Thursday, 24 December 2015

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!




I'd like to wish every reader a happy holiday season and I hope that wherever you are, the weather isn't too extreme, though some readers might be enjoying unseasonably balmy temperatures. Sadly that isn't the case where I live. Here's the scene from my front door this morning! It's going to be a truly white Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas, I've been doing some research for my latest historical novel and I stumbled upon some really interesting info about the holiday season. I've focused specifically on the period in England after the Civil War that raged from 1642-51 between the Royalists - supporters of King Charles I - and the Parliamentarians, headed by Oliver Cromwell. The result in a nutshell? The Parliamentarians, with their "model army" led by brilliant soldier, Cromwell, prevailed and the King was arrested and subsequently beheaded on the 30th January, 1649 outside Whitehall Palace, London. Cromwell eventually became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1653-1658.


So what does this have to do with Christmas? Well, leading up to and during the period that the Parliamentarians were dominant, they basically outlawed Christmas and set out to prevent everyone else from celebrating the traditional Yuletide season. Cromwell and his followers were strict Puritans who believed the celebration of Christmas was tainted by "trappings of popery and rags of the beast."
They went even further, calling all the old rituals vain, sinful and idolatrous. They outlawed traditions like decorating the home and church with rosemary, bay, holly, ivy and mistletoe; exchanging gifts, distributing Christmas boxes to servants, tradesmen and the poor; preparing and consuming massive great feasts of brawn, roast beef, "plum pottage", mince pies and Christmas ale; dancing, singing, card games, stage plays and mummers were . Puritan politicians preached:
 "the sins of our forefathers have turned this Feast, pretending the memory of Christ, into an extreme forgetfulness of him, by giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights".



While it was true that Christmas celebrations often led to drunkenness, promiscuity and other forms of excess, most citizens looked forward to the season as a time to "let loose" and therefore guarded the season fiercely.
During the 1650's, Parliament passed one bill after another to try and stamp out Christmas celebrations in London and the rest of the country. Merchants were instructed to open on Christmas day as well as markets. At one point Cromwell sent soldiers out into the London streets to arrest Christmas revellers and even to rip roasting geese from offending ovens. But he hadn't bargained with the backlash. Mobs of apprentices attacked shopkeepers and market vendors trying to do business on Christmas day. 

Also many pro-Christmas satires were written including one titled, A Vindication of Christmas by Royalist poet, John Taylor. In it, Old Father Christmas returns to England after being chased out by the dour Puritan policies. Another contains a rhyme that was taken up in taverns and marketplaces by those who wanted their jolly Christmas celebrations back:

For as long as I do live
And have a jovial crew
I'll sit and rhat, and be Fat

And give Christmas his due

After Cromwell died and Charles II was restored to the throne, Christmas was brought back in all its glory and revelry, ending that strange interlude in British history when Christmas was outlawed.
ANOTHER REVIEW APPEAL
Just before I sign off I'd like to ask you all - if you've read any of my books and enjoyed them, please, please write a review on Amazon.com, Amazon UK and Goodreads. It doesn't have to be long! Reviews are currency in the self-publishing world!
Have a relaxing holiday season and Happy Reading
Best Wishes!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

TWO BRAND NEW RELEASES!!

I'm delighted to let you know that I'll be releasing two new titles in the coming weeks, and just in time for the holidays.

The first one is another literary/historical novel set in 1890's northern England. Only this time I've moved away from Durham and on to Cumbria and Yorkshire. A CREATURE OF FANCY, (previously known as A Proper Lady) is set in the lovely market town of Kirkby Lonsdale with its breathtaking rural landscapes, praised by poet, John Ruskin.
And the picturesque coastal town of Whitby with its brooding, ruined abbey sitting on the cliff top. The site where Bram Stoker's famous vampire, Count Dracula, landed on British soil en route from Transylvania.  
Here's a quick blurb:
Cumberland, England,1898. Orphaned farm girl, Bonita Salt longs for a glamorous life away from the drudgery of the pig pens. On the way to the swine market, she meets the elegant and mysterious Violetta de Vere and, lured by promises of luxury and fortune, leaves home to join her new beauty enterprise.
Miss V transforms Bonita from plump and slatternly farm girl into a slender, poised lady to serve as inspiration for titled parents that seek to transform their plain, frumpy daughters into "marriageable” young beauties.
While visiting her mother’s grave, Bonita meets Reverend Jeremy Castleford. Despite a near proposal of marriage and strong advice to be wary of enterprises based solely on vanity and , Bonita moves to the pretty seaside town of Whitby where she soon discovers the true nature of Miss Violetta’s enterprise.
Bonita is soon caught up in a web of deceit, fraud, immorality and murder that leads to a catastrophic event and a strange and dangerous journey to uncover the truth about her mentor.
This book combines detailed research about the Victorian beauty industry with humor and unforgettable characters while taking a serious look at Victorian beliefs about the consequences of vanity and the place of women in Victorian society. Look out for this to be released EARLY DECEMBER!!

THE IDUNA PROJECT: THE FINAL CHAPTER
I'm also happy to say I've finally finished THE FEEDERS, Part 3 of The Iduna Project Trilogy. I've really enjoyed writing this Young Adult Sci-Fi series and am glad to bring the story of Paige, Junius and Chale to a great and I hope, satisfying conclusion. Look out for this to come out early December!
THE FEEDERS:


Paige returns to Carter City, determined to find her father on Masalina Island, a place that could provide permanent sanctuary for the Forevers.
But Marcia has other ideas and when Junius’s father shows up unexpectedly, plans for the next mission to save Junius go into high gear. Meanwhile a shocking discovery among the ARP residents of Golden Heights threatens Yul’s entire empire making him desperate to get to Paige and her father who may hold the key to the survival of The Iduna Project.
Paige must find the courage to outwit Marcia and Yul otherwise she’ll always be a pawn in the race for immortality. But she faces a tough road and unexpected dangers and revelations in her search to uncover the truth about all the players involved in the Iduna Project.
Can Paige finally find freedom, happiness and peace? Find out in the gripping final episode of The Iduna Project.

I'll keep you posted about these exciting new releases! Happy reading!

   

Thursday, 15 October 2015

A LOOK AT LOCAL TALENT

This year's Thin Air Writers' Festival showed yet again that there are so many talented writers in my home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba, as well as a multitude of avid readers who filled the various venues during festival week. So I thought I'd use this post to feature two nationally known local writers whose books I've recently read and enjoyed. I hope you'll be interested to read their books too or feature them as selections for your book clubs.

AFTER LIGHT by CATHERINE HUNTER

Catherine Hunter
I've long admired the poetry of Catherine Hunter whose anthologies, Lunar Wake and Lunar Heat, are among my all-time favourites. Now, after writing a successful string of mystery/suspense novels, Hunter, a University of Winnipeg professor, has turned her considerable talents to the creation of a lovely, compelling family saga.


In this sweeping family saga set in Ireland, New York and Winnipeg and spanning four generations of the Garrison family, Catherine Hunter has created a gorgeously written, compelling story of the secrets, conflicts and tragedies that drive a family apart, but also the shared experiences, loyalty and deep love that binds them together.
At its heart, this is a story of two very different sisters, Siobhan (Von) and Rosin (Rosheen), whose grandmother, the tempestuous and independent Deirdre, fled from Ireland to New York in the 1920's to escape a grim, impoverished life.
Roused from seclusion by the sudden death of her artist sister, Von travels to New York to discover Rosheen has left her final art project unfinished weeks before its scheduled exhibition date. Von is forced to undertake her sister's last wish - that she complete the project. So begins a journey from America to Europe in which Von learns more about her grandmother, her father Frank, her sister and herself as well as Rosheen's estranged son Kyle. The journey brings painful buried secrets and resentments out into the open until Von must face them head on.
Catherine Hunter writes with an unflinching eye for detail, particularly in the battle scenes from WWII, which tell the true story of the horror Frank and all the other incredibly young soldiers faced. This is also a story about the redemptive power of art and Hunter tells it with the lyrical beauty that only a poet can. Scenes of rural Ireland and the Manitoba prairie winter are only a few of the gorgeous images that will stay with the reader long after the book is finished. The author is also a skilled writer of mysteries and this is clear in her ability to maintain the right amount of suspense to keep the reader turning the page as each layer of family resentment, denial and bitterness is peeled away until the painful secret at the core of the family is finally laid bare. A wonderful, sweeping saga. A great read!


THE OPENING SKY by Joan Thomas


Here's the Goodreads synopsis:
Liz, Aiden, and Sylvie are an urban, urbane, progressive family: Aiden's a therapist who refuses to own a car; Liz is an ambitious professional, a savvy traveler with a flair for decorating; Sylvie is a smart and political 19 year-old, fiercely independent, sensitive to hypocrisy, and crazy in love with her childhood playmate, Noah, a bright young scientist. Things seem to be going according to plan. 

Then the present and the past collide in a crisis that shatters the complacency of all three. Liz and Sylvie are forced to confront a tragedy from years before, when four children went missing at an artists' retreat. In the long shadow of that event, the family is drawn to a dangerous precipice.



Joan Thomas has such a keen eye for human failings - envy, vanity, pride and our tendency to harbour bitterness and perceived slights until they fester into unmanageable proportions.  Using three separate viewpoints (Liz, Sylvie and Aiden's), Thomas weaves a story that draws the reader into the darkness, pain, strife and good intentions at the heart of this dysfunctional family. Though the characters are rather unlikeable - Aiden, the father: well-meaning but weak, Liz, the mother: brittle, emotionally inhibited and materially obsessed, Sylvie, the daughter: self-centred, careless, eco-obsessed - Thomas relays the story with such sharp underlying wit the reader is compelled to turn the page just to see how these three people can muddle and blunder their way through the string of family conflicts and a potentially tragic crisis that could ultimately destroy them.
This is definitely a story about people trying to do the right thing, but it's also about people struggling to love and be loved despite the sharp differences between them. As a reflection on the darker side of modern family life and the often misguided ways in which we all try to do the right thing for our children, readers will find a lot to identify with in this beautiful, lyrically written novel.



ABOUT REVIEWS
It seems that Amazon is changing the way it adds reviews to an author's page. If you read a novel on an e-reader or Kindle, when you're finished the book a message will pop up asking you to give a star ranking. If you do, this will not appear on the author's product page as a review. To leave a review, you actually need to go onto Amazon and create one. All authors know that reviews (preferably positive ones) are precious. They're a type of currency - particularly on Amazon, since they're used in an algorithm to determine how much  your book will be pushed and promoted by Amazon. So please, if you've read and enjoyed any of my books, or books by authors I've featured, write a review. It doesn't have to be long or detailed. Just say what you enjoyed (or didn't if that's the case). 
And that's my sermon for today!!



Thursday, 17 September 2015

AN INSPIRATIONAL WEEKEND


On Sunday evening I just returned from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Conference in Denver, Colorado. I have to say that this was one of the most inspiring conferences I've attended. The location was incredible - the Westin at Westminster - a beautiful hotel standing on the edge of a small lake with a backdrop of mountains in the distance.


Writers of all types were there. From first-timers with a first novel in progress, to published authors - both indie and traditionally published. Since writing is such a solitary occupation, you can imagine how great it is to get together and finally talk with people who are in the same boat as you. Too often friends and family really can't identify with the writers' life, so it's great to get together and finally talk shop to someone who's interested!

A wide array of workshops and presentations were available. It was valuable to hear first hand from agents and publishers about new trends in the publishing industry. One question that really stood out in this panel discussion was when someone asked if the Big 5 publishers were operating too much "in the box", afraid to break out for fear of losing profits and therefore bent on publishing "more of the same guaranteed formula fiction". Though reps from Harper Collins denied this, they did say that trends in self-publishing and the fact that many self-publishers were "pushing the envelope" in terms of what they were putting out, had actually forced the Big 5 to keep an eye on the steadily growing list of self-published titles.

Some other amazing sessions included a workshop led by a research physicist on Scintillating Science for your Science Fiction. Also the keynote address at the Saturday banquet was delivered by none other than international bestselling author, Jeffrey Deaver, author of amazing novels like The Bone Collector. He talked about being an insecure, nerdy kid with few friends until he discovered writing at high school and found other students who shared his passion. His life changed completely. Stories like this underscore the value of creative writing programs in school. Too often those quiet kids are the ones who are forgotten. As he said, he wasn't into sports or drama. Only writing helped him find an identity. Deaver went on to become a journalist, a lawyer and finally a highly successful novelist.
I met so many new writing friends, it was a real pleasure to be there. I must say the RMFW is a warm, welcoming organization.


AUTHOR RECOMMENDATION
I have to share my discovery of a terrific bestselling mystery author, Liane Moriarty I've just motored through her new novels, Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret. I can highly recommend them. Moriarty has an undercurrent of humour and social satire running through her stories that make them irresistible and a refreshing change from the dark, depressing nature of some current thrillers. They're also the kind of books you can't put down once you've started. I highly recommend them. You won't be sorry!


BOOK NEWS
Lilah, my romantic suspense novel continues to get great reviews. The latest from D.S McKnight on her blog. Check it out here

Thursday, 27 August 2015

DARK ANGEL



It seems the folks at ITV in the UK think the story of Mary Ann Cotton is as interesting as I do. They're starting to film a new 2-part period drama entitled DARK ANGEL, which will cover the story of Mary Ann Cotton and her crimes beginning at the period when she returned to the North East from Cornwall after losing the first of many children to disease or possibly at her own hand. Cotton is to be played by Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey fame, so this is a pretty high profile series. It's been filming in North Yorkshire and has just moved up to County Durham. I'll look forward to seeing the finished series.
Joanne Froggatt looking a lot prettier than the real Mrs. Cotton
After doing all the research and combing through numerous newspaper articles from the arrest and trial I feel I know this case really well.

When I wrote THE SAVAGE INSTINCT, I was more interested in the impact of the case on Victorian society than to tell Cotton's actual story. That's been done before in various ways. But through the character of Clara, I did reveal the disturbing details of the murders as the general public would have heard them in the newspapers. And the newspapers did sensationalize the case, leading some people to wonder if she actually got a fair trial and if everything they read was true!

I did come to some understanding of this woman and her crimes and I hope I reflected that in the book. Just as I hope the producers of this TV series will portray her using the facts at hand. And there are plenty of them!
I made a change to the cover and used the original design created by Jeanine Henning. I hope you like it! Oh - and if you've read the book and enjoyed it, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads!    

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT.





I'll have to admit I'm partial to reading stories that are scary, strange, magical or bizarre. My favourite childhood book was Alice in Wonderland. I love that off-kilter, slightly nightmarish world  that Alice discovered at the bottom of the rabbit hole and beyond the looking glass where nothing was as it seemed and weird happenings seemed suddenly logical. Or the magical world of C.S Lewis's Narnia series. After reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe I honestly hid myself in my parents' wardrobe and willed the wooden backing to dissolve and lead me to the snowy pathway where Mr. Tumnus waited by the lamp post.



Later in life I discovered I wasn't a fan of hardcore horror. As a student I went to see The Exorcist and was so terrified I had to sleep on a friend's floor. I couldn't eat pea soup after that movie.
When I read the book later I found it even more terrifying than the movie. I had a similar experience reading Bram Stoker's Dracula. His images of the Count, transformed into a wolf or a bat crawling up towards Mina's bedroom window and scratching on the glass, became all too real when tree branches scraped against my window at night.


  I was, however, a sucker for the X-Files with its unseen but ever present aliens and the paranormal occurrences that Muldur and Scully were called to investigate. More recently I devoured the wonderful Wayward Pines series inspired by Blake Crouch's creepy trilogy.


I was always a fan of the fantastic tales of the late Ray Bradbury and loved the story he told about how he started writing after he met Fantastico, the magician in 1932. At the end of his performance, the magician reached his sword out to the 12 year old Bradbury and commanded him to live forever. Bradbury started writing every day and his works have certainly immortalized him.
Later I became a fan of Sarah Waters after reading her chilling, Booker Prize shortlisted novel, The Little Stranger.
An amazing cover by the talented Valdas Miskins
I love these kinds of stories so much, I decided to write some. That's how Doll's Eyes and Other stories was born. The title story was inspired by an incident in my son's childhood. One night when he was very young, he couldn't sleep. I went to his room to find out what was the matter and found him staring at his Ernie doll. He said, "Mom, take Ernie away. I don't like the way he's looking at me." That incident stuck with me ever since and - we all remember the clown doll in Poltergeist or the evil clown creature in Stephen King's It! 

 I also have scary memories of the laughing clown encased in a glass bubble outside the fun house in Seaburn, on the north-east coast of England. I used to stare in horrified fascination at it, imagining what would happen if I came back to the fairground at night and found the glass bubble empty and the clown lurking around in the darkness.

Another story in the new collection is MayOne, my tribute to Ray Bradbury and the third, The Flamebearer, is an excerpt from a longer work and was inspired by a childhood nightmare.
It seems that a lot of people like weird, bizarre stories because Doll's Eyes and Other Stories has already reached #14 in the Amazon Bestsellers Short Reads in Mystery, Thriller and Suspense.
Check it out and if you enjoy it, don't forget to put a review on Goodreads or Amazon. These are so important for authors!! Happy reading, but don't forget to close the windows, lock the doors - oh - and if you hear a strange noise, don't look behind you!! Mwaahaha!!!





Friday, 17 July 2015

THE ANGEL AT THE HEARTH




While doing research for my last two books (The Savage Instinct and A Proper Lady) I kept coming across a term that was used to define the role of women during the Victorian era. The term Angel at the Hearth or Angel in the House defined the ideal image and essence of womanhood. It was widely portrayed in the art and literature of the time and was used as a standard to define the perfect woman, mother and wife.
This idea actually gave rise to a whole genre of painting known as domestic pictures in which the ideal wife was portrayed as an earthly though angelic Madonna, soothing, comforting and submitting to her husband. Selflessly encouraging, watching over and nurturing her children while presiding over a well ordered, highly moral household.
A poet named Coventry Patmore actually coined the term in his narrative poem The Angel in the House, first published in 1854 and dedicated his first wife, Emily, whom he considered the ideal woman.
Emily Patmore, painted by John Everett Millais

Though the poem wasn't very well received at first, the ideas soon took off some years later with popular artists and writers. Julia Margaret Cameron, the celebrated Victorian photographer offered her own interpretation of The Angel in the House. In this portrait of Emily Peacock, Cameron frames her subject in soft, white fur and uses muted lighting to give the appearance of gentle beauty.
Painters vied to portray the ideal Victorian household. The picture below entitled Home Sweet Home by W.D Sadler is typical of paintings of this era.

While this might seem like a perfect way of life for some, it could be stifling for a woman with aspirations or interests outside the home. Middle or upper-class women who were unmarried were regarded as "redundant" and unimportant with no actual status or role, and when they sought to fulfil themselves by working outside the home they were seen as rebellious and unusual. In popular media of the time they were often portrayed as objects of ridicule. Check out this late 19th century cartoon from Punch in which the elderly and unattractive (of course!) spinster tells her friend she's given up campaigning for women's rights, to dedicate herself to finding eligible widowers or women's lefts.

At the other end of the spectrum, lower-class working women like seamstresses, governesses and maids were seen as objects of pity and portrayed by socially conscious artists such as Richard Redgrave whose painting, The Poor Seamstress, captures the image of the poor working class woman, slaving from morning till night, sacrificing her life in a dark attic to feed her children.

And those women who dared to step away from the rigid bounds of respectability became fallen women, who would suffer dire consequences as portrayed in Redgrave's, The Outcast, in which a young woman and her illegitimate child are forced from the household into the dark, snowy night by the stern, respectable patriarch of the family. Earnest entreaties from a distraught sister go unheard, while Mother comforts her sobbing son.

Perhaps it is Edmund Leighton's painting, Till Death Do Us Part, that truly portrays the idea that many Victorian women had little choice in determining the course of their lives. In this picture, the dejected young bride casts her eyes downwards in sorrow as she walks down the aisle with her rich elderly suitor, while her dashing young lover looks on, knowing she's lost to him forever.

The only self-determined choice for a fallen woman was depicted in George Frederick Watts' painting, Found Drowned, based on Thomas Hood's poem, The Bridge of Sighs. Here a poor young woman atones for her sins by paying the ultimate price.


These are just a few of the paintings I came across in my research, but they're a fascinating way of understanding the mindset of that era and the way it has influenced us and continues to influence us to this day! 
Also, the fact that these pictures were painted a little over a hundred years ago is a sign of how far we've come in terms of women's rights in many areas of the world, but should also serve as a reminder that a large majority of women still suffer terrible restrictions to their rights and freedoms in many other parts of the world.

BOOK NEWS!
For all Winnipeg readers! THE SAVAGE INSTINCT and LILAH will be available at McNally Robinson Booksellers starting this weekend!