Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Jenny Barden in the Plotting Shed

To celebrate the paperback release of Jenny Barden's wonderful novel, Mistress of the Sea, I've invited Jenny to the Plotting Shed to tell us a little more about her book and her heroine's horror of bear bating, a prolific sport in Elizabethan England. Over to you, Jenny...

I fly out to the Historical Novel Society's Conference in Florida on Friday, and I'll be taking plenty of insect repellent and sunblock as well as a few copies of my paperback due to be released tomorrow since it's not yet available in the States. (I can always hit the mozzies with it, if nothing else!) On browsing the programme I noticed this in the headline of a session about cliches in HF and how to avoid them: 'The Feisty Heroine Sold into Marriage Who Hates Bear Baiting'. It caught my eye because my novel, 'Mistress of the Sea', begins with a scene in a bear garden, as the baiting rings were called in Elizabethan times. I also have a feisty heroine and she ends up joining a voyage aboard Francis Drake's ship to the Caribbean partly because she longs to escape the loveless marriage that her father has planned for her. Have I created a cliche? What's interesting about this is that the heroine in the session title 'hates' bear baiting, but my heroine, Ellyn, accepts it as part of Elizabethan life, which it was. She doesn't particularly like it, but she doesn't shy away from it; the bear garden is where she first meets the hero of the book.

All major towns in Elizabethan England had a bear garden; bear baiting was one of the Queen's favourite 'sports'. Yet I've heard some readers say that for Ellyn to watch bear baiting is incomprehensible. Surely she'd be sick or faint or scream out loud? Why begin with such a disgusting spectacle? In other words, they want the cliche, they want the loathing and the modern reaction. Happily, most readers have wanted to keep turning the pages even after my 'shock' beginning. Justin Neville (founder of the London Historical Fiction Book Group) said: 'The opening scene of the book is one of the most gripping and unusual I've ever come across. As soon as you read that, you know you're in a safe pair of hands... I promise you your heart will soon be in your mouth...' So plainly it worked for him. But should modern-day sensibilities be transposed into the past for our historical fiction? We accept the witchcraft in Philippa Gregory's novels, but we're not so keen on too much religion, even though it formed such a central part of life centuries ago. There seems to be an appetite for descriptions of torture, but not personal hygiene, at least not for feisty heroines! How aware are we, as readers, of expecting a mirror to our own standards and sensibilities in the protagonists of our fiction? Most of us would probably answer by saying we are aware and we do want authenticity in our HF, but as regards what we really like and empathise with, well, that's another matter - that can't easily be analysed, even by ourselves; it comes down to personal taste and that's shaped by the world in which we've grown up. I think good HF always straddles the divide between accuracy and engagement on a pivot that requires a fine balancing act to sustain. I just hope that in 'Mistress of the Sea' I've got that balance about right.

Why not take a peek, judge for yourself and maybe pre-order the new paperback version of Mistress of the Sea.

You can find out more about Jenny on her Website, follow her on Twitter @jennywilldoit or on Facebook.

Thanks, Jenny.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Phillipa Ashley's latest book, It Happened One Night, was published as an e book by Piatkus Entice on June 6th 2013.

If you haven't bought your copy yet, but would like to know more about the book, here's the blurb and an excerpt for you.

Sophie McBride has been in love with Adam Templar for as long as she can remember. Talented, brilliant and sexy, he shines like the sun over the tiny Lakeland village where she's grown up. Now, at eighteen, she has her own big ideas and what's more, Adam is home from university and has finally noticed her . . . really noticed her. When he asks her to a party, she dares to hope that all her dreams can come true, but what happens that night sets off a chain of events that bring heartbreak for Sophie - and lead to Adam leaving Langmere under the darkest of clouds.

Ten years later, no one is more shocked than Sophie to find him back in the village. Now an up-and-coming film director, he's returned to make a drama about a notorious local poet and brought his glamorous cast, crew - and girlfriend - with him. As the on-screen drama plays out, can Sophie and Adam lay the past to rest or will history repeat itself?

21 year old Adam Templar has finally made 18 year old Sophie McBride’s young life complete and asked her to spend the night with him at his younger sister’s birthday party – where he’s supposed to be in charge…

Adam emerged from the en suite, hurriedly buttoning up his Levis, “I have to go downstairs and make sure no one’s been killed in the past half-hour,” he said, shrugging on his T-shirt. “You stay here.”

“What, in bed?” asked Sophie, knowing exactly what he meant but wanting to hear him say it because it turned her on.

“Yes, in bed. Where else? You don’t think I’m wasting the fruits of the Bell’s condom machine, do you?” He sat down on the bed next to her, tilting her chin up in the cradle of his fingers. “This is going to sound crazy but I want you to know something. I didn’t just get you up here for a shag. I mean, of course I got you up here for a shag but I also want you know that this has meant more to me than a one-night stand.” He smiled and she held her breath. “Or even a two-shag stand. The truth is I’d like to see you again over what’s left of the summer.”

And then what? She wanted him to carry on. What would happen after the summer? She wanted so much more than a one-night stand too, no matter how much she’d convinced herself that having sex with him would be enough. Over the past few hours, hopes and expectations had somehow stolen into the room, no matter how hard she’d tried to keep them out.

“I’d like to see you too,” she said, marveling at how calm she sounded, while wanting to explode with happiness.

“Good. That’s great but . . . the thing is that, in a few months, we’ll both have to go away and it’s going to be bloody miserable and I don’t know how to fix that.”

She waited for him to carry on, hoping that he’d suddenly come up with some way to “fix it” and say they could carry on seeing each other once they were at university. She hoped he would say that he would drive up to her uni from Oxford every Friday or that she could come down on the train to his college. That he’d like her to meet his friends and wander the ivy-clad quads with his arm around her and that afterwards they could make love in his rooms all night, but he stayed silent and pushed back her wayward hair from her face in a way that Sophie should have found tender but instead found disappointing. She realised that he probably wasn’t going to offer to do any of those things – not tonight anyway but maybe, she thought, he might at the end of summer when they knew each other better.

“Then don’t worry. Let’s empty the machine at the pub and have a good time,” Sophie said brightly, hoping it was what he wanted to hear.

As if to remind them both, there were loud shrieks from outside in the garden.

“You’re right of course. We should just enjoy now, but we both know it’s not going to be that simple.”

He smiled. She wasn’t sure if he was relieved or not, but he seemed happier.

The music ramped up a notch and the floor of the room felt as if it was throbbing. The shrieks and screeches grew in volume. It sounded as if the whole of Langmere was out in the garden, which was probably almost true.

“Adam!” A girl’s voice screamed through the door.

‘For God’s sake. What now?’

There was hammering on the door. “Adam! Open the door!”

“Wait a minute!”

The door flew open and Tarnyah dashed into the room. Sophie dived under the sheets as Adam swore loudly. “Get out!”

Before Sophie had time to expect the girl to giggle or point or shriek in embarrassment at finding her and Adam half naked, Tarnyah started shouting. “They’re in the lake. They’re in the lake. Come quick.”

You can buy, It Happened One Night here: Amazon UK / Amazon US

You can find out more about Phillipa and her books on her Website, follow her on Twitter: @PhillipaAshley, or on Facebook 

Monday, 3 June 2013

My Liebster Award

Thank you Alison Morton for awarding me the Liebster Award.
The rules of the Liebster Award are:
  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award nominator on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you;
  • Answer the eleven questions from the nominator;
  • List eleven random facts about yourself:
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to up to eleven other blogs that you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen;
  • Pass on the eleven questions to your nominees, or create new ones;
  • Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
1. What’s your favourite novel and what do you love about it? I loved Birdsong and have read it a couple of times, but then I enjoy reading novels about the Great War. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favourites, but my all-time favourite has to be Pride and Prejudice, I love drifting off into that other world so different from our own now and depicted beautifully by Jane Austen.

2. Do you have any pet peeves in fiction? Head-hopping in the same scene.

3. What are you most proud of? Apart from my children, it has to be when I signed with LBA Associates Ltd and not only the excitement of being represented by an agent, but by one as incredible as Luigi Bonomi. I still can’t quite believe it!

4. Your most and least favourite people in history? Likes:
  • Sir Harold Gillies (17 June 1882 – 10 September 1960) New Zealand-born, otolaryngologist who is widely considered the father of plastic surgery and whose skills made so much difference to the injured soldiers of WWI.
  • His cousin, Sir Archibald McIndoe (4 May 1900 – 11 April 1960) a pioneering New Zealand plastic surgeon who worked for the RAF during WWII and vastly improved the treatment and rehabilitation of badly burned aircrew.
  • Bill Gates III, the chairman of Microsoft, whose software made all the difference to my working day and my writing, by making computers easy enough for the technophobes of this world - like me - to use them.

Dislikes: Any of vile people who’ve spent their lives causing misery and pain to others, including Adolf Hitler, Vlad the Impaler, Idi Amin and the like. *shivers*

5. The country, city or other place you’d most like to visit? New Zealand, because it sounds/looks magnificent and I’ve never been there.

6. Which five people would you like to meet (dead, alive, or fictional)?
  • My grandfather who died when I was 21 months old because he achieved so much in his life and was such a fascinating character,
  • Sir Harold Gillies - see below - because I'd be fascinated to chat with him about his achievements,
  • My great-grandfather, Charles Wood, so that I could ask him for a photo for my dad.
  • Richard Armitage, well, why not?
  • Ernest Hemingway, when he lived in Paris, so that I could spend time with his friends and get to know them all a little bit.

7. What makes you laugh the most? Silly adverts on tv, probably. My children are always amazed when I laugh hysterically as the same thing a number of times.
8. If you could know the future, what would you wish for? I think the most exciting thing about the future is not knowing what is going to happen, but if I could have anything (apart from the usual health etc for my family) it would be to earn my living by writing books - incredibly successful ones, of course ;) – from my shed. Bliss.

9. If you won the lottery and could donate money to charity, which charity would you choose – and why?
  • Holidays for Heroes - who provide free holidays in Jersey for past or present members of H.M.Armed Forces injured whilst on or as a result of active service. I don’t know anyone in the armed forces, but think this is a wonderful charity that has now provided over 900 holidays since their launch in 2008.
  • Autism Jersey – because my god-son, one of the loveliest and most interesting people I know has Asperger syndrome.
  • RNLI – because I admire their bravery. My uncle was in the RNLI for years, still is, and my father was rescued from the sea (although not by the RNLI) when his plane crashed thirty years ago off the coast of France.
10. Do you suffer from any little phobias or superstitions? I’m terrified of spiders and screamed so loudly the first time Grumps played with a spider that he is now scared of them too. Or at least he was for the first ten years of his life, I spotted him playing with one yesterday. Yes, I screamed!

11. What’s your favourite guilty pleasure? Taking the ferry to St Malo for lunch.
Eleven random facts about me…
  • I stroked a rhino’s horn – and no, it’s not a euphemism and it was still on a live rhino!
  • I can ride side-saddle.
  • The headmistress of my first school told my father that I was charming, but that if I didn’t want to do something nothing could make me do it, so, in my father’s words, I was, ‘asked to leave’. He wasn’t impressed!
  • I’ve never lived more than two miles away from the sea, apart from when I stayed at my mother’s house in South Africa for a few months.
  • My favourite- food is either crab salad or hummus on seeded toast!
  • My grandmother won a place in the final of the world's international beauty competition at the Albert-hall in the late twenties. The first prize was £1,000 and a five years' film contract, but instead of letting her go to the finals her mother took her on holiday to Jersey where she met and married my grandfather (the one mentioned above).
  • The most incredible place I’ve ever visited was Pompeii, which felt like I was peeking into someone’s life who’d just popped out for a few minutes.
  • Jersey is small and it’s good to get away every so often, but I love living here and never seem to find the time to see all the historical attractions it offers.
  • I write letters by hand to my mum, although my handwriting isn’t too tidy.
  • I’ve spent years searching online for a photo of my great-grandfather, Charles Wood, who was in the 21st Lancers, without success.
  • The fastest horse I was ever lucky enough to ride was a racehorse owned by a diamond merchant years ago in South Africa.
Hmm, I’m not sure how interesting those eleven facts were…

My nominees are: (please feel free not to take this up):
Rosemary Gemmell - Reading and Writing Blog
Teresa Ashby - A Likely Story
These blogs are fun, interesting and I never tire of visiting them.
Thank you again to Alison for nominating me for the Liebster Award.