Friday, 29 June 2018

In Which We Discuss Food in Books


     How lovely it is to experience a literary dinner party, with succulent food, staff to cook, serve, and clean up the mess. Writing historical novels presents a fresh set of issues when serving up a good old-fashioned home cooked meal. The Cat Carlisle series, which takes place during the Second World War, speaks to a time when women’s roles—along with class distinctions—were changing. Many of those who worked in service left their domestic endeavors to work in an office, shop, or factory. This left many a middle-class woman to her own devices in the kitchen. Some were lucky enough to have people come cook for them, but by the time 1940 rolled around, cooks were in short supply. (Good help was hard to find!) When I wrote the dinner party scene in The Silent Woman, I imagined what I would do to cope in that situation.

            Years ago I stumbled across a wonderful UK bookshop, Persephone Books. This lovely shop reprints fiction and non-fiction by mostly mid-twentieth women writers. Their list is amazing, and they are known for wonderful end papers in the books, which are sold with an accompanying bookmark.

            My go-to cookery book for The Silent Woman was Good Things in England by Florence White. The Persephone catalog blurbs the book as follows: ‘One of the great English cookbooks, full of delightful, delicious recipes that actually work.’ In The Silent Woman the sit-down dinner consisted of roast lamb with a port wine sauce, haricot green beans, and stewed mushrooms. As for me, I don’t cook big dinners anymore, but I enjoy writing about them. It’s also very interesting to read cookbooks from this time period. So much is conveyed by the way people cooked and took their time over their food. Just another reason that I love writing historical fiction. I get to spend time reading these wonderful cookbooks and plan decadent meals that I will never have to actually cook.

I’ve attached a photos of a few recipes from the Good Things in England Cookbook. I have yet to try these recipes. If any of you are so inclined, I’d love to hear the results. And for those who are interested, stop by Persephone Books and peruse their site. Here’s the link:

Sunday, 24 June 2018


Today we continue with our Question and Answer series, introducing a Novel Points of View author and their writing. I’m delighted that it’s the turn of our American team member, Terry Lynn Thomas and her historical fiction novel The Silent Woman.

Hello Terry,

Let's begin with a little teaser of what readers can expect in The Silent Woman 

Would you sell your secrets?

Catherine Carlisle is trapped in a loveless marriage and the threat of World War Two is looming. She sees no way out… that is until a trusted friend asks her to switch her husband’s papers in a desperate bid to confuse the Germans.
Soon Catherine finds herself caught up in a deadly mixture of espionage and murder. Someone is selling secrets to the other side, and the evidence seems to point right at her.

Can she clear her name before it’s too late?

1) Where did the inspiration for Cat’s character come from?
When I set out to write this series, I knew that I wanted a protagonist who was older and who lived outside the conventions of society. In The Silent Woman, when Cat is a suspect in her husband’s murder, she set herself up to be shunned by her friends and the social circles in which she runs. I spend a lot of time reading mysteries and fiction from the 1930s and 1940s, and I’m always taken aback by the way women are expected to take a certain subservient place in society. Even the most forward thinking people expect the woman to bow to her husband, not have a job, and not be too smart. I deliberately set out to shine the light on those issues, so I created Catherine Carlisle who is outspoken, sassy, sophisticated, intuitive, and — most importantly — doesn’t like to be told what to do. This sets the table for drama and turmoil surrounding her. The upside of Cat’s character is her commitment to helping others who are not as fortunate, be they man, woman, child, or animal. She really does have a soft spot.
I’m looking forward to letting Cat age through this series as well. Many writers leave their protagonists around the same age during the course and scope of their stories, but I’m going to let Cat grow old. This will allow me to explore social/economic conditions during and after World War II. I’m hoping to fashion her after the great spinster detectives of the past, namely Miss Silver and Miss Marple.

2) What drew you to this particular period, before the outbreak of WW2, when the powers that be choose to ignore Hitler’s flagrant violation of the Treaty of Versailles?
First of all, my father fought in World War II, so I have a soft spot for his generation. I also appreciate that during this time the people were united — and made sacrifices — to fight for freedom. I think a lot of things are happening now in the socio-political environment that we don’t know about. This is a scary time for the world in my view. And I don’t mean to sound trite, but the lessons of history are so important. I have a passion for politics, but the topic is so incendiary at this time that it’s difficult to have a cohesive conversation with anyone with whom you share a different point of view. This time period—long past—lets me explore issues that are relevant today without offending anyone. (True confession: I also love the clothes and the music.)

First in the Sarah Bennett Series
3) Compared to your Sarah Bennett mystery series, how much easier was it to research life in London in the 1930s? How do you prefer to conduct your research?
The Sarah Bennett mysteries were really easy to research because I lived and worked in San Francisco for a good portion of my life. My parents lived in the city, so I had stories handed down about the time. It was really easy for me to feel the vibe of San Francisco during the 1940s.
As for hands-on research, I read novels of the time, watch movies, plow through newspapers for nuggets, and let my imagination go wild. The secret is to gather all the historical data regarding day-to-day living, and then sprinkle it in with a light hand. It’s really important to be mindful of the reader in this regard. I don’t want to info bomb with historical facts and take away from the story. After I’m finished researching, my mind and my research binder are full of a lot of information that I will not use. It’s important to keep the research and history that I’ve learned relevant to the story.

4) What drew you to include characters with an interest in art?
I think I’m a frustrated artist. Someone once asked me if I could have any job in the world what would it be, and of course I said writing. But when I stepped away and thought about it for a while I realized how much I would love to get on a scaffold and restore works of art like the Sistine Chapel. So having characters in my books who are struggling artists is sort of a metaphor for me as a writer, and it also lets me explore my passion to create. I noodle around with pastel crayons. The result is horrible, but the process is very relaxing. At the end of the day, I love all forms of art and am inspired by those gifted with the ability to create it.

5) Which authors inspire your writing? Which books might we find on your beside table?
My favourite book by a living author is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The story encapsulates all the things that make a story great for me: Gothic tropes, a love story, a mystery, superior sentences, and a twisty plot. I also love the way the author sets the book in a period before society was taken over by electronics, but she doesn’t specifically tells us when this is. It gives the book a haunting timelessness.

I re-read all the books by Agatha Christie (especially Miss Marple and the Beresfords), Patricia
Author, Terry Lynn Thomas
Wentworth, and (another author who is still alive) the Lady Julia series by Deanna Raybourn. I also love Susanna Kearsley, Rosamund Pilcher, and Maeve Binchey. I could keep going… My to-be-read pile is toppling. So many books. So little time. Since I broke my arm, I’ve been binge listening to audio books. I just listened to When Never Comes by Barbara Davis. It is rocking the best seller lists for good reason.

6) A little teaser about book two?
My writing came to a grinding halt after I broke my arm, but I am now mastering Dragon Naturally Speaking software and am dictating! I will tell you that Cat Carlisle just cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Can’t really say much more at this point, but followers of The Novel Points of View will be first to know developments about this book.

Thanks for hosting me, Rae.

You're very welcome, Terry. Thanks for providing us with an interesting insight into the inspiration for The Silent Woman and we look forward to following Cat's journey.

Join us next time when author and short story writer, Linda Mitchelmore will be in the spotlight.

Until then, happy reading!
Rae x

Saturday, 16 June 2018


Social media love it or hate it, is a fact of modern life. If you’re a writer it has probably  become an insidious, important part of your life. These days it’s all about getting the word out about your books into the big wide world. Publishers are constantly telling writers ‘You need a platform. An on line presence.’ Along with: ‘You have to be seen if you want to sell your books.’ In other words writers have to come out from behind their computers and self-promote. Something the majority of us hate doing.

Having a presence on line involves belonging to and being active on at least some of the following: FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linkedin, having an Amazon book page, a website, FaceBook author page, a blog etc etc. I’m sure too, there are other sites that have passed me by. (I’ve deliberately left GoodReads off the list because really that site is all about readers not writers.) The one thing that unites them all is: they consume time. Click on your FaceBook home page and the big black hole of social media sucks you in before you realise it. Liking this post, responding to another, writing a post of your own. That done you take a quick look on Twitter and so it goes on. Writing time can disappear in a click of the mouse, leaving you with the desired presence on the internet maybe but no writing time to finish the next book. ‘An on line presence.’ Four simple words that can wreck havoc with your writing life if you aren’t careful.

One of the big problems is deciding exactly just how ‘public’ you are going to be with the information and news you put out into the world. It’s easy to forget it will be visible forever. While readers like to interact with their favourite authors, too much information given out on line can be dangerous.

I have a deadline for my next book that I MUST meet and I’ve thought long and hard about taking a complete break from social media, but I do still have books to promote and keep in the public eye as much as possible. So I’ve bought an old-fashioned timer to try and control the hungry monster that social media has become. The plan is thirty minutes in the early evening every day. I’ll let you know how I get on.

How do you manage your time on social media? Which is your favourite site? Any advice would be gratefully received.

Saturday, 9 June 2018


2018 is a year of important centenaries as we remember the end of the First World War and also women in Great Britain and Northern Ireland being granted steps in the right to vote. However, a literary centenary that may be passing beneath your radar are celebrations to commemorate Dame Muriel Spark’s birth. An initiative designed to introduce her work to a whole new audience.

Who was Dame Muriel Spark?

Spark was born in Edinburgh and is recognised at both home and abroad as one of the finest novelists of the last century. Her sharp witty prose earned her a place amongst the crème de la crème of Scottish writers. Dame Maggie Smith starred in the 1969 film
adaption of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, her most famous work.

This was as much as I knew. Like Spark, I'm Scottish. I needed to do better.

Getting to Know Her

A quick Google search offered the following –

Born in Edinburgh as Muriel Camberg, she attended the James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, where a teacher, Christina Kay, provided the inspiration for Miss Jean Brodie.

A prolific novelist, her short modern classics include The Public Image, Momento More, The Girls of Slender Means, A Far Cry From Kensington and more. In addition to novel writing, she also wrote poems, plays and children’s books, alongside biographies of Mary Shelley and Emily Brontë. She died in April 2006, in Florence, aged 88.

The International Style of Muriel Spark

The next stop on my journey to discover more about Spark took me to The International Style of
Image from the International Style of Muriel Spark
Exhibition at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
Muriel Spark exhibition at Scotland’s National Library in Edinburgh. Exhibits from the library’s extensive Spark archive were on display, including memorabilia from the places Spark called home – Edinburgh, Africa, London, New York, Rome and Tuscany – including correspondence with Jackie Onassis and Beryl Bainbridge.

What quickly became clear was that Spark was an author of contradictions, highly sociable, loving travel, fashion and parties, yet choosing to spend the last decades of her life writing in the tranquillity of the Tuscan countryside. She was a proud Scot, yet left Edinburgh for South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her new husband, Sydney Oswald Spark, at the age of nineteen, returning only occasionally to the country of her birth.

Dame Muriel Spark

What makes Spark so special?

Spark’s early career couldn’t have been further from the stereotypical image of a reclusive author, rarely leaving their writing den. For a flavour of what made her so special, the BBC put together a web page -
10 Things You Might Not Know About Muriel Spark which contains facts such as, she :
  •         Bought a horse from the Queen
  • ·      Gave designer dresses to nuns
  • ·      Wrote her most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in just eight weeks

Edinburgh City Council recently revealed plans to name a pathway, which runs close to Spark’s high school, as Muriel Spark Walk.

Where else to learn about Spark?

The International Style of Muriel Spark exhibition may be over, but there is still lots going on, both in Scotland and further afield. One of the best ways to keep up with what’s happening is over on Twitter @MurielSpark100

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has planned a whole series of events celebrating Spark’s life and work, with a new event space on George Street being named the Spark Theatre.

In honour of Spark's centenary year, Creative Scotland created a new Muriel Spark 100 Fund. I was thrilled to learn that two fabulous writers from North East Scotland are amongst the recipients - Shane Strachan and Morna Young. Readings of Strachan's new short stories will take place at The Barn Salon, Banchory on Tuesday 28 August.

Further reading

To discover even more about Spark the writer, I recommend An Appointment in Arezzo: A friendship with Muriel Spark, which is a lively, humorous memoir, published as part of the centenary celebrations, by her travelling companion and confidant, journalist Alan Taylor.
Appoinment in Arezzo -
A Memoir by Alan Taylor
My favourite Spark quote from An Appointment in Arezzo is this –
To her, travel was literature’s lifeblood: ‘We have to find at first hand how other people live and die, what they smell, how they are made. I recommend travel to young authors. And also to authors not so young.’
A top tip for writers I intend to take to heart.

Share Your Favourite of Spark's work

I’d love to know if you have a Spark favourite?

And in this year of centenary celebrations, I hand the final word to Miss Jean Brodie, who brought Dame Muriel such world wide acclaim,

‘It’s important to recognise the years of one’s prime…’

Happy reading!