on the print-out of my chapter plan. Sometimes it feels like they’re taunting me when they nap on top of my work – especially if I’m writing very early in the morning or late at night and am exhausted. It would be fair to say I have a certain amount of envy at their leisurely lifestyles, and their ability to take a nap whenever they fancy it.

Can we expect to see more of Molly’s adventures in future stories?

I guess that partly depends on whether readers want to read more! I’d love to let my imagination get to work on devising some fresh adventures for Molly and her kittens. Watch this space!

Melissa Daley

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Both Molly and the Cat Cafe and Christmas at the Cat Cafe are published by Macmillan

Melissa Daley lives in Hertfordshire with her two cats, two children and one husband. One of her cats, Nancy, has a writing pedigree of her own and can be found on Facebook as Nancy Harpenden-Cat. Melissa was inspired by the Cotswolds town of Stow-on-the-Wold, which provides the backdrop for Melissa's novels.

Christmas at the Cat Cafe is published by Macmillan on the 20th October

Amazon UK

My thanks to Melissa for answering my questions so patiently and also to Jess at Macmillan for my copy of the book and her help in compiling this interview.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Review ~ The Plague Charmer by Karen Maitland

Headline Review
20 October 2016

A bit of Blurb...

Riddle me this : I have a price, but it cannot be paid in gold or silver.

1361. Porlock Weir, Exmoor. Thirteen years after the Great Pestilence, plague strikes England for the second time. Sara, a packhorse man's wife, remembers the horror all too well and fears for safety of her children. 
Only a dark-haired stranger offers help, but at a price that no one will pay.

Fear gives way to hysteria in the village and, when the sickness spreads to her family, Sara finds herself locked away by neighbours she has trusted for years. And, as her husband - and then others - begin to die, the cost no longer seems so unthinkable.

The price that I ask, from one willing to pay... A human life...

My thoughts about the book..

Set in 1361, and with a clever blend of mysticism, superstition and folklore, The Plague Charmer looks at the catastrophic effects of a great pestilence which is sweeping England and as it moves inexorably towards Porlock Weir an impoverished fishing village on the edge of Exmoor, so does the threat of impending doom. The villagers eke out a lowly existence, reliant on land and sea for their meagre survival, and so when an enigmatic stranger emerges from the sea and offers them a deadly bargain which will keep them safe from the plague, well, therein lies their dilemma, to acquiesce, or not, is a decision they must make for themselves. However, the menacing gloom which emanates from this stranger is enough to deepen their sense of growing unease.

I’m deliberately being reticent about the story content because if you are familiar with this author’s writing, you will know that her work is incredibly difficult to review without giving too much away, but what I will say is that The Plague Charmer bears all the usual hallmarks of this talented writer. She infuses her novels with such glorious historical detail, that it becomes difficult, on looking up from the book, to adjust to life in the 21st century. Life in the fourteenth century didn’t happen in a rush, and this is reflected in the way The Plague Charmer is allowed to evolve ever so slowly, but as always time and place is captured to perfection. There is so much historical detail that it truly reads like a medieval travelogue, not that you would want to return to Porlock Weir in 1361, but by the time you have finished The Plague Charmer, believe me, you will feel like you have been there and witnessed at first hand the blend of horror, superstitious terror and medieval chaos which this author brings so vividly to life.

The riddles and proverbs which head each chapter are fascinating and cleverly combine folklore and superstition into the narrative. The author’s complex historical detail, which is given at the end of the novel, shows just how much attention to detail goes into the story content. Even if I didn't know much about Karen Maitland as an author I would buy this book just for the cover, which tantalisingly, offers something deliciously dark.

Best read with.. fish caught in the weir pool and a cup of pungent ale from Sybil's brew house..

About the Author

Karen Maitland is the author of The White Room, Company of Liars,The Owl Killers,The Gallows Curse, The Falcons of Fire and ice, The Vanishing With and The Raven's Head.

You can find her on her website by clicking here

The Plague Charmer is published  on the 20th October 2016 and is available form Amazon and all good book stores.

My thanks to Caitlin at Headline for my copy of The Plague Charmer.


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Review ~ The Protector by Jodi Ellen Malpas


A bit of blurb...

People think they have Camille Logan nailed: daddy's girl; beautiful, spoiled young woman with her father's bank balance to fund her lifestyle. But Camille is determined to have a life free from his strings. Out on her own, she's made mistakes, including one that found her clawing her way back after a stint in rehab and plenty of bad press. Now, after fighting so hard to be independent and happy, she finds her life threatened as a result of her father's ruthless business dealings. Caught between resentment and fear, Camille prepares herself for the measures her father will take to protect her. But nothing could prepare her for the ex-SAS sniper who crashes into her life.

Jake Sharp resides in his own personal hell. He was distracted from duty once before, and the consequences were devastating--both personally and professionally. He vowed never to let that happen again. Accepting the job of bodyguard to Camille Logan isn't the kind of distraction from his demons he should take. Women and Jake don't mix well, yet protecting the heiress seems the lesser of two evils. But Jake soon discovers that she isn't the woman she's perceived to be. She's warm, compassionate, her presence settling, and his duty to protect her soon goes deeper than a well-paid job, no matter how hard he fights it. He needs absolution. He comes to need Camille. But he knows he can't have both.

My Thoughts about The Protector..

Firstly, I was charmed by the cover which looks deliciously romantic and from the beginning there is an obvious passionate theme to the novel even though the premise of the story sometimes dictates otherwise.

Secondly, the story has a nice edge to it and both Camille and Jake are eminently likeable, although to be honest I was more team Jake than Camille as she perplexed me at times. She’s a typical daddy’s rich girl with a troubled past ,however, it was Jake's shadowy military past which captured my attention more.

From the start of the novel there is an undeniable attraction between alpha- male Jake and Camille and the tantalising glimpse of a possible relationship between them is handled well and with nice attention to detail. The author gets into the psyche of her characters very well, she makes them both passionate and vulnerable and I enjoyed that aspect of the story.

So overall, although this is not my usual genre, I really enjoyed The Protector. It’s a passionate romance which I enjoyed seeing played out in the wider context of the story.

Best Read with...A cup of iced tea and some pretty pink cup cakes, heavy on the frosting..

About Jodi: 

Jodi Ellen Malpas is a self-professed day-dreamer, obsessed with Converse, and marked with a terrible weak spot for Alpha Males. She has sold hundreds of thousands of her renowned erotic trilogy, This Man, which she wrote in secret before self-publishing as e-books. She landed a major US publishing deal and sailed straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers chart in a few short months. Her work has been cited as ‘A more sophisticated Fifty Shades of Grey’.

My thanks to Rebecca at FMcm for my copy of The Protector.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Review ~ Autumn, Edited by Melissa Harrison

Elliot &Thompson

There's something rather special about these beautifully expressive little books which look at the changing of the seasons in terms of articles, poems and general observations, all of which combine to celebrate this most glorious of seasons.It's one of those books which you can pick up at whim and find something which brings to life the colour and the fruitfulness of Autumn.

It could be the starkness of Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind or the simplicity of Thomas Hardy's Last Week in October or even the glorious beauty of William Butler Yeats' poem The Wild Swans at Coole which catch your attention, as they did mine, or you could find that the crisp prose of talented writers, so beautifully expressed, is your favourite, but what is absolutely guaranteed is that whatever appeals to you, be it prose or poetry, there really is something for everyone contained within its 198 pages.

My absolute favourite observation comes from freelance writer Louise Baker whose beautifully written piece encapsulates all that is glorious about Autumn..." Autumn is the crunch of leaves as they scatter underfoot; it's the rustles, rattles and whispers of a woodland walk, and the wind whipping through bare branches and heaped foliage.."

Sharp and crisp with occasional touches of melancholy, this is a perfect read for the Autumn season.

As always the anthology is beautifully edited and introduced by its editor, Melissa Harrison.

There are other seasons already published, with the exception of Winter which is due out on the 20th October.

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My review of Summer can be found by clicking here

About the Editor

Melissa Harrison is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in South London with her husband, Anthony, and rescue dog Scout. She was the winner of the John Muir Trust’s ‘Wild Writing’ Award in 2010, and blogs about urban wildlife

My thanks to Alison at Elliot & Thompson for the opportunity to read and review this book.


Sunday, 16 October 2016

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

Little Known Fact

Did you know that modern blood transfusions and blood banks were pioneered during the First World War?

 Oswald Hope Robertson 1886-1966

Oswald Hope Robertson was a British born medical scientist who pioneered the use of blood banks during the First World War. He emigrated, aged eighteen months, with his parents to California where they settled in San Joaquin Valley. Roberston went on to study medicine at the University of California and also at Harvard but had to cut short his studies during WW1 when he was called to join a medical team. In 1917, whilst at the Western Front, he is credited with the invention of the first blood bank.

Due to the excessive need for blood replacement the British army began to use donated blood directly from one person to another but this was unpredictable and not without danger as even though blood grouping had been understood since the early part of the twentieth century, there were still problems with compatibility and blood coagulation.

Between 1914-1915 the use of sodium citrate as a blood coagulant  was introduced which allowed the blood to be stored for several days and so the need for donor to recipient donation was no longer necessary. Citrated blood could now be stored, on ice, for up to 28 days. It was the arrival of the US physicians in 1917, amongst them, Robertson, who took the idea of blood preservation much further. Robertson was sent to the British Third Army Clearing Station to consult with the British on improving the blood donation service and plans were drawn up for the first official Blood Bank where Robertson used only those blood donors with blood group O as this is compatible with all other blood types.

This was a major advancement in the treatment of catastrophic blood loss and the lessons learned during wartime went on to provide advanced blood donation in the years following the war.