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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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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A Day In The Life of Gina Holland

I wanted to get to know more about my author family more so welcome to “A Day In The Life of…”

I’d like to say that most days I float around in a kaftan with a glass of gin in one hand and a dictaphone in9859 the other, and that I alternate sips (of the former) with the recording of new book ideas (into the latter), being careful not to get the two confused. My ideas stem from my glamorous international travels and the many sexy and scintillating people I have met along the way. Unfortunately, that would all be a vicious –– albeit attractive –– lie.

What I actually do, like most authors, is go to my day job, which for me is in marketing. Then I return home to ensure the family is fed before carrying out life admin / being Mum Taxi / watching some rubbish on telly because I’m too tired to write a word (delete as appropriate).

I often read articles by writers who say to be successful, you must write every day. Great if you can, but that’s just not realistic for me, and I know many other 30, 40 and 50 something women writers who would say the same thing. Thankfully, it’s just not true that you need to write every day in order to produce a book.

However, I do try whenever possible to carve out days which I can dedicate to writing –– at least until tea time! On these days I make a beeline to get out of the house. After working from home for months, I appreciate the opportunity to escape my four walls and have a change of scenery. That’s why I’ve taken to hiring a desk in a freelancing office, where coffee is on tap and I can hop out into town for a quick lunch or to run a few errands before it’s back to work.

Writing is mostly a solitary pursuit, but I’m a pretty sociable person who is a self-confessed nosy parker. I get my social kicks through meeting other folks by the coffee machine and finding out what they’re up to.

Here’s what a normal ‘writing ‘ day looks like for me:

9am: Park up on Worthing seafront and head for the office. It’s a 20-minute walk into town and it’s such a lovely route along the promenade. At least, it is on a sunny day, but you can get blown to bits or end up saturated if you don’t dress accordingly!

9.20am: A quick stop at Caffe Nero and I’m all flap-jacked up, ready for some serious writing business

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9.30am: Arrive in office. Choose a desk. I’m so indecisive that this stage can be a bit of an ordeal for me. I usually try to be not too close to a window as I can get easily distracted by the shoppers bustling around outside.

9.30am – 12pm: Hopefully I’ll manage around 1,500 words in this time. I’ve found I’m most productive and creative in a morning, so this is my best writing time.

12pm – 1pm: Nip out for a bite to eat. I usually aim for M&S cafe as there’s a nice view from there, but can someone please bring back the chicken and rice soup? I miss it! This is also a good excuse to have a browse at something or other on my way out and think up new ways why I don’t need a new x, y or z today.

1pm – 2.30pm: Afternoon writing session. I should manage another 1,000 words in this time, but they’ll probably need a good edit as my head isn’t as fresh at this time.

2.30pm: Walk back to my car in hopefully decent, not Arctic, conditions. Although if I do end up drenched, the thought of a hot bath and a coffee on my return lifts my spirits.

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3.15pm: Arrive home and spend evening ruminating over whether what I wrote today was genius or nonsense that will need a thorough re-write. The only way to tell is to do it all again tomorrow!

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Gina’s new book is out 31st January 2022, check it out below.

1 -Orange with fun busWhen going back to your roots is the only way forward …

Raegan Kent-Walters is living the high life. Thanks to her husband’s salary, she enjoys the elite Surrey housewife existence of luxury holidays, exclusive gym memberships and skinny lattes.

But then the high life comes crashing down, and, whilst reeling from the discovery that her husband wasn’t the man she thought he was, Raegan is also confronted with the reality that she and her daughter, Sabrine, will have to make some major life changes.

So, out goes the state-of-the-art Range Rover, and in comes the beat-up old Transit van to take them away; back to Raegan’s roots in Yorkshire and the life she abandoned.

But perhaps by embracing who she used to be, Raegan can find the strength she never knew she had, building something unexpected – but truly special – to get her and Sabrine through to a brighter future.

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I’ve previously spoken to Gina about her favoutie books and introduced her as part of the Choc-Lit family. Both posts can be found HERE

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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Doing the Research – by Helen Bridgett

I was so excited when I heard the next book in the Professor Maxie Reddick series was due this autumn. Helen must have done so much research for One by One and I wanted to know more about her process…

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Many moons ago, I started off my working life in market research and I loved it. I loved finding out what people thought, how different groups could view the same incident, advert or product in completely different ways and how we could use this information to nudge and influence their behaviour.

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A love of finding out the facts has stayed with me through university and beyond so it’s probably not surprising to hear that when I started writing novels, I simply loved doing the research. Probably too much – as at certain times when I’m really engrossed in a subject, it’s easy to forget that I also have to hit my word count for the day!

For me the research starts with my characters and for the Professor Reddick Series – the most important person to get right is obviously Maxie herself. I had a very strong sense of who Maxie would be – appearance wise, she’s actually based on an old choir teacher of mine. She was a large squat woman with the most incredibly wicked sense of humour. She was confident, funny and wore swathes of fabric – tunics, capes, shawls – all the time. I loved that she was absolutely herself and decided this was how Maxie would be.

Picture4I worked out how old Maxie needed to be to achieve her professorship and from that began researching the events that would have taken place in her lifetime. I love this part and particularly love finding out what music would have been popular when my characters were having their 18th birthday or the first dance at their wedding. I also like to walk down streets that are similar to where they live at different times of the day. You often don’t use these facts but they help to shape the person you’re developing making them more believable.

 

Of course, when you’re writing crime, it’s important to get the facts around the incident and the Picture3investigation right and that takes a great deal of research. I was actually inspired to write this series when the annual police statistics were published – these show how many crimes result in conviction and how those numbers vary by police forces across the country. The numbers were shocking – conviction rates were at an all-time low and in particular – figures for any form of sexual assault were appalling. I knew this would be the type of information my character would be outraged by.

 

Equally important, my research told me that unless the victim reports the crime themselves, the police can’t investigate – which gives a reason for Maxie to get involved.

I don’t write police procedurals but Maxie Reddick a professor of Criminology and this is a something that I have never studied. As well as getting some books on the subject, I also read academic papers from Universities around the world – they are extremely useful. They’ll tell you what the hot topics are in Criminology and how the research is conducted.

Picture2And then there are some downright weird things that many writers do when it comes to research and that can involve acting things out. I’ve asked for my hands to be tied behind my back so I can see what it feels like and I’ve lain on the concrete floor of the garage to see how long it takes for my body to go numb! All in the name of research!

Finally – I just wanted to say a word about Google – if you’re ever using the laptop of a crime writer, don’t get worried when you see their search history “How to murder my friend and get away with it” – is simply all part of the job! And believe me, we know very many ways!

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UntitledA young woman has gone missing. It’s nearly Christmas. Why does hardly anyone seem to care?

Kelly Ingles should have been a case to tug on the public’s heartstrings: a young woman who’s gone missing in the run-up to Christmas.

But Kelly wasn’t perfect – she liked to party, enjoyed a drink, didn’t always make the best decisions. And when evidence of her drunken antics appears online, it becomes clear that Kelly might not just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time; she might also be the wrong sort of girl to encourage public sympathy.

It’s a case that’s right up Maxie Reddick’s street. As a criminology professor, she’s made it her mission to challenge unconscious biases within the criminal justice system – the sort of biases that cause girls like Kelly to slip through the cracks.

But can she get the police and public on board before it’s too late?

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Which Books… Chris Penhall

About the same time as A Silent Child my 2nd book in the Lisa Carter series was released, I was recovering from reading an amazing book by Sarah Sultoon called The Source and I took some time out to talk to Chris about it, so it was only fair that on the eve of her book new book “Finding Summer Happiness” I returned the favor…

 

Which book do you wish you’d writtenIMG_0572.

There are many, many, many books I wish I’d written so it’s a very difficult one to answer. I’ve just read Grown Ups by Marian Keyes, and I’d love to have the ability to tell stories the way she does with such wit and warmth. Pride and Prejudice, obviously, as it’s perfect.

Which book cover have you looked at and gone that’s amazing.

I’ve just had a browse in my bookshelves and I’m going to pick two – The cover of The Muse by Jessie Burton is gorgeous and I absolutely love A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman. Creating a cover that draws people’s attention and somehow evokes the heart of a book is a real talent.

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Which was the last book that broke your heart.

I’m like a leaky tap so I can often be found crying at a book, but One Day by David Nicholls made me burst into tears on a plane to Portugal a few years ago. I was travelling alone so apologies to the people sitting next to me, whoever they were.

 

 

 

Which book would you rewrite in a different genre.

I read all sorts of books but what comes out of my head is romantic fiction with some humour. I’d love to write a real laugh-out-loud comedy, and I’d also like to have the kind of brain that can produce historical novels. I think that being able to create an interesting and engaging story in which you learn historical facts too is an amazing talent to have.

Which book taught you the largest lesson about life.

That is really difficult as I find that reading books can be very cathartic. I think I’ll go right back to my childhood and my love of books like the What Katy Did series, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. Each one had strong interesting female characters at their heart overcoming all sorts of things. Possibly to my young, impressionable mind that was a good lesson to learn.

Which three books would you take on holiday in 2021?

I have just been out browsing around one of my local bookshops planning what to read next. When I go on holiday I have a real read fest – it’s like a mini book festival for me!  I can get through a lot of novels in two weeks and absolutely love deciding what to take in paperback and what to download on my kindle. The first three books on my list are Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls as I love everything he writes, The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd by Jonas Jonasson as I thoroughly enjoyed The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared.

There are a lot more books on my to-be-read list and I’m slowly working my way through the Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction author catalogue too.

 

Finding Summer Happiness by Chris Penhall

You won’t find happiness without breaking a few eggs …


Miriam Ryan was the MD of a successful events and catering company, but these days even the thought of chopping an onion sends her stress levels sky rocketing. A retreat to the Welsh village of her childhood holidays seems to offer the escape she’s craving – just peace, quiet, no people, a generous supply of ready meals … did she mention no people?


Enter a cheery pub landlord, a lovesick letting agent, a grumpy astronomer with a fridge raiding habit – not to mention a surprise supper club that requires the chopping of many onions – and Miriam realises her escape has turned into exactly what she was trying to get away from, but could that be just the thing she needs to allow a little bit of summer happiness into her life?

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I spoke to Chris last year as part of my meet the family series the interview can be HERE

If you’d like to listen back to my interview earlier this year on Chris’ blog you can find there HERE

 

Which Books… Gina Hollands

Gina Hollands is next up with her summer romance and I am already loving the play on words in the title name. Yours Trudy…

Which book do you wish you’d written. 9859

Bridget Jones’ Diary. A book series and movie deal starring A-listers – which author wouldn’t want that? Sales success aside, this was the first ‘chicklit’ book I read. I was 15 and thought it was incredible!

Which book cover have you looked at and gone that’s amazing.

I love the cover of Jessie Burton’s The Confession. I haven’t read it myself but bought it for a friend on the basis of the cover being beautiful. I’m fickle like that! They say not to judge a book by its cover but it’s human nature to do just that.

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Which was the last book that broke your heart.

I’m not good with sad things so try my best to stay away from anything I know is going to be depressing. There’s enough sadness in the world without reading about it, which is why I’d never read a misery memoir. However, I recently read Alison Moore’s He Wants and although it’s not a sad book as such, there was a part in it that stayed with me.

Which book would you rewrite in a different genre.

I like writing across genres. I started with a romance, went on to erotica then went over to sweet romance. My latest book, Yours, Trudy is a romcom, and my next book is going to be a crime. If I fancy writing a genre, I write it! One day I’d also like to write a non-fiction book.

Which book taught you the largest lesson about life.

When you read fiction, you get a sense of what the world looks like through the author’s eyes. That I find interesting. The book that most made me think about ‘life’ was Matt Haig’s Midnight Library, which I couldn’t get enough of, but I think the largest lessons I’ve learned from books have come from non-fiction. Angela Duckworth’s book entitled Grit was an eye-opener. 

Which three books would you take on holiday in 2021?

I really hope I do get to go on holiday in 2021! And if I do, I’ll be taking Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng, which I’ve been meaning to read for ages; Blood on the Bulb Fields by Judith Cranswick, who I read about in Writing Magazine, and Finding Gina by Lizzie Chantree, which I ordered today because I love to find out what other Ginas are up to!

 

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How many positive words and exclamation marks can you fit into the space of one email?

A lot is the answer, if you’re Trudy Drinkwater. As ‘Head of People Happiness’, her cheery emails are carefully written to boost the morale of her ‘fellow finned friends’ at Pink Fish Web Design. Yay!

But, in reality, there is very little Trudy has to say ‘yay!’ about in her home life. Her marriage is all but over, she’s in a near constant battle to make her two chicken nugget loving teens eat anything vaguely nutritious, and the days when she and her husband were young lovers with big dreams seem very far away.
Can Trudy keep up the chirpy pretense of her day job, or does she really need a new start and a second chance at true happiness?

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Which Books…

Which Books…

I am starting a new blog series called which books…

My first guest will be my fellow debut Helen Bridgett whose second book will be out tomorrow!

So here we go…

Which book do you wish you’d written. profile pic HB

Oh – any book that has sold millions then has been adapted for TV and film! It would be lovely to develop something that appealed to so many people and of course the money would come in very handy!

Which book cover have you looked at and gone that’s amazing.

I did like the red tipped pages of The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hardcastle – couldn’t stop stroking them!!

Which book character/s would you protect from the world.

I always wanted to know that Mouse from The Tales of the City series was okay and I’m currently reading Where The Crawdads Sing so I’d like to protect Kya – I don’t know what happens to her yet.

Which was the last book that broke your heart.

The only one I remember breaking my heart was Germinal by Emile Zola – it’s a pretty bleak depiction of 19th century France and the plight of the working classes. Not a cheery read by any stretch of the imagination!

Which book would you make children read.

As I loved Enid Blyton I’d say her books and The Wishing Chair and Faraway Tree are fabulous for young imaginations.

Which book would you rewrite in a different genre.

That’s a really difficult question! How about the Bridgerton series as Sci-Fi where all the handsome Dukes are actually aliens!

If you could write any genre which one would it be.

I’ve written both Rom-Com and psychological thriller now and over the course of 2021, I’ll be releasing more books in these genres. However – historical fiction does appeal as I do enjoy researching my novels so perhaps I’ll look into that.

If you could redesign any book cover which one would you choose.

I’m really not a designer so will have to pass on this one. I do know that covers are so important in attracting readers so the designers have a really important job and I applaud their skills.

Which book taught you the largest lesson about life.

There’s a line from a Barbara Kingsolver book that always sticks in my mind  

“It’s the one thing we never quite get over. That we contain our own future.” 

I think it might be from Flight Behaviour. I love her books and this stood out.

Which three books would you take on holiday in 2021.

Oh gosh – I am hoping that a holiday will be possible soon but can’t guess which books I’ll take until I know where or when we’ll be going!  Will it be something sunny or Christmassy? Who knows? Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my reading corner at home and pretend I’m on holiday – I just need to mix a cocktail for the full effect!

516iJL3c4rLWhen practising what you preach is easier said than done …

Professor Maxie Reddick has her reasons for being sceptical of traditional policing methods, but, in between her criminology lecturing job and her Criminal Thoughts podcast, she stays firmly on the side lines of the crime solving world.

Then a young woman is brutally attacked, and suddenly it’s essential that Maxie turns her words into actions; this is no longer an academic exercise – this is somebody’s life.

But as she delves deeper, the case takes a sickening turn, which leads Maxie to the horrifying realisation that the attack might not have been a one-off. It seems there’s a depraved individual out there seeking revenge, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it … little by little … one by one

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