Month: September 2015

#RBRT Book Review: ‘Owen’ by Tony Riches @rosieamber1 @tonyriches

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I read and reviewed ‘Owen – Book One of the Tudor Trilogy’ for Rosie Amber’s book review team


I love a good, intelligent historical novel. There are so many out there, and I have to be honest and say that, on many occasions, I have bought a promising looking book, only to abandon it within the first few chapters. Very often, the detail won’t be right, or the characters will behave in a way that just isn’t realistic for the time. One of the main issues though is that the dialogue can be so hard to get right. I’ve read so many historical novels where the characters use words that just wouldn’t have been around in the period in which they are set, or, alternatively, where the writer is so keen to make the dialogue authentic that they overdo it and render the book unreadable.

I’m pleased to say that neither of those things were issues in this book. The historical detail was rich and informative. I felt as though I learned a great deal about this particular period of history while immersed completely in Owen’s story. And the language was spot on too. Nothing felt out of place.

The story is fascinating. Owen Tudor, a Welsh servant, falls in love with Queen Catherine of Valois, the widow of King Henry V. I had never heard of Owen, and knew nothing of his remarkable story. Their romance, and the dangers it brings, is played out against the background of the conflicts, intrigues and betrayals of the time that led to the War of the Roses.

Riches certainly knows his subject. There was so much detail here. The reader is carried from Windsor, to Wales, to France, into battles and life at court, with rich detail at every turn.

I felt though, that there was so much detail here, so much going on, that Owen’s own story was a little lost at times – in terms of his emotions and feelings. I didn’t always feel connected to him, even though the novel is written in first person. It felt sometimes as though he was dashing from one event to another without pause for breath. When tragedy struck, I didn’t always feel that Owen’s feelings came across.

The novel is written in present tense which was a bit off-putting for me. While present tense can bring immediacy to a story, I do think this would have worked better in past tense. Having said that, the writing was solid.

I do recommend this to those who enjoy historical novels. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent book that doesn’t disappoint.

4 stars


Being a Judge #WritingCompetitions

I was absolutely thrilled (and not a little daunted) to be asked to be one of the judges at Sandalle’s Five ‘n Ten International Stage-writing Competition.


The competition asked for monologues and duologues written on the theme of either a phone call or a letter, and the finalists had their pieces performed last Sunday by local actors at the rather wonderful Gwyn Hall in Neath, Wales.

The lovely Gwyn Hall

The lovely Gwyn Hall

After a rather long drive on Sunday morning, I spent a wonderful day meeting the organisers of this competition, the other judges and some of the finalists who had travelled from various parts of the country to see their work performed. I was astounded by the commitment these writers had shown, although not surprised that the entrant who lived the furthest away (Seattle) hadn’t made the trip.

The writing was wonderful, the performances by members of Neath Little Theatre and the Briton Ferry Little Theatre engaging and the dedication of the volunteers was inspiring.

It was incredibly hard to pick a winner, so we settled for two! I’ve been in a similar situation to those writers. I know what it’s like to find the courage to submit your precious work to a bunch of strangers and I did feel rather a pang of regret at having to disappoint so many writers. After all, we all know:

kill darling gif

But the winners stood out. The two pieces were polar opposites. ‘Etta’s Letter’ by Penny Jones, was fabulously performed by the wonderful Gerri Smith. The monologue summed up one woman’s life in so few words, was emotionally gripping without being melodramatic, and the performance actually brought a tear to my eye, sitting in this little theatre in Wales on a Sunday afternoon, listening to lines like:

I remember the whips and the dogs, the Nazi guards with their guns and dogs. After all those years, I still remember.  Dogs, straining at their leads, teeth bared. Vicious they were. Made us take our clothes off…not the dogs…all our clothes. Such a biting wind. I was fourteen, standing with my mother in the biting wind; I’d never seen her naked before.’

The other winner, ’Marjorie meets Gareth, Gareth meets Marjorie’ by Mark Hibbert was certainly lighter, dealing as it did with the issue of cold calling. A beautifully done portrayal of revenge (something I’ve longed for many a time when I answer the twentieth call of the day from a PPI firm), this was outstanding in the way the writer managed to make the voice of Gareth, who never actually speaks, so clear through the responses of Marjorie.

One of the things that really struck me about the day was the way the organisers had given up their time for this, for no material reward whatsoever (apart from coffee and some rather nice lemon cake). Their dedication and enthusiasm was contagious and actually quite touching. And I know that all over the country, all over the world, there are small groups of people, in reading groups, writing groups, just groups of like-minded people doing the same thing, who have got together to help promote and reward writing and creativity.

The other thing that struck me was the resilience of writers. This wasn’t a big competition by any means. The prize money wasn’t enormous. But these writers put their hearts and souls into it. They all clearly had a real passion for what they were doing. And I don’t think they worked that hard for a small shot at the prize money. I think that what they were looking for was validation, for someone to say, you’re good at this, what you wrote spoke to me, I get it. And isn’t that why we do it? Surely by now we all know that we’re probably not going to make a huge living from writing, that we’re not going to be J K Rowling or Hilary Mantel. But there is something so pleasurable, so gratifying about events such as these – celebrating the creativity and the passion that’s out there. Penny Jones, the writer of ‘Etta’s Letter’ is unfortunately unwell so couldn’t be there on Sunday, but Mark was there. He was absolutely thrilled when he won – the joy on his face was wonderful to see. I apologise if that sounds melodramatic or overly emotional, but it’s true. The whole day was an absolute pleasure – it was wonderful to experience so much great writing and so much dedication.

I’m delighted to have been asked to return to judge again next year.

If you’re interested in entering the competition next year, details will be available from January on the Sandalle website: and at Gwyn Hall.

#FridayFiveChallenge ‘Skin Cage’ by Nico Laeser @rosieamber1

Welcome to the Friday Five Challenge

Rosie Amber’s Friday Five challenge only takes five minutes, so grab a cuppa and join in!


In today’s online shopping age, readers often base their buying decisions on small postage stamp size book covers (Thumb-nails), a quick glance at the book description and the review. How much time do they really spend making that buying decision?

AUTHORS – You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?

The Friday Five Challenge is this….. IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES….

1) Go to any online book supplier,

2) Randomly choose a category,

3) Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,

4) Read the book Bio/ Description for this book,

5) If there are reviews, check out a couple,

6) Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?

This week I decided to take the easy option and see what Amazon recommended for me. Lots and lots of historical novels, a few Hilary Mantels but nothing that really grabbed me, all a bit ‘same old’. I’m a sucker for intriguing titles and this book looked very strange (in a good way) and definitely stood out.

skin cage

Price: £2.60 (Kindle) and £6.57 (paperback) in the UK and $4.01 (Kindle) and $9.64 (paperback)in the US.

Book description:

Daniel Stockholm was fifteen years old when a parasite hijacked his brain, rendering him paralyzed and reliant on machines that run day and night to keep him alive.
For nine years, Danny has been confined within a biological prison with only two small windows, through which to view the world around him; a silent witness to the selfless compassion of some and the selfish contrivance of others.
When the malicious actions of care worker, Marcus Salt, threaten to push Danny farther from the ones he loves, and deeper into the dark recesses of his skin cage, he is left with only one option. He must find a way out.


Published in January, this has 17 reviews in the UK – all five star. The reviews seem genuine – of the reviewers that I investigated further, all had reviewed lots of other books. On there are twenty-four reviews, twenty-three are five star and one is a three star. The three star (the only slightly negative review the book has) still says that the reviewer thoroughly enjoyed the book – they just felt something was missing. Pretty impressive and I’m still intrigued.

Would I buy or pass? BUY


Ok, this doesn’t sound like a very cheery book. But it does sound different. I’m not sure why it turned up in my recommends but I feel a bit as though I’ve been reading the same old thing lately and this is like a breath of fresh air. I admire the author for tackling a very difficult subject – too many writers these days seem to be following a formula, and there seems to be very little innovation out there, very few people willing to take a risk. So I’m going to give this one a chance.

If you want to join in the Friday Five Challenge pop over to Rosie’s blog to find out more.

And take a look at these other Friday Five Challenges:

It’s zombies for Shelley.

A dark tale for Cathy.

And snails for Barb!

#BookReview: À la Mod: My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France by Ian Moore

a la mod

I bought this book after seeing it included in a post as part of Rosie Amber’s Friday Five Challenge. As I’ve mentioned before, several times, I love France and, as we are planning to move over there in a few years’ time, this story of a family who have done just that really appealed.

There have been lots and lots of books written about the British relocating to France but this book is different. Ian Moore is a comedian, and a mod. And a mod who is determined not to let the fact that he is living in rural France get in the way of his sense of style. He refuses to wear wellington boots, for example, even when the land is knee deep in mud.

His reasons for moving are ones I can really identify with. Why, in Britain, do we pay huge amounts of money for tiny houses and a square of back garden? Why do we accept that that’s how it must be? Bravely, or stupidly, Ian and his wife buy a house in the Loire on impulse, attracted by the space it will give to their growing family.

But it’s not all idyllic. Moore has to travel back and forth to the UK to work, leaving his wife Natalie alone with their children. Often exhausted when he returns home, he also makes the return journey full of trepidation as to how many new animals his wife and boys will have acquired while he’s been away. These animals, including a horse with an intense dislike of Moore, a dog that continuously makes amorous advances to anything that stays still and a band of feral cats that accept no rules, become the bane of Moore’s life. But his wife continues to add to the collection, even trying to save the mice left half dead by the cats. I have an uneasy feeling that this is how it will be for us, and I will spend my life picking up the endless piles of various animals’ poo which is how Natalie seems to spend most of her days.

Funny, very readable and honest too, this book doesn’t give a glamorous, how wonderful it is, fake picture of life in France. It isn’t all drinking wine in the sunshine. There are relentless winters, gales that blow trampolines through the garden, struggles and misunderstandings due to Moore’s inability to pick up the language, and times when it all seems too much. Yes, it’s light-hearted and fun, but it’s also realistic. Does it put me off going to France?  No. Will I be reading the next book – C’est Modnifique? Definitely.

4.5 out of 5

#Writinganovel – what to expect from an editor

editing 2

Since starting my editing business, I have worked on more than seventy projects. I feel very honoured and very privileged that these writers have trusted me with their work. As a writer myself, I understand how fellow writers feel about their work, and also how difficult it can be to hand that manuscript over to someone else, often someone you don’t know, and trusting them to do a good job. Choosing an editor is a minefield – there are so many out there now, so what should you expect from an editor? And what should you look for when choosing one?


thumbs up

Look for testimonials from previous clients. If an editor can’t provide testimonials find out why. When I began my business, I provided free edits in return for honest testimonials. This way I began to build a reputation and a client base (most of those clients that I provided free edits for came back to me with their next projects) and could also provide new clients with evidence that I could actually do the job. I’m happy to say that since then I have had testimonials from many clients and that now most of my work comes from happy clients who come back to me.

Sample edits

An editor should offer to provide you with a free sample edit. This way you can see how they work and see if it is right for you.

A contract

An editor should provide you with a contract setting out exactly what you should expect and what the editor also expects from you. This contract should include dates, fees and a summary of what’s included in your edit.

A price

I have worked with clients who have lost money to unscrupulous editors including one client whose ‘editor’ asked her to pay up front and then didn’t deliver. OK, you might think she was naïve to pay out, but this was new territory for her and she was unsure how things should work.

Make sure you know the rate, and when you’re expected to pay. And please do stick to this.

A reasonable timescale

Your editor should give you a date when your edit will be done and back to you. If they can’t commit to a date – ask yourself why. I’ve worked with clients whose previous editor hasn’t delivered when promised, has made excuse after excuse or has refused to give a firm date in the first place. Where does this leave a writer with a publication date in mind? And don’t let the process go on for months and months. If I have an editing project then that is what I work on – it takes priority. I plan my schedule so that projects – paid for writing projects or editing projects – take priority over everything else. I give a client a firm date – usually five working days for an edit of a manuscript of up to 100,000 words. I have seen editors who will take up to six weeks to do the same amount of work. That’s fine if that works for you – but make sure it does work for you and that the deadline is agreed by both of you.



Sometimes this is a hard one to take. It’s not very nice having someone tell you about all the faults in your work, all those things that don’t work. But an editor should do this. What’s the point otherwise? I know that I have built a bit of a reputation for my honesty – and that some people don’t see that as a good thing. They usually don’t ask me to edit their full manuscripts. Which is probably a good thing. If you’re paying money to someone to edit your work then you must realise that the editor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great writer you are. They are there to offer a professional, unbiased, honest critique of your work and to show you how to improve it and get it to a publishable standard.  Yes, I do compliment a writer on things they have done well, things that really work. But what’s the point of me glossing over something that isn’t right? Something that doesn’t work? That will mean you’ve wasted your money. As one of my clients says:

‘Alison will pull no punches, but then, why would you want her to? You want your book to be the best it can be, right? You want your readers to get the best possible story you can produce, right? You want five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, right?’


So when you’re looking for an editor, do make sure that you are very careful, make sure you both know what’s involved and what everyone’s expectations are. And do be ready to listen to and take advice. That’s what your editor is there for.

Happy writing!

#Cliffhangers, #Trope-busters, & TMI: a rant

Couldn’t have put it better myself – so I won’t try 🙂

Barb Taub

There are some things I love about reviewing books by new authors. They offer fresh concepts, unexpected plot twists, trope-busting characters. But—and as a relatively new author myself, I know how seductive this can be—they are also vulnerable to the dubious warnings of They say. They say you should leave audiences wanting more, They say a cliffhanger makes people want to buy the next book in the series. They say show/don’t tell. They say write to your genre and your audience.

And okay—in the hands of a great writer, that works really well. In the hands of writers who are just uncertain enough, just desperate enough to follow that “expert”advice, you get… at least two-thirds of the books sent to me for review. On the off-chance that writers choose not to write the next Fifty Shades or Game of Thrones, I would like to suggest the following:

  1. Busting a trope? Go for broke! [image credit:]Busting…

View original post 355 more words

#FridayFiveChallenge @rosieamber1 ‘Sadler’s Birthday’ by Rose Tremain

Welcome to the Friday Five Challenge

Rosie Amber’s Friday Five challenge only takes five minutes, so grab a cuppa and join in!


In today’s online shopping age, readers often base their buying decisions on small postage stamp size book covers (Thumb-nails), a quick glance at the book description and the review. How much time do they really spend making that buying decision?

AUTHORS – You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?

The Friday Five Challenge is this….. IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES….

1) Go to any online book supplier,

2) Randomly choose a category,

3) Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,

4) Read the book Bio/ Description for this book,

5) If there are reviews, check out a couple,

6) Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?

September is a very busy month in the Williams household. Not only do we have the usual back to school panic (although it’s back to college and uni now) it is also the month we celebrate our wedding anniversary (21 years this year) and both mine and my husband’s birthdays. It’s actually my birthday today (but the less said about that the better – and no, it isn’t a ‘special’ birthday, got a few years before that yet). And last week it was my husband’s fiftieth.

So, in the spirit of celebration, I put ‘birthday’ into the search on Lots and lots and lots of books about making birthday cakes (I really don’t do baking – they sell birthday cakes in supermarkets) and lots and lots of steamy romances and erotica. This cover stood out amongst all the chocolate and icing and knickers:


Price: £4.35 (Kindle) and £8.99 (paperback) in the UK and $6.60 (Kindle) in the US. Possibly a bit pricey for the Kindle version, but it’s 210 pages long, and the price will have been set by the publisher (Vintage) so not the author’s fault.

Book description:

Today is Jack Sadler’s birthday. Or is it? He’s not sure, he doesn’t really care. It might be his last day or the beginning of a new chapter in his life. He must find the key to his old room. He knows the truth about his past lies there and somehow he must get in and confront it.


Only 11 in the UK, pretty bad for a writer with such a reputation. Tremain has won the Whitbread novel of the year (for ‘Music and Silence’), the Orange Prize (‘The Road Home) and ‘Restoration’ was shortlisted for the Booker. You’d think her publisher would have managed to have drummed up a bit more of a response to this, her first book. The reviews are good on the whole, although lots contain rather big spoilers so if you’re going to buy it, don’t read the reviews. On there are three reviews, a 5 star, a 3 star and a 2 star. The reviews reveal a lot more about the book than the incredibly short book description, and the subject matter is really dark and could be very unsettling for a lot of people. This is possibly why the book doesn’t have many reviews.

Would I buy or pass? PASS but…


I’ve been meaning to read a book by Rose Tremain for ages but haven’t got round to it. Judging by the reviews, I’m not convinced this is the book to introduce me to her writing, although it is a brave subject to tackle. Whoever wrote that blurb needs to look for a new job. There’s nothing about it at all to entice a reader – the final sentence is clunky and it leaves you no wiser as to what the book is actually about. I think I’ll treat myself to one of her other books, ‘Restoration’ perhaps or ‘Music and Silence’. Or both. Well, it is my birthday.


If you want to join in the Friday Five Challenge pop over to Rosie’s blog to find out more.

ROSIE’S BOOK REVIEW TEAM #RBRT ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ by Vanessa Matthews @rosieamber1

Rosie's Book Review team 1

I read and reviewed ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ as part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

The Doctors Daughter

I had really high expectations of this novel having seen some excellent reviews. There is no doubt that Ms Matthews can write, and write well, and this is a very clever story, with some fabulously drawn characters, a wonderful attention to historical detail and a real sense of time and place that lends the novel a real authenticity.

The subject matter is dark in places and the characters are portrayed flaws and all, in an unflinching manner that some may find difficult to read. This wasn’t an issue for me – I prefer characters to be realistic, to behave in a way that is believable and admire and appreciate authors that don’t resort to happily-ever-afters or false sentimentality.

Marta is an intriguing character, and it is refreshing for a novel to feature such an interesting heroine. Elise, somewhat softer than Marta, is also a very readable character. I wanted to know more about them both and was interested in what happened to them.

The plot is dark and full of twists and surprises, all very gripping, well-paced and intelligently written.

So there is much to admire in this novel and much to admire in Ms Matthews’ writing. However, I felt so frustrated by this book. There is so much potential here but there is too much ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. We are given a lot of background details about characters and their experiences and feelings in big sections of prose, rather than being ‘shown’ these things, experiencing them with the characters.

Dialogue sometimes felt rather unnatural and too formal.

The most frustrating thing for me though was that most of the dialogue was punctuated incorrectly throughout the book; not just once or twice, an error that could be overlooked, but consistently. The author obviously cares about her novel, about her craft, which is why I was so surprised by these errors. It may not seem like a big issue or something to be so frustrated by, but I found myself increasingly irritated. Maybe I’m being overly pedantic, but it’s frustrating that the author has obviously put so much into this book and yet has overlooked something so basic.

It’s a real shame, because this could be an absolutely brilliant novel.

3.5 stars