Book tour with S.C.A.R.S coming soon!

Scars Tour Banner

My dear friend, the lovely JB (of Brook Cottage Books) is organising another global book tour for my latest book – this time it’s S.C.A.R.S, my new children’s book. It’s happening in January/February 2015 so do watch out for it. And if you’re interested in taking part in hosting, do get in touch with JB, contact above on the banner.

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) November 2014

Winner-2014-Web-BannerWALKING IN THE RAIN_300dpi

Can’t believe I made it!

For the whole of November I’ve been holed up with my laptop, writing my work in progress. Other than when I was working for the university, supporting my doctoral students, and walking in the countryside. Oh and going out and organising family Christmas! Looking back I’m not sure how I did it!

NaNoWriMo has been a great experience. It’s an international support strategy for getting on with your writing (or starting if you’re an aspiring writer). The target is to make 50,000 words by the end of the month.  It was the first time I’ve participated and I wasn’t sure about it. There are local groups for support but I knew that I wouldn’t be bale to make the meetings. Very soon, a group of romantic fiction writer friends, some of whom I met at the Festival of Romance Literature this summer, got together and we started our own support group as an off-shoot from NaNoWriMo and named it NaNoRomMo. Every day has started with a visit to the site to compare notes. It’s not competitive with each other, but very encouraging.

It’s not about who gets there first (although I think maybe some of the folks in the local group might have seen it that way!). It’s about helping each other to get the motivation and maintain the momentum to get there, as and when.

All in all, It’s been a good experience; all about competing against myself, setting targets instead of just rambling through a WIP as I normally do. Knowing it didn’t matter if I didn’t make it but that it would be a great achievement if I did; it was about taking part and trying. And it’s been about support and friendship and encouraging each other. I’ve made some lovely new friends with whom I share a lot, as writers and in life.

I’m sure I’ll do it again next year for my next WIP, which will probably be the last in the Drumbeats trilogy. In the meantime above this post is my award certificate and the preview of the cover of the book that won it, Walking in the Rain. Thanks to everyone for all the support … oh, I feel an Oscars speech coming over me …!

My new novel – coming soon! Romance and tragedy against a backdrop of civil war in Africa …

DRUMBEATS_300dpi  My new novel, Drumbeats, is the first of a trilogy following Jess through her life. Drumbeats starts it all off in the mid-1960s as eighteen year old English student, Jess, flees to West Africa on a gap year, escaping her stifling home background for freedom to become a volunteer teacher and nurse in the Ghanaian bush. Apprehensively, she leaves her first real romantic love behind in the UK, but will she be able to sustain the bond while she is away? With the idealism of youth, she hopes to find out who she really is, and do some good in the world, but little does she realise what, in reality, she will find that year: joys, horrors, tragedy. She must find her way on her own and learn what fate has in store for her, as she becomes embroiled in the poverty and turmoil of a small war-torn African nation under a controversial dictatorship. Jess must face the dangers of both civil war and unexpected romance. Can she escape her past or will it always haunt her?

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

I have reviewed this on my Books I Like page but wanted to post it as a blog here too as it is circulating the review lists again.

What a stunning achievement this novel is! Sometimes you read a book and  wish so much that you had had the same idea! It was so very clever. I was totally engrossed in the notion of many layers of a life trying over and over to get it right (the multi-universe/parallel universe/quilted universe concept).

A baby, Ursula, is born on 11th November 1910 in a terrible snowstorm. The umbilical cord is caught around her neck and the doctor is unable to arrive in time so save her. Cut to 11th November 1910 again. This time Ursula survives.  But still she is caught up in events that are unacceptable. Ursula’s death and rebirthing recurs until finally the course of history is set right. What an engaging and thought-provoking concept. How wonderful it would be to believe in this. Turn back the clock and try again. Yes, I can relate to that in my own life – probably most of us could. The evocations of periods of history are well-researched, rich and appear authentic. I felt that some parts were perhaps a little overdone, like the blitz narratives and maybe the novel could have benefitted from some culling of these episodes, but the rest was so engaging that I still gave it 5 stars. Highly recommended.

Fractured by Dani Atkins

Wow, excellent book. Dani Atkins weaves an intriguing story which traces two different lives which Rachel may or may not have lived over the previous five years following an accident. The ending is superb and interweaves all the mysterious hints wonderfully competently. I love books that leave me thinking and working out the intricacies. Well recommended.

I’ve just read some of the other reviews and am amazed at the number of readers who simply didn’t “get it”! One at least totally misunderstood the ending.


I do agree with one reviewer about the problematic issue of the actual car accident where the vehicle seems to take forever to crash through the window of the restaurant, and the unrealistic trapping of Rachel behind the table, and yes, I would agree that this could/should have been edited down to a page or two only – but compared with the rest of the book this paled into insignificance. The rest was a very powerful
  story and  I couldn’t stop thinking about it for some days afterwards.

The Book Thief: Markus Zusak

I’ve just finished reading The Book Thief and I know already that it will be one that haunts me for a long time. It is brilliant, in its style, its structure and its message. I love unusual narratives, with creative startling language, and this one is crafted so beautifully that it makes the reader gasp. The last words from Death say it all (and I don’t think that I give anything away by quoting them): “I am haunted by humans”. It’s what pervades the whole novel.

It is set in 1939 in Nazi Germany, and it is, uniquely, I think, narrated by Death himself. The characters are clearly formed and the reader gets to know each one. The main protagonist is Liesel, the foster girl who comes to live with Rosa and Hans Hubermann in their house in a poor area outside Munich. Hans (“Papa”) teaches her to read and write, and this forms the beauty of the story. She forms a firm friendship with Rudy, the boy next door, and together they eke out their meagre existence by stealing food and colour their survival with words. The family harbours in their basement, Max, a Jew for whom Hans has reason to be grateful, and he develops Liesel’s fascination with words. She begins to steal books and shares them with Max and with her neighbours in the shelter during the devastating bombing raids. Liesel and Rudy’s growing understanding of the world around them is shown carefully and delicately through the eyes of Death.

There is so much to this book that a brief review can barely suggest the experience of reading it. The beauty (and sometimes oddness)of the language had something of the poet Dylan Thomas about it. I have read many novels about this period of history and thought that there was nothing new to say, but this one is most unusual and captivating. It certainly left me with much to think about. I can’t wait to see the film; I do hope that it serves the book well.

The West African setting of Drumbeats, my new book

2012-06-22_19So, as I have mentioned in previous posts, my new novel that I am working on ( Drumbeats) is about Jess 18, who flees to escape her stifling family to Ghana as a volunteer teacher and nurse in the African bush.  She’s on a gap year before going on to university and a career. The book is about love and loss, adventure and tragedy, and it’s the story of coming of age, growing up, and finding yourself.

I myself did actually spend a gap year in Ghana and taught at a school in the bush, so the setting is authentic.

The school I worked in  was quite privileged, a secondary school, and many of the parents were wealthy by Ghanaian standards, professionals, doctors, politicians, engineers, etc. I was eighteen and not a trained teacher so it was often hair-raising. The pupils could easily become hysterical for very little reason, like a gecko running into the classroom, when they were in fact an extremely common sight. Then the girls would shriek and jump onto the tables.  Several times there were snakes, sometimes dangerous species, slithering into the classrooms. It could be pretty un-nerving! But I loved teaching although it was hard work, and for years afterwards my former pupils kept in touch.

The most striking memories, though, are of the work I did in the bush villages around the school, at Kakomdo and Ebubonku. I took first aid and did what we now call “primary care”, basic nursing and teaching first aid to the villagers. Ghana was a very poor country with a low literacy level, and many families in the bush villages were living in great poverty,  so the work was essential.

Many children in the bush suffered from kwashiorkor, or malnourishment and starvation. They also had tropical sores which attracted flies and quickly became infected in the African heat, so a large part of my job was to dress the  tropical sores and teach families how to cope. If these wounds were left unattended the children eventually either became very ill, suffered blood poisoning  or lost a limb. Infant mortality was high and I saw death there many times, and horrifying sickness. It was especially dreadful when the victims were young children, babies and toddlers. I tried hard to nurse the sick, tend the wounds and provide emergency care, without proper facilities and medicines. I worked hard to offer  training, and  scrounge equipment and supplies for medical care.

Malaria was a constant danger and I tried so hard to persuade the villagers to use the mosquito nets which I managed to rustle up for them, with a great deal of nagging to charity organisations.  But they were often diverted to other uses. It was frustrating.  Malaria pills, quinine, proved difficult to acquire for the villagers, they were like gold-dust. Many people relied on traditional medicine and practices to “protect” themselves and their children from the dreaded and ubiquitous mosquito.

Parents often painted their children with chalk dust and hung special beads around their necks “to ward off evil spirits”. It was a huge task to educate the families about hygiene, welfare and nutrition. A large number of the population lived in huts made of mud or adobe. They had no running water or electricity, just buckets of water collected from the village well (if they were lucky enough to have one) or from the river, and kerosene lamps for light. Cooking was done over open fires outside the huts in the blazing sunshine.

Meals were an education to me: groundnut stew with rice, chicken and fufu pounded in huge bowls with beaters, gari, yam, papaya, mango and coconut. Tropical flavours and so exotic to me at the age of eighteen in the 1960s.

My over-riding impression was that the people of Ghana, however poor and lacking in material things, were happy, joyous and generous. They would literally want to share their last crust with a stranger. And that was why it was important to try to nurse the sick children and treat their families with respect and dignity, even in the midst of squalor and poverty.

But I was in West Africa at a time of civil war and danger. I was caught, literally, in the midst of gunfire, in Upper Volta (now Burkina Fasso), in Mali and in Ghana itself. Many times I was in fear for my life. I looked down the barrel of a machine gun and felt weapons held at my throat. I was held captive  for a time without food or water in the intense heat, wondering if I would ever see home again. And these experiences fed into my story, Drumbeats.

I chose the title because at night when my day’s work was done, I would stand on my balcony and look out over the bush, over the pawpaw and mango trees, palms and jungle vegetation, and listen to the talking drums, the dondo and the kpanlogo djembe, and wonder what messages they were sending between the villages. This was the memory which gave rise to my novel, Drumbeats.

My new book – and a writer’s struggle!

I am now engaged in writing a trilogy on the life story of my new character Jess. It starts with the first novel, set in the mid-1960s in Africa where 18 year old English student, Jess, has fled her stifling background to become a volunteer for her gap year between school and university.  But she finds herself instead becoming embroiled in civil war, an unexpected romance, and the tragedy that ensues. The book follows her life-changing experiences set against the backdrop of a small war-torn West African nation.

And, yes, although it is a novel, and therefore “made up”, it is based, in some measure, on my own experiences in Ghana, where I worked as a volunteer, so there’s a lot of authentic first-hand observations of the country, its wonders and its tragedies. The book is called Drumbeats and it will be available through Amazon and all the usual channels, as a paperback and ebook for kindle, later this year.

I have the background info, I have the authentic letters, I have the photos and memories, I have my diary/journal/log, and I have great times reliving the times and the country. But I am finding it really hard to resume from half way through, without going back and editing yet again because I’m not satisfied!

Why would my character Jess have been so affected by Jim’s piano playing when he plays his arrangement for piano of Mozart’s clarinet concerto in A?

How can I show her relationship with “the guy she left behind” and how important it was to her, when she is so affected by Jim?

Is the wonder of the country, especially at that time in history, coming through strongly enough to the reader? Am I making it real and “visible” to my  readers? Can they really “see” it all?

Is the effect that the poverty Jess sees haunting enough for the readers? Are they emotionally affected by the descriptions and events?

Some days I think that the title Drumbeats actually reflects the drumming of the phrase (amended from the original for my own purposes!) “so many ideas, so little time!”

My publisher’s waiting….!