Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Heidelberg of "Topaz Eyes" by Nancy Jardine

Today I'm happy to welcome on my blog fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, whose historical romance The Beltane Choice, has received many praises and great reviews. Nancy has a new book out this week, "Topaz Eyes", an exciting mystery-romance novel. The story opens in the German town of Heidelberg and here Nancy tells us a little more about this lovely, historical town and why she chose it as one of the  settings for her book.

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The Heidelberg of Topaz Eyes

What is it about Heidelberg, Germany, that makes it an incredible destination to visit…and also to write about?

In my ancestral mystery - Topaz Eyes – I needed the initial location to be a European city that has great impact, yet doesn’t have too extensive a tourist centre: Heidelberg was perfect. Keira Drummond is familiar with the old town areas of the Aldstadt, and loved living there as a twenty-one year old student. Her enjoyment of the city itself hasn’t changed when she responds to a mysterious invitation to revisit at twenty-seven - it’s the people she meets that she’s not sure of. Finding herself involved in a family quest for long scattered jewels isn’t what she expected, but being an excellent tourist guide to Teun Zeger is something that’s no hardship.

What is there for Keira to show Teun on their tourist wanderings?

Here’s what I love about Heidelberg – some of which is included in Topaz Eyes.

On arrival at the Aldstadt –the old city- the sense of medieval history hits me immediately. The cobbled streets and the glorious old buildings, so many of which could be a story in themselves, are fabulous viewing.

The Renaissance style Alte Brucke (old Bridge) with its distinctive bridge gates – the Brukentor – is only one of many bridges straddling the River Neckar near Heidelberg. I absolutely love the black tower tops of the Brukentor, which seem reminiscent of the Pickelhaube helmets worn by Prussian soldiers during the nineteenth century. The white towers guard the city and are as imposing as the soldiers who would once have stood sentinel there.

Walk half way along the Alte Brucke and pause. There are the most fantastic views up and down the River Neckar from the old bridge itself, the steep banks opposite the city clothed in dense foliage, dotted at the lower reaches with white walls and red roofs. On a fine day it is easy to spend ages just looking…and admiring.

In the old city itself, a walk of a couple of hours gives you a glimpse of the main attractions. The pedestrianised streets around Bismarckplatz and Hauptstrasse are full of beautiful architecture - though if retail therapy is more your style you’ll find a wealth of distinctive and exciting shops to cater to those needs. The Baroque-style University buildings were of particular interest to me on one visit since my daughter was studying there, for a year, as part of her UK University languages course. (A reader of Topaz Eyes just might spot a parallel there.) A visit to the former students' prison at Jesuit's Church (Jesuitenkiche) is a highlight not to be missed – a tourist trap I gather most students drag their families to view.

A trek up the hillside or a short trip on the Bergbahn – funicular railway - takes you to the huge Heidelberg Castle, a jumble of buildings of different architectural styles.  The smallish apothecaries’ museum is fascinating and just had to be included in Topaz Eyes

If you’re interested in a nice hike up a steep hill then a trip to the Philosophenweg – The Philosopher’s Walk – is a great way to spend an afternoon, the vistas from various outlook levels are fantastic as you climb higher and higher.

This is just a taster to the many attractions of Heidelberg. If you’re interested in finding out more about the other cities I’ve used in Topaz Eyes you’ll find me guest posting in other blogs about Vienna, Amsterdam, Duluth and Rochester (Minnesota USA), and Edinburgh. Please check out my blog for the other blog tour URLs.

Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today, Michela. It’s been my pleasure to highlight a few of the special places in Heidelberg, a city that will always mean a lot to me.


 A peculiar invitation to Heidelberg embroils Keira Drummond in the search for a mysterious collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor; a hoard that was last known to be in the possession of Amsterdam resident, Geertje Hoogeveen, in 1910.

Who among the progeny of Geertje – hitherto unfamiliar third cousins brought together for the quest – can Keira rely on? Distrust and suspicion among them is rife.

Which one is greedy, and determined enough, to hire thugs to tail her… and worse… as she travels to Vienna and Minnesota?  Can Keira even trust Teun Zeger - a Californian she is becoming very drawn to – as they pair up to unearth the jewellery?

As they follow a trail of clues, will they uncover the full collection before the hired gun kills them? Details remain furtive and undisclosed until danger and death forces their exposure. And who harbours the ultimate mystery item that is even more precious than the Mughal jewels?

Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

“Would you ditch the mystery, Jensen, and just enlighten me as to what you think I have that interests you? And tell me why you couldn’t have asked for it in the letter you sent to me? I came here of my own free will – granted – but I’m not hanging around any longer if you’re going to drag this out, for I’m damned sure I’ve no idea what you’re referring to.”
            Jensen’s reply lacked emotion, his face a blank screen, his gaze focused on Teun as Keira regarded the by-play.
            “Teun. It may come as a surprise to you, but you actually know more about this invitation than Keira. At least you knew from my letter I had something of family interest you might be glad to take back to the USA with you. Keira had no such suggestion made to her.”
            Tension rose in the room, which didn’t only radiate from Teun.
            Keira sat uneasy, also unwilling to be in the dark any longer. “Would you please explain why you think I may have something you want, Herr Amsel?” She found herself reluctant to use his first name, considering the antagonism now mounting.
            “All in good time, Keira. And please call me Jensen. I don’t set out to be anyone’s enemy. I believe each of you can provide access to items belonging to the collection. All the pieces are likely to vary in monetary value but, viewed as a complete entity, it will make an impressive display. It’s a historic set… and unique.”

Topaz eyes will be available in print and e-book formats from 7th December from:

An ex-primary teacher, Nancy Jardine, lives in the fabulous castle country of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Her husband mans the kitchen, her offspring only an hour’s drive away. When time permits, ancestry research is an intermittent hobby. Neglecting her large garden in favour of writing, she now grows spectacularly giant thistles. Activity weekends with her extended family are prized since they give her great fodder for new writing.

A lover of history, it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non fiction history related projects; two contemporary ancestral mysteries; one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery and a historical novel, The Beltane Choice, also published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Nancy's Blog

Nancy's website  

Follow Nancy on Twitter @nansjar

photos courtesy of Nancy Jardine ©

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Classics for women?

Jean-Honore Fragonard ~  The Reader

When it comes to Christmas presents ideas, a book is always a good option, if you know what to buy.
Recently, an acquaintance looking for a gift for his wife asked me for advice on "books for women", particularly classics like (and I quote) "Tess of the d'Uberville and Jane Eyre". 
Off the top of my head, I went through the usual list of Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters and made a couple of suggestions on Russian literature (“Dr Zhivago”, “Anna Karenina”…), but was left a bit confused on what was meant, exactly.
 "Classics for women"? Classics are classics. 
Wouldn't a man enjoy reading "Pride and Prejudice"? Can't more modern classics like Virginia Woolf and Hemingway be loved by both sexes?
Perhaps it could be said that women tend to enjoy reading about people and relationships more than men, while men tend to enjoy books that are more factual, but they are  very broad generalizations.
Taste ultimately is individual. Women love a good thriller;  successful romantic books like "Love Story" and "One Day" were written by men and enjoyed by male and female readers alike. Terms like "women's fiction", "chic-lit" and "lad-lit" often include very similar types of books and genres are very blurred.
And yet, perceptions seem difficult to change.

As writers, we are told that putting our work in a clear genre is essential to help publishers with marketing our book. I placed my novel Playing On Cotton Clouds under the umbrella of "women's fiction" (though I also used the more general "contemporary fiction" tag) a term I’m not completely comfortable with. My book is for everyone, has both male and female characters as protagonists and has been enjoyed by both sexes. It has been compared to “One Day”, which, having been written by a man, was never categorized as “women’s fiction” despite including  very similar themes, so these kinds of distinctions seem a bit misleading.
Can we really think in terms of books "for men" and "for women"?

Monday, 19 November 2012

Dealing with Rejection

I recently came across a little rant a disappointed author left on a publisher’s Facebook page, after receiving a rejection from said publisher.

I fully understand how this author must have felt. I have been there several times and rejection is always hard to take. First reactions range from heartache and tears to self-doubt to rage and a desire to hit back. It’s normal to feel hurt and angry, and in every author’s right to vent frustration in the appropriate arenas. These include a solitary crying in your bedroom, a heart-to heart with a friend in a café, even a status update on your private Facebook profile.

On the other hand, angry emails back to the publisher/agent – you can write back to thank them for their feedback, if they have taken the time to send one, though – blogging about the incompetence of agents/publishers who reject your work, and most definitely leaving angry messages on a publisher’s public page are to be avoided at all costs.

Rejection is part of the course for any author. If you can’t take it, then don’t even start sending out your precious manuscript. It will hurt and it will make you want to hit back, but once you have calmed down, you can actually use rejection to your advantage.

Never think you are too good to learn something. Often there are very justifiable reasons behind rejections. We might think we have written the next big thing since Harry Potter, but the truth is that often we haven’t. Particularly first manuscripts are bound to be flawed. Many manuscripts are rejected because they are sent out too early, before they have been redrafted and properly edited.

So treat rejection not so much as a failure, but as an opportunity to improve.

I am not saying all this from the height of some arrogant wisdom, but from the humility of painful lessons learned.

My first novel, A Summer of Love, was a very lengthy affair. It had all the typical errors inexperienced authors make: no hook at the start to grab the reader’s (and agent/publisher’s) attention, too much telling, lack of an individual narrative voice. I had it edited by a couple of friends for typos and spelling mistakes and sent it on its way. Not surprisingly rejections kept coming. It was very disheartening and at times I really thought I was wasting my time. But I didn’t give up. In fact I did something better. I went back to drawing board. I wrote other stories, worked on my voice, learned from other writers. Eventually I went back to the novel and completely restructured the book, cut a lot of unnecessary background stories, used language more effectively, adopted a more personal style of writing.

Three years on, the novel has been rejuvenated and transformed into a much better piece of work and it will be published in January by Crooked Cat Publishing, who already published one of my novels.

Looking back, I am glad A Summer of Love received the rejections it did as the outcome was a better book, one I can be proud of.

Rejection can be the result of a poorly written book and certainly it is always worth taking another look at your work. That’s not to say you have to be too hard on yourself. There are times when a book could be a good book, but not the right book.

Always check the submission guidelines, explore what books agents represent, publishers release. There is no point sending your literary fiction masterpiece to a publisher specialised in commercial fiction. Do your homework and you will save a lot of time and heartache.

Sometimes a book might tick almost all the boxes and still get rejected. The exact same manuscript of my first published novel, PlayingOn Cotton Clouds, was accepted for publication by Crooked Cat, and rejected a few weeks earlier by another publisher that had liked the initial proposal, but said no after reading the full manuscript.

So, to sum up:

  • Rejection hurts and you have the right to feel angry, but be adult and professional about it. No one likes moody kids slamming doors.
  • Use rejection as a stepping stone to becoming a better writer, revise your work, don’t be afraid to make changes.
  • Remember that rejections can have many reasons, though, don’t think you are a failure and should stop kidding yourself you’re a writer.
  • Always research the agents/ publishers you are approaching with your proposal and make sure you are going to the right people.

When rejection comes, cry, dry your eyes and get back to work, but don’t give up, as every no is a step closer to that yes!

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by romance author Nancy Jardin to answer ten questions about my next release, which will be published in January. You can read about Nancy’s ‘Next Big Thing’ on her blog.

So, here are the ten questions and my answers, all about my new novel, A SUMMER OF LOVE.

What is the working title of your book? 
Working and definitive title are the same, A SUMMER OF LOVE

Where did the idea come from for the book? 
The story was born out of two previous pieces I started but never got round to finish. One was a dramatic coming of age tale, the other a love story where the heroine was torn between two very different men. I combined the two ideas and the result is A SUMMER OF LOVE.

What genre does your book fall under? 
Contemporary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Romance.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 
I don’t want to say. I have a very clear image of what my characters look like, but I want the readers to create their own images, rather than telling them whom I had in mind when I wrote the book. People who know me might have an idea of  whom is behind Jonah and Ewan, though.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 
In three sentences, the story follows Jonah and Sally, whose future didn’t quite shape out as they had imagined it when, at just eighteen, Jonah was sent to prison for two an a half years. Sally finds herself torn between Jonah and Ewan, the young Cornish farmer she has married. Over the course of eighteen years, meetings and partings, secrets and revelations, she will have to face the consequences of her choices and ultimately decide whether to follow her conscience or her heart.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 
It will be published in both digital and paperback format by indie publisher Crooked Cat Publishing, who already published my first novel, Playing On Cotton Clouds.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 
The first draft took about six months. But it has undergone a lot of editing since.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? 
It’s a good old fashion love story, a little remindful of Rosamunde Pilcher or Maeve Binchy, but it has modern, contemporary settings and language, closer to people like Lisa Jewell.

Who or what inspired you to write this book? 
At the time I was reading a story that included a look at the so called Second Summer of Love, in the late 80s. My book is built around an event that takes place during the dance scene of 1988, an event that will spawn what follows.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? 
It’s a heart-warming story, which explores different relationships – families, friends, lovers, spouses – and issues, from drugs to domestic violence to parenthood. The central theme is “forgiveness”. There’s quite a rich tapestry of characters and emotions and I think everyone will find at least one character they will identify with. 

A SUMMER OF LOVE will be published in January by Crooked Cat. 
Watch this space! 

Next Wednesday, some other writers or creative people will tell you about their ‘Next Big Thing’, including: David W Robinson, Jeff Gardiner and Sarah Logan.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Have I Got News For You

Yesterday has been an exciting day.  

The online party for the paperback launch of Playing On Cotton Clouds has been great fun. I asked my guests to bring their records with them and - with the aid of Youtube - we played some fabulous music from the 80s/90s/00s, the three decades that are the backdrop of the book. We had anything from Duran Duran to The Smiths, from Dire Straits to A-ha, from Peter Gabriel to Oasis, from House Dance to Italo-disco to Hard Rock to Madchester. It was a riot!

Thanks to all those who sent messages and posted links and spent time having a good laugh with me. 

To top the day, it was officially announced that my next book, A SUMMER OF LOVE, a love story set in a small village in Cornwall, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing in January 2013.
I couldn't wait to tell everyone!

Mike Bernard, "Mousehole Harbour"
So, to keep the celebrations going, I'm going to play some more of my favourites today. 

What would you choose?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Vinyl and Paperbacks

About four years ago I bought my first mp3 player. I couldn’t quite stretch to an iPod, so I opted for a Creative Zen, which I still own and happily use.

It was extraordinary being able to collect 2-3,000 tracks and carry them all with me at all times, on the bus, in the car, on holiday. I could make my playlists, skip, mix, listen at random, select an album or a specific artist. I plugged it into the stereo, set it on shuffle and let it run for a couple of hours without the need of changing disks.

I really have a lot of fun with my Zen.

Last month a musician friend of mine sent me a copy of his band’s brand new EP. It was a special moment unwrapping it from the cellophane, extracting the vinyl (in a funky yellow colour), placing it on my turntable and listening to it in all his beautiful, crackling glory.

While I was at it, I decided to give a spin to some of the records in my collection and was transported back to times gone when I would run home with my latest purchase from the small independent record shop round the corner, impatient to see, hear and feel the multi-sensory music experience that was an LP.

As much as I love technology and the convenience of downloads and mp3s, there will always be a special place in my heart for the good old vinyl.

I love the way it looks and sounds, the dedication that goes into playing a record – dust it, place it on the record player, lower the needle on the right spot, get to the end of one side, turn it around, start again.

If mp3s are music on the go, vinyl is for taking your time and savouring the work and thought that has gone into it. It’s the fine dining of music versus the fast food chain that it’s a download, with all the attention to details – the cover art, the inner sleeve, the printed lyrics – served with the main dish.

Nothing beats vinyl.

Three months ago I finally got my birthday present, which had been on my list for some time: a Kindle Touch.

I was won over immediately. Again, the practicality of being able to carry all the books I love and/or want to read at once was a major positive, as well as the solution it offered to one of the biggest problem facing passionate readers: storage and space, or rather, lack of.

To that add the convenience of being able to acquire a book any time and from anywhere, and the Kindle really comes into its own.

And you have all the handy features that allow you to highlight and bookmark passages, look up a word, change the font size, write your own notes, copy a playlist of music to listen to while you read, without moving from your chair.

What a fabulous gadget!

Yesterday I received in the post a copy of my book “Playing On Cotton Clouds”, which is released in paperback today and available to buy from Amazon.

The novel had been published by Crooked Cat Publishing in ebook format back in April and I was very proud of all the great reviews and comments readers left on Amazon, Goodreads, my Facebook page. It was the realization of a long time coming dream.

But yesterday I was holding my book in my hands. Not a digital book on Kindle, but an actual, real paperback. It had a shiny, colourful cover, a front and a back. It had pages I could turn and on them were printed the words that had taken nearly half a year for me to write. It had a smell and a feel and occupied physical space.

Specifically, it was placed on a shelf side by side with some of my favourite books and authors: Helen Fielding, Lisa Jewell, David Nicholls… Michela O’Brien!

It was simply a little miracle.


I will still download mp3s and ebooks, I will still love my Zen and my Kindle and how they have made my life simple.

But I will still buy beautiful records and books, always cherish my favourites and how they have made my life colourful.

 Yours Truly proudly holding her book!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

“Sitting down to write is like trying to coax a little child” – Rose McClelland chats to me about her writing regime

It’s great to have with me Rose McClelland, today, not only because she’s a great writer and a fellow Crooked Cat author, whose chic-lit novels “The Break-Up Test” and “How To Look Like You” have gained many fans and praises, but also because she is a friend and a lovely person all round.

Hi Rose and thank you for dropping by.

Thanks for having me!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, how you started your writing adventure and arrived at Crooked Cat?

Six years ago, I read ‘The Artists Way’ by Julia Cameron. It’s a book about unblocking your creativity. I felt very excited by it. I studied it with interest and did all the suggested tasks. I then managed to sit down, start writing a novel and keep going until I wrote ‘The End’.  A year later I had written my first novel. I’m now halfway through my fourth. 

I found Crooked Cat via luck and perseverance. Every writer will experience knock-backs. The trick is to pick yourself up and keep going. I told myself it had to happen sooner or later.

Both your novels, The Break-Up Test and How To Look Like You follow a departure from more traditional chic-lit, as they don’t just focus on one leading protagonist, but on different characters, both male and female. What made you choose this more choral approach?

That was accidental I think. I had a male friend who confided his love life dilemmas to me and I began to understand the workings of a male mind. So Jamie’s voice just became as loud as the female characters. It was fun to play around with. It helped me examine the theme from different angles.

Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

I start off with a theme first of all. It’s usually a topic that I want to learn more about. Something I want to investigate. Something I want to find different viewpoints on. It has to be a good gritty topic that I can get my hands on and play around with for a year.

Once I have a theme in place, I’ll start to think about characters. I might look at extremes – for example, a really shy character versus a really confident one. I’ll start to think about what they look like, what their background is.

What’s your writing “regime”, if you have one?

I set aside a few hours on a certain day that I can write. I tell myself that there is no pressure – I can just play about with ideas. I put the kettle on and make coffee.  I’ll pretend that I’m in the audience watching the characters. I just record what’s happening. I tell myself that it doesn’t need to be funny or clever or brilliant – I’m only playing around with ideas at this stage.  I coax myself like a little child really. But with the absence of pressure, I seem to write better.  

I know you worked in the theatre world and once wrote a short play which made the stage. Would you like to try your hands at writing scripts again? Are there other genres you’d like to explore in future?

I prefer writing novels.  This is because I can describe place and character more fully. I can also jump around from scene to scene. And of course the story can be much longer – there is more scope for twists and turns and the story weaving in many directions.  I feel a bit more limited with script writing. However there is a major buzz with script writing in that it’s a joy to see an actor perform your words on stage.

The Break-Up Test is released in paperback today and How To You Look Like You will follow on the 5th October. How do you feel about digital and paperback formats? Have you got a favourite?

I am a kindle convert. I received one for Christmas last year and though it took me a while to get the hang of it, I now love it. I love being able to download free samples. I love that my kindle slots into my handbag and is easy to carry around. I love that I can have a variety of books at my disposal in one small space. However, it was a real joy to receive the paperback version of ‘The Break-Up Test’ in the post. I kept flicking through it and seeing my words jump out at me. It made my dream seem very real – I have actually written a book!

You are an avid reader too and a reviewer for Judging Covers. What do you enjoy reading and which are your favourite authors?

Well I don’t mean to sound obvious but I love reading chick-lit! I’m not great with horrors or crime because I’m such a scaredy-cat. I get too involved in the story and the horror scenes give me nightmares. I recently read a psychological thriller because my sister recommended it to me. It was indeed a very well written book, but I had to sleep with the light on for a few nights!

I prefer light hearted stories that leave me feeling happy and inspired.  I could rhyme off a list of favourite authors such as Paige Toon, Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes and Mike Gayle. However I am always open to discovering new writers.

Writing, reading… what else do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Well, as you know, we had a fabulous time at the recent Stone Roses gig! And I have enjoyed all the chat about them and finding out more about the band. I have watched loads of YouTube videos on them, listened to their music, even read a book on them! I’m hooked!

Apart from that, I love watching films and reading stories.

I enjoy walking. I like putting the ear-phones in and going for a good long walk – It’s a great way to raise the serotonin.

I love sitting in coffee shops watching the world go by; writing or reading.

I like sitting at home writing. I have a lovely view of the water and it’s very inspiring and peaceful.

I love shopping. Clothes and music and jewellery – especially in charity shops – you can’t beat a good bargain!

I love meeting up with friends and having a good chat/ laugh/ giggle over food/ coffee/ nibbles.

And I like dancing! I don’t get out clubbing as much as I used to but I do love a good dance!

Thank you for chatting to me, Rose, and all the best for the paperback releases. 

 Thank you for having me! 

Find Rose on her Blog  and on Twitter

The Break-Up Test
available in paperback from today

How To Look Like You
available in paperback from 5th October

Rose and I, 
on our way to see The Stone Roses

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Don’t judge a book by its star rating

Like other authors, I have been enraged by the scandal of the fake reviews appearing on Amazon, something that we all suspected was happening, but perhaps not to the extent and viciousness it was revealed in recent news.

It is really disheartening for honest authors – which I still like to think are the most part! – to know that their deservedly earned 5* reviews may be considered fake by the public, and for a reader that has spent some time to write a review of a book they liked that her efforts may be judged pointless.

All this got me thinking.

Have reviews become the criteria upon which the public chooses a book? Are we really sold by 5* ratings and put off by negative reviews?

I can’t say reviews and ratings play a great part in my choices of books.
In the good old days before Amazon and the internet, when I used to browse bookshops, I saw the cover, I read the blurb, scanned the first few pages and then decided whether the book was interesting enough to purchase and read, without knowing what other readers thought of it.
Knowing and liking an author’s previous work was also a pull.
Friends’ recommendations might play a part when it comes to making my mind up, depending on their own taste and reading habits.
Today I buy most of my books online and I might take a look at the reviews, but ultimately I follow the same procedure before buying and reading a book.
All that considered, are we authors placing too much emphasis on readers’ reviews, to the point that some feel the need of assuming fake identities to rave about their own book – or worse to belittle books of other authors?
Reviews can be helpful to spread the word among readers that a book is worth reading, but on the whole, it seems that they are not the first port of call when it comes to choosing a book. Books with plenty of 5* reviews don’t always sell any better than those without.
Perhaps we shouldn’t lose sight of what ultimately makes a book a success story: an interesting voice, a page-turning plot and great characters.
And a well written blurb.

Friday, 20 July 2012

STONE ROSES, City Sound, Milan – 17/07/2012 - Review

“Hello… miserable bastards!”

A despondent Ian Brown salutes a seemingly disinterested audience, setting the tone for the rest of the night. From then on the gig goes on uninspired, with the band getting out of sync, long gaps, more quips from Brown. The Roses sound and look decisively bored with Milan and cut the set short to retreat after a hasty  “I Am the Resurrection”.

 It ‘s September 1989 and the infamous gig marks the first and last time the four Roses would play in the city for 23 years.

Last night they came back, in the last date for the first European leg of their Reunion tour -  off to Asia next.
The audience awaiting them in Milan is very different. Most of them were toddlers or not even born in 1989 and mostly Italians, though a fair number of Brits has left the never ending rain behind to enjoy the Italian sunshine while catching up with the Roses. 

We arrive at the Ippodromo - where the gig has been moved from the original location of the Arena Civica, following problems between the promoters and the City Council - around 5pm, a few people waiting outside the main entrance, and are greeted by the sound of “Waterfall” coming from inside the venue, as  the Roses soundcheck, a pleasant treat. “Sugar Spun Sister” and “Love Spreads” keep us entertained while we seek shades under the trees.

Five minutes past seven we are finally let into the stage area and from the start it appears  that getting to the front is not going to be hard. This is not a large audience, by anyone’s standards. A chat with the stewards  informs us that around 1,500 tickets were sold for this gig. It’s going to be an intimate affair.

The crowd is small, but noisy and ready to party. 

The Justice Tonight Band warms things up nicely, as usual, and when they leave the stage, the excitement is positively mounting.  A long wait for the main act helps things simmering further and when the now customary “Stoned Love” by the Supremes signals that the moment we have all been waiting for is finally upon us, it is clear that this lot are going to make up for their small numbers with noise.

The Roses are welcomed by a roaring cheer, and there are no “miserable bastards” waiting for them this time, no “2,500 people and not a word!” comments, no “We’re having a bit of a gap – we’re tired now”. Both band and audience are obviously up for it and the singing starts from the minute Mani’s  bassline intones “I Wanna Be Adored” to the last plectrum stroke Squire delivers at the end of “I Am the Resurrection”.

In between, the performance moves happily along, with Ian Brown giving the crowd lots of vibes and a fair few smiles, sneaking words in Italian in between songs. 

This is a much more “down to basics” gig, compared to the impressive shows of Heaton Park, Dublin, T in the Park. There are no visuals, less lights, a shorter set (no “Bye Bye Badman”,  “Standing Here”,  “Something’s Burning” and “Elizabeth My Dear”), no gimmicks, just the band and their formidable musicianship. This is what it should have been like that night in 1989. The band are tight and evidently having a great time.

Once again, “Fools Gold” is the centre piece of the show and the moment that always seems to send them up a gear. From then on the energy coming on and off the stage is tangible: “Waterfall”, “Don’t Stop”, “Love Spreads”, “She Bangs the Drums” swell the warm summer air, while “Made of Stone”, “This is the One” and “I am the Resurrection” cause the loudest singalongs of the night. 

There are smiles, banter, hugs and cheers at the end.

 As per usual, no encore, the crowd is left wanting for more, which is the best way to make an exit at the end of a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

You can find this review and more at Louder Than War

Monday, 28 May 2012

A Chat with K B Walker

I have a guest today. American Kim Walker has lived in the UK for the past 30 years, built a family and a teaching career, while dreaming of becoming an author. Her dreams have been realised through two publications, her memoir "A Life Less Lost" and her recently published novel "Once Removed". Having gone through both experiences, Kim chats to us about the pros and cons of self-publishing and finding a publisher.
Hallo, Kim and thank you for talking to us.

You have recently published your book, "Once Removed". Can you tell us a little about it?
In high school, a girl felt close enough to me to reveal the razor slashes she’d made in her legs. I didn’t know what to do. At fourteen, new to the school and recently bereaved, I basically ran away. But I still wonder about that girl and what’s happened to her. In the 90’s, when self-harm was in the media, I did some research and a story was born which explores this complex behaviour. It’s about a young teacher who suspects one of her pupils is self-harming. Abby risks everything to try to help Beth but it all goes horribly wrong.

"Once Removed" is a shade darker than "Playing On Cotton Clouds" or "The Break Up Test". In common with those books, it looks at the impact relationships have on us but also the way in which our own self-image affects those relationships. 

For this book you chose to go with an e-publisher, Crooked Cat Publishing. What made you decide to take this route? How have you enjoyed the process?
"Once Removed" doesn’t fit neatly into popular genres and the subject matter was too risky for mainstream publishers in today’s economy. Having self-published my memoir, I knew what hard work it was to get everything right. Crooked Cat offered that ‘seal of approval’ ~ they thought enough of my work to take a risk on it.

Steph & Laurence at Crooked Cat have been great. And the other authors in the “cat basket” have been very supportive, making the whole venture much more fun.

You have also experienced self-publishing, with your memoir "A Life Less Lost". How did that experience compare to that of having a publisher?

There’s a stigma associated with self-publishing because not everyone has their work edited or even seeks feedback so there is a lot of amateurish dross out there. You have to do everything yourself and it’s very easy to fall into traps.

I had a mentor to help me through the process but it was still expensive, risky and very hard work. Writing the book was child’s play compared to self-publishing it. Then there’s the marketing…
Having a publisher who knows the business and can offer advice and support is amazing. They took my word document, did the editing and cover, prepared it for all the e-formats and help with marketing. The other authors also promote each other’s books, which makes the whole thing less overwhelming.

 What advice would you give to someone considering self-publishing? What do you think would be the advantages and the disadvantages? 
My advice would be to pay for professional editing and/or manuscript appraisal. If your book isn’t well polished people won’t read or recommend it. Createspace is now available in the UK. They offer a fairly low cost, low risk, pod product. You also need to carefully plan your marketing and promotion strategy.

One advantage of self-publishing is being able to have paperbacks as well as ebooks. You can organise an actual book launch and book tours. I’ve sold hundreds of books that way. People who have read my book and/or heard me speak have bought extra copies for friends and family, not so easy to do with ebooks. 

Like me, you “married” into British life having grown up in a different country. How easy or difficult did you find living in the UK? Do you think coming from a different culture had an impact on you as a writer?
That’s a very interesting question, Michela, and I’d love to sit down and compare notes with you on your experiences. It isn’t easy living in a different country, thousands of miles from family and friends. Even now, 30+ years on, when I meet people for the first time and they hear my accent, I can see them stop listening to what I’m saying in preferrence to how I’m saying it. Suddenly I remember I’m still a foreigner.

I think it’s enriched my writing, though. Not everyone gets to look at their own culture from outside. It makes you more observant and curious about why things are the way they are in different places. But don’t get me started on the weather…

Your memoir dealt with a serious issue that affected your family and since its publication, you have given talks on the topic and met people who had gone through a similar experience. What highlights do you take with you and what do you hope your story can offer to people?
I wrote "A Life Less Lost" for many reasons. One in particular has been to highlight the challenges of ‘cancer survivorship’. This is an area that is just beginning to attract research. My son wasn’t expected to survive and has had to cope with a disability as a result of his treatment. I believe many survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress and I wanted them to know they weren’t alone or in some way weak or unusual. The feedback I’ve had from the talks has shown this to be very true.

Another thing we have in common is that we are both teachers. How much has your work with young people influenced your work as a writer and viceversa?
A teacher has to be observant and analytical, which helps with writing. You also have to deal with all kinds of people. The main character in "Once Removed" is a teacher so I was able to draw on my experiences to make Abby more believeable, although she’s in secondary school and I mainly taught younger children. But I chose that setting because it was in high school that I came across self-harm and some of the things I learned at that time helped me create the pupil, Beth.

Tell us something about your hobbies and interests.

Reading has been a passion all my life. I also enjoy sports like skiing, swimming, badminton and walking. I’ve a big soft spot for animals and live on a farm, although we’re not farmers. Baking, eating out, cookery programmes and cookbooks fill a big chunk of time and recently I’ve discovered an interest in growing food, losing hours in the garden.

What are you working on at the moment and what future plans are in your writing life?

At the moment, I’m spending all my writing time trying to promote "Once Removed". But next month I plan to get back to my new novel inspired by an agoraphobic woman who vanished.

Once again, I'd like to thank Kim for taking the time to answer my questions.

Kim's memoir "A Life Less Lost" is available digitally in all formats from Smashwords and paperbacks are available directly from her via her blog:

Kim's novel "Once Removed" is available in digital format at and Smashwords 


Suspecting self-harm, newly qualified teacher, Abriella Garside, risks everything for a troubled pupil. An incident with a craft knife and unexplained injuries are not enough to secure help for the girl. Unsure whether Beth is being bullied or has problems at home, Abby tries to win her trust and the two begin a friendship. But has the teacher gone too far?
In the midst of Abby’s own complicated life, Beth disappears. Rumour and suspicion ignite, fanned into an inferno with Abby at its heart.
Two lives hang in the balance.

"Once Removed" is a contemporary novel dealing with the often hidden matter of self-harming in a sensitive, eye-opening way.


A storybook romance swept KB Walker from her American childhood to marriage, life and a teaching career in Yorkshire. Becoming an author seemed as likely as being a princess or an astronaut, but after twenty years at the chalk-face, Kimm left schools behind and set her mind to the dream. She’s had several poems, short stories and articles published, won a handful of local prizes, as well as being invited to speak at events in the UK and US.
Kimm’s two grown up sons have left home now but in 1996, fifteen year old James was diagnosed with cancer and survived against the odds. "A Life Less Lost", her memoir of that experience, was published in 2009.
A foodie, Kimm recently discovered the joys of grow-your-own, loves ‘doing up’ old houses, reading, badminton, skiing and various crafts. Still captivated by the British countryside, she also enjoys bracing walks with her dog.