A ‘How To’ Guide on Author Events and Book Launches for Independent Authors

My last book launch party was in December 2021 for My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister. I want to share the author events I have hosted for anyone looking to arrange their own live book promotion.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

YOU HAVE

Lived, breathed and dreamt your wonderful book for however long it has taken you to write it. If you’re anything like me, the planning, thinking and inspiration part of your novel lasted longer than actually putting it together.

You have an amazing cover – the type that readers throw the old adage away and judge ‘yes, I do want to read this’.

If you’re lucky, an audiobook narrator has agreed to produce the listen-to version of your words.

All you need now is actual readers (like the reader in the photo above).

Your publication day may have felt like an anti-climax. That’s only natural; all that work, all that pulling words from your soul and no doubt money you have thrown at your wonderful book. If no one has read it or agreed to publish it for you, publication day can play with your mind. You may find yourself seeking validation, asking your friends and family to read and review if only to prove that you haven’t wasted your time, tears and energy.

Actual footage of me writing about three years ago.

Author events are your chance to show everyone in a live setting the amazing book you have published.

LOCATE A VENUE

Your first step will be to choose a venue willing to host your event. Libraries are a good way to start, I only know how library services work in the UK so bear this in mind when reading this post. Libraries are run by the local authority, so start with your local library. Make contact with a librarian and ask if they host author events for local writers. Most UK libraries have a contact page (in my case, Bury Library is found on the council’s website). I have found that the best way to make contact is by actually visiting the library. I used to attend a creative writing group and got to know some of the librarians. Find out how your local library engages with its customers, granted there aren’t as many events listed on my local library’s page post lockdown but things can only get better. Start attending other authors’ events if available at your library.

My very first book launch party was held at one of Bury Library’s satellite venues. Castle Library in Bury had room for twenty guests, two librarians, me and my books when I launched ‘Quirky Tales to Make Your Day‘ my first short story collection. Bury Library charged a nominal entrance fee and took care of the advertising – although when I announced the event on Facebook I had messages and filled all twenty places with people I knew (more on this later).

A good friend I have known since nurse training in the 90s came to support me at my first book launch.

My second author event was at another library in the Bury area.

This author event was hosted by Tottington Library – now a charity owned community library. This event was four years ago and the Curmudgeon Avenue Series has different covers.

I would say the most successful book launch party was hosted at a pub in the town centre, Broad Street Social. This bar is independently owned and willing to host events and ‘pop ups’ for local food and art businesses. After attending a poetry night last Halloween at Broad Street, I asked if I could launch my next novel at their venue. The owner suggested a Sunday evening, they got more punters through the door and I got to talk about my book – win/win.

As you can see, I was joined by the super talented Lindsay McKinnon. Lindsay is the voice-over actor who produces my books.

Also, keep your eye out for local events. Book sales and appearances at library open days, brewery open days and a charity music festival in my hometown (they have a poetry stage so why not a novelist and narrator friend?)

INVITES

You’ve written a book and have a box of author copy paperbacks on order, you have secured a venue, date and time for your book launch party. Now you need some guests to attend your event. Ideally, a good mix of your loved ones and strangers is the preferred guest list. Your friends and family will cheer you on, laugh at the right moments and make you look like a superstar. Strangers are potential new readers and fans of your work. I have thrown several author events and am still not at the stage where potential new readers attend. I am not disheartened though, I will keep going with author events. I believe that if you do them regularly enough then those people who considered attending last time will turn up this time. It’s hard work but eventually, I am hoping for a local following.

Your friends and family are a tricky subject. Some authors feel their inner circle is too close to read their books. I agree, I have mixed feelings about my husband reading my books, my daughter says ‘she can just hear me – not a character’ and two of my closest and longest time served friends are on strict orders to wait for the DVD to come out. I do have a friend who can laugh loudly at just the right moment. This is one of the reasons that you should be most grateful for any support your friends and family can offer especially if it means that you won’t be alone at your book launch.

Friends and family may well bring a plus one – someone who your guest knows loves books.

Let’s talk about strangers, why would they attend your book launch if they’ve never heard of you?

I always hope that a local book enthusiast who is a big supporter of local business will attend (this goes back to the ‘I’ll attend the next one’ crowd).

ADVERTISING

An indie author’s nemesis, I know but if you don’t advertise your book launch, no one will come. It is time to think of everything. Social media – use the hashtag #sharingiscaring and some of your friends and contacts might just take the hint and share your event on their profile with friends and contacts you don’t know. With Facebook, you can create an event and send out invites (don’t be disheartened if people don’t respond – I have found that those who respond don’t show and random folk that never like or comment on anything have turned up in the audience).

Local press. In Bury, we have a local newspaper The Bury Times; they have never responded to any of my press releases about publications or book launches. I bet if I paid for an advert, they would be alright with this. The reason I haven’t paid for an advert in the local newspaper is that a local advertising magazine let me do it for free – and because they were really helpful and answered my emails I did pay for a colour advert in their magazine.

Newsletters. Ask guests to your author event to join your newsletter. They will get to know when you are next appearing live.

WHAT TO SAY

Prepare and rehearse your favourite excerpts. Print them out – in my case, I like to use large print or sometimes I transfer them to an E-reader.

I start by thanking my guests for attending the event. I usually give a very short speech about how and why I started writing, aiming to give hope to the audience that they could write a book too.

I am lucky. Lindsay McKinnon narrates my books and has performed readings from my novels. I have found that novels don’t really lend themselves to live readings, so having an actor read using accents has been really impressive.

If you are hosting the event solo, you could start by reading your book’s blurb and a sample of a few reviews. You have to put yourself into it, read as you imagine what your character sounds like. I have read poetry at an open mic night recently (just to keep my nerve up) and this has been helpful.

Some authors throw the floor open to questions at the end. In all honesty, I have only seen this work with famous authors. It has been great if people are asking questions about how they can start writing, but at one of my events I had a question telling, rather than asking me how I should go about my indie author career. For those interested, I already have been published in women’s magazines.

FORM A WORKING PARTNERSHIP WITH SOMEONE

This is a long shot, but I was very lucky. In 2019, I was approached via ACX by Lindsay McKinnon auditioning to produce the audiobook version of Curmudgeon Avenue. If you like audiobooks narrated by a professional, funny, talented voice actor who can act in any accent and has perfect comic timing, I can recommend any audiobook that Lindsay has produced (link behind her name).

Is there any difference between a book launch and an author event?

Not really.

Prizes

You could give away a signed copy of your latest novel. Last time I did this I volunteered my husband to give out raffle tickets at the venue of my book launch. He returned with a little book of raffle tickets telling me that everyone looked at him as though he was crazy – I think because raffle tickets are usually paid for. Note to self; put FREE RAFFLE on the advert.

My mother-in-law won this paperback of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister and the fancy tote bag I had printed up via Vistaprint. People shouted ‘fix’ – it wasn’t a fix and they only had themselves to blame for not accepting the free raffle ticket from my wonderful husband. I might do things differently next time!

Gifts

BOOKMARKS. Only give away something that people will remember you by. Bookmarks and business cards may get thrown away but some of them will end up at the bottom of a handbag, or the inside of a wallet to be found at a later date. These are your future fans, your future readers – you’ve written a book, you know how difficult it is to get people to read it. Many of the print companies allow you to add a QR code which I think is awesome.

Photo by Giang Cao on Pexels.com

Food

This is a tricky one.

At my last book launch, I wasn’t going to feed my guests but my husband paced up and down ‘Have you even ever been to a launch?’ He was talking about traditionally published or signed recording artists whereas I (his wife) am a penniless author. I’ve hosted them without a buffet in the past and this went down fine. Check with your venue. Last time I held a book launch at a library, they changed things and asked me not to bring cake (mainly because cakes make crumbs). At my last book launch, I paid for a grazing platter from my friend’s local business Sambhavis Bites and Pretty Platters. Unfortunately, they didn’t have business cards so my good intentions of promoting my friend’s business didn’t really happen. Plus it meant I made no money out of the books I sold. Next time, I think I will do this differently and ask the venue if they would allow a ‘pop up’ for a food business to come in and guests can buy food if they want.

In all honesty, having food at your book launch didn’t bring in the crowds and was more of a distraction than anything.

Nerves

I am painfully shy. Just to give you an example, I have recently joined a book club hosted by Liverpool Community Radio. This was only possible because they telephoned me to participate in the programme. However, towards the end, they played an interview with another author and I sat in silence for a full fifteen minutes because I was too shy to ask if they wanted me to stay on the line. I couldn’t get my words out. THAT IS HOW SHY I AM.

However, when I have stood up in front of other people to tell them about my books, I have had no problem. I have surprised myself at how many people listen.

And you will too because you have put everything into the books you have written.

I would say go for it. Below are a few photos from my book events.

Lindsay McKinnon (reading) and me at GlastonBury charity festival in Bury.
The crowd at the book launch for Curmudgeon Avenue #1 with Lindsay McKinnon
My first book launch in 2017
The advert in Your Local Bury magazine
The food! @Sambhavisbites Whitefield (search on Facebook).
Lindsay McKinnon and me reading at the book launch for My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister at Broad Street Social, Bury.
Me actually meeting my editor in person https://www.alisonproofreader.com/

Thank you for reading today’s blog post everyone. Good luck with all your book launches and author events, Samantha 🙂

PS if you are reading this post before April 13th 2022 I have a free sample for you HERE

A Walking Study in Demonology

Sorcery, magical thinking and a clove-scented antagonist filled my head and dreams while writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister last year.

Photo by Victoria Borodinova on Pexels.com

The title of this post is taken from one of my favourite songs; ‘Celebrity Skin’ by Hole.

The lyrics of the 1998 album are about the opulent LA lifestyle but I only heard the line listed above and in my head, I spelt out ‘Daemonologie’.

Are your senses attracted to witchcraft narratives? Mine are.

Twice this week, I was asked ‘What do I think of witchcraft?’ And I was unable to give a satisfactory answer. This troubled me until I realised that I couldn’t answer because it is something that’s always been in the background. What do I think about witchcraft is like asking me what do I think about music? I don’t have an answer because music is ever present.

Nevertheless…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/~/e/B01M4LPH9U

Sorcery, magical thinking and a clove-scented antagonist filled my head and dreams while writing My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister last year.

There will most definitely be a sequel but I must write another book first (the idea has pecked my head for quite some time). AND Pippa took so much out of me when I recounted her story. I realised on revisiting witch-based media that there are certain things that I do and have always done that could be interpreted as sorcery, I ‘have my ways’ (that could also be put down to quirks and foibles).

In the interest of researching my novel’s sequel, having fun and spending time with my good friend Lindsay*, I visited the ‘I AM WITCH’ exhibition hosted by The Silver Spoons Collective in Lancaster.

*Lindsay McKinnon is the talented actress responsible for narrating the audiobook version of my books.

We didn’t go into Lancaster Castle but the exhibition was a ‘no photos allowed’ type of event so here are some snaps I took just outside (Lindsay and I stood outside the castle and had a conversation where both of us recounted we had been here before).

The exhibition itself I AM WITCH (tales from the Roundhouse) was both peaceful and powerful and explored the history of The Burning Times. This is an umbrella term for the past’s hysterical and ultimately brutal reaction to witchcraft -though I believe they only burned witches in Scotland in this part of the world. When we entered the space, we were given a red ribbon to tie around our wrists to commemorate our ancestors who were victimised during The Burning Times. Mine kept falling off – and although Scotland popped up in only four per cent of my DNA search I can’t help worrying if this means something. My overly sensitive mind told me I didn’t belong (but I absolutely do). The ribbon is now safely tucked in the cauldron of a doll I keep at the side of my bed named after my grandmother, Ethel. I’m not sure which side of my family kept magical thinking although Mum’s side was collectively superstitious.

‘Ethel’ from https://www.witchesgalore.co.uk/

Bunting decorated with the names of convicted witches and spoon motifs hung around the room and posters lined the walls telling the history and individual meaning. I had to ask about the significance of some of the displays; spoons were symbolic of medicine. I do trust the medical model (former nurse and I’ve lived with MS for seventeen years), so this was good news for me. In the centre of the room was a piece specifically about spoons, visitors were invited to add their own spoon (red ribbons provided). I don’t mind sharing that I left a silver baby spoon. I have one daughter and she is about to turn twenty-five; at forty-six years old I needed to let go of it. I ‘birth’ books now and I thanked my ancestors for my creative genes (I wasn’t quite sure how to do this, so I just thought a while about relatives I met, and relatives I haven’t, yet am connected to – I wouldn’t know if any of them were witches – too suspicious to advertise such a label).

Photo by Alisha Mishra on Pexels.com

Before we left, we had a really interesting conversation about literature, language and witchcraft. I learnt there is a resurging interest in all things witchy because of the generation who grew up with Harry Potter. I wanted to say that I had a similar experience as a child because I’m named Samantha, and I enjoyed children’s literature with witch characters. It is common knowledge about Shakespeare, the Scottish play and King James I but I don’t think this was reflected in children’s books when I was young. Jill Murphy’s ‘The Worst Witch‘ is a book I related to at the time and still love now. The inclusion of the word ‘worst’ in the title did not and does not mean that witches are the worst things you’ll ever encounter. Same with Grotbags, she rocked her green face and stripy tights.

Grotbags.jpg
Grotbags (pic widely available).

The Worst Witch is about Mildred Hubble. She doesn’t fit in, she is the WORST pupil in the spells class at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches and has all the stereotypical interests required to look like a witch. Sound familiar? I clung to this narrative or a marginalised girl, and on rereading my childhood copy today, it seems the words are imprinted on my brain. I don’t know much about Jill Murphy, but a quick glance at Wikipedia informed me that ‘The Worst Witch‘ was rejected in the early 70s because it was deemed too scary for children. I didn’t find it scary; knowing that another girl was struggling to fit in gave me strength, I have a lot to thank Mildred Hubble for.

I had no reason to think I was hard done to or an outcast at the time, so why did I? Did I need to heal my ancestral wounds? Am I included in this celebration of witchcraft?

I think it runs deeper. The Burning Times are one of a marathon of injustices. Rich meets poor, xenophobia, the north-south divide (by coincidence, I rewatched Mike Leigh’s Peterloo before setting out to Lancaster – my DNA is made up of 96% North West England so this is where my ancestral wounds come from).

Have I answered the question ‘What do I think about witchcraft?’ I think lots of things. I wrote the prologue to My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister as Pippa sharing a memory of swim class. She is petrified of getting into the water, and subconsciously, Pippa was feared for the potential outcome. She was about to sink or swim, and neither option was favourable.

I was able to describe this in detail because I went through exactly the same thing. It could be that I felt unnecessarily marginalised by some genetic memory, or it could have just been a simple case of low confidence. Either way is fine by me – sensitive people are highly creative.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

What do you think?

Have a great day, Samantha 🙂

PS: Along with My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister, I wrote the series below. Curmudgeon Avenue is a funny Coronation Street.

Interview for My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister (novel) @RossendaleRadio 19th January 2022

Samantha Henthorn and Lindsay McKinnon give an interview on Rossendale Radio about ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister’.

It was a cold and frosty evening when Lindsay McKinnon and I ventured north to Rossendale for an interview at the fabulous radio station Rossendale Radio (104.7 FM ). Fortunately for us, we were chauffeured to the studio by a handsome and charming man – that’s why I married him, Mr Henthorn has a good sense of direction.

Lindsay McKinnon (voice-over actor) and Samantha Henthorn (author)

We were invited to talk about my psychological fiction ‘My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister’ with Marie Baistow who hosts a weekly show called ‘Mental Health Matters‘. The novel explores the emotional well being of the protagonist, Epiphany (Pippa for short), a forty-year-old woman who has held an unhelpful belief system for the past twenty years. She has suffered in silence with depression and has made little progress with her life. As the novel unfolds, readers learn how a strange visit by her half-sister’s half-sister, Sadie, changed her life.

Rossendale Radio presenter Marie Baistow works as an Occupational Therapist for the NHS and at the start of the pandemic began presenting the weekly show which offers a much needed voice for anyone in the Rossendale Valley who is thinking of improving their mental and emotional well being.

My novel My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister opens with Pippa’s memory of a school swim class when she was around seven years old. There she meets Sadie, her half-sister’s half-sister. Sadie is confident, care free, and immediately becomes Pippa’s hero.

This girl never seems bothered that she can’t swim. I think she is a year older than me and from a different school. Different, except we all get banded together. The different ones, the ones who can’t swim.

Lindsay treated us to a reading of this prologue, it will make you cry and laugh at the same time because it is the moment that epitomises Pippa’s belief system – she wants to be someone else.

Unfortunately, a playback of last night’s interview is not available currently. The audiobook of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is due to be released this spring.

We spoke about the use of language in the novel. As a former RMN, I was able to confidently use phrases associated with mental illness in a favourable way for the protagonist. I feel that this discourse is useful to promote understanding and makes Pippa relatable.

We spoke about the novel’s ending – the twist (Pippa is an unreliable narrator so this plot thread is essential). I won’t give away the ending here, only to say that your half-sister’s half-sister could be you. Sadie is everything Pippa wants to be so is able to persuade Pippa that her mother and sister are witches.

Lindsay gave another reading of Pippa’s experience as an inpatient of an acute psychiatric unit, she trusted in one health professional (a psychologist called Dr Schofield) who helped her to come to terms with her heavy drinking and completed a recovery – sort of. The final chapter of My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is bitter sweet because although Pippa is well enough to live a happy and safe life with her boyfriend, Ben, she continues to lack insight into her magical thinking. OR DOES SHE? I intentionally created an open ended narrative – what she believes about her mother and sister could be true. They could be witches, and as this would feed into Pippa’s ruminations about being left out of the family circle it puts her at risk of possible relapse.

If you are interested in My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister click HERE

If you are interested in joining my mailing list to find out the moment the audiobook is released click HERE

If you are interested in Rossendale Radio click HERE

Lindsay McKinnon I believe is available for voice-over work (provided she is not narrating one of my books 🙂 ) Lindsay’s website is HERE

Happy reading everyone, and positive vibes for your emotional well being, Samantha

My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister #PublicationDay #IARTG

Happy Tuesday!

Today is publication day for my new novel, My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister.

Here’s what you need to know.

1 My Half-Sister’s Half-Sister is available to buy from Amazon HERE (E-Book, paperback and hardcover).

2 The audiobook is in production with the multi-talented actor Lindsay McKinnon (seen below).

3 This is the best book I have ever written.

4. It is a first-person account from an unreliable narrator.

5. The title could refer to two people or the same person.

Photo credit https://www.facebook.com/jdmoses.uk Lindsay McKinnon and Samantha Henthorn

It started with a memory.

When I was a child (about four or five), I remember visiting 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.

     ‘Epiphany! Epiphany!’ Mummy shouts from downstairs. I hear her key turn halfway, and she’s muttering to herself, inviting all kinds to unlock the door to my flat. 

     ‘Epiphany, what’s wrong with your front door?’ Mummy shouts.

     Yes. Epiphany is my name – Pippa for short, strictly Pippa for short. I don’t mind Pip but definitely not Epiphany. When Mummy was pregnant with my older sister, she intended to name her Hazel. Right up to the last minute, Hazel. Then a midwife told her that Hazel is a witch’s name, and this put her off. So, Mummy chose the name Heather. It suits her because my sister’s eyes shine hazel when she’s excited.

In the above words, you have met Epiphany (Pippa for short) and her mother, Jacquetta. I hope you have picked up that Jacquetta is a demonstrative busy body, letting herself in at her daughter’s front door. ‘Inviting all kinds to unlock the door’ and changing her mind about the name ‘Hazel’ because of something the midwife said.

Read Jacquetta, and think Geraldine McEwan in Mapp and Lucia circa 1985 – but include paranormal persecutions.

Au Reservoir, Lucia | Christopher Fowler

Has Jacquetta changed her mind about witchcraft? – I do love a conflicted character.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

Pippa’s sister Heather is a confident and content green goddess. Think Courtney Love in the biographical drama Beat (insert an English accent).

BeatPoster.png

No doubt Heather would have been filled in about my holiday at home. And if John can stop watching the news for once, the cat will be out of the bag about Ben and me separating.

     Today was meant to be a good day, but now I can see Heather walking across my imagined moat.

     I miss Sadie.

     ‘Sweetie, are you alright?’ Heather has let herself in via the door (the same one that Mummy has trouble opening).

     ‘In here,’ I answer Heather without answering her.

     ‘I’d love a cup of tea if you’re making one.’

     I wasn’t, but I am in the kitchen, mainly to look out of the window onto the road below. I usually have to stay here a while until I have spotted a second magpie.

     ‘So, how are you?’ I ask Heather. I never quite know what to talk about with my sister.

     ‘No! How are you? I never did like that freeloader, and I’m glad he’s dumped you.’

     ‘Thanks?’ I answer Heather with a question.

     ‘I’m not glad for you, obviously. Breaking up is hard to do, Pippa. It happens to the best of us, even me.’ Heather helps herself to two mugs from my cupboard and gazes longingly at the kettle. It seems Mummy’s bitter coffee has not quenched her thirst.

I hope that the above exchange illustrates Pippa’s strained relationship with her sister Heather.

Pippa has not seen Sadie since school swim class. Sadie visits unexpectedly and turns Pippa’s life upside-down.

You must be tempted to meet Sadie. I spent a year waiting to write her story, and when I did, she took over my life as much as she did my protagonist, Pippa’s.

We learn very little about Sadie’s existence. She doesn’t seem to have a job, relationship or home. What she does have is Pippa’s attention and she takes her round the mulberry bush many times, on many mornings throughout the novel. Sadie takes no prisoners, yet she is fun and supportive.

Sadie is everything Pippa wants to be.

Pippa’s boyfriend telephones her at work, letting her know that her sister has called round. Pippa finds this strange because Heather is always visiting – why would Ben contact her at work to tell her something that happens regularly? When Pippa arrives home, Ben is on his way out and Pippa sees someone sitting in her front room that is not her sister.

‘Were you expecting the Pocahontas of Pendle?’ Sadie grins.

     ‘What! You can’t say that!’ she meant Heather, who lives in Pendle and does look a bit like she’s descended from America’s past.

     ‘Why not? Look.’ Sadie performs a centre parting in her lengthy black hair and two plaits appear (in record time). ‘Heather and I have our dad’s genes. You know as well as I do that Oswald’s great-great, however-many-grandads was one of the Salford Sioux, so if I was teased at school about it, then it’s fine for me to say it about Heather.’

I had to make Sadie the opposite of Pippa, this is why her father (not the same person as Pippa’s father) is descended from the Salford Sioux (I’ve added a handy link for you to check out). I worked in Salford for twenty years as a nurse. I learnt that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show visited Britain at the request of Queen Victoria and they arrived via The Manchester Ship Canal. This was in the winter of 1888 and some of the Salford Sioux stayed in the area (making their home on the banks of the River Irwell). Imagine yourself a Salford woman in Victorian times – descendants of this fabulous story live in the area today, and as my community boss once said to me ‘they say that if you think you’re descended from the Salford Sioux – you probably are.’ I think it was then that I decided I would weave this thread into something I wrote.

Pippa’s family tree.

Sadie is not all good…

I’m not telling you any more than that. You’ll have to read it.

Have a wonderful Tuesday, Samantha.

PS I also wrote The Curmudgeon Avenue Series;

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?)

Photo by A Koolshooter on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

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:

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.

Photo by Nicolas Postiglioni on Pexels.com

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!’

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

     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!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Stay spooky, and happy reading, 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.

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.