#NEWRELEASE FROM CHRISTOPH FISCHER

image007I’m very pleased to announce a new release from Christoph Fischer, The Body in the Snow. This new book takes a sharp turn for this prolific writer who is known for his historical fiction that often visits the dark corners of eastern Europe prior, during, and after World War II. He’s also written some outstanding works of contemporary fiction that deal with mental illness and Alzheimers.

So when he asked if I wanted to beta read this novel, I couldn’t wait to delve into something lighter–a cozy murder mystery! And I wasn’t disappointed. The Body in the Snow is a delightful romp through snow drifts, candle light, nosy neighbors, and fading singers as Bebe Bollinger drinks her way to solving a mystery and discovers her way back to her daughter and her career. I loved how he used the event of a massive snowstorm to hold neighbors captive and to keep other things from moving forward throughout the story.

While there is laughter, there’s also pathos in the characters and certain universal threads through them all. From the couple in a dysfunctional marriage filled with jealousy and rage to the lonely divorcee only wanting a friend, there’s a glimpse into the humanity of us all. The detective off her game is revived by the sometimes ridiculous yet irrepressible Bebe who may not always do the right thing, yet somehow finds a way to right her wrongs.

It’s a fun read. I almost didn’t want the mystery part solved because that would mean the characters would leave me! Here’s hoping there’s more to come from these unforgettable and all too human folks created by the talented Christoph Fischer.

Christoph and I followed parallel roads recently as we both were seeking out new places to live. I moved to the Smoky Mountains in the States, and he moved to Wales in the UK. Since our moves, both of us have set our novels in our new homes. As Christoph relates below, he did it for the same reasons that I did. Here’s Christoph on how “place” created his setting.

img_8322-xlThe Setting for The Body in the Snow

By Christoph Fischer

The Body in the Snow is set in West Wales, which has been my home for the past two years. Originally, I placed the story in England, but when I started my first re-write after moving to Wales, I was so in love with my surroundings that I brought the characters across the border with me.

West Wales is wonderfully beautiful with lush green hills, beautiful mountain tops, spectacular beaches and world-renowned coastal hiking trails. Why not more people live here is beyond me.

The setting of The Body in the Snow is a declaration of love to this beautiful and unique country and seemed a great fit, with plenty of inspiration to add to the next draft of my novel.

I came to the UK many moons ago because of a Welsh lawyer from Swansea and have been with a Welsh man for the past ten years. Although I only lived here for a short period of time, my connection to Wales has been long standing. Prior to moving there, once a week, we crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales to visit my partner’s fragile parents and each time I liked the sensation of going to Wales.

The book is particularly dedicated to the welcoming people of my adopted new hometown and the people who helped us to settle in there so quickly. After fifteen months, I now rarely go somewhere without bumping into someone I know and having a chat on the way.

In 2012, our house in England was snowed in on a hill top and the electricity was cut several times for almost entire days. My partner joked that this was the perfect setting for a murder mystery since nobody could arrive or leave. I liked the idea. We were cut off from everything, as is so often the starting point of good crime fiction such as  Agatha Christie’s Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. Living in a rural location, we learned firsthand the far and unforeseen limitations of life in such a big snowfall. Where we live in Wales could easily be affected in the same way.

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Purchase links for The Body in the Snow

Kindle (Preorder – release September 24, 2016)

Paperback (Available now)

AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – WENDY UNSWORTH

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgI’m very excited to welcome Wendy Unsworth back to Author Wednesday. I’ve been anxiously awaiting her second book in the Berriwood Series, after having read The Palavar Tree. The wait is almost over. Beneathwood is a novel filled with drama and suspense and will be available in e format on November 24, 2015, and in paperback on December 8, 2015.CoverBeneathwood

Welcome, Wendy. It’s so nice to have you back.

Hello and thank you for inviting me back to your lovely blog; it’s great to be here.

Next month you will be publishing the second book in your Berriwood Series. Can you tell us something about the idea behind the series?

Berriwood is a fictional village in the beautiful and ancient county of Cornwall in England. I was lucky enough to live in that part of the world for a few years and anyone who does couldn’t fail to be inspired by its windswept moors and rugged coastlines. The house we lived in was built in 1745 and, amazingly, that’s not too unusual for that part of the world. History is everywhere. When I had the idea to write a series of novels featuring the characters of one village it had to be set in Cornwall!

I wanted to write a series about characters from within a small community so that the common theme in each book is the connection to the village. I have a fascination (I think this is a writer’s lot in life!) in people. I might be sitting in a crowded train or plane or in the window seat of a coffee shop, and as I watch, I wonder about the lives and motivations around me. So, that was how I imagined Berriwood; on the face of it a pretty place where folks go about their ordinary lives, but what is ordinary? I should say right now, this is no quiet, nothing-ever-happens, kind of a village. I like to test my characters!

photo 2In the first book of the series, The Palaver Tree, I took my ‘ordinary’ character, Ellie Hathaway, a woman who had grown up in Berriwood and was perhaps quite naive about the wider world, and sent her on a journey as a volunteer teacher in Africa. Ellie had come to a crossroads in her life and was looking for new purpose. I knew that, beneath her gentle exterior, was a strong and resourceful woman (as so often in the case!), and I was eager to explore how she would respond when the chips were down and her life and the lives of others were at stake.

In Beneathwood the story is centered entirely around the village where the stakes, are, for one family, similarly high!

I loved The Palaver Tree (click here to read my review). I visited Cornwall and I understand how the setting would be perfect for your literary purposes. Beneathwood is an interesting title, how did the name come about?

Houses are important to me. I have lived in quite a few different ones, but each, in my mind, defines an ‘era’ of my life. Beneathwood is the name of a house and is very central to the whole story. I once saw an old and weathered sign to a house of the same name. It was on a winding country road, but the building wasn’t in sight. It must have been tucked far down a track and obscured by trees. I was intrigued. The name stuck with me, and I knew that one day I would recreate Beneathwood in a style and setting of my own. I also liked the way it fitted in my mind with the village of Berriwood. Beneathwood is a part of the village, but is indeed, on the edge, beneath it, so to speak.

That’s a perfect name and one word titles are easy to remember! Can you tell us a little bit about the story within Beneathwood, without giving too much away?

It’s all about that house, or so it seems to be. After Postmistress Beryl unexpectedly inherits Beneathwood from her Aunt there is plenty of restoration work to be carried out, and her husband, Gordon, recently retired and beginning to suffer from boredom, thinks the project is heaven sent. Olivia, the Carroll’s daughter, would honestly rather see her father do a quick tidy up and get the house on the market. She hated the place even before she found Auntie Edith’s body on the floor of the sitting room. But Gordon approaches his new task with a typical eye for detail and the process becomes a labor of love.

When an accident leaves Beryl unable to continue to work at the post office, the Carrolls decided their best option is to move in.

Beneathwood is a story about secrets and how they can unravel, even though the passage of many years might seem to make them safe. It’s also a story about preconceived ideas and misconceptions and how a situation, even amongst close, family members, can be so differently interpreted. Finally, the story is about love, as most stories, even in the most oblique of circumstances, are.

It sounds lovely, and I look forward to reading it. What’s in the works at the moment. Will we be seeing more in the Berriwood Series?

Yes, for Berriwood, I have two more books planned. Book three has a working title of The Devil You Know and is a story featuring Caroline Duke, the owner of the village newsagent’s shop. Caroline is married to Pete Duke; he is a man who has succumbed to addiction, unlike his twin brother who is Oh! So perfect!

Book 4 is still very much still in the outline stage but is probably going to feature again Tiffany Harris, the gullible young woman from The Palaver Tree who has learned a lesson or two since we last saw her.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00056]I also have a great time, in between longer projects, writing for children. My Come-alive Cottage series is written purely for fun, and I adore creating characters such as Aunt Kitty, the witch, the eccentric Colonel Culpepper and the very silly, Aunt Sillime. Keller Culpepper is the heroine of the stories, and she always manages to save the day!

I also have an idea for a new adult book, possibly stand-alone, but that is nothing more than a little seed at the moment, plenty of water and nourishment required. If only there was two of me!

Thank you again for asking me here today. It is a real pleasure to be ‘out and about’ in the writing community.

First, I’m happy you’re bringing back Tiffany. She was memorable and probably learned the most in The Palaver Tree. I’m delighted to find you reveling in your work. Writing children’s books is a noble endeavor, and it’s wonderful to see you having a good time with it.  Congratulations on publishing Beneathwood. I hope you’ll return when Book three is ready for publication.

photoAbout Wendy: Wendy Unsworth was born and raised in Lincolnshire, England. Her passions are her family, travel, beautiful gardens, and reading and writing stories. Wendy lived in Ndola, Zambia, and Nairobi, Kenya, throughout the 1980s and early ’90s before returning to the UK to acclimatize back to the English weather in a Cornish cottage close to Bodmin Moor. She has also lived in Portugal and hopes to go back there in search of some sun.

Click below:

The Palaver Tree – Amazon US

The Palaver Tree – Amazon UK

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AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – LORI CRANE

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She’s back! One of my favorite authors and a dear colleague and friend, Lori Crane (click here for previous interview) visits Author Wednesday to tell us about her new release, I, John Culpepper. Lori is quite popular and famous for her works of historical fiction, and this book is no exception. Here she is to tell us all about it.Culpepper_1

Hello, Lori! I’m so happy to have you return as a guest on Author Wednesday. Let’s get right to it. Give us the one sentence pitch for I, John Culpepper.

I, John Culpepper is a work of historical fiction based on the life of the 17th-century man historians refer to as John Culpepper the Merchant who was forced to rise against his father to achieve his childhood dream.

I know you usually write about your ancestors, so give us the scoop. Are you related to this fascinating man? 

John Culpepper is the progenitor of the modern-day American Culpeppers. He was my 10th great-grandfather.

I’m always amazed at how far you’ve been able to reach back in your ancestry to pull out these characters worthy of a novel. I’m very envious, but mostly I’m in awe. How long did it take you to finish the book, from idea to publishing?

I first had the idea to write his story in August of 2014, but the more I researched, the more interesting tidbits I found and it became four books with four distinct stories: his childhood, his life during the English Civil War, his rise to family patriarch, and finally, his coming to terms with his past, his family, and his beliefs. His story became the Culpepper Saga with “I, John Culpepper” being the first of the four books. From idea to publish, since I ended up writing four books at the same time, took nine months.

So we have more to look forward to. That’s amazing that you wrote four books in nine months. Is there a message in I, John Culpepper for us?

As a young man, John had to stand up to his father. For those of us who have stood up to a parent, we understand the pain involved in that process. At the end, John realized that, perhaps, his father wasn’t the bad guy after all. I think that’s a lesson we all learn when we finally realize our parents are only human.

I can relate as I’m sure many others can as well. I’ve been both the parent and child on that process! What is the best thing someone could say about I, John Culpepper?

I love it when readers tell me how interesting my family is, not realizing these stories are of our collective past. We are all the products of the survivors, the heroes, the brave men and women. I hope they see John as the hero he was. He was a bit of a rebel, but his rebellion is what eventually saves his family…on more than one occasion.

Thank you for saying that. Yes, it’s our collective history. What kind of research did you do to pull off this work of historical fiction?

I started with my family tree. I initially wondered how the Culpeppers of 16th-century England, with their stately manors and vast land holdings, ended up being the modest people I knew in my childhood in Mississippi. Why would they give up that kind of prestige to move to an inhospitable land filled with savage Indians and probable starvation? I also researched the school John attended, the ships of the time, the colonial records of 1630s Jamestown, and I spent a lot of time on the Culpepper family website called Culpepper Connections. In the second book, the English Civil War breaks out, so I researched everything from the timeline of the battles, to the generals and the king, to the transcribed minutes of the House of Commons. I spent three days reading those minutes. Even though I knew I had family serving in Parliament at the time, to read their names on the actual roll call was exciting.

I’m sure it was–history coming to life right before your eyes. Tell us about your favorite scene.

I have a couple. The first is at the wharf the day John is born. John’s father is quite a formidable character. The second is when John sees the product of his prank on his headmaster. I laughed out loud when I wrote it. The third is when John takes his brother aboard his ship for the first time. I can just picture the pride and excitement on John’s face.

When you become that invested in the writing, magic is sure to follow! Is there anything else we should know about the book or about John Culpepper?

John Culpepper was a very, very popular name in English history, and each John had a brother named Thomas. All of those Johns and Thomases had sons also named John and Thomas. Deciphering which John was which from English and Colonial records was difficult, but after reading other theories and putting all of the different names and birth and death dates to paper, I believe I got the family history figured out. I took great freedoms in giving some of the men nicknames, just to keep them straight, but be assured, in historical records they are all named John and Thomas. The nicknames are mine and mine alone. I didn’t take them from any records.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Lori. I look forward to reading your I, John Culpepper. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it as much or even more than your other books.

1394868_10201454031930551_434799525_nAbout Lori Crane:  BESTSELLING AND AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR LORI CRANE IS A WRITER OF SOUTHERN HISTORICAL FICTION AND THE OCCASIONAL THRILLER. Her books have climbed to the Kindle Top 100 lists many times, including her book Elly Hays, which debuted at #1 in Native American stories. She has also enjoyed a place among her peers in the Top 100 historical fiction authors on Amazon, climbing to #23. She is a native Mississippi belle currently residing in greater Nashville. She is a professional musician by night – an Indie Author by day.

Click here to read my review of Elly Hays.

Click on the links below to purchase and connect with the author 

I, John Culpepper Amazon US 

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Culpepper Saga fan page

AUTHOR WEDNESDAY – MARGARET KELL VIRANY

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgWelcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome Canadian author Margaret Kell Virany, who writes romantic historical books based on her life and that of her parents. Her books include A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Voida love story, between an English young woman and a Canadian young man, set during World War I. Kathleen’s Cariole Ride is set during the same time period.Kells cover pic

Welcome, Margaret. Tell us a little bit about yourself as a writer. How do you envision yourself in this role?

Lover of life, language and literature. Note-taker, journalist, editor, author. I write. Little things turn me on, like scraps of paper in a keepsake box and the memory of strawberry socials, harvest suppers and silver teas. The act of being a witness, a record-keeper, a storyteller, and the one who remembers has always excited me. I feel like I am part of a wider community. My ideal is to help others “see eternity in a grain of sand” (William Blake) and gain access to the best truth we have. As the historian, Sallustius, said in 4 A.D, “What happened is what always happens.”

I love that. It’s very poetic, which is very fitting based on your style of writing. Do all your books have a common theme or thread?

Yes. Love is my theme. It comes in various specialties:  the romantic love of a young couple, parental love, filial love, family bonds, charity, love for other human beings, and the all-embracing divine love brought to earth and presented as an ideal by the Gospels. For me, it was a personal pilgrimage of going home to my parents after finding their love letters had been left in a keepsake box, surely for some purpose.

What a wonderful and powerful perspective. Why has it been so important to explore this theme of love? 

If people don‟t get or give enough love, they go searching for it, and a good book can be their voyage. When I was coming of age in the fifties, it was still a bit of an anomaly for a woman who had children to work outside the home. Women, like my mother, came out of a world, both deprived and romantic, that had untold, inestimable influence on the direction of children, husbands, and society. Such love practices inspired the line, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” (William Ross Wallace, 19th century Indiana poet)

That’s a perfect quote to express what you’ve done in your writing. What‟s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

“Virany‟s account of their (her parents’) adventures … is riveting. (She) has the natural gifts of a born storyteller who keeps you caring about the characters no matter where they are. When the Kells finally return to civilization the pace of the narrative doesn‟t flag.” From a review by Ellen Tanner Marsh, New York Times bestselling author

I’d be very proud of that review as well. Very nice and I’m sure rewarding. How did you choose the title, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void?

In my years spent studying English literature at the University of Toronto, I noticed certain things about classics. I wanted to do things that would identify my memoir as that category of book. Fortuitously my family name, Kell, is the same as that of the most famous manuscript of ancient western civilization, The Book of Kells. Millions of tourists go to look at it in Dublin each year, so it would have a familiar ring even for those who couldn‟t pin it down. Beginning the title with “A Book of …” gave it a serious, nonfiction tone. My literary background also led me to load my title with words that had multiple meanings and associations which would give clues to the type of content inside. My parents lived their married life as if it was book. There is an ancient concept of life being one‟s “book of days.” For dates and event, I leaned on my parents‟ daily diaries. The title could also refer to the Bible, the book that most guided my ancestors and parents. I hit the jackpot, I felt, when I discovered that the root of the name Kells was, according to some scholarship, a synonym for all Celts, the dominant tribe who inhabited the region north of the Mediterranean Sea in 500 B.C. This was generic; anyone with a name with the “Kell‟ prefix is one of the tribe so the word should have wide appeal. Another meaning for “kell‟ was a hair net or covering and that was an appropriate symbol for my upbringing as a minister‟s daughter. My title might make people think it was a family history, which it partly was, at least for the most recent four generations.

That’s fascinating. I’m always interested in the creative process, so how did you decide to write this book? 

I wanted to write it as a romantic novel while sticking rigorously to the facts as I knew them or was able to reconstruct them by careful logic. It should have a beginning, middle, climax and end but these should not be superimposed. They should emerge from what I could find out; the story must be allowed to tell itself. It was a test to see whether the literary structures I had been taught really worked. I had to discipline myself not to make things up. I already had on my hands a self-described knight and lady who had rubbed shoulders with real prime ministers and princes. They courted and treated each other accordingly. I did not have to manufacture their raw emotions because I had their seventy-two authentic love letters from the 1920s. I had been blessed by a bonanza in a keepsake box; I just had to call forth my muses to elicit it and do it justice.

Here is a beautiful quote I just received as a comment on my “About” page on my blog. “Memories are a nursery where children who are growing old play with their broken toys. Kells is an extraordinary book, presenting the extraordinary story of extraordinary people living in extraordinary times.” John W. Bienko

That is lovely. I’m so glad you stopped by today, Margaret. Yours is a unique story and one worth telling.

MargoncanoeAbout Margaret Kell Virany from Margaret:  Born on a farm on the northern fringe of Toronto, I got a degree in English Language & Literature and married my Varsity heart throb. Early employment was at the Toronto Telegram, Maclean-Hunter and freelancing for the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Montreal Star, and Montreal Gazette. My most fun jobs were as professional public relations secretary first of the Montreal YMCA and then of the Toronto YMCA, and as a program organizer of CBC-TV’s first live nationally televised conference The Real World of Woman (1961). Following a move to Canada’s capital region, I became editor/co-owner of the weekly newspaper in my home town of Aylmer, QC and had the busiest, best career of a lifetime. Upon discovering the keepsake box full of love letters, journals and photos my parents left, I published A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. It records my family’s lives and my uneasy coming of age as a minister’s daughter. Then I wrote Kathleen’s Cariole Ride recounting my parents’ transatlantic courtship and adventures living on a Cree reserve in the north. At the 2012 Centennial Conference honoring the literary critic, Northrop Frye, I learned that my notes of his lectures would be among those posted on the fryeblog, available for public download. This success brought me back to the day when I dropped out of college for a year and learned shorthand on my very first job, as a receptionist at the ‘Tely’.

Click below for links to Margaret’s books and website:

Cozy Book Basics

Website

Amazon Author Central

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Author Wednesday – John Holt

cropped-cropped-typewriter.jpgIt’s Wednesday, and time for another installment of Author Wednesday where today John Holt stops by for a chat. John joins us from England where he writes detectives, mysteries, and historical fiction. His novel The Thackery Journal explores a “what if” concept regarding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.DCP_5221 Most of his novels feature Tom Kendall, a private detective.

John, I’m so glad you could join me today. I know that you had another career before starting to write fiction, so tell me, when did you first discover your voice as a writer?

I guess, like a lot of people, I had always wanted to write a novel, or certainly as far as I can remember, I did. I could never think of a decent original plot. Then in 2005, we went on holiday to the Austrian lake district. We stayed at Lake Grundlsee. The next lake was Toplitzsee, which had been used by the German Navy to test torpedoes and rockets during World War II. I had the basis of a plot. The Kammersee Affair was published in December 2006. It was when the five-star reviews started to come in that I began to think that just maybe I was a writer.

You are definitely a writer. Do you set timetables or deadlines for yourself as a writer?

I don’t have any set routine, no particular targets, no particular times for writing. Sometimes I might write nothing for days on end, then I might scribble down just a few hundred words. I don’t see the need to have some arbitrary target of  x-thousand words a day. What’s the point? If the words aren’t quality, and are merely a forced quantity, then they are of no value. Why set yourself a set time for writing if you’ve nothing to write. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, with a whole scene in mind. I quickly make notes and go back to sleep.

That’s a great way to do it. I tend to agree, except for that little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me I need to be productive to be successful. I like your way better! Do you have any messages you try to insert in your books?

There are no messages, no hidden agendas. No profound meanings to be unraveled. No deep meaningful content that needs to be analysed every which way. I write for pure enjoyment, nothing else. I just want people to read my works, and say that was good. I enjoyed that.

Perfect. What are you working on these days? 

I currently have four projects that I’m working on, at various stages. Firstly, there is the sixth novel featuring Tom Kendall, my private detective. It is currently about fifty percent complete, and I am hoping for a release in June or July. I have also made a tentative start on an adventure story, but it is only about ten percent, so a long way to go. Finally, I have a basic idea for another Kendall novel, and for a second American Civil War story. I’ve also recently published a novella, The Candy Man, which I hope to be the first of several novellas.Book[1]

You’ll be busy. You must love the character of Tom Kendall. Is he your favorite character? 

I have now written seven novels, five of them feature my private detective Tom Kendall. Without a doubt, he is my favorite character, and I’m glad to say that he seems to be quite popular with my readers. There’s a lot of me in Kendall. He is stubborn, dogged, and determined. Once he gets an idea, he sticks with it. Just like me. He’s not the fittest guy in the world, and doesn’t exercise as much as he should. Also, just like me. He has a wicked sense of humour. Again, just like me.

That’s funny. What’s the best thing said about one of your books by a reviewer?

Taken from a five-star review of The Kammersee Affair – “I loved this book. John Holt is clearly a born story-teller. He has the knack of dangling together just the right mix of interesting characters and impossible situations and then takes you on a journey full of twists and turns and surprises and amazing endings. The Kammersee Affair is a perfect example of this clever list of ingredients. Highly recommended.”

How lovely! I’m sure you appreciated those words. Tell me a little bit more about The Thackery Journal. What’s your one sentence pitch for your book?

Civil War – the worst kind of war that any nation could face. Fighting against itself there could be no winners in such a war, a war that divides communities, splits families, and makes enemies of long-time friends.

How did you choose the title? 

Generally I prefer short titles – three or four words maximum. I had imagined this story to be told in the form of a diary, a journal, kept by a particular person – hence The Thackery Journal. That title has remained unchanged since it was first chosen some five years ago.

How long do you estimate it took you to take the book from an idea to a finished, published?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A civil war is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divided the country and split communities, a war that put brother against brother and father against son.  A war where in reality there were no winners and the effects would be felt long after the war ended.  But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. I started to write The Thackery Journal about five or six years ago. I had finished my first novel The Kammersee Affair in December 2006, and the first of the Tom Kendall stories, The Mackenzie Dossier, had been published (as The Mackenzie File in August 2008). I began outlining my next novel, The Marinski Affair. Somewhere along the line I got sidetracked. During my research into The Kammersee Affair (a story of hidden gold bullion), I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly, I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of The Thackery Journal, and largely unchanged from when it was first written.  That last chapter gave me the basis for the opening chapter. After some months, I had a good couple of chapters at the beginning, and a couple at the end, together with about 100 pages of research. I then came to a complete stop. I wrote two more novels featuring Kendall, adding little snippets to Thackery as I went along, but still basically stuck. Then suddenly the whole outline of the book came into my mind. It was all there. I knew exactly what to do. The book was completed three months later and self-published in August 2013.

I love it when that happens. Sometimes the best thing we can do is leave the story for a bit. Why did you choose to self-publish?

I had long realized that the chances of being published by a mainstream publisher was remote. My first novels were originally published by a vanity publisher in New York, between 2006 and 2010. In March 2012, I decided to go down the self-publisher route. I now have seven novels under my ‘Phoenix’ banner.

What is the best thing someone could say about The Thackery Journal?

This is a beautifully written book, which grips you from the first page to the last, with very believable characters. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the American Civil War. I will be looking for more books by this author.

Without giving us a spoiler, tell us a little bit about your favorite scene in this book.

There are so many scenes that I like, but I would say that, now wouldn’t I? But certainly, I enjoyed writing the scene where Miles Drew, a southerner, meets up with the Union soldiers he will be joining to fight the war. However, my favorite scene is probably the one set up in the final chapter of the book, where the two friends, fighting on opposite sides, meet up once again.

If you could invite two other authors over to your house for dinner, who would you choose?

If I could choose any two authors, alive or dead, then I would pick Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, so that I could learn her secrets of how to create a plot; and Charles Dickens, to my mind one of the greatest authors of all times.

Great choices. I’d like to be invited, too. Is there one book or author with whom you identify or hold up as your standard-bearer?

I was brought up on Enid Blyton, possibly the greatest author of children’s stories ever, sadly no longer in fashion. I subsequently progressed on to Nevil Shute, Alastair Maclean, and Hammond Innes. But I do not consider any of them as a standard bearer. I have developed my own style, and do not attempt to copy anyone.

That’s a healthy perspective, John. Thank you for stopping by today. It’s been a pleasure to learn about you and your works. You are unique and passionate–all things that will bring you great success in your writing career.

John 2-AAbout John Holt: Born in 1943 in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. I live in Essex with my wife, Margaret, and my daughter, Elizabeth. For many years, I was a Senior Project Manager with the Greater London Council. Then in 1986, I started my own practice as a Chartered Surveyor, working until I retired in 2008.

Links 

Amazon Author Page

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Twitter: @JohnHoltAuthor

 

#Book Review Friday – Time to Let Go by Christoph Fischer

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I’m used to being transported to another era when I read a novel by Christoph Fischer. Set in England, his latest offering, Time to Let Go, transports the reader, not through the years, but into the lives of one family dealing with the splintered effects of Alzheimers.

I’ve lost several relatives and friends to this devastating disease. I’m familiar with the stages for the patient and the ramifications on the care givers. And so is Christoph Fischer in his portrayal of Biddy Korhonen and her family members dealing with her descent into Alzheimers.

Mr. Fischer shows the various ways individuals deal with the illness. There’s the husband Walter who depends upon the routine and regimen of a scheduled life to keep his wife from falling into a deeper stage. He can keep control of the situation to a certain extent, only as far as Biddy’s mind will allow it. Nothing can bring her back to the loving wife she’d always been. When he can’t control his wife’s failings, he absorbs himself in creating a book of family memories. He can control what is remembered and how much is revealed about the individuals who make up the Finnish branch of the Korhonen family.

Daughter Hanna uses the mother’s illness as a chance to come home and hide out from the realities of her life as an airline stewardess when things go horribly wrong on her last flight. Her casual attitude toward schedules and regimens clashes with her father’s grip on his life with Biddy. Hanna runs into problems with this casualness, yet there are times when Biddy seems so happy with the change.

It’s all here in this novel, and it’s done in such a way that the reader is caught up in the lives of the Krohonen’s and rooting for the family to finally communicate with one another before it’s too late. I found myself agreeing with both sides in the debate on how to handle Biddy’s situation. Since I’ve seen the terrific toll Alzhemiers takes, I understand the complicated feelings and situations that arise. Mr. Fischer handles it deftly and with sympathy for both Hanna and Walter and Biddy. No one is right, and no one is wrong.

As he does with his historical novels set in the first half of the twentieth century in eastern Europe, Mr. Fischer manages to bring in the prejudices of a generation raised with biases toward people of different religions, races, and ideologies. It’s not an indictment of older generations, but it is a reality best met with honesty and acceptance.

Thank you, Christoph Fischer, for once again bringing us a work of fiction that asks us to examine our beliefs and open our minds to honest communication with those we love the most.

To purchase Time to Let Go, click on the cover below.

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Disclosure: I was given an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Author Wednesday – Christoph Fischer

???????????????????????????????Welcome to Author Wednesday. Today I welcome back Christoph Fischer for a guest post about his latest release A Time to Let Go. Christoph’s three other novels are set in Eastern Europe during the years of the Great Wars, and offer glimpses into what it was like for people of all gender, religion (or lack thereof), cultural heritage, and sexual preferences. The Three Nations Trilogy (The Luck of the Weissensteiners, Sebastian, and Black Eagle Inn) provide an excellent overview of life before, during, and after war.

However, his latest book A Time to Let Go takes a different path. Set in contemporary times in England, the book explores the life of one family as they deal with the onset of Alzheimers of Biddy, the mother and wife of the Korhonen family. In this guest post, Christoph writes about how and why this story was written. Please watch for my review of Time to Let Go on Book Review Friday.

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How Time to Let Go Came to Be

by Christoph Fischer

The Real Biddy Korhonen

I grew up with only a few friends and with two older siblings who were miles ahead of me in their lives. My mother was a busy woman, and so I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house. She had always wanted to raise four children but lost one child at birth. Her other three children were much older and didn’t need her much anymore, so my visits to her house filled a gap for her, in the same way, her attention to me filled a need in me. A match made in heaven.

Philomena, or Minna, as we called her, remained a source of happiness and encouragement throughout my life. I was always welcomed and treated like a precious gift. She smoked, but she outlived both of her sisters who were taken in their forties by cancer.

In her late seventies, Minna was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease. At least she was alive, I thought, belittling her misfortune without much awareness.

The next time I saw her, her trademark happiness seemed far away. She was crying bitterly because she had lost her hearing aid, a very expensive one, too. Suddenly her life seemed to revolve around retrieving things. She was spared the physical pain of her sisters, but she suffered severe mental torture.

She fortunately reached a happier stage as medication and care helped reduce the misery in her life, but the attention she needed was a huge toll to the family. Despite her memory loss, she seemed to vaguely recognize me; me, the “child” who lived abroad and who rarely came to visit. She had not lost her warmth and happiness, or maybe she had just regained it after the bad patch in the early stages.

Very recently, I saw her again, almost unrecognizable: withdrawn, very unresponsive, and almost reduced to basic functioning. Surprisingly, she could still read, and when I came to see her for a second time her eyes shone as if she did recognize me. I made an emotional goodbye to her, and her hand was shaking as she listened to my speech. She even responded by talking, using words that didn’t fit exactly, but which expressed an emotion similar to what one would expect from a loving aunt in such a situation.

With her loving kindness in mind, I created Biddy, the mother in Time to Let Go, a selfless, giving woman, who even in her illness manages to show her innate kindness. I know it would be wrong to praise her for a gift that many other patients do not have, through no fault of their own. Losing one’s memory and control of one’s life is a terrible thing that you can only understand when it happens to you.

Time to Let Go is a tribute to my brave aunt and to the wonderful people who help make her life dignified and as happy as is possible.

Alzheimers

My book is inspired by personal experiences with sufferers from the disease. Nowadays, almost everyone knows someone who has relatives with Alzheimers and gradually stories and anecdotes about these patients have entered the social dinner party circuit and become common knowledge.

Alzheimers is a dreadful disease that cannot be easily understood in its gravity and the complex, frustrating, and far-reaching consequences for the victims and their families. There are different stages of the disease as it progresses and patients can move through them at different paces and in varying intensity. My book does not attempt to be a complete representation or a manual of how to deal with the disease. The illness affects every patient differently, and there are many stories to tell and many aspects to cover. I hope that I can bring some of those issues to the surface and help make the gravity of the disease more prominent. However, I decided to stay firmly in fiction and family drama territory, and not to write a dramatized documentary on the subject.

I have witnessed several different approaches to handling the disease by both individuals and entire families, and I have learned that the people involved in every case need to work out what is best for them. In my book, a family works out their particular approach, which is right for them. They have different ideas about it and need to battle it out. These clashes fascinated me, and I felt they were worth exploring.

Issues of caring at home, mobile-care assistance, or institutionalizing patients are personal and, depending on where in the world you are, every family has very different options or limitations. The ending in my book must be seen in that context: as an individual “best” solution that uniquely fits the Korhonen family.

As point of first reference and for a more comprehensive and scientific overview of information and help available, I recommend: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/ in the UK, and http://www.alz.org/ in the United States.

There are support groups, help lines, and many other sources available in most countries, which will be able to advise specifically for each individual situation.

I can also recommend Because We Care by Fran Lewis. This fantastic book has a comprehensive appendix with more or less everything you need to know about the disease: Its stages, personal advice on caring, information, tools and help available in the United States.

For consistency, I exclusively used material relating to a medium-advanced stage of the disease. To protect the privacy and dignity of the patients that inspired the story, I have altered all of the events and used both first- and second-hand experiences and anecdotes. Nothing in this book has actually happened in that way. Apart from some outer parallels between my characters and patients I witnessed, any similarities with real people, alive or dead, are coincidental and unintended.

Airlines

The airline plot is not based on any real incident but is inspired by my own imagination. I used to work for an airline, and so naturally, much of Hanna’s life is based on my own experience of fifteen years flying. I lived with the awareness that every time a call bell goes off on a plane this could be a matter of life and death. What happens to Hanna in the book has never happened to me or anyone close to me. My flying life was not that extraordinary. Fortunately.

But every year airline crew are retrained in emergency procedures and aviation medicine, and at least during those intense yearly re-training sessions your mind cannot help considering the possibilities of such events.

The modern trend of the “suing- and compensation-culture” and the extent of it in some cases worries me a little, which is why some of that concern found its way into the book.

The lifestyle of cabin crew and pilots is often falsely glorified as a glamorous string of free holidays and leisure. A recent crew strike in the UK has brought the profession into disrepute in the media, representing them as fat cats and lazy bones. My book aims to shed a bit of light on the realities of flying. I enjoyed the life and would not want to miss the experience, but it is a tough life that demands huge personal sacrifices and flexibility, sleep deprivation on a massive scale, and exposure to aggressive and abusive behaviour by a consumerist clientele. In the global trend of cost cutting, salaries are going down and what used to be a career is at risk of becoming a minimum-wage job handed to people who have no experience and who have no incentive to give it their all.

My book is a tribute to my former colleagues in the airline industry personnel, who, in my opinion, are unsung heroes and a bunch of wonderful, hard-working and very caring people.

Memory

What makes Alzheimers’ so terrible? What is it that makes a memory so important to one’s life that people compare its horrors to pain-inflicting diseases such as cancer? You are alive and physically well, you eat and function as a human, but as an Alzheimer patient, you are bound to be suffering, frustrated, depressed and unhappy.

Of course, it is ridiculous to compare the two diseases, but while a cancer patient still has their awareness and choices, the Alzheimer sufferer is losing the core of their being, and everything they ever were.

How can you define yourself if you cannot remember? You have had children, but you won’t recognize them. You won awards, had a successful career, made people happy, but you don’t know any of it. Who are you and what are you doing on the planet? Who are the people around you? As the disease progresses, these things become more intense and you can live in a mental prison of fear and disorientation. Your brain won’t do as you want it to. The fear of losing it altogether, for some is impossible to bear. You are about to lose everything that was ever precious to you.

That thought is frightening to all of us. It can happen to all of us. The worst stage seems to be when patients still notice that something is wrong. We all know how annoying it is when we just put something down and don’t remember where. Imagine that happening to you all the time, every day, and you get an idea of how it might feel. The caretakers see their loved ones slowly drift away into a stranger.

Biddy’s husband Walter in my novel becomes obsessed with preserving memories—his own and others. He begins to write a family chronicle as a constructive outlet for his fears. He is an important character with his musings about preserving knowledge, memories, and facts, and he allowed me to bring in thoughts about the disease on a different and more reflective level.

I hope that I have managed to write about more than just the clinical side of the disease. I stuck to the early stages of Alzheimers in the story because it gave me the best opportunities to work these thoughts into the story. It allows me to look back at Biddy’s past but with still a lot of hope.

922159_10151345337037132_1303709604_oAbout Christoph: Christoph Fischer was born in Germany as the son of a Sudeten-German father and a Bavarian mother. Not a full local in the eyes and ears of his peers he developed an ambiguous sense of belonging and home in Bavaria. He moved to Hamburg in pursuit of his studies and to lead a life of literary indulgence. After a few years he moved on to the UK where he is still resident today.

Links – United States (click on title for Amazon page):

Time to Let Go

The Luck of the Weissensteiners

Sebastian

The Black Eagle Inn

Links – UK (click on title for Amazon page):

Time to Let Go

The Luck of the Weissensteiners

Sebastian

The Black Eagle Inn

 

 

 

Book Review Friday – David Lawlor’s “Liam Mannion” series

An author faces a monumental task when writing historical fiction. If one historical fact is wrong or an anachronism appears, the reader is likely to put aside the book in favor of one that achieves historical accuracy tempered with believable dialogue, heightened tension, and sympathetic, yet flawed, heroes.

If you are a reader of historical fiction who requires accuracy, suspense, and flawed, yet heroic main characters, then I suggest you go directly to Amazon and buy Tan or The Golden Grave or both by David Lawlor.

RESIZED TANI read Tan first because it is the first in the “Liam Mannion” series of suspenseful and historical novels written by Lawlor. I interviewed him on Author Wednesday a few months back and was intrigued to learn this journalist writes while commuting to his job an hour each way. This process works to create suspenseful fiction with colorful and unforgettable characters.

Set in England and then Ireland in the year after the end of World War I, Tan explores the war of a closer nature immediately following Liam Mannion’s release from the English Army in 1919. Here’s a guy forced to leave Ireland at a young age because of an act he witnessed after a night of drinking at a friend’s wedding. It’s here where the conflict of the story begins when the evil Webber blames and accuses the young Liam of an indecent act against a virtuous married woman. Webber’s fiction that forces Liam into exile begins a whole series of events that mark Liam for life.

Liam heads to England in 1914 and ends up in the English army fighting in France during the majority of World War I.

When Liam eventually heads back to England after the horrid and putrid rot of dead bodies that made up his memory of the war, he ends up in an insufferable situation, which leads him to homelessness, and then worse, as an officer of the crown as a member of the powerful and often repressive Black and Tan. Liam turns a blind eye to the atrocious behavior of his English comrades, only until it becomes evident that his loyalty to the Black and Tan extracts too high of a rent for clean clothes and warm bowl of soup.

Lawlor captures the uncertainty of the times through the examination of Liam’s uncertain future as he’s thrust into situations beyond his control. Precise and graphic descriptions of life in England and Ireland post-World War I show that despite the end of a tragic war on the mainland of Europe, Ireland faced an even greater war at home with the invasion and intrusion of the Tans.

I fell in love with Lawlor’s descriptions of the setting in Tan as I lost myself in the world of the Irish fighting for their lives and their homeland. Here’s an example of Lawlor’s powerful descriptive talent:

“They leaned against the viaduct’s promenade rail, looking out on their hometown, watching the slow huff of a steam engine as it trundled into the station, the smell of the sea mingling with the coke from Cumisky’s coal yard beneath them.”

Lawlor peppers the novel with descriptions filled with contrasting details that employ the senses to show the reader that the situation and the setting are both beautiful and polluted.

Tan is both tender and violent as the reader is drawn into the abyss of angry revenge and the love and loyalty of friends and family. It also shows that being born into a family does not guarantee such loyalty. The character of the individual breeds the kind of loyalty that would take a bullet and shoot a bullet to protect and exact revenge.

I highly recommend Tan if you like immersing your senses in the past of one hundred years ago on English and Irish soils bloodied from wars and stained with tears.

THE GOLDEN GRAVEI also recommend reading Tan before delving into Lawlor’s second “Liam Mannion” novel, The Golden Grave. Liam is once again in exile in England in 1920 when he runs into a war buddy from the trenches in France. The novel’s conflict is set almost immediately as a group of World War I veterans enter into a dangerous project that involves digging into the battlefield grounds of France to find the pot of gold.

The love and lust affair between Liam and Sabine offers some sexual tension, but also provides a buffer between the tedious task of unearthing the treasure and the trauma all the former soldiers feel upon returning to the arena of so many deaths—some of which they caused.

If the story verges toward romanticism, Lawlor skillfully and abruptly changes the tone with flashes of jealousy and flashbacks of war. He uses contrasts to create vivid sketches of the setting as he does in this scene when the veterans make it back to the small village in Flanders that became their touchstone during the worst days of the war:

“The road ran like a scar across Flanders’ ruined landscape. Amongst the straggling wild flowers and sparse grass patches, the animals watched beneath a noon-day sun that shone bright and pristine. A black rat paused in its scavenging; its head tilted high, the whiskers twitching expectantly as it listened to the soft shuffle of booted feet.”

Liam Mannion is impacted by the war, yet in him Lawlor has created a sympathetic and very human main character. He loves, yet he’s afraid of rejection so he holds back. He’s loyal, yet his temptations lead him to places that test his loyalty. He doesn’t always win those personal battles, but he manages to find his way back to remind us all it’s never too late to find redemption.

The Golden Grave is more graphic and more violent than Tan. The horror of war and its impact on individuals plays a role in the plot, but perhaps the quest for gold to quench an unquenchable greed drives the conflict and extracts tolls far more costly than war. It also points to human failings of the worst kind.

Lawlor’s talent is evident in the fast-paced and moving story of war, greed, and passion found within the pages of The Golden Grave. I’m not one for war stories in general, but The Golden Grave is so suspenseful and action-packed and filled with historical importance that I enjoyed every minute reading this book.

Note to Mr. Lawlor:  I hope there’s a third “Liam Mannion” novel in the works.

Purchase Links:

The Golden Grave: http://goo.gl/qMCTa