Sunday, 23 April 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

I am a frequent visitor to the History of the Great War website and I am always fascinated in the timeline of events which are so clearly marked out for each month of the war.

The Battle of Arras took place in the spring of 1917 and was one of the principal assaults undertaken by the British Army on the Western Front. Under Allied control, but situated just a few kilometres from German lines, the town of Arras formed a significant vantage point and was a regular target for German weapons.

Due to the increased hostilities in the area, by early 1916, Arras had very little civilian population remaining. Much of the town had been destroyed and it was, to all intents and purposes, a British town, which managed its business in both French and English.

A view of devastated ground near Arras, 1917

© IWM (Q 87756)

On the 23rd April 1917 and following days of poor weather and freezing conditions, The Second battle of the Scarpe began at 04:45.Casualties were expected to be high and a field hospital had been stationed near to a quarry, an area known colloquially as 'Thompson's Cave' after Colonel A.G Thompson, the architect who designed it. It was expected to deal with hundreds of  wounded soldiers and indeed, the Battle of Arras collectively saw the worse bloodshed of the war with thousands wounded or killed.The hospital was fully functioning and was fitted out with waiting areas for the wounded, an operating theatre, and a mortuary. 

German and British wounded going to the dressing station, together. April, 1917

© IWM (Q 7801)

Despite German counter-attacks ,by the morning of 24 April, the British held the areas around Guémappe, Gavrelle and the high ground overlooking Fontaine-lez-Croisilles and Cherisy.

Battle of the Scarpe. 

British cavalry resting alongside the Arras-Cambrai road, April 1917.

© IWM (Q 2031)

Voices of the Great War

As always, I am indebted to the Imperial War Museum for the chance to read the personal accounts of the soldiers who were at Arras and Vimy Ridge and for the opportuity to share these pertinent photographs taken at the time by war photographers.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Close to Home ....Carys Bray

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 I welcome North West Writer

Hi and welcome back to the blog, Carys. Please tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I grew up in a very religious family and married young, as was expected. I had five children in the first seven years of my marriage. When I was thirty and my youngest child started nursery, I knew that I wanted to go to university (I had previously dropped out in order to get married) and I started doing a BA in Literature with the Open University. It was wonderful, like waking up after a long sleep. I went on to do an MA at Edge Hill University, during which I wrote my short story collection Sweet Home. Then I did a PhD while writing my first novel A Song for Issy Bradley. Those years of studying and writing were some of the happiest of my life.

Windmill Books

Your books are written in North West England - how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

When I first started writing I had this strange idea that I couldn’t and/or perhaps shouldn’t write about a small, northern town. I’m not sure why I felt that way – it was pretty silly, but it was something that bothered me: was it okay to set my novels in Southport? Once I’d decided that yes, of course it was okay, I started to look at the town differently. I noticed the eeriness of the beach and the marshes, the lovely Victorian houses, the profusion of trees and so on. I started to think about how the landscape might feature in my stories. In my first novel, the beach is a really important place. Much of my second novel takes place in an allotment plot at the edge of Churchtown. I’m just working on a third novel that takes place on the moss, an area of farmland that used to be a lake and was drained over a period of three hundred years. It’s quite a strange, liminal landscape and I hope it will contribute to the uncanny atmosphere of book three (fingers crossed!).

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?

People are very friendly here, they chat on the bus and in the shops, neighbours talk to each other and my son’s friends pop in and out of our house whenever they feel like it – I like that, I like feeling part of a community. Houses are (relatively) cheap and there are museums, art galleries and theatres etc. not very far away in Liverpool and Manchester (I love Liverpool – the waterfront is beautiful and it’s a great place to go shopping). Plus, you’re only a 2 hour train ride from London if you need to pop to the capital for any reason.

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?

I don’t think so. I certainly haven’t been aware of any problems. There have been a few funny moments: for example, I had to explain myself after mentioning one of the Liverpool underground stations in The Museum of You as the person who was reading my manuscript didn’t know that there were any underground stations up here and thought that I had made a mistake, but that’s a pretty tiny thing.

Windmill Books
Paperback edition
published April 2017

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

Mostly online in Facebook groups and via messenger and email, but I have a few friends who I try to see at least a couple of times a year. Some of them are local writers (the lovely Rachael Lucas and I discovered that we live in the same town and our sons are in the same class at school!) and others live in various parts of the country meaning that we occasionally arrange to meet at places like Gladstones Library to catch up and discuss our latest projects.

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?

We have an amazing independent bookshop in Southport called Broadhursts and we also have a Waterstones. I’ve launched each of my books in Broadhursts and Waterstones has been supportive by putting my books on a table beside a ‘local author’ sign. Sadly, my nearest library (Churchtown) closed – I still feel angry and impotent whenever I think about the way that Sefton Council behaved. But I have spoken at the main Southport Library and at several local writers’ groups, something I really enjoy doing. It’s great to meet new people and to chat about books (plus there’s usually cake, so what’s not to love?!).

Windmill Books

You can find out more about Carys and her writing by visiting her website 

Follow on Twitter @CarysBray #MuseumofYou

My thanks to Carys for spending time with us today and for telling us about her love for the North West and for sharing her writing with us.

I hope that you have enjoyed this Close to Home Feature

Coming next week : Sue Featherstone


Friday, 21 April 2017

Review ~ Children of the Chieftain : Bounty by Michael E. Wills

Silverwood Books
March 2017

Children of the Chieftain: Bounty is the third installment in this excellent Viking series which is aimed at young readers.

What's it all about..

The orphan children of the late chieftain, Sten Brightsword, have been banished from their island home after they disobeyed the instruction of the “Ting”, the island parliament. In order to be allowed to return they must bring with them a warrior’s helmet filled with silver.

The brother and sister, Ahl who is now seventeen and Ingir who is a year older, get the help of the Governor of a town in northern Russia after Ingir becomes engaged to the Governor’s son. But things go wrong for them when the town is threatened by an attack from enemies. They escape south and after many adventures Ahl and his crew reach Constantinople. At last things look better for them when the Emperor offers them work which is so highly paid that they must surely earn enough silver bounty to fill a helmet.

What did I think about it...

When I was ten or eleven I loved reading historical adventure stories and I am sure that if the Children of the Chieftain books had been around at that time I would have devoured them just as eagerly as I did the work of Alan Garner and Leon Garfield.

I’ve followed this series from the beginning and have seen both the story telling and the characters grow in confidence, and as each story comes along there is a clever continuance of the historical adventure which unfolds in every story. In The Children of the Chieftain: Bounty the young crew of the Viking ship, Eagle set off on a new adventure, on a journey which will take them to new and exciting places, and which will be fraught with danger and cruel mischance.

As always the author writes a really good, rollicking adventure and never compromises on accurate description nor does he patronise his young readers by omitting the dangerous aspects of this time in history. The historical research is as ever impeccably achieved and there is a real feeling of authenticity to the story which those who have read the series from the beginning will recognise as typical of this author’s fine attention to detail.

Whilst Bounty may be read as a standalone historical adventure, as always, my advice is to read any series from the start, as that way you notice the progression, and the story becomes far more meaningful when you become emotionally invested in the characters.

For younger readers who may struggle with some of the terminology, or even for adults like me who may need some clarification, there is a helpful word explanation at the end of the book.

At the start of this Viking adventure I was informed that it was to be a trilogy of work, I am especially pleased to find that there is now to be a fourth book, The Children of the Chieftain: Bound for Home which will oversee the conclusion. Most certainly the ending of Bounty lends itself to even more adventures in the final conclusion.

Best Read With …smoked meat and porridge...and a foaming tankard of ale for the grownups...

You can read an excellent guest post by the author about The Lure of Miklagård by clicking here

Find Michael on his website

Follow him on Twitter @MWillsofSarum

My thanks to the author for sharing his book with me.

Children of the Chieftain: Bounty is out now and published by Silverwood Books


Thursday, 20 April 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey

I am delighted to host today's stop on the  The Fortunate Brother Blog Tour

A warm welcome to you, Donna and thank you for spending time with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing?

I was a high school drop-out, traveled around the country wearing beads and head bands for several years, had a “love-child,” married and then had another. A family tragedy sent me back to Newfoundland and it was then, during a horrible illness of my own, that I started back to schoo. A divorce and a university degree later, I started writing.

How did you get started as a fiction-writer?

I met this eccentric, knowledgeable a woman who prompted me to start writing, arguing it’s one’s duty to bring tragedy to the realm of myth. To give it meaning and a place of honour. The tragedies I’d suffered took me to that place where pain can be felt as holy. And holy can be felt as sublime. I picked up the pen and was instantly addicted. I've been writing every single solitary day since. And I wouldn't recommend it to anybody for it imprisons you for life.

What can you tell us about The Fortunate Brother without giving too much away?

The Fortunate Brother is the story of Kyle who is mourning the loss of his elder brother. He is caught between a mother who is attempting to sweep her house of grief, and a father who drinks to dull his pain. The family’s trauma is escalated when a local bully is murdered and his blood is found on Kyle’s doorstep.

What do you consider to be the strongest elements of the book?

The dichotomy between despair and hope. Between judgement and understanding. The hero, Kyle wrestles with all of those concepts as he works through his grief and anger re the death of his brother, his mother’s illness, and the involvement of both savory and unsavory characters from the community that are impinging on his life.

How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer?

I sit in the muck and struggle for firm footing, day after day, minute after minute. Everything comes in a big smudge and nothing is ever defined. So, yeah, the later…no plotter here.

What do you hope that readers will take away from the story?

A sense of, ‘Wow, that was great. I want to go there.’

What has been one of your most rewarding experiences as an author?

Having a reader approach me, holding my book in one hand, and his other covering his heart and tears in his eyes. And I knew that he suffered grief and our hearts connected. May God bless all of us.

Out of all the books you've written, do you have a favourite?

Yes. The one you are about to read… eh….okay, now I’m being clever. Why, this one, of course. Ok, ok…’s….well….To quote someone: Every artists feels their greatest work is ‘just about to happen.’ That’s why we live so uncomplainingly in the discomfort of poverty….hope that each one will be greater still!!

About the Author

Donna Morrissey is the award winning author of five novels. |She grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland, and now lives in Halifax, Canada.

Follow on Twitter #thefortunatebrother 

**The Fortunate Brother is published today**

20 April 2017

What's it all about...

The Fortunate Brother is a dark, atmospheric and compelling novel about the aftermath of a murder in a claustrophobic rural community in Newfoundland. When a body is found in the lake suspicion falls on the troubled Now family. As the mystery unfolds other, far deeper, secrets are revealed.

What did I think about the book...

This dark, and somewhat brooding story, is set in a small coastal community in Newfoundland and focuses on the petty indifference of a small town at odds with itself.  Sylvanus Now, his wife, Addie and son, Kyle, have had their share of family tragedy which has left an indelible mark, not just in the relationships between themselves, but also in the way the community reacts to their misfortune.

Told through considerate dialogue, a story emerges of a brutal sort of truth, which lays bare the thoughts and feelings of a family in complete disarray. When tragedy, once again, strikes at the heart of the Now family, they each deal with the fall out in their own inimitable style.

Considerately written, The Fortunate Brother is one of those stories which make you want to take your time over reading. It is the third book in a trilogy which started with Sylvanus Now and continued in What They Wanted, and whilst it possible to read and enjoy The Fortunate Brother as a standalone book, I do think that it is better to have read the series from the start in order to have a more rounded view of the Now family, of their past tragedies, and also of their place in this small town environment.

Whilst this is not a fast action, all guns blazing sort of story, there is no doubt that the book works well, both as a character driven drama, and also as an emotionally complex human story, which looks at the complicated layers between grief and loss, misfortune and tragedy, and which then brings the whole together in a story of hope over adversity.

Best Read with ...Line caught fish and a mug of sweet tea.

My thanks to Becca at Canongate for her help facilitating this interview

 and for sending my review copy of The Fortunate Brother.

Canongate20 April 2017


Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Review ~ He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

Hodder & Stoughton
20 April 2017

What's it all about ..

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, four lives change forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

What did I think about it..

None of us really know what we would do if we witnessed a seemingly despicable act of sexual violence. Would we walk away or would we do what Laura did and challenge the perpetrator, comfort the victim and then report the incident to the police? Either way, whatever your actions,  the consequences would live with you for the rest of your life and that's just what happens to Laura and her boyfriend, Kit who are in Cornwall to witness the total eclipse in August, 1999. What they see there will shape their lives, and that of Beth and Jamie's lives forever.

The story is told in current time and also in flashbacks which take us back to that fateful summer of 1999, and also to what happened in the fifteen years afterwards. In many ways it's a salutary warning of being careful of what you get involved in and of the consequences of misguided actions which could, inadvertently, reverberate down through the years.

It's rather a slow burner of  a story which has, at its heart, a whole series of secrets and lies which threaten the safety and well being of everyone who is involved. There are some strong moments of dialogue, particularly in the trial scenes which show just how easy it is to be bamboozled by clever law teams, who, it must be said, simply want to win a case. 

I found the whole concept of centering the story around the five descriptive phases of an eclipse and juxtaposing them within the context of the story to be really clever and even though the subject matter is emotive, I never felt like the information or the consequent actions of the characters wouldn't have happened in real life.

The author has done a commendable job of talking about a really difficult subject in a way that doesn't sensationalise what happened but which, realistically,  shows just how lives can change in a heartbeat.

Best Read With..A wheatbran muffin and a decaff latte...

Erin Kelly is the author of The Poison Tree, The Sick Rose, The Burning Air,T he Ties That Bind and Broadchurch:The Novel inspired by the mega-hit TV series. The Poison tree was a Richard and Judy summer read in 2011 and became a major ITV dram in 2013.
Twitter @mserinkelly

**He Said/She Said will be published 20 April by Hodder & Stoughton**

 Follow on Twitter #HeSaidSheSaid

My thanks to Louise at Hodder for my review copy of He Said She Said


Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Blog Tour ~ Under a Sardinian Sky by Sara Alexander

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on the 

Under a Sardinian Sky Blog Tour

It is with pleasure that I welcome the author Sara Alexander to the blog with this lovely guest post

How I’d Cast Under a Sardinian Sky

My family and I indulge in these musings quite often - the dinner table has become very animated in the process! It’s really hard for me to picture anyone other than Paul Newman and Marlon Brando in the two male leads. There is the slight problem of neither of them walking this earth any longer, but Newman’s dreamy quality is the perfect sensitive pitch for Kavanagh, the lieutenant stationed in Sardinia who invites our female protagonist, Carmela, to work for him as an interpreter. Kavanagh is a man of great mental and physical strength but with an innate humility and ability to put others at ease. He doesn’t use his rank to intimidate. The island of Sardinia bewitches him as soon as he lands there. Everything about it is intoxicating to him, the untouched wilderness, the azure coves, the food and the fierce sense of family within the communities.

In stark contrast, the brooding yet compelling Brando, would play Franco, Carmela’s fiancé. He is charming and changeable. His worldview is very fixed and narrow. He is set to become one of the richest and influential men in the town, a role he takes on with neither grace nor wit. His charm is nevertheless magnetic, despite a volatile temper.

The role of Carmela requires an actress of great sensuality but lack of vanity, she would need to have a breezy un-self conscious manner. Carmela is ambitious, skilled and with great reserves of determination. She is imaginative with the practical head to see through her ideas. There is also a fearlessness to her, which deepens as the story progresses. I can picture Catherine Zeta-Jones in her early television days of The Darling Buds of May. She had a wholesome, compelling verve which is how I see Carmela, as well as an innate, unaffected beauty.

I suppose actors preparing for these roles would need to study the Sardinian culture well – it really is quite different to what we understand as Italian. They are a diffident people, slow to trust others but ardent once those friendships are formed. Life in 1950s Sardinia was a world away from the awakening taking place in other parts of Europe at the time. It remained, in some parts even to this day, a very much undiscovered place, with hidden mountainside villages inhabited by men and women who clung fierce to their traditions and perhaps, some would say, dabbled in magic…

HQ Books
20 April 2017

What's it all about..

For Mina, a London-based travel writer, the enigmatic silence surrounding her aunt Carmela has become a personal obsession. Carmela disappeared from her Italian hometown long ago and is mentioned only in fragments and whispers. Mina has resisted prying, respectful of her family’s Sardinian reserve. But now, with her mother battling cancer, it’s time to learn the truth.

1952, Simius – a busy Sardinian town surrounded by fertile farms and orchards. Carmela Chirigoni, a farmer’s daughter and talented seamstress, is engaged to the son of the area’s wealthiest family, Franco. To the town’s eyes it’s a perfect match, but Carmela holds doubts about Franco’s possessiveness - doubts which are only magnified once she meets Captain Joe Kavanagh.

Joe, an American officer stationed at a local army base, is charismatic, intelligent… and married. Hired as his interpreter, Carmela resolves to ignore her feelings, knowing that any future together must bring upheaval and heartache to both families.

As Mina follows the threads of Carmela’s life to uncover her fate, she will discover a past still deeply alive in the present, revealing a story of hope, sacrifice, and extraordinary love.

What did I think about it..

I like stories that take me to a time and place that is unfamiliar to me and in Under a Sardinian Sky, the author takes us to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia and back to the early 1950s when the island was still reeling from the repercussions of WW2.

The story explores the life of Carmela Chirigoni, a feisty farmer’s daughter, who is engaged to be married to Franco, the son of one of the wealthiest families in the village of Simius, and yet, it is the story of Carmela’s ill-fated attraction to Captain Joe Kavannagh, an American officer stationed on the island, where the story starts to take flight.

Under a Sardinian Sky is a nicely written family drama by an author who clearly has a skill for storytelling. Time and place feels comfortably realistic and the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of this wonderful Mediterranean culture come alive in the imagination. Within the central theme of the story there is much to take in, and to say too much about the plot would spoil the overall effect, but what I will reveal, is that the story abounds with the drama of hidden family secrets which threaten to over shadow not just the past but also towards the future.

Best read with…thin slices of seadas, drizzled with warm honey and a basket of sun ripened plums and peaches...

Sara Alexander has worked extensively in the theatre, film and television industries, including roles in much loved productions such as Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, Doctor Who, and Franco Zeffirelli’s Sparrow.

Growing up in North West London, Sara attended Hampstead Comprehensive School, before going on to graduate the University of Bristol with a BA honours in Theatre, Film & Television, and Drama Studio London with a postgraduate diploma in acting. She now returns to her Sardinian routes through the pages of her debut novel Under a Sardinian Sky.

Follow on Twitter @AuthorSaraAlex #SardianSky

Under a Sardinian Sky by actress and author Sara Alexander is out 20th April (HQ, £7.99)

Huge thanks to Sara for this fascinating guest post 
and also to  Rebekah at Midas PR for my invitation to be part of the tour and also to HQ Books for my copy of this book to read and review.


Monday, 17 April 2017

Review ~ The Classic FM Musical Treasury by Tim Lihoreau

Elliot & Thompson
9 March 2017

A curious collection of new meanings for old words.

What's it all about ...

There are all sorts of people, events and sounds that exist in the musical world for which there are no words. We have been sadly bereft of a satisfactory way to describe the contortion of a singer’s mouth when reaching for the high notes; the audience member who leaves a concert halfway through the grand finale; or that person who places one finger in their ear and raises their eyes heavenwards when they sing.

What did I think about it...

It's no secret that I love listening to Classic FM, particularly on a Sunday morning when I am preparing my blog posts for the week ahead. So, to have a new musical treasury is a real treat especially as it is written by Classic FM presenter, Tim Lihoreau.

The Classic FM Musical Treasury is a feast for the senses, as not only does it have a delightfully humorous approach to musical facts, there is also the possibility of learning something you never knew you needed to know.  There should always be a word to describe what's happening in music but when that word doesn't exist, well as this book suggest, why not create one...

The treasury is divided into ten sections and spans Performers and their Works, through to, my favourite section, Trivia and Treats. This treasury incorporates, with musical suggestions, to quote the author..."the place names of towns and villages, the suburbs,  hamlets, digs, dens, the quarters and quoins of this beautiful land of ours…”

I was especially heartened to see the name of a village a couple of miles away from Jaffareadstoo mentioned on the very first page. It made me smile and thus set the scene for the rest of this delightful treasury which had me nodding in agreement on more than one occasion and which sent me scurrying through the book to spot other place names I recognised.

For classical music fans this book is definite smorgasbord of different musical meanings which stretch and fire the imagination.

These are just a few of my favourite place names within this musical meandering…

Jolly’s bottom (pg202) Trivia and Treats
Steeple Bumstead (pg37) Performers and Performances
Totley Rise (pg60) Concerts, Festivals and Tours
And my absolute favourite is Buldoo (pg163) Composers and their Works …this definition made me laugh out loud...

'...a faux Scottish work of light music purporting to ‘evoke the sights and sounds of the highlands’ (written ten years ago originally about farming and kept in a bottom drawer ready to be re-branded when the opportunity arose)...'

And one for Jaffa…Cat’s Bank (pg8) Performers and Performances

'...names in a fixer's little black book that can be called on when a diva falls ill..'

If you like random musical quirkiness with a hint of the absurd all melted together with British eccentricity then this book works really well.

Best Read with...A Hamperley of Appleby Parva and a glass or two of Hartsop

About the Author

Tim Lihoreau presents one of the most popular breakfast shows on commercial radio: Classic Fm's More Music Breakfast.

Classic FM
Twitter @Tim Lihoreau

My thanks to Alison  at Elliot & Thompson for this delightful treasury