Doing the Research… Chris Penhall

As Summer starts to arrive in the UK, so do the Summer choc-lit books and where best to start? By talking to Chris Penhall, about the research that goes into her books especially her newest The House on the Hill – A Summer in the Algarve.



The books I have written are all set in places I know very well, and I feel the locations are characters in the stories. So, when I frivolously say I research my books when I’m on holiday, I sort of mean it and I sort of don’t.

The landscapes, sounds and smells of Portugal and the south Wales coast are so imprinted on my mind that I call on them when I want to for a particular scene. In my new novel, The House on the Hill – Lagos, where its set,  is very much a part of the action. I feel it’s my second home, and as with all of the places I write about, because I only visit for short periods of time, my experiences when I’m there are always intense and very vivid.

There is a lot of yoga, meditation, Zumba and a bit of dancing in this particular book too, and although not an expert in any of them, I do all of them regularly. So, once again, I have used my own knowledge of participating in classes, although I have never taught any kind of sport, exercise or dance. I’m just there to enjoy myself…

There is also one small scene set in a radio station. I cannot reveal what it’s about, but suffice to say that most of my working life has been involved in working in radio in some way or another, so something was bound to seep into one of my books at some stage. This particular bit is entirely fictional, but, honestly, it really could happen.



When I’m writing – and I’m sure this is true of many authors – things that are going on around me can also find their way into the story. For instance, I did sunset beach yoga for the first time in October 2021 in Lagos, and after experiencing the real joy of watching the sunset on Porto Do Mos Beach, with only the sound of the gentle rolling of the sea next to me, It fed into the book somehow. Not in a big way, really, but that’s often what happens – these things often add extra layers to the story.

I think what I’m trying to say is that I subconsciously gather images and ideas wherever I go, and when I allow my imagination to run free, some of those memories find their way onto the page. So, I have been accidentally researching my novels for a very long time, and I never even knew it.




Layla is calm, in control and is definitely not about to lose her serenity for the man next door!
Surely it can’t be hard to stay peaceful at one of the oldest yoga and mindfulness retreats in the Algarve, surrounded by sea, sun and serenity? Mostly, owner Layla Garcia manages it – with the help of meditation and plenty of camomile tea, of course.

But keeping her grandparents’ legacy alive is stressful, and Layla has become so shackled to the work that, for her, The House on the Hill is fast becoming ‘The Fortress on the Hill’.

Then writer Luke Mackie moves to the villa next door, bringing with him a healthy dose of chaos to disrupt Layla’s plans, plus a painful reminder of a time when she was less-than-serene. But could his influence be just what Layla needs to ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ and have the fun she’s been missing?




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Doing The Reseach… Kirsty Ferry

I’ve invented a new blog series thanks to Helen Bridget last week called “Doing The Research” so I am especially excited to be hosting the lovely Kirsty Ferry to talk about her new CHRISTMAS book Christmas of New Beginnings…



Thank you Claire for having me back on your blog. I can’t believe it’s ‘that’ time of the year already, when the Christmas books are on the shelves and we’re starting to think of festivities. After last Christmas which was a washout and very disappointing for so many people, I really wanted to write a light hearted Christmas book, and build that into a series for Ruby Fiction.

The first book in the Padcock series is Christmas of New Beginnings, and is told from Cerys Davies’ point of view over five Christmases, as she relocates to a small village in the South Downs, and engages with the quirky residents. There is one resident she’s particularly enamoured with, and that’s Sam who owns the local pub. There’s a big fly in the ointment though, in the shape of Sam’s hideous girlfriend Belinda. The book follows Cerys and Sam over the next few Christmases and I hope you enjoy their story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

My books usually take a lot more research than this one did. Many of my previous books have had a historical aspect, so I’ve researched, amongst many things, pirates, Jacobites, folklore, witches, highwaymen, Victorian and Edwardian Christmases and a lot of art movements such as the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Staithes Group of Artists. I’ve done research the traditional way by reading books and visiting museums or art galleries, and also have found a wealth of information on the internet, and love looking at estate agents websites for my characters’ houses, and virtually following their steps as they visit places in Google Maps. Sometimes, the internet sends me down what I fondly call the Google Rabbit Hole, and it spits up things I didn’t know – things that link in brilliantly to my story.



I tend to start a story with an idea. I don’t plan it, because that leaves me free to visit those rabbit holes and pull something together – for instance, It Started with a Pirate began with a Google search on “Pirates in Edinburgh”. I found an article about the skeleton of a pirate that had been found in a school yard and that led me off to track piratical journeys, shipwrecks, the Orkneys, Spain, trial records and the Jacobites. It all fitted together, and I actually had a reader message me and ask if the pirate character in the book was a real person, as he sounded as if he should be. That was great for me to hear, as I think there is nothing worse than a big info-dump of historical information in a book. It’s guaranteed to make me skip the pages and get back to the story so I really try not to do that, and to weave the research in when I write.


For Christmas of New Beginnings, it was much easier to write. The story flowed quite quickly as I didn’t have to fact check so much, but I did research the area of the South Downs (we have family down there, but I haven’t been for a few years), and also things like the prices of designer scarves and London markets which I needed to know a bit about to make sure that one of the characters enterprises worked out realistically. I also looked at fun things such as favourite Christmas films, which film the song ‘White Christmas’ appeared in (it’s Holiday Inn, by the way! I knew it was from a film, and the film wasn’t called White Christmas, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember at first!), and traditional Welsh folk songs. The village of Padcock is loosely based on Lacock Village, which I visited a while ago, so I also refreshed my memory on that one, which helped me draw a map in my head of Padcock – even though I added a canal there as well: just because I fancied it. That’s the beauty of research merging with fiction though. Sometimes you can blend the two together and make your readers suspend their disbelief for a little while –  and hopefully make the places and the stories seem as ‘real’ as they can be.



51KSLK0i96LNot all festive wishes come true right away – sometimes it takes five Christmases …

Folk singer Cerys Davies left Wales for the South Downs village of Padcock at Christmas, desperate for a new beginning. And she ends up having plenty of those: opening a new craft shop-tea room, helping set up the village’s first festive craft fair, and, of course, falling desperately in love with Lovely Sam, the owner of the local pub. It’s just too bad he’s firmly in the clutches of Awful Belinda …

Perhaps Cerys has to learn that some new beginnings take a while to … well, begin! But with a bit of patience, some mild espionage, a generous sprinkling of festive magic and a flock of pub-crashing sheep, could her fifth Christmas in Padcock lead to her best new beginning yet?



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