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!

Monday, 21 August 2017

Facebook: giving authors a human face

Last week, we had a look at how valuable Twitter can be for authors, even for big names like JK Rowling and Ian Rankin. But what about the other social media giant, Facebook? How useful is having a Facebook page to a writer or publisher? And how can Facebook be of help to authors through other means?

We at Sunpenny have a Facebook page where we share our blog posts, promote our books and post other items from our authors. We have a good reach and our posts are shared on several other pages too. In fact, Facebook is used by businesses all over the world as the 'human' side of their companies. It's somewhere customers can get in touch with the company's personnel promptly and directly. Being a business as well, this is what Sunpenny as a publisher does too. However, what about authors? Is Facebook different from Twitter in its purpose and reach?

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that on Twitter, there are no limitations as to who can follow an author or re-tweet their messages. In principle, one author's tweet could read thousands of people who have never heard of him or her before. The potential to reach new audiences is therefore great although much of it is down to chance.

On Facebook, however,  authors' followers are nearly always people who know and enjoy their work or at the very least, have heard of the authors and know what they do - much like the customers of a business. It is a place where readers can keep up with an author's latest news and express their appreciation. In that sense, it is much more focused than Twitter and what in theory can happen is that a reader might discover an author on Twitter, become a fan and then follow them on Facebook.

Does this mean that Facebook is not a place for authors to find new readers, though? No, it doesn't.  Facebook has many other opportunities for authors in the form of 'group pages'. There are Facebook groups for readers and writers of several genres and this can be a valuable way of reaching new audiences. There are groups for crime fiction, groups for location fiction, groups for Christian fiction and groups for romantic fiction. There also groups for non-fiction, especially for memoir writers. Several of our authors belong to such groups and have found they can become known in this way too. That said, there are also groups for writers themselves. It's worth mentioning that writers are great readers and if they like another author's books, they will often be generous in buying, reading and reviewing.

Nevertheless, the key to all social media is not in the numbers of followers, likes and friends per se. It is in the personal touch. Social media is not a replacement for face-to-face contact, but if the author presents him or herself as approachable, friendly, communicative and supportive, both Twitter and Facebook can be a very worthwhile means of interacting with readers and followers when personal contact isn't possible.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Twitter: the writer's best friend?

This week, we are looking at an important online tool to help authors market their books: Twitter. Several of our authors are active on Twitter and it can be an invaluable aid to spreading the word about their books, blogs and other activities.

All writers who want to sell their work have to put some effort into marketing. It doesn't matter whether you are a big fish in a large genre pond or a very small fish in a small niche pond, some level of marketing is required of all authors. For example, well-known writers like John le Carré and Ian Rankin still have to do book launch tours and make public appearances even though their publishers can afford considerable budgets to market their books.

But where does social media come into the frame? And in particular, what value is Twitter to the writer and publisher? JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author, has a huge Twitter following and is a very active Tweeter; so is Ian Rankin of crime fiction fame. It seems clear that they are aware of its value to them as both authors and public figures, or they wouldn't use it. So how does Twitter work? And how can it help the lesser known authors and publishers?

With Twitter, you can reach thousands of potential readers, not only through building up your own followers, but through the activities of others too. It is a little like a pyramid. You start with one tweet (a brief message of 140 characters). This tweet is then re-tweeted (RTd) by a number of your followers, and may then be re-tweeted again by their followers. If, as can happen, your followers have several thousand followers of their own, the potential reach of your single tweet is enormous.

The trick, however, is to be a person and not just a tweeter and re-tweeter. It is fairly easy to build a large number of followers with a little time and effort. Twitter will suggest like-minded followers to you, and you can also find them by using hashtags that reflect your interest in your query field. For example, those who write and read memoirs will often use the hashtag #memoir to find other writers and readers they can follow, and who will hopefully follow them too. Once you start following others, they will most likely follow you too and you can start interacting with them. Such interaction is very important for the Tweeter. People buy from people first and foremost and if you come across as a friendly, generous and interesting person, you will start to build a following of genuinely interested people, rather than just collecting numbers.

Another important key to using Twitter well is to target your tweets, again by using hashtags. Val Poore, whose book Watery Ways focuses mainly on canal cruising, barges and boating, uses the hashtag #boatsthattweet to reach other boaters who might be interested in reading her book. She also uses other boating and travel related hashtags and she is convinced this has helped her to reach a wider audience than she would otherwise have done. Val has a list of boaters that she talks to regularly on Twitter and she has found they have not only bought her book, but are also generous in re-tweeting her marketing tweets, specifically those with the targeted hashtags.

Lastly, a 'pinned' tweet can also be useful as it helps your followers to support you. Make sure you create a tweet that you want people to RT for you and using the action options offered, pin your tweet to the top of your timeline. Followers visiting your page will be able to simply RT this tweet without having to scroll down to find one that's going to be of help to you. Try and change this now and then as your supporters could lose interest if they have to keep re-tweeting the same message.

As with all these tools, however, consistency is the key. It isn't necessary to spend hours a day on Twitter, but some designated time each day can bring its own rewards. Happy Tweeting everyone!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Travel: food for writers

 As we have mentioned before, one of the special features of Sunpenny Publishing and its imprints is its international group of authors. Although we are a British based company, our writers come from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Even within Europe, we have writers in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Within the UK too, we have two authors in Wales, one in Scotland, and others in various parts of England. Location therefore plays a significant role in our range of books and we are proud of being able to bring readers glimpses of different parts of the world through both fiction and memoir.

Our readers can armchair travel to Wales or Zimbabwe, to Scotland or Texas, and to the Netherlands or New Zealand. And the reason they can do that is because our writers are great travellers who explore their countries by land and even by boat.

Debbie Roome, the author of Embracing Change and Broken Shells, grew up in Zimbabwe, spent many years in South Africa and now lives and writes in New Zealand. She loves travelling through her adoptive country and has even written guides for travellers. As she says, what she loves about New Zealand is  "the peaceful lifestyle and incredible beauty of this little country. We have alpine lakes, majestic mountains, hot pools and boiling mud, rain forest, endless beaches, volcanoes and glaciers! Just driving through such scenery inspires me." Debbie has been able to draw on these extensive travel experiences when writing her evocative romances.

Debbie Roome's New Zealand
 Another of our writers who has transplanted herself to a new continent is Stephanie Parker McKean. Of Texan origin, she travelled from her home of searing heat and magnificent arid landscapes to live in the north of Scotland with her Scottish minister husband. Her entertaining and funny murder mysteries, Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond betrayal have such a strong sense of place, the reader can tread the dusty roads and feel the burning heat of the Texan landscape. Stephanie has a special attachment for rocks as a result: "I love rocks and am endlessly fascinated by them" she says and she finds great solace in building structures and walls from natural stone.

Stephanie Parker McKean, a Texan transplanted to Scotland

Tonia Parronchi's sailing memoir, A Whisper on the Mediterranean is also inspired by her passion for adventure and travel. Imagine taking off on a small sailing boat with a baby and then enduring Mediterranean storms and sea sickness while trying to care for a child in nappies. Such is her love of the Italian islands (and her husband, of course) that she was prepared to embark on a entire summer of sailing from island to island down Italy's breathtaking coast. In Tonia's words: "I can observe (Italy's) nature in minute detail as it unfolds around me, season by season and take such joy in the small changes which consequently make their way into my writing."

Tonia Parronchi with her husband on their sailing boat

Other Sunpenny writers have imbued their books with their own unique sense of place as well, something they have only been able to do through personal experience and travel. Julie McGowan, whose novels The Mountains Between and Don't Pass Me By are set in beautiful south Wales, glow with her love of her country. Suzanne Cordatos is another, and although  her home is in Connecticut, she has travelled often to Greece, the home of her husband's family. Her children's novel, The Lost Crown of Apollo, reflects both her knowledge and her affection for the country. She calls it her 'love letter' to her Greek relatives. 

Suzanne Cordatos in Greece
In fact, nearly all Sunpenny's authors take the reader to somewhere new, somewhere different: Janet Purcell writes about Cape Cod, Valerie Poore's books are set on the Dutch and Belgian waterways; JS Holloway takes us to Zimbabwe; Eugene Barker invites us to share the French Pyrenees with her. And these are not the only ones, for Sonja Anderson takes us travelling to the Middle East, Sandra Peut to Australia and William Wood shares gems of many of the places and countries through which he has travelled.

Janet Purcell's Cape Cod
Travel has enriched the lives and imaginations of our authors and without it, they would not have been able describe the settings in which their stories are centred so richly. For many others, though, such widespread travel is not possible, so virtual journeys through reading can be an exciting alternative. 

To enjoy a taste of our authors' experiences and the countries they love, visit our website at and see our books for some wonderful novels and memoirs set in glorious and exotic destinations.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The story behind Valerie Poore's memoir Watery Ways

This post was originally published on Val's own blog, but since Watery Ways is a Sunpenny publication, we thought it might interest our readers to learn a little of the background to her lovely memoir. This then is her back story of how she ended up on a barge in the Netherlands.

"There will be many who don't know and might be wondering how I have come to be living on an old Dutch barge in Rotterdam at a somewhat advanced stage in my life. Well, I suppose I wasn't so 'senior' when it all started, but I was definitely on the wrong side of forty five, so it wasn't exactly a youthful sense of adventure that drove me to this wonderful floating life.

I first left my home in South Africa at the end of 1998 to follow my husband to the Netherlands. He was working for a film company in Amsterdam at the time but was living in Rotterdam. He'd been gone for a year and decided he didn't want to go back to SA, so being ready for a new adventure myself, I agreed to shut up shop, leave my job and have a go at life in Europe again. No thoughts of boats and barges ever entered my head. I'd been living so long with SA drought and water restrictions the only boats I knew were the canoes on the  puddle-that-used-to-be-a-lake in the park. But then when I arrived in Holland, I discovered this whole new world of life on the water. I was like a child in my own wonderland.

The hold of the Hoop with Sindy as a puppy
In those early days in Rotterdam, my husband had an office in one of the city's working harbours and I was fascinated by the commercial barges that came in to offload. They often moored up against the quay outside the office and I would walk along them surreptitiously peeking through the net curtains of the windows in their back cabins. I was so taken by the idea that people both lived and worked on their barges that when said husband suggested we buy one ourselves, I never hesitated - this being in spite of the fact I hated sea travel, loathed being wet, and abhorred the cold. I suppose I conveniently forgot about all that. In wonderland, you don't usually do rational stuff like pros and cons, do you?

In any event, we bought an old barge that needed renovating some time that year - I forget exactly when. By that time, we'd got to know some people in the Oude Haven, a harbour designated for restoring historic barges and we managed to find a place there. However, this all took some time, a great deal of stress and more money than we'd ever imagined. The strain took its toll and to cut a long story discreetly short, we as a couple didn't survive.

Rescue for me came with an invitation to go back to South Africa to work at my old company. So in the course of 2000, I found myself back in Johannesburg. I loved being in my old home town again, and I was lucky enough to travel all over the country too,  but as time went on I knew I had to make a decision about life. I had nothing of my own in SA anymore; I was staying with friends; and the end of my contract was looming.

The Hoop as she is now. Still in Rotterdam, but
a different harbour

At the beginning of 2001, I headed back to Holland. This was, I thought, my chance to make something new for myself and of myself. I'd also found myself missing the boats and the barges, so I had a plan. It was to work, save money, buy my own boat and go to France.

A Godsend had come in the offer of a barge to rent. My dear friend, Philip, who saved my day rather often in those early years, had one I could rent. It wasn't very luxurious, he said, but it would be a roof when I had none. It was also a floating home. Since I hadn't had much chance to get a feel for life on the water before I hotfooted it back to South Africa, I wouldn't have cared if it had nothing of life's luxuries at all. As it happened, it didn't, and that's where the story of Watery Ways begins.

The wheelhouse of the Hoop - where the toilet remained
throughout my residence

The lovely Hoop on which I lived for a year and a half had no running water, no electricity, and no toilet when I moved on board. The electricity was my first challenge, the water came later, and the toilet remained where I found it for the duration of my occupancy - upside down on the seat in the wheelhouse. But that was all part of the charm.

And I never did get to live in France - although I haven't given up that dream yet...

Thank you so much, Val. You don't do things the easy way do you? If you'd like to read more about that first year of Val's watery adventure, my book is on

Monday, 24 July 2017

The story behind my character invention by Tonia Parronchi

This series of back story blogs is so interesting that we've decided to do another couple of posts. This week, Tonia Parronchi tells us what inspires her characters when she writes fiction.

Tonia Parronchi
People always wonder about how a writer invents characters. I find that each book and each character is different. Of course, in the case of a non-fiction book one writes about real people so no imagination is needed. A novel on the other hand is all about a writer's imagination. A while ago I wrote two blogs about different aspects of character creation which show how the process works for me. The first, from Feb 2013 published on my website (, talks about my literary novel set in the beautiful Tuscan valley where I live.

"Twilight" The beautiful painting by Caroline Zimmermann
which I used for the cover of "The Song of the Cypress"

In this blog I explain that after reading my book, The Song of the Cypress, a friend of my mother's said that she assumed that I had drawn on my experiences as an English girl living in Tuscany when writing. That is both true and untrue at the same time. Living here gives me a realistic viewpoint and the ability to describe the area in accurate detail. However, none of my characters are based on myself. The third comment I had was from a lady I met who had read my book. She amazed me by launching into a detailed discussion of the plot and characters as if they were real people - a bigger compliment I cannot imagine! She asked me if my heroine was based on me and my reply was, absolutely not. There are only two characters who have some basis of reality, Rita, who is a neighbour of mine and a wonderful source of stories from the war years and Luna, the dog. Luna looks different from my Stella but every delicious doggy moment in the book is based on her. Now that she is no longer with us, every time I reread bits of the book I want to laugh and cry at the same time - I miss her so much!

However, the characters in my book grow with me as I write. So much so that sometimes I have to go back to the beginning and rewrite scenes to add details about them that I did not know when I began. At the moment my head is full of new characters. I am not at the sleepless-night phase but the washing-up gets frequently interrupted as I dash to dry my hands and write down some new idea that presents itself to me from within the soapsuds. I love this process, this complicated double life I live, where my new "friends" seem almost as real as my family at times.

The second blog from my website is about my new novel "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow", a funny story set in the UK but with a very Italian hero who is unashamedly based on my friend Tonino. Anyone who has read my sailing Memoir "A Whisper on the Mediterranean" will remember Tony as the owner of the beautiful sailing boat Elisir with memorable  mirrors in the bathroom.

" Elisir, a splendid boat with shining woodwork and gleaming bronze fittings, which looks as if it should be used as a movie set.  Tony is the most erudite person I have ever known. The tatty, well-thumbed copy of Dante's "Divine Comedy" left casually by the sink in the head is an unusual aid to concentration but Tony has put it to good use and is capable of quoting huge chunks of it after a few glasses of wine."

We had many splendid sailing adventures together but life took a nasty turn when he died a few years ago. I couldn't accept his death, couldn't bear to think that his adventures were over and, without planning to do so, I found myself writing him into something new that I was working on. In this case my fictional character (because inevitably the real man gradually became absorbed by the fictional character) looked like Tony, dressed like him and spoke like him too.

Tony "Tonino"
This is a photo of my dear friend Tonino. He died in tragic circumstances a couple of years ago and I have never come to terms with his death, so much so that I found myself using him as the main character in the book I am writing at the moment. 

In "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" I have tried to keep his personality just as it was; grumpy, sarcastic, caustic, super-intelligent but also kind and very, very funny. I am giving him the life that he should have had, letting him recover his health, retire and move to a new country and eventually fall in love with his extremely daunting estate agent. 

Sometimes (when I'm writing) I can hear his voice in my head and remember the look he would give me whenever I said something daft. He keeps me from getting too wordy or too romantic and makes sure that I stop work at the right moment to open a bottle of wine, or why not two!

I miss my friend a lot more than he would have imagined. I am not sure if he knew how much I cared about him but I hope so. It was hard to write the opening chapter, taking the accident where Tony drowned and turning it into a near death experience that is almost funny instead of tragic. After that however the book began to unfold really quickly, other characters made their presences felt and became my constant companions as I moved around the house or tried to get to sleep at night. 

I am so lucky - writing is fun and wonderful. I disappear inside my own head completely at times but fortunately my husband, Guido, is always there to remind me that it is dinner time. If I am lucky that news will be accompanied by the smell of a yummy garlicky pasta sauce and the sound of a cork popping.

I carry a notebook with me and jot down lines or impressions that come to me. Often I throw these away at a later date when re-reading them doesn't trigger any emotion. Other times these notes can become big writing projects. I also fix things in my mind by describing them to myself if I don't have a pen and paper handy. This is my way of remembering. I pretend I am writing a scene and create sentences in my head to fix the memory.

One of the things that I love most about being a writer is the way even a chance meeting or fleeting glimpse of something or someone can be elaborated on until it comes to life in words on a page. In "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" I write about a girl called Grace. When I needed to create a character, who would be the counterbalance for a rash, adventurous young man, I suddenly remembered a beautiful black woman who walked past me on the beach one summer. She was slim and naturally pretty, with none of the make-up and jewellery that Italian women love to wear to wander up and down the seafront. She walked alone with her head up, gaze far away as she observed the sea and I though how very lovely and graceful she was. And that is all that I needed. I had found "Grace" in a fragment of memory.

Thank you, Tonia. What a lovely tribute to your friend! For anyone interested in Tonia's books, you can visit her author page on Amazon, which is where you will also find her Sunpenny publication, A Whisper on the Mediterranean

Monday, 17 July 2017

The story behind Rooster Street by Janet Purcell

As most readers know, North American history is inextricably bound up with the iniquities of slavery and the slave trade and even after it was abolished, the struggle of the former slaves to make new lives in freedom was often heart-rending.

In Janet Purcell's page-turning novel, Rooster Street, two stories unfold: the first is set in the 21st century and tells of a young woman's research into the history of a house in Cape Cod, the second is that of a runaway slave girl who begins a school in Rooster Street in Boston. How the two stories become entwined is revealed in this compelling book.

Janet Purcell

We asked Janet how she became inspired to write Rooster Street. This is what she said:

"I’ve been asked a number of times what led me to write about a runaway slave.  I’m not a person of color, I do not have ancestors who were slaves or slave holders.  No one in my family were even abolitionists.  So why?

I’ve pondered that question long and hard and the only answer I’ve been able to come up with is—I care.  

I grew up in a city, Trenton, New Jersey, and went to school with kids of all races and ethnicities.  It didn’t matter to us what color our skin was.  We were just friends.  But segregation began to rear its ugly head in the south.   I watched as black children were not allowed to enter their school--kids who looked just like some of my friends. I started seeing race riots across the country on tv, reading about atrocities being done to good people who just wanted to live a quiet life, to become educated, to raise their children in communities that accepted them as equal.

As an adolescent who loved to read, I was always drawn to books about brave women who overcame great odds.  The American pioneer women who followed their men across America and made homes and raised their families against all sorts of deprivations.

And, of course, I devoured books about the bravery of the African people who were torn from their families, brought to America and sold into bondage.  My heart ached for them being treated worse than animals and my heart swelled with joy for the ones who so bravely escaped.  I read with fascination about the Underground Railroad and had strong admiration for those who helped the runaways move to a safer place where they could be free and begin building real independence for themselves.

And there’s something about my love for and admiration of my mother in my writing.  She was born to a poor family and abused as a child growing up in New York City.  She loved to read and made friends with two women who worked in the local library.  When the abuse continued and she got to an age where she could do so, she climbed out her bedroom window one night and ran away.  The library women took her in and finally helped her be placed in a foster home where she served as a nanny while going to school and preparing herself for her adult life.   She married, raised my sister and me and became an adroit business woman and opened a very successful children’s clothing store.

I know you may be thinking by this time “How do those two separate inspirations to write Rooster Street mesh?  What’s the connection?”  I’m sitting here, fingers on my keyboard asking myself the same question.  When I began writing this blog story I decided to do it “stream of consciousness” and that has been a real eye opener for me.  

What I’m seeing is  Rooster Street was born in my caring about the strong spirit, the instinctual drive to better oneself, the intelligence of those held in bondage and abused.  I want to set them free and so greatly admire not only their bravery in breaking those bonds and fleeing, but then facing all the barriers they encountered and persevering to achieve their place in society which they deserved. As I was writing the book, I never stopped to ask myself why.  Althea came out of nowhere and was a gift to me.  She told her story to me as she became real on the page and she fascinated me the entire time.  

I like to meet with book clubs who have read Rooster Street and so many people have commented about the mother-daughter relationships throughout.  I was not aware of that as I wrote the story.  

The primary one is Lou and Althea, but also there is, in the beginning, Althea’s mother and Althea.  Farther on, there’s Bessie, the older slave woman who became a sort of surrogate mother to Althea when her mother died.  Next comes the new plantation mistress and Althea, then Liza Bell and Althea during her stay at the general store, then Mrs. Barbiero and Althea at the boarding house.  And in the present-day story, there is the troubled relationship between Jennifer and her mother, the important segment near the end with Dolores Austin and Jennifer, and the reconciliation of Jennifer and her mother.   

I’m a journalist and I came to that profession because I was more comfortable writing about other people rather than revealing myself.  But I’ve come to realize that as fiction writers, we can not hide.  What we care about most deeply finds its way up to the surface."

Thank you for this fascinating insight into your book, Janet.  

For anyone interested in reading this compelling novel, the link is here: