Monday 31 December 2012

Hogmanay - First Footing and all that!

Yes, Hogmanay has come upon us again. 
Hogmanay New Year’s Eve - is a time of year that I used to love and dread in equal measures as a child. As a much older adult it's still a day I specially mark on the calendar – though the early traditions I was party to have not all continued.

What did I dread about Hogmanay as a child?

I always thought my household was fairly typical in Glasgow, our Hogmanay ‘cairry-ons' also happening elsewhere to some extent – though I could be very wrong.  In my house, Hogmanay was time to be sure that all preparations were ready for the commencement of the New Year.

That meant a complete clean of the house from end to end.
Floors and carpets were cleaned, furniture polished, surfaces and the inevitable ornaments seriously dusted. In general the windows would have been washed sometime after Christmas Day, along with curtains and nets. In those days my mother had a good washing machine for laundry, but not a dryer, and living in weather-challenged Scotland meant some finagling to get items dried. Everything...and I mean virtually everything was ironed in my house. (My mother ironed SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR!)  So, you're perhaps getting the drift. The laundry basket was emptied on Hogmanay; all personal clothes were washed save the ones we wore till approximately 11.30 p.m. when we changed into clean clothes for 'The Bells' at midnight.

During the frenetic cleaning of the house I had my chores. One of my jobs as a 7-10 year old was to clean the 'brasses'. That might sound a cop-out of a job, but since I was a puny child I had to take a stool out to properly reach the brass nameplate on our outside door. The 'Brasso' was applied and allowed to dry, just a tiny bit, not too much, or it was harder to polish. The brass doorknob got the same treatment and had to gleam. We whitened the doorstep with a chalky substance and that was one of my jobs, as well. After the 'whitening' dried up a cloth was draped over the doorstep since my dad was out at work on Hogmanay, it not being a holiday. His tackety boots were never clean and the cloth was a reminder for him to be careful when he entered the house.

At that time I lived in one of the peripheral brand-new housing estates in Glasgow, in a ground floor flat of a tenement building. There were eight flats (apartments) accessed from one communal entrance way. Outside steps took you into the close - a corridor - which led to the access staircase for the upper flats. The corridor of the close was also a ‘through way’ - a few steps leading out to the back court.

The back court was the communal 'garden' area for about eight such ‘closes’ and was a sizeable chunk of land. A regular job for the ground floor flats was to sweep and mop down the close/corridor, but on Hogmanay it had to be left till quite late since so many feet tramped in and out all day. Snow outside on Hogmanay made that job a nightmare.

Since we were the first tenants of the brand new buildings, the back court at that time (1959-1965 or so) had a central allotments area where people grew vegetables and flowers. These allotments were really meant for the tenants of the upper flats but not all of those people wanted the extra work of tending a small plot. My dad was happy to take on an extra back area since he was keen to garden, even though we were also responsible for the garden area in front of our flat. The back court allotments were surrounded by a paved area which held the poles for rope-drying laundry outside, and children used the tarred surface for playing games. On Hogmanay, there was a lot of praying going on that washing hanging out would at the very least get wind dried a little bit!

Hogmanay wasn’t a time of year, in Scotland, when many vegetables were ready for picking but I remember a very keen neighbour had Brussels Sprouts growing even in the depths of winter. Some potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables that my dad had grown were wrapped and stored in our cellar, a small storage area which was also accessed from the close. The cellar was a very busy cupboard since it also held our coal bunker which probably held around 5 cwts of coal – the 5 bags delivered every week. I sometimes filled the coal bucket and rolled up the newspaper spills for setting the fire, although I wasn’t allowed to light the fire at that age. We had coal fires in the living room and both bedrooms – at that time central heating completely unknown to us.

I don't remember all the jobs I was given on Hogmanay but I do know I never had time to sit back and get on with reading all the books and Annuals I'd been given for Christmas. And no reading time was a serious hardship for me!

My mother was the best baker in our tenement building so she also had to fit in a LOT of baking on Hogmanay since many mouths would be looking for something nice when they came to 'First Foot' after ‘The Bells’. She’d customarily make what would now be termed ‘tray bakes’. Her largest rectangular baking tins would magically fill up with delightfully-light short-crust apple pie, fruit pie (currants and sultanas used for that), and Scottish shortbread. If time permitted, she’d also make little ‘fancies’ – individual small sponges that would be decorated with marzipan and fondant icings, or jam dipped and rolled in desiccated coconut. Her cake repertoire was quite extensive, but for Hogmanay her shortbread and fruit pies were a must.

So, in the midst of all the cleaning, the baking would be going on. I’d also help where I could with measuring etc. You can, perhaps, imagine that cleaning of the kitchen was the very last place to be tackled. That was true, but ongoing cleaning had to go on all day to ensure all was ready. And YES, before ‘The Bells’ my mother would have washed out her dish drying cloths, and all the last minute cloths used for cleaning surfaces.

Tired? Absolutely. But the day was not nearly done!

By 11.50 p.m. everyone would be bathed and into clean clothes and my dad would have set out a small silver salver on the dining table. On it would be four glasses; two with a ‘tot’ of whiskey for him and my mother, and two would be filled with homemade blackcurrant, or ginger, wine for me and my sister. Drinking of alcohol never went on during the evening before 'The Bells' - that was considered very bad luck on my house! That 'waiting time' was common to most of our neighbours, especially since there were no pubs where we lived, the nearest being about five miles away. Money being tight, a small amount of whiskey, or sherry, for carousing had to go a long way.

Mum’s baking would be beautifully set out on the table as well. The TV would be doing the countdown to New Year, and if we had all worked really hard we’d have been watching the ‘Hogmanay’ programme from 11.30pm. In those days Andy Stewart and The White Heather Club would be doing their party thing of Scottish songs and dances!

Dong…dong….dong… x 12

The sounds of Big Ben ringing in midnight would chime and the New Year officially declared. My dad would hand us our glass and we’d first of all chink our glasses for ‘Happy New Year’. We’d take a sip, and then we’d all chink again and wish my mother ‘Happy Birthday’ since January 1st was her birthday. Then we’d share hugs and kisses. Mum’s birthday gift would be handed to her, which she’d enthuse over for only a few moments, since she never considered her birthday as important as the New Year festivities.  First Footing took priority!

A few moments later I’d have scoffed my drink, eaten a piece of shortbread, and then I’d be ushered to the outside door by my dad. MY BIG JOB was only starting.

Dad would open the door; lift up the piece of coal that was waiting there and carefully put it into my hand. He’d then put something edible in my other hand and would send me on my way.

Where would I go?

Only across the corridor to the opposite ground floor flat.  I’d chap on the door excitement spilling free; champing at the bit till the man of the house opened the door and invited me in with a huge hug and a smacking kiss on the cheek. I’d give him my gifts which were always enthusiastically received, he'd give me a sixpence in turn, and then I’d be led through to his family. At their dining table I’d be given another wee drink of ginger wine and a bite to eat. After a formal toast to the New Year the man of the house was free to step out and move on to another house - usually to my house first, thus freeing both him and my Dad to move on after that. With eight flats in our 'close' I always moved on to ‘First Foot’ two or three more houses before returning to my own house; though I was never in any other house for more than five or ten minutes. I’d be back to my house still on an excited ‘high’, by then full of cake and fizzy drinks. But what did I take to the other houses? Whichever neighbour I was visiting would make sure I had another lump of coal to take on with me to the next neighour, and some thing edible.

Was it all over?

No. The New Year party tended to be held in my house, people gradually drifting in from not only our own ‘close’ but from neighbouring ones. The party was always what I’d term a ‘fluid’ affair. People came in- some stayed for a while eating, drinking and ‘party’ dancing to the records on our ‘Dansette’ record player for another hour or so, and then left. Others stayed longer, especially those who enjoyed the concert/sing-song that was a traditional element in our house. My father was a very fine tenor, my mother a strong contralto who both sang together remarkably well – even comically well – since my dad was prone to starting a song and then would forget the next words. My mother had the mind of an elephant – she never forgot a word and would prompt him. The choruses were a communal joining in and of course, other neighbours would sing their own songs. I was in the school choir and was also expected to do a ‘party piece’.  A song called ‘The Isle of Mull’ was one I particularly liked singing, but whatever, it was aways a Scottish song. The sing along often lasted a couple of hours though I would be off to bed as soon as my bit was done.

(If interested thsi is what my song sounded like: )

Did the noise keep me awake? Not likely!

Apart from my mother’s baking it would be a neighbourhood catering event. Other families brought ready prepared sandwiches and sausage rolls, bites and nibbles. And it was also usual for each family to take their own ‘Ne’erday’ drinks to share with the host at each house that was ‘First footed’. It truly was a sharing time for all and I’m so very, very glad that that experience happened to me.

I’m sad to know that wasn’t what happened in all ‘closes’ in Glasgow – it truly did depend on whether the neighbouring families all got on well. Hogmanay, and the New Year parties went on like that in my parents’ house for another couple of decades.

Why was a young child like me dispatched to the houses to First Foot

Black hair was said to be lucky. I was the darkest haired in my family so I had the honour. (My sister probably wouldn't have wanted the job anyway). The coal was for warmth for the coming year for the family, the food a gift to ensure bellies were never empty. My sixpence was given for wealth and the whisky for general good cheer for the coming year!

I hope you've enjoyed reading about my Hogmanay memories.

Happy Hogmanay!

Sunday 30 December 2012

5***** from Readers Favorite!

 My thanks for another fantastic review for 

Reviewed by Kathryn Bennett for Readers Favorite

"The Beltane Choice" by Nancy Jardine takes us back in time to Celtic Great Britain in 71 AD. Nancy Jardine weaves a fantastic tale of Nara, a princess of a tribe called the Selgovae who had planned to become a priestess but was banished. So instead she found that she had to find herself a mate before Beltane. As if it was not hard enough to have to find someone to marry, the Mighty Roman armies were marching on their lands and tribes that were not bonded together could not possibly fight off the might of Rome. While Nara was searching for her mate she was taken captive by Lorcan, a prince of an enemy tribe. Many turns for her life and that of the Celtic people begin to fall into place from here.

Nancy Jardine combines several elements into one story that grips readers and pulls them under the spell of an ancient time. Stories of love and war are not new topics to cover and yet the way "The Beltane Choice" is written gives a fresh twist to the old favorite. I loved the way Nara and Lorcan's relationship develops in the story. From the moment they meet there is a mutual attraction that cannot be denied. However, you can also feel the complex emotions they both feel because their tribes are enemies. Nara is a strong woman who is very easy to connect with as a character. I appreciate how Nancy Jardine gives her traits that are so tangible and real. Nara is strong, loyal and loving and she has a sense of humor but she is not perfect. Lorcan is an equally prominent character. He is a strong warrior who has a good sense of self and a mind for what needs to be done with the coming war. However, even that strong warrior sense and loyalty to his tribe is tested in the face of love. "The Beltane Choice" is a book that will appeal to a lot of different readers, all who enjoy ancient history, war, pagan ritual and just a good story.

Saturday 29 December 2012

A fantastic pick me up of 2 new reviews!

What can be better to boost flagging energy levels than finding a 
5* review for THE BELTANE CHOICE 
and a 4* review for TOPAZ EYES!

5.0 out of 5 stars Who will Nara Choose? 27 Dec 2012
By jlbwye
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
That is a powerfully sensual opening chapter, and the richness of the prose draws even this reader, unused to this era, into the story.
Who is Nara, and how will Lorcan, her bitter enemy win her over?
The captive inevitably comes under the spell of her enemy, learning to seek his protection, intensely aware of the forbidden passions he awakes in her.
And she discloses her identity, but there is still a mystery, and the Beltane fires are approaching. Who will Nara choose at this ritual?
Impeccable prose, suitably matched to the times of turbulent Roman Britain, marches the story towards a fitting political and personal conclusion - but not without some satisfying twists.

 Thank you, jlbwye!

My very first review for TOPAZ EYES!

4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous Gems and a European Tour December 28, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
If you enjoy treasure hunts, you'll love Topaz Eyes. Nancy Jardine lures you in with fabulous gems, mystery, danger, romance and lovingly detailed descriptions of European cities, food and customs. On the hunt for the lost Mughal collection, her characters chase clues across Europe, to the US, and back to Europe. But those emeralds, diamonds, and pearls are sought by others as well, dangerous others. The romance between Teun and Keira develops against a backdrop of forgotten wealth, family distrust, and danger. A fun, engaging read that will have you calling your travel agent. 
Thank you, L. Williams.

Friday 28 December 2012

A tense beginning in Heidelberg

When planning Topaz Eyes I decided the initial location had to be a European city with tremendous visual impact, though I also wanted somewhere that would have a small and quaint old-city centre. Heidelberg was a perfect choice since it has a population of around 150, 000 people, a tight historic city centre, and a transient student population which fitted in exceedingly well in my plot.

Keira Drummond loved living in Heidelberg as a twenty-one year old student and finds she's still familiar with the old town areas of the Aldstadt when she responds to a mysterious invitation to revisit at twenty-seven. Her enjoyment of the city itself hasn’t changed, but her new situation is so different from before. There's too much of the 'cloak and dagger' surrounding the invitation she receives out of the blue for her to feel comfortable about it, but she can't resist going back when given the all-expenses-paid trip.

Finding herself involved in a family quest for long scattered emeralds isn’t what she expected, but being an excellent tourist guide in Heidelberg is no hardship when she meets Teun Zeger, an American she pairs up with during the search.

What tourist spots will Keira show Teun?

On arrival at the Aldstadt –the old city- the sense of medieval history hits Teun immediately. The cobbled streets and the glorious old buildings are fabulous viewing since he's never been to mainland Europe before.The antiquity of it really appeals to him.

The Renaissance style Alte Brucke (old Bridge) with its distinctive bridge gates – the Brukentor – is only one of many bridges straddling the River Neckar near Heidelberg. Keira points out that the black tower tops of the Brukentor remind her of the Pickelhaube helmets worn by Prussian soldiers during the nineteenth century and the white towers guarding the city are as imposing as the soldiers who would once have stood sentinel at the gates.

Teun finds the views up and down the River Neckar from the old bridge are spectacular, the steep banks opposite the city clothed in dense foliage, dotted at the lower reaches with white walls and red roofs. He'd love to spend ages just looking…and admiring, but his tourist time is limited to one day so Keira drags him on to other old haunts she thinks he'll appreciate.

In the old city itself a couple of hours walk-about gives Teun a taster of the main attractions. The pedestrianised streets around Bismarckplatz and Hauptstrasse are full of beautiful architecture and distinctive and exciting shops. The Baroque-style University buildings are particularly interesting to him and a visit to the former students' prison at Jesuit's Church (Jesuitenkiche) is a highlight Keira thinks he shouldn't miss – a tourist trap popular with students when family pay them a visit.
Heidelberg Castle

They could have made a short trek up the hillside but since time is neat Keira takes Teun on the Bergbahn – funicular railway - to Heidelberg Castle. A mish-mash of buildings from different architectural periods there are only a few areas that have inside viewing- much having been destroyed by fire centuries ago. However, they manage to squeeze in a quick visit to the small apothecaries’ museum.

After a quick and satisfying lunch at one of Keira's old pub haunts Teun decides a nice hike up to the Philosophenweg – The Philosopher’s Walk – will be a great way to spend the rest of the afternoon. They cross the Alte Brucke and begin the climb. The vistas from various outlook levels are fantastic as they climb higher and higher. 
There are many more attractions in Heidelberg that you can find as you wander. I hope this taster will temp you to try. It's a city I would love to return to any time.


A peculiar invitation to Heidelberg embroils Keira Drummond in the search for a mysterious collection of extraordinary jewels once owned by a Mughal Emperor; a hoard that was last known to be in the possession of Amsterdam resident, Geertje Hoogeveen, in 1910.

Who among the progeny of Geertje – hitherto unfamiliar third cousins brought together for the quest – can Keira rely on? Distrust and suspicion among them is rife.

Which one is greedy, and determined enough, to hire thugs to tail her… and worse… as she travels to Vienna and Minnesota?  Can Keira even trust Teun Zeger - a Californian she is becoming very drawn to – as they pair up to unearth the jewellery?

As they follow a trail of clues, will they uncover the full collection before the hired gun kills them? Details remain furtive and undisclosed until danger and death forces their exposure. And who harbours the ultimate mystery item that is even more precious than the Mughal jewels?

Greed, suspicion and murder are balanced by growing family loyalty, trust, and love.

Topaz Eyes available from



Monday 24 December 2012

Yes - I'm cheating a bit today since I'm doing some housekeeping. This 'art' post has been languishing on an' extra page' so I'm now giving it front page exposure.  If you need a break from Christmassy things, have a read...


The Influence of Art in Topaz Eyes

The Influence Of Art In Topaz Eyes
Precious jewellery features more than painting in Topaz Eyes, but the most mysterious object to be uncovered is a piece of early Dutch artwork. My decision as to what that might be, while I was creating the mystery of Topaz Eyes, was directly influenced by my love of Dutch and Flemish art – though it took me a while to decide what.
A long time ago a school friend of mine spluttered that he couldn’t see what I loved about Dutch and Flemish art of the Golden age since, to him, it was full of dark dismal scenes. I totally disagreed then, and I still disagree now. However, he could have been forgiven for his opinion on this Rembrandt painting, which in a way is related to my Topaz Eyes blog article about Edinburgh. (Please follow my Topaz Eyes Tour Guide to find out where that particular article is posted during my mini-blog tour.)

Wikimedia Commons – Rembrandt (1606–1669)   
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

This painting was considered quite gruesome in 1969, not so in today’s more graphic times, yet was so pertinent to the developments during the golden age.

Although I do like The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, I’m more partial to the paintings by Rembrandt which depict the venerable burghers of the time with all their understated, yet pompous, detail.
A decade after leaving school I was very fortunate to live in Holland. At the time I couldn’t drive but had access to a bus right outside my house which took me to the centre of Amsterdam. What drew my interest there? The architecture was spectacular and I wandered around taking my fill of it, but I also went to every possible art gallery and made friends with many of the exhibits.
Charles V c. Marie Lan Nguyen -Wikimedia Commons
In the centre of Amsterdam is the huge Rijksmuseum, the largest museum in the Netherlands –a spectacularly beautiful building that’s full of varied works of art. There are paintings a-plenty in it, but there are also wonderful collections of Delft ceramics, textiles and many other art media. Some of the works are huge, some medium sized and many are extremely tiny – and, in particular, miniature paintings and cameo jewellery used to catch my eye. 
Some featured famous people, and though I may not have loved the associations attributed to the person depicted it was fascinating to study the miniature to interpret what was in the expression or demeanour. 
What made Lucrezia Borgia - Wikimedia Commons such an evil person. Was it in her own 'make-up', that strong nose and calculating eyes? Or was her reputation earned due to influences by the family around her? In this miniature I do think her eyes demonstrate a cold and deadly focus.
Sometimes the whimsical nature of the miniatures appealed to me, an example being that some of those Dutch painters that I so admired paid another artist to make miniature portraits of them. The one below is of the famous artist Hans Holbein painted by someone who was lesser known.

Wikimedia Commons Lucas Horenbout (1495-1544) Hans Holbein
Low Countries artists like Vermeer, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Pieter Bruegel and other artists of the Golden Age are represented in the Rijksmuseum. I spent hours and hours gazing at the paintings and imagined the people represented living behind the doors of the many Amsterdam houses that I walked past to reach the museum. Having made trips to the tourist sites of Holland, the works of Pieter de Hooch made sense as I could envisage the people in the little houses I’d seen in Delft, the typical checkered-tile flooring still able to be viewed in many of the tourist spots.
 Wikimedia Commons – Pieter de Hooch  (1629–after 1684) A Woman with a Child in a Pantry.
I love looking at the genre paintings that reflect daily life of the fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in the Low Countries. Those, to me, are the realisms of the age, but there are also some spectacular surprises that were painted way back then, the images so ‘out of their time’ they are incredibly memorable.
Wikimedia Commons – Hieronymus Bosch,  Prado Museum  (circa 1450-1515) The Garden of Earthly Delights
I could spend hours looking at The Garden of Earthly Delights - especially the right hand panel of the triptych. I even had a wall poster of it hanging in my house for quite a while. There is so much detail there, so imaginative and it has to be said, full of dire consequences regarding the excesses of life.
Another painting that has captured my imagination for a very long time is by another Dutch/ Flemish artist – Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526?-1569). His work has always seemed to have less of the fantasy to me, and more of the satirical. The excesses of gluttonous eating and drinking are almost humorously portrayed in Land of Cockaigne, the drunks sprawled around the foreground, completely out of it. My most favourite Bruegel painting, however, is The Hunters in the Snow.  There is surrealism to it, a bleak coldness that’s so evocative of a winter’s day. The mid grey lowering sky is reflected in the icy water, the snow throwing up a perfect cool contrast.
Wikimedia Commons – Pieter Bruegel ( 1526?- 1569)  The Hunters in the Snow
But, as I said the Amsterdam museums are not only full of large oil paintings. Some of the most famous paintings are relatively small and some famous works of art are very tiny indeed. In addition to the Rijksmuseum there was the Van Gogh Museum and other smaller galleries I could visit. Each featured particular types of artwork, again capturing my imagination.
A love of Dutch genre art was well fed during my time in Holland. I would never have guessed way back then that I’d use that experience in an unusual way many years later.

You’ll really need to read Topaz Eyes to know exactly how I use Dutch art in my novel.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Watch this space ... as my Christmas cake develops.

Today's Christmas cake.

I'm off to bake a different sort of Christmas cake. I generally make my Christmas cake at least six weeks before Christmas - in plenty of time for the fruit to steep really well in whatever alcohol has been used. I've tried heavy cakes with rum, brandy, liqueurs... but today's cake won't have any of those. In fact it isn't even going to have any fruit at all in it.  

A 'simple' sponge covered with sugarpaste icing. I know what I want it to end up looking like. My granddaughter is great at recognising a snowman so let's see if she'll be able to recognise mine...

That's the plan, and this blog will be an 'in stages' blog in that I will be posting my progress as the day moves on. 

All of that sounds easy but sadly, my sponge cake baking can be very variable in terms of success.

See you soon with update number 1.

Update number 1

Now I know why I prefer to make a heavy fruit cake. 

Follow a new recipe. That should be easy enough. 

Butter or margerine at room temperature? I'm DOOMED already. What exactly is room temperature? My kitchen has 3 feet thick granite walls and probably ranges from around minus 3 deg to maybe plus 3 deg C on a good day. Approaching Christmas the heating is on but is the butter soft?

Separate the eggs. I can do that and don't often have little flaky yellow bits floating in the white. Today the spearating was perfect. (Smiley face here) 

Whisk the egg whites with the salt until at the stiff peak stage. WHY can't I do this successfully each time I try? Who oput there knows exactly why mine are a hit or miss? If you know please tell me. 

My mixture looked like this and is currently in the oven. 

I'll be back soon but I've got to check on that oven of mine since it, too, is rarely reliable ( Well, it sounds better than baker error :-) )     

Update number 2

The cakes are out of the oven and look a bit sad. Not risen as much as I had hoped for but they could be worse!

The next stage is to let them cool before sandwiching together. I'm attempting as sugar free a recipe as possible so it's a big decision whether to use a low sugar jam or a butter icing mix with less of the icing. What should I use? 

Whatever I use, I can see I need another little sponge for my snowman's head. I had hoped if it had risen really well I might not need another...oh well! C'est la vie! 
Back in a while.  

Update number 3

Well, Mr. Snowman is taking shape. He's now sandwiched together with a delicate butter icing (not too much icing sugar) and the first sculpting is done. He's not going to be a yellow snowman - that's a very thin layer of marzipan!

The marzipan has to rest for a bit longer, but in the meantime I've been making some mincemeat pies for Keira from TOPAZ EYES. She tells me her late mother used to give them as gifts and she misses them - a LOT!   

My mother never bought ready made mincemeat; she always made her own. I've done that, too, using a mixture of dried fruits and some spices. The biggest difference about these tartlets is that I've never made this type of pastry before. I'm keen to try them out since the pastry has a very small quantity of icing sugar added to the flour (in place of the usual caster sugar) along with cinnamon. After the breadcrumb stage, the grated rind of 1 orange has been added. 

Mmm...the smell was delicious during the preparation and baking stages. 

Back soon...

Update number 4

Mr Snowman is looking much more like business. Not too much to do to complete him now. What do you think so far?

 Mr. Snowman is finished! He's just lovely...don't you think?

Roll on eating time!


Saturday 22 December 2012

Once Upon a Weekend

I welcome Tina Swaysee McCright, today. Her short story- Once Upon a Weekend - was published recently by The Wild Rose Press. Here's a tiny snippet for you get an idea...

Sometimes a curse is really a blessing...When Hannah Lawrence agrees to manage a hair salon in a castle, she doesn't expect fairy tales. Then she finds herself alone in the salon with the owner's hunky brother, and magic sizzles between them. But can she forget her past long enough to embrace it?

Contractor Tate Browning doesn't believe in magic. But when he makes the wrong comment to the wrong witch, his hair starts growing fast and won't stop. He's determined to finish the work he promised his sister--but how can he concentrate with the salon's beautiful new manager around?

When Hannah discovers that Tate must prove himself worthy three times to remove the curse, he refuses to believe it--but magic cannot be denied. Will Tate and Hannah need a fairy godmother to find their happily ever after?

Check here for a longer read from the 'look inside' feature at

Also available from 
You can learn more about Tina and her romantic suspense novel, Liquid
Hypnosis at

Sunday 16 December 2012

An interview with Jeff Gardiner

Today, I'd like to welcome a new guest to my blog, fellow Crooked Cat author -  Jeff Gardiner. It's an especially exciting weekend for Jeff since his latest writing - a YA novel called Myopia - was launched yesterday. Myopia was on my feature slot on Friday 14th December, but since I know almost nothing about Jeff, I asked some questions to get to know him better. 

Also, today there's an exciting Crooked Cat three-way blog hop going on. Please read on to find out how to follow the hop!

I believe you're not new to writing, and that Myopia isn't your first published work - what have you previously had published?

My first story was accepted for a small press magazine in 2004, and I had a non-fiction title published in a limited run in 2002, which is soon to be republished as an e-book. But I consider my first big success to be my collection of short stories A Glimpse of the Numinous, published by Eibonvale Press at the beginning of 2012. That gave me the extra boost of confidence to believe in what I was writing and it even got some excellent independent reviews.

That confidence has obviously led you to being published by Crooked Cat. Myopia was just released on Friday 14th Dec - tell us something about it, please.

Myopia is a YA novel exploring bullying and individual identity. The book deals with the lesser-known form of prejudice against people who wear glasses. It contains a slipstream element – as the protagonist realises that short-sightedness is not actually a disability, but just a new way of looking at the world - seeing ordinary things from a different  perspective. For Jerry, being short-sighted convinces him he can see into a new dimension. The book also contains elements of being humiliated by bullying. The style is gritty and street-wise (but without going all ‘Ali G’, innit!). I’m also hoping it will appeal to teenagers of either gender, and even be enough of a ‘cross-over’ for adults to enjoy it.

Catching that captive audience is the most difficult thing. Were there any triggers which led to the plotline for Myopia?

I was born with a squint and was that kid at school with NHS specs and a patch over one eye. I’ve always been intrigued by people’s reactions to glasses. The stereotype is the geek; a bookish type. Often in films and on television a character wears glasses to signify being a nerd and only when the glasses are removed do they supposedly become attractive or worth knowing. It’s very shallow. My characters talk about seeing ‘beyond the glasses’. As a parallel to that in the novel I also have a character called Parminder (Mindy) who has suffered racial prejudice. She becomes an important character too.

Reveal a little about Jerry, your main character.

Jerry is a very determined young lad who has to deal with being quite viciously bullied and there are some quite tough scenes in the book – as well as humour. Jerry also experiences awakening desires for the lovely Mindy and his relationship with her is integral to the plot.

Then what would you say is Jerry's biggest challenge?

Jerry wants to tackle bullying in creative ways – refusing to resort to violence or revenge. In one moment of hubris, though, he begins to believe he has super powers. He has to work out how he should respond to all these experiences and it becomes a little overwhelming for him.

Is there a particular part of a novel that you find difficult to write?

I do remember reading my first draft and realizing I had stumbled down something of a blind alley. One major idea really did not work, so I had to do some restructuring and much rewriting until it all fitted together again properly. The redrafting definitely improved things. The other difficulty with writing a YA novel is keeping the language appropriate for the audience. I originally had more swearing in it to be realistic, but then toned it down when I imagined students reading it in classrooms. It’s the classic debate: should art reflect life accurately or does the artist act responsibly knowing the work may influence others? Answers on a postcard please …

Do you tend to write about places you’ve been to…or just ones you would like to visit?

I set this novel in Crawley, where I live. I had fun imagining Crawley Town FC as a premiership team getting to the European Champions League final. It’s a minor moment in the novel – but it pleased me greatly. I’m also happy to invent locations or write about places requiring research. Either is fine – I have quite a vivid imagination. The school scenes were fun to write too; as a teacher myself I think I can write about teenagers pretty well (although my students might not agree!).
A writer doesn't always like their main characters the best. Who would you say is your favourite character in the book?

I really enjoyed creating Mr. Finn, the school’s Deputy Head, who develops into one of the most sympathetic characters. He’s an old-fashioned teacher who genuinely cares about Jerry’s plight. He’s strict with the bullies but kind to others – which is how it should be. He was one of those characters who took on a life of his own and kept growing.

Now that Myopia is launched onto the market what's your writing priority?

I’m half-way through another YA novel which contains more explicit fantasy (or slipstream) elements. I’ve just finished an adult novel set in Nigeria during the 1960s Biafran War. It uses a lot of information from my own parents’ experiences there as missionaries The finished manuscript is currently propping up a number of publishers’ and agents’ slush-piles. I’m also considering turning Myopia into a script. I can imagine it as a mini-series.

That's a busy timetable you've got for yourself. And now for the last and very important question...

What's a favourite snack food that you might nibble on while writing?

Peanut butter on malt bread. Don’t be prejudiced. Try it ... you’ll thank me.

Here's a little more about Jeff:

Jeff's a British writer whose novel Myopia has been published by Crooked Cat Publishing. His collection of short stories, A Glimpse of the Numinous, contains horror, slipstream, romantic and humorous tales. His non-fiction work, The Age of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock, has recently been revised, expanded and retitled in e-book form as The Law of Chaos. Many of his stories have been published in various anthologies and magazines in the UK and USA, and he’s also enjoyed some success with articles, some of which have even been translated into German.

Amazon author page

Today, Sunday 16th December, there's an exciting Crooked Cat three-way blog hop.

I am being interviewed by Jeff about my latest release- Topaz Eyes on his blog. Please pop in and leave a comment. 

And I'm also a guest at fellow Crooked Cat author, Cathie Dunn, where I'm talking about what my main characters might eat and drink in the European locations featured in Topaz Eyes. Please stop by there, too, and say hello!




Saturday 15 December 2012

Phantom by Laura DeLuca


The “Phantom” was a musical phenomenon that Rebecca had always found enchanting. She had no idea that her life was about to mirror the play that was her obsession. When her high school drama club chooses “Phantom” as their annual production, Rebecca finds herself in the middle of an unlikely love triangle and the target of a sadistic stalker who uses the lines from the play as their calling card.

Rebecca lands the lead role of Christine, the opera diva, and like her character, she is torn between her two co-stars—Tom the surfer and basketball star who plays the lovable hero, and Justyn, the strangely appealing Goth who is more than realistic in the role of the tortured artist.

Almost immediately after casting, strange things start to happen both on and off the stage. Curtains fall. Mirrors are shattered. People are hurt in true phantom style. They all seem like accidents until Rebecca receives notes and phone calls that hint at something more sinister. Is Justyn bringing to life the twisted character of the phantom? Or in real life are the roles of the hero and the villain reversed? Rebecca doesn’t know who to trust, but she knows she’s running out of time as she gets closer and closer to opening night. Only when the mask is stripped away, will the twenty first century phantom finally be revealed.


“What is it about you that makes me feel like you’ve stolen not only my heart, but my soul,” she whispered as she leaned her head on his shoulder.

He smiled sadly, and continued to caress her hair as he sang to her in his clear, beautiful tenor.

Your soul is filled with a beauty so rare.
With the power to bring both love and despair.
Which will you bring me, my angel of song?
A quick painful end or a love that’s life long?

Beautiful words. Romantic lines from the play they both loved. Normally, those words coupled with his enchanting musical voice, would automatically make Rebecca swoon. But suddenly something occurred to her. It had never seemed quite as ominous as it did at that moment. Instantly her hands fell away from Justyn. She jolted back on the bench as far as was possible without falling off the edge.

Those words. They weren’t exactly the same as the ones she had heard before in the muffled distorted voice of her twisted stalker. It wasn’t the same verses as the ones written on the threatening notes. But both Justyn and the stalker used the same motis operandi. Could that really be a coincidence? The voice had a different tone. But could it have been Justyn’s voice? She couldn’t be sure. As the familiar sense of fear and mistrust slithered up her spine, she felt herself pulling further and further away from him, even as Justyn reached out to her.

“What’s wrong?”

“What you just said, what you’re always saying . . . it’s just like the message, like the calls and the letters.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The person who has been threatening me. They always use lines from the play, just like . . . just like you. ”

Justyn looked confused at first and then horrified as the realization of what she was saying truly sunk in. She knew he was a good actor. His reaction didn’t really mean anything.
“Becca, it’s just a coincidence.” He swore to her. “I was just trying to be romantic. I thought you liked it when I quoted the play . . . I’m sorry if I scared you.”

He tried to reach out to touch her hand, but Rebecca jumped up off the bench, nearly tripping over her forgotten book bag in her sudden, panic stricken desire to escape.

“No, no . . . don’t touch me.”

She was really starting to freak out. She couldn’t control it. Hysteria was taking over. She was breathing hard, half crouched and ready to pounce. She was like a frightened, cornered animal.

“You really think I did all those things, don’t you?” The misery in his voice was undeniable, but Rebecca was too overcome with her own fear to dwell on it. “Why, Becca? Because I dress in black? Because I wear a pentacle around my neck? I thought you were different. I thought you could see past the stereotypes. I thought you knew who I was on the inside. You say you love the story of Erik, but you do you really understand it? Phantom is supposed to teach you that it isn’t the way someone looks that makes him a monster, but the way he’s treated that can turn him into one.” 

Laura “Luna” DeLuca lives at the beautiful Jersey shore with her husband and four children. She loves writing in the young adult genre because it keeps her young at heart. In addition to writing fiction, Laura is also the sole author of a popular review blog called New Age Mama. She is an active member of her local pagan community, and has been studying Wicca for close to eight years. Her current works include Destiny, Destiny Unveiled, Phantom, Morrigan and Player.