Monday, 18 September 2017

The sensory inspiration behind Michelle Heatley's Fish Soup

In the last weeks, we've read published several back stories to our authors' novels, and these have proved to be very popular. However, this isn't the first time we've done this and looking into our archives, we found some earlier posts that we feel are worth re-posting. Gaining an insight into the strands that have brought a book together can reveal a lot about it and give you a new perspective on it. This one by Michelle Heatley about her lovely book, Fish Soup, would inspire anyone to read it. Read on to find out about what inspired her to write it!
About ‘Fish Soup’
In the magical and esoteric atmosphere of the Greek Islands, sisters Isa and Chloe fetch up on the shores of a very special haven, each searching for more than just the pungently fragrant recipe of a heady Mediterranean fish soup. They come for the weekend, bringing their baggage with them: both kinds. Cecelia, their mentor, helps the girls wend their way through not only learning to make the soup, but also through a cobweb of emotional healing. Unexpectedly she discovers that the compliment is returned.
Here's what Michelle told us:
Inspiration can take hold of an author when least expected.                                                                               
It could be as simple as the scent of the air as a breath of wind blows across the sea carried by an easterly wind, the vibrating high-pitched call of cicadas on a hot Mediterranean evening, the sight of the evening sun glowing on pastel coloured houses or as delicious as taste of fish soup on your tongue. Sight sound, smell and taste, all awaken the soul of a writer it makes and makes me want to capture them on the page.
‘Fish Soup’ began with taste. A spoon dipped into a bowl of rich Portuguese Fish Cataplana, a fish stew filled with the flavours of the land and sea. I tried so many times to recreate this delicious fish stew at home without success, until I eventually realised that some tastes can only to be savoured in the country that named it.
After the intense taste, came the sounds of cicadas battering my ears on sultry Mediterranean days and the sight of white painted fishermen’s cottages, glowing pink, bathed in the evening sun.
But, it is the sea that inspires me more than anything else and it awakens all of my senses.
I live in South Devon where the sea is a constant presence. I am lucky enough to be able to walk to the shore, where I can breathe in the heady mix of scents swept in on a warm summer wind, taste the salt on my lips after a winter storm, see the colour of the water change from pewter grey, deep cobalt blue to tropical azure and hear the waves chuckle and chatter on the pebbly beach. With each different sensation my fingers itch to capture it all on the page.
There are so many senses that have inspired my novel ‘Fish Soup’ but the sense that is most important when dipping into a bowl of delicious fish soup is taste, always taste.
We loved this post and are delighted to be able to bring it to you again in this updated form. Fish Soup is a lyrical and lovely novel that is worth reading twice as well!

If you are interested in reading it, here is the link to the book on Amazon

Monday, 11 September 2017

Back to the back stories: the inspiration behind Just One More Summer

What do you think of when you hear the name ‘Cornwall’? Family holidays? Beautiful beaches? Smuggling? Cornwall lies on the south west coastline of England and includes the UK’s most westerly point. It is well known for its 300 miles of stunning coastline and is a very popular tourist destination that has a special place in many people’s hearts.

The extract below was originally published in an earlier Sunpenny blog and is Julie McGowan's touching back story on why she wrote her poignant and evocative novel, Just One More Summer, which is set in Cornwall. With summer coming to an end in the northern hemisphere and just beginning in southern climes, we thought it would be fitting to re-publish this post.

Porthcurno north Cornwall, England This reminds me of that level on MarioKart64
Over to Julie:
Whenever I think of ‘escape’, wanting to throw off the shackles of everyday life and experience a sense of freedom, I’m drawn to the wide open spaces of Cornwall and its dramatic, untamed coastline bordering an ocean that could, indeed, carry one across the world.
So when my character, Allie, in ‘Just One More Summer’ feels the desperate need to get away following a painful divorce, it made sense to me that she would head for Cornwall.
For her, though, whilst the turbulence of her life is reflected in the  Poldark-type wildness and unpredictability of the region, it’s that other aspect of Cornwall that she’s drawn to – the well-remembered childhood holidays when the days were long on endless beaches, the sky was blue and the sea becalmed. Many ‘Enid Blyton’ holidays with my own family were spent in this way and it’s a comfort we all turn to when our lives take a difficult turn.
Then there’s the mystical Cornwall, of  King Arthur and Merlin at Tintagel, smugglers’ tale and Celtic legends, along with the beautiful light, which appeals to artists and free spirits. It was this Cornwall that drew my other main character, Marsha, to it over thirty years before, and kept her in its thrall ever since.
So much variety in one region makes it the perfect place to write about in a novel, and the fictitious Tremorden in ‘Just One More Summer’  is an amalgam of Bude and St. Ives and a few coastal villages in between.
The Celtic connection is also evident in my two other novels, ‘The Mountains Between’ and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, but in Wales this time. There too, the ‘separateness’,  the myths and the history, even down to the mining (tin in Cornwall, coal in Wales)  produce a strong sense of identity and community in its people, which is a major theme in my books.
I think you have to have strong feelings about a place  – preferably love, but sometimes hate – to draw an adequate word picture. My love affair with Cornwall, its dark mysteries and compelling coastline, started long ago, and is surpassed only by my love of my homeland, Wales.

Julie McGowan
Thank you, Julie. Your book is a lovely tribute to the wild beauty of Cornwall! For those interested in reading Julie's lovely novel, the link to the kindle and paperback versions of the book on Amazon is here
The link to the Book Depository is here

Monday, 4 September 2017

Reviews: what they mean to readers and authors

These days, the majority of books are purchased from online stores. E-books have taken a huge percentage of the market too, so how do readers find out if they want to buy a book if they don't visit a bookshop?

The advantage of buying books from 'bricks and mortar' stores is that you can browse through a whole range before buying one. Selecting novels from shelves, reading the blurb, seeing what the press have said about them and even reading short sections can be a very pleasurable pastime as well as a great opportunity to find out if you wish to buy them. Quite apart from that, the smell, feel and look of a real book are all part of that special pre-purchase experience.

Reader's Review of Sophie's Quest: "I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and all the carefully researched details regarding their quest. This book would be a great read for children and also an excellent read-a-loud book. I highly recommend it." 

But what about e-books or books ordered online? We can certainly read the blurb and generally, we can read a sample of the first few pages, but how else can we decide whether we want to press that 'buy' button and go ahead with the purchase? Moreover, since e-books by known authors often cost as much if not more than a paperback, we usually want to have a little more evidence that what we are paying for is going to be worth our hard-earned money.

Reader's Review of Going Astray: "This story will make you really think about your beliefs and look deeply inside yourselves.The book is well-written and had me worried about its outcome, as I hoped that Laura would manage to find the strength to rebel against the cult and escape"

This is where reviews are so useful. With a paperback in a bookstore, we can skim all the way through the book, feel how thick it is, check the font size and make a pretty good assessment about what it is we are investing in. With a book ordered online, whether electronic or otherwise, we don't have so many possibilities and so, customer and reader reviews can be very helpful.

Reader's review of Rooster Street: "I started this novel on new year's day and was so glad to have read such a great book to mark the start of a new year. The story of Althea's brave bid for freedom seemed just right for emphasizing new starts. The modern story, of Jennifer who while investigating Althea's past begins to make some important discoveries about her own life, is also very well developed. I can whole-heartedly recommend this book. "

The more reviews a book has, the wider the range of readers it has probably had as well. If the majority of those reviews are positive and enthusiastic, and confirm that the book is what we hoped it would be, then the chances are that we will like it too. However, that doesn't mean a book with few reviews is not a good buy. The point is whether we as readers learn what we need to know from what others have written.

Reader's Review of Dance of Eagles: "This book is a gem that seems to have received less attention than it deserves. It’s a wonderfully crafted story, fabulous subject matter covering the time just before Rhodesia became Zimbabwe which includes a wealth of first-hand knowledge and thorough research from the author."

From an author's perspective, the ideal situation is to have plenty of good reviews and few, if any, poor ones. However, all authors know that they cannot please everyone and that some critical feedback is inevitable. This is not necessarily a bad thing as what some readers will dislike, others will love; it may well be that one person's criticism will encourage another to buy. One example of this is explicit content, language or violence. If reviewers mention these as dominant features, it could discourage a number of readers but appeal to others. There is also the matter of quality. Use of English, editing and style can be major purchasing points for certain readers, but unimportant to others. However, negative comments regarding such issues are useful feedback for the author to consider for the future. What is key is that a variety of reviews can help both the authors and the customers, which is why readers are encouraged to be honest and fair when writing their comments.

In the end, then, a thoughtful and constructive review is invaluable to everyone concerned, so the next time you read a book (and especially a Sunpenny book!), think about what you would tell someone else about the book you've read and take the time to write a review. You can be sure that if you do, both readers and authors will thank you - and of course, their publishers will too!

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Blogging: how it can help authors

In the last two posts, we've looked at both Twitter and Facebook as a means of helping writers become known, but another branch of social media is blogging. Many people don't view blogs as social media; they are more individualised, take more time and do not always result in a great deal of interaction, but blogs are one of the earliest forms of internet social media and a lively and regular blog can do much for an author's public profile.

The point with a blog is that it doesn't have to be about the author's books; in fact, it is better to avoid constant reference to them. A blog is a great way for readers to get to know something about the author's life, opinions, activities and interests. Of course, blog posts about writing with tips and ideas are always well received, but in principle, an author's blog is best used for the readers to learn about the author as a person.

Several of our authors are active, regular bloggers and their followers love to read their posts and give comments. While Twitter and Facebook are not designed for lengthy posts and articles, a blog is where authors can expand on a theme, reveal ideas and present themselves to their readers in a more in-depth way than they can on the other social media platforms.

Themed blogs are often popular too. Bloggers who focus on a specific aspect of their lives will often attract loyal followers and readers who enjoy the topic or approach. For example, some bloggers concentrate on writing humorous posts about their daily lives; others will write about art or music or faith; still others might focus on health, life as a senior citizen, or parenthood. Our author, Tonia Parronchi usually writes about her family's life in an Italian village; Michelle Heatley gives readers a taste of living in Devon within a fishing community; Stephanie Parker McKean's posts are rooted in her faith but usually have amusing analogies to her life in Scotland and Sonja Anderson mixes posts on her faith with others about her writing and her books. Lastly Val Poore writes about travelling on her barge as well as her life in a Rotterdam harbour. The point is that each author has become known for writing blog posts on certain themes and this can encourage a loyal readership of followers who are then more likely to read their books.

Blogs can also be promoted easily on other social media sites. Links on Twitter and Facebook can result in hundreds, if not thousands, of views. Google + is also a worthwhile site on which to post blog links and the value of having posts shared through the various social media networks such as Tumblr, Instagram and Reddit means that although not everyone will comment, there is a strong chance that an author's readership will grow as a result.

Blogging is therefore a hugely worthwhile addition to an author's marketing arsenal, and not only that, it is a great creative outlet for those writers who value the self-discipline of having a weekly or monthly blog to produce.

For those interested in our authors' blogs, see the list in the sidebar at the top right-hand side of this page. We know that all of them would love to receive your comments!