Monday, 27 February 2017

Building bridges wherever she goes: author interview with Stephanie Parker McKean

This is now the third in our series of interviews from our authors. Stephanie Parker McKean comes from the beautiful state of Texas but now lives in the equally beautiful but very different Fort Rose in Scotland. Today, she's going to fill us in on how her environment inspires her in her writing. Stephanie is the author of numerous books, but is best known for her wonderful 'Bridge' murder mysteries featuring the wacky and delightful Miz Mike. The stories cross the Atlantic from Texas to Scotland and back again, and the first two fall under the Sunpenny Rose & Crown imprint.  Now, over to Steph!

SP: Stephanie, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Scotland?

SPM: Yes, of course. It’s amazing even to me. I love Texas and never expected to leave. Then I met my husband, Reverend Alan McKean, and the only way to live with the man I married was to move to Scotland!

SP: The things we do for love? Can I ask then, what do you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Scotland?

SPM: Scotland is a land of scenic beauty in any direction you look. There is simply nothing ugly or un-inspiring about it. I love rocks and am endlessly fascinated by the craftsmanship that went into these awesome, historical rock buildings. And not just the castles. I love all the rock buildings.

Stephanie at Fort Rose in Scotland

SP: You mention rocks in your books quite often, I notice. Was it your environment that prompted you to start writing? How long have you been writing?

SPM: I have wanted to do nothing else in life but write books since I was about 10-years-old. My father sold his first book and came home with a Shetland pony in the back of the station wagon. He bought Smokey with the advance from his book. When I asked him if his book was true, he said no. That decided me. I was always getting into trouble for telling tall tales. I figured that if a person could get paid for telling lies – that was the job for me!

SP: What a lovely story!  What do you prefer writing then? Fiction or fact and why?

SPM: Oh, fiction. Definitely fiction—although I do research any time it’s needed, and places, historical events, characters, and even some of the situations—are based on fact. But I love spinning threads of imagination into words to catch a plot and build a web of deceit that will help readers escape the mundane (and perhaps even sane?) when talking about Texas Miz Mike.

SP: Now I have to ask you this: do you write anything other than fiction/fact?

SPM: I spent a total of 14 years writing articles for various newspapers in Georgia, Nevada, and mostly Texas. I have also sold true stories to Regular Baptist Press for their take home Sunday School papers. But my first love is fiction.

The reason Stephanie gave up journalism and went to
Sctoland: with her husband , the kilted Alan McKean

 SP: Wow, what a writing background you have! If you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

SPM: The same tip that I read once many years ago: stick to writing what you know best. And if you don’t know enough—research it. I think if a writer writes what he or she loves, that will come through in the book.

SP: Great advice. Now, here's a stock question for you. What is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

SPM: Good question! My greatest strength in life is my Christian faith and my walk with God.Even my flexibility is built on that. I have lived under a bridge, taking baths in the river even during the winter and painting signs for survival. I have lived in the middle of the Nevada desert as a single parent raising a son. I have lived in an open-ended garden center in the Texas Hill Country with birds flying in and out above and toads and other critters coming in at ground level. Now, I have given up my summers of 100+F to live here in Scotland where it’s a miracle if it breaks 70F even in the “summer.” But through it all, two things have sustained me: God and writing.

As for my weakest point, perhaps trusting other people too easily and too much. That sort of answers the question of why I wound up living under a bridge and in the open-ended garden center!

SP: I hope you never have to do that again, Stephanie, but if you had to live in isolation for a year with only one book, what would it be? And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

SPM: More good questions. I could easily live for a year with just my Bible. I try to read nine chapters from it each day. Sadly, I seem to fail often given the time spent on book promoting. My favorite authors are the American mystery-romance-suspense writer Phyllis A. Whitney, and British mystery writer Agatha Christie.

Angel Joy, Stephanie's dog has more than a passing place
in her wonderful Miz Mike books

SP: Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

SPM: Thanks for asking this because it’s exciting! I am working on the eighth Miz Mike. I thought seven would be the end of the series, then Alan made a suggestion for another…and it took off so fast that I had to run to keep up with it! In fact, it’s mostly finished, but I decided it was too short and am adding a chapter to slow down the non-stop action just a bit to give readers a chance to catch their breath. “Bridge to Texas” is set back in Texas and is hilariously funny.

SP: All right, last question now! If you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions? 

SPM: Aah, you know I simply don’t have a bucket list. All I have ever wanted to do is write books. I’m writing books now—so I am 100 percent joyous and content!

Stephanie, thank you so much for joining us on the Sunpenny blog. It's been lovely to have you here and I hope all our readers will enjoy reading a little more about you and your fascinating background.

Links to Stephanie's books can be found here 
(The first two books in the Bridge series are Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond Betrayal)
Her personal and very lovely blog is here

The first of the seven-book Bridge series

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Interview with Tonia Parronchi, author of Whisper on the Mediterranean

To continue our series of interviews, we are delighted to present Tonia Parronchi, author of Whisper on the Mediterranean, a gorgeous memoir about sailing off the Italian coast. Like many of our authors, Tonia's home is in a beautiful and special location. She lives in Tuscany, Italy with her husband, Guido, her son and a gorgeous puppy called Drake. She is joining us today to tell us something about her adoptive country and how it inspires her in her writing

SP: Tonia, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Italy?

TP: Hi Val, I have a bit of a gypsy soul. I moved house and changed jobs and men many times before meeting my husband and moving to Italy.

I grew up in England and lived there until I was 27 but travelling was always what made me happiest. I met Guido when I was in Cephalonia; living unhappily with a Greek man and already thinking about moving back to the UK with my tail between my legs. Guido had sailed there to recover from his divorce. So we were two unhappy people who were definitely not looking for love! He invited me to visit him in Rome for a week and 27 years later he still hasn't managed to get rid of me! In Guido I found my soul mate and best friend. He loves travelling as much as I do and has done far more of it than me. When he took early retirement (at 48!) we bought a sailing boat and set off around the Mediterranean with our 14 month old toddler, which is where my memoir "A Whisper on the Mediterranean" comes from.

Tonia's lovely memoir

Tonia and Guido on their sailing boat

SP: That's so romantic, Tonia. Like a fairytale! What do you most inspiring as a writer about living in Italy?

TP: I love Italy in spite of its various problems with politics and corruption. I don't think it is the only country to have these problems either but certainly Italians have been suffering from these things openly for far too long. I love the people, food, wine and the relaxed atmosphere. It is not perfect here but I don't think paradise exists anywhere on earth.  I am very lucky to live in Tuscany now, in a beautiful valley which is a constant inspiration to me and the setting for my novel, "The Song of the Cypress". I observe 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.

Right now, winter is almost over and I can feel spring in the air. There are no visible buds on the trees yet but the branches seem to be swelling and subtly changing colour so there is a sense of ripening everywhere. However, nature can be observed anywhere and you asked when it is about Italy that inspires me - maybe it is the fact of being an outsider. I am still different even after all these years. The way of living here; the small rituals, celebrations and mindset still sometimes surprise me. I find this a constant source of amusement and wonder. It's the little things such as their connection with the land. I live in a country village and things would be different in a city but here people often grow their own fruit and vegetables, keep chickens for food as well as eggs and make their own wine. So, they are aware of the seasons and eat appropriately. The mushroom season is a moment of fervent excursions into the woods on secret mushrooming missions. Never disclose the exact location of your porcini patch!

Beautiful Tuscany
SP:  It all sounds just wonderful - the stuff of dreams! But what prompted you to start writing? How long have you been writing?

TP: I've always scribbled, but until I lived in Rome, I had never thought about really writing a book. My husband encouraged me to start and I wrote a story which I will probably never publish because it was very unpolished but I fell in love with writing and now it is part of who I am.

SP: It's always there somewhere, isn't it? What do you prefer writing? Fiction or fact and why?

TP: Hard to say! Writing memoirs is probably easier because one has a diary or memories to work from. However I think I enjoy fiction most. It allows me to exercise my imagination. I certainly prefer reading fiction and exploring different genres.

SP:  Then do you write anything other than fiction or memoir?

TP: I write poetry too but this tends to be very personal and mostly I prefer to keep people outside my head because it can be a bit of a mess in there!

SP: OK, here's a standard question we ask everyone. If you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

TP: I suppose to just start. Also, to not worry about whether it is "good" or not. If you have something you want to express, sometimes it is enough just to put it down on paper for yourself alone.

SP: That's a good idea. Don't get it right; get it written! What do you feel is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

TP: From a writer's point of view I think that being able to see things from other people's perspectives is very valuable. It helps me to get inside my character's heads and imagine them as whole people with varied reactions to situations. At the same time this is maybe my weakest point too because, being able to see life through other's eyes often means that I do not press home my own opinion because I can understand theirs. This does not mean that I don't have strong opinions, just that I am able to see things from the opposite side. Guido says that I am good at working out problems, although he specifies NOT technical ones :) I am absolutely useless at anything technical!

Tonia's family: her son, Guido & Drake the
new furry addition to the Parronchi household

SP: That's what you have him for, isn't it?  If you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be? And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

TP: Wow, that is a hard one! I have so many that I love and take down to read again. I have many favourite authors and these tend to change as I grow and discover new ones and new facets of myself reflected in their words. I was in love with Somerset Maugham when I was a teenager and got misty eyed over the poetry of Yeats. I really enjoy books by Joanne Harris, with her "everyday magic". I like books that make me laugh and ones that make me cry, as long as they trigger real, strong emotions.
You can see I'm trying to avoid being forced to choose one book for a year!

Let me cheat and say that I would have two books, one factual and one fiction. The factual one is easy, my old book on aromatherapy which I have read so often that its pages are falling out and which has helped me many times, to ease someone's pain or scent the house for a special dinner party. It links words with plants and the healing power of nature.

My fiction choice (can I choose a trilogy? That way I can start the first again when I finish the last?) "The Crystal Cave" by Mary Stewart. I first read this when I was a girl too. I fell in love with the beautiful way she writes about Merlin's life as he grows from a boy to an old man, showing him as a real person rather than a magician, bringing the past alive and at the same time allowing a bit of magic to remain.

For me the best writers manage to reveal a little of the deep connection that exists between us fragile humans and the universal force that nourishes our souls. What I call magic. What leaves us tingling all over and a little breathless with the joy of that connection.

SP: Well, I suppose we could let you have those, but you realise that's four books, don't you? Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

TP: I've just finished a humorous novel called "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" and I am working on two projects. The first is a book about how to live a life you really want called "Uniquely You". I'm not sure if I intend this to ever be published. It is maybe more a guide for any future grandchildren that I might have, to help them cope with the difficulties they will inevitable encounter on their journey through life and encourage them to live bravely, not as other's want them to but to follow what makes their own hearts sing. The other is a novel in its infancy, to do with the siren call of the sea, the effect of water on our minds and bodies ...

SP: Wow! That all sounds very exciting. Can I ask this: if you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

TP: I have never drawn up a bucket list. There are many things that I would love to do, places to travel to, things to experience. One thing I am certain of, anything sporty would not be on my list! I leave all sporting activities to my husband.

Life has a way of surprising us, heading us in a direction that we could not have anticipated and I am learning to let it take me where it will and enjoy what I can from each new experience. Even the darkest ones leave some gem in their wake which, with time, one can learn to treasure.
However, I would like to:
* Travel on the Orient Express, indulging myself in that opulent elegance of bygone days.
* Live by or on the water again, either on a sailing boat, a barge or a houseboat.
* Take a very long journey to Australia and New Zealand so that I can spend time with our son who lives in Sydney and who I miss enormously.

SP: What a lovely set of ambitions! Tonia, thank you so very much for joining us on the Sunpenny blog today; it's been a real pleasure to talk to you about your lovely home and your inspirations.

For anyone interested, Tonia's Amazon links can be found here
And her personal website and blog are here

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Interview with Sonja Anderson: author of Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar

In our last post, we mentioned how special it is that Sunpenny has such an international group of authors. As promised, in our forthcoming posts we will be publishing the interviews we've held with them to find out something about where they live and how their environs inspire them. First up is Sonja Anderson, the author or our gorgeous children's books, Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, superstar.

Sonja Anderson with her lovely daughters

SP:  Sonja, could you tell us something of your background and how you came to be living in Seattle, Washington, USA?

SA: A good friend from college invited me to come stay with her in Seattle for a few months before I went to work at an international school in Tokyo. During those five months, I fell in love with the mountains and water and people and moved back there when it was time to leave Japan.

SP: I've often heard about how beautiful it is there. What do you find most inspiring as a writer about living in Seattle?

SA: I live near Puget Sound and watch boats, large and small, going by every day. It makes me wonder where they are going and why. I used some of that wondering in my children’s novel, Sophie’s Quest! Probably more significant, however, is that Seattle is a place where many people have come from all over the world to live, and I’m inspired to use my writing to help people understand one another a little better.

Sonja with Puget Sound in the background

SP: That's a lovely idea to pursue. What prompted you to start writing in the first place, and how long have you been writing?

SA: I’ve been writing most of my life in one way or another—I kept a lot of diaries as a kid, and even entered two stories into a Christmas writing contest at school. When one of my stories was selected to be read in front of the whole school, I was hooked!

I began writing fiction in earnest when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten. She had a “discussion” on the playground with kids of different religious backgrounds over “whose God is biggest.” I wanted to write a story that would help kids respect each other despite their differences, and also to introduce them to Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us.

SP: Again, a wonderful motivation to write. What do you prefer writing? Fiction or fact and why?

SA: I recently finished a non-fiction project with my husband about the history of Mount Rainier National Park and the historic inns and lodges there. It was really fun to learn lots of new things! I have to say, though, that writing fiction that seems to touch children’s hearts is one of the most satisfying things I have ever done in my life. I know what fictional characters meant to me growing up, and it brings me so much joy to hear kids tell me how much they love Sophie Topfeather and her friends!

SP: That is no surprise at all! We love Sophie too! Do you write anything other than fiction/fact?

SA: When I have time, I enjoy writing personal experience blog posts on my website, It’s one way that I’ve found to share encouragement for other school employees, and to tell some of the really interesting stories that kids tell me about their various cultures, like White Sunday (Samoan) and Ethiopian Christmas and Easter celebrations.

SP: That's terrific! Okay, then, if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book, what would it be?

SA: Just start writing, and don’t worry about whether or not each sentence is very good. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re starting the story in the right place. Just go, and keep going! When you finally have a draft, think of it as a nice, big, pile of raw material to play in until you can get it right. I spent a year on the first chapter of Sophie’s Quest, trying to get everything right, only to realize much, much later, that it was completely the wrong beginning. I pitched the whole chapter and wished I had that year back!

SP: What a great lesson to learn. What would you say is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

SA: It’s hard to see your own strengths and weaknesses, isn’t it? I guess what I try to do is to encourage everyone around me and to live my life in a way that is consistent with what I believe to be true. My weakest point is that I concentrate so hard on some things that I completely forget other things that are also important, like being thoughtful for birthdays and other special events, in a timely manner.

Sonja is one of twins: this is her with her sister
Suzanne Cordatos, also a Sunpenny author

SP: Ah, those special days are always difficult to remember, aren't they? Sonja, if you had to live for a year with only one book, what would it be?

SA: That’s an easy one! I’d bring my study Bible, because this one book contains enough to keep someone interested and curious for a lifetime, let alone a year, especially with all the notes and commentary.

SP: And do you have any favourite authors? If so, why do you admire their work?

SA: I admire many children’s book authors, but I really love Steve Sheinkin’s narrative non-fiction (especially Bomb), and Kirby Larson’s work (Her book, The Friendship Doll, made me sob out loud!)

SP: Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

SA: I’m very excited to be finishing Mount Rainier’s Historic Inns and Lodges, a project I’ve been doing with my husband for Arcadia Publishing. It’s due to be released May 22, 2017. I’m also about fifty pages in to the third Sophie Topfeather book! It’s called, Sophie’s Gold Rush, and I hope to have a good rough draft done by the end of the summer.

SP: That's wonderful! Okay, now, the final question. If you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

1. Visit Beatrix Potter’s home in the Lake District

2. Follow the footsteps in England of Katherine from the historical novel, Katherine, by Anya Seton (with my twin sister, who also wants to do this!).

3. Go back as a guest author to the international school in Tokyo where I taught 2nd grade. That’s where I first had a vision of my owl main character, Sophie!

Sonja, this has been absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing your inspiring home and thoughts with us. We know Sophie Topfeather is a very popular character with young readers, and hope more of them will discover her soon. Thanks for joining us!

Sonja's delightful books Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar are both published by Sunberry Books, an imprint of Sunpenny Publishing. Links to the site where readers can by them are below. Both books are available on all Amazon sites, however, and also as paperbacks through the Book Depository:

Sophie's Quest
Sophie Topfeather, Superstar

Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Blog is Back!

Firstly, we'd like to apologise for our absence from blogging over the last few months. There's been a lot happening in the Sunpenny world, all things that have meant the blog has had to be put on the back burner for a time.

Nevertheless, in the intervening months, our staff and authors have been busy with projects both old and new. There have been festivals, book signings, readings, workshops and other author events too, all of which have demonstrated the hard work, dedication and passion that go into publishing a book.

Now the blog is being resumed, we hope to bring you more of our news as well as articles about different aspects of writing and publishing. There'll be information about interesting events coming up in the publishing world too.

But before we do any of that, we have something special to kick start our blogging year. One of Sunpenny's special appeals is that our authors are truly international and our books are set in some amazing locations worldwide. In the next few weeks, we'll be beginning this new blogging season with some interviews with our authors. We've asked them all to tell us a bit about the environment in which they live and how it inspires their writing, so we're looking forward to sharing these with you.

Our first interview will be with Seattle-based Sonja Anderson, author of the delightful children's books Sophie's Quest and Sophie Topfeather, Superstar. We'll be posting this in the coming week. Following this, we have interviews lined up with several of our other authors who live in fabulous locations like Italy, New Zealand, Wales, Scotland and even the Netherlands, so be sure to keep an eye on our updates.

For now, though, it's great to be back and just as a reminder of an event where many of the Sunpenny authors and staff got together last year, here are some photos of us all at the London Book Fair last April!

 From top left to bottom right: 1. Jo Holloway conducting a meeting, 2. Tonia Parronchi and Val Poore
3. Michelle Jayne Heatley and Julie McGowan 4. Christine Moore