Happy Bloggerversary to Me!

Has it really been a year?

My first post New Year, New Writing debuted a year ago today. I sound a bit despondent in the post about ever finding inspiration or finishing the book I am writing. Despite not being where I thought I would be I recently reviewed my year and did better than expected. And this blog has been such a part of that journey for me. My blog birthday is the perfect time to decide what’s next…

More Reviews

My most popular posts have been Reviews like this one of great historical drama: The Mermaid and The Bear. I aim to do more reviewing this year and to highlight my favourite genres like gothic novels and intriguing first person novels. I have also set myself the task of “reading up” all the books on my shelves (Kindle/or real) as my to be read pile is so huge.

More Inspiration

I love sharing real life updates and try to be inspiring to others like me. I have a new Instagram.com/mumwritenow for inspiring quotes and things that take my fancy. I also plan to write more about my Artist Date experiences. I love this list of Cheap and Easy Artist’s Dates but really want to add some ideas to this and commit to the practice. Julia Cameron – whose book The Artist Way has been so instrumental in my creative recovery – recommends that Artists (and may be everyone) take out two hours a week to explore and enchant with something new so that we can reinvigorate our inner Artist.

More Writing

Finally the biggest commitment I want to make is not to this blog at all, but to my writing. I want to reassert my right to the time to write. I want to make writing much more than a hobby. And I want to plod on, day-by-day, towards the finish line of not one, but two different projects I am working on.

What are your blogging goals this year?

REVIEW: Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan

I cannot decide whose perspective I love more, Tilly aged seven or Tilda who comes back to Brighton to reflect on her life there and uncover it’s mysteries? Both have a naievity about what might being going on around them. Central to this seems to be the disappearance of Tilly’s father just before her seventh birthday. And for this reason, I would call Ruth Hogan’s novel a cosy mystery.

I can’t explain fully what is so cosy about her novels but there is a charm to her characters. During the scenes we see within The Paradise Hotel, I laughed outloud at some of the antics, not least the wonderful elderly Marlene who is also on other days Gina or Audrey. The joyous energy of the people Tilly lives with is just part of the novel’s appeal.

A cosy novel maybe because, although there are plenty of twists in the story, there are no great shocks. Deftly suspenseful for sure, so much so that I absolutely devoured it in a weekend. I think I actually enjoyed this offering from Hogan more than The Keeper of Lost Things. I have decided it might be because of the way Tilda crosses paths with the many elements of the story. Whereas in the first novel, I was always sad that Laura does not know if she has discovered the truth about the lost items when she writes their stories. Both novels are well-crafted and evocatively written.

I think you could tell the love of Brighton that imbued the pages. Also, I appreciated the glimpse of queer life and the values of acceptance that we see in the people Tilda meets there. I think that it is a novel very much concerned with acceptance and maternal instinct. These chareteristics are shown in many ways through Queenie, Marlene as well as the indomitable Mrs O’Flaherty and, eventhough she has looked for these things elsewhere, you get a sense that Tilda finds the love she needs in the end from her own mother.

This up-lifting novel was a great start to my New Year and I would recommend it to anyone who else who gets the Winter blues

If you like this …

More up-lifting mystery

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

I can’t wait to watch the BBC dramatisation of this beloved novel. Seeing life through the eyes of Maud a woman with dementia, we slowly unravel the mystery of Elizabeth together.

The Seven Imperfect Rules Of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

I loved the portrayal of the neurodiverse Elvira Carr, my REVIEW explains more

Gothic Girl

It’s been a dark year, it seems, on my reading list…

As I reflect on my completed Goodreads challenge, I can see a firm theme of the year: I just love gothic fiction and girls who can give me a good scare. For any fans of historical fiction with a Gothic twist here are my MUST READS from recent years

The Corset, Laura Purcell : She is fast becoming one of my favourite authors, Laura Purcell does not disappoint with her second novel. Set in a Victorian town we flit between the fliverous but earnest Dorothea and the dark tales from Ruth who is awaiting sentence in the town prison. We hear through both of them tales of deceit. Ruth, a skilled seamstress and corserteer is incarcerated for the crime of murder, though as the do-gooder Dorothea learns she may have committed many more through the power of her needle and evil thoughts. The darkness of course comes from the horrors the Ruth has endured in her life but also, like Dotty we must try and work out if Ruth is in a state of madness or if we actually believe the harm she can do.

This makes for a really enjoyable mystery, a story full of shocks and surprises. The historical details are relayed well but it is the gothic atmosphere that makes this so appealing.

Slammerkin, Emma Donaghue If the prison setting fascinates you the eighteenth century tale, Slammerkin is a great novel I would also recommend. It’s a few years since I read this one, but I loved the details of the horrors Mary Saunder faces just because her head is turned by a red ribbon, the unravelling of her world, will appeal to fans of a gothic feel in their historical fiction.

The Doll Factory, Elizabeth MacNeal I loved this debut though I found some of the violence hard to read, the menace of the characters involved made you understand how the author decided to develop this idea. I found the ideas around artists and trying to escape her life really compelling

The Story Keeper, Anna Mazzola This historical fiction is full of the mystery surrounding the death and disappearances of girls on the island in Skye. Audrey Hart, herself running away from her life, is collecting the stories from Folklore on the island and becomes embroiled in the mystery. The description of scenery, wind and rain whipping around her – the lost land and the clearances also a central feature of the novel – all of this makes for an atmospheric read that I recommend.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters No list I make about gothic fiction would be complete without one of my favourite books. I am fascinated by the use of ambiguity in fiction. The Ayres mansion makes for a disturbing sense of being out of place. The Little Stranger haunts the pages and like the crumbling world of certainity of the past, leaves the reader uncertain.

And if you want a real classic, Turn of the Screw by Henry James has to be one of the best gothic tales. (And yes I know he is not a Gothic girl.)

On one on the to be read pile:

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver has had many plaudit’s already and this one is definitely going to start my New Year right.

Without knowing it, I find myself in dark and spooky places quite often, centring round a murder or a mystery. I never meant for this time be my main form of escape. I would love to know: what genre do you love to read.

What genre do you return to most often?

REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Bear by Ailish Sinclair

I have followed the author Ailish Sinclair for while and know we share some interest in Folklore and ancient places in Britain so I was excited to finally read The Mermaid and The Bear . It did not disappoint.

Set around a  Scottish castle in the 16th Century, this historical romance starts with an escape from a horrible betrothal. The book is told from the perspective of the rather naive Isobel. She is full of romantic ideas and fairy stories and is quickly at home in the delightful setting of glades and stone circles. The stories she tells become intertwined with the Old Ways taught to her by the affable Bessie Thom. The relationships that build in the castle, and the beautiful historical details especially around the Twelfth Night celebrations are very captivating.

The only criticism I might level was I was hardly surprised by the events in the second part of the novel. But that might be that the mixing of religion, both the Old Ways and Catholicism through the Christen Michell character was never going to end well in that era of Scottish history. With James VI mania for catching witches, we always feel that these strong-minded independent women may be in danger in this world. However whilst some of the things that go wrong for dear Isobel and Bessie and Christen are unsurprising, the way Isobel draws her own conclusions about how all the women’s beliefs sit side-by-side is done very well.

Overall the characters are lovable, I found it interesting that their lives intertwined slightly with Shakespeare and also touched on LGBT culture and attitudes at that time. It really felt that there was a depth of historical knowledge informing the narrative which I always enjoy. My only lament was that I wished I could learn more about Jasper who equally had a fascinating tale to tell.

I really enjoyed the historical detail in the novel even though at times it is a hard novel to read. I appreciated how the author cut away from the most violent acts. I think it will appeal to historical fiction fans including those who enjoyed Stacey Hall’s The Familiars.

Undue influence

Having a reading detox is supposed to help creativity but I wonder does it help your writing too?

All the times I have felt my creativity blocked, I have turned to reading. As well as setting a reading challenge and making time to read, I keep myself up-to-date by following my favourite book bloggers (see below). Reading is comfort and if you ask me to go to my happy place it would be a beautiful chair in a quiet cottage, blanket, coffee and a book.

I find it odd if I hear others say they don’t read at all. I have no idea how you survive without books in your lives. Apart from a week off for a detox, I am always at least trying to read something. Several things in fact.
But as I return to read this week, I do think about the influence what I am reading has on my writing.

As the dark night’s draw in and after the interview on the Spirits podcast I picked up Garth Nix Old Kingdom trilogy. They are books I have seen for years and done nothing more than admire the typeface. I have also started the next book in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. I don’t know if both these books would be considered Young Adult (YA) and/or fantasy. I just love at tale with dark twists and turns. The Winternight Trilogy has the advantage of having the historical setting too, medieval Russia is cold and full of courtly rules which feeds my fascinations too.


I share what I am reading to recommend the books if you want to curl up in this cold weather but also to show how this influences me. I start to think of the spookiness of my setting and wonder if i should lean in to it more. I have been writing about a sickness in the trees and I can see how the richness of descriptions in the books I am reading at least inform my word choice as I write, if not the genre.

I also think reading can lead you to adopt a style. I know that the strength of voice of Jane Austen has informed earlier attempts of other books I am trying to write. That aloof and witty narrator is quite irresistible as one writes ones prose. It’s like you are hearing voices, and letting them tell you what to do. That’s the power of strong voice.

I find that listening to audiobooks I particularly take in a style or voice because I learn so well through aural input. Despite my negative thoughts about my ability I have found myself writing poetry in recent months. I find short lines and sharp turns a great way to throw out my anger. They are political and I don’t know yet if they will see the light of day. But I notice too that the cadence and search for internal rhyme is influenced by rap music. I do not of course claim to be rapping, I can just hear the beat in my head.

Should I read less?

So at what point do we see it as positive to avoid reading or even listening to lyricists in order to write?

I think first, there is no way to avoid influences. To stay relevant you need to know what is being published. To be a human of many experiences you need to read. But really if my work does swoop from high fantasy, to Austen via rap I probably have to question: have I found my own voice?

The search goes on.

If you enjoy great book reviews an recommendations, you can’t go far wrong with these women:

Continue reading “Undue influence”