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!
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
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
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.
“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.