Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Summer Read 2017 ~ The Big Dreams Beach Hotel by Lilly Bartlett

I am delighted to be able to feature this latest book by Lilly Bartlett and to share the first chapter of The Big Dreams Beach Hotel

Harper Impulse

* Published 18th August*

Start reading the romcom that Debbie Johnson calls “absolutely gorgeous!”

Three years after ditching her career in New York City, Rosie never thought she’d still be managing the quaint faded Victorian hotel in her seaside hometown.

What’s worse, the hotel’s new owners are turning it into a copy of their Florida properties. Flamingos and all. Cultures are clashing and the hotel’s residents stand in the way of the developers’ plans. The hotel is both their home and their family.

That’s going to make Rory’s job difficult when he arrives to enforce the changes. And Rosie isn’t exactly on his side, even though it’s the chance to finally restart her career. Rory might be charming, but he’s still there to evict her friends.

How can she follow her dreams if it means ending everyone else’s?

The Big Dreams Beach Hotel

Chapter 1

New York is where I fell head over heels for a bloke named Chuck. I know: Chuck. But don’t judge him just because he sounds like he should be sipping ice-cream floats at the drive-in or starring in the homecoming football game. Rah rah, sis boom bah, yay, Chuck!

Believe me, I didn’t plan for a Chuck in my life. But that’s how it happens, isn’t it? One minute you’ve got plans for your career and a future that doesn’t involve the inconvenience of being in love, and the next you’re floating around in full dozy-mare mode. 

I won’t lie to you. When Chuck walked into our hotel reception one afternoon in late October, it wasn’t love at first sight. It was lust. 

Be still, my fluttering nethers.

Talk about unprofessional. I could hardly focus on what he was saying. Something about organising Christmas parties. 

‘To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ he confided as he leaned against the reception desk. His face was uncomfortably close to mine, but by then I’d lived in New York for eighteen months. I was used to American space invaders. They’re not being rude, just friendly. And Chuck was definitely friendly. 

‘I only started my job about a month ago,’ he told me. ‘It’s my first big assignment, so I really can’t fuck it up. Sorry, I mean mess it up.’ His blue (so dark blue) eyes bore into mine. ‘I’m hoping someone here can help me.’

It took all my willpower not to spring over the desk to his aid. Not that I’m at all athletic. I’d probably have torn my dress, climbed awkwardly over and landed face-first at his feet. 

Keep him talking, I thought, so that I could keep staring. He looked quintessentially American, with his square jawline and big straight teeth and air of confidence, even though he’d just confessed to being hopeless at his new job. His brown hair wasn’t too long but also wasn’t too short, wavy and artfully messed up with gel, and his neatly trimmed stubble made me think of lazy Sunday mornings in bed. 

See what I mean? Lust. 

‘I noticed you on my way back from Starbucks,’ he said. 

At first, I thought he meant he’d noticed me. That made me glance in the big mirror on the pillar behind him, where I could just see my reflection from where I was standing. At five-foot four, I was boob-height behind the desk in the gunmetal-grey fitted dress uniform all the front-desk staff had to wear. My wavy dark-red hair was as neat as it ever got. I flashed myself a reflected smile just to check my teeth. Of course, I couldn’t see any detail from where I stood. Only my big horsy mouth. Mum says giant teeth make my face interesting. I think I look a bit like one of the Muppets. 

‘Do you have the space for a big party?’ he said. ‘For around four hundred people?’

He didn’t mean he’d noticed me; only the hotel. ‘We’ve got the Grand Ballroom and the whole top floor, which used to be the restaurant and bar. I think it’s even prettier than the ballroom, but it depends on your style and your budget and what you want to do with it.’ 

Based on his smile, you’d have thought I’d just told him we’d found a donor kidney for his operation. ‘I’ve been looking online, but there are too many choices,’ he said. ‘Plus, my company expects the world.’ He grimaced. ‘They didn’t like the hotel they used last year, or the year before that. I’m in over my head, to be honest. I think I need a guiding hand.’

I had just the hand he was looking for, and some ideas about where to guide it.

But instead of jumping up and down shouting ‘Pick Me, Pick Me!’, I put on my professional hat and gave him our events brochure and the team’s contact details. Because normal hotel receptionists don’t launch themselves into the arms of prospective clients. 

When he reached over the desk to shake my hand, I had to resist the urge to bob a curtsy. ‘I’m Chuck Williamson. It was great to meet you, Rosie.’ 

He knew my name!

‘And thank you for being so nice. You might have saved my ass on this one. I’ll talk to your events people.’ He glanced again at my chest. 

He didn’t know my name. He’d simply read my name badge.

No sooner had Chuck exited through the revolving door than my colleague, Digby, said, ‘My God, any more sparks and I’d have had to call the fire department.’

Digby was my best friend at the hotel and also a foreign transplant in Manhattan – where anyone without a 212 area code was foreign. Home for him was some little town in Kansas or Nebraska or somewhere with lots of tornadoes. Hearing Digby speak always made me think of The Wizard of Oz, but despite sounding like he was born on a combine harvester, Digby was clever. He did his degree at Cornell. That’s the Holy Grail for aspiring hotelies (as we’re known). 

Digby didn’t let his pedigree go to his head, though, like I probably would have. 

‘Just doing my job,’ I told him. But I knew I was blushing. 

Our manager, Andi, swore under her breath. ‘That’s the last thing we need right now – some novice with another Christmas party to plan.’

‘That is our job,’ Digby pointed out.

‘Your job is to man the reception desk, Digby.’

‘Ya vol, Commandant.’ He saluted, before going to the other end of the desk. 

‘But we do have room in the schedule, don’t we?’ I asked. Having just come off a rotation in the events department the month before, I knew they were looking for more business in that area. Our room occupancy hadn’t been all the company hoped for over the summer. 

‘Plenty of room, no time,’ Andi snapped. 

I’d love to tell you that I didn’t think any more about Chuck, that I was a cool twenty-five-year-old living her dream in New York. And it was my dream posting. I still couldn’t believe my luck. Well, luck and about a million hours earning my stripes in the hospitality industry. I’d already done stints in England and one in Sharm El Sheikh – though not in one of those fancy five-star resorts where people clean your sunglasses on the beach. It was a reasonable four-star one. 

There’s a big misconception about hotelies that I should probably clear up. People assume that because we spend our days surrounded by luxury, we must live in the same glamour. The reality is 4a.m. wake-ups, meals eaten standing up, cheap living accommodation and, invariably, rain on our day off. Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?

But I loved it. I loved that I was actually being paid to work in the industry where I did my degree. I loved the satisfied feeling I got every time a guest thanked me for solving a problem. And I loved that I could go anywhere in the world for work. 

I especially loved that last part.

But back to Chuck, who’d been stuck in my head since the minute he’d walked through the hotel door. 

I guess it was natural, given that I hadn’t had a boyfriend the whole time I’d been in the city. Flirting and a bit of snogging, yes, but nothing you could call a serious relationship.

There wasn’t any time, really, for a social life. That’s why hotelies hang out so much with each other. No one else has the same hours free. So, in the absence of other options, Digby and I were each other’s platonic date. He sounds like the perfect gay best friend, right? Only he wasn’t gay. He just had no interest in me. Nor I in him, which made him the ideal companion – hot enough in that freckle-faced farm-boy way to get into the nightclubs when we finished work at 1 or 2a.m., but not the type to go off shagging and leave me to find my way home on the subway alone. 

‘I hope you’re happy,’ Andi said to me one morning a few days later. The thing about Andi is that she looks annoyed even when she’s not, so you’ve got to pay attention to her words rather than the severe expression on her narrow face. Nothing annoyed Andi like other people’s happiness.

But I had just taken my first morning sip of caramel latte. Who wouldn’t be happy?

‘You’ve got another assignment,’ she said. ‘That Christmas party. You’re on it.’

‘But I’m on reception.’ My heart was beating faster. She could only be talking about one Christmas party. 

‘Yes, and you’re not going to get any extra time for the party, so don’t even think about it. I can’t spare anyone right now. You’ll have to juggle. He’s coming in at eleven to see the spaces and hopefully write a big fat cheque, but I want you back here as soon as you’re finished. Consider it an early lunch break.’

Even though my mind warned me to stop questioning, in case she changed her mind, I couldn’t resist. ‘Why isn’t Events handling it?’ 

‘They would have if he hadn’t asked for you especially. It’s just my luck that it’s a huge party. We can’t exactly say no.’

‘I’m sorry.’ 

‘Then wipe that stupid grin off your face and next time try not to be so frickin’ nice.’

‘I need to use the loo,’ I told her.

‘Pee on your own time,’ she said. 

I didn’t really have to go, despite the industrial-size caramel latte. I just wanted to put on some make-up before Chuck arrived. Instead he’d see my green eyes unhighlighted by the mascara and flicky eyeliner that I rarely remembered to use. Pinching my cheeks did bring up a bit of colour behind my freckles, at least. 

Every time the revolving doors swung round, I looked up to see if it was Chuck. 

‘You’re going to get repetitive strain in your neck,’ Digby pointed out. ‘And you know our workmen’s comp sucks, so save yourself the injury. Besides, you look too eager when you stare at the door like that.’

‘I’m putting on a convivial welcome for our guests,’ I said. ‘Just like it says in the Employee’s Manual.’

He shook his head. ‘There’s no way that what you’re thinking is in the manual.’

The weather had turned cold, which was the perfect excuse for woolly tights and cosy knits or, if you were Chuck, a navy pea coat with the collar turned up that made him look like he’d been at sea. In a suit and dress shoes. 

‘I’m so sorry I’m late,’ he said. ‘I hate wasting people’s time.’

‘It’s not a waste,’ I told him. ‘I’m just working.’ I caught Andi’s glare. ‘I mean, I’m on reception. I can show you the rooms any time you want.’

Anytime you want, Digby mimicked behind Chuck’s back. Luckily Andi didn’t catch him.

‘Thanks for agreeing to take on the party,’ he said as we shared the lift to the top floor. ‘Not that I gave your colleagues much of a choice. I told them I’d book the party if you were the one organising it. I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that you seemed … I don’t know, I got a good feeling about you.’

‘No, that’s fine,’ I said, willing my voice to sound calmer than I felt. Which meant anything short of stark raving mad. ‘Once you decide which room is most suitable, we can start talking about everything else.’ 

‘I knew you’d get it,’ he said. 

The lift doors opened on the top floor into the wide entrance to the former restaurant. ‘As you can see, there’s still a lot of the original nineteen thirties decor,’ I said. ‘Especially these art deco wall sconces. I love them. Ooh, and look at that bar.’

I’d only been up there a few times, so I was as excited as Chuck as we ran around the room pointing out each interesting feature, from the geometrically mirrored pillars to the sexy-flapper-lady light fixtures. 

‘I’m such a sucker for this old stuff,’ he said. ‘I grew up in a house full of antiques. Older than this, actually, in Chicago.’ Then he considered me. ‘You probably grew up in a castle from the middle ages or something, being English.’

‘That sounds draughty. No, my parents live in a nineteen fifties semi-detached with pebble-dash.’

‘I don’t know what any of that means except for the nineteen fifties, but it sounds exotic.’

‘Hardly. Let’s just say it looks nothing like this. Will this be big enough, though? You said up to four hundred. That might be a squeeze if we want to seat them all.’

‘My guest list has halved, actually,’ he said, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. ‘The company isn’t letting spouses and partners come. Isn’t that weird, to exclude them from a formal social event like that? It’s going to be black tie with dinner and dancing. They were always invited wherever I’ve worked before.’

The painful penny dropped with a clang. Of course he’d have the perfect girlfriend to bring along. A bloke that cute and nice wasn’t single. 

‘Which company?’ I asked, covering my disappointment. ‘Your company now, I mean.’

‘Flable and Mead. The asset managers? Sorry, I should have said before.’

Of course I’d heard of them. They were only one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. No wonder Andi had to say yes when Chuck made his request. We were talking big money. 

And big egos. ‘I’m not surprised that other halves aren’t invited,’ I told him. Surely he’d worked out why for himself. ‘They usually aren’t invited in the UK either. The Christmas do is your chance to get pissed and snog a colleague.’

Chuck laughed. ‘I’m really glad I’ve seen all those Hugh Grant movies so I know what you’re talking about. So maybe it’ll be everyone’s chance at Flable and Mead to snog a colleague too.’ When he smiled, a dimple appeared on his left side. Just the one. ‘And as you’re working with me to organise the party, I guess that makes you my colleague, right?’

Did he mean what I thought he meant? The cheeky sod. ‘Come on, I’ll show you the ballroom.’

But the ballroom had nowhere near the ambiance of the top floor, and I knew before Chuck said anything that it didn’t have the right feel. Whereas upstairs had character and charm, the ballroom had bling. I’d only known Chuck for a matter of hours, but already I knew he wasn’t the blingy type. 

‘Definitely upstairs,’ he said. ‘So it’s done. We’ll book it. Now we just need to plan all the decorations, the food, the band, DJ. I guess the fee goes up depending on how much in-house stuff we use.’ He laughed. ‘I’m sorry, I really am in too deep here. I talked my way into my job. I have no idea how. My boss is a Northwestern alum like me and that must have swung it for me. Before I only worked organising conferences and a few parties at the local VFW hall. This is the big time.’

I knew exactly how he felt. When I first started at the hotel I had to pinch myself. There I was, about to live a life I’d only seen on telly. All I had to do was not muck things up. Digby had been on hand to show me the ropes when I needed it. So the least I could do for Chuck was to help him as much as I could. 

That’s what I told myself. I was paying it forward.

‘We’ve got a range of decorations we can do,’ I told him, thinking about how much I was going to get to see him in the upcoming weeks. I could really stretch things out by showing him one tablecloth per visit. ‘And we work with a few good catering companies, who I’m sure can arrange anything from a sit-down meal to a buffet. One even does burger bars, if you want something more quirky.’

‘What I’ll want is for you to help me, Rosie. You will be able to do that, right?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Whatever you need. It’s a whopping great fee your company is paying. That buys a lot of hand-holding.’

‘I was hoping you’d say that,’ he said. ‘The second I came in and saw you, I knew this was the right choice. We’re going to be great together, Rosie.’

I was thinking the exact same thing.

Pre-order The Big Dreams Beach Hotel to land on your eReader on August 18th!

Kindle Unlimited subscribers will get it for FREE.

Amazon pre-order guarantee means all sales before Friday are £1.99 instead of list price of £2.99 !!

Find out more about the author by following these links :


Instagram @michelegormanuk

Twitter @MicheleGormanUK


Huge thanks to the author for permission to share this extract in advance of the book's publication


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Summer Read 2017 ~ Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax
July 2017

What's it all about...

A quaint hotel in a romantic location. The Lake District is the perfect getaway. Or is it?

Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …

Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.

With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves.

What did I think about it ..

When Felicity Everdene arrives at the Cross Hotel in the Lake District she is viewed with suspicion because she is part of the hugely successful Everdene hotel chain who are known for their ruthless takeovers of struggling hotels. That the Cross Hotel is struggling is evident in its shabby decor and in its dejected air of just about managing to survive in a competitive business world.

Felicity really isn't there to take over the hotel for her family but trying to convince the hotel employees of this proves to be difficult and yet, Felicity's warm nature and expertise soon starts to win over people's affections. However, the hardest person to convince of her honourable intentions is Patrick Cross who has had to leave his successful business in the Caribbean in order to come home to run the hotel after the death of his father.

What then follows is a delightful tale of how Felicity and Patrick's rocky relationship develops and of how the gradual building of trust between them helps to set the hotel on a very different path.

I really enjoyed travelling to the Lake District with Felicity as she discovered for herself the unique charm of this very special place. The author has captured the place and its people so well that it is a joy to see the area come alive so vibrantly. With clever description we can see how the light glimmers on the waters of the lake and how the constantly changing weather patterns allow the stunning landscape to become an important part of the novel. The author has captured the very essence of the Lake District's special characteristics and has interwoven a delightful story of love and loss and of the importance of family commitments.

Felicity at the Cross Hotel is the perfect antidote to a rainy summer as the story fills you with sunshine. From the quirkiness of Felicity's character, through to Patrick's grumpiness, the shabby charm of the Cross Hotel, the eccentricities of the hotel employees, all combine to make a delightful summer read. A story which is just perfect for an afternoon in the garden, or better still somewhere in the English Lake District, with a view of a lake shimmering before you, regardless of the weather.

Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she's secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global eBook Awards, and the I Heart Indie Awards. Her first novel was a contender for the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award.

Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Follow on Twitter @helenafairfax

Find on Facebook

My thanks to the author for sharing her story with me 


Monday, 14 August 2017

Hannah Fielding's FANtastic Fiesta...

Welcome to the FANtastic Fiesta and the opportunity to win a Spanish fan or a book from Hannah Fielding's Andalucian Nights trilogy

 I'm delighted to be able to share this guest post from Hannah all about

Loving your fate...

‘Thus does Fate cast her thunderbolts into our lives, letting them fall with a feather-like touch, dulling our senses to the storm they would cause should we realise their devastating powers.’

This line is from the beginning of my novel The Echoes of Love, and it conveys a common thread in my writing: the foreshadowing of future events, of the characters’ destiny.

In my first novel, Burning Embers, an old African lady embodies this spirit, giving superstitious warnings to the heroine Coral based on native voodoo practices. In The Echoes of Love, the heroine Venetia meets a wise Chineseman, Ping Lü, who tells her fortune. He says, ‘If he is the one for you, if your souls have recognised and chosen each other, then there is no limit to the works of Fate to bring you together.’ Venetia is a sceptic, but Paolo, the man with whom she is falling in love, is not. He tells her of maktoub, which means ‘written’, an old Arab belief that from the day you are born, the name of your sweetheart is invisibly engraved on your forehead. ‘Maybe that explains the flicker of recognition I felt the day we met,’ he says.

In my most recent books, the Andalucían Nights trilogy, it is the old, cunning gypsy Paquita who tells fortunes, in the following manner:

‘Two paths … I see two paths,’ she went on in her deep, threatening voice. ‘The first is difficult and tortuous, strewn with thorns and tears, but at the end of it you will find the paradise which all young women dream of.  … The second is straight and easy, strewn with rose petals and pearls. A cruel deception … a castle built of sand. … Careful, my beauty,’ she rasped as she drew closer to Alexandra, waving a withered finger at her, ‘do not delude yourself, do not be deceived, the devil is cunning!’

Turning to Salvador, her face clouded. ‘As for you, my fine Señor with the sad face, wearing the tragic mask of death,’ she hissed, clutching at his arm and digging her claws tightly into him, ‘go, go in peace, and may God help you.  Alas, each one of us has a destiny to follow, and Paquita can do nothing for you today: the die has been cast already!’ 

Like Venetia, the heroines of Indiscretion (Alexandra), Masquerade (Luz) and Legacy (Luna) are not easily persuaded that ‘the die has been cast’. They are strong, intelligent woman who want to feel in control of their lives and futures. And yet, as the stories unfold, each comes to see the wisdom in surrendering just a little control to something greater than themselves.

There is something quite beautiful in that surrender, I think; something honest – and that is why each of my books incorporates just a touch of destiny. As Nietzsche said, ‘Amor Fati – “Love Your Fate”, which is in fact your life.’

 The Andalucían Nights trilogy by Hannah Fielding

The award-winning epic Andalucían Nights Trilogy sweeps the reader from the wild landscapes of Spain in the 1950s, through a history of dangerous liaisons and revenge dramas, to a modern world of undercover missions and buried secrets. Romantic, exotic and deeply compelling, and featuring a memorable cast of characters, including a passionate young gypsy, a troubled young writer and an estranged family, The Andalucían Nights Trilogy is a romantic treat waiting to be discovered.

Buy link:

About the Author

Hannah Fielding is an incurable romantic. The seeds for her writing career were sown in early childhood, spent in Egypt, when she came to an agreement with her governess Zula: for each fairy story Zula told, Hannah would invent and relate one of her own. Years later – following a degree in French literature, several years of travelling in Europe, falling in love with an Englishman, the arrival of two beautiful children and a career in property development – Hannah decided after so many years of yearning to write that the time was now. Today, she lives the dream: writing full time at her homes in Kent, England, and the South of France, where she dreams up romances overlooking breath-taking views of the Mediterranean.

Hannah is a multi-award-winning novelist, and to date she has published five novels: Burning Embers, ‘romance like Hollywood used to make’, set in Kenya; The Echoes of Love, ‘an epic love story that is beautifully told’, set in Italy; and the Andalusian Nights Trilogy – Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy – her fieriest novels yet, set in sunny, sultry Spain. 

You can find Hannah online at :

Here is a fabulous Giveaway to win a Spanish Fan or a book from the Andalusian Nights Trilogy

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Warmest thanks to Hannah for being my guest author today and for the invitation to be part of the FANtastic Fiesta


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sunday WW1 Remembered...

I enjoy reading books set during WW1 which cover as wide a range as possible. 

In August I will share more of my favourites


Told in the voice of a young soldier, the story follows 24 hours in his life on the frontline during World War I, and captures his memories as he looks back over his life. Full of detail and engrossing atmosphere, the book leads to a dramatic and moving conclusion.

I first read Private Peaceful in 2009 and was blown away by the effect of this story, aimed at young adults, which is powerful, thought provoking and so sad it breaks your heart into a million pieces.


In the deadly chaos of the First World War, one horse witnesses the reality of battle from both sides of the trenches. Bombarded by artillery, with bullets knocking riders from his back, Joey tells a powerful story of the truest friendships surviving in terrible times.

During WW1 the life of an infantry horse was fraught with danger, Michael Morpurgo conveys this story in beautiful writing, which conjures the horror, depredation, and sheer waste of life in such a strong and meaningful way.

Both stories, whilst aimed at young adults, easily cross the great divide as they slip into adult reads quite seamlessly.

I highly recommend both books.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Close to Home ~ Alyson Rhodes

As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.

Please welcome Northern Writer

Alyson Rhodes

 Hi, Alyson and welcome to JaffareadstooTell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an author.

I was born in Norwich but I grew up in Birmingham where I tutored and began writing poetry to help my recovery after a severe illness. I have always been a bookworm, toting huge libraries around with me when I moved house. I relished my Saturday visits to our local library as a child. I had my first major publishing breakthrough in 1996 when Collins Educational published my children’s novel set on the Norfolk Broads, ‘Soldiers in the Mist.’ (Still available to buy on

When I met my husband to be we decided to raise our family in his home town of Bradford and we moved here in 2001. Motherhood and part time paid employment filled my time. I remained an avid reader and I think reading widely is a vitally important part of writing fiction. The more I read I believe, the better I write. It is an interlinked process.

But in 2011 I began (once again) scribbling ideas down in notepads. Fortuitously I spotted a WEA Creative Writing class in Otley, Leeds and so I took what felt like the huge step of joining. The tutor was/is the poet James Nash who has proved an inspiring, hugely encouraging mentor.

Which Yorkshire born writers have influenced you?

Two Northern born Y.A. authors, Messrs Robert Swindells (born in Bradford) and Westall (born in North Shields) have been important influences. I grew up reading their books and I return to them again and again. Swindells’ novel ‘Stone Cold’ had a huge impact on me, dealing with homelessness and life on the streets. It was eye opening. Several of my flash fiction pieces explore this issue. (‘No Home for Holly’ is available to read at:-

Whilst Robert Westall’s interest in World War 2 and his supernatural stories, feeds into my own writing bent for the gothic, ghostly and macabre. My ghost story, ‘The Resurrection of the Reverend Greswold’ is available for download on

I do still write for Y.A.s and children- my latest book is ‘The Runaway Umbrella’ (ages 7 upwards) and it is available to buy on but my main focus is writing Flash Fiction for adults. This is a new direction for me as a writer, telling a tale in 500 words or less or sometimes in just 100 words (aka a drabble), but one which I’ve found challenging and enjoyable. Many of my pieces are available to read on line, on websites like www.horrortree/tremblingwithfear and or in print anthologies, ‘Twisted Tales 2016’ published by Raging Aardvark (

Your books are written in Northern England – how have the people and its landscape shaped your stories?

Many of my Flash pieces are located in or inspired by the areas around Bingley in Bradford where I live. The park with its log cabin play hut described in ‘Doll Man’ is in Roberts Park in Saltaire where I used to take my son scootering. The sadly decaying old Odeon in Bradford town centre has inspired a number of derelict fictional buildings such as the hotel in ‘The Adelphi’. Cliffe Castle in Keighley is the backdrop for my longer ghost story, ‘Careful What you Wish For.’ Undercliffe Cemetery in Bradford with its lavish Victorian gothic monuments has worked its way into a few of my horror shorts.

A trip in the autumn to Leeds City Centre where we ate hot chestnuts bought from the handcart seller, led to the killer short ‘Chestnuts for my Sweet.’ Family holidays spent in and around Bridlington and Filey over the last 15 years, have their fictional overlay in several of my stories. Particularly the fun fairs and the piers. Ideal crime scenes!

All of these stories and more will be appearing in my debut Flash Fiction collection ‘Badlands’ which is due out from indie publisher Chapel Town Books later this year. This is an exciting opportunity for me, which came about via an open call from publisher/writer Gill James asking for authors to submit their short shorts! I will be appearing at the Morley Indie Book Fair with my book, on Sat 7 October 2017. So if you’re passing please drop by my stall and say hi.

If you were pitching the North as an ideal place to live, work and write – how would you sell it and what makes it so special?

My uncle used to live in Otley and we visited every year walking our dog on Ilkley moor. So I have come back to my family roots in a round about way. I love the fact you are five minutes drive from the moors but you have such lovely towns with their flourishing arts scenes like Halifax, Harrogate, Hebden Bridge, Saltaire and Leeds, all so close to Bradford. I enjoy the history of these towns and their galleries, shops and cafes. Coming up from the Midlands I found Yorkshire people really friendly, chatty and down to earth! This summer on holiday, we are going whale watching by boat from Whitby! There is a huge variety of landscape and activities to explore in the North.

Writing is a solitary business - how do you interact with other authors?

Over the last few years, apart from the Otley WEA class, I have attended Saltaire Writers Group (where I met the romance author Helena Fairfax) and currently I go to Menston Writers. I regularly attend literature festivals locally and writing workshops. The most recent one I went along to was run by crime writer Liz Mistry in Keighley Library. It was excellent and informative. The Bradford libraries run a variety of (low cost) writing classes, coordinated by Dionne Hood and are very supportive of budding writers. I learn a great deal from these workshops and I enjoy chatting to fellow writers. Inevitably writing is a solitary business but with the internet it’s easier than ever to link up with like minded creatives. I sometimes think I enjoy the chatting about the writing over a coffee more than the hard work of generating the actual words!

What do you have coming up in the future?

In September 2017 I am hoping to run and teach some Creative Writing Workshops. The Craft House in Saltaire is advertising here:-

My background is in teaching, both in the paid and voluntary sectors. After several years of writing and submitting my work, with all the highs of publication and the lows of rejection which I’ve experienced, I felt it was the right time to branch out into teaching. I hope to run more classes at another venue in Farsley, but this is yet to be finalised.

I am working on a collection of ghost stories for publication in November this year. Otley Writers group is publishing their own autumnal collection too called ‘The Darkening Season’.

I post information about my writing journey and any events I attend on my blog, which can be found at You can also contact me via my blog.

Thanks so much for hosting me in your Close to Home slot, Jo, and for your interesting questions. I’ve really enjoyed talking about my writing journey and how living in Yorkshire has influenced me and my fiction.


Facebook as Aly Rhodes
My Book Gorilla page is at :-
Author’s page on Gill James’ blog:-

Warm thanks to Alyson for spending time with us today

 and for talking about her writing and sharing with us her love for the North of England


Friday, 11 August 2017

First Remembered Read ~ Romantic Novel

Those of us who read, and who are influenced by books, tend to squirrel away our memories of all the stories we have read over the years. 

And yet, there is always that one special book tucked away in the far corner of your mind which reminds you just why you love reading so much…

During July and August I've invited a few friends to share their First Remembered Read

I'm thrilled to welcome to Jaffareadstoo

Helena Fairfax, author of Felicity at the Cross Hotel

Alison Uttley's A Traveller in Time – My First Romantic Read

by Helena Fairfax

When I was eleven I started my first year at a Catholic convent school. The convent was founded in the seventeenth century, at a time when Catholics were persecuted in this country. My school was in an old, rambling building, complete with a draughty chapel and a priests' hidey-hole. The nuns told us many harrowing stories of Catholic martyrdom, such as the death of Margaret Clitherow, who had hidden priests in her home and was executed in a horrific way. She was stripped and laid on a sharp rock. The door of her own house was laid on top of her, weighted with a great pile of rocks and stones, and she was crushed to death. It wasn't hard in that ancient school building to feel all the horror of this death, the paralysing fear of the Catholics, and the brutality of the time.

It was also at this time that I had to spend a couple of weeks off school with a severe throat infection. My dad was away, my other brothers and sisters were at school, and my mum had to go to work. I spent a lot of time alone, feeling feverish and sorry for myself. This was in the days before computers – before even daytime television – and there was nothing for me to do but read. Every day my mum would place a great pile of books by my bed, along with a large jug of juice to drink. One of the books she left me was A Traveller in Time, by Alison Uttley. I absolutely fell in love with this book. It was my first ever romantic read, and I still have my old copy.

A Traveller in Time tells the story of Penelope Taverner, who, like myself at the time, was a solitary and imaginative child, recovering from an illness. Penelope is sent to stay with relatives who live at Thackers – an old farm in Derbyshire which has been there for centuries. There is an absolutely lovely sense of place in this book – the descriptions of the old farm-house, the scent of herbs, the cosy kitchen, and all the old furnishings and artefacts that Penelope comes across already give the story a wonderfully romantic atmosphere. The real romance comes from the dual timeline. Penelope discovers she can travel back in time, to the sixteenth century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and the home of the Babington family. The fictional Thackers is based on the real house of Dethick Manor, which once belonged to the Catholic Babingtons. Anthony Babington was involved in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth and place the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. He was executed, and his actions led to the later execution of Queen Mary.

With the stories of the nuns in my head, I could well imagine the terror Penelope feels, knowing what will happen to the Babingtons, and knowing she is powerless to change history. Penelope meets Francis Babington – the younger brother of Anthony – and as the story progresses, and Penelope grows older, she and Francis begin to fall in love. Their love for each other is beautifully drawn, and all the more moving because they both of them know it is doomed.

The book was first published in 1939. I re-read it recently and it is still a wonderful, enthralling, romantic and poignant read today. I passed the book on to my own daughter when she was a child, and she called the author "Alison Utterly Brilliant". :) I heartily agree!

Photo of Dethick Manor attribution: mickie collins
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Common

Author Biography:

Helena Fairfax is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now which is just as well, since these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. Helena walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings. Subscribers to Helena's newsletter receive news of free stuff, competitions with prizes, gossip, and links to cool websites she's been looking at when she should have been writing.

Amazon universal buy link for Felicity at the Cross Hotel:

Social Media Links :

Newsletter: (all new subscribers receive a free novella)

Helena Fairfax
July 2017

Cassandra Grafton, author of A Quest for Mr Darcy

My First Romantic Novel

by Cassandra Grafton

Thank you, Jo and Jaffa, for this fun opportunity to share my thoughts on the first romance novel I ever read!

It was back in the summer of 1975, and I was thirteen years old. There was no Internet to search for recommendations of books to read. In general, you relied on local bookshop displays, the mobile library van or the compulsory reading on the school curriculum.

Across five years in grammar school, the latter focused very much on classic authors, including Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Brontës and Austen, and I had yet to discover them all as my second year at grammar school drew to a close.

Then, a class friend offered to lend me a novel she had just read. Her name was Janet Davies, and I can picture her clearly even though I haven’t seen her since I left the school in 1978.

Her mum was a big fan of a Mills & Boon author called Betty Neels and bought all her novels. The book Janet offered me was called Enchanting Samantha, and that was all I knew about it when I took it from her.

It turned out to be a sweet love story about an English nurse and a Dutch doctor, and I devoured it in one go, feeling by the end I had made a huge discovery.

I had all the typical awkwardness of a being a teenager, feeling plain and ordinary at the best of times, yet the heroine was someone I could instantly relate to.

Samantha wasn’t a glamorous or stunningly beautiful girl, she was, to quote from the novel, “a small, pleasantly plump figure, her cap perched very precisely on the top of her neatly piled brown hair, a frown marring a face, which, while by no means pretty, was pleasant enough, with hazel eyes fringed with short thick lashes, a nose turned up at its end and a mouth which though a little too large, could smile delightfully.”

I had brown hair, a by no means pretty but hopefully passable face, hazel eyes and though I avoided smiling much because of the braces on my teeth, I somehow felt an immediate connection with Samantha.

The story is gentle, and the barriers to a happy ending merely those of misunderstandings, but all the same, it whet my appetite. When school finally ended for the long summer holidays, Janet kindly handed over half a dozen other titles by the same author, and that was it - my long love affair with romance novels had begun!

Over time, I collected all of Betty Neels’ books, browsing jumble sales, second-hand book stalls and then, when I had more money to spend, buying brand new stories as they were released. I took them all away to college with me, frequently re-reading my favourites, but later, with a growing family and a lack of space, the books ended up in storage.

Betty Neels began to write in 1969, after retiring from many years in the nursing profession (she had married her own Dutch doctor - a common theme in her books!) The story goes that she was in the library one day and heard a lady complaining about the lack of good romance novels, so decided to write one of her own! In the end, she penned 134 of them for Mills & Boon!

Did Enchanting Samantha remain my all-time favourite Betty Neels novel? No, it was soon superseded by several others, but I will always retain a fondness for the book that introduced me to romance novels, and I still have a copy up in the attic.

Enchanting Samantha
was first published in 1973. It has been re-issued with various covers over the last few decades, but my original dog-eared copy looks pretty much like this one!

Mills and Boon



Co-author with Ada Bright of The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen
Author of the A Fair Prospect trilogy
Author of A Quest for Mr Darcy
Co-author of The Darcy Brothers

Visit me:

Our Blog: Tabby Cow
My Website: Cass Grafton

CreateSpace Indepenent Publishing Platform
July 2017

Huge thanks to Helena and Cassandra for sharing the memories 

of their First Romantic Read with me today.

Next week : My First Historical Read

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Blog Tour ~ Unforgiveable by Mike Thomas

Jaffareadstoo is delighted to be hosting today's stop on the Unforgivable Blog Tour

I am delighted to welcome the author, Mike Thomas to tell us all about his writing space in ...

My Writing Space

I’ve lived quite the transient lifestyle during the last six or seven years, moving house several times and eventually leaving the UK for a six month stay in the wilds of central Portugal. We forgot to move back though, so now I’m here for good, writing and fixing up an old stone quinta that was derelict for nearly three decades and appears destined to drain my bank account of every single penny I have to my name.

Within those various houses I’ve been moved around constantly, from dining rooms to bedrooms and back, then to hallways and kitchen worktops and even a draughty old veranda that was collapsing at one end – Look! You can see the garden through the floor! – and populated by lizards. It’s been interesting, and not a little disruptive, but if you’re gonna write you’re gonna write, no matter the surroundings.

I dream of a fixed place where everything is set up so I can just turn my computer on each morning and begin typing. Until then, wherever I move I have a few things that will remain on my desk, or on the wall nearby. They make it feel semi-permanent, at least. Now I’m back in the bedroom again, which conveniently means I can roll out of my pit and onto the chair for work while still in my underwear. This is what surrounds me, and is supposed to inspire me:

Wallpaper lining. When prepping my debut novel, ‘Pocket Notebook’, I asked my wife to buy me the writing software package, Scrivener, as a birt
hday present. She ‘hilariously’ bought wallpaper lining and pencils instead, pointing out that I could plan and map out the book far more efficiently – and cheaply – using the rolls of paper. I wasn’t impressed at the time. Now, I use it for every novel and it hangs from the bedroom wall – full of flowcharts and plot points and notes galore – in front of my desk. My wife hates it. I consider this karma.

Pens. YOU CAN NEVER HAVE ENOUGH PENS. So there. I buy them all the time, even if I don’t need any more. I have purchased posh ones and Poundland packs. I currently use my new love, a Uni-ball Jetstream which is great for quickly scrawling notes while working, and three of them are currently scattered across my desk. At the end of each day I lock them away – my wife is a notorious pen thief and she is never getting her hands on them. Oh no.

A cardboard toilet roll tube. Fashioned by my young son for a birthday a few years ago, the scrawl in Biro reads ‘Happy Daddy Day’ surrounded by what I think are fireworks and an apology that it isn’t a proper card. I threw it out once – it didn’t end well. He comes in every day now, checking it’s still there and that I can see it as I work.

The Reader’s Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder, a doorstop of a dictionary published in 1993. I, ahem, ‘borrowed’ it from a family member over twenty years ago, arguing that I needed it to complete my latest magnum opus (that was rejected by every publisher in the universe), and promising that I would return it as soon as I was finished conquering the book world. It’s still there, and I still use it, and I’ll never give it back as I have grown quite attached to it, which kind of makes my grumbles about my wife’s pen stealing activities rather hypocritical.

A snow globe. With a happy, smiling, waving penguin inside the glass ball. I may have ‘liberated’ him from another friend’s house, but time, as ever, has clouded those memories. And anyway, it’s what everybody needs on their desk, right? He smiles and he waves and sometimes I pause and look at him and smile and wave back. ‘Hello, Nuno,’ I say, because that is the penguin’s name and I am nothing if not polite.

A view. Where I live is mountainous and lush and carpeted with pine and eucalyptus trees and it is a joy to sit back from the laptop, look out of the window and see it – so inspiring! – stretch out before me. Or rather, it was until mid-June when the entire region went up in the biggest, out-of-control inferno in the country’s history, burning through tens of thousands of hectares, destroying homes and villages and killing people and turning the centre of Portugal into a blackened ground zero. So now I stare out at ash, and charred trees, and dead forests. I cheer myself up by pretending I am actually living in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, albeit without a heavy shopping trolley and a moany young boy following me around everywhere. Bonus.

MacReady #2
Bonnier Zaffre
July 2017

Bombs detonate in a busy souk, causing massive devastation. An explosion rips apart a mosque, killing and injuring those inside. 
But this isn't the Middle East - this is Cardiff . . . 

In a city where tensions are already running high, DC Will MacReady and his colleagues begin the desperate hunt for the attacker. If they knew the 'why', then surely they can find the 'who'? But that isn't so easy, and time is fast running out . . . 

MacReady is still trying to prove himself after the horrific events of the previous year, which left his sergeant injured and his job in jeopardy, so he feels sidelined when he's asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman. 

But all is not as it seems with his new case, and soon MacReady must put everything on the line in order to do what is right.

More about the author can be found on his website by clicking here

Follow on Twitter @ItDaFiveOh #Unforgiveable

My thanks to the author for spending time with us today and for the insightful glimpse into his writing space

Thanks also to Emily at Bonnier Zaffre for the invitation to be part of the 

Unforgivable Blog Tour.