Monday Merry Meet: Ben Peyton

It’s Monday, a new week and a new visitor to the Emporium for this week’s Monday Merry Meet. Amber slipped Ben Peyton’s debut novel, Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George into her bag to read as soon as she saw it. She maybe older than the book’s target audience but if it mentions dragons, she needs to read it. Her review is here.

Grab a cuppa and join us for a chat about his book, spells and of course, writing.

Monday Merry Meet: Ben Peyton

Willow: Welcome Ben, we’re so excited to have you here. Come through to the back but excuse the mess, Vincent and Black Cat saw a ghost mouse and caused havoc. What would you like to drink? Yorkshire tea, herbal tea, coffee or something stronger. Since Christmas, we have a selection of homemade wines left or beer.

Ben: It’s lovely to be here. Those ghost mice are terrible liars. You can see right through them. I’m giving Dry January a go, so as tempting as some wine sounds, I’ll stick with a tea. Milk and one and a half sugars, please.

Black and white image of St George on a horse fighting a dragon
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

Amber: I’ve just finished your new book, Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George. In my view, every book should have a dragon in them. Yours is from the legend of St. George and when Luke visits the National Gallery; he sees Tintoretto’s painting. Was this your inspiration behind the novel?

Ben: Yes, it was. I was at the gallery with my family and noticed Tintoretto’s painting. For some reason, it really stood out to me. As I was looking at it, an idea began to take shape. I read a lot of books (mainly thrillers) and struggled to think of one that had featured St George. I bought a postcard size copy of the painting, took it home and began to jot down some ideas.

Rosa: It is action packed with inventions to escape from the baddies and obviously you had fun writing those scenes. When my son, Alejo, is older, I know he’ll love reading them. Did you always want to be a children’s author?

Ben: No, I was originally going to be a teacher. I was very sporty (I went to a school called Millfield which is renowned for its sporting achievements) and got into university to study PE. At the last minute, I auditioned for drama school on the advice of my drama teacher, won a place at Guildford School of Acting and had a fairly successful career as an actor until I retired at the grand old age of 30 to work full-time. Writing a book was something that came to me much later in life. I was about 42 when I began, Covid hit and things took a back-seat and I picked it up again at the end of 2021.

Amber: This is your debut book. What has your publication journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Ben: I would certainly change things. In my eagerness to try and get a literary agent, I sent Luke out to potential agents before I was 100% happy with it. I rushed the process, which was daft. For example, I sent the first 10,000 words to one agent and immediately after, I noticed a spelling mistake in it that I hadn’t seen before. Must’ve read that part a thousand times but “author blindness” had its claws into me.

A good friend of mine has been hugely successful as an Indie author. Carl Ashmore (do check out his wonderful series “The Time Hunters”) has guided me along my journey with patience and kindness. He recommended particular software for the best formatting , helped me through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing process as well as offering advice on my story. Very grateful to him.

Trying to get an agent has been incredibly frustrating. It’s similar to when I was an actor auditioning for roles. You do your thing and then don’t hear anything back, so you’re often left in limbo. So many agents have different submission policies. Some want 5,000 words, others 15,000, others a synopsis with the opening three chapters, so you’re constantly having to adapt to their requirements. And the standard rejection email is always disappointing to receive. Just once, I would have liked something personal from one of them. I know how busy they are and how many submissions they receive, but a tiny bit of human interaction featuring a comment on plot or character would soften the blow.

I paid for the brilliant team at House of Editors to help proof-read and edit my book too, and they did a magnificent job. They raised a question about the plot, which blew it wide open and made nearly all of it pointless! It was hilarious. All I needed to fix it was one additional line of dialogue, but again, I hadn’t picked up on it. Thank goodness for them.

Image by Edar from Pixabay

Willow: That was lucky. We always love hearing about how authors write. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you have a strict writing routine?

Ben: I have a desk in my living room that I like to sit at and write whilst listening to film scores. John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Patrick Doyle or Craig Armstrong are favourites. Alternatively, ambient music such as Kinobe or U137 help me concentrate. If I can write about 1,000 words on a writing day, I’m happy. I usually write down ideas as they come to me on a Word document and develop the story around them. When I started LSATBOSG, I didn’t have an ending. That came during the writing process.

Amber: We have many would be writers coming into the shop. Do you have any advice for novice writers?

Ben: Firstly, don’t send your work to agents without checking it a gazillion times! And then check it again!

Keep writing. Have a pen and paper with you at all times or use notes on your phone to write down an idea when it comes to you. Read and listen to other authors. Reach out to them as well. Another brilliant author (Rick Jones – he writes thrillers for adults) has also been incredibly helpful to me and shared his advice and experience. Don’t take rejection personally and only let trusted friends read your drafts.

Finally, pay for a good cover. Tim at Dissect Designs absolutely nailed mine. I never met him, but we emailed regularly. He was professional, efficient and used his expertise to design what I envisaged. He pointed out why certain things might not work and was never patronising or rude. I will unquestionably be using him for my next book.

Willow: The Enchanted Emporium sells several candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Ben: A good night’s sleep, please. I have two kids (12 & 9) so it’s been a while since I had one of those!

Willow: One candle invokes memories of your perfect holiday or day when lit. Where would it take you?

Ben: Either my wedding day, back in St Ives in 2009 or Christmas 2021. It was the last time my whole family were together as my dad died the following May.

Amber: Ghosts and paranormal activity plague The Enchanted Emporium. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Ben: I can’t say that it’s influenced my writing, but one possibly unusual thing springs to mind. Back in 1996 when I was 19, I had Bacterial Meningitis. Thankfully, I don’t remember much about it. I was unconscious for about two days in hospital, but I remember seeing / dreaming my grandfather with cigarette smoke surrounding his face (he was a smoker and had died about 10 years before) and smiling. I felt an absolute, serene peace. That’s it. Some spiritual friends of mine tell me that he was watching over me. Who knows?

Willow: If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours what would it be and what would you do with it?

Ben: Flight. Can you imagine? That sensation would be magical. And it would save time and cut down on pollution.

Willow: It truly would. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Ben: Unquestionably book one of Carl Ashmore’s The Time Hunters. They are full of charm, adventure, and love.

Rosa: Amber will add them to the list. I have a Box of Romance books I share with friends and customers. What would you add to it?

Ben: I’ve only read one romance novel in my life. Sorry. But I enjoyed it! One Last Letter From Greece by Emma Cowell. Lovely story of grief and love. Incidentally, she was my girlfriend back in 1996 and undoubtedly saved my life by rushing me to the doctor when I had meningitis!

Willow: We’ll have to source that one then. Without her we wouldn’t have Luke Stevens on our bookshelf. And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Ben: I’m beavering away with a sequel to Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George, which is provisionally titled, Luke Stevens and the Quest for Excalibur. Hopefully coming later this year.

Willow: We look forward to seeing it on our shelf. Thank you for visiting. Good luck with your writing and Dry January.

Book cover for Luke Stevens and the blood of St George
Teenage boy with blue hoodie and arms crossed with a SS man, Big Ben, Stonehenge and dragon in the background. A motorbike and rider is in the foreground.

Title: Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George

Author: Ben Peyton

Genre: Children’s fiction

Release date: 1st April 2022

Publisher: Neilson UK

Purchase:

Amazon

And signed and dedicated copies are available here: https://benpeyton.co.uk/buy-2/

Blurb

With a great central concept, this is a fast-paced imaginative romp for the younger reader.” Carl Ashmore – Best-selling author of The Time Hunters series

Ben Peyton’s debut novel is chock-full of action and suspense that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George hits all the marks that a blockbuster should.” Rick Jones – Best-selling author of The Vatican Knights series

On his 13th birthday and presented with an unusual gift, Luke Stevens suddenly finds himself thrust into a battle between good and evil, with him right at the heart of it. For within Luke flows the blood of a legend, and there are those that will stop at nothing to get their hands on what Luke now has in his possession.

With a group of Guardians to help him, Luke has no choice but to step up and fulfil an ancient prophecy where mankind’s way of life is threatened by a ruthless enemy seeking global domination. What follows is a race against time where one thing is certain: Luke’s life will never be the same again.

Full to the brim with action, humour, crazy gadgets and history, prepare yourself for an exciting adventure that will keep you turning pages long into the night.

Welcome to Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George…

Author Biography

Photo of Ben Peyton. White middle aged man, greying short hair wearing a dark blue shirt
Ben Peyton

Ben Peyton is a former actor (a regular in ITV1’s The Bill) and now a full-time dad and writer. He has written reviews and articles for Filmhounds Magazine, Time & Leisure Magazine and several online blogs. Luke Stevens and the Blood of St George is his debut novel.

Social Media

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ben_peyton007/

Twitter https://twitter.com/benpeyton007

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/benpeytonauthor

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Book Review: There’s No Place Like Home by Jane Lovering

After chatting to Jane Lovering on Monday over a large mug of Yorkshire tea during our Monday Merry Meet, we’re excited to share our review of her new book, There’s No Place Like Home. Thank you Rachel’s Random Resources for the blog tour invite and providing a copy to read.

Book Review: There’s No Place Like Home by Jane Lovering

There’s No Place Like Home by Jane Lovering

Title: There’s No Place Like Home

Author: Jane Lovering

Publisher: Boldwood books

Genre: Woman’s fiction, romance

Release date: 10th January 2023

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3FsnZU2 

Blurb:

Isabel, Izzy to her friends, has got nothing left to lose when she makes the bravest decision of her life.

A month living under canvas on the Yorkshire Moors with five strangers wouldn’t normally be her idea of a good time, even if there is prize money to be won at the end of it, but she’s all out of options.

Joining her in this wild goose chase, being filmed for a TV show, are farmer Seb, whose marriage is creaking but who is desperate not to lose his family. Sheltered Ruth who needs an opportunity to show she can make her own decisions. Glamorous socialite Kanga, who has been living a lie. American Junior who has his own secret that has led him there. And last but not least, mysterious and brooding Mac, who Izzy can’t help but be drawn to.

As the fickleness of nature tests them all to their limits, this disparate group come together to face the challenge. But when Izzy finally tells them the truth that has brought her out on the Moors, will that be the end of their adventure, or the beginning of her future? Because what Izzy really needs is a place to call home, and someone to share it with could be even better…

Thoughts from the Emporium

Last year The Forgotten House on the Moor appeared on the Enchanted Emporium bookshelf and we all loved it so when There’s No Place Like Home arrived in Rosa’s Box of Romance, Willow and her had to flip a coin to see who would read it first. Rosa won. With high expectations, this novel didn’t disappoint.

Within pages, both were hooked into Izzy’s life and the stark realities of camping in the Yorkshire moors in horrid weather, with strangers tracking down a potential mythical creature for a TV prize. Jane Lovering has a talent for world building and providing a strong sense of place. With knowledge of the locality, Rosa and Willow can both say it is an accurate depiction of the moors and its atmosphere. Even snuggled under the duvet, Rosa found herself shivering when Izzy and company are faced with bad weather thanks to the immersive writing.

Six strangers living in close quarters with sporadic appearances of the camera crew and film staff provided a memorable cast for this original novel, plenty of drama and clashes of personalities. They all have a backstory and reasons for joining the show, including Izzy. As a protagonist, she had depth and everyone connected to her and wanted her to have a happy ever after she sought after. Sprinkled with humour, deeper themes are blended in this uplifting novel with care and realism. Despite the weather and camping trials, romance blooms and the slow burn chemistry between Izzy and Seb is just right for their story.

This unique novel was an ideal read to start the year and a welcome addition to Rosa’s Box of Romance where the love will be shared with visitors to the Emporium. It will be a hit. After chatting to Jane on Monday, everyone is already looking forward to her next one and if you read her chat you’ll understand why.

Author Biography

Photo of Jane Lovering.  White woman with red dotty bandana cuddling a black and white Patterdale Terrier in a autumn background
Jane Lovering

Jane Lovering is the bestselling and award-winning romantic comedy writer who won the RNA Novel of the Year Award in 2012 with Please Don’t Stop the Music. She lives in Yorkshire and has a cat and a bonkers terrier, as well as five children who have now left home.

Social Media Links   

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Lovering-Author-106404969412833

Twitter https://twitter.com/janelovering

Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/JaneLoveringNews

Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jane-lovering

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Monday Merry Meet: Jane Lovering

Now the chaos of Yule and the New Year is over, we are delighted to share our first Monday Merry Meet of 2023. Today Jane Lovering, author of 25 books has popped in for a chat about her books, writing and of course magic. We all fell in love with her The Forgotten House on the Moor, a romance with a ghost hunting twist last year and can’t wait to read her new release, There’s No Place Like Home.

Grab yourself a cuppa and join us to discover more about this author.

Monday Merry Meet: Jane Lovering

Willow: Welcome Jane, we’re so excited to have you here. I hope you’re not allergic to cats. Vincent, our lumbering Maine Coon, has taken to sleeping on the sofa in the staffroom. Amber will move him out of the way so you can sit down.

Jane: I love Whitby! It’s not that far from where I live, so I can call it research, wandering down the little old streets and popping into the wonderful crooked little shops in the Old Town. Oh, and I’m not at all allergic to cats – in fact I’ve had them all my life. I don’t have one now because Current Dog is a Patterdale Terrier and the only response to hearing that someone owns a Patterdale is ‘oh dear, I am sorry.’ She’s a fiend. Vincent can sit on my lap if he likes.

Photo of a ginger Maine Coon
Vincent

Willow: Be prepared to be squashed by him then. He loves attention. What would you like to drink? We have Yorkshire tea, herbal tea, coffee or something stronger. Since Christmas we have some homemade sloe gin left or wine.

Jane: I can’t drink alcohol at all, so I’ll have a big mug of Yorkshire Tea, please. Very strong, no sugar, hardly any milk. I have the tea palate of a jobbing builder. Oh, and if you’ve got any biscuits…

Amber: One mug of builder’s tea coming up and we always have biscuits.  

Photo of biscuits and a mug of tea
Image by Benjamin Nelan from Pixabay

Rosa: I’ve just finished your new book, There’s No Place like Home. It is set on the Yorkshire moors and, like your other books, has a wonderful sense of place. Do you spend a lot of time in potential locations to capture their atmosphere? Where is your favourite spot?

Jane: Most of my books are set around where I live, or within a few minutes’ walk/drive. I spend a LOT of time walking and running locally (see under ‘Patterdale terrier owner’) and it all serves to help me absorb atmosphere and scenery. Although when I’m running, I’m mostly sweating and swearing, to be honest. I don’t really have a favourite place, I love all the moors and fields and becks and dales and woods around me. It depends on my mood. Sometimes the exposed bleakness of the moors is best, and sometimes I just want some rustling woodland with leaves, and squirrels to chase. Er, for the dog, not me.

Willow: Your new protagonist, Izzy, joins a reality show to track down big cats wild in the British countryside. What was your inspiration for this idea?

Jane: A friend is fascinated by Bigfoot and watches a lot of those ‘Hunting Bigfoot’ programmes. He suggested that I wrote about a British Bigfoot hunt, but I’m just a wee bit more sceptical than he is. However, I know people who’ve seen what they have sworn are big cats out in the countryside, and I thought that finding one of these might make a good story. Then I needed to work out the how and the why – and came up with a reality TV show. They always seem to feature people doing ridiculous things that nobody would ever want to do in the normal course of events, and people will seemingly do anything for money…

Rosa: Among other things, this novel tackles homelessness. Was it something you planned to cover to raise awareness of the situation people find themselves in, or did it develop while writing about Izzy?

Jane: My characters tend to come to me fully formed, so I already knew that Izzy was homeless. The only thing I had to work out was how it came about, and come up with a way that was plausible – a way which would make many readers think ‘that could have been me’.

Amber: You’ve written 25 books. What has your publication journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jane: D’you know, I don’t think I would? I’ve been very very lucky, and I’ve met such wonderful people and made such good friends along the way, that I don’t think I’d have anything any different – other than maybe have it happen twenty years earlier!

Willow: We always love hearing about author’s day. Do you have a strict your writing routine?

Jane: Well, it’s not ‘strict’ because I don’t believe in beating myself up over it, but I tend to wake up, make a big mug of tea and then go back to bed with the dog and my laptop. I try to write 1000 words a day, and then I’m up and out for a run with the dog and then off to work (I don’t start work until 3pm before you think I’m one of these ‘early risers’ whom I swear are a myth).

A pile of books
Image by Rick Stefanie from Pixabay

Amber: I dabble in writing. Do you have any advice for novice writers?

Jane: Read read read. Not just in the genre you want to write, but anything and everything. Biographies, ‘How To’ books, novels, poetry – every word you read informs the writer you become. Oh, and don’t ask for feedback on your writing from family, or anyone who might die at your hand if they criticise you. Find a beta reader or writing partner who is not emotionally invested in you – they are the only people who will be honest. Joining a writers’ group can be helpful, but it depends on the group – avoid any with loud, dominant characters who are only there to read their work and be told how wonderful they are.

Willow: Great advice and an ideal excuse to visit bookshops guilt free. Whitby has a delightful one. The Enchanted Emporium sells several candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Jane: I live alone in a tiny little cottage (well, I’ve got the dog…) so I’m fine for peace and tranquillity, I sleep very well (because it’s so quiet), and I believe in making my own luck and security. I think it would have to be focus and concentration because I can be – how shall we put it politely? – a wee bit scatty and disorganised.

Willow: One candle invokes memories of your perfect holiday or day when lit. Where would it take you?

Jane: I’m not sure. I think my life is pretty perfect at the moment, actually! Possibly it would remind me of Christmases, spent with all my children around me, eating food, playing games and laughing. If it could blank out the hours of cooking, the arguing, the mess and the washing up, that would be nice too.

Amber: Ghosts and paranormal activity plague The Enchanted Emporium. Have had had any spooky experiences – did it influence your writing The Forgotten House on the Moor and other books?

Jane: A few minor happenings that I couldn’t explain – this is a very old cottage and I’ve had the usual amount of strange window and door openings, knockings and clonks. Over the years, I’ve seen things which might have been supernatural, and I have a belief that we don’t understand everything about the world beyond us. That sense of mystery, of enquiry and the ‘maybe’ runs through a lot of my books.

Willow: Your cottage sounds delightful. Unlike your character, Holly Grey in Hubble Bubble, we don’t dabble with magic, it’s in our blood. Bearing that in mind, if we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours what would it be and what would you do with it?

Jane: I would like to be able to see the world through the eyes of animals. To experience what they do and understand how they see us. I think it might help me to understand why they seem to be such irrational creatures – I’d love to sit up trees with squirrels and stomp along with badgers and skitter about with the ponies!

Willow: I think I’d have to join you with that superpower, experiencing Whitby through the eyes of Vincent or some of the wild birds would be eye opening. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Jane: You’ve probably got them all! But I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Mythology of the British Isles’ by Geoffrey Ashe, about the history of folklore in Britain and the origin of myths, which is fascinating.

Willow: That’s one we don’t have but it sounds like it’s a need.

Rosa: I have a Box of Romance books I share with friends and customers. What would you add to it?

Jane: That’s too hard! That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child! I have so many friends who write amazing romances, that I couldn’t possibly select just a few, it wouldn’t be fair.

Willow: It can be a cruel question. And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Jane: My next book is with my editor and awaiting edits, but I’m actually currently writing a book set on Orkney, about a witch’s cottage, the person who inherits it and what happens when she does. It might be right up your street!

Willow: It truly does and we can’t wait to read it. I hope the writing goes well and you’ll have to pop back and tell us all about it.

Book cover for There's No Place Like Home.
Blue to lilac gradient sky, snowy moorland with small white cottage. One man in a green coat and red bobble hat sits on a bench with a woman on pink coat, hat and red wellies.
There’s No Place Like Home by Jane Lovering

Title: There’s No Place Like Home

Author: Jane Lovering

Publisher: Boldwood books

Genre: Woman’s fiction, romance

Release date: 10th January 2023

Purchase Link – https://amzn.to/3FsnZU2 

Blurb:

Isabel, Izzy to her friends, has got nothing left to lose when she makes the bravest decision of her life.

A month living under canvas on the Yorkshire Moors with five strangers wouldn’t normally be her idea of a good time, even if there is prize money to be won at the end of it, but she’s all out of options.

Joining her in this wild goose chase, being filmed for a TV show, are farmer Seb, whose marriage is creaking but who is desperate not to lose his family. Sheltered Ruth who needs an opportunity to show she can make her own decisions. Glamorous socialite Kanga, who has been living a lie. American Junior who has his own secret that has led him there. And last but not least, mysterious and brooding Mac, who Izzy can’t help but be drawn to.

As the fickleness of nature tests them all to their limits, this disparate group come together to face the challenge. But when Izzy finally tells them the truth that has brought her out on the Moors, will that be the end of their adventure, or the beginning of her future? Because what Izzy really needs is a place to call home, and someone to share it with could be even better…

Author Biography

Photo of Jane Lovering.  White woman with red dotty bandana cuddling a black and white Patterdale Terrier in a autumn background
Jane Lovering

Jane Lovering is the author of 25 novels and novellas, which she calls ‘dark psychological romance, with jokes’. She lives in North Yorkshire, where many of her books are set, in a creaky old cottage with an obsessive Patterdale Terrier and a lot of cobwebs. She has won four Romantic Novel of the Year awards, likes biscuits and running (cause and effect) and Tony Robinson. Jane is actually a very nice person, despite her tendency to snarl ‘what do you want?’ out of open windows whilst holding back a growling dog with one hand. Honestly.

Social Media Links   

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Jane-Lovering-Author-106404969412833

Twitter https://twitter.com/janelovering

Newsletter Sign Up: https://bit.ly/JaneLoveringNews

Bookbub profile: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jane-lovering

Best Books of 2022 and chat of things to come

Happy New Year from all at The Enchanted Emporium and we wish you a magical 2023 with plenty of happiness, good health and laughter. And books, lots of books and tea. If the current influx of books arriving on the enchanted bookshelf and in Rosa’s Box of Romance is anything to go by we’re in for a treat.

Have you seen the recent Guardian newspaper articles regarding the rise of witch lit or witcherature? We’ll link them here and here. We agree 2022 been the year of the witch as our favourite books will show and it looks like the trend will continue. Aren’t we lucky? Willow needs to conjure a pause time to read spell to read them all. Maybe, just maybe we will have exciting news to tell about our own story based in our shop written by writer, Kate Kenzie later this year but you know what some writers are like with deadlines and self doubt, it could be delayed again. You can follow her progress and give her a kick up the bum – sorry encouragement here.

Our blog is in its infancy, toddling about but we’ve had a ball chatting to authors in our Monday Merry Meets. They’ve brightened up our weeks and you can catch up with those you may have missed below. This year we’ll continue to fling our staff room doors and provide tea while we gossip with more writers and customers who stumble down Black Cat Alley. Our first guest is Yorkshire romance author, Jane Lovering. Why not press subscribe so you don’t miss any future chat?

Monday Merry Meets in 2022

Jeanna Louise Skinner

Alys West

Christina Courtenay

Kiley Dunbar

Kate Johnson

Kat Chant

J C Clarke

Elisabeth Hobbes

Lilian Brooks

Stephanie Hansen

Rachel Burge

Sharon Booth

Heidi Swain

Jessica Thorne

Emma Bradley

Photo of a floral cup and saucer

Enough rambling before our first cup of tea and the sun has risen over Whitby, here are our favourite books of 2022 from the bookshelf and Rosa’s Box of Romance in no particular order (that really is a ask too far). Are you ready?

Here goes

The Best Books of 2022 on the Enchanted Emporium’s Bookshelf

The Change by Kirsten Miller – One of the finest examples of witcherature and feminist writing we’ve seen. It kicks ass, has superb powerful characterisation and is unforgettable for its humour, darkness and immersive plot.

The Gifts by Liz Hyder – This was another immersive, breath stopping novel. Not witches this time but angels in the nineteenth century when misogyny and greed is rife. The cover is beautiful and with this unforgettable storyline, it deserves to sit on everyone’s bookshelf

The Hex Appeal by Kate Johnson – Full of humour, and with plenty of highly imaginative mayhem this witchy romcom made us chuckle out loud.

The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marias – with a cast of six octogenarian witches, this novel captivated us and it highlights how commercial witch lit can be. The Moonshyne witches will be forever in out hearts.

Widdershins by Helen Steadman – Historical fiction based on the Newcastle witch trials in 1649. The detail and knowledge portrayed on the page brought the era and danger to live.

Demon by Matt Wesolowski. – From witches to a demon haunting a village in Yorkshire. The podcast format worked well for this horror novel and sent shivers down our spines.

The Ghost of Ivy Barn by Mark Stay – Another fun and immersive witchy novel in the Witches of Woodville series. It has humour, action and highly memorable, quirky characters. Once read you have to keep reading the series over and over.

The Witch and the Tsar by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore – The last book reviewed last year and with impressive world building, this retelling of the Baba Yaga folk tale is a must for witcherature fans.

What were your favourite reads last year? Drop us a line or comment we’d love to know.

Happy reading!

Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

It’s the last Monday before Christmas and the Enchanted Emporium is hectic with customers wanting last minute presents, candles for calm and lotions to help have a happy day. We’re delighted to have a tea break to chat to paranormal romance author, Jeanna Louise Skinner. Her debut novel, The Book Boyfriend was recommended by Kiley Dunbar in her Monday Merry Meet so we’re looking forward to knowing more.

Monday Merry Meet: Jeanna Louise Skinner

Mug with a reindeer on it next to some teabags
Image by Luisella Planeta LOVE PEACE 💛💙 from Pixabay

Willow: Hi Jeanna, come in. Can we get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?

Jeanna: Thank you so much for that lovely warm welcome, Willow. I’m delighted to be here. I adore your magical emporium and regularly find myself getting lost in all the mysterious nooks and crannies as a visitor, so it’s lovely to drop in with my author hat on. I’d kill for a decent cuppa but decaf if you possibly have it. Milk, no sugar, please.

Willow: Your debut novel, The Book Boyfriend, is a paranormal romance. What drew you to that genre?

Jeanna: I’ve always loved all things magical and mysterious. Some of my favourite movies growing up were Mannequin, Splash and Big. You know, the kind of film where the fantastical happens, but it’s within the real world. I love high fantasy too, but I feel like there’s something whimsical about grounded fantasy or paranormal. Something about the “What If” nature of the supernatural that resonates in my soul. I used to enjoy the spookier side of the supernatural more when I was younger and ate up shows like The X Files, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more chicken and I can’t do the scary stuff anymore. I still want all those Will-They-Won’t-They Mulder and Scully feels though, and Paranormal Romance gives me the hit of magic that I’m looking for with the HEA endings I crave. My sweet spot is Cosy Paranormal/Fantasy Romance and my personal brand is that but featuring plus-size and neurodiverse characters.

Willow: I loved those films and watched all of them on repeat as a teenager.

Amber: The Book Boyfriend contains our favourite things, bookshops, magic and romance. And to top it off, it has a map. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Jeanna: The Book Boyfriend is the book of my heart.

It’s very meta in that it’s about a romance-loving bookworm who wants to write but who struggles to put her messy thoughts on to paper. There’s a throwback swoon-worthy, brooding historical hero who literally, magically appears out of the book the heroine is reading, plus a grumpy bookshop cat. The idea came from a conversation with an old friend years ago where she was lamenting the fact that the real life men she knew couldn’t match up to her fantasy heroes and that her book boyfriends just couldn’t be real. It was literally a lightbulb moment in my head. And I set it in a bookshop because there’s no place which feels more magical to me (except for possibly a library).

The map was kind of a happy accident. The Book Boyfriend is set in Exeter where I live. It’s a beautiful old city with so much history but I feel it’s often overlooked in literature, so I mined Exeter’s very rich historical seam for titbits and plot bunnies. The cathedral plays an important role in the story, as do the centuries old underground passages, both of which are major tourist attractions here today. And of course, I had to delve into Exeter and Devon’s abundance of ghost stories and folklore.

My husband is born and bred here and even though he’s not an illustrator by trade, I know he’s talented at drawing. I mentioned to him one day that I’d love to put a map of Exeter in the book; one which shows the then and now of Exeter in the 16th century and how it’s changed today. Well, let’s just say he rose to the challenge in true book boyfriend fashion. I’m thrilled with how it turned out and all the little details he included. If you look closely, you can even see a tiny horse and cart figure near the cathedral.

I wrote this book to be a love letter to Romance and included loads of Easter eggs for book lovers to find. And there’s even a choice of covers because I know how some Romance fans love a clinch cover with a real-life couple, but others prefer the cartoon Illustrated style.

Open book in candlelight. The pages are bent to form a heart

Willow: It sounds fabulous and everything a magic loving romantic bookworm desires. Unlike many romance books,  Emmeline isn’t your petite and neurotypical heroine. How important do you think representation of everyone is in fiction?

Jeanna: In many ways Emmeline is me. I tried very hard not to make her a self insert, but she’s the me I always wanted to read in books. Of course, there are lots of ways where we’re not alike, but she means a lot to me as a character. It’s my hope that others will read her story and see themselves in her, especially in her strength, because she’s unbelievably resilient and resourceful.

Emmeline has schizophrenia, a mental illness which is still very highly stigmatised and misunderstood. I’ve already mentioned my brand being plus-size and neurodiverse paranormal romance, and I stand by this. I’m privileged in lots of ways but I’m also marginalised in others. Namely, being plus-size, neurodiverse and disabled. If my stories can make just one person feel seen or represented in a positive light, it will all be worth it. We need diverse books isn’t just a throwaway slogan. It truly matters. I’m proud of the work that myself and others – especially indie authors – are doing to bring positive representation to publishing, but I feel that traditional publishing still has a way to go.

Willow: Yule has arrived here in the Emporium and Whitby is full of Christmas cheer. Are you someone who enjoys the festivities or more bah humbug?

Jeanna: I adore Christmas! I’m a big traditionalist and I used to go all out making my own mince pies, Christmas cakes and having the perfectly decorated tree etc, but I’ve had to take a step back these days because of my health. So now I try to take joy from the smaller things. My very favourite part of Christmas is that feeling when you find the perfect present for someone, the anticipation of them opening it and their eyes lighting up when they do. It feels magical to me. Very much like when you know someone is The One or that moment when I strike gold whilst writing – which doesn’t happen often enough, unfortunately.

Willow: There are so many different ways to be published nowadays. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jeanna: Oh goodness, that’s a long and complicated story so I’ll try to keep it brief. I started out like many aspiring authors in that I went down the querying route. I spent a lot of getting down and dirty in those trenches and I still have the scars to prove it. I thought I’d made it when a small indie publisher showed interest in The Book Boyfriend. It was so exciting. I was finally a real published author, but months after my dream came true, my publisher closed. I got my rights back relatively quickly and easily and I’m so grateful for that. I know so many authors who’ve had nightmares where returning rights are concerned. So, in March I became a self published author. It was never on my radar to self publish. My health issues mean I have limited spoons and time to devote to pretty much everything and I knew self publishing would mean a LOT of hard work, so it wasn’t really what I wanted. But I’m here now and I wouldn’t say I’m thriving as an indie author. Surviving, maybe? So I’m taking each day as it comes and I’m truly grateful for all my readers, followers, friends and family who are cheering me on.

Willow: That is some journey, and we wish you all the luck in your indie career. I am very ritualistic in my day. Do you have writing rituals to help you write?

Jeanna: Absolutely none. The only thing I do need is relative peace and quiet to write otherwise I’m as scattergun as it comes with my writing process.

Amber: We’ve spoken to many would be authors this year. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Jeanna: The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given and something that’s much easier to say than do:

WTFB – Write The F##king Book.

It’s a cliché but you can’t edit, polish, query or publish a blank page.

I just wish I would listen to my own advice more!

Amber: I need to remember that one.

Willow: We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Jeanna: Anything that keeps my ADHD brain occupied on the task in hand so “Focus while the candle is burning” would be wonderful, please!

Willow:  One of candles when lit invokes memories of your perfect day? Where would it take you?

Jeanna: To Blackbury Camp in Devon, the site of an old Iron Age hillfort and an enchanting bluebell wood. We used to visit every year before I got sick. I remember spending one particularly magical early summer’s day there with a picnic and the sun beating down on us, while the boys went off looking for faeries and wisps in the trees.

Amber: The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Jeanna: I don’t know if it’s influenced my writing but I swear I heard (heard not saw) a werewolf once. The sound gave me the shivers. Even now it’s making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.

Dark blue background. A silhouette of a wolf howling against a full moon
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Willow:A werewolf experience is something we’ve not heard of in the Emporium but there have been several sightings in East Yorkshire. If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Jeanna: Probably something to do with focus again because my combination of ADHD and CRPS is huge energy-sucking bummer of a cocktail. Either that or I’d like to do something amazing like time-travel.

Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Jeanna: Probably the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. I first read it as a gothy teenager and I fell completely in love with Peake’s gothic-laced fantasy world. It’s Dracula meets Game of Thrones but better than both, imho. There was a beautifully detailed BBC adaptation years ago, but I think it’s the perfect time for a new version.

Amber: I need to search for those. Thanks.

Willow: Our assistant Rosa says hi. She couldn’t be here today because she’s at her son’s Nativity, but she has a box full of romance novels for people to borrow. What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Jeanna: Oh gosh, so many. Can I choose two recent favourites?

Willow: Of course. It’s Christmas, so the more the merrier.

Jeanna: Holding on To Bluebell Lodge by Rachel Bowdler. A gorgeous enemies to lovers sapphic romance by the sea.

Just Fake Married by Marty Vee. As the title implies, it’s a fake relationship romance, but this one has all the feels, mutual pining, a New Year’s Eve kiss, only one bed and doggos. LOTS of cute doggos.

Amber: And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Jeanna: I’m (not) very busy writing the first book in my new series. It’s called Pumpkin Spice and it’s book one in The Bluebloodsuckers series, which is about a modern-day European royal family who also happen to be vampires. Pumpkin Spice is a Cinderella-inspired steamy plus-size romcom with a fat, witchy, sword-forging heroine and a handsome Prince Charming who becomes a vampire when the clock strikes midnight. It’s human sunshine meets grumpy immortal and so much fun to write. I’m hoping to release it next Autumn.

I’m also writing a short story in the same series which will be published first in Hexes and Ohs, a witchy paranormal romance charity anthology from The New Romance Cafe. It’s available to preorder now and ALL the proceeds will be going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Willow: Vampires and witches will make a great combination. Good luck with your writing and we’ll be pre-ordering Hexes and Oh’s from here. Have a lovely Christmas.  

Photo of walnuts, iced star cookies and cones.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Author Biography

Photo of Jeanna Louise Skinner. White woman, long curly hair wearing an orange jumper
Jeanna Louise Skinner

Jeanna Louise Skinner writes plus-size romance with a sprinkling of magic. She has CRPS and ADHD and she is passionate about writing people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and neurodiverse conditions. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat. Her debut plus-size paranormal romance The Book Boyfriend is out now in ebook, paperback and audio. 

Blurb:

If your fictional boyfriend came to life, could you write your own Happily Ever After?

Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real. Maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all?

Lord Jonathan Dalgliesh is the handsome stranger – wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past – who appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him inside an ancient book. But when growing threats to Emmy’s safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, she must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page? Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.

Featuring a fierce, body-positive, fat and tall heroine; a morally-grey, swoonworthy Tudor hero; mental health rep; romance novel references galore; a dusty Devon bookshop setting; history, mystery, magic; and the grumpiest, chonkiest bookshop cat, “The Book Boyfriend” is the perfect witchy, slow burn, time-travel romance for fans of Outlander, A Discovery of Witches, Practical Magic and many more!

Social media links: 

Tiktok: https://www.tiktok.com/@jeannalouiseskinner

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeannalstars/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeannalouiseskinner/

Monday Merry Meet: Kiley Dunbar

After an unscheduled break from the Monday Merry Meets*, we’re excited to chat with author, Kiley Dunbar. Her books include the delightful Borrow a Bookshop Holiday which made us all want to forget about selling lotions, potions and tea and want to become booksellers instead.

*everyone succumbed to a terrible cold that stole our voices and then the boiler broke. With the Enchanted Emporium’s reputation of hauntings, it took a while to find someone willing to come and fix it.

Monday Merry Meet: Kiley Dunbar

Willow: Welcome Kiley, come through to the back. Can we get you something warming to drink? We have a selection of tea, including our own Festive spice blend, which is Christmas in a cup, coffee or hot chocolate?

Amber: Or something stronger. I can warm up some mulled wine. You may need it. Percy, our Victorian resident ghost, has discovered ‘O’Christmas Tree’ on Spotify and as much as we try, we can’t switch it off. It’s been on a continual loop all day.

Kiley: It’s so nice to meet you all. You too Percy, nice tunes! I’d love a brew please. Festive Spice sounds braw.

A cup of tea surrounded by festive foliage
Image by Nina from Pixabay

Willow: They sang it around the piano upstairs at Christmas, apparently. It’s making him happy. Do you have any special traditions you always do at Christmas, Kiley?

Kiley: I love that! Cuz that’s what Christmas traditions are, aren’t they; recreating happy memories of long ago? I am a Christmas obsessive and love everything about the season. I put my tree in the window, all sparkly, in mid-November this year because I needed a dose of winter cheer. I love re-reading A Christmas Carol every year, and I always cut my Christmas cake early so I can eat it with my breakfast cuppa all through December. And I love travelling at Christmas, so I’ll book a snowy getaway very close to the big day itself! This year’s no different. I’m meeting my best friend in Edinburgh for a wee potter around the Christmas markets.

Willow: That sounds amazing. We reread a Christmas Carol too and have many different editions on the enchanted bookshelf.

Amber: I’d love to decorate mid-November too, but Willow is a grinch and makes us wait until December.

Rosa: Your current release revisits one of my favourite places, The Borrow A Bookshop in Clove Lore, Devon. What made you set a Christmas story there? How important is location for you?

Clove Lore is based (loosely) on Clovelly in Devon, which is a beautiful, magical place. It means a lot to me because that’s where my fella took me the week we met, so I associate it with those early feelings of falling stupidly in love. And it is picturesque, let me tell you. The perfect spot for a romance series. Even if I do send the residents of Clove Lore a massive Christmas flood in this book!

Open book with page bent into a heart in candlelight
Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Rosa: I love romance novels especially at Christmas. They provide an ideal escape from the mayhem. How important do you think a happy ever after ending is in fiction?

I think the reason we love romances with happy ever after endings is the same reason we love Christmas. Both offer us a sense that things can be better, that humanity isn’t spoiled and awful after all, and that with a big enough dose of love, community and kindness, we can all be happy.

We are hopeful creatures, deep down, and ultimately we long to be happy. Romance novels give us that positive feeling that anything’s possible.

Willow: It is your 7th novel. What has your publication journey been like? Is being a writer how you expected it to be?

I know! Seven books! It still amazes me. In 2018, I was facing redundancy, turning forty and terrified. I knew I had a shot at changing my life and writing the books I’ve always wanted to (but felt I never could), so I started typing! I’m still so grateful to Hera Books for picking me up when I was down. Writing for a living is such a lot of work, two books a year usually, and little time for rest, but I love it. It’s all I want to do for the rest of my life.

Willow: We have many would-be writers popping in. Do you have any advice for them?

Yes, just do it. Write whenever you feel able. Get the words down. Make writer friends and share your writing. Get feedback (but only from people whose opinion you actually want!) and don’t give up. Don’t censor yourself, either. Write your story for your future fans, not for those around you. And just enjoy it. It’s supposed to be fun. If it isn’t, are you writing the book you actually want to?

Willow: The Enchanted Emporium sells a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Kiley: I would love A Good Night’s Sleep candle, please. Often I’m up late into the night worrying about what the future holds. I’m a parent carer and when I try to picture what life will be like for my little family when I’m not around to do the caring, I crumble. So any magic you have for me in that regard, I’ll gladly welcome it!

Willow: One candle we sell invokes memories of your perfect day when lit. Where would it take you?

Kiley: It would take me back to Lapland in Christmas 2019 when I was writing Christmas at Frozen Falls (also set in Finnish Lapland). We were so happy there; it was snowy, black sky heaven! Ah, take me back!

Rosa: It sounds magical. Lapland is on mine and my son, Alejo’s dream places to visit.

Finland at night with the green northern lights
Image by Sturrax from Pixabay

Willow: The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Kiley: Spooky experiences or hauntings? Not so much, but I do often feel like my life is following in a particular groove already set out for me, if that makes sense. Like when I met my partner, I recognised him, like I was waiting for him. I had the same feeling with my babies, too. The feeling strongly steers me away from things I don’t think are right for me. It’s always there and I trust it. All of my books are about characters learning to trust that inner voice too, steering them away from paths where they’ve taken a wrong turning.

Willow: Listening to our inner selves is very important.

Rosa: If Willow or Amber could blend you a potion to give you a special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Kiley: I’d like a calm potion! Do you have such a thing? Let my mind rest easy for twenty-four hours. I know that’s not a big special ability, but I think I’d be a brighter, bolder person after a while away from worry!

Willow: That’s a potion which could be brewed. Leave it with us. It’d be useful during the next few weeks. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Kiley: There’s a book I swear by when writing about the ritual year. It’s called Stations of The Sun by Ronald Hutton. I use it all the time for finding details about old customs and beliefs linked to nature and its cycles. It inspired the Harvest Home ceilidh in my Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, for example. I just know you would love it!

Amber: Never mind the enchanted bookshelf. I need a copy of this.

Rosa: What would you add to my Box of Romance?

Kiley: It’s a book I am sure you already have – The Book Boyfriend by Jeanna Louise Skinner. It’s super romantic, has wonderful diversity of representation around realistic bodies and mental health, and it’s set in a magical book shop! What’s not to adore about that?

Amber: I’ve heard great things about that book and we’re chatting to her soon hopefully. Great choice.

Willow: And lastly, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Kiley: In spring 2023 I’m bringing you Something New at the Borrow a Bookshop, and I can tell you I’ve just signed a new three book contract with Canelo Hera for you two more Borrow a Bookshop stories as well as a very Christmassy standalone set in an extremely charming Cotswold village where one woman is trying to save her Christmas gingerbread grotto. That’s about all I can say about that, other than I can’t wait to share them all with you!

Willow, Amber and Rosa: We look forward to reading them. Thanks so much for visiting. Have a lovely Christmas.

Kiley: Thanks so much for having me. And Percy, I’ve loved having you DJ’ing ‘O’Christmas Tree’! It’ll be stuck in my head all month long. I hope you have a beautiful festive season at the Emporium, stay warm and cosy, all of you.

Author Biography:

Photo of Kiley Dunbar. Shoulder length dark hair with fringe. Smiling and leaning on on hand, she's wearing a thick cosy purple, pink and cream checked knitted jumper.
Kiley Dunbar

Kiley is Scottish and lives in England with her husband, two kids and Amos the Bedlington Terrier. She writes around her work at a University in the North of England where she lectures in English Literature and creative writing.

Christmas at the Borrow a Bookshop

Blurb:

With just two weeks until Christmas, everything in Clove Lore should be perfect. But the latest holidaymaker to the Borrow a Bookshop is feeling far from festive…

Icelandic ex-bookseller Magnús Sturluson might be surrounded by love stories in the Bookshop, but he’s nursing a sadness that not even fiction can fix.

When Alexandra Robinson finds herself stranded in Clove Lore, she finds a safe place to hide from heartbreak. After all, all that’s waiting for her at home is a cheater boyfriend and the memories of her parents. As Alex finds herself embraced by the quirky village community, she finds her tough exterior thawing – and as she grows closer to Magnús, she finds an equally soft heart under his gruff shell.

It seems that Clove Lore is working it’s magic once again – until a great flood on Christmas Eve brings devastation in its wake. It’s up to Magnús and Alex to batten down the hatches and help bring the village back together again, while also introducing the locals to the Icelandic tradition of the jólabókaflóð – Yule book flood – where families and friends gather on Christmas Eve to exchange books and read together.

But can Magnús and Alex truly rescue the ruins of the village, and salvage their Christmas spirit? Or is there another complication lurking even closer than they thought?

@kileydunbarauthor on Insta

Monday Merry Meet: J C Clarke

Welcome to a foggy day in Whitby. Or is it sea fret? Willow is never sure but from the Emporium’s shop window, the old gaslight is just an eerie amber glow and the entrance to Black Cat Alley is hidden in the mist. Luckily, today’s guest, Jo Clarke, author of Spellboda has written directions on how to find the shop and Vincent, Willow’s ginger Maine Coon has been sent to find her. While guiding people to the alley is usually Black Cat’s job, a ghost feline and fog doesn’t mix however determined he is.

Everyone read and loved Spellboda ( review can be found here) and are thrilled to chat with Jo Clarke today.

Monday Merry Meet: Jo Clarke

Willow: Hi Jo, please come through to the back. Be careful of a rogue broomstick. It needs a repair and is fed up with waiting so keeps tripping people up to get attention. Can I get you a drink? We have a selection of tea, including Yorkshire, coffee or maybe something stronger?

Jo Clarke: Hey Willow, thanks – I’d love a cup of red berry tea. The broomstick is on good form today – I had to dodge it, so gave it a quick hug to make it feel better. I’m not sure if it liked it or not though!

Amber: Hi Jo, is it okay to crack the window open? A few of our avian friends heard you were coming and have gathered to listen to you speak. I think they like the idea of a Spellboda. I’d let them in, but the seagull will pinch the cakes and biscuits we have on the table.

Jo Clarke: Hi Amber, yes, please do… and if the seagull promises to behave, then they could make themselves comfortable with us. If you’ve got any spare carrot cake, please send it my way – it looks irresistible.

Willow: We all fell in love with the first chapter of Spellboda with its description of flight. Did this scene inspire you to write this novel or was it the characters and plot which came first?

Jo Clarke: Thank you. I really wanted to be able to show flight from a bird’s perspective and I’m over the moon so that so many readers have responded to the opening and fallen in love with it. Trevor was definitely the instigator of Spellboda. He wandered into my head one day and nagged me until I wrote him and his story!

Rosa: The relationship between Midge and Trevor is beautiful. Have you experienced of a similar relationship with a bird?

Jo Clarke: There are a few times when I’ve really connected with a bird. One was a red kite, who would soar and fly happily above me, and was the gentlest soul. Another time was when I raised a snowy owl, from the moment of her hatching. The wish to be able to talk to them is another inspiration for Spellboda. I find it amazing that it’s possible to have a connection with them, but they remain at heart wild and untamed. The feeling that they are near you because they choose to be is both humbling and awe-inspiring.

Picture of peregrine falcon aka Midge

Willow: We’ve spoken to many authors now and each have a unique publication journey. What has yours been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Jo Clarke: My journey happened through covid, so it was a strange disjointed time of so much uncertainty, difficulty and sadness. Going through areas such as cover design and marketing planning while isolating made it all rather a detached process, but of course it couldn’t be helped. One of the stages I enjoyed the most was working with a professional editor, which helps so much to shape and craft a good story. I wish I’d been brave enough to take Trevor’s advice sooner and believe in myself, but I haven’t met a writer yet who isn’t plagued with self-doubt. Next time I’ll make sure I listen to Trevor and believe I can do it!

Willow: Do you have a specific writing routine?

Jo Clarke: I try to write every day, or five out of seven at least. If I can write 1000 words, that’s a good day! I have a tendency to over-edit as I never think anything is ever good enough, but I think a lot of writers share that habit! After completing a manuscript, I’ll walk away from it for at least two weeks, sometimes longer, and then go back to it with fresh eyes.

Amber: I’m attempting to write stories of my own. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Jo Clarke: My primary advice would be not to give up. The more you write, the better, and always be open to constructive help. It’s scary when first received, but I often found the more I worked on constructive third party ideas and thoughts for the story, the more I would then progress it myself. I find it hugely helps the creative process.

Rosa: Though my son is younger than the age group Spellboda is aimed at, I’m reading it to him at bedtime. It’s helping him understand that some children struggle to talk. How important do you think representing disabilities is in fiction?

Jo Clarke: I think this is super-important, especially for children during this time of social media presentations of ‘perfection’. I feel it’s important to try and protect them from the pressures of having to conform, and to celebrate being who they are, with all their skills and talents, however they present themselves. And to believe that every young person is significant… no-one more or less than any other.

Willow: We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range in The Enchanted Emporium. They promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Jo Clarke: I’d choose either a good night sleep, or confidence. The first because my brain goes into overdrive at night and I wish it wouldn’t! At home we call this having brain chimps… jumping around, playing and when they really get going they make it impossible to sleep! Or I’d choose confidence to help me with my current writing project…

Willow: I know that brain overdrive feeling well and it’s a wonderful description. We have one candles that invokes memories of your perfect holiday or day, when lit. Where would it take you?

Jo Clarke: It would take me to the top of Shining Tor in Derbyshire. One of my favourite places on the planet, and where Spellboda both begins and ends. It’s magical: wild and breathtakingly beautiful. One of those special places where I feel my heart can rest and be peaceful.

Amber: Ghosts and paranormal activity plague The Enchanted Emporium. Have you had any spooky experiences and have they influenced your writing?

Jo Clarke: I live near Pluckley, the most haunted village in England allegedly, with tales of ghosts of a red lady, a highwayman, a coach and horses and various other poor souls who met their ends in unpleasant ways who are said to frequent the village. Although I haven’t seen any there myself yet, I did experience a ghostly apparition once when I was younger. I love all the possibilities of magic, legend and the unknown… anything is possible – and why not keep an open mind?

Willow: If the witches could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Jo Clarke: I’d love to be able to fly, and talk to birds myself, so I guess being able to become a bird for the day would be top of my list. And I’d choose to be a falcon, like Midge, so I could experience a stoop (vertical downward super high speed flight) myself, to see what they see, feel what they feel and understand how it happens.

Amber: I’m nosy, do you have a favourite place to write and read?

Jo Clarke: My favourite place would be at home, in my book room. It’s peaceful, has lots of light, a good view over the garden where I can see oversized rabbits lolloping around, and a cosy little fireplace for winter days.

Amber: That sounds a dream room. The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf is dedicated to books with a magical, fantasy or paranormal leaning. What book would you add?

Jo Clarke: Without doubt The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath, by Alan Garner. He’s my inspiration and I hope so much one day I can write as well as him!

Rosa: I have a Box of Romance, full of romantic novels for people to borrow. What would you add there?

Jo Clarke: Sorry Rosa, I don’t read much romance but I thought the Twilight novels were very romantic.

Rosa: And finally, what are you working on at the moment? Or is it top secret? 

Jo Clarke: This goes back to my need for a confidence candle! I’ve been asked to write the script for Spellboda – the movie – by an LA production company so I’m working on that now. It’s so exciting but also nerve-wracking! I’m also writing book two of Trevor’s adventures, so busy days!

Willow: That sounds amazing and we’d love to see Spellboda on the screen. Good luck with your new ventures. I’ve slipped a complimentary confidence candle in with some Sleep Well tea. Thank you for visiting.

Author Biography

Photo of JC Clarke White woman with long blonde hair wearing a black top
JC Clarke

Previously a falconer, consultant and writer-presenter of CITV’s Wild World, JC Clarke is now loving the writer’s life and is also a script consultant and copywriter.
She’s been involved in falconry and conservation industries for over twenty years and is passionate about protecting wildlife. Having worked with children and young adults as a youth worker, JC Clarke hopes that her writing will help young people believe they are worth something and should aim for their dreams. An alumna of the Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children Course, Jo was shortlisted for Best Opening Chapter for Spellboda at the 2019 Jericho Writers Festival of Writing. She lives in Ashford, Kent with her family – and a large number of animals!

Social media:

Website: https://www.jcclarkeauthor.com/

Twitter: Jo Clarke

Book cover midnight blue background, silver silhouette of a bird with wings spread open.
Spellboda by J C Clarke

Title: Spellboda

Author: J C Clarke

Publisher: The Book Guild

Genre: Middle grade, Children’s fiction, YA, Fantasy

Release Date: 23rd September 2021

Blurb

A journey to trust and self-belief… join Trevor in his adventure as he discovers his incredible gift. Share the magic of his journey as he learns we can achieve anything – when we really, really want to.

For fans of Piers Torday & CS Lewis

Trust, belief and a little magic… then maybe they could both fly free.

Since Trevor’s mum died his dad can barely look at him without yelling. Home is awful, school is worse. People just let you down, and Trevor only talks to Mrs. Bingo-Wings, his mum’s cat. But then he meets Midge, a peregrine falcon in danger, and finds out he has a gift that could change his life forever. Trevor is thrown into the heart of a magical adventure that could promise freedom – for Midge and for himself – but can he overcome his doubts and fears, and take on the destiny he’s only just discovered?

Monday Merry Meet: Heidi Swain

Happy Samhain! The witches’ favourite time of year. It’s also the only day they wear the iconic witch’s pointy hat. While Willow dons a black hat that shimmers purple in the Emporium’s lights, Amber’s is a more subdued affair. Made of brown felt, it is battered, twisted and entwined with autumnal leaves and toadstools.

Both are ready for trick or treaters that maybe brave enough to wander down Black Cat Alley for some of sweets including Willow’s homemade enchanted lollies. Lucky for them, she refused Amber’s suggestion to hex a few to keep things interesting.

The emporium’s shop window is a blaze with flickering pumpkins, shrouded with cultivated cobwebs, the ghosts are enjoying the possibility they maybe seen. Vincent, the large ginger Maine Coon and ghostly Black Cat are on guard waiting for their special guest, Heidi Swain.

This Sunday Times bestselling author is one of Rosa’s favourite writers so she is sipping yet another chamomile tea to calm her nerves so she can speak. She has also muted her mobile as Alejo is unimpressed his Trick or Treating has been delayed so she can have fangirl moment.

Monday Merry Meet: Heidi Swain

Willow: Welcome Heidi. Please come in from the cold though its not much warmer in here. Our heating is struggling to compete with the extra ghosts that have appeared since Mrs Marley discovered you were visiting. She’s a huge fan of your audiobooks which I usually play for her while I’m at work. Unlike Percy, she has never mastered the art of telekinesis so page turning is a chore. She loves Wynbridge and Nightingale Square.  

Thank you for the welcome and thank you to Mrs Marley. I’m delighted to discover you are a fan of Wynbridge and Nightingale Square. I’m sure both Wynthorpe Hall and Prosperous Place have their own ghosts, but they are yet to make themselves known to me.

Rosa: I love them too. There are several of your books in my Box of Romance and they’re my go to comfort reads. What can we get you to drink? There are many blends of tea including Yorkshire, coffee, hot chocolate or Amber has concocted a special warm Halloween punch? It’s her take on mulled cider. I tried some and it warms you up a treat.

Thank you, Rosa. I would love some of that seasonal punch. It sounds like the perfect tipple for this chilly day.

Willow: Amber is staying on trick or treat duty while we chat. With the many ghost stories the emporium has attached to it and the reputation of us witches draws in some kids. Not as many as I’d have expected though. I think they preferred it when it was a derelict building and played the part as the haunted house to visit as a dare well. Is Samhain something you usually celebrate?

It certainly is. I follow the Wheel of the Year and along with dressing the hearth and enjoying a pumpkin feast, I consider Samhain the start of my magical new year. It is when I make plans and set exciting intentions for the months ahead.

Rosa: Christmas isn’t Christmas without one of your books. What is your latest about?

That’s very kind, thank you! A Christmas Celebration takes us back to Wynbridge and more specifically Wynthorpe Hall, for the festive season. With a few folk temporarily away from the hall, the arrival of Paige (goddaughter to Catherine and Angus), couldn’t be better timed. Unbeknown to everyone else, she’s carrying a secret, but finding herself quickly drawn into helping at the hall and in the town, there’s initially little time to dwell on it.

In the run to Christmas, Paige also makes two new friends, both carrying their fair share of secrets and of course, catches up with Molly, her witchy friend who lives in the Wynthorpe woods.

The emphasis is very much on community spirit and coming together, both for Christmas and beyond.

Willow: It is your 15th novel.  What has your publication journey been like? Is being a writer how you expected it to be?

I keep counting the books on the shelf in my writing room. I’m amazed there are fifteen there already!

My debut, The Cherry Tree Café was picked up after submitting to the Books and the City #OneDay open submission opportunity. That was back in 2014 and the e-book was published almost a year to the day in 2015. Since then, I’ve been writing two books a year for Simon and Schuster, secured a fabulous agent, become a Sunday Times bestseller and been shortlisted twice for an RNA award.

Being a writer has far exceeded my expectations and I’m both grateful and proud that I found the courage to make it happen. When I started out, I used to write from 5 to 6 in the morning before my kids got up, then in my car during my lunch break and again in the evenings. I had a few books published before I made the leap to write full-time but it was worth every chilly, dark start I made along the way. Nothing beats the sight of my books lined up on a supermarket or bookshop shelf. I love the writing life!

Willow: We have many would-be writers popping in for copious amounts of tea or confidence candles, do you have any advice for them?

That’s wonderful! I wish them every success. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is, don’t wait for what you imagine to be the perfect opportunity to start writing. You’ll never have more time – no matter how hard you try to manifest it – you have to look at your schedule and work out where you can squeeze in a few minutes, cast a circle of protection around them and use them! You’ll be amazed how quickly the word count grows once you’ve made the commitment.

Also, be proactive in seeking out opportunities to be published. Once I’d decided I was going to be a published author, rather than thinking I wanted to be a published author, great things happened but I still had to make them happen. Take control and responsibility for your writing journey.

Willow: Mrs Marley would also like to ask a question, if you could choose one character to have tea with, who would it be?

I would love to have tea with Molly, who lives in the Wynthorpe woods. The atmosphere in her little cottage is so warm, welcoming and incense infused, it would perfect. That said, I’m not sure what sort of tea Molly would brew!

Three tarot cards lying next to a crystal. " of wands, a man holding a staff looking into the distance, king of pentacles a king sitting on his throne holding a coin and one of cups - a golden chalice being held up by a large hand.
Image by JOAN A BROWN from Pixabay

Rosa: We love Molly. I’m sure she’d fit in well here. She lives in the woods of Wynthorpe Hall and reads the tarot cards for people. Have you ever had yours read and did it come true?

I’m so pleased you love Molly too. She’s someone readers have really warmed too. She’s cast us all under her spell. I read my own cards and yes, they’re pretty accurate. A while ago I started working with a different deck and we didn’t bond at all, so I’ve gone back to my original cards and I’m much happier. There was an instant energy shift.

Willow: Some cards are like that. The Enchanted Emporium sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

I would choose either financial security or confidence, but between the two, financial security would come out on top.

Willow: One candle we sell invokes memories of your perfect day when lit. Where would it take you?

This is a tricky one! I’ve been blessed with so many perfect days, such as the day my editor said the words ‘we’d like to offer you a two-book deal’! That was phenomenal!

However, I’m going to pick the day my daughter and I travelled to London to see Kpop group, SF9 perform in Hammersmith. The concert in the evening was fabulous, but the entire day ran so smoothly – even traffic lights changing as we approached so we could cross roads without waiting and finding each other straight away in the city even though we’d travelled from opposite ends of the country. There was definitely magic in the air that day!

A pumpkin with two small resin ghosts.
Image by Alexa from Pixabay

Willow: Even when it’s not Halloween, The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

I have lived in both National Trust and National Trust for Scotland properties and there were plenty of bumps in the night there! Ghostly goings on haven’t influenced my writing, but I often include a solstice celebration. The one on the beach in Underneath the Christmas Tree was a joy to write.

Rosa: You must have so many tales to tell living in those properties. Normally, we’d ask about what potion you’d have the witches blend for you but in your books, there is a wishing tree in the grounds of Wynthorpe Hall. What would you attach to the tree and what wish would you ask to be granted?

I adore the Wishing Tree! I think it would have to be a notebook and I would ask for endless inspiration. There’s no sign of the well running dry, but it would be a comfort to have a back up.

Willow: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

I know it’s a little early in the year, but every December 1st I read A Christmas Carol and I have quite a few beautiful copies of it now, so I’ll add that timeless tale if I may.

Rosa: You can never have too many copies of A Christmas Carol. There are many stunning editions. What would you add to my Box of Romance?

Not surprisingly, I have a few favourite romance authors, so I had a tricky time picking just one book to add! Trisha Ashley has an entire shelf to herself on my bookcase, more than one actually if you include the hardbacks, so I’m going to add Twelve Days of Christmas. Another festive title, but one I often visit whatever the calendar says.

Willow: And lastly what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

I’ve recently submitted the first draft of the summer 2023 release which publishes next April. It’s called The Book-Lovers’ Retreat and is a standalone read which I am absolutely loving working on. It is set in the Lake District, which is somewhere I have wonderful memories of visiting, and is already available to order.

Here’s the blurb – The Book-Lovers’ Retreat, set in the Lake District, tells the story of three friends who spend the whole summer in a hideaway cottage, the real-life setting of their favourite book. As the summer develops, so will their friendship, they will find love in all its forms and, as a result, their lives will change course forever…

So exciting! I’m also making plans for Christmas 2023 as I need to start writing that book very soon!

Rosa: That book sounds amazing, it’ll be on our pre-order list. Thank you for visiting and good luck with your writing. Happy Samhain!

Heidi Swain Author Biography

Photo of Heidi Swain. White woman in glasses and smiling. Short cropped hair and red dangly earrings

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in literature and flirted briefly with a newspaper career before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster. Her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Café was published in July 2015 and she became a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. Heidi writes two books a year – a summer and winter title.

She is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in the east of England with a mischievous cat called Storm.

Links

Website: http://www.heidiswain.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Heidi_Swain

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WriterHeidiJoSwain?ref=hl

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heidi-Swain/e/B00YNN3LDI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1620727029&sr=8-1

Publisher: https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/

                  http://booksandthecity.co.uk/

Book cover for A Christmas Wish by Heidi Swain. Purple with her name in gold and title in white. The bottom shows a winter scene, snow covered fir trees and a mansion

A Christmas Celebration by Heidi Swain

Blurb:


When Paige turns up unannounced at Wynthorpe Hall, she discovers the place she knew when she was growing up has changed beyond all recognition. She’s only planning to stay for a short time, but is quickly pulled into local life.
 
One night while driving home after delivering library books and shopping to residents she stumbles across an isolated cottage and meets Albert, its elderly and rather grumpy owner. She quickly realises there’s more to Albert than meets the eye and the same can be said for the other man she can’t seem to help running into, handsome but brooding Brodie.
 
All three of them have a secret and a desire to hide away from the world, but with Christmas on the horizon, is that really the best way to celebrate the season?

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Today we’re excited to chat to Alys West, author of the witchy series the Spellworker Chronicles. We hope you enjoy hearing about Samhain, her books and spells.

Monday Merry Meet: Alys West

Willow: Hi Alys, come in it’s blustery out there. It’s as if you brought your Storm witch with you. We’ve heard the waves hit the harbour walls all day. Usually we’re too far away.

Amber: On the plus side the courtyard has gathered so many autumnal leaves, I can make a wreath.  Can I get you a drink? We have our own blends of tea, Yorkshire tea, as no one can beat that for a proper cuppa, coffee or something different?  

Alys: I’ll have a cup of green tea with jasmine if you’ve got it.  Thanks for inviting me to visit your wonderful shop. I love Whitby. It’s one of my favourite places. I always feel history really strongly here and there’s so many stories to tell about Whitby. I set my steampunk romance, The Dirigible King’s Daughter here and I’m sure I’ll come back to it in future books.

Willow: We’d love to read those. You write novels surrounding witchcraft and the occult. What drew you to that genre? 

Alys: Ooh, thanks for the tea. That looks lovely.  I’ve always read a lot of fantasy and I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Merlin.  I’m also deeply fascinated my folklore. When I started writing Beltane I wanted the magic to be organic, to come from the earth and the folklore of Glastonbury.  I think all of the witches in my books are essentially hedge witches. Their power is mainly instinctive and comes from hedgerows and gardens rather than reading magical books.

Willow: We know all about instinctive magic and it often gets Amber into trouble.

Amber: Willow prefers tried and tested magic from books.

Willow: Not always. I love your atmospheric settings. Beltane was set in Glastonbury and Storm Witch is located in West Orkney. How important are locations for you and what comes first, the location, character or plot?

Alys: Location is hugely important to me. I’m very influenced by the spirit of a place.  With my writing, I start with the place and the story grows from it. Beltane grew out of the landscape around Glastonbury.  Storm Witch was inspired by a folk tale about a girl called Janet Sinclair who lived on the island of Westray in Orkney in the seventeenth century who was believed to be able to call up storms.   

Amber: I found the Storm Witch highly relatable and their emotions cause havoc with their powers. How easy was it to write those scenes?

Alys: I’m pleased to hear you related to the Storm Witch. It was pretty cathartic to write those scenes. It was a bit of a release to allow those emotions out. As a person I feel things deeply but do my best to hide it so I was probably working through some of my own anger by allowing the Storm Witch to let rip!

Willow: As you can see with our pumpkins and window display, we are looking forward to Halloween. Is Samhain something you usually celebrate?

Alys: Yes, Samhain is a really important time of the year for me.  I love autumn. In the Celtic tradition, Samhain is the start of the new year. It’s the time when our energies turn inwards as the days grow shorter.  I’ve got much more comfortable with the idea of retreating and recharging in the winter and Samhain is the start of that period. 

There’s a Samhain tradition which I like to follow; you eat an apple and each seed symbolises something you’d like to grow or develop during the winter months. Traditionally you would then eat the seeds but I like to see that as optional!  

So I won’t be out Trick or Treating but I’ll be celebrating the turn of the seasons at home with candles and the leaves and seeds I’ve gathered on my walks. 

Willow: It’s a beautiful way to celebrate it and we must give you one of our Samhain candles before you go. Every writer seems to tread different paths to publication. What has your journey been like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Alys: My journey has been a bit twisty-turny but I feel I’ve ended up in the right place. Initially I tried to get a traditional publishing deal and had an agent for a while. However that didn’t work out so I indie published Beltane. It’s been hard work but I wouldn’t have changed it. It’s allowed me the freedom and time to write the stories I wanted to tell.  I’ve also met some absolutely brilliant people along the way who have supported my writing and helped me keep going.  If I was to change anything, I think I’d have gone indie straightaway. Indie publishing is right for me and my books. I could have saved myself a lot of rejection letters if I’d embraced it sooner!

Willow: Spells and magic can be very ritualistic. Do you have writing rituals are strict writing regime?

Alys: I always sit in the same green Ikea chair. We moved house a few months ago and the writing chair was not available for a few weeks and it really threw me. Other chairs are available in our house but none of them felt right.  I also need tea when I sit down to start writing.  That’s usually a pot of green tea but I move onto peppermint later in the day. I like to write first thing in the morning but don’t think that means I’m up at six every morning. I like my sleep so for me first thing in the morning is about 9.30am!

Amber: I secretly write. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Alys: There’s masses of advice out there for new writers and it can be overwhelming. When I was younger I absorbed the maxim that you must write every day. I have a long-term health condition which means that’s simply not practical for me and I spent a lot of years feeling that because of that I would never be a writer. I’m older and wiser now and have learnt what works for me. 

In my opinion, many writing books are about what works for that writer. Some of that may work for you but other bits won’t. The most important thing you can do is keep writing and as you do that, you’ll find out what approach works for you. 

Having said all of that, I do recommend reading books on story structure. These are generally written for script writers but apply equally to fiction writers. My favourite is ‘Into the Woods’ by John Yorke. It’s definitely worth picking up a copy of that, Amber.

Amber: I’ll seek it out. Thank you. If we used magic to bring one of your characters to life so you could share a coffee with them, who would you choose?

Alys: Gosh, that’s a tough one because I love them all.  I’m going to go with Winston because he’s got that bad boy charm going on but underneath he’s a bit of a softy.  In the next book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’ we’re going to find out a bit more about Winston’s past.  Over coffee I could ask him a few searching questions but I know him too well to think he’d open up and give me a straight answer. Most likely I’ll get a lot of jokey deflection. Seeing behind that as one of the challenges of writing his character.

Willow: Talking of magic, we sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

Alys:  I’m a bit of a people pleaser so the ability to say no would be useful. If you can make that the ability to say no without guilt then that would be even better.

Amber: Releasing the guilt is important and already accounted for in the spell. The Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity all year round. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Alys: I’m originally from York which is absolutely packed with ghosts. There are stories of ghosts in most of the pubs, the theatre and various historic buildings. I’ve never experienced anything paranormal even though I’ve worked in a few buildings which are known to have ghosts. The most I’ve experienced is a strong sense of negative emotions in certain places. I do believe buildings can absorb the feelings of the people who inhabit them and I think I pick up on that sometimes. 

Willow: If we could blend a potion to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours what would it be and what would you do with it?

Alys: Right now, I could do with a superpower that allowed me to travel instantly to where I need to be. My Mum is currently in hospital. It’s an hour’s drive each way to visit her. I’d like to be able to teleport straight to the ward to see her rather than spending ages stuck in traffic and then pop to my parent’s house to have a cuppa with my Dad.

Amber: We hope she feels better soon and teleporting would be ideal. What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Alys: ‘Spirited’ by Julie Cohen. I’ve only just finished it and I absolutely loved it. Julie’s a fabulous writer and she packs such a lot into a book. ‘Spirited’ is about Victorian spiritualism but it’s also about sexuality, female power and colonialism.  The characters became so real to me that I’ve kept thinking about them and wanting to know what happened to them after the novel ended.

Willow: We loved that book. Great choice. Our assistant Rosa couldn’t be here today because of childcare issues but she has a box full of romances for people to borrow.  What would you add to Rosa’s box of Romance?

Alys: Oh gosh, it’s so hard to choose! I’m going to go with ‘Thornyhold’ by Mary Stewart. I loved Mary Stewart’s books when I was younger and read them all again when I decided to start writing myself. This is my favourite. It’s a wonderful story of romance and magic which a big dollop of mysticism.

Amber: I’ve heard good things about her. And finally, what are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Alys:  I’m working on ‘Stone Magic’ which is the third book in ‘The Spellworker Chronicles’. It’s taken a while for this one to reveal itself (turns out living through a Pandemic is not good for my creative process) but I’m really excited about it now.  It’s going to pick up the story from the end of Storm Witch and follow the investigation into the deaths of The Order. After ‘Stone Magic’, there’ll be a fourth and final book in the series which has the working title of ‘The Winter Tree’.  I’m not making any promises as to when they’ll be ready as I don’t write very fast and life has a habit of getting in the way but I will get there. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit The Enchanted Emporium. It’s been lovely to sit in your wonderful shop and chat to you both. Thanks as well for the tea, very much appreciated!

Beltane by Alys West

Title: Beltane

Author: Alys West

Publisher: Fabrian Books

Release Date: 8th June 2016

Genre: Fiction, supernatural

Purchase: Amazon

BLURB

Struggling artist, Zoe arrives in Glastonbury seeking inspiration. The small Somerset town is steeped in myth and legend and Zoe’s sure it’ll be the perfect place to work on a book about King Arthur. But behind the shops selling witchcraft supplies and crystals real magic is being practised.
When Zoe meets Finn her life changes forever. Not only is he a druid connected to the ancient energies of the earth but she dreamed about him long before they met. Finn’s life is in terrible danger and Zoe’s dreams start to reveal more of the plot against him.
After dreaming of a deadly battle at a stone circle on Dartmoor, Zoe starts to wonder if the dark magic around her is playing tricks of its own or if she really can see the future. Will she learn to trust Finn, and herself, in time to stand any hope of surviving the powerful magic that will be unleashed at Beltane? Or is it already too late?
This gripping story of magic, romance and the supernatural will entrance fans of Deborah Harkness and Phil Rickman and keep you spellbound until the very last page.

Author Biography

Alys West

Alys West writes contemporary fantasy and steampunk. Her first novel, Beltane was inspired by the folklore of Glastonbury. Her second novel, The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance set in Whitby. Storm Witch is her third novel and is set in the beautiful Orkney islands which she fell in love with back in 2010 and has used every excuse to return to since (including setting a novel there!) She is fascinated by folklore and folk tales which are a big influence on the stories she tells.

Alys has a MA in Creative Writing from York St John University and teaches creative writing at the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. She’s also a book whisperer (like a book doctor but more holistic) and mentor to aspiring writers.

When she’s not writing you can find her at folk gigs, doing yoga and attempting to crochet. She occasionally blogs at www.alyswest.com, intermittently tweets at @alyswestyork and spends rather too much time on Facebook where you can find her at Alys West Writer. She is also on Instagram at @alyswestwriter. To keep up with Alys’s news you can join her Facebook readers’ group ‘Druids, Spellworkers and Dirigibles’.

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Ever since we read Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge, we’ve been wanting to know more about the author and how the story came about. So imagine our joy when Rachel Burge popped in for a drink at the Emporium.

Why not grab yourself a cuppa and take a break to catch up with her too?

A mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream, pumpkin and leaves illustration
Pumpkin and coffee by Image by Irina Alex from Pixabay

Monday Merry Meet: Rachel Burge

Willow: Hi Rachel, come through to the back and have a seat if you can find one. Sorry for mess. Amber has been creating the perfect pumpkin for the window display and we have an excess of them everywhere. In fact, you can take a pumpkin or two with you when you go home, if you’d like?

Amber: Carving pumpkins isn’t as easy as I thought and seeds and gloop go everywhere. If you let me use magic, it would have been tidier.

Willow:  I doubt it. What would you like to drink, Rachel? We have our own blended teas, Yorkshire tea, coffee or something stronger? We still have some parsnip wine, raspberry gin or damson vodka.”

Rachel: I’ve never had parsnip wine and would love to try some. Thank you!

Amber: Congratulations on the publication of Waking the Witch. We were excited when it arrived on the bookshelf. I had a sleepless night when I started it, as I had to read just one more chapter. Can you briefly tell our readers what the story is about?

Rachel: Waking the Witch tells the story of a seventeen-year-old girl called Ivy who is searching for her mother after being abandoned as a baby. She tracks her down to a remote Welsh island, where she discovers a disturbing truth about her past and why her mum gave her up. The story draws on Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend and offers a fresh take on some well loved stories and characters, namely Morgan le Fay and Merlin. It’s feminist, witchy, and very creepy!

Willow: Though we believe witchcraft is a way of life not just for Halloween, there is always more interest in witch related books this time of year. How did you come up with the story? Was your inspiration character or plot based?  

Rachel:
I tend to be inspired by setting first and foremost. I was looking up “remote places in the UK,” looking for a good location to set a creepy story, when I came across Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli), off the west coast of Wales. Isolated from the rest of the world, the tiny island has no roads or amenities and only a handful of residents.

Bardsey has been a site of holy pilgrimage since the 5th century and there are 20,000 saints and holy martyrs buried there. As it’s only about a mile long, you can supposedly dig anywhere and find bones. I was also fascinated to discover the island’s few residents move to the mainland each winter and take their farm animals with them, leaving the place deserted. Could something sinister be happening there in the darker months, I wondered?

I became excited when I discovered that Bardsey claims to be the site of Avalon and Merlin’s last resting place. In some tales, he’s trapped in a tree, cave or tower. Interestingly, Bardsey has a tower in the form of a red-and-white striped lighthouse. After seabirds kept crashing into it (as many as a thousand birds were killed in a single night), they replaced the rotating white beam with a fixed red LED light, which birds aren’t drawn to.

I took these facts and used my imagination to come up with an explanation for what might be happening on the island. The result is Waking the Witch.

Amber: What a fabulous background story.  I found the opening chapters in the butterfly room immersive. The imagery was vivid. What made you choose a butterfly zoo as a setting for Ivy’s job?

Rachel: I wanted to write about a character who undergoes a major transformation. I was brainstorming ideas and the image of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis came to me. Butterflies symbolise metamorphosis, and I had a crazy notion that maybe my character could physically transform too. Once I had this theme and imagery in mind, I decided my character should be fascinated by butterflies and want to work with them.

illustration of cupped hands surrounded by butterflies
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

Willow: It’s a good fascination to have. They’re enthralling creatures. We love to hear about author’s publication journeys. What was yours like? If you did it again, would you change anything?

Rachel: I’ve always loved writing and have wanted to be an author since I was at a school. After studying English Literature at university, I worked on a local magazine and then as an online editor and feature writer. As I was coming up to my 40th birthday, I remembered my childhood dream and started working on a novel in earnest. I came up with the idea for my first book, The Twisted Tree (a ghost story based on Norse mythology) while doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna.

As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a Norse shaman and talked a lot about the Norse gods while explaining the meaning of the different cards. One card that really captured my imagination was The Hanged Man, which shows Odin hanging from the world tree, Yggdrasil. The Twisted Tree is based on this particular myth and features the Norns and Hel, queen of the underworld. 

Maddy also led me on several shamanic journeys where she contacted Odin on my behalf. He had some surprising advice for me, and even helped with several plot points I was stuck on. (But then he is the god of poetry and writing!)

The tarot card The Hanged Man A man is hanging upside down
Image by Virgo Gemini from Pixabay

Amber: I need to look her up. She sounds fascinating. I dabble with writing beyond my book of shadows. Do you have any advice for new writers?

Rachel: Try to get as much feedback on your work as possible. There are websites where you can look for beta readers, or you could join a writing group and read each other’s work. I’ve learnt a lot from the feedback of others. Although I now have an editor to read my work, I still try to get my books read by as many people as possible before they’re published.

Willow: I find I need my own space to perform spells and have my own rituals I perform beforehand. Do you have a particular writing routine?

Rachel: I write whenever I have a spare moment, usually in my office at my desktop computer. I don’t have a particular routine, but I will light candles and play spooky music to help me get into the mood to write.

Amber:  We sell a number of candles in The Wishing Spell range which promise to help your day go smoothly. Which would you choose?

I would probably choose confidence, as it’s something I’ve always lacked, or a good night’s sleep.

Amber: This is a question we ask everyone because the Enchanted Emporium is plagued by ghosts and paranormal activity. Have had had any spooky experiences – has it influenced your writing?

Illustration of a ghost reading ghost stories

Rachel: Yes, I’ve had several experiences which happened as a child. I grew up in a small two-bedroom house with my mum and my nan. Mum had me when she was 18 and I shared her childhood bedroom, which was filled with her collection of clown dolls. I don’t mean one or two – every surface was covered with them. One day, I must have been about seven, I was playing on the floor when I saw a doll move by itself. It didn’t fall off a shelf or slip from its stand, its hand moved as if it was beckoning me.

Other things happened, too. A door knob rattled when there was no one on the other side, and once when I was in bed I saw a white mist, like a whirlwind, hanging above my head. I asked my nan about it the next day and she told me that several of my relatives had died in the house. If there was anything there, then they were my family and wouldn’t hurt me.

Willow: I agree with your Nan about your relatives but clown dolls are horrifying at the best of times, never mind haunted ones. If we could blend a potion in our workshop to give you a superpower or special ability for 24 hours, what would it be and what would you do with it?

Rachel: I often have tarot readings to help me make difficult decisions, so I would probably ask for the power to see exactly what my various futures would look like depending on which choices I make. (I don’t believe the future is fixed. Instead, I think it changes based on our thoughts and actions).

Amber: What book would you add to The Enchanted Emporium bookshelf?

Rachel: Michele Paver’s Dark Matter, a ghost story set in the Arctic. It creates such a creeping sense of dread while you’re reading it and I was afraid to turn the light off at night.

Amber: What are you working on currently? Or is it top secret?

Rachel:
I’m writing another spooky book. It’s set in autumn, my favourite season, and draws on the beauty and horror of the natural world.

Willow: Thank you so much for visiting the emporium. It’s been fascinating to talk to you and you’ll have to come back again when your next book is out. Maybe we can compare tarot card collections.

Rachel:
Thank you for having me! It’s been lots of fun.

Author Biography

Photo of Rachel Burge. White woman, smiling straight long hair parted in the middle. Leaves are in the background
Rachel Burge

Website: https://rachelburge.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RachelABurge

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rachelburgewriter/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rachelburgeauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/burge0709/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/rachelburge99

Cover for Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge,
Red and white lighthouse emitting red rays of light. A large black cormorant with wings spread in the fore ground is guarding a person in the foetal position. They are surrounded by a circle of runes.
Waking the Witch by Rachel Burge

Blurb

A darkly spellbinding story of witches, sisterhood and coming of age, steeped in Welsh mythology and Arthurian legend.

Ivy has spent years looking for her birth mother, but when she finally finds her on Bardsey Island, she is shocked by what greets her. According to folklore, the cormorants that fly over the remote Welsh isle are the terrifying witches of Arthurian legend – and they are searching for Ivy.

Her mum warned her not to come and to stay away from the lighthouse, but now it’s too late. As the shadows draw closer, Ivy must look deep within herself if she wants to survive. For not every story in folklore is true, and some evils aren’t what they seem…

An unputdownable new stand-alone novel from the bestselling author of THE TWISTED TREE and THE CROOKED MASK.

Our review can be found here.