The Black Hole of Research

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Did you know that The Countess of Lovelace was the mathematician responsible for the very first algorithm? She’s the one we can all blame when our books are foundering in the choppy rankings on Amazon. How do I know this? Because I was researching SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED!

Many writerly souls have been lost on the road to research. Like pilgrims seeking truth (and hopefully a large chunk of data we can copy and paste into our WIP to boost our wordcount for the day, without actually having to write anything) we set out innocently hoping to find the right answers to our questions. Like, what did people eat in the sixteenth century? Is a hurricane worse than a cyclone? When did indoor plumbing, like, happen? What were the best hotels in Paris before WWI? (asking for a friend). Did Victorian women mountaineers wear skirts? The answer is yes, by the way, they did in the mid 1800s and despite appearances, they weren’t hampered one bit.¬† Check out the aptly named Lucy Walker.¬† How do I know this?¬† Again, I got A LOT distracted from my original quest, which was…. what was it again?

That’s the beauty and the beast that is the Internet. It’s a wonderful tool for research and even when you end up deep down a black hole of ‘Stuff That Will Never Make It To Your Novel,’ it’s still really interesting (albeit time-consuming).¬† I would love if Google could accumulate some of the most common searches for each writing genre.¬† I’m guessing crime writers would have the most gruesome results – like how many times and in what location you can stab someone before killing them? So much of a writer’s search history has been conveniently explained away as “research”.

Writing historical fiction doesn’t help.¬† When people ask why it takes so long to write a book, they don’t mean how long you spent researching it (like spending half the day reading about how Joan of Arc was captured in a small town in Northern France, called Compiegne, only to vaguely refer to it in one sentence).¬† They mean how long you spent putting words together.¬† But if you’ve ever written a story, you learn pretty quick that everything needs to be researched – location, professions, dialect, clothing, customs and anything else that has a question mark over it, because as we all know, fiction needs to be factually correct or else it doesn’t work. Unless you plan on writing an autobiography, or a story that never mentions anything outside of your field of knowledge (which isn’t a bad idea, actually!)

But then there are those wonderful moments when the black hole of research leads you to your next story idea.¬† Such was the case with The Story Collector; I was looking up information on a local hill, where it is said that the King of the Connacht fairies (that’s Finvarra to you) is buried.¬† I found myself being swept slightly off course and in a couple of clicks, came face to face with a dapper-looking anthropologist who wrote a book about The Good People in Celtic countries.¬† I made a note of it – lost the note – but never forgot his story and in a few years began researching in earnest for what would become my third novel, inspired by that man.¬† So you never know!¬† Books are certainly much more contained when it comes to research, and once I know what I’m looking for, I tend to use books more than the internet, but it’s the ‘lucky dip’ of searching online that makes it so exciting. Research can be a fun and interesting part of the writing journey, just don’t forget to book a return ticket.

Come Away

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Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand

THE STOLEN CHILD

William Butler Yeats

This poem has been knocking on the door of my subconscious for quite a few years now and I’m proud to have it gracing the first page of my book, The Story Collector.

Growing up in Ireland, it‚Äôs easy to take things for granted. To me, Yeats was just another poet whose lines I had to learn off by heart at school and coldly analyse for exams.¬† But it was during the 80’s, when my brother bought a record (remember those!) by The Waterboys called Fisherman’s Blues, that it all changed.¬† The band were aiming for a more stripped back sound and spent some time in County Galway, writing and recording the album in an old house in Spiddal.¬† I’ve always loved that record, but one of their greatest triumphs was in marrying the words of WB Yeats to music.¬† ¬†Some poems have music in them and Mike Scott reveals the lyrical prose with a haunting recording of the poem.¬† It features Tom√°s Mac Eoin, a local Sean-n√≥s singer, narrating the verses and as Scott himself remarked, once they ‘had the poem fastened snugly to the music, worlds merged.’¬† For me, that recording brought the words to life and I’ve been enchanted by the poem ever since.

The idea that the fairies can lure beautiful boys and girls is an old one, and Yeats captures the romantic picture they might paint of life in the wilds of nature.  My novel also features an old Irish lullabye, Seoithín seothó.  I first heard it on the radio, sung by Roisin Elsafty (another Galway woman!) and I was mesmerised by its beauty.  The song tells the story of a mother lulling her baby to sleep with soothing promises to keep them safe from the fairies,  who are playing in the moonlight on the rooftop.  There is a wonderful fascination with The Good People in Irish ballads, where people are helplessly drawn to their beauty, despite the dangers.  I love that sense of push and pull, the lure of the unknown.  But again, this song came to me long before the novel, weaving its way in amongst my memories and waiting until the right moment.

Novels are funny creatures, because you realise you’ve been collecting knowledge all through your life without understanding where it may lead.  A few years ago, I visited Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ tower home in county Galway.  I was with my sister, who is the poet in the family, and so I figured this pilgrimage was more for her than myself.  But once there, I experienced such a sense of ease, of playfulness and yes, magic!  I could completely understand how he had been inspired to write about The Good People.  Maybe the spell was cast even then to write The Story Collector!

The summer home of W. B. Yeats and his wife George, Thoor Ballylee is a 15th century tower house built beside the Streamstown River, it’s idyllic setting is simply mesmerizing.   We arrived late on a sunny evening, crossing the little bridge just as the sun began to set.  At once, I was under the spell of the place.  Surrounded by trees whose leaves whispered in the breeze, I could feel a sense of timelessness and calm in this beautiful place.  It wasn’t hard to imagine why he loved to escape to Thoor Ballylee and  I’m sure he was never short of inspiration there.

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We spent a long time there, exploring the pathways that led through the woods and down by the stream and discovered the sweetest little picnic tables across the road that resembled little toad stools. ¬†I‚Äôve never felt such an instant connection with a place and I really cannot wait to return. ¬†As Yeats wrote in¬†a letter to a friend about leaving Thoor Ballylee, ‚ÄúEverything is so beautiful that to go elsewhere is to leave beauty behind.‚ÄĚ

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The Story Collector is now available in eBook and Paperback

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US ~ Dubrays¬†~ Foyles¬†~ O’Mahony’s ~¬†Waterstones ~¬†WH Smith

The Author Is Dead, Long Live The Reader

 

 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit

 

A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world.¬† Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go.¬† With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled.¬† But not with this one.

My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house!¬† One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay¬†‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author)¬†by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes.¬† Coz that’s our life now.¬† Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.¬† I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author!¬† ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said.¬† ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’¬† I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.

But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself.¬† In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author.¬† To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that.¬† We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text.¬† Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are¬†“eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading.¬† I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that.¬† Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward.¬† It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important.¬† We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader.¬† It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.

Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books.¬† There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher.¬† Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book.¬† Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance.¬† Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it.¬† And that’s okay.¬† That’s normal.¬† I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer.¬† Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers.¬† I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful ūüôā

Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now.¬† Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them.¬† So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.

Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector

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2018 – New Year, New Book

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From manuscript to book in 3 short years!

It’s almost 2018 and you know what that means?¬† The Year of The Story Collector!!¬† No other books will be published this year, well, none that matter anyway ūüėȬ† And what’s more, I have my date (which oddly makes me feel like I’m getting married).¬† The Story Collector will be available to read on…

14th June 2018

And I honestly can’t wait to share this book with the world.¬† It’s been quite a while since my last novel – The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris – which I published in 2014.¬† I feel so fortunate, because that story has taken on a life of its own and is still being discovered by new readers on both sides of the Atlantic.

So I am a little nervous, as it’s been a while since I’ve released anything new.¬† But that just goes to show you how long it takes to get a book written and published.¬† The idea for the book came when I was researching something else entirely – as is often the case.¬† I began reading and researching The Story Collector in spring 2015 and wrote the first few chapters during the summer.¬† ¬† I took a step back and knew I wanted to take it in a different direction, so I began anew with Nanowrimo in November 2015.¬† You know you mean business when you take on Nano!¬† That left me with 60,000 words and a first draft I could work with.¬† I spent all of 2016 rewriting, editing, refining and sending it to some trusted eyes for second and third and fourth opinions.¬† I began submitting in November of that year and got the deal I hoped for with Urbane Publications in March 2017.

They actually contacted me on Saint Patrick’s Day, with that email every author waits and hopes for, ‘We want to publish your book’.¬† I will never forget how that felt.¬† Cue lots of hugging myself with delight, manic giggling and staring off into space with a bottle of wine in one hand and an empty glass in the other.¬† When I first began writing almost 15 years ago, this was the dream.¬† I’ve received my fair share of rejection letters and the silent rejections that never arrive.¬† My dreams have changed over the years and I’ve been so lucky to be a writer during this digital revolution that has given me lots of opportunities to get my writing out there.¬† So after self-publishing two novels myself, collaborating with Urbane on my third book is even sweeter.

So, what can I tell you about my new book?¬† Well, I don’t want to give anything away just yet, but anyone who reads my books will know that I deal in escapism and memorable characters.¬† I want to take you away to a place that will open your eyes, your heart and your mind.¬† And of course it wouldn’t be me if there wasn’t a connection to the past and something a little magical.

To everyone who has been so supportive of my writing, whether you’ve read my book, left a review, hosted me on your blog for interviews or guest posts, shared links, liked posts, followed my blog, read my articles, sent me a message saying you enjoyed my book, shared tips or advice, or just had the craic and hung out with me on Twitter (where I live!)

Thank you!

You’ve encouraged me, inspired me and I’m so glad to be a part of this great community.¬† ¬†That’s all for now, but don’t worry, I’ll be keeping you up to date with any developments.¬† All that remains for me to say is Happy New Year to you all and don’t forget to mark the 14th June on your calendar!

 

Ye Olde Kindle Countdown Deal

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It’s summer. ¬†You all want a good read. ¬†Something you can really get your teeth into, historical fiction with a modern twist? ¬†I’m only too happy to oblige! ¬†Get your peepers over to Amazon UK and Amazon US where you can download a copy of my novel, The Cross Of Santiago for only 99p/c until June 7th. ¬†It’s got it all – Spanish knights, battles at sea, mystery, family ties, heirlooms and a love story that spans four centuries. ¬†

Adopted as a baby, Amanda Morrison knows nothing of her biological family. But when a lawyer reveals that she has been bequeathed a mysterious heirloom from a long lost aunt, she unlocks the door to a distant past and a secret love. Can her past life really be haunting her present and what can she do to put things right?

The Cross Of Santiago is a tale of two women living in different centuries, whose lives seem to be entwined by fate. A perfect read for Outlander fans.

But don’t just take my word for it! ¬†Readers have left the following reviews….

5 stars

Very good read and also an interesting change of times

Published 2 months ago by christine gaster

4 stars

An epic romance across the centuries!  This book has two settings and I loved both.
If you know nothing about the Spanish Armada and how so many of the ships were shipwrecked on the coast of Ireland and Scotland; then worry not, this book will fill you in. I had forgotten so much of this part of history that it was fantastic to revisit it and I ended up having great discussions about the battle and their mission with my husband who is a history fiend.

Trish @ Between My Lines


5 stars

Really enjoyed. Kept my interest.

Published 12 months ago by Martha Smith

‚ÄúThe¬†Cross¬†of¬†Santiago‚ÄĚ is an intelligent and well written historical romance book. I love historical fiction with a bit¬†of¬†romantic story-line thrown in and this book sure fits¬†the¬†bill.

OnlineBookClub.org full review here.

4 stars

This book has a lot of mystery. I was adopted and so I can relate to Amanda as a character. She wants to know about her past, about her birth family, and her family’s history. I have been there and so this book was a good read for me because I could REALLY relate to her. I think books that the reader can relate too are the best kind. They help you feel that the story is more REAL, rather than it just being a story that is being read.

Boundless Book Reviews

4 stars

The historical parts based around the Spanish Armada seem particularly well researched and it was interesting to hear the story of the Armada crashing around the coast of Ireland. The characters all feel fleshed out and interesting enough to want to read about and the story doesn’t get bogged down by too much history, there is a nice balance.

The Bearded Bookworm

While you’re at it, you may as well pick up a copy of The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris, also at the delectable price of 99p!¬†

Where Was Your Book Born?

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We’ve all heard how JK Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a local cafe. ¬†In fact, the chair she sat on recently sold for ‚ā¨344,300. ¬†That’s some indication as to the importance we give a writer’s creative perch. ¬†Writers and readers alike are enchanted by the idea of where a book was conceived, convincing themselves that even the chair they sat on must¬†be¬†oozing with literary genius. ¬†There’s something romantic about it, scribbling ideas in a local cafe. ¬†Writing ¬†at a desk wedged into the corner of your council flat while wearing old Primark pyjamas doesn’t really have the same ring to it, although one can only assume that Rowling must have written at home too. ¬†But does it really matter where you write your masterpiece?

I think I’ve written in every room in my house, bar the toilet. ¬†I would include a photo of my beloved attic (where I write in the summer and stare up at longingly during the winter as it transforms into a fridge) but I’m saving that for the OK! Magazine spread.¬† The dawn of Pinterest has introduced us to a plethora of ‘designs’ to ‘inspire’ us with ‘ideas’ to create our own ‘writing nook’. ¬†In other words, Pinterest is the devil’s work which bombards us with over-styled images of unattainable shabby chic home offices we will never have. ¬†No¬†I don’t have a pure white room with an old-fashioned writing desk which I’ve upcycled with chalk paint and I’m not surrounded by flower-clad boxes with all my papers neatly filed away in alphabetical order. ¬†I’m the kind of person who sees an empty space and immediately feels the need to fill it with bits n bobs (i.e. junk). ¬†I would love the perfect writing nook, but in the meantime, I generally pick the warmest spot in the house and write there. ¬†I’m basically a cat. ¬†With¬†thumbs.

So what about venturing outside? ¬†Well, yes, writing en pleine air could be a nice change except…. again, I live in Ireland. ¬†I did try to write at the beach a couple of times, but there’s a lot to be said for a comfortable chair and while a large flat stone jutting out to sea might look attractive, my bum says otherwise. ¬†Then there’s the whole writing long hand thing. ¬†It can make a nice alternative every once in a while, but I’m the kind of writer who needs the entire manuscript in front of me when I write. ¬†So squinting at my laptop while my bum goes to sleep on a rock gets old very fast.

Cafes seem like the ideal place to get the creative juices going, but the only problem with that is that they are full of OTHER PEOPLE! ¬†At the best of times, people in public places can be tiresome, but when ¬†you’re trying to write a novel, they are downright intrusive! ¬†I have no idea how writers can focus on their own thoughts while they are being drowned out by clattering delph, noisy conversations and earth-shatteringly loud baristas (do they have to smash that coffee filter like a judge’s gavel Every. Damn. Time.!!) ¬†Seriously, doesn’t anyone drink tea anymore? ¬†Sartre had it only partly right; hell isn’t just other people, it’s other people who drink coffee.

If I do decide to venture out, I usually go to a hotel. ¬†These are much more sedate affairs and best of all, they usually have comfy armchairs so you can really settle in. ¬†No-one really cares how long you stay or whether you order coffee (but if you do, they thankfully prepare it out of earshot). ¬†My nearest hotel has a conservatory that is, for the most part, empty and pipes out a nice mix of chilled-out tunes in the background. ¬†The best part is, you can’t come up with a million excuses to leave your desk when you’re writing outside of the home. ¬†You can’t start attacking the hotel toilets with bleach and a brush, so you just have to stay put and keep typing – not least to make everyone else think you’re extremely busy and important and overflowing with intelligent ideas.

So are there any benefits to having a ‘special place’ to write? ¬†After all, we’re not like visual artists who rely heavily on their surroundings for inspiration. ¬†Writers inhabit the interior world, the imagination. ¬†We create worlds. ¬†We mine our memories and nose through nostalgia for material, then spin all of these threads together into a fine cloak to envelop ourselves and our readers. ¬†In fact, I think the plainer your surroundings, the better. ¬†I’m not talking a monastic cell here, but the truth is that even if you bag yourself one of those writing retreats in rural Italy replete with red tile roofs and cypress trees, you still have to retreat to the solitude of your own mind and write the book.

I think we all saw this coming ‚ėļ

Special Offer!

 

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris

Most Recent Customer Reviews

A wonderful novel about the books heroine Edith and her life changing adventure set in magical Compiègne . Read more

Published 5 months ago by John O’Malley

I finished this in two sittings. I enjoyed it, it is a nice gentle read but without the typical romance of many of the genre. Read more

Published 9 months ago by Lorna Sixsmith

Wonderful heartwarming story. It has been described as chiclit but I think it a great read for men too. Read more

Summer read must gives a lovely warm cosy feeling, just finished it highly recommend intelligent chick lit download now and support indie writers, I’m glad I did :).

Published 18 months ago by Lorna Dooley

A lovely, engaging read with some surprising twists. I’ve never been to Paris but the author really evoked a feel for the city with all its wonderful sights, smells and tastes. Read more

Published 18 months ago by Heather Hill

I chose this rating because this is a great book. Interesting, entertaining, engaging with a little bit of romance and magic thrown in and all from a very fine writer. Read more

The Cross Of Santiago

Most Recent Customer Reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoy books that combine a modern story with.one that takes place in the past.

Really enjoyed. Kept my interest.

Published 7 months ago by Martha Smith

The best thing about this love story, is that it doesn’t start off as a love story. Read more

This book had a lot of mystery. I was adopted and so I can relate to Amanda as a character. She wants to know about her past, about her birth family, and her family’s history. I have been there and so this book was a good read for me because I could REALLY relate to her. I think books that the reader can relate too are the best kind. They help you feel that the story is more REAL, rather than it just being a story that is being read.

Published on December 14, 2013 by Amazon Customer

I received a free copy of this book for an honest review.
The Cross of Santiago belongs in several different genres which makes it interesting. 

The Art Of Seduction

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There are three types of writers in this world:

  1. Those that drag out the story for so long that you start to lose interest and begin thinking of all the other books you could be sleeping with reading.
  2. ¬†Those that race to the finish – so just when you start to get into it, it’s all over, ¬†leaving you feeling short-changed.
  3. Those that get the balance just right – creating enough tension and complexity to hold our interest until the very end and perhaps leave us wanting more.

Having just completed the NaNoWrimo challenge in November 2015, I now have a wordcount of just over 50,000, which puts me in the 2nd category. ¬†While January is traditionally the time when we are told to shed bulk, I am once again bucking the trends and hoping to pile on pages as I attempt to ‘beef out’ my novel, without adding any lard! ¬†And therein lies the rub; how do you tease out your novel, without affecting the pace or losing the reader’s interest?

We’ve all read a novel where the writer has obviously been told to make the story longer in order to fit some publisher’s guidelines and the story has suffered as a result. ¬†You don’t want to just add length to your novel for the sake of it – you want to draw out the pleasure of letting your story unfold, keeping your reader entertained along the way with various diversions and sleight of hand. ¬†I like using NaNo as a tool to get a rough draft of my story down, but in order to get the readers to fall under my spell, the real art of seduction begins now.

According to Erika Mailman’s article in¬†The Writer, your novel should have somewhere between 6 and 11 threads (based on her research of bestselling novels).

Some beginning novelists create plots that are too straightforward, with all the attention focused on a single pending event in the book. Readers, though, prefer a little more complexity, a story that better mirrors the intricate interweavings of real life.

If you want to increase your thread count, consider some sub-plots for your secondary characters (who can often end up like minions, there to do your bidding).  Give them their own conflicts that ultimately tie in with the overall plot.  Consider your overall themes when introducing new plot threads and if done correctly, your story should feel as rich as Egyptian cotton!

One of the cardinal rules of writing is ‘show, don’t tell’. ¬†See if there are any scenes where you‚Äôve summarized (told) instead of dramatized (shown). ¬†Now is the time to get back in there and write the scene almost like a screenplay. ¬†This is an excellent opportunity to increase the allure of your book to the reader. ¬†Unless you are writing non-fiction, there is no point in describing the action to your readers – you want them to live it and keep them wondering ‘what will happen next?’

Adding characters is another way to add to your word count, but you need to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with random people who don’t have very much to do with the plot. ¬†It might be easier to develop a character who already exists by exploring their relationships and deepening the bond between them and the main characters. ¬†Creating ‘bonding moments’ between characters in your novel can give the reader a chance to breath between scenes and enjoy the natural progression of these relationships. ¬†You could also explore their character traits in more detail, focusing on their unique qualities which eventually tie in to the overall plot.

Fleshing out characters is probably the most important aspect of editing, but fleshing out the descriptions of your settings is equally important. ¬†It’s much easier to fill in these vital pieces of information after the first draft is completed, as you can really take your time and luxuriate in your descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of your setting. ¬†Just be careful not to overdo it – remember that you’re not writing a travel guide!

Finally, in order to steady the pace of your novel and avoid giving it all away too soon, ¬†you could expand upon your characters‚Äô interior monologue. ¬†Again, this is a clever device that allows the reader a greater insight into your character’s thought process, while keeping the pages turning.

We all want our heroes to win out in the end, but that doesn’t mean we want an easy ride. ¬†We want to be taken to the edge, challenged, surprised and led up the garden path just long enough to make the journey worth while.

 

 

 

 

December Tour Launch

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I’m delighted to announce my December 9th blog tour with IFB Tours.¬† The Cross of Santiago will be¬†touring with 12 hosts for the week of December 9th-13th, with reviews, interviews, guest posts and of course a fantastic giveaway!¬† Stay tuned for the tour schedule and a very special discount offer to buy The Cross Of Santiago ebook just in time for Christmas.

My NaNo Playlist

Wow – I can’t believe National Novel Writing Month is almost over and I am set to complete my 50,000 word novel by Saturday!¬† I don’t think I’ll realise what an achievement this is until it’s over.¬† All the way through, you are just so focussed on your daily word targets, that you almost forget the big picture – which is novel number two in the bag ūüôā¬† I may have mentioned this story is set in Paris and features a jazz club, so I’ve had some great music to get me in the mood while I’m writing.¬† Here’s just a little sample… Paris Jazz