Tag Archives: Northumberland

Getting to Know You: Caroline Roberts

Next month, I will be interviewing Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts at Berwick Literary Festival. Today, I’m warming up by getting to know Caroline.

Thanks to Caroline for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
I have 4 published novels all set in Northumberland:

The Torn Up Marriage is about love, loss, betrayal and family – a story about ‘messy’ love, and how hard relationships can be when we tear our own worlds apart.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle and The Cosy Christmas Teashop, its sequel, are romantic comedy novels set in a quirky Northumberland Castle inspired by the wonderful Chillingham Castle near to where I live. My friend ran the tea rooms there for seven years. It’s a story about striving for your dreams, finding your identity, with a host of delightful characters and of course  lots of tea, cake and romance.

My Summer of Magic Moments is a love story about rediscovering those special moments in life, especially after a gruelling time. Claire has recently finished breast cancer treatment and escapes to a cottage on the Northumberland coast. I particularly love the setting at Bamburgh which is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a story about love, healing, and finding your way through life.

I think through all my books I’m trying to explore love in words, not just romantic, sexual love, but the love between family and friendships too.

What inspired them?
My interest in relationships sparks it all off – things I see in real life, read about in magazines or newspapers. And the settings are very much inspired by my wonderful home county of Northumberland where I have lived for fifteen years, its rolling hills, castles and stunning coastline.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas come from things I have seen, read, overheard, experienced, then I let my imagination take over. A real place can start me thinking about what might happen there. I knew I wanted to set a book at the cottages I used to jog past, nestled right beside the beach between Bamburgh and Seahouses – that became My Summer of Magic Moments.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite novel is my latest, My Summer of Magic Moments. It is particularly special to me as it was informed by a wonderful lady who herself had gone through breast cancer. It also has lots of real moments included from my family and friends. This book carries a little piece of my heart, and I feel so thankful to have had it published.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was
from?
“Don’t get it right, get it written”, a friend from the Romantic Novelists’ Association told me that (I think originally it may have been from Dorothea Brande’s book). It’s so true and stops you procrastinating about getting it perfect first time, which I think can cripple many a writer. Just let the creative juices flow and get the story out. Later is the time for editing.

What can readers expect from your books?
A really good love story, with fun, family, friends and food, set against something sad such as loss, grief and betrayal – the hard stuff that affects us all at times in life, all in a beautiful Northumberland setting.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to readers (and hopefully publishers/agents if you are looking to be published) and spark their imagination and interest too.
  • Finish the book! Don’t pressure yourself that it has to be perfect. Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.
  • Submitting – If publication is your aim, finish the book, polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible. Do your research on who you are submitting to – and send exactly what they ask for. Do try and personalise your cover letter to show you have spent time finding out about them/their company.
  • Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you might get.
  • Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA Conference that I got my book deal offers.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love the creative process – getting lost in my imaginary worlds where the scenes unroll and the characters seem so real. I also really like meeting and chatting with readers.
Dislikes: Deadlines, writing a novel to a short deadline set by the publisher can feel somewhat stifling. Marketing and publicity can also be challenging and time-consuming too, I really didn’t have a clue how much the author is expected to do of this themselves before I got published, though I’m much more comfortable with this side of things now.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on the final edit stage of my next book, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop,  a romantic comedy set in a fictional Northumberland harbour village that’s a mash-up of Craster with Warkworth plus a few tweaks of my own. I had great fun researching all things chocolate for this book, and was inspired and helped by two fabulous local chocolatiers.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Holding the first paperback copy of my debut novel, The Torn Up Marriage, in my hands. That was such a special feeling. I had spent over ten years trying to get my novels published and it was a real ‘I Did It!’ moment. A dream come true.

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Review: ‘Cragside’ by LJ Ross.

DCI Ryan may have been expecting a sedate summer with his fiancée in the run-up to their wedding, living within the grounds of Cragside, a spectacular Northumberland mansion surrounded by forests but where would the fun be in that?

Despite his misgivings, Ryan attends the staff summer party – a Victorian murder mystery evening – but when the lights go out and an elderly staff member is found dead, Ryan and his team must undertake a new case on his own doorstep.

Taking her DCI Ryan series in a slightly different direction, LJ Ross has written ‘Cragside‘ in a similar style to crime novels of the golden age but manages not to alienate readers of her past works: no mean feat. The ensemble cast of characters reminded me of a modern-day Poirot and I think a Bavarian-style mansion is one of the few contemporary settings where readers will believe you still have a butler, chauffeur, maid and a variety of other staff. Ross also uses facts about Cragside (as with all of her previous novels, this is a real place in the North-East) to strengthen her story.

LJ Ross skillfully builds up mystery alongside police procedural as well as romance, appealing to many readers. ‘Cragside‘ can be read as part of the ongoing DCI Ryan series or as a stand-alone – you will be able to read this without reading the previous ones although I highly recommend that you read the whole series.

Vic x

Review: ‘Exquisite’ by Sarah Stovell.

Imagine you are feted author with the world at your feet. You have a startlingly successful career, a loving family and a beautiful home. You go to teach on a week-long residential writing course in Northumberland and meet a talented but troubled young woman. The chemistry between you is instant and you embark on an all-consuming affair like the ones you write about: or do you?

Exquisite is a breathless and claustrophobic read which captivates you until the final page. I literally could not put it down. It’s been a long time since I read a psychological thriller as good as this. I could see the action unfolding in my mind and already have a clear picture of who would play these characters in a TV or film adaptation.

The way in which Sarah Stovell has crafted this book requires a tremendous amount of skill. The narrative completely reflects the obsessive and confusing nature of the relationship between Bo Luxton and Alice Dark. Exquisite is layered  to perfection and ensures that your sympathies never lie with one person for very long. Sadly, it’s terrifyingly believable.

A must-read.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: BA Morton

Today, I’m joined on the blog by writer BA Morton.

Published by Caffeine Nights, Babs left the rat race and headed to deepest Northumberland where she now lives in a haunted house.

I thought it showed great commitment that Babs came all the way to Newcastle for the first Noir at the Bar Newcastle – just to be in the audience. I was honoured to have Babs appear at the second NatB NE and I’m thrilled to have her on the blog.  

Vic x

b-a-morton

Hi Vic, thank you for inviting me along to talk about my favourite subject – books!

My pleasure! Tell us about your books, Babs. 

I currently have nine published novels and novellas across a number of genres ranging from historical romance to psychological crime. My debut crime novel ‘Mrs Jones’ and the follow-up ‘Molly Brown‘ are set in New York, while my medieval series ‘The Wildewood Chronicles‘ follows the many misadventures of Templar Knight Miles as he returns to Northumberland after crusading in The Holy Land. More recently I’ve concentrated closer to home with North East based psychological thrillers ‘Bedlam‘ & ‘Twisted‘ (published by Caffeine Nights).

Bedlam

What inspired them? 

Wildewood‘ was inspired initially from research carried out on my own home which was built on the remains of a medieval chapel. By contrast ‘Mrs Jones‘ was simply inspired by lyrics from the song of the same name.

Mrs Jones

Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere! Sometimes it can be an image or the lyrics from a song, or simply a snatch of conversation or a news headline. Today, for example, I’ve been mulling over the word ‘knowledge’ too much is as dangerous as too little … hmmm… I have a plot forming already.

wildewood revenge

Do you have a favourite book / character that you’ve written? 

That’s difficult because my favourite book is usually my most recent. That said, my kookiest and most weirdly lovable character has to be Spook from my Newcastle crime novel ‘Twisted’ Spook likes to play dangerous games. She hears voices in her head and slips into rhyme when she’s pushed too close to the edge (which happens quite often). Favourite tortured hero has to be DS Joe McNeil from my psychological crime thriller ‘Bedlam’. Jeez, that poor bloke has it stacked against him… and you really want things to turn out right for him, but you’re scared they won’t.

Twisted

What can readers expect from your books?

Generally, fast paced action, a character driven twisted plot, and a measure of black humour. There’s often a ‘will they or won’t they’ element and that could either be romance, as in ‘Mrs Jones‘, with the witness and the cop, or simply about whether the character will do the right thing against impossible odds.

Most useful piece of writing advice: who was it from?

I’ve had lots of advice since I started writing, and I guess the one I find most useful is that ‘less is more’ I’m a ruthless self editor and will go over a piece repeatedly to prune out anything that strangles the prose. I read aloud to check the authenticity of dialogue and will labour over the choice of one word against another.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers? 

If you have an idea, get it down on paper (or computer) while it’s fresh in your mind, even if it’s just one word or a name or a scene. I have a file with hundreds of one-liners and scenes and images that are just waiting to be brought to life.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 

I like research, particularly when it entails a trip to Barter Books in Alnwick… ah, heaven. I like creating good characters with a vein of badness and bad characters with the capacity to shock and surprise. I don’t like the isolation of creating a world that can’t be shared until it’s fully hatched, or those moments of self doubt when you think it’s probably rubbish anyway. I love to read/perform my work. I hate the whole self promotion thing … arghhhh.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 

I have a few WIPs on the go. Nearest completion is a new North East crime series. I’ve also just completed a short crime story for a charity anthology to be published by Bloodhound Books in time for Christmas.

What’s been your happiest writing moment? 

It has to be when ‘Mrs Jones‘ took second place in The Yeovil Prize literary competition. It was the first competition I’d entered and I was overwhelmed by the response. I was invited to stay, expenses paid, at Brympton for the Yeovil Literary Festival and for 5 days I was wined and dined with some marvellous writers who were all so kind and supportive. ‘Mrs Jones‘ was subsequently published and was a surprising success.

What did you think of Noir at the Bar? 

Living where I do in rural Northumberland, I don’t often make it into the city, but it was well worth the trip. It was the first time I’d attended anything solely crime related and it was marvellous to hear such an eclectic mix within the genre and to meet up with so many like-minded folk, many of whom I’d met only on social media. Perfect venue and organisation too!

Noir at the Bar NE #2

Favourite book of all-time? 

Again, a difficult question, so I’m going to give you three. Favourite historical – ‘Pillars of the Earth‘, Ken Follett. Favourite crime – ‘Every Dead Thing‘, John Connolly (in fact anything by John Connolly) Favourite kids book – ‘Noggin the Nog‘ (that book is just so wonderful to read aloud.)..

For more information, you can visit Babs’s Amazon Author page.

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

Becoming

‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Lady Gaga? No, I think I’ll watch Vera.

I am twenty-seven years old. In my past, I have been a party girl, out four or five times a week. I am now middle-aged. Fair enough, my current ill-health prevents me from doing pretty much anything but even if I could, I wouldn’t be dancing on bar tops or holidaying in Majorca. I consider myself well beyond that phase in my life.

I now think of myself as cultured and an intellectual, but I still enjoy popular shows (‘Glee’ being a case in point). I don’t want you thinking I’m a snob, I’m not. But I think the following sentence demonstrates my leap from mini skirts and alco-pops to green tea and slippers quite succinctly:

While I knew BBC3 were screening ‘Radio 1’s Big Weekend’ featuring Lady Gaga as headline act, I chose to watch ITV’s ‘Vera’.

 VS

Why? I hear you cry (or not).

Although I do enjoy what I thought was Gaga’s inimitable pop music, I have recently realised that her new songs are just rip offs of her previous releases. Anyone who fails to spot the similarities between ‘Judas’ (oooh, courting controversy there Gaga, yawn) and ‘Bad Romance’ and ‘Paparazzi’ just isn’t listening. ‘Born This Way’ rips off TLC’s ‘Waterfalls’.

What I liked about Gaga – her refreshing sound  – has disappeared and now all she seems to want to do is provoke a reaction. When Lady Gaga first arrived on the pop scene at the end of 2008, she was slightly slutty and had a ‘normal’ figure. She was always what I thought of as “New York” – slightly eccentric but now she’s so far up her own ass, she’s lost all appeal. She’s so thin it’s painful to look at and her singing was off-key and out of time. People may criticise Britney Spears for miming but at least she can keep in time with her dancers when she does. I actually don’t really have a problem with pop artists miming some of the time if they’re putting on a good dance routine – Gaga sang and danced but did neither well.

This is where Vera differs from Gaga. She is her own woman. She doesn’t take any flak and will not stick to the rules, no matter what it may cost her. She’s a real maverick. OK, so I may have my tongue firmly in my cheek but the fact still remains that I (and Lily Allen if you believe what she posted on Twitter) still chose a woman who should have retired a long time ago over a girl who is meant to be in her prime. Although I did, admittedly, flick over when the ads were on.

‘Vera’ is based on a character by local writer Ann Cleaves who features in her books ‘Hidden Depths’, ‘Telling Tales, ‘The Crow Trap’ and ‘Silent Voices’. I’ve never read these books and the show was recommended to me by a friend who once encountered Ann in her former profession as a probation officer. Seeing as it was set up our way, myself and The Boy Wonder settled down to give it a whirl. As with almost every other film or TV show set here, I’m thinking of ‘Goal’ in particular, the geography is confused. For example, in ‘Goal’, the characters are shown heading South across the Tyne Bridge only to end up in Tynemouth Long Sands (completely the opposite direction). These sorts of errors immediately detract from my viewing. Not to mention crap accents. ‘Vera’ has featured some quite famous actors but I have to say some of the Geordie accents have been quite embarrassing. TBW gave up after the first episode but I’ve stuck with it, simply to look at scenes of Northumberland. As you will gather, no matter how confused the geography, I will look at images of Northumberland any time.

Last night’s episode got slightly better in the way of character development with Vera’s protegé Joe going through some difficulties at home although the “villain” of the piece was quite obvious to me. I hate it when that happens.

All in all, you may ask if ‘Vera’ is so disappointing why didn’t I dump her for Lady Gaga? The truth is, I am bored with both but at least with ‘Vera’ there’s something nice to look at.

Vic x

What a wonderful world…

Today, The Boy Wonder and I decided to take ourselves off to our not-so-local-but-one-of-our-favourites pub in Lesbury, Northumberland. Listening to ‘Round The Horne’ we took the Coastal Route and so went through several lovely picturesque places like Warkworth and Hipsburn, passing by Alnmouth and stopping at the Coach Inn, Lesbury.

It’s my dream that one day this will be my local pub.

The Coach Inn is such a lovely place, it’s got big open fireplaces and great food. For real ale fans there isn’t a lot of choice but the food is so good, you won’t care. I myself am not a fan of ale but TBW is. We both had pork for our Sunday roast then I had strawberry brulee and TBW had sticky toffee pudding. The roast was absolutely divine. The meat was so tender and juicy and the crackling was perfect. I don’t like stuffing but TBW gave it his seal of approval. The desserts were slightly over-priced for what we got but were still nice.

The young staff are really friendly and there is a nice little side room for you to sit in and watch TV. I like to pretend it’s my sitting room as opposed to it being a pub! Whenever TBW and I go there, no-one is using that little room so it’s nice and private and the way it’s decorated is really homely. They have photos on the wall although we haven’t yet found out whether the photos are family photographs or perhaps ones that have been donated. There’s a bookshelf as well as the TV and today I found an interesting book about the ghosts of Northumberland by Rob Kirkup.

After our lovely lunch, we drove to Barter Books in Alnwick which is based in Alnwick’s Victorian railway station and is one of the largest second-hand bookstores in Britain. You really have to see it to believe it. There’s a minature train set that whizzes round above your head in one part of the shop. If you look up in the foyer, there’s a beautiful mural of lots of authors and characters, it’s really beautiful. There is also a cafe inside. You could spend a whole day here, the staff are helpful and there’s no need to hurry out. You can sit by the fire and read or sit at one of the large desks. There are stools and seats left around the place and dogs are welcome too. There are tea, coffee and biscuits in the front room with an honesty box, such a quaint concept but a heartwarming one nonetheless.

Barter Books have books on literally any subject, TBW even pointed out an old book from the 70s today about nude photography – whatever genre you are looking for, you will find it here. Barter Books works on a system where you bring your old books to sell, you’re offered a valuation and this balance can be carried over if you don’t want to spend it there and then. They do also accept cash if you don’t want to swap old books. I had a good balance saved up so I went slightly mad on buying books today (this will become a regular theme, no doubt). I now have even more books to plough through but this makes me happy.

Just one word of advice: go with an open mind. You will find books that you had forgotten existed however if you have certain things in mind, you may be disappointed. Obviously Barter Books depends on what people are exchanging so, although they do have some very new titles in stock, they only stock 2nd hand books. If you go just for a browse though, I can guarantee you will find something to tickle your fancy. They do also have a smaller range of DVDs and LPs. They have amazingly old books and first editions as well as rare copies which are housed in glass cabinets.

Having just read the ghost book which featured Alnwick, I was slightly jumpy at any sound which TBW took full advantage of, jumping out from behind the huge bookcases.

On the way home, we took a wee detour to take a couple of pictures in Alnmouth, according to the book I read, The Schooner Hotel is haunted. When we looked closer at the sign, we saw it has been give official haunted status! Who comes up with these things?!

Now TBW is playing XBox so I am going to get comfortable and try to read some more. I’m currently trying to read Michael’s Marshall’s ‘Killer Move’ but am having a bit of difficulty getting into it.

How are you today?

Vic x