Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas Truce

I found this poignant letter during Christmas 1914-18 research at
"Dear Miss Fuller and other assistants of the little tea shop. Just a few lines to let you know how we are all keeping. The 6th have been in the trenches twice. A good few of them had to go to hospital through the cold and exposure. They are hardly fit for this work. We were in the trenches on Christmas Day. We spent a merrier day than we expected. There was a truce to bury our dead. We had a short service over the graves, conducted by our minister and the German one. They read the 23rd Psalm and had a short prayer. I don't think I will ever forget the Christmas Day I spent in the trenches. After the service we were speaking to the Germans and getting souvenirs from them. Fancy shaking hands with the enemy! I suppose you will hardly believe this, but it is the truth. I often think about the little tea shop and wonder how you are getting on. Long may the lum reek at the little tea-shop."

Sunday, 12 December 2010


How do you describe an emotion in writing? This is often a question a writer is asked. Quite out of the blue, my friend, an avid reader of celebrity mags, phoned me to say that to her surprise she was enjoying EAST END ANGEL, which she’d rashly bought at ASDA. We dug a little deeper and this is what she came up with. “It’s the emotions I like,’ she told me. “Anyone who has experienced them would know how Pearl (leading lady) feels. I kept going hot and cold and thinking, she’s just getting in deeper and deeper. Why doesn’t she stop? At the same time, I didn’t want her to.”

After we’d spoken I went back through Pearl’s journey, replaying the guilt and shame of the things she had done in the past, then the fear of her husband finding out. How would she keep the past a secret? She goes to all sorts of lengths, as all our heroines do if they are desperately in love (or lust). This made a very strong story-line and one which my friend pointed out, enjoying the conflict in relationships that are at the crux of all satisfying stories – and hot magazine articles! So I thought back to my own first encounter of reading fear, shame, guilt and doomed love. I came up with Dickens, a past-master of all these emotions, his writing interwoven with manipulation, deception, cowardice and courage, the darker side of life, but with a resolution that leaves a part of you impressed forever. So it seems a perfect ending to this year to find myself reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Dickens’ own secretly-guarded emotions seem even more alive for me now than when I first read the book decades ago. I’m now giving GE to my friend and have a pretty good idea that HELLO! could well be put aside for the holiday.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

So easy to be a writer

What an easy life you must have, being a writer, people say. You only need work when the muse strikes you, and it doesn’t really matter where you live. No hassle, a stress-free life… and much more in this vein. I hate to disillusion them but it isn’t like that at all, sad to say. I work flat out for several hours a day, most days of the week, month after month to produce a novel. Yes, I love what I do, but easy it isn’t. And there are also frustrations, certainly in living where I do in rural Spain.

I won’t bore you with the tale of trying to get a telephone. Still working on that one, although we do now have a radio phone which also provides us with the internet via microwave, would you believe? I keep hoping it might also cook my dinner one day.

And then there is the postal service.

When we first came to live out here, we’d been living in the village for some weeks and were beginning to worry, having received not a scrap of post. Fortunately those who’d been there before us pointed out that we hadn’t introduced ourselves to the postman. Ah, we thought, this must be an essential courtesy in Spain. So along we went to do just that and Pedro declared himself delighted to meet us, welcomed us to his village and handed us a large bundle of our mail which he’d been saving for us. It turned out that he was dyslexic and couldn’t read, but once he’d connected your written name with your face, everything worked fine after that, except when we have to send a large parcel which seems to be fraught with unexpected difficulties.

We tried Fed Express. Unfortunately the nearest office is in Almeria, an hour’s drive away, and the Spanish don’t see why they should travel all that distance just with one parcel, so they hang on to it in the hope they’ll get something else for this remote part of Spain, while telling me that for sure it will be with me this week. I wait in, sitting by the phone, ever hopeful. Days later we’re running out of food and milk, or climbing the walls with frustration. We ring them and they swear they’ve tried and failed to find us in, which we know is a lie. Why didn’t you ring and we’d meet you somewhere? I say. ‘But of course we rang, senora. You did not answer.’

Eventually I gave up with them and took my next manuscript to the post office in the nearest town and asked that it be sent the fastest possible way. Urgente is the Spanish word. The man behind the counter was appalled by the weight of it, and took great pains to explain how much such a transaction would cost. An arm and a leg at least. I kept insisting that was fine as it had to be in London by Friday. Unconvinced that this little English lady understood a word of what he’d said, he called upon the entire assembly of customers gathered in the Post Office to help him, found someone who could speak English and had them explain to me exactly what I was letting myself in for. I agreed, and accepted the terms. It must be there by Friday, I said. In five days. It would be, he assured me. It took three weeks. The next time I sent it by ordinary post and it was in London in 3 days.

Thank goodness for email. Now all my mss come down the line, including copy-editing scripts and proofs in a pdf document. God bless technology. I do so love being a writer, and it really doesn’t matter where you live!

Here's the latest, set before and during World War I when they didn't have the internet, and no doubt their post was delivered in 24 hours flat, that is if they got a letter at all from their loved ones out in the trenches. We should perhaps consider ourselves very fortunate.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Mary's Oscar Saga

I found this article whilst researching Mary Pickford, whose stunning appearance was copied by young women of the 20's, including my own current writing heroine, Birdie Connor. Mary's Oscar controversy - you simply couldn't match the intrigue in fiction - continued long after her death.

"...the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences sued the heirs of actor Charles "Buddy" Rogers' second wife; the point of contention is Mary Pickford's best actress Oscar, the first for an actress in a talkie, which she won for the 1929 release Coquette.
The case is a bit complicated.
At the time she won her Oscar, Pickford, one of the Academy's founding members, was the wife of Douglas Fairbanks, living in the couple's fairy-tale mansion in Beverly Hills. After her un-fairy-tale-ish divorce from Fairbanks in the 1930s, Pickford married Buddy Rogers, whose film career was then in the doldrums. (Pickford herself retired from film acting in 1933.) They remained married until Pickford's death in 1979.
In the early 1950s, the Academy instituted a bylaw stipulating that Oscar winners would be able to sell their statuettes only after offering them back to the Academy for US$10. This bylaw was not retroactive, meaning that previous Oscar winners were free to sell their Oscars to the highest bidder. (According to a Seattle Times article, prices have ranged from $50,000 to $1.5 million.)
And here's the glitch:
At the 1976 Oscar ceremony, Pickford was given a special Oscar for her contributions to the art of motion pictures. When she accepted her honorary Oscar at her Beverly Hills home, the actress, then in her eighties, seemed not only quite frail but also a bit incoherent. According to the Academy, at that time Pickford signed an agreement stating that neither of her statuettes could ever be auctioned.
After Pickford died, Rogers remarried. Following Rogers' death, his widow inherited his belongings. The second wife died last January, and in her will she requested that Pickford's Oscar for Coquette be sold and proceeds (estimated by a family member to be around $500,000) be given to the Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony in Palm Springs, Calif., and to other charities dedicated to the welfare of young actors.
And the winner will be decided at the Los Angeles Superior Court.
Pickford's Oscar, by the way, was for what must have been one of the worst performances in the pioneer actress' distinguished career. Her shrill Southern belle in Coquette, in fact, may well be the very worst performance to result in an Academy Award win in the best actress category."

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Kitty McKenzie

Here is an excerpt of my Victorian historical, Kitty McKenzie, which is out in both ebook and print and available from and and The Book Depository which has free postage worldwide.


1864 - Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward.

 Kitty caught her breath at the magnificence of Kingsley Manor. In comparison, her old home, although large, looked like a poor cousin. When they arrived, Benjamin’s parents were out visiting after Sunday morning church service. Alone, Benjamin gave her a private tour of the house. In each superbly decorated room, he stopped and kissed both her hands until it became a game and their laughter echoed throughout the house.
 However, Kitty’s first impression of the beautiful Georgina Kingsley chilled her. The woman wore a frozen expression of horror on her face the moment she looked at Kitty. Distressed, Kitty lowered her gaze and fumbled with her black skirts. She wore the best clothes she owned, her black skirts and cream blouse, but her crinoline was bought from the market and her black lace gloves possessed the glassy shine of frequently washed clothing.
 After introductions, Benjamin’s father, John, took Kitty’s hand and led her into the conservatory. A maid waited by a table laden with a silver tea service and silver stands filled with dainty little cakes and sandwiches.
 “So, Miss McKenzie, Ben informs us you have started a business?”
 “Indeed I have, Mr. Kingsley, tearooms.” Her lips thinned into a tight smile.
 They were all aware of Georgina’s intake of breath.
 “It is a rare thing, a young woman going into business by herself. It must have been quite a decision to make.” John Kingsley’s gaze didn’t waver as he looked at her.
 “Upon my parents’ deaths we were left with vast debts that took everything we owned to pay off. For my siblings and myself to survive, I needed to acquire a living for us all.”
 Georgina put down her teacup and saucer. Her cold, blue eyes narrowed. “Surely there are relatives who could have helped…your…er…situation?”
 "I’m afraid we don’t have a large quantity of relatives. No one offered to help us. There was very little we could do, but sell everything.” Such intimate talk of her family unnerved her. She wished the conversation would turn to a much lighter subject.
 “Did you not find that odd, your relatives turning away from you?”
 “I hardly think that distant relatives, whom we rarely saw, should have to alter their lives to suit us.” Kitty hated the woman for making her defend the people who ignored her pleas for help.
 “And how many are there of you, Miss McKenzie?” Georgina raised an eyebrow. She wore her disgust like a cloak.
 “I’m the eldest of seven, Mrs. Kingsley.”
 “My, my, so many of you. So, where do you live now?” Georgina flicked an imaginary speck of dust from her beautiful, gray, raw silk dress with its crinoline so wide they had to move the chairs to accommodate it.
 "We are to live above the tearooms, Mrs. Kingsley.” She felt like a noose hung around her neck and with each look and question from Georgina Kingsley the knot tightened.
 “How extraordinary. To live above one’s own shop.” Georgina didn’t hide the foul look she directed at her son.
 He turned away to smile at Kitty. “Of course, it will only be temporary, until I return from the colony. Then we shall be married.”
 Georgina paled and her hand shook as she reached for her teacup and saucer. Kitty wasn’t sure whether it  was due to shock or anger.
 John Kingsley stood and held out his arm for Kitty. “Come, Miss McKenzie, let me show you the gardens and my fine hunters. They are the best in York I assure you.”
 When John and Kitty exited the conservatory, Ben stood abruptly and faced his mother. “How dare you,” he ground out through clenched teeth, his whole body rigid with anger.
 Unperturbed, Georgina sat quietly drinking her tea. “How dare I?” she asked with laced sarcasm. “My dear, I don’t know what is troubling you.”
 “Why must you behave in such a way? She is going to be your daughter-in-law. It wouldn’t have hurt too much for you to be kind to her and make her feel at ease. Instead of treating her like she was something a cat dragged in!” Ben’s chest heaved.
 “She is not one of us, my dear. Your union would be a most drastic mistake.” Calmly, Georgina leaned over and selected a small tart from the cake stand.
 “That is where you are wrong, Mother! She is one of us. Her father was a doctor, her mother a lady. They lived well and entertained many of the people you do.”
  “No, my dear. They were never one of us, for we wouldn’t have let our children be thrown onto the streets upon our deaths.” Georgina contentedly nibbled her tart, secure in the knowledge of her own wisdom.
  “Bankruptcy can touch anyone, Mother, even the Kingsleys.”
  “Benjamin, you do realize I recall the McKenzies, especially the wife? I cannot recall her name, however.” Georgina’s wave was dismissive. “I was introduced to her some years ago at a party. And let me inform you, she was one of the most vulgar women I have yet to meet. She was loud and dreadfully flirtatious. She was attractive, I’ll acknowledge that, but she was no lady.”
 “I don’t care a jot, Mother. It is Kitty, not her parents, who I shall be marrying.”
 “Then you are a fool and you will be ruined because of it.” Georgina glared.

Find out about Anne's books on Amazon.Uk

Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Unknown Warrior Is Home At Last

The day we remember in the year that commemorates the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians during the wars, is November IIth. On this day 1918, all major hostilities ceased between the warring countries. It was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a date that the world never forgets. An irony, perhaps, that those wars still continue whilst we revere our dead. All my family were involved in both World War I and World War II. I'm a result of the troops returning home, one romance that had a happy ending. My first book, LIZZIE OF LANGLEY STREET, unsurprisingly therefore, tells of the aftermath of war and the struggles of one man's family to survive tragedy. So I'm more than happy that Simon&Schuster have decided to publish my seventh novel, EAST END ANGEL, set during World War II, in the East End of London, on Armistice Day. The eleventh of the eleventh, 2010. How cool is that? I spent over two years writing LIZZIE, taking the story from the very beginning and going into the lives of a war veteran who lost both his legs. I have a little note in front of me, which reminds me of the starting point of this very challenging story.

"Just before midday on November 10th, H.M.S. Verdun, with an escort of six destroyers, leaves Boulogne with the Unknown Warrior aboard. The destroyer Vendetta meets them half-way with its White Ensign astern at half-mast. A salute of 19 guns is fired from Dover Castle as the Verdun slips alongside Admiralty Pier in Dover Harbour. The entourage of servicemen and coffin board the train to London. One hundred sandbags of earth from France accompany them. King George V places a wreath on the gun carriage that takes the coffin from the Cenotaph to Westminster Abbey. The Unknown Warrior is decorated with wreaths. One of them is laurel from the ruined gardens of Ypres. All is silent in the Abbey, save for the gentle clink of spades, as the Unknown Hero is finally and fittingly, laid to rest."

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Baby Love

Just over a week until EAST END ANGEL is published in paperback. There have been online promotions and events, a number of book signings and a chance to speak to readers and enjoy their take on the Blitz. London’s Docklands, a prime target for the Luftwaffe, is the setting for my story. Co-incidentally, the Blitz is my grand-daughter’s history project at school. So we made a gasmask from a tea box and a long bootlace. It was fun to become an evacuee again. We copied the dress of the two small evacuees on the front illustration of my book and wrote out the identification tag. We were going to Cornwall, where a kindly family would take in the dirty-faced cockney urchins, whilst hoping that none of their own kids started to drop their “haitches” or developed nits. The tag line on the cover, under the title and beside a pic of a slender, gutsy looking 1940’s heroine says, “She’d do anything to protect the family she loves”. So why, asks my very perceptive eight-year-old, is she parting from her children? Good question. To give them a chance of survival, perhaps? To comply with the authorities? Or was it panic that swept up parents as the skies rained bombs? In this book, Pearl Jenkins fights tooth and nail to keep her baby. I just couldn’t evacuate the child - Pearl wouldn’t let me. When I told my grand-daughter this, I was given the thumbs-up. “I wouldn’t give my baby away,’ she said. ‘And I like Cornwall.’

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Broken Hero by Anne Whitfield

I thought I would post an excerpt of my World War II story, Broken Hero, since it's been a while.

Audrey Pearson's life changed dramatically when WWII broke out and her large home, Twelve Pines on the East Yorkshire coast, became a convalescence home for wounded soldiers. Her life is no longer lavish with entertainment, beautiful clothes and surrounded by a loving family. Soldiers, physically and mentally wounded now fill her home. The smell of disinfectant replaces her mother's perfume and gone are the friends and acquaintances - instead nurses roam the hallways.
Captain Jake Harding, a doctor training in psychiatry arrives at Twelve Pines. Audrey immediately finds herself attracted to the Captain, but he is remote towards her. Puzzled by his cold behaviour, Audrey tries to learn more about the handsome Captain. He reveals that he's lost a wife and baby in childbirth and refuses to ever remarry.
However, despite this, Audrey believes she can change his mind and make him aware he doesn't have to spend his life alone.
The ice around Jake's heart begins to melt. For years he has rejected the possibility of finding love again because of the pain it caused him before, but the beautiful Audrey shows him her love and she needs someone to love her in return.
Could he honestly walk away from her, from the love that could be his?


Some inborn instinct told her that this man was for her—that she’d been waiting for him. She wouldn’t give up. He was worth fighting for. All it took was perseverance. She wouldn’t allow him to wallow in self-pity. He had to be shown that it was safe to love her, she wouldn’t leave him, and if he was too stubborn to acknowledge it then she would draw it out of him with some old-fashioned jealousy. She knew he was attracted to her, so now she had to use that to her advantage. All she had to do was play-act. Surely that wasn’t too hard now, was it?
Audrey reached for her straw hat and put her plan into action. “I think it’s time I showed these men how to play cricket. Who will be my partner?”
There was a roar of approval and then the men gulped their drinks down, ready to start another game.
Colonel Barnes picked up the other bat, his skin reddening. “I may be an old trout, but I’d be honoured to be at the other end, Miss Pearson.”
“Indeed, Colonel, I think that would be very suitable.” Since her father’s funeral she had noticed a change in the old colonel and Val had told her of his long talks with Jake, which had led to the colonel wanting to rejoin his regiment, if only to be used in the office or a similar position.
She picked up the cricket bat, and took her place in front of the stumps, waiting for the bowler to run in.
“You show them, Aud!” Lucy called from where she was fielding on the edge of the water.
Audrey grinned. The sun was hot, turning the sand to fire. She could feel the skin on her legs burning, but at least she tanned well. Today she wore navy shorts and a lemon short sleeved shirt. Her curls were wild about her head and she quickly tucked them under her hat.
From the corner of her eye she spotted Jake and Val chatting on the blanket and, as the bowler ran in, Audrey knew exactly where she’d hit the ball. Years of playing cricket with her father and brother made her good at the sport. She’d always been athletic, much to her mother’s dismay, and now she grinned as she whacked the ball hard, hooking it over to the blanket where it landed just inches from Jake’s feet.
Surprised, Valerie rose up on her knees. “Audrey, are you trying to kill one of us?”
“Sorry, Val!” She laughed and got into position again. For the next eight balls she hit every one in their direction. Valerie had run for cover, but Jake still sat on the blanket, slowly clapping each ball she hit.
“I say, how splendid!” The colonel took out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his head and neck. “I don’t have to run at all.”
"Miss Pearson is too good for us.” Nielson chuckled as she hit another ball that sailed over his head.
“She should play for England!” Major Johnson winked at her and she winked back.
“Will you have a bowl, Captain Harding?” Price threw him the ball.
“No, I don’t think so.” Jake glanced at Audrey.
“Frightened I might hit you for six, Captain?” she teased.
He stood and juggled the ball from hand to hand, his gaze not leaving hers. “Not at all, Miss Pearson.”
Audrey swallowed, watching him walk to the bowlers mark. Her stomach twisted into knots at the challenge. After missing his first two balls, she realised he was very good at this game and was determined not to let her win this match between them. He had a steely look in his eyes, his expression grim.
She managed to hit his next delivery back over his head. Jake looked at her in surprise as the men whooped and clapped at the shot. “Run Colonel! Run!” she called.
“Someone get that ball,” Jake yelled, raking his fingers through his hair in frustration. He glared at Audrey as she came to his end of the wicket.
“Don’t take pity on me simply because I’m a woman, Captain.” She grinned at him and turned to stand at the side. “I’m stronger than you know.”
The ball was thrown back to him and he caught it, pausing to examine the stitching. “I don’t doubt that for a moment, Miss Pearson.”
Inside, Audrey smiled. She was getting to him, unsettling his ordered life. She wasn’t someone he could dismiss without another thought. She wouldn’t let him.

Purchase Broken Hero from;

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

The Book Depository  (free delivery world wide)

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Angels at War

My latest title, out this month in hardback, is the sequel to House of Angels, although the story will stand alone. Again this book is set in the Lake District, partly in the beautiful Kentmere Valley around the time of World War I, although it is such a quiet corner of England I doubt it has changed much since. The nearest village is Staveley, situated between Kendal and Windermere. Here is picture to tempt you to visit.

Two years have passed since Livia and her sisters suffered at the hands of their brutal father and Livia is set to marry the handsome and caring Jack Flint while her sisters are contentedly living at Todd Farm. Yet she dreams of bringing back to life the neglected drapery business which was left to her when her father died. But is she prepared to jeopardise the love she shares with Jack to achieve her wish?

Racked with guilt over the tragic death of her sister Maggie, she promises never to let anyone down again and to do something worthwhile with her life. But standing in her way is the wealthy and determined Matthew Grayson, who has been appointed to oversee the restoration of the business. His infuriating stubbornness clashes with Livia’s tenacity and the pair get off to a bad start. But as her problems with Jack worsen, Livia finds it increasingly difficult to resist his charms. Despite all the emotional turmoil, she is also resolute in her support for the Suffragette Movement which puts further strain on her relationship with Jack. With the extra pressures of her sisters’ problems, is it possible for Livia to regain control of her life?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Love letter of dreams

It's now October and very soon will be my dad's birthday. I've written about him before, but last week Mum and I re-read some of his letters to her during his five years of war service. He knew a little French and often wrote romantic replies to Mum's fluent French notes. Dad wrote every chance he had though the fierce campaigns. One of the most amazing things about my parents' attitude to the enemy, even during the war, was their sympathy for and understanding of the German people. After the war we travelled extensively throughout the continent, but Germany was Dad's first love. He expresses it poignantly here with a description to Mum of his dreams.
"With the car - what type shall it be, Cheri? We shall travel! With God's blessing we shall once again indulge in simple pleasures of free people, unfettered by restrictions and partings and without mortal fear of the future. We shall have our own little maison with garden, somewhere in reach of country and town. We shall lay this car up for a couple of weeks in the summer for our holiday, starting with Switzerland. I regret we'll have to give Germany a chance to clear up before we visit, as we will at home. But I think it will be nice to spend just one more holiday touring the Black Forest, Munich and Berlin. Travel will be quite cheap when this is over. And though at the moment we all think rather rudely about certain countries, it will be altogether different after. It's very lovely to think about, Cheri. Bonne nuit, ma chere, je tu aime beaucoup. Sleep tight and chin up. Votre homme toujour, Bill."

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


PAPER DOLL by Janet Woods
Severn House UK
October 28th 2010

In the early 1920s Julia Howard feels as though she’s the perfect daughter – the paper doll that was manufactured by her father in her image. She longs to dispense with her innocence. Her best friend's brother is chosen for the deed. Alas, he turns out to not the gentleman he projects, and invites a couple of his friends to the party.
The wealthy, but less than perfect businessman, Latham Miller, has other plans for Julia. He wants a perfect wife. He sees Julia in that role and manipulates the situation to suit his plans. Julia marries him to please her father and she lacks for nothing – as long as she dresses, and does, exactly how Latham tells her to.
But Julia is only human. Already acquainted with troubled war hero, Martin Lee-Trafford she turns to him for friendship and comfort, and the former attraction between them grows into a deep and abiding love. The inevitable happens, Julia gives birth to a son, and her paper doll image is torn apart.
Julia is then faced with a heart-wrenching decision. Can she leave with the man she loves, knowing she’ll have to abandon her beloved son – or should she stay?

Monday, 27 September 2010


I've been looking through my previous novels while converting books to ebooks, and it’s brought home to me how very strongly place has influenced my writing. Born in the UK, I’m a ‘Lancashire lass’, but I’m also Australian now, so both places figure prominently in my books.

When I started writing, where did I set my first big novel? Lancashire, of course. I didn’t know then that I was writing a saga. I was just writing the sort of story I enjoyed reading. I’ve been writing sagas ever since.

At first all my stories were set in Lancashire, but after I emigrated to Australia I just had to write a story set there. I’m particularly interested in Western Australian history, because Sydney and especially the convict era in the Eastern States of Australia have been used rather often.

I began collecting historical ‘titbits’ years ago and am gradually working through them. One incident happened when the American Civil War stopped cotton supplies to Lancashire. This closed most of the mills, so a group of 60 unemployed cotton lasses was sent out to Western Australia as maids. That story seemed meant to be told, uniting both sides of my own and my writing background.

‘Farewell to Lancashire’ was born when I found a published diary which described the voyage which brought the cotton lasses to Western Australia. I added four more lasses to the group, but it’s the same ship, with the same events during the voyage.

Book 2 of the series is ‘Beyond the Sunset’ (my 50th novel published) which came out in July 2010 in hardback. In this, one sister is so homesick she has to return to England. That journey takes readers by a route of the 1860s that has been less used in fiction, via Galle, in what is now Sri Lanka, Suez (before the canal was built), rail to Alexandria and then sailing on to Gibraltar and Southampton.

Book 3 is ‘Destiny’s Path’ and tells the story of the remaining pair of sisters. It’s not published yet but is due out in March 2011.

But that story led me to a new place, because a minor character was so vivid, I’ve given him his own series – and that starts in a new place, Singapore in the 1860s. It was fascinating to research.

I started writing modern novels at the same time as we began house swapping holidays from Australia to England. Naturally, this led to several different backgrounds for my modern stories, starting with Dorset, our first house swap. For a while we went all over the place, Cheshire, modern Lancashire, Ireland, Derbyshire, Wiltshire – and so did my stories. In fact, I’ve had a ball.

Using places you visit as settings for novels makes you learn far more about them than you would if you were just playing tourist. I hope this has given my readers a taste of a few new places, too.

My latest modern novel (Licence to Dream) is set in a small town in the state of Western Australia, which readers would probably never ‘visit’ otherwise. It was one of the earliest places settled in that state, but it is still a very small and charming country town.

I’ve even been around the universe when I was writing SF/F as Shannah Jay – those stories are now out as ebooks if you want to join me on a much longer trip to distant planets.

Do come and travel to my special places sometime.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Happy Birthday Agatha!

This short paragraph is the beginning of a nostalgic blog on the BBC’s Agatha Christie page.
I remember the year when Nima read us a chapter or two of A Pocket Full of Rye after dinner each night. It must have been 1953 and I can remember the game as if it were yesterday. All the family sitting round the drawing-room at Greenway, coffee cups empty on the tray, a little cigar smoke rising from my grandfather's cigar, mauve chintzy covers on the chairs and a piano in the corner of the room. Nima sat in a deep chair with a light directly above her and spectacles, a strange butterfly shape, were pushed slightly forward…”
Gorgeous, isn’t it? 120 years ago today, Agatha was born and yet today we still love to read her as her burgeoning sales figures show. She epitomizes all that makes us feel cosy, secure, grounded and optimistic, even though her crime novels contain more than their fair share of murder and mayhem. Tonight, it's out with the Cluedo, which somehow also makes me feel cosy and secure. During our family get-together, we’ll dress up barmily, one of the kids will be the detective and one the victim when we play Murder In the Dark. And then, after dinner, my husband will read from 4.50 from Paddington. I hope Agatha will tune in from wherever she is, for she has been a great mentor through her novels and scripts to so many of us. The youngest in the family have yet to sample her magic and I do envy them the discovery. For my generation she is timeless, ageless and priceless – so here’s to you Agatha, Happy Birthday, and long may they always continue.

Monday, 6 September 2010

On the last day of August I went to prison, or at least the building which was built as the court house and prison for Dumfries in 1707. It is a tall building built from local red sandstone and it stands in the middle of the High Street, looking down on the fountain which commemorates the installation of a clean water supply to the town after a devastating outbreak of cholera. In the other direction it faces a statue of Robert Burns and the spire of the Grey Friars church - once a monastery where the Red Comym was killed after a disagreement with Robert the Bruce.
The listed building has been renovated and modernised inside and is now used by the Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association. I was invited to a "Meet the Author" evening to discuss the audio and paper back publications of A Home of Out Own. The evening went well with plenty of questions and readings by fellow author, Gill Stewart, from two of my books.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

To ladder or no ladder?

Well done on completion, Janet. That desirable oasis seems a long way off for me at the moment. You know how when you’re writing and it doesn’t feel right? Our characters are hard at it, steeped in poverty, hunger, degradation and unemployment. Yet something’s wrong. The foundation of our business is conflict; dig a deep deep hole and climb out of it somehow. But how easy it is, to skim up a ladder! My mum, 91, an East Ender,still lives contentedly in poverty in her mind, though she is more comfortable now, with none of the money worries she had when she and Dad left the Isle of Dogs for greener pastures. The other day we visited NEXT, as opposed to ASDA. It was like I was taking us into Hades. But Mum was seduced by a shiny black belt strapped to the waist of a slender window mannequin. A closer inspection of the price tag, said £9.99p. I turned heaven and earth to persuade her to buy it, or allow me to buy it, but I might as well have suggested robbing the cash machine outside. Old habits die hard and she explained to the very sweet and mystified assistant that on reflection, it would cost her nothing to cover her old, tired belt with petticoat material and elastic from her thermal knickers. Yet again this honesty inspired me to ditch that convenient ladder and use my fingernails instead.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Shining Through

I’ve just finished writing LADY LIGHTFINGERS – a novel partly set in the slum area of 1850s London. In places it turned out to be a stark and gruelling book to write. There is nothing romantic about poverty, when each day must be endured in the battle to survive, and the future seems more of the same. My heroine is a resourceful, gutsy young woman who was able to survive her bad start to life, but grew up streetwise enough to avoid the traps that can beset the poverty stricken, to find happiness and shine through.

Writing stories that have a downbeat theme can be difficult if you don’t want to make your readers miserable and put them off side. There are several qualities a main character needs to stop her from being a sad sack.

The first is a strong sense of optimism, so she doesn’t wallow in a sea of self-pity every time something goes wrong. Secondly, a sense of humour is required. This can be ironic, wry or sarcastic, depending whether it’s being spoken or thought. A heroine should also be brave, and courageous enough to take risks when the chips are down. Even though it might go against the grain, she might decided to sell herself, or get away with crime, if the motivation is great enough. My heroine is tempted by both to help feed and shelter her family. I won’t say which one but the title might give you a clue!

One of the things I like most about saga writing is that the heroine usually rises above fairly humble beginnings, and, through personal sacrifice, endures. If she doesn’t succeed in gaining wealth, at least she’ll emerge from her trials a stronger, wiser person – one enriched by personal satisfaction and happiness.

Janet Woods

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Preparing a book for ebooks was something of a learning curve. This involved a great deal of reading. First I studied the style guide on Smashwords, a company who supply Sony, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, mobi-pocket and others, which took some time. It was worth the effort though as it carefully explained how to produce a clean document for upload, essential if the formatting is to stay in place. Then came creating new covers in Photoshop, another learning curve but great fun. I would recommend anyone to have a go. If, like me, you’re still waiting to take possession of your Kindle, (I’ve been promised one for Christmas) you can download Kindle for PC free from Amazon. I put it on my netbook and a download appears in seconds and is very clear to read. Or you can get Adobe's Sony e-reader, which is also free.

The Bobbin Girls is one of my favourite historical sagas which I recently put up on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords and is doing rather well. It was a joy to revisit it for editing purposes, as I’d largely forgotten the story. It’s about a powerful young love blighted by a dark secret from the past which might, or might not, be true. I do remember that I loved doing the research as I found such marvellous people to interview. The late Bill Hogarth, who spent hours taking me through Grizedale Forest teaching me the tricks of his trade on coppicing, making hurdles and swill baskets. Stan Crabtree and Bill Grant also enlightened and entertained me on the skills of forestry.

Even the charcoal maker patiently explained his craft to me.

Most of all I loved the evening I spent with the ‘Bobbin Girls.’ Eileen Thompson, Joyce Wilson and Pat Hogarth not only regaled me with their yarns and the wonderful tricks they played on each other, but carefully described all that was involved in the making of bobbins, a skill I would not wish to try it, considering the hidden difficulties and dangers. I take my hat off to them. But this is a romance, so of course, there’s a happy ending.

Click here to download a free sample of The Bobbin Girls

Or click on my author page to find other ebook titles of mine.

Best of luck with your own self-publishing.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Brown Penny

This week, my husband and I attended a beautiful service. Not held in church, but in Dorset woodland where the trees were the only canopy above. Luckily the rain had stopped, leaving the air as scented as incense. The couple, both in their sixties, had asked a few friends and family to be with them on renewal of their vows. Only this time, forty years after the first vows were said and blessed by a priest, these ones were re-created in the form of a poem by Yeats. Hippies now, rather than in the sixties, friends as much as lovers and no longer in chemical overdrive, save for perhaps paracetamol. The couple glowed a peaceful certainty that was once pure passion and the woods were where they had first found love, much like their parents before who were survivors of World War ll. As I’m in the middle of writing a wartime saga, this seemed the perfect time to reflect on the importance of romantic theme, holding plot and pace together. Having wrestled this way and that with my own winding, intricate way, I thought of my fellow writers and your windings and wrestlings and all the effort we put in to each tale. And I’m so proud to be part of us.

I WHISPERED, 'I am too young,'
And then, 'I am old enough';
Wherefore I threw a penny
To find out if I might love.
'Go and love, go and love, young man,
If the lady be young and fair.'
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
I am looped in the loops of her hair.
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.
Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny,
One cannot begin it too soon.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Three minutes of Fame

How is it that I can write novels one after the other, but as soon as a writing colleague asks for a donation of words to a blog, the mind becomes one great big blank? There are only so many things that can be said about writing, and I’m sure everything has been said many times over, so, I thought I’d tell you about something a little different for me, though still connected to writing.

The daily newspaper decided to do a spread on romance writing, and although I wasn’t part of the printed article, I was asked if they could do a tie-in video. It was great fun. After answering questions about myself, and giving my views on writerly matters, I was then asked to comment on my three most enjoyed books. I’ll name them, in case any of the authors look in. However good a writer you are, it’s always nice to know your work is appreciated.

First for me came Sharon Penman’s “Devil’s Brood.” To be fair, I was only allowed to pick one of her books, though I love all her big novels equally, and so does my husband. She’s my favourite author, and her books are on my keeper shelf waiting to be read again. This particular novel is the story of the betrayal of Henry 2nd by his three eldest sons and Eleanor, his wife.

My second choice was “How Green Was My Valley,” by Richard Llewellyn. It was first printed in 1939, so is a bit on the elderly side. But it hit me straight in the heart when I first read it, and the writing still stands up today. My earlier 1951 copy was borrowed, and was never returned. Luckily the book was reprinted again in 1991 with a different cover. It’s the only book I’ve ever bought twice, and it was made into a TV serial with Stanley Baker and Sian Phillips in the starring roles.

Third comes a debut novel by Helen Simonson, published this year and called “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” The novel is an older-couple romance with family complications, and it’s set in an English village. The writing has a great deal of warmth and is sprinkled with wonderful metaphors. I’m sure we’ll hear from this author again.

So that was my input into the article. The three-hour interview was edited into my three minutes of fame on the web. Author at the computer––author talking about how she started writing, and author talking about her favourite “other author’s” books. Author at the computer again…fade out.

Funny, but there’s something familiar about that, as though it’s all been done before. Hmmm …

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

How To Sell More Books (kind-of!)

It was lovely to receive a comment from Freda and Anne about THE BOOK PEOPLE. TBP came in useful when round at my daughter's this week. I was able to tell her friends of the many talented authors on this blog writing in the same genre, with books for sale on Amazon if not TBP. To my astonishment, some of the youngsters (30-40)didn't know what sagas were. They read, in the main, contemporary modern fiction. During the discussion my eight year old granddaughter, handing out cookies and freebies, pipes up, "I know what sagas are. They're books written by ladies who work in the night". (She is used to me writing in the evenings!) A few raised eyebrows and smirks here, but more author names bandied about and swiftly written into diaries!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A little off topic

This is a little off-topic, but has anyone heard of J.A.Konrath? If you have then don't trouble to read on, as you'll have had a good giggle at this entertaining fellow. Konrath is a crime/thriller writer of the "old" style, but just look at his stats (below). They say long sagas/family dramas don't go so well as E books. I wouldn't know, as none of mine are in that format yet, but it gave me a good feeling to read this guy's admirable copy on both his website and blog. He's a loose cannon in publishing, going it alone, and has made good. The hairs on my neck stood up as I researched him, so I thought, even though this is a historical blog, I wanted to pass on a little of his writerly enthusiam and a chuckle too, if you go to his website and watch his entertaining Utube vid. This is what he has to say about himself on Amazon's Author Space. His website bio and blog

"J.A. Konrath has written 19 novels and hundreds of short stories. His work has been published in over a dozen countries, and there are millions of copies of his fiction in print.

His blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, has been named one of Writer's Digest Magazine's Best Web Sites.

In a 12 month period, he sold over 35,000 self-published ebooks on Amazon Kindle.

He's been featured in Writer's Digest, Forbes, Publisher's Weekly, Book Page, Entertainment Weekly, and The Huffington Post.

Konrath is known as the hardest working author in the business, having toured more than 1200 bookstores. He's done successful blog tours, sent over 7000 letters to libraries, and has been flown all across the country to speak on the topics of publishing, marketing, ebooks, and self-promotion."

Friday, 16 July 2010

16th July 2010

I don't think my books can be regarded as historical these days, except perhaps to the very young, but they are definitely family dramas, as one of the group describes sagas.
My present "Home" series starts at the end of the war with Dreams of Home when a young couple struggle to get a foot on the farming ladder. It is followed by A Home of our Own, highlighting the problems of an ex-landgirl with an illegitimate child and the stigmas of the period to 1955. It was published in hard back in January 2010 and is available in trade paperback from August. They are all available on CD, recorded by Soundings.
The third in the series will be published in October 2010 and takes us to 1967. Heart of the Home follows the lives and responsibilities of two younger characters and how they cope after the death of a well loved mother. All the books in the series have a Scottish farm or country background.
I am presently working on a fourth book starting in 1972. The proposed title is Another Home - Another Love, but titles sometimes change. It will highlight the changing standards and problems between the different generations.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

My 50th Novel

This is a very special month for me because my 50th novel has just been published, ‘Beyond the Sunset’, set in the mid 1860s. I’m thrilled about this and have been cuddling my new and very special book baby at regular intervals every since I received my author’s copies.

My first novel published was special too, as it finalled in a big writing competition in Australia and won me a $10,000 prize and publication in 1992. ‘Persons of Rank’ is a historical romance, but is now out of print. However, it will be going up as an ebook at by the end of July, in case anyone wants to see how I started out as a writer. Another of my out of print historical romances ‘Mistress of Marymoor’ is already up there at:

Back to my 50th novel . . . I never realised when I first started out that I’d be able to write so many stories in such a short time – 18 years - but perhaps the imagination is like a muscle and the more you use it, the stronger it grows. I’ve got loads of ideas noted down for further books, so watch out, readers of the world.

‘Beyond the Sunset’ is one of a series of linked stories about the Blake Sisters. They stand alone and can be read in any order. The first one was ‘Farewell to Lancashire’. You can read the first chapters of these books on my web site

They’re set mainly in Western Australia (WA), where I live. Many historical novels with an Australian background are set in Sydney and the convict era. Mine aren’t because I’m having great pleasure in exploring WA’s history.

I’d been dying to write these stories for years, ever since I read in a research book that during the 1860s Cotton Famine in Lancashire, when mills were closed because the American Civil War had cut off supplies of cotton, they brought 60 starving ‘cotton lasses’ out to WA to act as maids. I even found the diary of a clergyman’s wife who’d travelled on the same ship. It seemed meant to be.

In ‘Farewell to Lancashire’ I brought the four sisters out to Australia.
In ‘Beyond the Sunset’ I take the youngest, who is desperately homesick, back to England on urgent family business. There were no railways in WA in those days, unlike the UK, so she had to travel from the outback to a port by horse and cart. As ships didn’t leave the small ‘Cinderella’ colony every month, she had to rush to catch the ship, or she’d have had to wait two months for the next.

Once on board the ship, she went via Ceylon, Suez (before there was a canal to the Mediterranean), Alexandria and Gibraltar. It was fascinating researching all this.

And of course, romance blossomed on the journey!

Book three ‘Destiny’s Path’ comes out next year, and was equally interesting to write and research, but I’m not revealing any details yet!

If you see my 50th novel ‘Beyond the Sunset’ in a shop or on line, wish it well.

And now, I have this other story to write . . .

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Cute Collection

My long-time Ed left her desk last year and also the enterprising young lady who sold my books to THE BOOK PEOPLE. I had no idea of this deal until my agent sent me a photocopy reading, "Carol Rivers' gripping sagas are set in London's East End and chart the lives of six young women as they struggle to overcome the obstacles that destiny throws their way. Vividly evocative, these enthralling tales are painted against a backdrop of pre- and post-war London, weaving their intricate stories amongst colourful characters and richly drawn period detail. Perfect for fans of Josephine Cox and Meg Hutchinson, the East End Collection guarantees to keep you warmly entertained throughout the summer." The price of the collection of six books is just £7.99 - amazing! So if no one else buys my books I'm off to order a few sets myself, which is a giggle, but I can't buy the books cheaper and my first book LIZZIE OF LANGLEY STREET is not easily found new. Curious though, how things work out, as last week I was delighted on the one hand, that my new website was bringing in traffic but concerned for all the lovely readers who email for LIZZIE (having read the others) and want the whole series. Funny how one day a problem seems insurmountable and in the blink of an eye, astonishingly resolvable.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Harper Lee

What a wonderful documentary I saw recently on Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. This reclusive writer wrote only the one book which was to become a classic and made into a film with Gregory Peck and I still have my early copy. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time during my last year at school. Not that I realized its influence until sixty four years later, when the narrator of the doc explained that Harper’s story was hewn out of an extraordinary experience in small town America, reflective of the times, and bearing a great influence –her father, a legal man working in a small, tightly-knit community. It was then that Atticus Finch, Boo and Scout, suddenly leapt out at me as I watched, overlaid with the characters who have appeared in my own books. As each author knows, there is more to the conscious and unconscious than meets the eye. Boo, Scout and Atticus - I saw them clearly for the first time six decades later. What a revelation! And now I return to my writing with a deeper understanding of the characters. What writer hasn’t had this light-bulb moment? For me it came very late in life and I’m so grateful for the heart-racingly vivid memory of my pals John C, Ashley W, and my dad William T, the chicken wire cage of a fancy dress outfit, and a hot summer’s day with a puddle of lemonade inadvertently spilt over the cover of a very special book.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Writing and Football

This morning, Sunday 27th June 2010, an air of tension hangs in the air, like Christmas, but with the sizzling sun baking the green fields and rolling hillsides of the British Isles, instead of the cold and frost. Today, Britain is breathless, waiting, hopeful, heady, hung-over, hungry for success, patriotic, for once palpitatingly in unison, and all because of a ball. A small, round object kicked between the feet of acrobats, slithering, sliding, bouncing, cavorted along the grass to that beckoning siren, called goal. Guarded by a single knight, this holy space is reserved on the one hand for the ultimate, exquisite joy, and on the other, absolute, intense, unbearable disappointment. And what better description could I give to the hour before writing, when words in the playing fields of the mind are winged, orbiting, chaotic, elusive, insistent, lifted into the esoteric by an unconscious that somehow, miraculously, herds them all into the goal mouth of the WIP. How desperate we writers are to score a winning paragraph or chapter, to illuminate the dark spaces that will burst with life from the stands in recognition of our success. My husband asked me why I’m so keen on the football. I couldn’t really think of one answer, and there wasn’t time for many, not with the preparations for this afternoon. But as I’m writing this, I think I can relate more than ever to this small tribe of warriors who represent our country. I’ve come a long way and I’ve got the scars to prove the tussles. Yet still I’m doing it - writing, that is. When I hear a kind word from a reader, just one, I feel I’m remembering what I knew before I was born, in the life before this one started. Purpose, fulfillment, joy. I wonder if our team feel the same, as they stride out onto the pitch, with all the greats accompanying them. Like Stanley Mathews, Tom Finney, Bobby Moore and another less well-known West Ham player, my dad, Bill Skeels. Good luck to you lads, may the Immortal Source be with you and let’s write another chapter, a triumphant one, for Britain.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Sagas and dramas

Following on to Freda's absorbing blog on sagas, my editor has a preferred description now - I suppose to make the genre more appealing to new readers - "family dramas" now seems to fit the bill. I had the book jacket cover arrive of EAST END ANGEL and thought, yes, drama, saga, thriller, even a little bit of whodunnit, encapsulated in the picture, the heroine with her suitcase, amidst the 1941 bombing of London. ANGEL is a popular term now, so together with the two young children, refugee-like, making their way hand-in-hand through the destruction, I'd say Simon&Schuster have got it right on the button. So, here's to our brilliant marketeers who work so skillfully in the background, bringing our stories alive with their creative artwork. Whatever our genre is, it's wonderful to be part of the buzz and creativity that sprung from a teeny, weeny germ of an idea!

Friday, 28 May 2010

Is a saga romantic fiction?

The Shorter Oxford Dictionary tells us that the word saga is Old Norse. ‘A narrative composition in prose which embodies the traditional history of Icelandic families.’ And ‘A mythical story which has been handed down by oral tradition.’

I love to use memories of a life now gone which people share with me. A saga is often a generational story, or one about relationships. Families lived close together in the past, often living in the same place for generations and forming close-knit communities. This is something we have perhaps lost in the modern world. Look at this picture of my mother as a young girl enjoying an afternoon out with her Aunt Sarah. Judging by the busy scene around them it's clearly taken in the late twenties, early thirties. They look so engrossed in their conversation, happy to be together. Yet her family was very poor with an invalid father who couldn't work, and a mother who was the family bread winner. What are they talking about, I wonder?

 The dictionary also states that a saga can be ‘A story of heroic achievement or marvellous adventure.’ A sweeping tale of courage and bravery, good pitted against evil. Robin Hood, Star Wars, David against Goliath, as our hero battles against all odds to win. The saga’s we write are stories about ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events in their lives. Our main characters too must win through against all odds.
But can we class the saga as romantic fiction, or is it something different, a genre in its own right? Is it historical fiction? Or could it, perhaps, be a combination of both?

Catherine Cookson, considered one of the greatest saga writers of all time, certainly didn’t claim to be writing romance. Her novels are more often involved with cruelty, violence and savagery, the hypocrisy of religion, poverty, despair and of course her chief obsession, illegitimacy.

The ingredients of a saga might include:
Strong characters.
Multi-layered viewpoint
Fast paced plot
The position of women.
Universal issues
Social and domestic history
Local industry and economics of the region
Strong emotions
A sense of place
A view of a wider world

Maybe we can look at some of these in later blogs.
Best wishes,

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Just an excuse

Writing historicals could just be an excuse to indulge in fantasy - it's often the case that when describing our heroine, we can drop the name of a look-a-like, for instance Veronica Lake. How gorgeous was she? Smooth, smart and absolutely self-confident about her looks. Consequently, my latest centre stage character, likes to think of herself as smart and confident, until I did the dig the biggest hole I can and push her in it. Tossing back her gold locks she has to find some way of negotiating her way back on top - until next time. Meanwhile, it's ok to trawl through the photo galleries and pick out of the ether a few more of those character traits. Perhaps underneath she isn't quite so confident, is slow to stay one step ahead of the threat and turns out one morning in her dressing gown and curlers! But to the man who loves her, she looks enchanting, just like the man in my own life, who brings me a cuppa and whispers, "Here's lookin' at you kid" bending to kiss my left ear, following up with "the deer have just scoffed all the pansies."

Friday, 21 May 2010

The movies prove it true

A sultry summer evening in May with the maybugs bouncing against the window and not a breath of air. My keyboard should be icing over as I'm describing the freezing cold February of 1919, a year after the Great War, with Britain emerging from the nightmare of the battlefields. I’m amazed once again that my current story bears every similarity to the book I have just finished in 1946. It makes me realize just how much of an escape movies played in people's lives. From sizzling Alice Faye to blonde doppelganger Doris Day, Clark Gable to yes! Russell Crowe. From the sultry, challenging, stunning, Alli Nazimova to Katie Price, the resemblances are remarkable. Tying the past into the present isn't difficult; the moment we just lived is history! How fantastic it is to be able to look back in the comfort of home, bring to life the celebrities of the past and melt them into today. Nothing changes, yet everything changes - can't remember who said it, but the movies prove it true.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The 1920's Cup Final

Reflecting back to the twenties; at about this time in 1926 preparations were ongoing for the first Cup Final at Wembley Stadium between Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers. Provisions included 50,000 bottles of beer, 1,500 bottles of whisky, 30 tons of minerals, 700lbs of tea, 25,000 ham rolls and meat pies, 12,000 packets of biscuits, 120,000 cigarettes, 10,000 boxes of matches and 2 van loads of chocolate. 400 catering staff were to be divided between 10 buffets. The restaurant seated 1000. 50 special trains ran from the L.M. and S Railway in the provinces. 22 from the Midlands. 19 from Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. Translated into today's requirements, it's merely a drop in the football ocean. My dad, a professional footballer for Walthamstow Ave, was paid £1 every Saturday in the late 20's. This was reckoned to be very good money. He broke more bones in his body than I care to count, whilst playing for his team. And transfers then were all about honour, which is why he stuck with his first, last and only team love, until he met another, my mum, who proved more alluring than any other WAG, lucky for me!

House of Angels

The paperback of House of Angels is now out. They've brightened up the jacket, which really is quite stunning I think. I've also delivered the sequel Angels at War, which the editor loves. It's always a worry until you get some feedback. Now, in theory, I have some spare time on my hand. In practice I'm catching up on all those long neglected jobs on blogs and website. I've joined Facebook and Twitter, very time-consuming but really quite fun, allowing me to meet up with people I rarely see.

Here is a review of the hardback.
This is the first book by Freda Lightfoot I have read and, despite the fact that I am not a lover of sagas, I was engaged with the story from page one. She piles horror on horror – rape, torture, sexual humiliation, incest, suicide - but she keeps you reading! The story of the Angel sisters, the novel is set in the Lake District in 1908, the title referring to the high-class department store their father owns. A tyrant, he successfully marries off one of his legitimate daughters so he can gain a plot of land he wants to build on. When his illegitimate daughter comes to him for help after her mother has died, however, he has her taken to the workhouse as, far from being of use to him, she is a threat to his standing in the town. Another daughter defies him, refusing to give up the working-class man she loves, while his youngest remains at home, hating him but unable to escape. How each of these four women cope with the life their father has forced on them, makes for page-turning reading, and I am sure that this novel will become yet another bestseller for Lightfoot.
jay Dixon

I must now start planning the next saga. This takes time for me, and I hate putting anything down in writing until it's fairly well formed in my head. I was interested to see that Carol did a 30 page outline. That wouldn't work for me. If I wrote such a long synopsis I would lose the enthusiasm to actually write the book. The story has got to surprise me, as well as the reader, as far as possible anyway. Right now I'm flirting with ideas before deciding whether it will be a long-term relationship. My problem, as always, is too many ideas and so little time.
Best wishes

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Web design and inspiration.

It's a while since I've posted, but today has been inspiring, as I've been working with my web designer today and it's been great fun. He's building a new, very visual carolrivers website. I've selected three YouTube videos to give an idea of time and place. I've loved watching the amazing assortment of vids which express so well the 1920, 30's, 40's and 50's, the span of history that I enjoy writing about so much. Some of them are nostalgic, set to music and evoke the real old London. Especially the red buses and trams and Big Ben with wonky chimes from the turn of the 20th century. Others are contemporary and some tensely alluring. However, as music/narration really makes it all come alive for me, I've decided upon three real corkers, and I can't wait to see them in situ, after my wonderful designer has pressed all the right bells and whistles. Now it's back to the compie to work out a thirty page outline of the new book for my agent. The characters are beginning to form, their interior passions, fears and drives, melting into the dialogue. A nice cup of rosie lee and the time just flies…

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Broken Hero excerpt

Broken Hero is my historical romance set in England during World War II.

Audrey Pearson’s life changed dramatically when WWII broke out and her large home, Twelve Pines on the East Yorkshire coast, became a convalescence home for wounded soldiers. Her life is no longer lavish with entertainment, beautiful clothes and surrounded by a loving family. Soldiers, physically and mentally wounded now fill her home. The smell of disinfectant replaces her mother’s perfume and gone are the friends and acquaintances - instead nurses roam the hallways.

Captain Jake Harding, a doctor training in psychiatry arrives at Twelve Pines. Audrey immediately finds herself attracted to the Captain, but he is remote towards her. Puzzled by his cold behaviour, Audrey tries to learn more about the handsome Captain. He reveals that he’s lost a wife and baby in childbirth and refuses to ever remarry. However, despite this, Audrey believes she can change his mind and make him aware he doesn’t have to spend his life alone.

The ice around Jake’s heart begins to melt. For years he has rejected the possibility of finding love again because of the pain it caused him before, but the beautiful Audrey shows him her love and she needs someone to love her in return.
Could he honestly walk away from her, from the love that could be his?


“Turn the music off, Lucy. You’re not doing this.”
Lucy gave her a defiant stare. “It’s all been arranged.”
"Then unarranged it!” Audrey stormed over to the wireless and switched it off.
“No, I shan’t.” A steely look came into Lucy’s eyes. “I want some fun. I’m sick of being surrounded by dreary people and this dreary war.”
“Don’t be so selfish,” Audrey snapped. “You’re not a child to demand a party when it suits you. I can’t believe you went behind my back to organise this.”
“You’re such a stick in the mud, that’s why. We can’t do this, we can’t do that!’ Lucy mimicked, hands on hips. “I’ve had enough of it. You’re not my mother and this is my house too.”
Val took a step forward and opened her mouth to speak, but at the same time the door opened again and the officers sauntered in talking and joking.
Lucy smiled at them. “Good, you’re all here. I’ve got a few girls coming from the village that I know, to even up the numbers.” She swivelled back to the table and switched the music on. “There’s plenty of drinks and food. We’ll have a wonderful night.”
“I’m going for a bath.” Audrey spun on her heel and left the room. In the hallway Valerie caught up with her.
“I’m sorry, Aud, I didn’t know.”
“It’s not your fault. Lucy is to blame. I cannot believe her behaviour. To be so sneaky. It’s not like her.”
There was a knock at the front door and Valerie went down the hall to open it. Three young men and two giggling teenage girls stood on the doorstep holding bottles of wine.
“How do!” One fellow crowed, his trilby hat low over his eyes and an arm around the girl next to him. He was good looking with a deep tan and flashed a bright smile. “We heard there was a party on tonight.”
They swarmed into the house, laughing and calling Lucy’s name as Valerie showed them to the dining room. She returned scowling. “I think they were drunk.”
“I don’t even know them.” Audrey mounted the stairs. “Lucy will get a tongue lashing in the morning.”
Val hesitated. “Shouldn’t we go and keep an eye on them?”
Conscious of her aches and another long day of working in the garden tomorrow, Audrey shook her head. “I need a bath and sleep. Lucy thinks she’s adult enough to handle it, so let her.”
“I guess the officers will keep an eye on things.” Val checked her watch. “Captain Harding will be home in a few hours.”
“Oh?” Audrey tried not to show interest, but she hadn’t known he was gone from the house. On purpose she rose early each day and stayed out in the grounds with Owen and Alf all day. Avoiding the Captain was becoming one of her talents.
“Yes, he went to Hull this morning. There is a doctor up from London who is holding a lecture on treating soldiers with problems of the mind. The Captain has been talking about it all week.”
Irrationally, Audrey felt shut out, and also jealous of Valerie. Captain Harding had been freely talking with Val, but he never did it with her. In fact, he went out of his way to avoid being in her presence. This week, she had tried to give him some of his own treatment. Only to find that it backfired on her, because she didn’t know his thoughts or what he talked about or where he was going. To shun him had left her in the dark even more than normal. She was a fool. She’d given him exactly what he wanted. But what was the alternative, more rejection?
Depressed, she went up a few more steps before Val caught her attention again. “Yes?”
A soft look of worry crossed Val’s face. “Don’t give up on him, Audrey. He’s a good man and worth the effort.”
“He’s not interested in me, Val. He doesn’t seek me out, doesn’t smile in my direction.”
“There are reasons, I’m sure. He’s suffered—”
“I know his past, his pain. I’ve tried to show him I understand, but he’s not willing to take a chance on love, on me.”
“Give him time.”
“I would, willingly, if he gave me a hint that time was all he needed.”
“Audrey, he’s one of those men who don’t wear their heart on their sleeve. He’s not going to show his feelings or even admit to them until he’s sure and even then he may not do anything about it.”
“So, in the mean time I’m meant to keep humiliating myself? Do you know how many times he’s rejected my friendship, my caring? I don’t know if I can keep putting myself through it, in fact I know I can’t keep doing it.” She smiled sadly down at her friend, tears blurring her vision. “I may have feelings for him, but I can’t make him feel for me.” With that she hurried up the staircase and into her room.

Available from and The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery)

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Psychic Telegram

Today the revisions have gone in to my publisher and it's a tense time. Will they fit or not? What more will have to be done? What will the copy editor discover and change? And finally, will it all come together as a readable page turner? Underlying this is the darker thought, the psyche-in-wait, the brooding, working, "expecting the telegram to arrive mechanism" for the next book. I've a vague idea, suggestions born from conversations, a story once told, a character that slipped in and out of a dream. Yet it all has to come in the mailbox of the mind - but WHEN? Soon, very soon, I hope...

Woodland Daughter in audio.

My historical novel Woodland Daughter is now available in audio format such as Mp3 and cds and even cassettes. These can be ordered in by your local library. The reader is Anne Dover.
The audio book company's website which showcases is (you can do a search with my name, etc)
Sadly, I can't get the cover large with it distorting.
Throughout her years of devoted service to the Bradburys, Eden Harris has hidden a secret that would affect them all, a secret shared only with her husband, Nathan and her grandfather. But an enemy returns, shattering her world and exposing her secret. Then, robbed of Nathan, she must flee from the country estate. However, her attempt to start anew is not so simple as the past haunts her. Now Eden must gather her strength and look into her heart to accept what the future offers.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Day to Remember at the RNA Awards

I arrived at the Royal Garden Hotel after crossing Hyde Park and missing the road works that dog the taxi army. The reception had already begun and the bubbly flowing. It was lovely to be able to put names to faces and as most of us rarely get the chance to talk shop, make the most of every moment before Lunch. The food was delicious, the planning perfect and Barry Norman a wonderful host speaker. He wasn't elaborate and understood writers and had a great sense of humour. Many thanks to the RNA for all their hard work in preparation and hopefully Katie is feeling better by now? Perhaps the worst time ever for a cold to strike!This next section comes from the RNA website.

Maeve Binchy was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of the joy she has given to millions of readers around the world. Her first novel, Light A Penny Candle, was published in 1982 and her books have sold an estimated 45 million copies in 39 countries worldwide.

Maeve Binchy was presented with her award in Ireland and sent a message via video to the lunch, saying, ‘I’ve always admired the Association because it’s managed to make us believe that stories are important and that we can get lost in the lives of other people.’

The Lifetime Achievement Award is the second award Joanna Trollope has received from the RNA having, thirty years ago, won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award for her novel Parson Harding’s Daughter (1980).

Joanna Trollope said: ‘I have such admiration and respect for the RNA, which must be one of the most professional and supportive of literary associations around, as all its aspiring writer members know, and of course, I was one of them, once…So my pleasure and gratitude are very heartfelt.’

RNA Chair Katie Fforde said,‘Maeve Binchy and Joanna Trollope are household names, national treasures and some of the best storytellers of the last 50 years. It was our pleasure and privilege to honour them with Lifetime Achievement Awards.’

The RNA’s main award, the Romantic Novel of the Year, was won by Lucy Dillon’s Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts, published by Hodder & Stoughton. The perfect story for our nation of dog lovers, the novel focuses on the romantic sequence of events that occurs when abandoned strays are matched with new owners, whose lives become interwoven.

The Love Story of the Year, for a shorter romance with a strong emphasis on the developing central relationship, was won by Nell Dixon’s Animal Instincts, published by Little Black Dress. This is the second time Nell Dixon has received an award from the RNA, having won this award, then called the Romance Prize, in 2007 for her novel Marrying Max.

In honour of the 50th Anniversary, several new awards were introduced this year: The Romantic Film of the Year, The Romantic Comedy Award and The People’s Choice Award. In keeping with the RNA’s desire to help emerging authors, The Harry Bowling Prize for New Writing was included in the RNA ceremony for the first time.

Katie Fforde said, ‘The new awards introduced to celebrate the RNA’s 50th year not only showcase this fantastic, best-selling and popular genre but also provide a wonderful excuse for readers to get to know new writers across the diversity of themes and plots that comprise the romantic fiction genre.’
The Romantic Comedy Award, which recognises the book where love and laughter go hand in hand, was won by Jane Costello’s The Nearly-Weds, published by Simon & Schuster. The judges said the book was ‘a witty, at times laugh-out-loud romance, full of great characters.’

The RNA Romantic Film of the Year, celebrating the finest adaptation from a romantic novel to a film released in the UK during 2009, was selected by the public via The winner was An Education, by Lynn Barber, published by Penguin. The film was scripted by Nick Hornby.

The People’s Choice Award, a new award recognising key new or developing authors in the romantic genre, was also selected by the public via The winner was Missing You by Louise Douglas, published by Pan.

The Harry Bowling Prize for New Writing, sponsored by Headline, recognises writing promise and is given every two years to the best first chapter and synopsis submitted by an author who has not yet had an adult novel published. Runner up for the 2010 award was Sunrise by John Barfield, and the winner was Fear No Evil by Debbie Johnson, who the judges felt showed great comic potential.

The RNA’s 50th Anniversary is supported by an extensive, nationwide in-store promotion under the ‘2010 Pure Passion Awards’ banner, with shortlisted titles stickered with the official logo. Posters and official consumer magazines featuring all the shortlisted titles and authors in each category are available from bookshops and libraries throughout the UK.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Straw in The Wind

Straw In The Wind- Janet Woods

Sequel books are often hard to write, and I don’t often write them. However, “Salting The Wound” deserved to have a sequel, because I knew that that the innocent baby who’d been the motivating factor for the conflict, didn’t deserve to die. In fact, this youngest girl of the trio of Honeyman sisters was clamouring for her story to be told. Luckily, I found the way open for the sequel. So this book is the stand-alone story of the survival of Serafina, and of her relationship with the man who finds her and entices her back into the family fold. Adam Chapman’s perseverance brings to fruition Serafina’s dreams of belonging, and in more ways than one.

Review bites for “Salting the Wound” can be found on Janet Woods’ website.
For full reviews click through to her blog.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Continuing theme and unconscious...

With this mellow, sun-filled day, the promise of a true English Spring, it's not difficult to understand the old saying, "When a young man's fancy turns..." The Law of Attraction itself is a theme; all of nature sends out a vibration of awareness. A fancy can turn to love in a glance. A long standing friendship can assume a different quality, a love of many years can reflect on how that love has survived and in many cases, though we don't often hear so much of them, flourished. So, paradoxically, today's fine weather brought my current story's challenging themes into clearer perspective. What happens when two poor but happy families, some of the members united in love and marriage, are put under a colossal strain, in this case a direct result of the Great War? What happens to love under the stigma of disgrace and grief? When loyalties are tested to their utmost, what is the breaking point? And is war and love a dynamic duo, twinned, inseparable and inescapable?

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Research and themes

Freda's post gave me cause to review what my own themes will be as I leave my World War 2 saga, EAST END ANGEL, in the hands of Simon&Schuster, to be published later this year. Over the next few weeks I shall complete the revisions and "nip and tuck". When everyone is satisfied with the finished article, EAST END ANGEL will take on a publishing life of its own. Meanwhile, I'll be researching a new idea and two nights ago I had a dream of a group of 1920's women. They made such an impression that I've begun to formulate an idea. I know the characters will have been touched by that dreadful conflict of World War 1. My hero and heroine will certainly know the meaning of grief and deprivation. The island's small community was devastated by the loss of so many young men. But at the core of the story there will be a powerful love theme. Love is binding, war is separating and so many personal testimonies I've read ask a fundamental question. "Why do we keep having wars?" In no way does a writer set out to deliver his own truth. Instead he poses many questions through his or her characters. My grandfather was a casualty of war. Shell shock was common to the disabled veterans. I dealt with this in my first book LIZZIE OF LANGLEY STREET. Post traumatic stress, as we know it now, was the stage on which Lizzie's family's future played out. I have a feeling that with this new book I will be revisiting similar issues that still shadow the world in our contemporary and future conflicts.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Choosing a theme

Catherine Cookson’s favourite themes were illegitimacy, upstarts and snobbery, rejection, love and hate, religion and superstition, mixed marriages and prejudice, purity and truth, the way people look at others, alienation and aloneness, education and trying to better yourself.

Today’s writers have expanded these themes to include any human condition you care to mention. E.g: Domestic violence. Rights of women. Murder. Gambling. Prostitution. Unemployment. Betrayal. You name it. The theme must be a strong one, a serious social issue or situation, life-changing, and characteristic of the period. For some reason, people seem better able to deal with these issues set back in the past. The distance creates a sense of security and nostalgia, from which they can consider the problems more safely.

In my own books I have used divorce (That’ll be the Day); discovering a lost identity (Fools Fall in Love) a mother’s sacrifice (The Girl from Poorhouse Lane); and overcoming the effects of a brutal father (House of Angels), to name but a few of the more recent ones. How much we, as writers, draw on our own experiences to write about these issues is a matter of personal choice. Catherine Cookson’s themes came out of the experiences of her own life and were written about with passion and conviction. Personal details can be changed, twisted, turned upside down and altered beyond recognition, but we, as writers, are always asking ourselves - What If?

My new book, coming out in April, isn't a saga but a novel set in 16th France. Hostage Queen .

The theme for this story must be the terrible consequences when you try to manipulate someone else's life.

Marguerite de Valois is the most beautiful woman in the French Court, and the subject of great scandal and intrigue. Her own brothers: the mad Charles IX and the bisexual Henri III, will stop at nothing to control her. Margot loves Henri of Guise but is married off to the Huguenot Henry of Navarre. By this means her mother Catherine de Medici hopes to bring peace to the realm.

But within days of the wedding the streets of Paris are awash with blood in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. Not only is her new husband’s life in danger, but her own too as her mother and brother hold them hostage in the Louvre. Can they ever hope to escape and keep their heads? In a court rife with murder, political intrigue, debauchery, jealousy and the hunger for power, it will not be an easy task.

Best wishes,
Freda Lightfoot