Popular author, Anne Allen, released ‘The Betrayal’, on 22nd October. ‘The Betrayal’ is the sixth book in the Guernsey Series. Anne Allen has kindly selected an exclusive extract for Books in my Handbag. The dual-time novel unfolds in the present day and during World War Two. It is set against the backdrop of the German deportation of the Jewish community, in Guernsey, and involves a stolen Renoir painting.
Treachery and theft lead to death – and love.
‘The Betrayal’ is tense, powerful and spellbinding.
Anne will introduce her new novel, present an extract and tell you more about the intricate narrative.
I am delighted to present my latest in the Guernsey Novels series, ‘The Betrayal’.
This extract is from the beginning of the book and is the prelude to the modern part of the story, giving you a taste of the tension throughout the book.
Keep a copy of the book in your bag to dip into whenever you have a moment, you won’t regret it!
Presenting the extract:
Something was wrong. The alarm didn’t blast out as he pushed open the back door of the shop. Standing still, he heard a noise. Someone was in the shop. Or more accurately, the basement. Nigel paused as he closed the door quietly behind him, his heart hammering against his ribs as he debated what to do. Whoever was in there knew how to disable a burglar alarm otherwise lights would be flashing and a discordant wail would be piercing the air. Best to shut them in the basement and call the police. Following the thought, he crept into the main shop, guided by the dim light coming through the rear window. His eyes adjusting to the dimness, Nigel tried to pick out the area where a rug should cover the trapdoor. For a moment he wondered who could have known about the basement, only discovered a few weeks before when they completed the renovations and replaced the flooring. Odd. And why the basement when the shop was full of valuable antiques?
Crouched at the edge of the hole, light from a torch casting shadows below, he was about to push the open door downwards when a hand snaked up and grabbed his arm.
Teresa Bichard and her baby are sent by her beloved husband, Leo, to England as the Germans draw closer to Guernsey. Days later they invade…
Leo, of Jewish descent, is betrayed to the Germans and is sent to a concentration camp, never to return.
Teresa returns to find Leo did not survive and the family’s valuable art collection, including a Renoir, is missing. Heartbroken, she returns to England.
Nigel and his twin Fiona buy a long-established antiques shop in Guernsey and during a refit, find a hidden stash of paintings, including what appears to be a Renoir. Days later, Fiona finds Nigel dead, an apparent suicide. Refusing to accept the verdict, a distraught Fiona employs a detective to help her discover the truth…
Searching for the true owner of the painting brings Fiona close to someone who opens a chink in her broken heart. Can she answer some crucial questions before laying her brother’s ghost to rest?
Who betrayed Leo?
Who knew about the stolen Renoir?
And are they prepared to kill – again?
What do the reviewers think of ‘The Betrayal’?
‘I am a huge fan of Anne Allen’s Guernsey series in which various locations are lovingly described. With the ‘suicide’ of her twin brother, this book has an orally different feel as Fiona tries to get to the bottom of it. With an undiscovered Renoir and links to WW2 this book has a much darker feel to it.’ Julie Ryan
‘Great characters and of course a love connection with a happy ending.’ Karen’s World
‘Having read Anne’s last book, Echoes of Time, I couldn’t wait to read her latest, and I wasn’t disappointed. The novel alternates between WW2 and 2011 and is set on the beautiful island of Guernsey. The Betrayal features twins, Fiona and Nigel, who discover a Renoir within the walls of their antique shop in 2011. When Nigel is found dead, and suicide is suspected, Fiona refuses to believe that her brother would end his own life and she sets out to uncover the truth. Unravelling the mystery will carry her on a journey back to 1940, and to the dark days of the German Occupation and the deportation of Jews.’ S. Charlton
A late-comer to writing, Anne was a psychotherapist in a previous life. Readers are lucky that Anne decided to tell her stories. Anne admits her characters do get under her skin and she misses Fiona and Michael, in particular. I look forward to discovering more about the characters and solving the mysteries presented by this delicious time-slip novel.
Lizzie Lamb’s blue VW camper attracted admirers at Urquhart Castle, Scotland. The engine purred obediently, as Lizzie expertly manoeuvred the vintage beauty into a parking space, overlooking Loch Ness. Excited to see the van featured in Boot Camp Bride, I patted the gleaming bonnet.
The door opened, Lizzie emerged and invited me inside. She wore a very glamorous blue and white blouse and jeans.
While she prepared some tea in the compact kitchen, I opened a tin of Scottish shortbread, with a picture of Nessie on the tin, and managed to drop biscuits on the pristine table. Laughing, Lizzie helped me to clear up the mess. A copy of Lizzie’s novel, ‘Girl at the Castle’, invited me to peer inside. Lizzie’s books are always so beautifully designed and presented in a distinctive lilac colour, they match perfectly with my handbag.
Jessie: All of your books look like tempting gifts of lilac loveliness for the reader. If I open the book, then I will start to read it. Tell me about ‘Girl in the Castle’.
Lizzie: Fate takes Henriette Bruar to a Scottish castle where the laird’s family are in mourning over a tragedy which happened many years before. Cue a phantom piper, a lost Jacobite treasure, and a cast of characters who – with Henri’s help, encourage the family to confront the past and move on. As part of the healing process, Henriette falls in love with the laird’s son, Keir, and they achieve the happy ending they both deserve.
Jessie: The plot and setting sound thrilling. I know you write in a very natural and witty style. Can you tempt us with a couple of words from ‘Girl in the Castle’?
Lizzie: ‘Giving a superstitious shiver, Henriette acknowledged there were subtle forces at work in this ancient castle. Forces which wanted her and Keir to be together, forever.’
Jessie: This is so tempting! You craft the words so artfully. I know you have been longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize. What did the reviewers say?
Lizzie opened up a folder on her laptop and read some reviews. I was sure I heard the distant sound of bagpipes, but Lizzie didn’t comment.
Lizzie: Ah, here they are. I’ll read three reviews.
‘I loved all the many elements in this novel: The location, history, slightly paranormal atmosphere, love lost and found, and a missing treasure. Not to forget gorgeous Keir MacKenzie, a hero to swoon over.’
‘This convincing romance beginning in conflict and distrust is set in stunning scenery which comes to life through Henri’s experiences and Keir’s enthusiasm for his birth right. A great read!’
‘Girl in the Castle is romantic, witty, interesting and you don’t want it to finish. I enjoyed all the characters – and the storyline. I laughed, gasped, and wished I were Henriette! I love the way Lizzie is knowledgeable about Scotland and shares this with the reader in a heartfelt way. A romantic novel with substance and wit – hurry up and write us the next one, please.’
Jessie: As expected the reviews wax lyrical about your writing. Having read one of your novels, I get the sense that you are very attached to the characters and this brings them to life so beautifully. Did you miss the characters of ‘Girl in the Castle’ when you had finished writing the novel?
Lizzie: When I finish a novel it’s always hard to say goodbye to the characters. Many of my readers feel the same and often ask for a sequel. However, although I miss the characters and the setting ,once I type THE END, that’s it for me. I leave the novel so that readers can imagine what would happen next . . . I think it has been hardest to say goodbye to Henri and Keir. And – mad writer alert – I still have conversations with them in my head and I know exactly what they’re doing now. I felt the same about Charlee and Rafa in Boot Camp Bride and Fliss and Ruairi in Tall, Dark and Kilted.
Lizzie opened a collection of photographs in a gallery. She left me to scroll through the images while she refilled the teapot. I was sure I heard the bagpipes again as I studied the photos.
Lizzie: We spend a month each year in Scotland. Castle Stalker on Loch Linnhe, near Oban is the inspiration behind Girl in the Castle.
Jessie: Of course, I have seen this iconic image on the front cover. I’d love to visit the castle and read all your novels. Who would you like to read your novels?
Lizzie: I would choose Jilly Cooper. I adored her earlier books: Emily, Prudence etc. and her bonk busters: Polo, Riders et al. I would like Jilly to read my books because that would be my way of saying: ‘thank you for inspiring me to become a writer, and for making it all seem possible’. If I’m allowed a second, more practical choice, I would thank Amazon for giving indie authors the means of getting their books ‘out there’ to a wide audience of readers.
Jessie: As an independent author, I notice your wealth of images and campaigns. Where do you get the photos from?
Lizzie: As a writer and blogger I am very aware of infringing copyright so I have subscribed to a couple of websites where I pay and download images: https://www.123rf.comhttps://www.dreamstime.comhttps://unsplash.com Other than that, I take my own photos with my iPhone wherever I go. A word of warning, don’t assume that images you see on Pinterest etc. are copyright free, always double check before uploading anything onto your sites. If in doubt, credit the artist/photographer.
Although, it was drizzling and grey outside, we decided to enjoy the Scottish weather. Meandering along the shores of Loch Ness, we both joked about meeting up with Monster.
Jessie: Tell me, why should I keep your novel in my handbag?
Lizzie: My book would be the ideal companion when you’re feeling at a low ebb because I write feel good books, set in wonderful locations, with humorous secondary characters and, most importantly, a hero to fall in love with. If you want a break from the usually run of the mill romances, try one of mine. Oh, and bring a large handbag, my paperbacks are 9”x5” and need lots of space.
Jessie: Don’t worry, I am always hunting for a new handbag. I think a tartan handbag is called for, after this trip. What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Lizzie: Dialogue between the hero (Logan) and his grandfather written as bullet points (which is how I generally write dialogue in my first draft).
– do you love the girl?
– I guess I do, but . . .
– then what are you waiting for. Go get her. As the poet said: faint heart never won fair lady.
While Lizzie read her dialogue, I noticed a mysterious shadow in the water, and the skirl of bagpipes sounded closer. I think a certain Nessie may have been listening to the story. Neither of us commented because we just knew… Lizzie removed a delicate whisky flask from her handbag and we celebrated with a wee dram. Slainte!
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Lizzie: Writing books has never been an issue, my head is teeming with ideas for future novels. The hard bit is getting my books to the notice of a wider public and finding new readers. I would love to get my books in supermarkets etc. but I know that won’t happen without my being a contracted author. If I was contracted to one of the ‘Big Five’ publishers I’d probably have to write books in genres I wouldn’t enjoy. So, its Catch-22 for me. I would like more time to write and spend less time on social media, but without social media I wouldn’t have achieved the sales I have.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Lizzie: Stop endlessly polishing the first three chapters and a synopsis to send to agents and publishers. You might find that once the novel is completed you jettison the first few chapters in any case. Finish the whole novel, edit it and then polish it to send out to agents/publishers (if that’s the route you want to take). Failing that, publish it yourself – but remember, time, tide and the whims of publishers/agents wait for no man. By the time you write that great novel of yours, trends will have changed and your novel won’t be what agents/publishers are looking for.
Jessie: This interview has inspired me to plan a trip to Scotland, but my Scottish neighbour is always warning me about the midges.
Lizzie: The received wisdom is that you are ‘pretty safe’ in late May/ early June but the wee beasties are bad in July and August. Having said that, if May is very warm, the eggs hatch and they come early. We’ve never been bothered by them and I’ve received worse bites in our garden in the summer.
Jessie: That’s reassuring. Where’s the best place to begin a tour?
Lizzie: Edinburgh or Inverness make great centres to tour from if you’ve never been to Scotland before. Fewer midges on that coast, too. We love the west coast but it is much wetter (and more midges). Stirling is also a good centre as you can have some fantastic days out exploring the Trossachs. When you get a feel for those parts of Scotland you can head for the ‘wilder parts’ on another visit.
Lizzie showed me collection of photos. Ardvreck Castle, Assynt Geo Park Nth West Scotland, Achnasheen nr Kinlochewe, island in middle of Lake Maree, Argyll and Bute
Jessie: Thanks for the advice. I am going to stock up on your novels then plan another trip to Scotland.
Lizzie: If you have a dream – go for it. Life is not a rehearsal After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided it was time to leave the chalk face and pursue my first love: writing. In 2006 I joined the Romantic Novelists? Association’s New Writers? Scheme, honed my craft and wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), quickly followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride (2013) and Scotch on the Rocks (2015) – finalist, The Exeter Novel Prize.
Lizzie is hardworking, creative and focused on writing the best book she can. She loves sharing her stories and ideas with readers, new and old. She gets a real buzz when readers tell her that when they turned the last page of her novel they feel bereft and she should hurry up and write another.
I first stumbled on Lizzie’s books when searching for another great reading escape. Thrilled at Lizzie’s ability to inspire comedy, I downloaded all of her novels. Her Scottish books motivated me to plan a holiday in Scotland. Lizzie is great fun and her love of writing shines through her novels.
Lizzie says: “when I’m not writing – I’m dreaming”
This gripping tale explores cultural differences, in two continents, through the life of Jaya and her brother. An intelligent study of how one’s understanding of freedom is relative to education, experience and culture: a very poignant, contemporary message!
Jaya was born in a place where ‘the tiny mauve and yellow flowers danced in the breeze as the snowy summits of Pin Panjal meditated in the morning sun.’ Despite the beauty and implied freedom and romance of the landscape, the women are inhibited by their culture and the ugly politics of war torn Kashmir. Jaya’s gentle, intelligent observations give an insight into her world as a Kashmiri girl. Her mother asserts ‘you’re a girl’ and believes that ‘love rides on reason, not romance.’ It is clear Jaya is destined to search beyond this and it is impossible not to admire her questioning.
Jaya wishes on a ‘shooting star’ and the author maps out Jaya’s destiny beautifully. The novel explores how the independent, free spirited mind can find flight if given the right opportunities. But the opportunities must be accompanied with an inquiring mind. Jaya’s entrapment in Delhi is as stifling as the intense heat which ‘pressed down on city life like a giant hand.’ Her value, as a potential bride, diminishes once her parents have been killed. She will find a way to escape a doomed arranged marriage – she is born to fight.
In contrast, Tahir, Jaya’s brother is forced to survive in a world of violence. Here, Price examines how the innocent, accepting mind can become involved in terrorism. Tahir’s life is written in the third person as he never finds his own voice. Jaya’s story is written in the first person so that you can recognise her strength and identity. She wants to be a wife ‘but (she) wasn’t going to give up everything.’ Ironically, the masculine stereotype and expectations shackle Tahir to a life of unfulfillment. Sadly, a lack of ambition and opportunity forces Tahir to accept his comrades as family.
Like her father, Jaya leaves ‘The Giants’ behind and moves to Scotland. The cool Scottish breeze brings a fresh new perspective to Jaya’s life. ‘The ocean! A slate grey stretching out to the horizon’ is symbolic of Jaya’s freedom and endless possibilities. Meanwhile, her brother remains in Kashmir, and Tahir, believes the British to be the destructive force in his country. He asks a British man, ‘Have you thought about the devastation your empire has left behind?’ He is unable to see how different cultures can collaborate and learn from each other. Tahir fights for his confused perception of freedom while his sister, Jaya, fights to save lives. Jaya and Tahir’s father was a doctor. Jaya’s father involved her in his mission of caring for everyone, regardless of religion or race.
Jaya learns to inhabit the space between two cultures and finds her identity. Her love for Alistair gives her stability, purpose and strength. Tahir is tormented by:
‘The poverty, the beauty, the peace and the violence. Such extremes separated by the blink of an eyelid.
Tahir never examines his own world as he is too caught up in the conflict and grudges. The natural ebb and flow of the Jaya’s narrative is enchanting while we never get inside of Tahir’s confused, inhibited mind. The tale of two continents explores cultural difference: it is a wonderful book of contrasts. For instance, the peaceful setting Kashmir Valley translates ‘paradise on earth’ yet it conceals conflict. Jaya questions: ‘How could the landscape be beautiful when Alistair was suffering?’ Like Jaya, one must look beneath the surface.
This novel teaches us to have a respect and understanding of other cultures but we need the freedom to ask questions and pursue our ambition: above all, everyone needs to be loved. ‘Azadi’ (freedom) is a state of mind influenced by opportunities, the people we meet and the strength to ask pertinent questions.
A sensitive, well-crafted narrative that explores challenging themes through a beautiful central character. I recommend this novel wholeheartedly!
Emily came to visit the Chat Room on a rainy day in Wales. She was wearing a floaty, floral dress and a raincoat. I noted that her bag was an overflowing brown, leather Fiorelli bag. Despite the rain, Emily was very cheerful and happy to talk about her book. Whilst bouncing her little baby daughter, Florence, on her knee Emily was also keeping one eye on her son, Elliot. The mischievous toddler was heading towards a pile of books, with a pen in his hand and a glint in his eye. After refocusing the children onto their colouring activities, and trying to stop Elliot drawing on his little sister, we settled down for a chat.
Jessie: Why did you decide to present the novel in a series of letters?
Emily: As a child, I always wrote letters as I loved to receive replies. We moved around a lot as children so I kept touch with friends and family by writing letters, ever hopeful of that reply. There is nothing more special than receiving a hand-written letter. My late grandmother loved writing letters to me and even in her nineties she would send them. It seemed the perfect way for Flora to write to her unborn child.
Jessie: Capture the essence of your book in a couple of sentences.
Emily: Letters to Eloise is the warm, witty, and heart-wrenching debut epistolary novel by Emily Williams. The novel is a love story of misunderstandings, loss, and betrayal but ultimately the incredible bond between mother and child.
Jessie: You have received an incredible number of reviews. Please read some extracts from the reviews.
Emily: Thank you. I have been so lucky to receive such lovely reviews.
At this point, Elliot was keen to show off his colouring so we paused to make another cup of tea. Emily took the opportunity to retrieve the reviews of her book. It took some time as she has over fifty reviews.
‘It is a very emotional book. It’s utterly heart-breaking at times but, perhaps surprisingly, there is quite a bit humour in it too and it is also uplifting.’
‘What a beautifully written book. I enjoyed every page as the story unfolded. Sad at times but also uplifting – just like real life. Loved it.’
‘I am so glad that I stumbled upon this book. I absolutely loved the entire thing. I’m a sucker for stories like this, stories about true love, and stories about the sacrifices we make for this love.’
Jessie: Have you got an extract from your book to tempt a reader?
Emily didn’t even need to read from the book, as she knew which words would hook the reader.
Emily: However, as soon as I saw that positive blue line seep along the window in the plastic casing of the pregnancy test, I knew you were the one to whom I will write my letters.
Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Emily: I really did miss the characters and still do. Parts of the story still come to me and the words play out in my mind. I became so immersed into the story over the four years that I wrote the book that it was really hard to let it go. It was very emotional for me to write, after been told that I couldn’t conceive. Then when I became pregnant, the words of the book had extra meaning for me.
I felt a mixture of sadness and elation when the book was finished. Then pure fear that I would never be able to write anything like that again!
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Emily: I would love Kate Middleton to read my story. I would hope that she would connect to Flora, having had two children herself, and I would love to know her opinion as the story unfolds
Kate, if you’re listening, DM me and I will send you a copy!
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Emily: Letters to Eloise will connect with your soul after you read it (I hope). You’ll always want to keep the story close to your heart.
Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Emily: ‘I knew where he’d be; where he always was.’ This sentence is from my YA novel ‘The Subtle Art of Keeping a Racehorse. I mainly just have notes or mind-maps in the notebook rather than sentences but this is the last full sentence in the book
Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?
Emily: The biggest challenge is being noticed in a sea of other equally fantastic authors. Writing quality is the first step but then finding readers willing to take to risk on an unknown author is very challenging.
I have been so lucky with the support of fantastic book bloggers and reviewers that have been so kind. I am hoping that one day I will succeed in getting my name known out there as an author but at the moment I am content when I receive the lovely reviews I have had for Letters to Eloise.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Emily: Believe in yourself and never give up!
A little more about Emily…
Emily Williams is hard-working and driven to succeed. She is passionate about her writing: she has adored writing for as long as she can remember. She grew up wanting to write novels. Fortunately, a career teaching enables her to inspire children to use their imagination and writing skills to develop their own stories. Emily is ever thankful to her own primary school teachers for instilling her passion in writing and is hoping she can do her little bit to pass this on.
Emily has far too many animals, but aims in life to buy a farm so she can have some more!
Emily is currently working on her next novel, whilst looking after two children, and host of small pets and suffering from a poorly wrist after a riding injury.
Best of luck to Emily with her debut novel, she has already received an impressive number of accolades. Emily’s unique storytelling hooks the reader from the outset. I am looking forward to her second novel.
Read my review of Letters to Eloise on My Reading page.
As it is almost the weekend, I have asked Jan Brigden to present an extract from her romance novel, ‘As Weekends Go’. Grab yourself a coffee, take a break and let Jan chat to you about her novel.
What if your entire life changed in the space of a weekend?
I am delighted to present ‘As Weekends Go’. The extract I have chosen is fairly early on in the book. I think it perfectly portrays how Alex (principal male character) feels after his memorable first encounter with Rebecca (principal female character) at Hawksley Manor, the plush hotel in which they are both staying as guests, little knowing the drama that lay ahead of them.
I’d love you keep ‘As Weekends Go’ in your handbag so you can dip in and out of the story. Open the book as you move from place to place, and flit from one dilemma to the next over the course of their eventful weekend and beyond.
Words from the book…
Alex took the scenic route to the car park to try and fathom the effect she’d had on him. Those eyes, so rich in colour, like a tiger’s eyes, sparkling back at him.
As much as he hated how big-headed it sounded, even to himself, he was used to people staring at him. Fact. He also knew that what had happened back there was in no way premeditated on her part; the deep blush and dip of her head when he’d first spoken to her had told him that. How small she’d tried to make herself appear during the ensuing chaos in reception, standing there nervously pulling on the bottom of her ponytail, looking so desperately sorry.
He’d felt like an ogre deliberately holding on to her mobile, but if he’d given it straight back to her she might have fled before he’d had a chance to find out her name.
He’d certainly never seen her at the hotel before.
What was it his granddad had told him during their precious heart-to-heart the day before he’d died?
‘Believe me, Alex, you’ll know when you’ve met “the one”’
Trouble is, Granddad … What do I do if she’s already married?
More about the book…
When Rebecca’s friend Abi convinces her to get away from it all at the fabulous Hawksley Manor hotel in York, it seems too good to be true. Pampering and relaxation is just what Rebecca needs to distract herself from the creeping suspicion that her husband, Greg, is hiding something from her.
She never imagined that by the end of the weekend she would have dined with celebrities or danced the night away in exclusive clubs. Nor could she have predicted she would meet famous footballer, Alex Heath, or that he would be the one to show her that she deserved so much more …
But no matter how amazing a weekend is, it’s always back to reality come Monday morning – isn’t it?
What the reviewers say…
“I loved this gorgeous love story, written with a sure touch and a big heart.” Bestselling author, Lisa Jewell.
“Alex isn’t your stereotypical celeb footballer (or rather stereotypically portrayed in the media). His ethics and morals had me swooning as much as his physique!” Shaz Goodwin – Jera’s Jamboree
“Those lovely people at Choc Lit and their reading panel do have a bit of a talent for spotting something special that their readers will enjoy, and they’ve done it again with this lovely book.” Anne Williams of Being Anne
More about Jan…
Jan is a South London-dwelling all-round book devotee, married to Dave, and one eighth of online-writing group The Romaniacs
As Weekends Go tested as many of my emotions as I put my characters through, so when it was published by Choc Lit UK after winning their Search for a Star Competition 2014/2015, I was elated. I missed the characters terribly, especially Rebecca and Alex, so much so, that I’m currently writing the sequel where I get to spend more time with a few of the ‘As Weekends Go’ crew, plus some new faces who are creating a whole fresh mixture of predicaments for everyone.
I suggest you go shopping, stock up on your favourite treats and pamper yourself with a great read. Now your weekend is organised, and you can sit back and read about someone else’s dilemmas, as you visit York, Spain and Brighton. I’ll see you in Brighton – happy reading!
Having downloaded all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, I opened Boot Camp Bride. Remembering Lizzie Lamb’s Scottish romance books, I expected to be travelling with a man in a kilt. Instead, I was off to London with Charlee, a fledgling journalist. Charlee is forced to attend a boot camp to get a scoop for the magazine she works for. I adored the situation set up for this story – such fun! The author is very clever at painting her characters and adding poignant brushstrokes of humour and vulnerability. Oh my, Charlee’s anecdotes will chase away the winter blues!
Charlee guided me through her adventure, and I could not stop laughing. How does Lizzie Lamb manage to combine humour, adventure and romance? Charlee was feisty, fun, intelligent and clumsy – perfect. Undeterred by the alpha male, she managed to fight him with wit and stubbornness. Lizzie Lamb’s characters and style of writing sparkle in Boot Camp Bride. This romantic comedy is classic gold: it is the equivalent of comfort food and a good night out with friends.
The soundtrack track to Spectre boomed, as I read the opening chapters of Boot Camp Bride, and Charlee was assigned her first undercover operation as a ‘faux’ bride. And her ‘self- assurance and sassiness’ made this an absolute hoot. Charlee’s ‘off the cuff remarks’ constantly entertain. I adored this refreshingly bubbly style of writing. The wit and tension fizzed and bubbled like a good Champagne. At this point, Charlee would observe:
‘If she was beginning to think in clichés, it was time for her to put down the empty glass.’
However, I didn’t have a glass of anything. It was a joy to immerse myself in Charlee’s world. She spoke before she put her brain into gear and is charming, funny and endearing. Lizzie Lamb used her characteristic turn of phrase to describe that moment when one says the wrong thing:
‘As the seconds drew out, Charlee imagined she could hear the tick of the grandfather clock marking time: feel the chill wind of disapproval whistling round her ankles…’
This captured the moment perfectly! I think there is an element of Charlee in all of us. She is a very real, honest and intelligent young woman. Then there is the experienced Bear Grylls meets James Bond type hero, Rafa Fonseca Ffinch, but thankfully he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I adored the sparks flying between Charlee and Rafa combined with the calamities. Furthermore, the dialogue is superb, and the scenes were filmic in quality. Lizzie Lamb is very skilled at challenging stereotypes for comic effect.
The narrative hurtles at great speed while the humour awaits the reader around every corner. Even the weather manages to mock Charlee as ‘hailstones hurled themselves at the window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes.’ Clever writing makes this novel feel like a trusty companion – I loved it! It is the sort of book one can return to chase away the blues!
After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided to pursue my first love: writing. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride. Although much of my time is taken up publicising Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bride, I published a third novel Scotch on The Rocks in July 2015. It achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon. I am a founding member of an indie publishing group – New Romantics Press and have held an Author Event at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, London. The icing on the cake, as far we are concerned, and a fitting way to celebrate our achievements. March 2016 saw Scotch on the Rocks shortlisted for the prestigious Exeter Novel Prize and in November 2016 I held an author talk in London, at Aspinalls. In Spring 2017 I published – Girl In The Castle, which reached #3 in the charts. I am currently working on a novel set in Wisconsin – Take Me I’m Yours, and have more Scottish-themed romances planned.
The beautiful cobbled streets of Beverley, East Yorkshire, proved a little difficult on the icy winter’s day. It was such a nostalgic trip for me as we had visited some dear friends there over a decade ago. Amazingly, Cut-Price Bookshop was still there, and I hope Rhoda would direct me there later, as I had a great big pink bag ready. Although bracing, the cool air had brought a beautiful covering of snow to the ancient town. It was very tempting to stop and browse in the independent shops, but I was meeting Rhoda Baxter, romantic novelist, in ten minutes.
Wrapped in a long, dark coat, large colourful scarf and wearing my Ugg boots, I quickened my pace the tiny Bistro. Rhoda smiled, greeted me and organised a lovely array of tea and cakes. My favourite sweet treats were the double chocolate brownies. I removed my coat and sat on one of the bistro chairs. Rhoda was bundled up against the cold and had to remove several layers before she got down to hear practical jeans and sweater. She retrieved her book entitled Girl in Trouble from her multicoloured handbag. It was such a delight for me to be back in Yorkshire speaking with a fellow Yorkshire lass.
Jessie: It is wonderful to be back in Yorkshire. What do you like most about Yorkshire?
Rhoda: The people! Everyone is so friendly here and there so much less tension in the day to day interactions. I lived down south for a while and whenever we go back to visit friends, we feel the difference immediately. My youngest, who can’t remember living anywhere but here, is always surprised at how when she says hello to people in London, they ignore her!
Also, I’m a big fan of cake. Beverley and York have some amazing cake shops.
I retrieved a copy of Rhoda’s book, ‘Girl in Trouble’, from my handbag. It was easy to spot the familiar bright cover of a glamorous character on the jacket. As we waited for more tea to arrive we settled to discuss Rhoda’s work.
Jessie:Your romantic novels look great. Your characters look feisty and fun and Sue Moorcroft described them as ‘the real deal’. Tell me about your characters. Can you capture the essence of ‘Girl in Trouble’ in a few sentences?
Rhoda: My characters often just turn up in my head and start talking. I don’t know their stories, but I know their voices. I’ve had several readers say that my characters feel real to them. That’s the highest praise, as far as I’m concerned. My characters are real to me. They live in my head for the duration while I’m writing their book and I miss them when I finish the story.
One of the reasons I started writing was because in the early 2000s, I got into reading romances and I felt that only a certain type of person was represented in popular romance. All the women were likable and unobjectionable, and all the men were super confident, well-muscled and over bearing. Where were the nice guys? Or the women who were smart and career minded? Or even ones who were slightly hard edged?
Girl in Trouble is about two people who are a little different to what society expects. Olivia is a ladette and there isn’t much that will faze her. Walter is a nice guy and is scared of spiders. One of their first interactions is when Olivia has to rescue him from a spider. Olivia is adamant she doesn’t need a man in her life, even when things go horribly wrong. How can Walter persuade the most independent woman he’s ever met to accept his help, let alone his heart?
Jessie: I know you have been nominated for writing awards. What have the reviewers said about ‘Girl in Trouble’?
Rhoda gave a wry smile then scrolled through the reviews of her novel on Amazon.
Most people said it made them laugh and cry in equal measure. I love that!
” there was a real punch of emotional depth – one minute I’d be grinning at what the characters were saying or doing and the next I was fighting tears.” (Amazon review)
“This book with make you laugh out loud at times but will also frustrate you and make you cry. Everything you need for a great romance. ” (Amazon review)
“Baxter’s narrative sets up the sentimental situation only to send it spinning in entirely unexpected directions.” (Romance Novels for Feminists)
Jessie: ‘Girl in Trouble’ sounds like a romance with a strong character – perfect! Can you read a brief extract to tempt the reader?
Rhoda: He leaned back, flustered. Much as he found her attractive, the idea of being pounced on by her was a tiny bit scary. But, only a tiny bit. Which wasn’t all that scary, come to think of it.
Jessie:Wow! Your book sounds like fun! I can sense you enjoyed interacting with your characters. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
Rhoda: I missed the characters so much that I wrote a follow up novella! Olivia first appeared as a minor character in ‘Girl Having A Ball’ (which was nominated for a RoNA Romantic Novel of the Year award). She’s confident and independent and doesn’t take crap from anyone. I loved her so much that I had to write this book to see what happened to her. I wish I was more like Olivia really. Walter, the hero, is a nice guy. I like beta heroes because they usually have wit and charm (as well being attractive) and I know I’d like to spend time with a man like that!
Jessie:I love the way you present the characters you want to spend time with. It must be great to create the characters you are fond of. Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
Rhoda: I’ve love for Emma Watson to read my book. ‘Girl In Trouble’ has a major theme of fathers and daughters, but underneath there’s quite a lot about gender stereotyping and the double standards that we apply to men and women. Boys don’t cry. Girls don’t climb trees (or whatever). I think it would chime with a lot of things Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
Because it will make you laugh and cry and, by the end, you’ll have met some people who feel like they are real friends.
Jessie: Tell me about your favourite handbag.
Rhoda:The bag is from a shop in Sri Lanka called Barefoot. They make wonderful things out of handloom fabrics. This bag has loads of little pockets inside, so that I can find what I’m looking for (I have two youngish kids – being able to find the packet of tissues at just the right moment is very important!). It’s a colourful, but sensible bag because I can fill it with useful things, sling it across me and run.
Jessie:What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
Rhoda: ‘beachwear and cocktail umbrellas?’ It’s a note to myself to figure out some details about my characters who are stranded on a tropical island with only a few bags they took on holiday. I liked the idea of them having a box of something that is completely useless – like cocktail umbrellas. They’re red, these cocktail umbrellas. They must be useful for something, right?
Jessie:What is the biggest challenge for an author?
Rhoda: Keeping going. I write because I love it and I don’t know what else I’d do with these people who keep popping up in my head. Writing books is hard, but marketing is harder. Nowadays, authors are expected to do a lot of marketing themselves and really, most of us are very shy. I can’t think of anything worse that going up to a stranger and saying ‘hey, I’ve written a book, wanna buy a copy’… but that is exactly what I need to learn to do.
Jessie: Where is your favourite writing place?
Rhoda: My favourite writing place is really my bed – but you don’t want a picture of me in my scratty pyjamas. So here’s a picture of my shed instead. I often sit in there at the weekend and do my editing work. There’s a battered old sofa and a collection of blankets in there, so it’s lovely and cosy even when it’s not the sunniest of days.
Jessie:What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
Rhoda: Write. Edit. Submit. Repeat. Improve each time you go round the cycle.
Rhoda is very serious about girls being allowed to do whatever they feel a passion for. Rhoda is also serious about cake. she’d choose tea and cake over alcohol any day.
Rhoda likes to see the humour in a situation, she says it’s her way of dealing with the dark side of life.
It was wonderful to meet a fun, Yorkshire lass in Beverley. Rhoda adds feisty, independent women in her books and that is appealing. Rhoda’s lively, positive nature suggests her books will be a joy to read. Best of luck to Rhoda with ‘Girl in Trouble’.