Category Archives: Contemporary

Book Review: Eagle Mountain by Hillary Devisser

Marie walked out on her husband after the second slap and has been standing on her own two well-heeled feet ever since. To say she has trust issues is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In her opinion, a steady man is a luxury, not a necessity.

Cole has a long history of impulsivity and a savior complex as big as his shoe size. A laundry list of guilt and bad decisions follow him wherever he goes. What he lacks in judgement he makes up for with heart and good intentions.

Thrown together by fate, the unlikely pair must decide whether what they have is love or just the thrill of the chase.

Eagle Mountain is the fourth book in Hillary Devisser’s Coal Country series of romance novels set in southern Illinois. Having read and enjoyed Eagle Mountain’s three predecessors, I was eagerly anticipating this latest instalment of lovely, uplifting reads. I’m pleased to say I was not disappointed.

The heroine of the story is Marie, a fiercely independent woman from St Louis who has had more than her fair share of tough times. Bitter experience has hardened her views on love, and in the wake of yet another failed romance, she decides to take a break from the city and do some much-needed healing against the backdrop of a forest retreat. There she meets Cole, whom fans of the series may remember as one of the male protagonists from the first Coal Country novel, The Fishing Hole. Like Marie, Cole comes with a whole lot of baggage, but it seems like it’s not always opposites that attract and, very quickly, sparks begin to fly. But with old habits dying hard and old flames reappearing, the path to true love is far from smooth.

As in the previous books, Devisser employs a third-person narrative, which works well for giving equal insight into both protagonists’ thoughts and experiences. Devisser has a talent for creating likable, memorable characters, with Marie and Cole being no exception. For the avid reader of this series, there is the added bonus that Devisser reintroduces characters from the previous books in a supporting cast of relatable, down-to-earth people who bring a smile to your face. Equally smile-inducing is the setting; the small town, the dense forests and the mountain roads, all beautifully described. I’ve never visited southern Illinois, but Devisser’s writing makes me feel as though I should.

Eagle Mountain is a gently-paced read, but not without its twists and turns – the ending, in particular, was quite unexpected. Like the previous Coal Country novels, however, it succeeds in being a real feel-good romance. This is the sort of book you can curl up with on a chilly autumn day, whilst wearing woolly socks and sipping a mug of hot chocolate. Five stars.

Eagle Mountain will be released on 1st October 2019. Pre-order your copy here. To find out more about Hillary Devisser’s books, visit her website or Goodreads page.

A Sense of Achievement

Hello folks, happy Thursday! It’s been quite a few weeks since I last posted on my blog, so I thought I’d write a quick post to bring you up to date with what’s been going on. In short – a lot! This time of year is always hectic, with the end of the school term approaching and the kids’ shows, presentation evenings and other events really taking over the family diary for a while. In writing terms it’s also been a busy time – after more than a year of hard work, almost 110,000 words and thirty-something chapters, The House At Kirtlebeck End is complete!

Well, the first draft is complete, and the first read-through/edit is done. Now it’s time to get it sent over to my very lovely, very capable group of draft readers and nervously await their initial feedback. Then, after that, it’s a case of more editing, more reading, more editing, and so on, until I’m happy. But, whilst the book isn’t quite a finished product yet, I’m still relishing the huge sense of achievement which comes with finally having a complete, draft manuscript.

So, what is The House at Kirtlebeck End about?

You might remember back in January I put forward this pitch on Twitter for the Xpo North contest:

Over the past few months I’ve also posted a few teaser excerpts on social media, just to give you all a flavour of what’s going on:

The House at Kirtlebeck End is essentially a mystery, packed with suspense and a more than healthy dose of the paranormal. When the time comes I plan to dedicate it to my kids, as for ages they kept asking me to write a ‘ghost story’, and finally I have. Having said that, it will be some years before I allow them to read it!

I’ve really enjoyed writing this book, and I’m looking forward to polishing it up ready for publication before sharing it with you in the coming months.

Ethersay – Chapter 1

Ethersay is still on sale for 99p/99c for Kindle until the end of May. To entice you all to take advantage of this great deal, today I thought I’d give you a preview of chapter one. In the first part of the story we meet Rebecca who, we quickly discover, has decided to run away from some pretty heavy personal and political trauma, with unforeseen consequences…

1

The day after the referendum, my life fell apart. It wasn’t obvious at first. Initially, I couldn’t see how bad I’d allowed things to become, how much of a mess I’d made of everything. No, at first I allowed the copious amounts of alcohol and cigarettes – yes, that old habit reared its ugly head from the graveyard of my youth – to numb me, to help me feel nothing, to help me forget how much it hurt. Then I saw him and all of a sudden it hit me, like the proverbial ton of bricks. It hit me so hard that it took my breath away. I knew then that I had to run.

Of course, I realise that it wasn’t really the referendum’s fault. The referendum, or the referendum on Scottish independence, to call it by its proper name, was more the catalyst, the match which lit the touch paper I call my life. And sure as fire is fire, it ignited me, filled me with a passion I had never felt before. It was a wonderful, addictive thing, to feel so enlivened, so empowered. For months I lived on the cusp of destiny; I lapped it up, unable to satiate my thirst. If only I’d let the passion remain political, then perhaps I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in now.

“The Prime Minister assures Tory MPs that he will cut public spending in Scotland,” a monotone voice bleats forth from the radio. It is the sort of voice I’d noticed more and more over these past few months; that insidious media voice, the one with the gift for expressing opinion as fact, half-truth as perceived knowledge.

I turn it off, swiping the button angrily with my finger. I am in no mood to listen to that right now.

The tears well up in my eyes once again as I ruminate on the events of the past few hours. How could I have been so foolish? How could I not see what was right in front of me? I brush the tears away but they continue to form, blurring my view of the road ahead. I realise that I have no idea where I am. I glance at the clock on the dashboard. It is past midnight, the sky outside the colour of pitch tar. I sigh, realising autumn is here. Mere weeks ago I could still see that majestic band of blue lingering on the northern horizon. That is one thing I love about Scottish summertime; the long days, and the way that when night finally falls, the darkness is always delectably incomplete. It reminds me of how far north Scotland is. For some reason, I like the idea of being north.

I wonder how far north I would have to drive to see those tantalising blue hues, deeper than azure, brighter than navy. I feel as though they’re calling to me as I continue to drive, pushing my foot down harder and harder on the accelerator. I remember again that I don’t know where I am, or how long I have been driving. I light a cigarette, inhaling deeply as I realise that I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore. I don’t care where I’m headed, or what’s behind me.

Reaching down, I put on some music. Screw the radio and its triumphalist propaganda, its pro-establishment bile echoing across the airwaves, laughing at our defeat, stamping on our hopes for change, our aspirations for progress. Since we lost, the news had felt like one big ‘ha ha, we gotcha!’ and I hadn’t the stomach for it anymore. I need to block it out. I need to get away from it. I need to get away from everything.

In my more lucid moments, I had searched the internet for ways to emigrate. I’d learnt all about Australia and Canada and what I’d need to do to go there. I’d daydreamed about jumping on a plane, or indeed a boat, just like many of my Scottish ancestors had undoubtedly done, braving the rough seas in the hope of finding a new life, a better life. Unlike my ancestors, however, I know that there is no promised land, no greener grass on the other side of a vast ocean. The modern world is small, and known, and infinitely disappointing. In the end, I’d shut the lid of my laptop, listening to its short, sharp click as it dawned on me that I might not have the desire to stay, but neither did I have the will to leave.

Yet leaving was exactly what I’d done. I’d jumped in my car and run away, maybe not as far away as Australia, but far enough to put a safe distance between myself and my life and all the people I love.

“I mean loved,” I say aloud. The past tense is definitely more appropriate for some of them now.

I groan as the heavy drumbeat of Muse’s Uprising begins to play. I used to love that song; now I can’t bear to hear it. I recall how he had told me that it was his favourite song. I remember how he took me back to his flat, how we put on some music and drank wine and danced. In my mind’s eye, I see him grow animated as this song begins to play, his singing touchingly out of tune as he bellows the lyrics, air guitar firmly in hand. Decisively, I press the skip button. I can’t stand to be reminded of him right now.

“London Grammar. That’s better,” I say, finding immediate respite in a more peaceful melody. Respite, but not solace. More tears fall. Why can I not stop crying? The road in front becomes a blur once again as I stub out my cigarette. It’s a terrible habit; I shouldn’t have started smoking again. Another bad choice, but it’s the least of my worries now.

I feel my eyelids begin to grow heavy. It’s late; I should find somewhere to pull over and rest. I squint as I look through my windscreen, hoping to find somewhere sensible to stop. The road ahead is winding and narrow, its surface uneven under the wheels of my little car. A country road. Great; I am in the middle of nowhere. In an effort to keep myself from falling asleep, I wind my window down, allowing the cool night air to refresh me. I breathe in deeply, thinking that I can smell the sea; its delicious fragrance fills my car, the scent of salt and seaweed surrounds me.

Metallica’s The Unforgiven. The song is painfully appropriate. I hit the skip button again, my hands shaking as I start to feel chilled by the night air. I begin to long for my warm bed, the comforting familiarity of my soft sheets inviting me into peaceful slumber.

“Rebecca, stop it,” I chastise myself. “You can’t go home. There’s nothing left for you there now.”

Talking to myself. Isn’t that the first sign of madness? I laugh bitterly, sorrowfully. I am right, though. I can’t go home. It isn’t my home anymore. The gentle rustling sound made by the full bin bags flung carelessly on the back seat is a testament to that.

My car’s engine rumbles, a low, incessant hum, like bees busy at work in a swarming hive. I fling the car faster and faster along the undulating road. Live dangerously, die smiling – someone said that to me once. I feel my face crumple once again. I don’t think I want to die. I’m just not sure I want to live, either.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see something run into the path of my speeding car. A deer? A grouse? A person? My heart pounds hard in my chest as I slam my foot on the brake. I can’t kill something, or someone, today. This cannot be how today ends. Today has been horrible enough, without this. I swerve, desperately trying to avoid whichever poor creature has found itself in front of me. There is a terrible thud, followed by a pained squeal. Beneath my hands, I feel my steering wheel become heavy, useless. My tyres screech, twisted and aimless as my car leaves the road. I close my eyes as I feel myself turning, spinning. It is a bizarre sensation, momentary weightlessness followed by crushing pain as my body is shoved against the hard surface of my car. I try to scream but no sound comes out of my mouth. I lick my lips, the metallic flavour of blood overpowering me.

Foolishly, I struggle, trying to free myself. I hit my head against the roof of the car as it crushes down above me – or below me, for in the dark I cannot tell which way round I am. I am dizzy now, the warming sensation of blood as it trickles down my face making me feel simultaneously panicked and drowsy. I begin to slip away, my injured head lulling me to sleep with fantasies of climbing between those warm, soft sheets back home.

My last thought is that he is there beside me, his arms around me as he whispers sweet sentiments in my ear. I see his face, I hear his voice; I feel the rough bristles of his beard against my skin. Then he is gone, and everything fades to black.


Ethersay is available from Amazon now.

Ethersay Sale

Good news, folks! Ethersay is on sale at 99p/99c on Kindle until the end of May. So, if you haven’t yet had chance to read my contemporary novel which I released in 2017, now is your chance to snap it up at a bargain price.

Not heard of Ethersay? Want to know what it’s about? Check out the blurb:

Ethersay Cover

“The day after the referendum, my life fell apart…”

The day after the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, Glaswegian Yes activist Rebecca Owen decides to run away. After being involved in a car accident she is knocked unconscious and when she wakes, she finds herself inexplicably marooned on an isolated Scottish island, Ethersay.

Suffering from memory loss, Rebecca finds herself drawn into the island’s mysteries, particularly those surrounding the strange disappearance of a young woman, Delilah Berry, whose fate seems to be inextricably intertwined with her own. As Rebecca draws closer to the truth about Delilah, she is forced to confront what happened to her in Glasgow, and everything she lost, with devastating consequences…

A stirring tale of passion, loss and betrayal, Ethersay is a novel about the search for truth, but also the pain of remembering.

What readers have said:

“A book you can lose yourself in on a winter day. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it yet. Buy it!”

“A gem of a book. Couldn’t put it down from the minute I opened it.”

“The twists and turns of this book are numerous and heart breaking.”

“What a terrific novel. It had me hooked from the first page and I read it in two sittings as I didn’t want to put it aside until the mystery of Ethersay was revealed.”

“The way King infused Scotland’s political history into the story was brilliant, and all the mystery, suspense, and drama kept me intrigued and clutching my chest at times.”

Ethersay is available from Amazon now. If you’ve previously read and enjoyed Ethersay, please share and spread the word!

 

Book Review: Spin by K.J. Farnham

Sixteen-year-old Jenna Kemp is a typical high school girl, complete with a loyal group of friends and a seemingly understanding boyfriend. But when the demons from Jenna’s childhood resurface, she’s suddenly spinning out of control–drinking, partying–anything to numb the pain of the past. After distancing herself from her friends and befriending an outcast, her friends and family start questioning and judging her choices. 

But when Jenna doesn’t come home one night, her friends and family realize it’s more than just adolescent rebellion. Jenna’s mysterious disappearance proves that there’s more on the line than they realized. As they sift through a series of her personal diaries, the truth becomes terrifying. Will Jenna’s final diary entry reveal the greatest mystery of all–her whereabouts?

K.J. Farnham’s latest novel is a young adult story with a mystery at its heart. After reading and enjoying all of Farnham’s previous works, including her last YA novel Don’t Call Me Kit Kat, I was really looking forward to getting stuck into my copy of Spin, and I definitely was not disappointed. Spin is a pacey, edgy read which immediately grabbed me; a compulsive page-turner which kept me up way past my bedtime on the several nights it took me to read it.

The mystery of Jenna Kemp’s disappearance and whereabouts is pieced together in a narrative which moves between past and present, and between several different characters’ points of view. This jigsaw-building structure is complex but expertly crafted by Farnham, who uses this format to reveal the story gradually, weaving the details of Jenna’s life in the months before her disappearance in amongst the pain and confusion of her family and friends in the aftermath. I particularly like the way Farnham employs contrasting narratives and tenses as the story moves between the past and the present. For the reader, the use of first person and present tense gives a deep and immediate insight into the responses of Jenna’s loved ones, whilst the use of third person and past tense for Jenna’s part of the story keeps her, rather aptly, at arms length.

As in her previous YA work, Farnham’s Spin deals with some difficult topics, delving deeply into some complex emotional and mental health issues as Jenna’s story unfolds. Without wishing to give too much away about the plot (and therefore the mystery), I think that Farnham’s handling of this tough subject matter is commendable for its realism and sensitivity. The story pivots around a number of strong, well-drawn characters; all flawed in one way or another and not all likable, but all easily imagined as they play their various parts in steering the reader towards answering the question: where is Jenna Kemp? The answer, when it comes, is unexpected, shocking, and a fitting end to a very tough tale.

A gripping, suspense-filled read. Five stars.

Spin is available on Amazon UK now. To find out more about K.J. Farnham’s work, check out her website or Goodreads page. 

Book Review: The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

Two lives. One night sky.

Róisín and François first meet in the snowy white expanse of Antarctica, searching for a comet overhead.

While Róisín grew up in a tiny village in Ireland, ablaze with a passion for science and the skies, François was raised by his restless young mother, who dreamt of new worlds but was unable to turn her back on her past.

As we loop back through their lives we see their paths cross as they come closer and closer to this moment, brought together by the infinite possibilities of the night sky.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t actually looking for something new to read when I came across this book. I was in a shop in town, browsing the books for my kids when my attention was caught by the adults section, and by a cover with two shadowy figures and a comet overhead. I picked it up, read the blurb and thought, ‘hmm, intriguing’. I wasn’t wrong.

This is a story which draws the reader in from the very start. Beautifully structured, each chapter loops through time and characters at a pace which is impressive but never confusing. The focus of the story is on Francois and Roisin, and those in their lives, past and present, and how they both arrive at a moment in Antarctica, gazing at the night sky.  Written in the third person present tense, each part of the story takes place when there is a comet visible overhead. As the reader comes to learn, the comets are the tethering link between all characters, the living and the dead.

If the well-structured plot drew me in, then it was the style which had me hooked. Sedgwick has a masterful ability to express a great deal of beauty in just a few words. Her poetic descriptions of comets and of the universe are clearly heartfelt, while the picture she paints of each character is deep and perceptive. All this results in a story which is sincere, engaging, and a considerable emotional rollercoaster for the reader. There are parts of this story which made me smile, and equally parts which made me feel as though I could weep. And I suppose that’s the point.

An impulse buy which I’m very glad I made. Five stars.

A healthy dose of motivation

A few weeks ago, I entered a tweet your pitch competition on Twitter, under the hashtag #XpoNorth. Authors based in Scotland were asked to pitch their work, even if it was incomplete, and told that agents and publishers would be watching. I’m not on Twitter all that often, and this particular contest would have escaped my notice entirely if it hadn’t been for a cursory flick through my news feed and seeing a pitch by a fellow author. Since my current work in progress, The House at Kirtlebeck End, isn’t complete and I’m not at the pitching stage as yet, I had to give a lot of thought as to what to say about my book in so few words! In the end I made two attempts at it, one of which was this:

I tweeted, added my hashtag and promptly forgot all about it, if I’m honest. It was a Friday, the weekend was looming, the kids were home and family life beckoned. Then, a few days later, I logged on to Twitter again and saw this:

I’m not going to lie, readers; my heart sang just a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not getting carried away. After all a pitch is just an advert, a hook, and not a full manuscript. Heck, I don’t even have a completed manuscript yet. But nonetheless this was interest from the publishing industry. As an author who has been through the ‘submit, wait, hope, silence’ process a good few times, this represents progress.

Above all, it gave me the kick I needed to make me throw everything I’ve got into getting this book finished.

I have, of course, sent a query to the publisher – not an easy task for a book which isn’t written yet, by the way! I’ve yet to hear anything, and I might not hear anything, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. This interest was exactly what I needed to motivate me to get this book written, and if this reply to my tweet ultimately serves no greater purpose than that, I’ll still be happy.

Getting off to a good start…

Happy new year! After a lovely festive break I have finally persuaded myself back into the writing room to get on with some writing, and some blogging. At the end of last year I promised you a post on my 2019 goals, and as this is the first post of the new year, setting out my targets for the months ahead seems like a good place to start.

So, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Goal 1 – Finish writing The House at Kirtlebeck End: I’ve mentioned previously on my blog that progress on my new contemporary novel has been a wee bit slow. However, I ended 2018 with it roughly half-written and have made completing it my top priority for 2019.

Goal 2 – Submit The House at Kirtlebeck End to agents/publishers: Well, what have I got to lose? Having been through the querying process before with a couple of my other books, I know that this can take some time. Nonetheless, I believe in this book and its ability to have a broad appeal, and so I owe it to myself and my work to give it the best possible chance of success. And, if it doesn’t get picked up, I can of course publish it myself.

Goal 3 – Research my next historical novel: I’m in the early stages of doing this, having tentatively decided to try my hand at writing about Jane Welsh Carlyle, wife of the nineteenth century Scottish novelist and historian Thomas Carlyle. It’s early days but I would like to have completed my research by the end of the year so that I can begin writing in 2020. Besides, research will keep me busy while I patiently await replies for Goal 2…

Goal 4 – Keep writing and submitting to magazines/journals: I’m keen to build on last year’s successes here, and so will keep writing shorter pieces whenever the mood takes me.

And there you have it. 2019’s goals are, I believe, perfectly achievable but even so, writing and researching is time-consuming and therefore I am going to need to stay focused. With this in mind, I have decided not to set myself a marketing-related goal this year. The past few years have taught me that marketing and book promotion, whilst useful, can be a real draw on an author’s time and energies, and I simply don’t have time to do everything. That’s not to say I won’t still be blogging or posting on social media, but inevitably there will be less promo activity from me. So please, in 2019 more than ever before, if you enjoy one of my books then tell a friend, write a review, share a post, retweet me! Organic reach and good old fashioned recommendations will be more vital for me than ever 😉

In 2018 I did pretty well with my goals, achieving most and getting them all at least underway. Hopefully I can do the same in 2019. Now, back to the writing den I go – The House at Kirtlebeck End isn’t going to write itself…

A Significant Day

On this day four years ago, Scotland went to the polls to vote in a referendum on its independence and, by a majority of 55% to 45%, decided to remain in the United Kingdom.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, the details of which I won’t get into in this post (this isn’t a politics blog, after all). Nonetheless, I wanted to post something today which reflects on this significant date for a moment. For someone who campaigned heart and soul for something which they believed in (and still believe in), but ultimately fell short in achieving, today is a weird sort of day. Quiet, reflective, moderately restless – that’s how I’d describe September 18th for me now. Which is a long way from the shock, the tears and the grief of those early days following the vote. Time is, after all, an odd sort of medicine.

I have written previously in my blog post The Safe Space about my own referendum experiences and how they ultimately moved me to write my third novel, Ethersay. Ethersay is my first (and to date only) contemporary novel. In many ways, it is different to my other books – different genre, entirely different subject matter. But it is also in keeping with what I like to write about – ordinary people, caught up in extraordinary times.

Academically, intellectually and creatively, I have always been fascinated by thinkers and ideas, by movements and counter-movements, by challenges to the social/political status quo of any era, by rebels, radicals and philosophers. As a student I always gravitated towards subjects which could satisfy these interests – renaissance and enlightenment, political philosophy, witchcraft theory, to name a few.

However, of equal interest for me are the emotional and psychological effects of the great stories of the ages – as a writer, I am attracted to the human tales which are always tucked away, obscured by the headlines or the history books but waiting to be discovered or re-imagined. My first novel, The Gisburn Witch, is essentially about recreating the life story of a name – Jennet Preston. It is about lifting her from the pages of history and making her flesh and blood, giving life to her hopes and desires, her fears and disappointments. It is about filling the gaps which history, for the most part, cannot address – as a writer, I wanted to get to the crux of what this ordinary person, Jennet Preston, went through, and what it was like for her to be caught up in such turbulent times. My motivation was exactly the same for the other Jennet, Jennet Device/Sellers, and my other two Witches of Pendle novels, A Woman Named Sellers and The Pendle Witch Girl.

When it came to writing Ethersay, my motivation was similar too. I really wanted to explore the impact of that momentous, exciting, watershed moment in Scotland’s history on ordinary lives. Unlike my Witches of Pendle novels, however, the subject matter was a couple of years ago, not four hundred; it was much more immediate, personal even. That’s not to say that Ethersay is biographical (it’s not), but I had lived and breathed this period of time myself, I had known what it was like to hope and to strive, to lose and to lament. As the old adage goes, it’s best to write what you know, and in terms of first-hand experience, there probably isn’t a time I know better.

So for me today is about reflecting on that time, about remembering and undoubtedly, about wishing things were different and knowing what I’ll do next time the opportunity comes around! Something tells me I won’t have too long to wait.

Eerie Whispers

Today I’m really pleased to share with you one of my horror/dark lit short stories which has been published by Dark Fire Fiction.

Eerie Whispers is a dark tale about a woman possessed by a destructive force, preoccupied by unrequited love and having to hold herself together when faced with a psychic asking pertinent questions. I was inspired to write it after visiting a psychic café for a reading – it made me wonder, what would it be like to look into such perceptive eyes when you have so much to hide?

You can read Eerie Whispers on the Dark Fire Fiction website.