Friday, 25 March 2016

In Her Wake - Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake
by Amanda Jennings

About the book...
A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life. Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family – and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

Exclusive, limited edition hardback – signed and numbered copies – available from Goldsboro Books! Order here

About the author...
Amanda Jennings made her literary d├ębut with the internationally bestselling novel Sworn Secret. Her second book, The Judas Scar, was optioned by a film and television production company shortly after release. She is fascinated by the ways people react to trauma and deal with its long-lasting effects, and also the complex relationships within a family unit. She used to work at the BBC, but now writes full-time and looks after her three daughters and a menagerie of animals. She writes a popular blog and is a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s Book Club. She enjoys running writing workshops, is a judge for the Henley Youth Festival creative writing competition, and is involved with the Womentoring Project, which offers free mentoring by professional literary women to talented up-and-coming female writers who might otherwise not have access to such an opportunity. She is a regular speaker at festivals and book events, combining her childhood love of the stage with her love of writing. She likes to be active, preferably beside the sea or at the top of a snow-covered mountain, and when she isn’t writing she can usually be found walking her dog and enjoying the peace and solitude of the great outdoors.

Author Interview...
It gives me great pleasure to share with you the answers to some questions I asked Amanda Jennings about her latest novel In Her Wake.  A book I devoured that still resonates with me now, well over a month after reading.  Huge thanks to Amanda for taking the time to visit my blog and answer my questions and huge thanks to Karen Sullivan & Orenda Books for the opportunity to get an early read of this amazing book.
  • In Her Wake is set in Cornwall, quite a distance from where you live now.  What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? 
Actually I didn’t find it too challenging. My mother is Cornish and we have been spending summers, half-terms and some Christmases in and around Penzance (where my grandmother lived) and Zennor (where my parents have a house) ever since I can remember. It’s very vivid and real to me, and often evokes strong memories and emotions. I also took lots of photos of St Ives, Zennor, the cliffs and the moors, so that if I needed a more visual stimulus I had it to hand. But to be honest, I’m so passionately in love with West Cornwall that those descriptions - of the sea, of the harbour, the cobbled streets in St Ives, the sand between my toes, and the weather in all its incarnations - came quite easily. The only problem with being so far away when I was writing it was that I constantly wanted to be down there
  • For me the story was compulsive and I developed an obsession of sorts, staying up half the night to read it.  The story and characters stayed with me long after the end of the book.  How easy was it for you to detach yourself once the book was finished?

That’s an interesting question actually, because this book has been with me for a very long time. I wrote the first draft about six years ago and it was this book that helped me secure my agent. Sadly we couldn’t sell it to a publishing house, so I put it beneath the proverbial bed, and wrote Sworn Secret. But In Her Wake, or The Merrymaid and I as it was originally called, wouldn't leave me alone, and so after I finished The Judas Scar (my second book) I read The Merrymaid through again and realised it was a story I still wanted to tell. So I sat down with a big red pen, and using everything I learnt from the two books I’d had published, I highlighted the themes I loved and began to develop a slightly more compelling narrative, got rid of some elements which slowed the book down and added a few sub plots. I’m a big rewriter and this book had twelve full rewrites. I do miss the characters now - especially the voice of Tori, funnily enough - but I feel at peace with the book now and am glad it’s finally out and I can move on to a new idea. 
  • Do you have a sister? Where would your loyalties lie - with your sister and blood relatives or with the family you knew?

I do have a sister, and I have three daughters, and my mother had a sister who sadly died as a baby. Sisters play a big part of life and my thinking. I’m very close to my sister and we speak on the phone at least once a day and live about fifteen minutes from each other. Our children are like siblings, and having a close relationship with each other has remained important in both our lives. In Bella’s situation, I think my loyalty would lie with my blood sister and mother. I thought about this a lot while I was writing, but I think that the knowledge that the family I had grown up with had done something so heinous, that any affection I had for them would be tainted. It’s hard though, because of course, you can’t force your heart, so even if I think that’s what I’d feel, you can never be one hundred percent sure. 
  • If In Her Wake was to be made into a film would you want to be on the casting couch and if so, who would you put into the key roles?

I would love to see Carey Mulligan as Bella and Emily Watson as Dawn. Both brilliant actors, capable of portraying emotion without words, which both roles would require. As I wrote the book I saw Alison Janney very clearly as Alice. In fact, Barbara Fitts, the character she plays in American Beauty, is exactly how I imagine Alice. Greg has to be sexy and blonde. He’s a surfer and confident with the opposite sex. I think Heath Ledger, though sadly not with us, would have been perfect. Alex Pettyfer is about five years too young to be Greg, but he’d also fit the brief very well. I would probably have to see a few more handsome, toned men to make sure the role went to the best person, of course… 
  • Were there alternate endings you considered?

Yes, in my original version Bella actually breaks away from both families and strides out on her own. She finally gets to travel - this was much more of a theme in the earlier drafts - and escapes her demons in a beautiful Spanish village surrounded by orange groves and almond trees. I had her moving from the passion and anger of the raging Cornish sea to the sweet, sunlit Mediterranean, where she settles into a routine and is at peace with herself. But I like that she chooses Cornwall now. It seems right.
  • What is next for you? What are you working on now?

I am working on another psychological thriller set in Cornwall. This time the historical story intertwines much more closely with the present. Obsession is the central theme. There is a house with secrets, a woman who watch the house, ghostly happenings that slowly drive the new inhabitants of the house mad. I love the idea of obsession and I’m enjoying having the opportunity to look at it from all sorts of angles. I’m still at the notebook stage, but I’m about to start the first draft, which is both daunting and thrilling in equal measure (well, perhaps a little more weighted towards the daunting…)

Thank you so much for having me! 
Amanda :)

Friday, 18 March 2016

Erica James - 20th Book Publication Birthday - The Song of the Skylark Review

Celebrating Erica James & her
 20th Book Birthday Tour

One dreary day about a month ago, I had an email from Elaine Egan from Orion Books telling me about a blog tour she had planned to celebrate the publication of Song of the Skylark, Erica James' 20th book. Her idea was to tour the new book alongside a review of one of her old books too and asked if I'd be interested.  I was and today's the day I share my reviews for both Song of the Skylark and Paradise House.

About the books...
Song of the Skylark
Lizzie has always had an unfortunate knack of attracting bad luck, but this time she's hit the jackpot. Losing her heart to her boss leads to her losing her job, and with no money in the bank, Lizzie finds herself forced to move back home with her parents. When she reluctantly takes a voluntary job, she meets Mrs Dallimore, a seemingly ordinary elderly woman with an astonishing past . . .

Now in her nineties, Mrs Dallimore is also reluctantly coming to terms with her situation. Old age is finally catching up with her. As she and Lizzie form the bond of unexpected friendship, Mrs Dallimore tells the story of a young girl who left America before the outbreak of World War Two and, in crossing an ocean, found herself embarking on a new life she couldn't have imagined.

As Lizzie listens to Mrs Dallimore, she begins to realise that she's not the only person to attract bad luck, and that sometimes life has a way of surprising you . . . 

Paradise House
Angel Sands is a traditional seaside resort of bed and breakfasts, cottages to rent, and teashops. And with the best views of the tiny beach and surrounding coastline is Paradise House, home to the Baxter girls—or the Sisters of Whimsy as they're known locally. With their mother taking time out to find herself, it's down to Genevieve to maintain the smooth running of the family-owned B&B. Not an easy task given that their father—now that his wife isn't around—has suddenly become a magnet for the opposite sex. And there's little help from her sisters. Nattie is too busy offending her long time admirer, and Polly spends most of her days with her head in the clouds or in a book. But when news spreads in the tightly knit community that a nearby dilapidated barn has been sold, Genevieve finds that a bittersweet trip down memory lane is unavoidable.

About the author...
With an insatiable appetite for other people's business, Erica James will readily strike up conversation with strangers in the hope of unearthing a useful gem for her writing. She finds it the best way to write authentic characters for her novels, although her two grown-up sons claim they will never recover from a childhood spent in a perpetual state of embarrassment at their mother's compulsion.

The author of nineteen bestselling novels, and the winner of the 2006 Romantic Novel of the Year Award, Erica divides her time between Suffolk and Lake Como in Italy.

My thoughts...
Paradise House
Paradise House was written by Erica James over a decade ago.  I hadn't previously read this book but when deciding which one of Erica's back catalogue to read for the blog tour this one jumped out.  The cover and the title both evoke images of relaxed, long, summer holidays spent with family near to the sea. 

Paradise House is a seaside, B & B on the Pembrokeshire coast, it's here we meet three sisters - Genevieve, Nattie and Polly and a whole host of supporting characters from old friends, family, neighbours and even a couple of donkeys whose lives are interwoven with their own.  Geneva is the constant in their lives, helping their father run the B & B whilst their mother 'finds'  herself in New Zealand.  A very hands on sister and aunt, never being able to say no she takes on the bulk of responsibility in all their lives - something she does willingly, it's much easier concentrating on other peoples lives than it is your own!

Erica James explores family and friendship dynamics as she slips between the present and the summers of their childhood - this really worked for me, her descriptive skills are just amazing I really felt like a fly on the wall, living in their lives with them.   The insight into their childhood gives a clear understanding of the adults they had become.  Erica has created characters that feel real, the three sisters are bound by blood but are each different, each has very different characteristics.  One almost too thoughtful, putting everyone and everything before herself and her own life, another the complete opposite, living her life with little or no regard for anyone else and the third somewhere in-between.  

A truly captivating story that compelled me to read at every opportunity.  A story of family, friendship, love, trust and hope - a story that I found captivating.  It was at times sad, at others uplifting - in case you hadn't guessed I loved it from the very first chapter.  I cared what happened to each of the three girls and willed events on quietly from the sidelines.  It's a book that made me think and if I take one thing from it,  it's that anything is possible given a bit of courage and support of family and friends.  

Song of the Skylark
Erica James has done it again, she's written a beautiful book that will stay in my mind for a long time to come, it really was beautiful.  One of two main characters Lizzie finds herself living back at home with her parents.  She had embarked upon a disastrous affair with a married man, culminating in her ending a relationship and losing her job in the process.  Some would say she was unlucky!  Others would say she got all she deserved.  On the surface it would appear she had led a charmed life, cosseted by her parents and her twin brother but an unlikely friendship with Clarissa, an elderly lady from the residential home that Lizzie finds herself volunteering at, makes her take a good, hard look at herself.

I like Lizzie found myself drawn to Clarissa's and her story.  An unlikely friendship between them is formed with a bond that grew stronger with each story shared.  Erica plunges back in time to around the start of the second world war, to a time when Clarissa was a young girl embarking on an adventure. A journey to England from America in search of her past,  determined to forge a new future, so sure of a better life in England. The Song of a Skylark is a perfect example of Erica James's ability to depict people and places with such graphic detail I was transported effortously back and forth between now and war torn Britain.  The descriptions of both people and places were so accurate and true to life that I didn't falter or question.  I was totally submerged in the plot willing the story on to the climax yet not wanting it to end.  This is a story that demonstrates how some things don't change. Throughout history we rely on friends and family for love and support - a lifetime apart yet Clarissa and Lizzie's lives are mirrored in so many ways, both looking for love and happiness - seeking that something that is missing from their lives.  

I truly was captivated and enchanted by this beautiful read and urge you to pick up a copy and lose yourself in a story that has more than a touch of reality about it.  A story that won't fail to touch your heart.

Huge thanks to Elaine Egan for the opportunity to lose myself in not one but two of Erica James beautiful books that have allowed me a time of escapism with characters that now feel like friends.