Rosie’s Book Review Challenge

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Rosie's Book Review Challengers 1

As part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge (check it out here) I was lucky enough to read June Kearns’ wonderful novel ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’. June has kindly agreed to be my guest on the blog today and to share some of her insights and experiences about writing, reading and life in general. My review and an extract from the novel follow June’s interview.

June Kearns

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

As a solitary little girl (only child!), who was always daydreaming, I started writing my own stories almost as soon as I could read. In the 1970s, I won a National Magazine Competition for the first chapter of a romantic novel, and years later, a version of that became the beginning of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

It wasn’t easy! I’d almost finished the book when the roaring 20s became a real trend – the new Gatsby film, Downton setting and all those art deco and flapper fashion references. I wanted to somehow give a sense of that era!

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

My least favourite is probably Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. You can probably guess because I gave her a name with two hyphens, and said she had something of the dowager about her – with little finger sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle as she held her teacup.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?

Hiccups? Ooh, yes! The novel has two settings – the English shires and Texas. Checking and double checking different types and conditions of travel, times of journeys, ships, trains, timetables and distances, then factoring in weather – left me cross-eyed.

What are you working on now? 

At the beginning of the year, I was writing something set in the 1930s. It wasn’t going well, and I’d started making any excuse not to get on with it – de-fleaing the cat, washing socks. Then someone on Twitter asked for 60s memorabilia, and I had one of those light-bulb moments. This, I thought, is what I should be writing about! So, I’ve started – London setting, photographer hero – and it’s going well.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The wall in front of my desk is covered in post-it notes with encouraging little phrases and bon mots! Here’s one that I really like: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story you want to read. Also: Write for your readers, not for other writers. Having said that, the New Romantics 4 give me constant support and encouragement

What writer would you choose as a mentor?

It would have to be Jane Austen. She was such a master of romance – combining fabulous characters, comedy, complications and reversals with great pacing and cracking dialogue. How did she do that? I need her to tell me!

Who is your favourite author and what do you love about their work?

I love lots of women writers, but especially Anne Tyler. She’s quirky and clever, but with a deceptively simple style. Ladder of Years is one of my favourites. Lovely!

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

In my twenties on a trip to Canada, I (briefly!) worked as a waitress in a drive-in restaurant, on roller skates. It wasn’t a success. Have you read Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Wobble the Waitress? There were incidents. I was sacked.

20s Girl Cover MEDIUM

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ – My Review

I loved this book! June Kearns has created a romantic page turner devoid of soppiness but full of heart, laughter and wonderful characters that draw you in to their well-drawn world.

Gerardina Chiledexter is struggling to fund the run-down bookshop that is all she has been left by her extravagant, glamorous aunt (except for a mountain of debts). Just when it seems she has nowhere left to turn, she receives a surprise inheritance – half a cattle ranch in Texas.

We are swept away with Gerry to the wildness and heat of Texas, where she is made less than welcome by co-owner Coop. Confused by her conflicting feelings towards him, Gerry makes some rash decisions that lead her further into debt and seem to pave the way to a life of lonely spinsterhood.

However, there are twists and turns and surprises galore, along with a helping hand from some friendly spirits hoping to guide Gerry towards a brighter future.

The author does a fantastic job of bringing two very different places to life – the contrast between the dry heat of the vast plains of Texas was contrasted beautifully with the cold wet winters of England. I could feel Gerry suffocating as she listened to the rain dripping on to the windows of Prim’s tiny cottage.

The context of the novel was really interesting. The lack of eligible men to marry after the end of WWI was a real problem for women who had few other opportunities in life. Gerry, although a bright, funny and lovely girl, is not immune to this pressure, or to the fear of spinsterhood. I hate it when writers give us feisty female heroines from history who live independent, happy lives immune to social pressures. It’s refreshing to have a realistic heroine who is more than aware of the social constraints that have a very real bearing on what she is and isn’t allowed to do. And the little quotes at the beginning of each chapter offered a real insight into the pressures put on women at the time.

I thoroughly recommend this novel and will definitely be reading more of June Kearns’ work.

Five out of five stars.

You can buy a copy on Amazon (and I strongly recommend that you do!)

June is on Twitter: @june_kearns

on Facebook

and at: www.junekearns.com

www.newromantics4.com

 

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Autumn 1924. The English Shires.

    She would. She wouldn’t. She might.

    Pushed  down  the  lane  by  a  wet  wind, Gerry  held  onto  her  hat  and  her   bicycle. Hedgerows, trees, fields, flew by in a blur. It  was  weather  for  woollies  and  wellies, but  she  hadn’t  got  either  of  those.

    Instead, she  was  drenched  in  scent   and  in  something  crêpe-de-chine  with  flapping  skirts  from  the  bottom  of  her  aunt  Leonie’s  trunk.

    Why? Because she hadn’t decided what to do yet.

    What was wrong with her? Anyone  would  think  she  was  feather-headed, the  number  of  times  she’d  changed  her  mind. Goodness  knows  there  were  few  enough  men  to  go  round  anymore, and  how  many  of  those  were  beating  a  path  to  her  door? She should be grateful.

    Squishing  bicycle  wheels  through  leaves  at  the  side  of  the  road, she  chewed  the  knicker-elastic  under  her  chin, there  to  stop  her  hat  from  flying  off. A  gang  of  rooks  in  gothic  black  rose  up – caa  caa – to  swirl  over  ploughed  fields  behind  the  hedge.

    If only the invitation had been for something else. Afternoon tea with Archie’s parents? Just thinking about it made her twitch.

    So  what  if  she  was  pushing  thirty, with  the  chill  wind  of  spinsterhood  gusting  round  her  ears? She  wasn’t  ready  yet, for  trial  by  Major  and  Mrs  Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. Nowhere near.

    ‘All right, Miss-Change-Your-Mind,’ Prim had said. ‘What’s wrong with Archie?’

  1. Engaging good looks, a winning way. The sort  of  suitor  to  bring  a  grateful  tear  to  any  mother’s  eye. It wasn’t him, it was her. Small, unexceptional, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter.

    ‘He’s nice,’ she’d said. ‘I’m flattered. But what have we got in common? A  sort  of  junior  squire  from  a  county  family, who  hunts  and  shoots  things – and  me.’ She had paused. ‘D’you think it’s money?’

    A snort from Prim. ‘You haven’t got any.’

    ‘Archie doesn’t know that, does he? We  don’t  talk  about  those  things, we  don’t  even  laugh  together  much.’

    Prim had enquired, rather sourly, what there was to laugh about. ‘Look at me,’ she’d said. ‘I’ll  never  bag  a  husband  now, the  competition’s  far  too  cut-throat. It’s not fair; I’ve been cheated. My  destiny, whoever  he  was, is  probably  under  the  mud  of  some  awful  French  battlefield.’

    ‘Is there such a thing,’ Gerry had murmured, ‘as destiny?’

    ‘Your aunt believed in it. Did  she  have  an  opinion  on  Archie, as  a  matter  of  interest?’

    ‘Erm …’ (‘Well-bred, but weak, darling. A mother’s boy. Fingernails too clean. And that name! Hardly trips off the tongue, does it?’)

    Of  course, Leonie  had  an  opinion  on  most  things, and  hadn’t  been  shy  about  sharing  them, either. Physics, fortune-telling, foreign money. Not that her views had always been reliable. Who  cared  though, when  she’d  taught  you  to  dance  the  hoochie  coochie  and  the  turkey  trot, wearing  ostrich  feathers  and  waving  an  Egyptian  cigarette  in  a  long  black  holder?

    Wild, wonderful Leonie. Why did you leave us in such a mess?

    Gerry  careered  down  the  hill  to  the  higgledy-piggledy  part  of  town, past  Peagrams  Drapers  and  Outfitters (Dresses  for  all  seasons), and  Hazeldines  Bakery (Bread  with  purity  and  nutty  flavour).

    Clattering  over  cobbles  to  the  saggy  frontage  of  Bent’s  Fine  and  Rare  Books, she  came  to  an  abrupt  halt.

    ‘Igor! Move.’

    A  scar-nosed, frayed-eared  hooligan  tomcat, big  as  a  small  bear,  sat  in  the  doorway, eyeing  her  coldly.

    ‘Shoo!’ She rang her bell, stamped her foot. ‘Shoo, shoo!’

    Turning  his  head  with  infinite  disdain, Igor  didn’t  budge  an  inch.

    After  some  complicated  manoeuvring  of  wheels  and  cat’s  tails, Gerry  banged  up  the  steps  into  the  narrow  three-storied  building  that  housed  the  bookshop. The bell over the door jangled its annoyance.

    ‘That cat,’ she announced, ‘is scary! A witch’s cat. Not a whisker of loyalty to anyone.’

    From  behind  a  pile  of  catalogues, business  letters, bills  and  receipts, Prim  peered  over  her  spectacles. ‘Did you look in a mirror before you came out?’

    ‘It was windy.’

    ‘Well, a man called to see you, apparently. Left a note on the door. Better smarten up a bit before he comes back. That’s  not  a  suitable  dress  to  ride  a  bicycle  in.’ She  held  out  a  handkerchief. ‘And there’s oil on your nose.’

    ‘Which man?’ Rubbing her face, Gerry noticed Prim’s tight bun unravelling. Always a bad sign.

    ‘Name of …’ Prim rummaged for the note, ‘hmm … let’s see. Yes, Cooper.’

    ‘Who? Do we owe him money?’

    ‘Gerry dear, we owe everyone money.’

    Almost everyone. They  were  sliding  out  of  control, that  was  for  sure, and  it  was  Gerry’s  responsibility  now, all  down  to  her, and  the  reason  for  layers  of  bags  under  her  eyes.

    Debt, they were in debt. Aunt  Leonie’s  bookshop  sinking  under  a  huge  wave  of  bills  and  final   demands  and  Gerry  couldn’t  sleep, because  of  dreams  of  being  dragged  off  to  debtor’s  prison  by  crowds  of  baying  creditors.

    ‘Can’t we at least ask Cyril to mend that window?’

    ‘No.’ Prim tapped her teeth with a pencil. ‘Even Cyril and his ladders are beyond us now. I  wouldn’t  take  your  coat  off   either, if  I  were  you. There’s no more coal for the stove.’

    The  few  early  customers  in  the  shop  weren’t  likely  to  save  their  bacon  either – someone  from  the  Light  Opera  Group  looking  for  music  and  one  of  the  Miss  Webbs  after  the  new  Ethel  M. Dell.

 

 

 

 

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.

Adrienne

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 www.adriennevaughan.com

You can buy ‘The Hollow Heart’ here

 The Hollow Heart

Prologue

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.