On How I Wrote My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister

Inspiration attacked Samantha Henthorn from several different angles when she wrote her new novel, ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.

Inspiration attacked me from several different angles when I wrote my new novel, ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister’.

A while ago, everywhere I looked there was a book title that included the word ‘sister’. The Stepsister by Jenny O’Brien, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Dead Sis by Jane Holland, and The Herb Sisters by Marina Johnson to name just four; sisters were everywhere in literature (I blame the Brontes).

Even though I knew that by the time I had written my ‘sister book’ publishing trends would have progressed, but I couldn’t get ‘sister’ out of my head.

Siblings never go out of fashion.

One of my favourite books (and my own sister’s teasing stick) was My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards (illustrated by Shirley Hughes).

(Image from Amazon)

‘Sisters’ are not the only trope that has been swirling around my writing for years. I’ve been obsessed with witches since I was little. If you’ve read my blog before you will have seen how I was named after the protagonist from 1960s sitcom Bewitched, you will have seen how I read books such as Witchdust by Mary Welfare and The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy and met and was baptised a witch at age 6 on a family day out to Pendle.

(Or was I?)

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Pippa, the protagonist of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is not a witch, she is a forty-year-old woman trying to make sense of her life. When Sadie visits (her sister’s half-sister), Pippa starts to think that her mother and sister Heather are witches. All the evidence is there; Heather is a green goddess and Jacquetta (Pippa’s mother) is obsessed with the patron saint of keys. You would have to read on to find out the details – I want readers to either believe in Pippa’s breakdown or that her family are actually a nest of vipers.

If you’ve ever read or seen Fight Club or read Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih you’ll be well versed with books that leave you not knowing what to believe. Plus, we have all lived through some uncertain times recently, so I think mind-bending is on its way in literature.

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There is a debate going on (I’ve heard it in pubs, I’ve read it in reviews and I’ve tormented my own thoughts) about lockdown in literature. If you saw the Channel 4 drama Help earlier this year then you’ll know that this kind of pandemic narrative must be highlighted in any genre it can be. I am of the opinion that literature has a job; if stories are about people then people should be about stories. We are all wondering if the pandemic has taught us anything, and we should be reading books to help process the volume of information, emotions, bereavement, culture shocks and psychic storm-trooping we’ve all been through.

I’m not saying My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is the answer to any and all pandemic woes; what I am saying is it HAD to be set at the end of the lockdown… it just had to be. Pippa needed to have an epiphany.

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When writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, I had to come up with an occupation for Pippa. I had also been reading and rereading Good Morning Midnight by Jean Rhys (for my creative writing degree). I really wanted to include an intertextual reference, and before I knew it, Rhys’s Mr Blank became Pippa’s Mr Bland; and Pippa became an accountant ‘doing sums’ (Sadie’s words).

Actually, my darling daughter is an accountant. We text each other every day and have our own little ‘text speak’ language. A while ago, I started asking her if she had ‘done any really hard sums’ at work… obviously I was teasing (that’s just our sense of humour) but it stuck. I asked my daughter, and she didn’t mind if that Pippa also ‘does sums’ at work (creative licence applied – I know that accountancy is a complicated occupation).

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I used to be a psychiatric nurse until it was made impossible for me to continue working (my RMN career ended after I was diagnosed with MS). Reading and writing saved my mental health when faced with the vast culture shock of retiring at 39. That was almost eight years ago, and I’ve come a long way since. The older I get, the easier it becomes to face up to the serious side of life (especially when you write). It all fitted into place, and the protagonist of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister started to shape into a character who could inspire hope (or at least seek help).

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Because Pippa loves reading, I had to make literature part of the narrative. I achieved this with plenty of intertextual references, starting with the nursery rhyme ‘Here we go Round the Mulberry Bush’ (said to be written by female inmates of HMP Wakefield in the 19th century), and fitting because Pippa is stuck going round in circles with her female relatives.

Pippa compares herself to two of Hardy’s protagonists, the forsaken Tess Durbeyfield and the confident heroine Bathsheba Everdene. In the story, this reflected Pippa’s journey.

During writing, I was concerned about overdoing the references to other texts, then I remembered reading and loving the modern classic ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ by Jeanette Winterson. There is almost an intertextual reference on every page, and Jeanette Winterson is a genius.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (Paperback)

By this stage of writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, Pippa had taken over and told me what to write (see my other posts about my writing being powered by witchcraft).

If I really dig deep, this book started with a memory. When I was a child (about four or five), I remember going to visit two ‘aunties’ who lived in a marvellous house with a big bay window on a road that my dad had called ‘Millionaire’s Row’. These two women were extremely glamourous, with mauve and grey-toned clothes and knee-high boots. I don’t remember their names. ANYWAY, years later I asked my mum who these two women were; she had no idea. Maybe I dreamt them, or maybe they were Jacquetta and Heather – two of the main characters in My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.

Pippa has a secret, will you believe what she has to say?

I do have an older sister, and no the book is DEFINATELY NOT about her. However, this is why I chose the hyphenated way of writing half-sister for the title – there are actually five ways to write the title My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister:

My half-sister’s half-sister My Half Sister’s Half Sister
My Half-sister’s Half-sister My half sister’s half sister
My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister

(thank you https://www.alisonproofreader.com/)

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I recently had a conversation with my sister-in-law about enjoying books with a quirky and different plot (like mine) so I dedicated the book to her.

Deeper inspirations flow through My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister that I can’t reveal because that would be a spoiler!

Thank you for reading my blog today, My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is available to pre-order from Amazon now (release date 30/11/21). See my Facebook Author page for #BlackFridayDeals. Audiobook in production.

Happy reading, Samantha 🙂

PS I also wrote these:

Local Poetry Nights are Awesome and the Horror Genre is not just for Halloween

If you see a poetry night advertised locally to you then you must attend (it’s the law).

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Henthorn law…

Last Sunday, on Halloween I had a wonderful time at a live poetry reading – Keri Moriarty is brilliantly talented; this is what I wrote the day after:

This weekend was all about Halloween (the horror genre is not just for October in my world). My TV box and reading list are full to the brim with all things horrific – but on Halloween, I left the house and attended a local poetry night starring poet/author/multitalentedperson Keri Moriarty.
Originally from Wales, I am lucky enough to live in the same town as this awesome writer. 
Lindsay McKinnon (Curmudgeon Avenue narrator) and I arrived by broomstick at our local, Broad Street Social and we were scared to death by Keri’s grizzly poetry, such as Hickory, Dental Records or Never Leave Me, and Better the Devil You Know. Available to read in Keri’s book Bone Cathedral: A Collection of Poetry (Creative Portfolio Series) Or, if you happen to live near the Bury area (North Manchester, UK) do look Keri up, and attend one of her readings – Keri claims to be ‘unfriendly’ but that’s not true, she’s awesome and is also an artist – look her up on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/keri…  Failing that, support your local authors/poets I had a blast on Sunday night #poetryshouldbeperformed ! 
Bone Cathedral: A Collection of Poetry (Creative Portfolio Series) by [Keri Moriarty]

Bone Cathedral is Keri Moriarty’s first poetry collection, which explores a series life based snapshots with some using truth as a backbone and others taking a distinctly surreal turn. The pieces included are a mixture of tributes, introspections and reflections commenting on a wide range of subjects from contemplative smoking to grief, from love to identity.

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Today’s post is short and sweet… I have a confession to make – I’ve been overdoing it recently (life, not blogging). Sundays are a day for chilling and eating at our house.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday,

Samantha 🙂

PS

My latest book ‘My Half-Sister’s Half Sister‘ is due for release at the end of November.

Harold and Edith’s Halloween Party #IARTG #Halloween #CurmudgeonAvenue2

The Harold and Edith Adventures is available on Audible Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

In chapter nine, we find out why Halloween was once banned at Curmudgeon Avenue, and how Harold and Edith brought it back with their comedy-drama style.

Chapter 9: The Halloween Party

On this particular week in Whitefield, the streets were filled with the colours of Halloween. Orange pumpkins both produce and plastic, the ghostly whites of costumes, and skies of purple and grey before (bonfire night delivers a modern-day fog). Say what you like about the people of Manchester, they know how to enjoy themselves, (particularly in Whitefield, where as you know, it is any excuse to get wasted).

     ‘I should have let Patchouli have this party. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I said yes to our Ricky,’ said Edith, from under a pile of fake cobwebs. (Erm, yes, you should have Edith, and yes, you did know). ‘Edna would not have allowed this. No way. She would not have allowed a party at Curmudgeon Avenue.’

(I miss Edna).

     ‘Edna?’ said Harold while pretending to carve a pumpkin. ‘It’s a shame your sister isn’t here, Edith, she could have answered the door to the trick-or-treaters. She wouldn’t have had to get dressed up! In fact, Edna could have gone trick or treating herself!’ Harold laughed at his own joke while spraying the kitchen with stringy pumpkin flesh and sticky seeds. Edith did not like Harold’s teasing about Edna, but was unable to make it stop.

     ‘Be careful, Harold, I’m going to make pumpkin soup with those insides… Put them in the bowl, will you?’

     ‘Yes, boss,’ said Harold. (Oh dear, that is another annoyance).

     After another trip to the off licence, (with Edith’s purse), Harold insisted on making his signature dish – Radcliffe Hors d’oeuvres (mini cheddars with a blob of Primula cheese spread on the top). Number One Curmudgeon Avenue was ready for its very first Halloween party. But first, Harold and Edith had to eat their tea – Manchester speak for the evening meal. Edith had made the pumpkin soup she had been talking about. Edith was quite capable of preparing food, as you know, her previous husband Reg was very well fed. But pumpkin soup was something she had never tried before. You see, Halloween was not popular in Edith’s family up until today.

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     Now, I have a kitchen, but I’m no cook (why would I be? I’m a house). However, I do know that folk should be careful with fibrous starchy squash fruits (especially if the person eating them has a delicate digestive system and shares a bedroom with you, such as Harold).

     ‘It was my mother’s birthday on Halloween,’ Edith said in between orange slurps.

     ‘Oh, really? I expect you had lots of fun growing up then?’

     ‘No Harold, I mean don’t forget, Halloween wasn’t as popular back then as it is now.’

     ‘I blame the Americans,’ said Harold.

     ‘When Ricky was little, it got popular, but it was still Mother’s birthday.’

     ‘Oh, I’m sure you had a grand old time bringing him round to see his grandmother.’

     Edith felt a bit guilty thinking about her own mother in this way. The truth was her mother had been a real narcissist and Halloween was banned. She would manipulate the entire situation months in advance so that her birthday was all about her, and nothing about Halloween. Fair enough you might be thinking to yourself, it is probably the same for the folk whose birthday is on Christmas Day or any other such festival. But Edith’s mother never returned the favour. Even her own daughters had their birthdays purposely forgotten by their vain mother.

     And you thought Edna did not do birthdays anymore for age preservation reasons? No, it was because Mrs Payne had been a bit of a cow about them. But Mother was dead, and Edith was having a Halloween party in her house.

     ‘Edith, are you alright?’ Harold said. ‘You haven’t said anything for ages, it’s not like you!’

     ‘Oh yes, I was just thinking about Mum… and Dad…’ Edith put her spoon down, and looked into Harold’s googly eyes, wanting to confide in him about her parents’ tragic end. She had never discussed the shock before. ‘Harold did I ever tell you …?’ But her voice trailed off, drowned by the sound of singing in Manchester voices, ready to party, and ready to get their Halloween on.

     ‘Halloween’s coming. Halloween’s coming… concrete chips! Concrete chips!’ then Wantha turned to Toonan, slapping her on the arm.

      ‘What’ve concrete chips got to do with it? You’ve got it mixed up with the school dinner song!’

      ‘OW! Well, what are the words then? Know it all!’ Toonan’s words were lost amongst the sound of Harold prizing the back door open. He had done too much of a good job sticking the fake cobwebs up.

      ‘Oh! Come in!’

     ‘What’s up with youse?’ Wantha said, from behind Toonan (part of the costume). ‘It doesn’t look like a party in here, c’ mon get some tunes on!’

     ‘Oh, come in, come in, I haven’t had the chance to put my costume on!’ Edith said, and then she took in the Halloween vision before her. ‘Oh! Patchouli! What have you come as? You look very…’

     ‘Goth. I’ve come as a Goth Ediff,’ said Patchouli from behind a fishnet veil and lashings of black eye makeup. ‘They do my head in, well they used to before the Banshee got bulldozed uptown. Ever go in there Ediff?’

     ‘Can’t say I did, no.’

     ‘Thinking they were better than everyone, dressing ‘alternative’ but looking like their best mate! Horrific! That’s why it makes a good Halloween costume.’ Patchouli, the ultimate old rock chick, obviously had a grudge to bear.

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Edith noticed something else, Wantha and Toonan wearing a combination outfit.

     ‘Sorry Ediff, we asked for a horse, but they only had this left,’ Toonan’s eyes studied the kitchen floor in shame. Edith took in the image of Wantha and Toonan in their elephant costume. It was like a pantomime horse, but it was an elephant.

     ‘Sorry Ediff,’ said Wantha. Ricky Ricketts pushed past the two straight to the fridge.

     ‘Did Harold get the beers in Mum?’

     ‘No, I did,’ said Edith. ‘Aren’t you getting dressed up?’

     ‘No. I don’t get dressed up, out of respect for Granny.’

     ‘Good man,’ said Harold (it had nothing to do with him) then let out one of his first pumpkin fuelled farts. Edith reappeared downstairs wearing a sheet with two eyeholes cut into it, she was the token Halloween ghost. ‘Little Ghost’ Wantha and Toonan kept calling her.

     Then it was Harold’s turn to reveal his costume; a second hand Beetlejuice with matching grey wig. Harold’s spectacles threw his audience. ‘Harold, why have you come as Doc from Back to the Future?’ said Toonan.  

     ‘I thought you were doing the food for tonight, Toonan?’ Harold diverted while letting another fart out.

     ‘I did!’ Toonan narrowly missed the offensive smell. ‘Look!’ Toonan ripped open a bag of jelly worms. ‘See, Halloween food!’

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     Harold let out another fart, this one reached Toonan’s nostrils. ‘Ew Harold, have you just farted?’

     Harold, of course, denied it.

     Well, the night proceeded with as much Manchester merriment and Halloween high jinks that you can imagine. They ran out of beer, and Toonan and Wantha went together to the nearest off licence in their elephant costume. Amongst the tomfoolery and fun, Edith sought Prosecco fuelled confidence in Patchouli, who remained dressed as a Goth and was unlikely to remember what Edith had said. She flopped down on the leatherette settee next to Patchouli, who was minding her own business and having a disco nap.

     ‘The thing is,’ Edith hiccupped. ‘My mother wouldn’t have liked this. A party on Halloween…’ Edith hiccupped again in Patchouli’s face, disguising the silent but deadly wind released from Edith’s bottom.

      ‘Why ever not, love?’ Patchouli asked with concern.

      ‘Oh, because she didn’t like this sort of thing, not on her birthday, anyway… Did you know… Did you know how she died? How she and my father died?’ Edith’s eyes were wide, and Patchouli was doing her best to listen. ‘She got squashed by an elephant. They both did, in their static caravan.’

     Of course, Patchouli already knew, but she had to entertain Edith, in her ghost costume, partially discarded in favour of her standard floral head to foot ensemble.

     ‘If Halloween was her birthday, why didn’t she like it? Patchouli asked.

     ‘Well, she wanted it to be just a birthday, it had to be all about her,’ Edith revealed the pattern of behaviour she had fallen into. Patchouli touched her forearm.

     ‘Your mum would have wanted you to be happy like all mums do.’ As Patchouli spoke, Edith shut up and listened for once. ‘Now your sister isn’t here at the moment, so you have to embrace the people around you, right here, right now. You’re happy with Harold, aren’t you?’ this mention of Harold to Edith sent her right back to her ruminations.

     ‘Yes, but he doesn’t know about the elephant incident, or at least I didn’t think he did… And in any case, I’m not altogether sure if Mum would have liked me being with Harold.’

     ‘Now Edith, come on, time is precious, just enjoy the here and now. And Edith, everyone knew about the elephant incident, it was on Granada Reports.’ (What a lovely woman Patchouli is; though it was probably the here and now that caused the hob incident).

     Edith started a lengthy, gushing speech about how Patchouli had been right and their new friendship. As you can imagine, there was a lot of ‘so anyways’, she didn’t stop for breath. Edith nearly exhausted the room of oxygen she was talking so much. Patchouli patiently listened, but eventually returned to her disco nap in the living room. Edith carried on talking for longer than was reasonably necessary.

     ‘Oh, there you are!’ Harold said, rather too loudly as he barged into the living room.

     ‘WHAT! Where’s the fire?!’ Patchouli woke and jumped out of her skin with a face more Alice Cooper than Siouxsie and the Banshees.

     ‘I didn’t know where you were Edith, Toonan and Wantha want to get the apple bobbing going,’ Harold looked more like a mad scientist than a rambunctious spirit.

     ‘Harold!’ Edith said in uncharacteristic assertive tones. ‘I want to speak to you about a huge shock I had when my parents died.’

     Harold expelled the remaining pumpkin gas from his gastrointestinal tract. His head wobbled, and his eyes bulged out so far that they touched the inside of his spectacles. Harold and Edith stared at each other for longer than was reasonably necessary. He was saved by the person least likely to save anyone.

     ‘Harold, get your arse to the shop, will you? We’re running out of sweets for the trick-or-treaters,’ Ricky shouted from inside a plume of cigarette smoke and stolen aftershave.

     ‘I thought Toonan brought all those jelly worms?’ said Harold, but Ricky ignored him.  Harold did as he was told, but only because he needed to get away from Edith and further mentions of elephants, parents and massive shocks. There would be another huge shock for Edith if she found out the truth. Harold had lived this lie for too long. He had already resigned himself that it would do more harm than good if Edith knew the truth. It was the elephant’s fault, not his. The front door slammed behind him.

     ‘See,’ said Edith. ‘He’s not interested in talking to me,’ Edith sighed in Patchouli’s general direction.  (Typical Harold, it could have been the carpet’s fault, as long as it wasn’t his).

     ‘Oh, Edith, lighten up love, will you? And help me get this corpse bride hat off before people start accusing me of being into The Chameleons,’ Patchouli was back in the land of the living.

     ‘Oh, it’s stuck to your head!’ Edith said. ‘What’s it stuck on with?’

     ‘Superglue I think,’ said Patchouli. Well, Edith (still wearing her white sheet) started tugging, fussing and pulling Patchouli’s hat. Then, more trick-or-treaters knocked on the door.

     ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it!’ Toonan and Wantha said.

     ‘Quick put your head on! Ow, watch me trunk!’ they opened the door, not to a trick-or-treater but to a very tall, very handsome, smartly dressed man.

     ‘Oh Haha, what’ve you come as?’ Toonan said, from behind an elasticated elephant’s trunk.

     ‘Pardon?’ the man said, with very slight tinges of a faintly French accent. Wantha could not resist stepping away from Toonan to have a proper look at this fine specimen who had rattled the door knocker of Number One Curmudgeon Avenue. She was wearing the back half of the elephant. Braces held up the baggy grey trousers, (skin-tight around Wantha’s voluptuous hips), Wantha smoothed down her hair.

     ‘Hello, would you like a gummy worm?’ Toonan asked as the smart-looking handsome and tall man took in the scene before him. Two parts of an elephant, one with hair like a lion’s mane and a backside like a rhinoceros. The other still wearing the elephant’s head and holding what appeared to be confiscated Halloween treats. Then he heard it, well, they all heard it…

     ‘Push, no pull,’ said Edith. ‘No, stay still Patchouli. You try and sit in the chair, and I’ll pull.’

     ‘PUUUULLLL,’ shouted Patchouli, which was followed by a nauseating ripping sound. ‘Ow! Ow, you got my scalp, Edith!’

     The tall, handsome man took a step back to look at the door number. ‘Sorry, I think I have the wrong house.’ And with that, he got back into his expensive-looking car and drove away down Curmudgeon Avenue into the Manchester night.

      ‘Who was that?’ said Harold on his way back from Mrs Ali’s with sweets and gossip that he had already forgotten.

      ‘Yeah, Wantha, who was that?’ said Ricky Ricketts with sudden interest.

      ‘We thought it was a trick-or-treater, but it was just some posh bloke who got the wrong address,’ Toonan spoke with jelly worms hanging from her mouth underneath her elephant trunk.

     ‘What’s going on?’ Patchouli and Edith appeared out of the living room, and everyone burst into laughter. Edith was still wearing her ghost costume, but Patchouli, not only had black eye make-up running down her face but a nice round bald patch where Edith had ripped off her Halloween hat.

     ‘Oh, Mum I’m sorry, you look like a cross between Uncle Fester and Friar Tuck!’

The Harold and Edith Adventures is available on Audible Amazon Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Happy Halloween everyone!

PS last few days for some free trick or treat Halloween reads including The Ghosts of Curmudgeon Avenue click HERE

I Read Horror in October (it’s the law)

Hello Everyone, happy October,

First of all, where has the time gone? It has been fourteen days since my last blog post (and I might not even finish writing this one today). Reason? I’ve been writing and, more importantly READING!

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A fascination with all things horrific leads us mortals to read/watch/listen to anything that creeps us out. This month, my horror choices so far have been Bound: A Paranormal Shifter Romance by Kat Kinney and The Thicket which is free until the 1st of November with this link: https://books.bookfunnel.com/halloweenshorts/4r7jar8ylo

Bound: A Paranormal Shifter Romance (Blood Moon, Texas Shifters Book 3) by [Kat Kinney]

Teacher by day, fantasy writer by night, West Caldwell was forced to live in secret long before werewolves and vampires accidentally outed themselves on social media, causing a worldwide freak out. One slip of his rare Omega magic bound Topher Greer to him against his will. Now that magic threatens to fracture even further—just as shapeshifters are being abducted off the streets of Austin, Texas.

Topher Greer, EMT and former prisoner of the most dangerous vampire coven in Texas, is one of the few who can sense the presence of undead blood. He’s been marked for death by the Vampire Nation—who hold his brother hostage. Things with West Caldwell are… complicated. Pack law doesn’t forbid relationships between newly changed werewolves and their sires. But West has more walls around his heart than a high-security vampire prison.

To avoid the coming war and save his brother, Topher will have to turn to the most unlikely of allies—and untangle the feelings between him and West Caldwell for once and for all.

BOUND is part of the Blood Moon, Texas Shifters series. Sizzling hot romance. Guaranteed HEA.

My review

Fabulous. I knew I was bound to love this one, and it arrived just in time for October’s spooky season. West and Topher are bound together (initially, without Topher’s consent). This magic moment saved Topher from the vampires, but will West ever know if their love is for real? Meanwhile, vampires and werewolves toil against their natural instincts and there is talk of an alliance – because the humans are after them.
A great plot and I enjoy Kat Kinney’s writing too. I was immersed in a world where vampires and werewolves are crossed to make varewolves, I learnt how to spell ‘whuffed’ and was treated to a thread of ‘You’re the biggest fantasy nerd’ – two characters teasing one another really normalised the supernatural for me (and made me smile).
What starts as a story about rule-breaking shapeshifters becomes a narrative of family values and loyalty.

WOULD YOU RECOGNIZE A REAL SCREAM AT HALLOWEEN?

Norah Lewis ignored her brother’s screams in the haunted house that night. Because none of it was supposed to be real. Not the blood. Not the butcher knives. And not the bodies.

Tormented by survivor’s guilt and seeking answers, Norah secretly plans to retrace her brother’s final steps.

But the killer hasn’t chosen his hunting ground at random. And his sights are set on the hordes of thrill seekers still lining up to visit the notorious haunted house.

This time, Norah will run toward the screams—no matter the cost.

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE COPY (part of a promotion)

My review:

A great cover, a great plot and a chilling end. The Thicket is a serial killer thriller about one of the most haunted (fictional?) places in the US. The story starts with brothers and sisters Brandon and Norah visiting The Thicket (which is run like a ghost train without the train); the siblings are separated and the plot opens up. The book has Halloween and horror themes throughout and the crushing of pre-pandemic contemporary life – (Facebook pages with amateur sleuths and other threads which tore at the survivor’s mental state). An exploration of sibling guilt, teenage friendships and loyalty. Why have I knocked one star off? I think this book made me feel a bit old as I got ‘lost’ a few times. Get lost in The Thicket this Halloween!

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Stay spooky, and happy reading, Samantha 🙂

My Writing is Powered by Witchcraft and my Garden Speaks to Me

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During the summer, I spent a lot of time researching witchcraft for my latest novel My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.

Without giving too much away, readers will (I hope) be left wondering what is magic realism and what is the unreliable narrator’s thoughts.

During this time, I have learnt a lot about witchcraft. I also found out (slash am convinced) that when I write a novel, I am powered by an unworldly force (such as witchcraft).

I wrote My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister in less than four months (from the end of June to the end of September).

This kind of writing speed earned a gasp in the audience at Todmorden Book Festival when Joanne Harris revealed she wrote Chocolat in four months.

(I don’t have a young child or a full time job though).

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I have spoken before about my weird reversed writer’s block (I’ve just freaked myself out Googling this). I do have lesions on my brain because of MS maybe this is the cause of my mild case of hypergraphia.

Or it could be witchcraft.

Whenever I am coming to the end of writing a novel, I start to think about the next one. Not on purpose… it is REALLY annoying; picture the scene… Yay! I’m about to finish writing this brilliant book… this is going to be the one! Brain says, I’d like to introduce you to some fictional characters. Get to know them now because you’ll be writing about them soon (and you’ve only got four months to do it).

This is what happened with the characters from My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister. One of my best friends, Claire gifted me the name Epiphany (Pippa for short). Soon, I had imagined a world for this new character. Pippa works as an accountant, has a younger boyfriend and she lives in the flat upstairs in her mother’s pub. Then the world changed and my ideas really started to take shape. Pippa soon became a forty year old woman trying to rebuild her life after lockdown. She discovers that her mother (Jacquetta) and sister (Heather) are witches, but only after she is visited by her half-sister’s half-sister (Sadie).

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The above is concise for me; I hate writing blurb… the book came together so quickly after months and months of writing on bits of paper, backs of envelopes, sending myself text messages, writing on the insides of empty medication boxes. Anything I could get my hands on when Pippa, Sadie, Jacquetta or Heather popped into my head. You could say I was compelled to write it; almost as though I had been bewitched (and also like the description of hypergraphia on the internet).

And it wasn’t because I was bored writing the last two in series of Curmudgeon Avenue when this happened; when I came to the end of writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, I accidentally started writing my next book.

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I’m not giving the title away just in case I don’t write it (probably will, though if the above is anything to go off).

The more I researched witchcraft, the more it was in my head. This is not a new fascination, I loved witch themed books and TV when I was younger (maybe because I am named Samantha). I wrote a post about this when I first started imagining that I would write My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, click HERE to see that post.

I found out some really interesting things when researching paranormal/supernatural/psychological fiction (so many names)

Some of it I was scared to know. We’re all aware of Queen Victoria making black a mourning colour after her husband, Prince Albert died. I read in a dark book that ‘the Victorians’ were not only emulating their queen, black was considered to be the colour to wear to avoid seeing ghosts. I’m not sure about this, because Victorian culture is said to have welcomed clairvoyance, and where better than to see a spirit? (I’ve also read that wearing black at funerals pre-dates Victorian times).

However, my friends have not lied to me during my witchcraft quest. So excited was I about my next novel, I started boring my friends by telling them about it on nights out. My friends Janaki and Neil told me that they had watched an episode of QI, and learnt that plants associated with spells such as eye of newt are actually plants (now called Hemerocallis Calico Jack in the UK). The words eye of newt and toe of frog are from Shakespeare’s Scottish play, (check me out for superstition). Toe of frog is actually buttercups… I kid you not, during the summer my lawn was covered in buttercups (when it isn’t usually).

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Gardening is magic. This year a few plants I haven’t seen for a while reappeared in my garden. I’m not a gardener, but thinking things through logically, these mystery plants appeared because of my compost bin.

Or witchcraft…

This gave me an idea for a short story ‘Bit of Me’ about a couple who live on a pig farm. Unpublished as yet (I’m still hoping to collaborate on a short story collection). The compost bin features heavily in the plot; see what I mean? My garden is speaking to me.

I’m sure that there are other writers whose worlds have become very small since the pandemic, more than ever it feels as though something good can finally happen. Let me know if your garden has inspired you.

I’ll stop here, because recent mini-dramas have both inspired my writing and frightened me (plus I don’t want to go on too much about the time I thought someone had put a spell on me but it turned out I am becoming absent minded).

Last thoughts for today

May be an image of 1 person, standing, tree and outdoors

Either this sunflower is really tall, or I’m really small (I am leaning on a stick).

Or witchcraft…

Happy October everyone, Samantha 🙂

An Evening with Joanne Harris (my visit to Todmorden Book Festival on the 25th of September) @TodBookFest @Joannechocolat

Last Saturday, I had the PLEASURE of meeting one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris.

Actually, I should re-word that… The Hippodrome Theatre in Todmorden was full to the brim, and I was just one eager reader getting her next favourite book signed at the end.

A Narrow Door by Joanne Harris. Live photo above of my copy, signed by Joanne Harris. It is the very best time ‘Samantha’ (my name) has been written ever.

Enough about me and my Christmas present that wants to be read immediately.

Joanne Harris gave a brilliant, interesting and inspiring author talk. Also, she’s hilarious!

I wouldn’t want to misquote her, but I would like tell you a few bits from what I remember.

Joanne Harris started by telling us a bit about her latest book, A Narrow Door. This is the third book from her ‘St Oswald’ books. Joanne explained they can all be enjoyed as standalone novels, but have the same setting and threads of backstory.

Joanne Harris spoke about her experience of working at The Leeds Grammar School (which at the time was an all boys school). It was really interesting to hear about how male pupils responded differently to male and female teachers. As did the male headmaster – particularly with regards to the uniform policy. Joanne told a hilarious anecdote about a red skirt. I remember the 90s very well, I did my nurse training and worked my first job as a staff nurse during this decade. I remember misogyny in the workplace… what a great setting for a set of novels!

This is from the blurb for A Narrow Door on Amazon:

Now I’m in charge, the gates are my gates. The rules are my rules.

It’s an incendiary moment for St Oswald’s school. For the first time in its history, a headmistress is in power, the gates opening to girls.

Rebecca Buckfast has spilled blood to reach this position. Barely forty, she is just starting to reap the harvest of her ambition. As the new regime takes on the old guard, the ground shifts. And with it, the remains of a body are discovered.

But Rebecca is here to make her mark. She’ll bury the past so deep it will evade even her own memory, just like she has done before. After all…

You can’t keep a good woman down.

Joanne Harris

From Joanne Harris’s Amazon page.

Joanne Harris spoke about her writing and writing during lockdown. Her 1999 novel Chocolat was written in just four months – and she was a full time teacher at the time. Awesome. She was able to achieve this because her mother would babysit her daughter and she had ‘plenty of thinking time during her drive to and from work’. Joanne Harris shared that she was sad to leave teaching.

(My daughter was two years old in 1999 – what was I doing? Not writing a book).

More recently, during lockdown, Joanne Harris had a productive time writing (there was a discussion here about the pandemic and writer’s block). As a novelist, she was already used to working from home. Joanne spoke about writing her non-fiction writing reference book which I must buy immediately; ‘Ten Things About Writing’ (Published last year). And the June 2021 release ‘Honeycomb‘ a fairy tale collaboration. Joanne explained that snippets of ideas she had tweeted inspired this book.

Then it was questions from the audience time

Apologies, the last time I blogged about a famous writer, it was about the exhibition dedicated to comedian Victoria Wood‘s life, I’m just winging this post but trust me, I’m a huge Joanne Harris fan.

I went to Todmorden Book Festival with my husband (who thought the talk was about actual chocolate) my friend Carla (we have been friends since our nursing days) and my friend and voice over colleague Lindsay McKinnon (first person to grab the microphone- and I was most grateful).

Lindsay asked Joanne Harris how she copes with writing about difficult subjects. Joanne’s main advice was to write a bit of another project and then come back to the original piece.

She* also spoke about deadlines and the reason she was able to demand of her publisher that she would write whatever genre she wanted to in her own timescale (this is the mis-quote bit, I can’t remember how this wisdom was actually worded which is why I started this paragraph with *she).

This all came from Joanne Harris’s early days as an author. Her first published book The Evil Seed was about vampires. She then wrote a historical fiction Sleep, Pale Sister which her original publisher had wanted another vampire novel from her. (If you click on the bold writing above, this will take you to Joanne Harris’s website). These events led to Joanne writing Chocolat which she described as another book that publishers didn’t know what to do with. READERS WANTED IT THOUGH.

At this point during the author talk, my mouth was dry and I was a nervous as a quiet child in a school assembly. My husband gave me a look which I read as ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ (he didn’t really think he was at a talk about Mars bars – I was joking, he’s quite brainy really). Lindsay passed me the microphone (after it was Covid-safe wiped by Todmorden Book Festival) and I asked…

First of all, I asked the rest of the audience if it was ‘my turn’ I wanted to know if I’d pushed in. I then told Joanne that I had just finished book three of the Chocolat Series ‘Peaches for Monsieur le Cure‘ (I don’t know why I was rambling). I just wanted to get to the point that Joanne Harris’s characters are very vivid… Eventually I was able to stop tripping over my own tongue and ask if Joanne ‘sees’ (I meant visualise) her characters when she is writing them. AND if so, did the film version of Chocolat meet with her expectations?

Joanne Harris gave a great answer, she told us that whilst writing Chocolat she actually imagined Juliette Binoche when she was writing Vianne!

Joanne explained that writers don’t usually get to know about film adaptations until later but in the case of Chocolat, she was approached.

Joanne told the film folk about her thoughts for Juliette Binoche/Vianne Rocher, but was told ‘they want Whoopi Goldberg’ (apologies, I can’t remember any director or producer names Joanne Harris may or may not have mentioned because I was recovering from a panic attack). However, Whoopi Goldberg was not available (too busy filming Rat Race, I just checked on Wikipedia). Another actor’s name was mentioned but eventually Chocolat ‘s Vianne Rocher was played by Juliette Binoche – just as Joanne Harris had visualised when she was writing Chocolat (that’s during the 4 months she spent writing Chocolat – the whole audience gasped here)… I gasped because I was thinking wow! I bet Joanne Harris didn’t realise how strong her manifestation powers were… (also, what a great answer – Alison Steadman, Joanna Lumley and Courtney Love have been on my mind A LOT recently #writing life).

I wish I had longer to chat with Joanne Harris, because I wanted to explain I wasn’t trying to divert her attention away from her writing with my question about the film because the book is better than the film.

I’ve underlined the above to make sure I have got my point across. The book Chocolat is better than the film. There, I’ve said it again.

I know what you’re thinking… Johnny Depp was in that film. Joanne Harris told us that at the time, Johnny Depp was not on her radar (I can’t remember exactly how she worded it but it was one up from ‘didn’t have a clue who he was’). I am absolutely fine with that, Joanne Harris was busy writing fabulous books for us all to read; she didn’t have time to be knowing who Johnny Depp was!

Isn’t is wonderful that the small town of Todmorden has a book festival! ~click on this bold writing and follow the link to their website – I think you might be able to subscribe so that you don’t miss any future events (apologies for not writing this post earlier, I’ve been weary).

I would encourage attendance at book fairs/author talks because seeing a full theatre of likeminded readers is good for the soul (reading is usually a solitary hobby). PLUS authors are lovely people and it is wonderful to hear how they magically produce their magnificent books.

Happy reading, Samantha 🙂

PS

My latest novel is now available to pre-order from Amazon. My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister will be released on the 30th of November 2021. I plan to blog about how I wrote this novel in my next post.

When Curmudgeon Avenue Appeared at Glaston-Bury (one day event for charity in Lancashire).

I am so proud of my home town, Bury in North West England. Especially on August bank holiday when the town is taken over for a charity event called Glaston-Bury.

Taking their name from the bigger festival in the south, Glaston-Bury fills the streets of Bury with heavy metal, cover bands, poets, and this year a book reading of Curmudgeon Avenue (I wrote that) by my talented voice over friend and colleague Lindsay McKinnon.

No description available.

Those who know me know that I have MS and can’t stand up for long. And to be honest, I’ve been unwell ever since the event and that’s why it has taken me seventeen days to write this blog post. #MSsucks and fatigue is doing my head right in!

Anyway, back to the event. The reason we were welcomed to appear at this mostly music festival is because part of book four of the Curmudgeon Avenue Series is set at the Glaston-Bury festival!

Above is a sneak peak of a new cover – I’m always messing about. I just need to make the final decision about if Harold’s spectacles should be wonky.

Gil Von Black nearly broke Facebook when it was realised he would not be appearing on stage with his magic fingers this year. Gil Tweeted a photograph of Patchouli and himself with the caption #AugustBankHolidaychillin’. As soon as this was noticed on Facebook, there were many comments on the Glaston-Bury page. ‘Please can someone tell me which stage and what time is Gil Von Black on?’ several people asked. All with the same answer from the festival organisers: ‘He’s not performing this year’.

     Ahh, the life of the actual real-life session musician rock star; he will attend the festival along with the crowd (including Wantha, Toonan and their respective men). After Wantha had attended to her Instagram duties (doling out advice about what to wear at a local charity festival), she found her lip liner and was ready to go. Zandra and Gordon Bennett prepared themselves for their first Bury day out since arriving at Curmudgeon Avenue.

Our stage (actually the poet’s stage) was upstairs in a very cool record and coffee shop called Wax and Beans

It was actually tricky to prepare for the event. I am NOT a performer, fortunately, Lindsay is. Lindsay McKinnon has loads of acting experience and is the most talented person I have in my phone (or have met in real life). If you are reading this, and are looking for a narrator for your audiobook I would recommend Lindsay. Click HERE for her website.

It was difficult to choose passages from a book I started writing seven years ago. Especially as my head is full of my current work in progress. I suppose all authors go through this (laughing face emoji). I am yet to attend a (traditionally published) author talk since lockdown ended in the UK. I’ve been to loads in my time and they are usually full of an eager audience wanted to know the question that no one can answer; how can I get published?

Fortunately, Todmorden Book Festival has come to my rescue. I have tickets to see one of my favourite authors, Joanne Harris. I have so many questions for her but I know I will be too shy to ask any of them.

JoanneHarris Chocolat.jpg

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. I was just trying to explain that I intend to attend more author talks and do more of my own.

I just need to get better first (I usually have a good management of my illness but I’m just weary at the moment – or as my window cleaner puts it ‘you look fr****d today’)

Speaking of tangents, one way that I look after myself is physiotherapy. When I was first diagnosed with MS I started doing yoga. Here’s the tangent, one of my oldest and dearest friends Carla (we met during nurse training, that’s how long we’ve known one another) gave me the tip off about the Todmorden Book Festival. Carla is now an excellent yoga teacher; she has just the right voice for it. If you are in or around Todmorden, you should definitely attend her yoga class click HERE for her link.

WELL I have gone round in circles today haven’t I? You could say I’ve gone round the mulberry bush – which would segue into a hint about my work in progress. I’ve decided not to reveal the title until the manuscript has been polished(I cannot wait to start sharing this book I am really enjoying writing it).

Have a great weekend, Samantha 🙂

PS I wrote these:

Book Review Lie of the Tiger by John Martin (it is part of a promotion, and it’s about cats)

Lie of the Tiger by John Martin

More about Lie of the Tiger by John Martin

Paddy – if that is indeed his real name – has taken the reins of the Windy Mountain Tasmanian Tiger Museum, only to discover the previous manager left the building in a coffin.

Then he finds out that the devious owners don’t actually want him to succeed anyway.

The old men’s dogged determination isn’t good news for a third octogenarian who has the only legal dog in town, but stuff him.

Oodles and Wish-Wash have good reason not to like The Mayor anyway and if he won’t help, they are prepared to break the law.

This is a funny, sometimes touching story with a quirky character around almost every corner.

Lie of the Tiger is book 1 of the Windy Mountain series. Each book has its own story.

But if you enjoy this one, Blokes on a Plane (book 2), Whitey and the Six Dwarfs (book 3), Blokes in Donegal (book 4), and Blokes in the House (book 5, inspired by the events of 2020), await with many of the same endearing characters.

Lie of the Tiger is free as part of this PROMOTION until 31 August

I read Lie of the Tiger last week and it really made me smile. And! I had never heard of a Tasmanian tiger.

Here’s my review:

Lie of the Tiger is a quirky satire about a Tasmanian tiger museum. The book is educational (I had never heard of this extinct cat) and funny. Yes, it is because John Martin has a funny way with words. Character names are playfully chosen Wish-Wash and Oodles, and later Sergeant Stretch (especially when someone stretches out their arms to catch him). The plot is engaging. To keep his job, Paddy must succeed in reopening the museum, but this means proving that these stripy wildcats are still alive and well near Windy Mountain. Recommended for cat lovers, big cat conspiracy enthusiasts and readers with a sense of humour.

https://books.bookfunnel.com/freeandfun/3295975751

Apologies, I did promise to write a blog post about an interesting conversation I had with my sister-in-law. This will be about books, reading and why we choose to read certain books. I haven’t written the post yet because I’ve been really suffering with fatigue. I’ve got MS, it’s just something I have to put up with.

At least I can still read. And write! Another reason I am worn out at the moment is I am writing my next book. This is about a woman trying to find her way in life after lockdown. Although I am enjoying writing it, I am drained!

Have some free books on me, have a great weekend, Samantha 🙂

The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (I just need to say something)…

I didn’t want this book to end.

I don’t usually review books that have a million reviews only because I think what does my little voice count amongst over six thousand (insert big number) reviews?

But I just have something to say; this book is the most beautifully bittersweet piece of art I have ever read in my 46 years (and I’ve read a lot of books during that time).

Adunni (the protagonist) would have wanted me to because she had a louding voice.

The Girl with the Louding Voice: The Bestselling Word of Mouth Hit That Will Win Over Your Heart by [Abi Daré]

This book gives so much to the reader, and so much to me that I didn’t want it to end. Adunni is a fourteen year old girl who lives with her father and brothers in a village. Her mother died recently and she is obviously still grieving. Adunni knows there is a better life for her somewhere, a life with choices. I loved the thread where a bloke arrives in his car asking for her mum. This is the start of Adunni’s quest, and she is so sweet she dreams of making a better life not just for herself but her family too.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Adunni’s village is in Nigeria, in 2014. Adunni’s father sells her to be the third wife of a much older man. This means that Adunni cannot follow her dreams. (I’m not spoiling here – this is in the blurb).

A heart-breaking tragedy follows and this catapults Adunni into yet another new life. She must run away from her marriage and accept employment as a maid.

Everything she has been through does not break her spirit (or her voice). At this point in the novel, I had enjoyed the rich characters. The characters that come next are even more gripping and real. I felt like I was there, in Adunni’s little bedroom waking up at five in the morning to complete thankless tasks.

I wanted to know what made Big Madam the way she was.

I loved Adunni’s journey, she used her voice and she learned to listen.

I wondered if Kofi was the friend who would listen to Adunni – he was not the only one.

The language made me smile, and made me ‘see’ the characters.

The ending is just awesome, and I cried. I cried tears of happiness, tears of hope, (and I felt a bit sorry for myself because the book ended).

Recommending books is tricky – but I AM recommending you read this one.


Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

Honestly, I can’t do this book justice. It is my new favourite. I’ve told my daughter she MUST read it (she is 24, doesn’t read but definitely wants to read this).

I was left feeling lucky that I went to school, that I’ve had the opportunity to make choices about my life. I will never ignore a book, just because it has been ‘hyped’. And I will always use my voice – Adunni would want me to.

Happy reading, Samantha 🙂

A Curmudgeonly Christmas

Every summer, I notice writers talking about their Christmas books on social media. A bit upside down, I thought. But last December, I brought Curmudgeon Avenue to a close with the final book in the series ‘A Curmudgeonly Christmas’. 

Curmudgeon Avenue has been going on for quite some time, some would say for longer than reasonably necessary… In this Curmudgeonly final, the nincompoops of Curmudgeon Avenue would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Gordon Bennett is obsessed with the pothole growth on the street as we get proper emosh at Wantha and Ricky’s wedding. But! Did Wantha ever get to find out who her daddy is?
Christmas is coming, and Francesca is getting fat meanwhile Zandra may have overdone it with the scented candles. And the ghosts are immune to any and all lockdown restrictions.

Put down the selection box and the sausage rolls, A Curmudgeonly Christmas is a perfect end to the Curmudgeon Avenue series and the year!


Don’t just take my word for it, I noticed a fabulous review has popped up for Curmudgeon Avenue #1 – my cheeks are hurting I’m smiling so much! 

If you are enjoying the most wonderful time of the year, maybe you would like to have a look at this Christmas book promotion : https://books.bookfunnel.com/christmasjuly21/p2re6562xn

Just a quick post from me this week because I’m doing my packing for our Christmas holiday... I mean summer holiday (in the UK).

Happy reading, Samantha.