Sunday, 26 February 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

On the 25th February 1917

RMS Laconia was on her way back from the USA to England when she was torpedoed in the Atlantic Ocean 160 nautical miles (300km) North West by West of Fastnet Rock.

Fastnet Carraig Aonair.jpg
Fastnet Lighthouse

Of the 74 passengers and 217 crew, a total of 12 people were killed : 6 Passengers and 6 crew. Two of the passengers who died were American citizens, and it was the death of Mrs Mary Hoy, and her daughter Elizabeth, which raised public support in the US for some intervention in the war. A Chicago Tribune war reporter, Mr Floyd Gibbons was also aboard the Laconia and his reporting of the event was much publicised.

RMS Laconia at New York.
RMS Laconia

In March 2009 the wreck of the Laconia was found about 160 nautical miles (300km) off the coast of Ireland. The wreck was claimed by a commercial archaeology company, Odyssey Marine Exploration Company and became the focus of the Discovery Channel's Treasure Chest series of TV Programmes, entitled 'The Silver Queen'.

On the 26th February 1917

Steamship Dido

Whilst sailing from Hull to Bombay SS Dido a passenger/cargo ship was lying at anchor during a heavy snow storm just north of the Humber. At 06:15 she was hit by a violent explosion due to detonating a mine. The freezing conditions of the North Sea hampered any rescue attempt by the nearby Belgian steamer Martha. The Dido sank at around 07:20 some 4 nautical miles North North East of Spurn Lightship.

In total 27 lives were lost. These included 26 crew and one stowaway, 3 survivors were picked up by Martha and landed at Hull. Some of the bodies were recovered and are laid to rest in Commonwealth War Graves at sites in Hull.

The wreckage has been identified.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Close to Home ... June Taylor

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern Writer

June Taylor

Hi and welcome to Jaffareadstoo, June. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what got you started as an author?

As a child I was always frustrated that I couldn’t draw.  My head was so full of stories and I just couldn’t get them out.  But as soon as I realised that words make pictures too, I discovered the magic of language and the power of storytelling.  I’ve been writing ever since.  And there is no better place than your own imagination.

 I’ve written short plays and had a full-length play produced.  In 2011, I was runner-up in the Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition with a YA novel.  But I finally found my niche writing adult psychological thrillers.  Losing Juliet is my debut, published by HarperCollins Killer Reads.

Losing Juliet is based in Manchester - so why not Leeds?

I’m extremely proud of my Yorkshire heritage, but for this book my home town just felt too familiar.  I’ve used several locations in Losing Juliet and I had to move around them efficiently when writing.  I’ve seen Leeds go from ‘Yorkshire Ripper town’ to the thriving cultural metropolis it is now, so Leeds would almost have become another character in the book as there are two time frames weaving throughout  the narrative.  I just couldn’t afford to get sentimental or nostalgic. 
So Manchester is another Northern town I love.  I’ve worked there and know it well enough to write about it.  The next book is set in Leeds!

As a writer based in Yorkshire, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books, and if so, how do you overcome them?

I remember years back when I first started trying to get an agent and a publisher, the rejection letters would often hint at me getting a London address and maybe I should think about setting my book in London instead so it would sell internationally.  Even today there’s still something of a London bias, but we are much better now at being Northern and proud.  My last agent was Shelley Instone who set up a literary agency with the sole purpose of championing Northern writers because she saw first-hand how we are still being overlooked in the industry. 

In terms of promoting and marketing books, however, I think it’s pretty much the same for everyone no matter where you live.  We can all connect to the wider reading/writing/blogging communities via the internet, and tap into our local readership via local radio, press, personal contacts and networks.  The trick is finding ways to do this without being too much in people’s faces.  

Support can come from unexpected places sometimes too.  Count Arthur Strong randomly tweeted me to say that he’d bought the book and said it was “Brilliant!”

You also have to be inventive. A former colleague made a book trailer for Losing Juliet, her husband composed the music. It already looks like a movie! (... I can dream).

 Watch it here on You Tube

If you were pitching Yorkshire as an ideal place to live, work and write - how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

As other ‘Close to Home’ writers have suggested on here, it’s probably better to keep that as our little secret.   So let’s just say it’s bleak on them there Moors, we drink far too much tea, the beer’s warm, we talk a bit funny and it’s at least twenty-five degrees colder up here.   You wouldn’t like it in Yorkshire at all!

In your research for books, do you visit any of the places you write about and which have made a lasting impression?

A sense of place is really important in a novel so I always like to recce or draw on places I already know.  I’ve worked as a freelancer for many years so have moved about the country a fair bit, and also been lucky enough to travel the world.  In Losing Juliet the narrative shifts from Manchester, Bristol, London, over to the South of France, Rome and Tuscany, so there are quite a few scene changes.  I love all the places I write about.  I think you have to; even if it’s gritty and dark you have to find something you love about it.   

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with others?

Social media is amazing for linking up writers, readers and bloggers from all over the world, but there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.  Making real-life connections is so important, and joining a writing group is the best thing a writer can do I think.  I’m heavily involved in the local scene and help promote and support Yorkshire writing generally.  I’m on the Board of Script Yorkshire, a volunteer-led Organisation.  We’re a community of scriptwriters mainly, but we also have novelists and poets in amongst, and we put on workshops, page-to-stage events and have socials.  We have a very impressive list of patrons too, from Alan Bennett through to Sally Wainwright. 

 Another Organisation I help out with is Leeds Big Bookend, which calls itself the city’s ‘rock festival for words’.  I’ve done a Meet the Agent event with Bookend and we did my book launch together at the Leeds Library, one of Leeds’ secret gems.
There’s a lot going on in Leeds and Yorkshire now.  It’s really not difficult to find a writing group where you feel you can belong. 

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for bookshops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

I’ve found local support really brilliant actually.  But you have to give a little to get something back.  I really do believe that.  Some writers expect too much.  As a debut author it can be a slow build, word-of-mouth.  I’ve been invited to book groups and to appear at local festivals and events.  I’m really not a ‘me, me, me’ sort of person but I do enjoy doing these things.  So feel free to approach if I haven’t approached you. 
I’ve found my local press and BBC Radio Leeds to be very supportive too.

Where can people buy Losing Juliet?

Losing Juliet is available on Amazon both as an eBook and paperback.  

Killer Reads

A HarperCollins Killer Reads... a twisty psychological suspense about a friendship gone bad.

You can’t escape the past…
Juliet and Chrissy were best friends until one fateful summer forced them apart. Now, nearly twenty years later, Juliet wants to be back in Chrissy’s life.
But Chrissy doesn’t want Juliet anywhere near her, or her teenage daughter Eloise. After all, Juliet is the only person who knows what happened that night – and her return threatens to destroy the life that Chrissy has so carefully built.

Because when the past is reawakened, it can prove difficult to bury. And soon all three of them will realize how dangerous it can get once the truth is out there…

Watch the Book Trailer here.

You can find June on Twitter @joonLT or her website:

Huge thanks to June for giving us such a splendid introduction to her writing.

I hope that you have enjoyed this week's Close To Home Feature

Coming next week : Nicci Rae


Friday, 24 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

 Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on The Orphan's Tale Blog Tour
with a special guest post from the author, Pam Jenoff

Learning To Love The Circus 
by Pam Jenoff

True confession: I don’t like the circus. I have vague memories of going once or twice as a child. I’ve avoided taking my own children because of all of the reports of animal cruelty. I was not particularly heartbroken by the recent announcement that one of the longest running circuses in the United States, Ringling Brothers, was shutting down.

So why did I choose to write about circuses in my new book, The Orphan’s Tale? I didn’t plan on it. I was researching in the Yad Vashem virtual archives when I came upon the remarkable story of the rescuers’ circus, a German circus which had sheltered Jews from another circus family during the Second World War. I was intrigued: I have written about the war for over a decade, yet I had never heard of such a thing. Researching further, I made another amazing discovery: a history of Jewish circus dynasties, some with a dozen children and multiple traveling circuses, which had persisted for centuries and were wiped out by the war.

As I read, I found myself crafting a story of two women: Noa, a young girl fleeing with a child, who finds shelter with the circus, and Astrid, a Jewish aerialist from one of the great circus families. There were so many fascinating things to learn. First, I learned about how the circuses traveled operated. I never knew there was so much strategy to how the ring is set up and how they sequence the acts. I also had to study how they were able to persist through the war and the toll it took on them. Finally, I learned a great deal about aerial arts, an especially flying trapeze. I even had an aerialist on call to answer questions!

One question I’m often asked is whether I had to go see the circus as part of my research. I wrestled with that; as I mentioned, I don’t like the circus, but I wanted to be thorough. Ultimately, I decided not to go because the modern American circus is very different from the traditional European circus and I didn’t want to distort my research. So I relied on books, periodicals, old movies, photographs and first person narratives instead.

After spending more than a year with the circus, I can still honestly say I don’t love it. But what I learned is that these were not circus stories. These were human stories, of families and fortunes, of lives lost and saved. The circus of life, a topsy-turvy series of tumbles and lifts that leave us all breathless, of failure and redemption and ultimately of heroism and hope. And who doesn’t love all that in a book?

About the book

Cast out by her family in Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen-year-old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him in the snowy night into the woods surrounding the tracks. She stumbles upon a German circus, led by the famous Herr Neuhoff, where each performer has their own history and secrets. They agree to take in Noa and the baby, on one condition – she must earn her keep, and the circus is short of an aerialist. Noa will be trained by the star trapeze artist, Astrid, but first they must learn to trust one another: as they soar high above the crowds, there are more than just their own lives at stake. And as it becomes clear that even the circus cannot hide from the war forever, loyalty may prove the most dangerous trait of all.
The Nightingale meets Water For Elephants in this powerful story of friendship, love and sacrifice loosely based on several true stories from World War II, uncovered by Jenoff in her research.

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of several novels, including The Kommandant’s Girl, which was a finalist for both the Quill awards and the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal.  Pam draws inspiration for her books from her service as a diplomat for the State Department in Europe working on Holocaust issues, and her experiences as the politically-appointed Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon.  She also practiced law at a large firm and in-house, and is on the faculty of Rutgers School of Law.  Pam received her bachelor’s degree in international affairs from The George Washington University, her master’s degree in history from Cambridge University, and her juris doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania.  She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Find out more about Pam on her website by clicking here 

Facebook  or follow her on Twitter @PamJenoff.

Huge thanks to the author for such a fascinating guest post and also to Imogen

 at Midas PR for her invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Blog Tour runs 20th - 27th February 2017


Thursday, 23 February 2017

Review ~ The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott

February 23 2017

What's it all about...

This is the tale of Edgware Bess, related in her own words, and a darker narrative for those that would look a little closer.

A hidden history that must be told in secret of lives too scandalous even for the Newgate Calendar.

And of love lost, which is the saddest story of them all.

My thoughts about the book...

Arriving in London, Elizabeth Lyon is assaulted on all sides by those who would, given half a chance, exploit her to the fullest measure. Hoping to entice naive country girls, procuresses, lurk in the confines of the city's deepest corners and hunt in dark shadows just waiting to pounce on their next innocent victim. And thus, begins the metamorphosis of country girl, Elizabeth Lyon, into the notorious prostitute and petty criminal, 'Edgware Bess'. With her sharp introduction into Mother Breedlove's Vaulting School, Bess’s initiation into the brothels and flash world of Romeville is swift and uncompromising.

What then follows is the narrated tale of Bess' introduction into a lively criminal underclass, of her downward spiral into a world of thievery, and of her association with the thief-takers, bung-nippers, culls and coves who loiter around the brothels and molly-houses of the parish known as the Hundreds of Drury. The colourful characters who make up this world are, without doubt, a debauched and dangerous bunch who operate within their own unique moral code, and, always, with an eye on the main chance.

It is obvious that the author has done a great deal of research and cleverly interweaves fictional alongside factual characters. The adept use of Romeville’s unique flash language takes some getting used, but, thank goodness, there is a detailed glossary at the back of the book, and all is expressed with a ready wit and a great understanding of time and place.

The Fatal Tree is a compelling and realistic account of living life in the underbelly of Regency London society.  There is darkness to the narrative which is reflected in the imagery and sensations evoked, and the characters, whilst not always particularly likeable, express such a worldly weariness that you can’t help but be moved emotionally by their plight.

Best Read With... a visit to Moll's coffee house, and a dish of coffee liberally laced with brandy...

About the Author

Jake Arnott - Author
Jake Arnott burst onto the literary scene with his debut novel, The Long Firm, a cult hit that has sold over a quarter of a million copies and was subsequently made into a BAFTA nominated BBC TV series.

The Fatal Tree is the authors first foray into historical fiction and is published  today, 23rd February 2017.

More about the Author can be found on his website by clicking here

My thanks to Sceptre and Bookbridgr for my copy of The Fatal Tree


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ Her Perfect Life by Sam Hepburn

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be interviewing the author Sam Hepburn

on today's stop on the Her Perfect Life Blog Tour

Sam welcome to Jaffareadstoo and thanks for spending time with us today. Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I was a documentary maker at the BBC for over twenty years and although I was dealing with facts, documentary making was all about shaping stories, defining characters, and finding thematic threads so moving on to writing fiction seemed a very natural next step. I started writing adventure mysteries for middle grade children then moved on to thrillers for young adults and now I’ve written my first psychological thriller for adults.

Where did you get the first flash of inspiration for Her Perfect Life?

I was invited to a children’s book festival in Sharjah. Rather cleverly they had a mix of celebrity cooks doing cookery demonstrations and writers talking about their books and we all used to meet up and have dinner together in the evenings. One of the cooks was Lily Jones (aka celebrity baker Lily Vanilli) who told me how she’d been running a small cake stall in a London market and got ‘discovered’ by a broadsheet journalist who was desperately looking for a life-style story. The subsequent article changed her life and she never looked back. That’s when I started thinking about a young baker who suddenly gets catapulted to fame and fortune and how that could change every aspect of her life.

What can you tell us about the story without revealing too much? 

It’s about two woman – Gracie Dwyer, a celebrity cook who has her own TV series, a gorgeous husband and daughter and appears to have it all and the dark intertwining of her life with hard up, hard drinking single mum Juliette, who is bitterly resentful that Gracie has everything that should have been hers.

Whilst you are writing you must live with your characters. How do you feel about them when the book is finished? Are they what you expected them to be? 

Not really. I have a general idea of the characters and then as I begin to write they take on a life of their own and become more complex, revealing unexpected aspects of their personalities. I think characters are much more interesting when we find ourselves secretly sympathising with their less attractive traits and actions and it’s always a surprise when I start to discover what those might be.

How do you plan your writing, are you a plotter, or a see where it goes kind of writer? 

Yes, I’m a plotter who chops, changes and revises as I go along. My husband is brilliant at listening, playing devil’s advocate and throwing in new ideas and when I’m stuck we take the dog for a ‘plot walk’ and thrash out the story as we trudge around Sydenham woods.

What do you consider to be your strongest points as a writer?

Ooh, that’s difficult. The thing I find easiest is dialogue. The thing I find most difficult is describing my characters’ innermost feelings.

And finally...what do you hope that readers will take away from Her Perfect Life?

As the story unfolds I want readers to empathise with Juliet as well as Gracie as each of these characters - in her own flawed way - struggles to be a ‘good’ mother. When they get to the end however, I want readers to feel shocked, horrified and satisfied and to close the book thinking about the power and complexity of mother-love.

More about Sam and her novel, Her Perfect Life can be found by going to the author's website by clicking here 

Blog Tour runs 20th - 25th February 2017

Follow the blog tour on Twitter #Her Perfect Life

 My thanks to Sam for answering my questions so thoughtfully and also to Felicity at Harper Collins for the invitation to be part of this blog tour.


Here's what I thought about Her Perfect Life

23 February 2017

There's something so incredibly likable about Gracie Dwyer that right from the start of the book you can't help but be drawn into her perfect life. Gracie seems to have everything, a handsome and charismatic husband, a beautiful child and a successful cookery business. Thanks to her television cookery series, Gracie is recognised and feted wherever she goes but there is also something vulnerable about her which resonates from the beginning. When single mum Juliet and her daughter, Freya, enter into Gracie's life, you can't help but wonder what these two unlikely women will have in common. Juliet's harsh and brittle personality is in direct contrast to Gracie's sunnier nature, and yet a bond develops between them, which, as time goes by, you can't help but wonder just where it's all going to end for both of them.

From the start of this clever psychological thriller I was drawn into the complex and dangerous world of jealousy, control and deception. The plot is really well controlled and there are more than enough twists and turns in the narrative to keep the reader guessing. Many times I thought that I had the measure of the plot, only to have the author veer off in an entirely unexpected direction. I loved the glossy brilliance of Gracie's life and felt such sympathy for Juliet's character but what was even more compelling was the way that the author always managed to give both characters a real sense of purpose and utter believability.

Without doubt, this is a really good debut novel by an exciting new talent in the psychological suspense genre.

Best read with...Gracie's ginger and walnut biscuits and several cups of strong tea..


Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Review ~ Miss Christie Regrets by Guy Fraser-Sampson

Urbane Publications

What's it all about ...

The second in the Hampstead Murders series opens with a sudden death at an iconic local venue, which some of the team believe may be connected with an unsolved murder featuring Cold War betrayals worthy of George Smiley. It soon emerges that none other than Agatha Christie herself may be the key witness who is able to provide the missing link.

My thoughts about it...

I first discovered this author’s work when I read Death in Profile which is the first in the Hampstead Murders series of crime novels. That novel sets the scene for future books, and introduces us to characters who I am pleased to say make a welcome return in Miss Christie Regrets.

The story opens with a murder, the consequences of which will have a bearing on a subsequent, and seemingly unrelated, macabre discovery, and which will stretch the Hampstead police's investigative team's tenacity and resolve to their very limits. The secret at the heart of the novel has more than enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing, and the added inclusion of Miss Agatha Christie to the novel adds an element of charm and old fashioned mystery to what is in effect a modern-day murder investigation.

As always, the author spends time explaining both plot and malice. His turn of phrase and fine attention to detail always leaves the reader in no doubt that this type of detective story harks back to the golden age of detective investigation and to, perhaps, a more erudite way of tracking down a potential murderer.

There is an element of continuity in this second book which I liked, particularly in the way that certain characters have been allowed to develop more fully. It was good to meet up again with DS Kate Willis and her psychologist boyfriend, Peter Collins, and to ponder anew over the ambiguity of DS Willis’ relationship with her colleague, DI Bob Metcalfe. The dynamics of a functioning investigative team is maintained with all the appropriate ‘office’ politics that goes on behind closed police doors, which is fascinating to observe.

Miss Christie Regrets is a good continuation of the series and it's fair to say that whilst this story sits comfortably on its own merits, as with all series it’s probably best to start the series from the beginning. I am also pleased to note that there is to be a further continuation of the Hampstead Murders in the next installment, A Whiff of Cyanide, which is due to be released in Summer 2017.

Best Read With..A glass of a crisp Italian white and a few bite sized nibbles..

About the Author

Guy Fraser Sampson is an established writer best known for his Mapp and Lucia novels which have been featured on BBC radio and optioned by BBC television. 

Follow on Twitter @GuyFSAuthor

My thanks to the author and also to Urbane Publications for my review copy of this novel.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ Stasi Wolf by David Young

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be part of the Stasi Wolf Blog Tour

The Stasi's Special Commission

The idea for Stasi Wolf came originally from a conversation I had with a German crime expert at the Berlin police presidency headquarters back in – I think – 2013, when I was researching Stasi Child.

I’d already written the first draft of my debut novel, which had a senior Stasi officer in effect directing my Kripo detectives, including my main protagonist, Oberleutnant Karin Müller.

But some of the things I was hearing were making me think perhaps I’d got things wrong, and that the Stasi (East Germany’s reviled secret police) and Kripo, or K – the criminal division of the People’s Police – would never work together or liaise.

Time and time again I was told that everything was kept very separate. I couldn’t entirely believe this, and as I was writing fiction I wasn’t going to let the facts obstruct a good story too much anyway.

But Dr Remo Kroll – whose non-fiction academic work, Die Kriminalpolizei im Ostteil Berlins 1945-1990, is considered to be almost the bible of East German policing – told me of an interesting case in Leipzig where the Stasi had interfered in a Kripo case.

Not just interfered, but taken it away from them altogether.

The case was that of a series of baby murders in a Leipzig hospital. In April 1986 the senior physician at the hospital realised he had to take action. Over the past few months a total of four babies had died under his care – all of them injected with digitoxin.

The drug is used to treat heart failure and irregular heartbeat – but overdoses can be fatal.

Already rumours were starting to circulate in the city about the strange deaths. Fearing a scandal, the senior doctor alerted a contact at the local Stasi – who advised him that he should not contact the criminal police at all.

Instead the case came under the remit of the Stasi’s Special Commission – a kind of criminal division of the secret police, reserved for politically sensitive and serious cases.

This idea spawned the plot of Stasi Wolf – where infant twins have gone missing in the supposedly ideal socialist new town of Halle-Neustadt, where virtually every apartment is identical, and the streets are nameless – with addresses being a strange combination of numbers instead. A city whose reputation cannot be tarnished by an unsolved crime, or its citizens frightened by a child snatcher on the loose.

In my novel, the Stasi keep a close watch on my Kripo murder team – led by Müller. In reality, the Special Commissions – one for each Stasi district – conducted their own investigations, armed with the latest in western technology, and with the latitude to decide what was the truth and what wasn’t, and what should (or more often shouldn’t) be revealed to the public at large.
That real-life story in Leipzig told to me back in 2013 has just featured as part of a German TV documentary which for the first time exposes what the Special Commissions got up to.

Their role was still to solve crimes – but it a way that did not alert or alarm the public. So mistruths were often told and the full facts never revealed – not even to the victims.

Ironically a Stasi Special Commission also got involved in one of East Germany’s most famous murders, the Crossword Puzzle Murder, which happened actually in Halle-Neustadt in the 1980s, and is another inspiration for Stasi Wolf.

The key piece of evidence was an incomplete crossword found with the body of a murdered child. It prompted the biggest-ever handwriting sample collection exercise in the world. More than half a million samples collected. But on this occasion the Stasi’s manpower helped – rather than hindered – the Kripo team and later the same year the culprit was arrested.

Karin Müller #2

February 2017

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town - the pride of the communist state - and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town's flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive..

David Young was born near Hull and – after dropping out of a Bristol University science degree - studied Humanities at Bristol Polytechnic specialising in Modern History. Temporary jobs cleaning ferry toilets and driving a butcher's van were followed by a career in journalism with provincial newspapers, a London news agency, and the BBC’s international newsrooms where he led news teams for the World Service radio and World TV.

David was a student on the inaugural Crime Thriller MA at City University – winning the course prize in 2014 for his debut novel Stasi Child – and now writes full-time in his garden shed. In his spare time, he’s a keen supporter of Hull City AFC.

Follow the author on Twitter @djy_writer

My thanks to the author for his guest post today and  also  to Emily at Bonnier Zaffre for the invitation to be part of this blog tour.

Tour runs 9th February - 7th March 2017


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered..

Whilst I was researching Women at Work I came across this enlightening poem
by Madeline Ida Bedford. 

It was written in 1917.

Munition Wages

Earning high wages?
Yus, Five quid a week.
A woman, too, mind you,
I calls it dim sweet.

Ye'are asking some questions –
But bless yer, here goes:
I spends the whole racket
On good times and clothes.

Me saving? Elijah!
Yer do think I'm mad.
I'm acting the lady,
But – I ain't living bad.

I'm having life's good times.
See 'ere, it's like this:
The 'oof come o' danger,
A touch-and-go bizz.

We're all here today, mate,
Tomorrow – perhaps dead,
If Fate tumbles on us
And blows up our shed.

Afraid! Are yer kidding?
With money to spend!
Years back I wore tatters,
Now – silk stockings, mi friend!

I've bracelets and jewellery,
Rings envied by friends;
A sergeant to swank with,
And something to lend.

I drive out in taxis,
Do theatres in style.
And this is mi verdict –
It is jolly worth while.

Worth while, for tomorrow
If I'm blown to the sky,
I'll have repaid mi wages
In death – and pass by.

Female workers at work on munitions in a large factory, working over the Easter holiday - finishing and assembling bullets.

© IWM (Q 110357)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Close to Home...Debbie Johnson

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Today I welcome North West Writer

Debbie Johnson

Hi Debbie, welcome back to Jaffareadstoo - Tell us a little about yourself and what got you started as an author?

I’m 47 and a half, married with three kids aged between 9 and 19, and the proud dog mum to a pair of elderly and flatulent pooches – one black lab and one Golden Retriever. I’m originally from the Midlands (Stoke on Trent to be precise) but have lived in Liverpool for the last 25 years, which is terrifying now I put it into words! I moved here after university with my then-boyfriend, and ended up getting a job at the local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo. In what feels like about five minutes, I’d laid down roots – kids, work, schools, friends, extended family.

I took redundancy from my job in 2005 after the birth of my second child, and went freelance, doing journalism, PR and copywriting. Like most journalists, I’d always wanted to write a book – and the year I was 40 I finally got around to it! I entered a contest called the Harry Bowling Prize for New Writing, and amazingly won it. I’d like to say the rest is history, but it’s taken years to get where I am now – which isn’t even that far! There were a lot of rejections, a lot of failures, and a lot of frustrations. It’s not a career for the faint-hearted. Obviously, it’s not like working down a pit or anything – but you have to be resilient, I’d say.

I’m now published with HarperCollins, and write what I suppose I’d describe as warm-hearted fiction – there might not always be romance, but there will always be humour, and soul, and sometimes tears. Usually a dog as well!

Your books are written in North West England, but not always set in the North West – how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

My earliest books were set in Liverpool. There was a supernatural crime thriller called Fear No Evil which was published digitally by an imprint of Avon – it’s still out there! It’s not set the world alight sales-wise but has great reviews, and I have to say it’s still one of my all-time favourite pieces of work. The central character is a Liverpool-based private detective, and she’s awesome – smart, funny, kind, tough. A lot of the charm of the book, for me, is the way it reflects Liverpool in all its glory – the good, the bad and the ugly.


I also wrote two urban fantasy books set here – Dark Vision and Dark Touch – which were published by Ebury. That was a gift: which better modern UK city to use as a setting for vampires, magicians, and ancient Celtic Gods? I really enjoyed playing with the location, tapping into the Irish heritage here, and also making the Liver Birds come to life and fly away!

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Liverpool is a fascinating place – an endless source of amusement, inspiration and yes, sometimes despair. I would love to write more books set here – though I often sneak it in. For example, in The Birthday That Changed Everything, the lead character is originally from Liverpool, and in my upcoming book The A-Z of Everything (there’s clearly an Everything link – I’ll call the next one Everything you Ever Wanted to Know About Everything!), one of the leads went to university here and ended up staying, so quite a few of the scenes are Liverpool-based.


As a writer based in the North West, does this present any problems in terms of marketing and promoting your books and if so, how do you overcome them?

I don’t think it does, apart from a social and networking perspective – the parties and events are, inevitably, in London, as are most of the publishers and agents. But more and more we market ourselves online, which is geographically blind.

If you were pitching the North West as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

I think for me it’s the diversity. You have these magnificent cities – Liverpool and Manchester – that are teeming with life and energy; so historic and architecturally quite beautiful. There is always a buzz, always something going on, wonderful museums and galleries and music. Plus, you know, great places for a night out! But not very far away you have access to some of the most stunning landscapes in the world – the Lake District, the coastline, places like the Trough of Bowland and the Yorkshire Dales (though technically I am aware that’s not the NW!). You can experience so many different versions of life in the North West – the solitary and the natural; the coastal and the mountainous, the thrillingly urban.

Plus, here in Liverpool,we’re basically only a two hour train journey away from London – so you get the best of both worlds!

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

I am lucky enough to have some close ‘virtual’ friends – other authors I email or chat to on the phone, who understand the experience. But as well as that, we’re actually blessed with being the home territory for a lot of people I can meet up with in real life – at book launches, nights out, etc, there are writers I see a lot of. Jane Costello is one of my best friends (we worked together at the Liverpool Echo for many years), and there are also some other lovely people here. We didn’t actually realise how many of us there were until we all met at a mutual friend’s launch, and since then have stayed in touch and organised dinners etc.

How supportive are local communities to your writing, and are there ever any opportunities for book shops, local reading groups, or libraries to be involved in promoting your work?

I have had some signings at one of my local bookshops, and also taken part in a few events at the Waterstones in Liverpool. In all honesty I am a bit of a recluse, and tend to live like a hermit crab between school runs – I am sure there is a lot more I could do in terms of local outreach!

And finally, if someone is new to your work, which book do you think they should start with?

That’s a tough one as I have written so many different styles! If you like crime and Liverpool, go for Fear No Evil. If you like fantasy and Liverpool, go for Dark Vision. If you like women’s fiction with a lot of heart, go for the Comfort Food Cafe series. If you like very rude comedies with a hefty dose of sex and swearing, try the Birthday That Changed Everything! My next one – the A-Z – is slightly different again, and is really a story about love, grief and redemption within a family that has fallen apart.

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Huge thanks to Debbie for spending time as my guest today.

I hope that you've enjoyed reading more about Debbie's writing life in this

 Close to Home Feature

Comin next week : June Taylor

Friday, 17 February 2017

Blog Tour ~ Jerusalem Ablaze by Orlando Ortega-Medina

Jaffareadstoo is thrilled to be part of the blog tour for

Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions

I am delighted to welcome the author, Orlando Ortega-Medina to the blog.

Today, Orlando is sharing a selection of his experiences which inspired aspects of the stories in 
Jerusalem Ablaze

Cloud Lodge Books
February 2017

The stories in Jerusalem Ablaze are inspired by 4 periods of travel in my life: California, Quebec, Israel, and Japan. Following are notes from 2 of my Quebec stories: 

"The Shovelist" is based on the real scenario of pensioners performing menial chores for their neighbours in the townships to earn extra money. In "The Shovelist", the chore is the shovelling of snow, which comes down by the bucketful in that corner of Quebec. Jake and Ronnie, being city outsiders, don't understand the importance of allowing Guillaume to shovel their snow, as they are perfectly able to shovel their own. So Guillaume has to find a way of demonstrating to them the value to having him shovel their snow. Jake and Ronnie eventually "get it" and accede, to their benefit (in my view). It's one of the gentler stories of the collection that strikes a chord in many readers.

"Tiger at Beaufort Point" is based on a real event. Near our township lived an eccentric gentleman on a large country estate who, controversially, bred domestic cats for sale to the public. He also kept a veritable menagerie of exotic animals - including a huge Bengal tiger he regularly hired out to film production companies. My partner and I drove to his estate to see his collection of animals. He kindly agreed to show us around and introduced us to his tiger, which he kept in his garage in a cage with thick metal bars. I remember coming to within inches of that tiger, close enough to feel its breath on my face, and experiencing the combined thrill of fascination and fear. One day he unexpectedly showed up in our township, having decided to take the tiger for a walk down our main street - to the delight of some and the consternation of others. The rumour was he was getting the tiger ready for a film and wanted to get it accustomed to being around crowds. My partner and I were having lunch at a nice restaurant when he suddenly walked past with the tiger, with half of the town in tow. I got quite upset, imagining the tiger breaking free and attacking the crowd. I probably overreacted. But the image of that tiger being walked around our town, surrounded by a crowd of people (children included) stayed with me, and I just had to write a story about it.

Orlando Ortega-Medina was born in California and is of Judeo-Spanish descent via Cuba. He studied English Literature at UCLA and has a Juris Doctor law degree from Southwestern University School of Law. At university he won The National Society of Arts and Letters award for Short Stories. Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions is his first published collection. Orlando is now a British citizen and currently resides in London with his life partner, where he practices US immigration law. 

Twitter @OOrtegaMedina

Jerusalem Ablaze ( Cloud Lodge Books) by Orlando Ortega-Medina will be out on Thursday 16th February 2017

Cloud Lodge Books
16 February 2017

In Jerusalem’s Old City a priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in Postwar Japan a young protégé watches his master’s corpse burn, with bitter thoughts blazing in his mind.

Jerusalem Ablaze: Stories of Love and Other Obsessions collects thirteen eclectic works of dark fiction, taking the reader from Los Angeles to the eastern townships of Quebec, and from Tokyo to Jerusalem. Ortega-Medina’s characters are flawed, broken individuals, trying their best to make sense of their lives as they struggle with sexuality, death, obsession, and religion.

Gripping and intriguing, the stories are sometimes bleak, occasionally violent, and often possessed of a dark humour. 

This major debut explores the imperfections of life and the unpredictability of death

My thoughts about Jerusalem Ablaze...

I'm always in awe of authors who have that unique ability to take me away from my quiet life and transport me to an altogether different world, to a world that I would never inhabit in any of my wildest dreams. In the thirteen stories which make up Jerusalem Ablaze the author certainly takes the reader on a rather dark journey straight into the hearts and minds, of people, who are each, in their own way, superbly flawed. 

It must be said that I enjoyed some stories rather more than others, and I found that I didn't want to read too many of the collection all in one sitting, which is why I think that Jerusalem Ablaze is one of those clever short story collections which will sit happily upon your book shelves, waiting patiently for that moment in time when you feel the need for a finely woven, and intelligently written, short story.

My thanks to the author for sharing his experiences with us today and also to Eve at Midas PR for her invitation to be part of this blog tour.


Thursday, 16 February 2017

Review ~ Pirates : Truth and Tales by Helen Hollick

Amberley Publishing
15 February 2017

What's it all about..

The historian R. H. Tawney famously wrote, ‘The sixteenth century lives in terror of the tramp.’ The eighteenth century lived in terror of the tramps of the seas – pirates. Pirates have fascinated people ever since.

It was a harsh life for those who went ‘on the account’, constantly overshadowed by the threat of death – through violence, illness, shipwreck, or the hangman’s noose. The lure of gold, the excitement of the chase and the freedom that life aboard a pirate ship offered were judged by some to be worth the risk. 

Helen Hollick explores both the fiction and fact of the Golden Age of piracy, and there are some surprises in store for those who think they know their Barbary Corsair from their boucanier. Everyone has heard of Captain Morgan, but who recognises the name of the aristocratic Frenchman Daniel Montbars? He killed so many Spaniards he was known as ‘The Exterminator’. The fictional world of pirates, represented in novels and movies, is different from reality. What draws readers and viewers to these notorious hyenas of the high seas? What are the facts behind the fantasy? 

What did I think about it..

I must admit that when I think about pirates, what usually springs to mind is the classic, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, a story I read as a child curled in a chair immersed in the excitement of buccaneers and pirates, of buried treasure and golden doubloons, of marauding seamen and dastardly sea captains. And then, of course, much later, came the rather delectable image of the dangerously addictive, Jack Sparrow, the swashbuckling hero of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. However, the reality of piracy is a whole world away from the glitz and glamour of the movie screen and even the adventures of young Jim Hawkins, aboard the Hispaniola, pales into insignificance alongside the reality of what the real life pirates got up to as they sailed the Seven Seas.

In this informative and comprehensive book, the author takes the idea of pirates and piracy, a subject close to her heart, and shows how the literary and movie images of pirates, often bears little, or no, resemblance to the actual physical reality of the real life sea terrorists of the 17th and 18th centuries. The 'golden age' of piracy whilst steeped in mystique and legend, was, all too often, a time of great danger and uncontrolled violence. Interspersed throughout the book is the author's impressive knowledge of historical detail and it is obvious that a great deal of research has gone into bringing this piratical guide to life. Skillfully blending historical facts with literary fiction, sometimes, the book reads as lightly as a novel, but then, at other times, we come sharply back to reality with daring tales of mischance and menace, of lives ruined by too much grog and too many loose women, and which ended, all too often, dangled at the end of a hangman's rope.

Throughout the book, the author's real life buccaneers nestle comfortably alongside their more colourful literary counterparts. I especially enjoyed seeing the author's own pirate creation, Jesemiah Acorne, from The Sea Witch Voyages, come to vibrant life in his own much deserved chapter. The book has a rich and lively vocabulary, with snippets of interesting facts about pirates and piracy that you never knew you needed to know, but which are all recounted with the authors sparkling wit and fine attention to detail. For the songsters among you there are words to popular sea shanties, some familiar like, Spanish Ladies and What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor and others such as, The Top Man and the Afterguard, which are rather more obscure but no less fascinating to read of their origin and usage.

However you like your pirates, be they real or imaginary, there is no doubt that Pirates:Truth and Tales, is a great dip in and out of kind of book and whichever page the book falls open at, you are guaranteed to find a fascinating snippet into the life and times of these colourful, and it must be said, decidedly, dangerous characters.

Best Read with....A tot of Damson rum and a generous slice of rum laden fruitcake...

About the author

Helen Hollick is a British author of historical fiction.She is the author of the Arthurian Trilogy, Pendragon's Banner and two Saxon novels, Harold the King and The Hollow Crown. Helen was selected by US publisher Sourcebooks and became a USA bestseller. Her Sea Witch Voyages are nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy and are inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. Helen lives in Devon.

You can find out more about the author by going to her website by clicking here

Or follow on Twitter @HelenHollick

My thanks to Phillip at Amberley Publishing for sending me a review copy of Pirates : Truth and Tales