Month: July 2014

Adrienne Vaughan – ‘The Hollow Heart’

Rosie's Book Review Challengers 1

I’m delighted to have the talented Adrienne Vaughan as a guest on the blog today. I reviewed her wonderful novel ‘The Hollow Heart’ as part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge. It’s a must read for the beach this summer – my review follows a few words from Adrienne, then you can enjoy an excerpt from the novel.


Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

A total bookworm as a child, my grandparents bought me a turquoise Petite typewriter when I was seven and my fate was sealed. I spent all my time writing stories, cutting out and pasting pictures to create my own magazines. I was lucky enough to gain a place at the Dublin College of Journalism, and being a totally star-struck, fashion and music-mad teenager, could not believe my luck when I landed work experience on a national music magazine. I worked as a journalist and feature writer on magazines and newspapers in Ireland and then the UK. A dream job, meeting masses of very interesting people. One of my more hilarious interviews was with The Wombles!

Adrienne & Bryan Ferry

I was lucky enough to meet one of my heroes, the uber cool Bryan Ferry recently. I reminded him he bought me a cocktail ‘back in the day’ and gave him a signed copy of my novel The Hollow Heart as a thank you, of course. He was totally charming and said he would read it while he was on tour. Wonder if he did and if the hero reminded him of anyone?

How did you come up with the title ‘The Hollow Heart’?

The novel was originally called Weathervane – the cottage Marianne buys when she moves to Ireland but it didn’t encompass the whole book. Then I heard a haunting song with the phrase, ‘hollow heart’, and the more I thought about the characters, the more it seemed to fit.

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in ‘The Hollow Heart’?

That’s a hard question, like asking a mother which of her children is her favourite/least favourite. I love them all, even Sean Grogan! But as a writer it’s great when someone strides onto the page and lights it up, Miss MacReady does that. I am totally in love with Ryan and of course Monty – but so is everyone.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing ‘The Hollow Heart?’

Donna Condon, editorial director of Harlequin read the synopsis and said it needed another twist. I was devastated, I had no idea how or what to do. Struggling back at my desk, I decided to give it all up and become an artist instead, and grabbing a jacket, took the spaniels on a punishing walk. Half-way across a field, it came to me. I ran all the way back in my wellies, charging upstairs to write it down; the carpet has never recovered!

What are you working on now?

I’m wrestling with of the first draft of Secrets of the Heart, the final part in the Heartfelt Trilogy. And if some of my characters don’t start behaving, I may have to bump them off!

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I would not be a published writer without my colleagues in the New Romantics 4. We encourage and spur each other on. So arm yourself with some good, solid writing mates. Churchill’s quote is stuck on my computer: ‘Never, never, never, give up!’

Which writer would you choose as a mentor (alive or dead)?

My mentor is a fabulous historical novelist called June Tate – crikey does she put me right! If I chose one from history it would be Charles Dickens …he was a great entertainer and self-published, of course.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that you love about their work?

P G Wodehouse. Total brilliance. His lightness of touch is awesome, he barely touches the page with a word or two and creates every fibre of the most vivid characters, sheer bliss.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

I write romantic suspense, ‘Maeve Binchy meets Jackie Collins’. I’m a James Bond fan too, so if the call ever comes for a new (cough, cough) slightly more mature Bond girl, I can ride a horse and drive a powerboat. #justsaying

‘The Hollow Heart’ – my review

The Hollow Heart 3D cover updated

Marianne Coltrane is an award-winning journalist with tragedy in her past but a seemingly glittering future ahead. She meets dependable MP George at an awards ceremony and life seems settled and happy. However, some twists and turns throw Marianne’s life into turmoil and she eventually travels to a small Irish island hoping to find some peace. Here she meets some wonderful characters and makes some wonderful friends. She also falls for a gorgeous film star – also trying to find some peace in Innishmahon. But things never go smoothly for Marianne, and circumstances soon have her in turmoil again as she strives to make the right decisions to ensure a happy future.

Adrienne Vaughan paints a charming picture of the locals and the life of Innishmahon, and gives us a strong, feisty and likeable character in Marianne. I found myself cheering her on, and hoping that she would eventually find happiness. There were also some really interesting sub-plots that added to the joy and the tragedy of this well-written and thoroughly enjoyable novel.

I did find the islanders perhaps a little too good to be true at times – and I wondered about the speed at which Marianne and Oonagh became such close friends. The sub-plot concerning Oonagh was particularly well written and sympathetic – however, because I liked Oonagh so much, I would have liked this to have been developed further.

On the whole though, this is a great read, perfect for a relaxing Sunday afternoon or to take with you to the beach this summer. I recommend ‘The Hollow Heart’ and will definitely be reading the follow-up, ‘A Change of Heart.’

4.5 out of 5 stars

Adrienne is on Twitter: @adrienneauthor and  Facebook and at

You can buy ‘The Hollow Heart’ here

 The Hollow Heart


She stood looking up at the large iron gate, the gaps between the struts of twisted steel boarded up with blank, grey ply. No view beyond. She lifted the latch and barely making an opening large enough, slipped through to the other side. The gate swung closed on well oiled hinges, the latch clicked into place. No escape. And drawing in the cool air willed her heart to still as she walked the short distance to the door, eyes fixed on the ageing enamel sign, but the letters had faded and the words were illegible.

There was nothing else to indicate what the place was about or what took place inside, there was no hint of activity, no sign of life. She had been here before but never summoned the courage to go in. Now, she had no choice. Her deadline was today, no time to change her mind or have a change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now. She felt a chill crawl up her spine to her neck, she pulled her jacket collar up, shivering with excitement, apprehension or something more sinister she did not know. What she did know was by pressing this tarnished, brass door bell, her life could – would – alter for good. She pushed her shoulders back and lifted her chin, she could just see the smeared reflection of her face in the cracked paint. She blinked, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. And here it was, the doorway to a past she did not want, a future she could not avoid. She took a huge breath and pushed the bell; the name just a smudge but she knew what it said; what it meant.

She heard footsteps coming towards her, she stepped back, heart pounding, adrenalin pumping, fight or flight, her brain asked urgently, come on hurry up, fight or flight, which? The door swung open, a young girl in a gaily embroidered smock stood there, dark hair in braids, red ribbon woven through; she smiled brightly.

                “Hello, are you the reporter?” She said in a slight accent.

                Marianne nodded, words taken away with surprise.

                “Come in, Sister Mary Martha will be in the Chapel, I’ll show you.”

Adjusting her shoulder bag and taking one last look up and down the street, Marianne followed the girl into the hallway. In stark contrast to the exterior of the building, the walls were painted yellow, the polished floor a honeyed walnut and soft lighting doused the whole place in warmth. As they walked towards a set of imposing doors at the end of the corridor, Marianne could hear a faint musical murmuring, it was soothing, tranquil – disconcerting. The doors swung noiselessly open and Marianne stepped into an enclosed courtyard. She stopped to take it all in, squinting as her eyes adjusted. Above her a domed roof of sapphire glass, littered with silver stars curved across the darkening sky; before her a life-sized statue of the Madonna stood on a plinth carved into what looked like the side of a mountain; a trickle of water at the statue’s feet flowed into a pond strewn with petals, as rows of fluttering candles lit a marble altar. Every hair on Marianne’s body stood to attention.

There was a loud crash, a clunking of metal and then next to the altar, a door hidden in the rock, swung open and a large, elderly woman bustled in. Fiddling with keys she raised a hand to greet Marianne letting the door slam, the draught extinguishing the candles.

                “Ah feck, I always forget to close this one first, if the other is open,” She tutted, flicking on fluorescent lights. She crossed the room hand extended, her smile exposing yellow teeth and the remains of lunch.

“You’re the journalist then, what’s all this about? I’m very busy you know, can we get straight to it?”

Marianne looked the woman up and down. She wore a bold checked skirt, red golfing sweater, battered gilet and carpet slippers, her crinkly hair was hennaed and twisted in a knot on top of her head.

                “Are you…?”

                “Yes, yes, who were you expecting, the Mother Superior from the Sound of Music?” She put a hand to the wall and turned off the Gregorian chant that had been oozing through hidden speakers. She stretched her mouth encouragingly at Marianne, “Well?”

                “I’m investigating a very serious allegation, Sister. I have it on good authority this refuge is not what it seems. I’m told it’s operating as a clearing house for the illegal sale and adoption of children.”

The woman didn’t blink, she just kept smiling at Marianne.

                “Really? And whose good authority is this?” her tone even.

                “I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you I’ve evidence. Through an internet search we have managed to reunite a woman and her daughter. This woman says she came to this refuge as a frightened, young girl to have her baby and it was stolen. She says she was drugged and told her baby had died. She said she knew that wasn’t true and never stopped looking for her daughter.”

The nun pulled a packet of cigarettes from her gilet, lit one and puffed on it, blowing the smoke into Marianne’s face.

                “What absolute bollocks! And don’t quote me, no one would believe a nun said that. It is though, complete and utter nonsense. I’ve been running this establishment for over thirty years, I know every woman and child personally, it’s been my life’s work,” She moved forward to take Marianne’s arm. “Come and talk to some of my girls. Yes, a few children are offered for adoption, but only when we’re absolutely sure their natural mother is unable to care for them. Always the best interests of the child at heart, always.”

“DNA tests have proved the mother and daughter are genuine and the woman was here, she has copies of paperwork and a death certificate for the baby which we now know is fake. Will you confirm or deny this woman’s story, Sister?” Marianne stood her ground. The woman dropped the cigarette and crushed it underfoot.

                “You’re being very stupid young lady and I’d advise you not to take this any further,” Her voice barely a whisper as her eyes burned into Marianne.

“When the story breaks more women will come forward. I’ve spoken to some already but they’re scared they’ll ruin their children’s lives and they’re terrified, terrified of you.” And for a split second she wondered if someone in her life, someone she did not know, yet was closer to her than anyone else in the world, had been the victim of a scenario such as this? That one thought, that single hateful wish was the one thing that made what had happened to her, bearable, forgivable.

Marianne’s brain snapped back to the present, as the nun turned on her heel, plaid skirt thwacking against her knees as she moved.

“Time you left, I’ve heard enough,” She strode to the corridor. “Anna, the so-called journalist is leaving.” The young girl appeared instantly, hurrying to open the front door and escort Marianne through it.

“This isn’t the end of it,” Marianne threw back as she left. “I’m going to press with what I have, I’ve a deadline to meet, you had your chance.”

“What was your name again?” The woman called out. “So I get it right when I report this harassment to the police.”

“Marianne Coltrane, Chesterford Chronicle.” She replied, catching fear in the young girl’s eyes.

“Coltrane? I knew some Coltrane’s once, nice people they were.” The woman sneered after her. Marianne passed quickly through the door, pulling it tight shut behind her. The evening had become night, and as she walked into the dark, a bitter wind stung her face. She hurried on, she needed to file her report and decide upon her next move.





A Witchcraft Tour of England

pendle witches

England has a long and varied history of witchcraft. As a tradition stretching back centuries, it is hardly surprising that there are a great variety of places that abound with legends, stories and histories about witchcraft, witches, persecution and execution. When researching the topic, I came across lots of interesting stories and made a long list of places that I’d love to visit. Some of them I have been lucky enough to visit although I would like to visit again one day. In fact, what I’d really like to do is go on a witchcraft tour of England – spending time in all these places. All offer something interesting and informative; some are fun and have more to do with legend, myth and fairy tale than the brutal truth of the horror of the witch hunts; other places I have found to be spots where poor, misunderstood and persecuted women (let’s not forget that the majority of the witch hunt victims were women) can be remembered and honoured in some small way. These are the places I’d love to visit and re-visit.

The North West


No witchcraft tour would be complete without a visit to Pendle Hill in Lancashire and it’s a great place to start. Pendle was the location of the famous 1612 trial for witchcraft. The accused all lived in the area, and ten were hanged on Gallows Hill. Of course, rumours now abound that the hill is haunted – TV’s Most Haunted has filmed there. As a sceptic I don’t believe that these women haunt the hill – I like to think they are at peace, free from the horrible persecution they suffered and no longer afraid. But I must admit I’m not sure I’d like to spend the night on the hill!

The North East

witch pricking

Margaret Brown and thirteen other poor souls were hanged on the Town Moor in Newcastle in 1650. Margaret was a victim of ‘witch-pricking’ – it was claimed she had a devil’s mark on her body that, when pricked by a pin did not bleed. She protested her innocence right up to the last according to Ralph Gardener’s 1655 book ‘England’s Grievance’:

“These poor souls never confessed anything but pleaded innocence and one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of her execution.”

The Town Moor is a place I’d like to visit, to pause for a moment and think about poor Margaret and the other terrified accused – hoping against hope that something would end their terror.


mother shipton

I have heard a lot of stories about Mother Shipton and the ‘Petrifying Well’ or ‘dropping well’ in Knaresborough. It used to be believed that the water was magic – turning objects to stone. Now of course we know that the calcifying is due to the high mineral content of the water – but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating. And Mother Shipton herself is an interesting character – allegedly born in a cave near the dropping well, she has become a legendary figure of folklore, renowned for her prophecies. There is a whole park devoted to her now, with the dropping well, cave, a museum, castle ruins and gardens. You can even buy a petrified teddy bear in the gift shop!

East Anglia


This area was the stomping ground of Matthew Hopkins – Witchfinder General.  There are a wealth of places to visit – though few traces of the man himself remain. I’ve visited Colchester Castle and stood in the cells where Hopkins interrogated his victims (a very spooky and uncomfortable experience). I’ve also eaten dinner in ‘The Mistley Thorn’, a lovely pub that stands on the site of the inn where Hopkins set up his witch finding business and where he is rumoured to have lived. The food is lovely. I did get a bit freaked out when leaving though as we decided to go for a walk in the dark – and I have to say it was incredibly chilling to think we were walking where Hopkins may have walked. My imagination did get the better of me, but that might have been the wine.


The South

coven of witches

Burley is a very pretty village in the New Forest known for its connection with the witch Sybil leek. Leek moved to the area in the 1950s and opened a shop – ‘A Coven of Witches’ – still open in the village. There are now other shops in the village selling various witch-related items and a tea shop called ‘The Black Cat’. I’ve been to Burley several times and it is a really beautiful place – and a bit of light relief too!

The South West

Museum of Witchcraft

Two places of note in the South West – the wonderful Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, Cornwall and Exeter in Devon.

I won’t say too much about the Witchcraft Museum other than saying again how utterly fabulous it is – quirky and weird, packed full of witchcraft related stuff, but you can read about my visit here.

Alice Molland plaque

I regret not stopping in Exeter on my way to Boscastle as I would have liked to have seen the plaque at Rougemont Castle commemorating the execution of the Bideford witches and Alice Molland – you can find out about Alice here.

I know I have missed out some wonderful places but there are so many that it is hard to choose. And I know I have also ignored Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – I am planning separate posts on the history of witchcraft in these countries.

Do you know of any interesting places connected to witchcraft in England?  I’d love to know about them (any excuse for a holiday – I mean research!).


I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.

Writing and Editing Tips Part 5: Grammar Rules – Using the Right Word

grammar pic
Writing is a tricky business. There are so many elements to consider – developing wonderful characters that grow as your plot moves forward, writing realistic yet entertaining dialogue that moves your plot along, developing a plot that keeps your reader enthralled and desperate to learn more, penning breathtaking scenes, inventing beautiful metaphors. Oh, and grammar. That last one isn’t that exciting is it? And it’s one of those things that can be a bug-bear for many writers – no matter how wonderful their writing is, many just can’t get a grip on the grammar. After all, grammar has nothing to do with creativity, does it?

Well I think it does. Grammar is an intrinsic part of writing; without its rules and regulations, that wonderful scene you’ve written detailing someone’s heartfelt passions, their devastating grief, or their soaring joy may very well be for nothing. One incorrectly placed apostrophe, one wrong word, one incomplete comparison or dangling modifier and your reader will be put off, unimpressed, doubtful of your ability or so irritated that they take to Amazon to give you a heart-breaking one star review. And, possibly worse than that, your beautiful, carefully crafted words may very well make no sense.

So grammar is something you need to get your head round. As a writer I have made plenty of grammatical errors in my work – everyone does, and, as an editor, I see them all the time. But the more you read about common errors and the more you work on avoiding them in your work, the easier it becomes to write and to write well.

One of the most common errors people make is to use the wrong word. And I’m not just talking ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ here. There are plenty of others. Here are a few  examples I see all the time when I’m editing.

Who and Whom
This is one that I’ve always found particularly annoying and difficult to get my head round. ‘Who’ is a subjective pronoun – it’s used when the pronoun is the subject of a clause. Other examples of subjective pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘they’. ‘Whom’, on the other hand, is an objective pronoun, used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Other examples of objective pronouns are ‘him’ and ‘us’. ‘Whom’ should also be used after a preposition. Confused? Take a look at these examples:
1) Who made the cakes? (Who is the subject of the clause)
2) She asked whom the film was about. (Whom is the object of the object of the clause)
Try substituting different pronouns to see if you need ‘who’ or ‘whom’.
1) Did he make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about him.
1) Did they make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about us.
As for the usage of ‘whom’ after a preposition, here’s an example;
‘To whom do you wish to speak?’

Fewer and Less
This is the one that got Tesco into trouble. They received a bad grammar award for a statement that appeared on their toilet roll packaging proclaiming:
‘Same luxury, less lorries.’
Perhaps they were going for the alliterative qualities of the phrase, but someone in marketing should surely have realised that grammar perfectionists and know-alls, rather than feeling quietly smug (you know you did!), would complain. So what’s the problem?
Less should be reserved for when you are describing hypothetical quantities – something that can’t be counted.
‘This book was less successful than my last one.’
‘He’s less interested in football than I am.’
Fewer is used for things that are quantifiable; things that can be counted.
‘I sold fewer copies of the book than you did.’
‘He has been to fewer than ten games this season.’
So, technically Tesco’s lorries could have been counted, so there were fewer lorries, not less lorries.

Disinterested and uninterested
When I was studying for my Masters in Creative writing, I once spent hours on what I thought was a wonderful piece about love and romance all set in a beautifully exotic location. I had everything right – my descriptions were evocative, my words beautifully crafted, the dialogue and imagery heavy with meaning. I was actually looking forward to receiving my tutor’s critique, something that usually terrified me. My tutor was a successful, lauded poet and publisher and he was harsh (but fair). He completely tore me to shreds for writing that my hero was ‘disinterested’ rather than ‘uninterested.’ I was mortified. In all my years of reading and writing, I’d never known the difference before. But when it was (stringently) pointed out to me, I realised it was completely obvious. ‘Disinterested’ means impartial – like a judge is supposed to be. ‘Uninterested’ means not interested in something. Simple really, isn’t it?

Lead and led
You might not think this is very common, but believe me, it is. The trouble seems to be that the two words can sound the same. But they are very different. When you pronounce ‘lead’ the same way as you pronounce ‘led’, what you are actually referring to is a soft, heavy, ductile bluish-grey metal, the chemical element of atomic number 82, used in roofing, plumbing, ammunition, storage batteries, radiation shields, etc. (according to the dictionary). So:
‘He lead her to the bed’ is wrong.
‘He led her to the bed’ is right.
Remember ‘lead’ (rhymes with ‘bead’) refers to being in charge or in front, or to what you put around a dog’s neck (in England). ‘Lead’ (rhymes with ‘bed) is the metal.

Its and it’s
This is one that causes confusion because it goes against normal rules. It’s is the shortened form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Its is the possessive form of it. It’s confusing (see what I did there) because normally we use an apostrophe to show possession:
‘The dog’s birthday was last Tuesday.’
‘The man’s wife was leaving him.’
‘I gave the dog its birthday present.’
Only ever use ‘it’s’ if you can substitute ‘it has’ or ‘it is’, so:
‘It’s been raining all week.’
‘It’s ten weeks until Christmas.’

These are just a few of the common errors I see every day. In my blog post next week, I’ll be looking at a few more.
What elements of grammar do you find most tricky to master? What common errors drive you mad? I’d love to know.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Emmeline Pankhurst – Deeds not Words

Today would have been the birthday of Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement in Britain, lathough the woman herself did not believe this day to actually be her birthday. She always maintained that she had in fact been born a day earlier, on the 14th July – Bastille Day. Various books about her, including some written by her children, repeat this claim. Bastille Day would indeed have made an appropriate birthday, and Emmeline is said to have felt an affinity with the female revolutionaries who stormed the Bastille. In June Purvis’ 2002 biography, she is quoted as saying: “I have always thought that the fact that I was born on that day had some kind of influence over my life.”

Whether or not today is actually her 156th birthday, it is still an excuse, if one were needed, to celebrate the life of a remarkable woman to whom all women should be grateful. It is easy to forget that it was less than 100 years ago that woman were given the right to vote. If it hadn’t been for Emmeline Pankhurst, the fight might have taken a lot longer. And if you think suffragettes were like the rather dizzy mother portrayed in ‘Mary Poppins’ then think again; Emmeline and her colleagues were made of much sterner stuff, and the suffragette movement was no Disneyesque fantasy.

Emmeline was born in Moss Side, Manchester to politically active parents. This may have had some bearing on her own political views, as may have the French finishing school she later attended. The headmistress there believed that girls’ education was just as important as boys’ and subjects such as chemistry and book keeping were taught alongside the more traditional ‘female’ subjects.

Emmeline married at the age of twenty. Her husband, Dr Richard Pankhurst, a lawyer, was twenty four years older. He was a radical and a socialist and believed in women’s rights. The couple had five children. All their daughters, including Christabel, became active in the women’s’ suffrage movement with their mother.


It was Emmeline who founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) a group dedicated to practical activism in order to obtain equal voting rights for woman. The group’s motto was ‘Deeds not Words’ and it gained a reputation for its tactics – these involved demonstrations, cutting telephone lines, destroying greenhouses at Kew Gardens and chaining themselves to railings. Many women were arrested and imprisoned, Emmeline amongst them. In Holloway, Emmeline staged her first hunger strike in an attempt to improve conditions for the other suffragettes imprisoned there. Other activists followed suit, and force-feeding began. Emmeline was spared this trauma however. As she recounts in her biography ‘My Own Story’, when officers tried to enter her cell, she held a clay jug over her head, threatening to defend herself.

Emmeline in prison

Emmeline in prison

Emmeline continued to break the law, continued to be imprisoned and continued to go on hunger strike, a process that proved extremely detrimental to her health. However, the First World War put a stop to the movement’s activities, and Emmeline threw herself into helping the war effort. She organised rallies, gave speeches and lobbied the government on the issue of helping women to enter the workforce in order to fill gaps left by fighting men. She also became involved in helping ‘war babies’; those children born to single mothers whose fathers were away fighting.
With the end of the war came the 1918 Representation of the People Act which granted the vote to certain women over the age of thirty.

Emmeline continued to be involved with politics. Surprisingly to some, she joined the Conservative Party in 1926 and was selected as a candidate for Whitechapel and St George in 1928. However, her health had been impacted by her frequent incarcerations and hunger strikes and she died that same year at the age of 69. Just eighteen days later, Parliament passed the Representation of the People (equal franchise) Act 1928, giving the vote to all women over the age of twenty-one regardless of property ownership. Finally, women had equality with men in terms of voting. It was a shame that Emmeline, after devoting her life and sacrificing her health to the cause, never got to see her dream fully realised.

Thursday Lie-dar: Guest author Alison Williams—Review, Interview, Lie-Dar!

Great post and review of ‘The Black Hours’ on Barb Taub’s blog today as part of Rosie Amber’s book review challenge – Thanks Barb 🙂

Barb Taub

–This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. –Douglas Adams

This week my guest is Alison Williams, author of the historical novel, The Black Hours

Alison Williams is an independent historical novelist, freelance writer and editor. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two teenage children and a variety of pets. After having her children, Alison worked in education until deciding to bite the bullet and write full-time – it only took her until her forties! She now has several jobs within the field of writing. She works as a freelance writer with articles published on line and in magazines and also as an editor, working mainly with self-published authors. Alison’s novel writing focusses on the stories of ordinary people caught up in the real events of history and she is currently working on two ideas for her next novel - one involving the Gunpowder Plot and another based on a painting by Eugene Delacroix, as well as helping one of her oldest friends to edit and publish her great granddad’s WWI memoirs. When she has any time left at all, she enjoys blogging, reading, running (very slowly), listening to music (she has an obsession with Johnny Marr), and watching The Sopranos (again). From 2011-2012 she studied for a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Glasgow. As part of her studies, Alison wrote her first novel ‘The Black Hours’ – available now from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Sony and the Apple Store.
Alison Williams is an independent historical novelist, freelance writer and editor. She lives in Hampshire with her husband, two teenage children and a variety of pets.

I’m particularly thrilled to welcome Alison Williams today. As part of the Book Review Challenge on Rosie Amber’s incredible blog, I had the good fortune to receive a copy of The Black Hours for review. I was impressed with not only the story she told, but also with the way she put the faces of individual people to the sweep of historical events. On short notice and with remarkable grace and humor, Alison agreed to join me today to answer some questions and also to provide copies of her novel to some lucky participants. After a career in…

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Writing and Editing Tips Part 4: Exposition – the good, the bad and the boring.


Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

SCENE I. Venice. A street.


Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.


‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in Literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception, if you don’t think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy this morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’
The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.
Emily lowered the newspaper.
‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’
Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.
‘Did you not hear it?’
‘Hear what?’
‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example,

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.
‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’
‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’
Emily nodded.
‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Do you have any examples of exposition – good or bad – that will help other writers? Do share them here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Flowers, Friends, Food and Fun – 17th Century Wedding Customs

17th century weding band

Researching my novel ‘The Black Hours’ was often a very dark and depressing business, focusing as it did on real accounts of persecution, terror, torture and death. When I came to write the prequel ‘Blackwater’, I did find some light relief. There is a wedding in ‘Blackwater’ and so I spent a much more cheerful afternoon reading up on the wedding traditions and customs of the 17th century.

My main source for this research was a lovely booklet by Denise Taylor called ‘17th Century Wedding Customs’. This booklet, though small in size, is packed full of useful information and interesting facts that really helped me to envisage the wedding between Samuel and Elizabeth. And it was refreshing to research using something other than the internet – something that I know I overuse.

wedding customs

As we are now coming into the most popular times for weddings, I thought I would provide a small glimpse into the way weddings, particularly those of the lower classes, were enacted all those years ago, courtesy of Denise Taylor’s helpful booklet.

Before they even got to the wedding, lower class adolescents in the 17th Century had a lot more freedom than you might think. This had a lot to do with young people very often leaving home early to take up jobs in service. This independence at a young age provided plenty of opportunities to spend time alone with members of the opposite sex, often without any chaperone.

These sweethearts would give gifts to show their affection. A silver coin, broken in half with one half kept by each of the couple, was enough to signify an engagement. Oaths and prayers would often be said over these coins, giving them much significance and importance, and making these tokens valued not only as a signifier of love, but also as a talisman against evil spirits.

It was very rare that a new dress was bought specially for a wedding. Most brides would simply wear their best dress, usually the one they wore to church, possibly with some extra adornment. More important than the dress were the bride’s garters! These were generally blue in colour, and were regarded as trophies. For although they were worn by the bride, tied just above the knee, they formed the centre of a rather risqué tradition. Once it was bed time, rather than being left in privacy with her new husband to remove the garters, they were instead removed by the ‘bride-men’ (two bachelors who would have led the bride to church carrying branches of rosemary). The garters would then be fastened to the men’s hats.

Along with garters, gloves were also important. These would be given to the bride either by her groom, or by a failed suitor who would use the opportunity to show her that she had chosen he wrong man, by presenting her with the most extravagant gloves he could afford.

Flowers were as important then as they are now. Most country brides would dress their hair with wildflowers, myrtle or miniature sheaves of wheat. Myrtle would also be used in the bouquet along with orange blossom. When the bride left the church after the ceremony, wheat would be thrown on her head to bring fruitfulness – perhaps a pre-cursor to confetti.

Orange blossom - a traditional wedding flower

Orange blossom – a traditional wedding flower

If the bride lived in the north, then she may also have cake broken over her head! This again was a fertility charm. It was also believed that the future could be seen in the broken pieces of bread and that those who gathered the pieces would have good luck.

Eating and drinking was very important. Cakes, meats and treats would all be specially prepared, with the whole community helping to provide a feast for the couple and their guests. The traditional tiered cake of today’s weddings may have featured, but in the earlier part of the century, the wedding ‘cake’ was likely to consist of small buns built into a huge pile and placed before the couple at the table. The couple would try and kiss over this mound of cakes – if they managed to reach each other they were guaranteed prosperity and plenty of children.

Going to bed on the wedding night was not a private, romantic affair. Instead, the couple were escorted to bed by the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Once the garters had been removed and distributed, the bridesmaids would undress the bride, making sure that any dress pins were removed and thrown away, lest they bring misfortune. The bride would then be surrounded by her female relations and friends, waiting in the ribbon be-decked bed for her groom. He would climb in with his bride and then all the guests would come into the bedchamber to wish the couple luck. The company would then return to their celebrations, finally leaving the newly-weds in peace!

Some of the traditions may seem rather odd, but many haven’t really changed that much through the years; the flowers, the friends, the food and the fun remain an integral part of wedding celebrations.


Do you have any unusual wedding traditions in your part of the world or particular to your family? I’d love to hear about them.

17th Century Wedding Customs by Denise Taylor is available on here.

Find out more about ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.