The silence -Mothers Day excerpt

As it’s Mothers’ Day weekend I thought I’d post an excerpt from my novel the silence which will be published in June. Because it’s on Mothers Day, which Abby is celebrating at her in-laws that the secret she has guarded for 25 years resurfaces, threatening to blow her life apart:

A child’s cry brought her attention back to the garden.
‘One of mine. Better go and see what he wants,’ said Trix with a sigh. ‘No, don’t you get up. Sit and have a read of the paper.’
She plopped it into Abby’s lap and strode off shouting, ‘Now what have you done?’
The paper was full of stories about a terrorist attack, Brexit and a teenager victim of cyber bullying. So, unsurprisingly, a macabre discovery at a villa in Italy was given little coverage. If the rental guests hadn’t been British, it probably wouldn’t have got any at all.
And yet the picture jumped out at Abby. Her hand went to the side of her head. It couldn’t be. Her heart was hammering before she even read the text. Everything slowed as her eyes slid across the page. Her head pulsed. Fear coiled through her as she read it and then read it again. The news she had been dreading for so many years and she was reading it right here in a garden with James’s family all around her. And yet a little voice whispered: why not now? Why not here? It wasn’t as if there would ever be a good time or place.

Bodies Found at Tuscan Holiday Home
An English family’s dream holiday turned into a nightmare when they discovered two skeletons in the grounds of the Tuscan villa where they were staying.
Miranda and Robert Hamilton, who run an IT business in Orpington, had booked a two-week holiday at Le Rondini, an idyllic-looking villa in a classic Tuscan hill village.
It was the couple’s six-year-old daughter who made the grisly discovery while playing in the garden. Builders had been clearing a fallen building but the site had not been fenced off.
‘We chose this property because it seemed so peaceful and had lots of space for our children to run around in,’ said Miranda Hamilton. ‘The last thing we were expecting to find there was a couple of bodies.
‘We’ve been offered alternative accommodation, but our children are traumatised and we’re having to think about arranging counselling for them.’
Police say they are waiting for forensic test results before they can speculate on how long the bodies have been there and the manner of death, but they are cautiously optimistic about being able to identify them and are following up on several leads…

Looking up, seeing her daughters peering into the fairy tree, their pretty dresses rippling in the breeze, Abby felt everything dissolving in front of her eyes. The ground didn’t seem solid any more, the trees looked artificial, none of the colours looked natural.
She had a sudden vision, so powerful, of the villa as she had known it – a mishmash of stone and render clad in creeper so thick it was impossible to fold back the flaking shutters, the roof tiles held down by stones, the broken stone steps and the fallen balcony.

IMG_4400For a moment, she was back there lying in the hammock under the fig trees, watching lizards dart along the dry stone wall. Had it really been that idyllic? No, of course it hadn’t.
How much could she really remember? Not much at all. Just scenes. Snapshots. She tried to sort them, but they kept slipping out of her control because of the one that overshadowed everything.

Perhaps she was getting this wrong. There must be thousands of villas that looked similar. And there were several differences, including the name. Le Rondini was a good choice. It reminded her of how the sky had filled with swallows on those warm summer evenings. She remembered watching them flit and dive in and out of the little conical nests they had built under the loggia.
They had found one once with an injured wing and tried to nurse it back to health, keeping it in a shoebox. She saw Philippa’s hands deftly cutting the worm into pieces to feed the bird. She had wanted to look away but was fascinated all the same to see if it really did turn into lots of little worms, as she had been told. It didn’t.
She saw herself sitting at the stone table under the pergola with Philippa and Mina, listening to them arguing about whether curses really existed and if the house could be cursed; keeping secrets for each of them. Heard her own childish voice, barely a whisper, ‘What will you do if I tell?’
IMG_4387.JPGBut now the villa was slipping away as she had seen it on that last night, peeping behind grubby, tear-soaked fingers. Retreating into the red earth and chestnut trees behind it like a wounded, blind beast as the car bounced away. Dark, closed-up, silent. And yet somehow, she had always known, hadn’t she, that she would see it again? It would find her.
No, she was being ridiculous. Surely she was only making connections with the villa because of the dream she had had? Heart hammering, she scanned the picture, exploring every millimetre. She tried to reassure herself, but it was no use. Perhaps having the dream had just made her more alert so that she noticed a picture she would otherwise have flicked past.
The villa stared back, smug in its new disguise. With its smooth, pink façade, decorative friezes, and window boxes of cascading geraniums, it certainly lived up to the newspaper’s description ‘idyllic holiday home’. But no amount of paint and repairs could fool her.
The creeper had been cleared away, the two enormous Cypress trees that had blocked the windows of the salotto, or living room, making it permanently dark, had been cut down, the iron balustrade had been repaired, and the shutters rehung. But the stained-glass window Alan had salvaged from the little church that had been damaged in an earthquake was still there, and an inset image showed a close-up of the demonic doorknockers.
IMG_4287How could looks be so deceiving? She wanted to rip the page into shreds and trample it into the ground. Instead, she slid it out, trying to stop her hands from trembling, folded it, and slipped it into her bag. She took a gulp of Pimms and then another.
Her head squeezed. Nausea swept through her. Battling to keep it under control, she stood up and stumbled towards the house. Dodging children, cats, offers of sherry, and invitations to solve disagreements, she climbed the stairs two at a time and shut herself in the bathroom where she sank to her knees and retched into the bowl.
This could not be happening.

How to get your novel published – Nancy Jardine’s top tip

How lovely to see Nancy Jardine in the coffee shop this morning. Since 2011 Nancy has had seven novels published. Six are now published by Crooked Cat: three are in the Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures and three stand-alone contemporary romantic mysteries. She has also published the first book of a historical time travel series for early teens.


Hello, Katy. Thank you so much for inviting me and getting me out of the house for a while, even if only virtually!

You’re very welcome. What would you like to drink?

A caffe latte would be perfect.

Anything to eat?

Yes, please! I’m a sucker for shortbread with coffee


Can you remember how it felt when you had your first novel accepted?

It was exhilarating but also quite unreal when I read the email from a US ebook publisher for Monogamy Twist, a contemporary romantic mystery. I went back to my teaching job after lunch in a complete daze. I’m fairly sure the 11-12 year olds in my class thought the permanent smile on my face was due to some sort of weird gaseous indigestion! It was my first ever submission for Monogamy Twist and the acceptance email had popped into my in-box a couple of weeks after I’d emailed the manuscript, such an incredibly fast turnaround. This was at the end of March 2011 and Monogamy Twist was published in the summer of 2011. (A different version of it was republished by Crooked Cat Books in 2015)

Do you have any advice for someone who is writing their first novel?

Your previous question makes me remember all of the things I didn’t have back then in March 2011 and which I think are invaluable for an author who is currently writing their first novel.

Contacts: After I signed that first contract, my US editor requested my contact information. What was my Website URL? Oh, oh! I didn’t have a website. What was my Blog URL? I didn’t have one of those either. I admit to barely knowing back then what a blog was, never mind have one or how to use one. What was my Facebook contact info? You’ve guessed it, I wasn’t on Facebook and I wasn’t on Twitter. By June 2011, I’d worked out how to run a basic Blog. I’d created a basic Website. I’d learned how to make a Book Trailer Video and had added myself to loads of other Social Media places. It was a crazy, nerve wracking time!

I was catapulted into those ‘getting my name out there’ aspects so my advice to any author who is hoping to gain a first contract would be to get onto Social Media places long before you make a submission to a publisher. Younger authors are more likely to be on a number of Social Media sites already but they maybe use them for other purposes.

Author Branding: Learn how to use internet sites for author branding. There are some excellent Facebook groups that you can join where authors share their expertise and give support to both fledgling and oldie authors. There are other internet groups for specific genres on Yahoo which might be the ones to aim for, especially if your writing fits into a particular niche. There are also groups which support and advise in a more general way on Google Plus etc. I’ve often seen the phrases ‘Sharing is Caring’ and ‘Pay it Forward’ and they are spot on. It’s great to be able to get answers to what might seem like a dumb question. Asking questions and gaining help isn’t dumb at all if it will help you progress.

The internet changes so rapidly from year to year that there’s no one ‘quick fix’ place to be on: what works for one author may not for another. I’ve joined all sorts of sites to get my author branding out there but it’s like all walks of life—invest more time and you’ll probably gain more rewards. Being on Social Media isn’t, in my opinion, for gaining book sales (though excellent if that happens) but it’s more that you’re not writing in a bubble of virtual isolation.

Local Contacts: Before publication, I wasn’t in a local writing group. I now know many novelists who meet up regularly with other writers and this can be invaluable for gaining beta readers for your manuscripts. Try to fit in time to make local contacts if that’s possible. A couple of years ago I joined the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) which also has a fledgling author scheme which not-yet-published authors can use to join. The RNA subscription fees are quite high, but if you live near London you can probably attend lots more events than I can since I live in Scotland, in rural Aberdeenshire. Attending these events will widen your contact base of authors. To counteract my ‘geographical’ location, I’m meeting up with some RNA Scottish authors in Edinburgh at the beginning of May 2017. I also joined the Scottish Association of Writers and will attend my first ever author conference this coming weekend (18th March) which is being held near Glasgow. Such exciting prospects, even though I’ve never actually met anyone, yet.

It’s taken me years to make these arrangements so I’d advise not-yet-published authors to branch out as early as you possibly can—virtually and locally!

Thank you Nancy – such good advice. If  we’d had this conversation a couple of years ago I’d have been much better prepared!


About Nancy Jardine
Nancy Jardine’s Celtic Fervour Series of historical romantic adventures is set in first century northern Roman Britain whereas her contemporary romantic mysteries are set in fabulous world-wide cities, Topaz Eyes being a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2014. The Taexali Game, her Teen time-travel adventure, is set in third century Roman Scotland. Her week passes in a blur of regular grandchild minding, gardening, leisure reading, researching, writing…and keeping up with politics. Not necessarily in that order!

She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers and the Federation of Writers, Scotland.

You can find her at these places:
Blog: Website: Facebook: &
email: Twitter @nansjar
Amazon Author page
(A Google search will find her other sites)
The Beltane Choice
After Whorl: Bran Reborn
After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks

Monogamy Twist
Take Me Now
Topaz Eyes

IMG_4334The Taexali Game

The story behind the story – Cathie Dunn’s next novel

img_4318I’m so pleased to welcome author Cathie Dunn into the coffee shop today all the way from the south of France. Cathie’s published two novels, Dark Deceit and Highland Arms, and a novella, Silent Deception. She describes her novels as ‘historical romance with a hint of danger.’ But where does she get her ideas from?

Hello Katy! Thank you so much for inviting me in. Those armchairs look comfy. You don’t mind if I grab that red one over there, do you? The one by the window? It’s such a beautiful view.

I insist that you do! What would you like to drink?

A green tea, please. No sugar, thank you.

And can I tempt you to anything to eat?
Ooh, as you’re asking. I’d love a slice of that lemon drizzle cake. Homemade, is it? Yumm!

I know you’re busy working on your new novel. What’s it about?

You couldn’t make it up, you know. It’s a time-slip romance, set in the Languedoc region in the south of France in the present day, and in the late 8th century.

Ah that sounds amazing and right up my street. Where did you get the idea from?
The idea came about after a late-night chat at our French neighbours’ house. We live in a small village in the Languedoc, around 30 minutes’ north-east from Carcassonne. It’s a gorgeous region, full of vineyards and ancient sites. So much history, you almost don’t know where to start. The Romans left their mark here, then the Merovingians arrived, followed a couple of centuries later by the Franks, with Charlemagne expanding his empire as far south as the Pyrenees. The area was much later annexed to the Kingdom of France, and was throughout history a hub of rebellion and resistance, up to World War II (and beyond if you ask some of the locals!).

Anyway, after the fabulous fireworks last July celebrating the 14th of July – what’s known to Brits as Bastille Day – our French neighbours two doors down invited us in for a drink. By then, it was already nearing midnight.

We had a lovely chat over a few glasses of wine and a nice portion of poached pear when we got talking (all in French! Gulp!) about the renovation works in their house. They had lifted various floors to lay their tiles. During one such occasion, they discovered human bones! Now, in the area behind our house used to be the old village cemetery, but their house is to the side of it, so the bones weren’t part of those buried there. It turns out the cranium and arm bone our neighbours proudly showed us (yes, they kept them!) date back to Merovingian days! Wow! It was eerie holding the pieces, thinking that person was alive around 1,400 years ago right here, going about their daily life. And I knew right away that it simply had to be part of a novel!

So, in my project, Maddie, the 21st century heroine, renovates her late mother’s house and comes across some ancient bones which she gets analyzed, whilst there is also some paranormal activity going on. The owner of the bones is clearly not at rest.

Switch to the late 8th century, and we have a young lady from the north – Adelaïs – marrying a local lord – Bellon, the first earl of Carcassonne (and a real character). She keeps a secret from husband which requires her to leave the safety of Carcassonne and venture across territory still contested by opposing sides. One day, she doesn’t return…

But will Maddie manage to lie the ghost to rest?

As you can imagine, our wine- and story-filled night at our neighbours ended late – or rather early – after 3am! They know I’m using the bones in a plot, and they’re quite pleased about it.

I love digging deeper into history and use local stories in my works. In Highland Arms, my Scottish romance, I included local history of smuggling, which I discovered in booklets written by hobby historians living near Glencoe and sold in the Tourist Information. These kinds of special tidbits are always worth exploring, as reality can often be stranger than your imagination.

Thank you again for having me. I enjoyed that cake very much. Can I have the recipe?

Of course. Thanks Cathie, it’s been lovely to see you.

About Cathie Dunn:

Cathie’s research often takes her to the most breath-taking landscapes and castles which she finds immensely inspiring, and which she writes about in her blog. She’s currently working on a time-slip paranormal romance set in the Languedoc in southern France, in the present and in the days of Charlemagne’s reign just prior to AD800.

After having spent many years in Scotland and Wales, Cathie now lives in the south of France with her husband, a dog and a cat.

Follow her at:


How to get published – Sue Barnard’s top tip

img_4245It’s my pleasure to welcome Sue Barnard to the coffee shop today. As well as being an author, editor and award-winning poet she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show and has compiled questions for Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain quiz. Her latest novel has just been published (9th February)

Lovely to see you, Sue. What would you like to drink?

I’d love a flat white coffee, please. I first came across this variety during my first visit to Australia back in 2005, though I’m happy to see that it’s now widely available here in the frozen north.

Coming right up. Anything to eat?

I know I shouldn’t, really, but since you’ve gone to all this trouble, it would be churlish of me to refuse… Please may I have a toasted teacake?

Ooh lovely – I’ll join you! Congratulations on your new book – what’s it about?

It’s called Never on Saturday, and it’s a time-slip novella based on an old French legend. It’s set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales, and is a mixture of romance, history and folklore, with a touch of the paranormal thrown in for good measure.

Here’s the blurb: Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present…

Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.

She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.

Then she meets Ray – charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome. Within days, Mel’s entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled. Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.

But Mel’s dreams of happiness are under constant threat. She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray – or indeed anybody else – must never ever discover…

To buy, click here for the paperback or here for the Kindle edition.

What would be your main piece of advice to a new writer hoping to get a novel published? 

My main piece of advice is: When you approach a publisher or agent, you need to present yourself – and your book – in the best possible light.

This starts before you even consider submitting. Once you’ve written your book, get some proper feedback on your manuscript (from writing buddies and/or beta readers, not just friends and family) and act on it accordingly. Don’t submit a first draft!

Make sure your manuscript is well-polished, and that spelling, punctuation and grammar are up to scratch. If necessary, have the manuscript professionally checked before submitting it. Any minor errors will be caught during the editing process, but the overall standard of presentation should be as high as possible. Publishers or agents who see too many typos, grammatical errors, mis-spellings or misused words will quickly file your manuscript in the waste paper basket.

When you’ve done all that, you’re ready to take the plunge and start submitting. Sorry to belabour the obvious, but: when approaching a publisher or agent, READ THE QUESTION. Make sure you have chosen a publisher or agent who deals with your genre; there’s no point in sending a 600-page bonkbuster to someone who only publishes children’s books. Study the instructions for submission, and follow them exactly. For instance, don’t send the whole manuscript if the publisher or agent asks for just the first three chapters.

In addition to the manuscript, you will almost certainly need to send an enquiry letter, to introduce yourself and your book. This is your chance to shine: tell the publisher or agent a little about yourself (including any previous writing experiences and successes) and a little about the book – particularly its target audience and Unique Selling Point. What is going to make your book stand out from the crowd?

Please make sure that your letter is correctly addressed. There can be few things more offputting to a publisher or agent than to receive a missive addressed to a rival company. (Believe me, it does happen!)

Be aware, too, that if your book is accepted you will need to do a lot of your own publicity and marketing. This is true not just for indie publishers, but also for many authors who are signed to the big publishing houses. Publishers have a limited marketing budget and are very choosy how they spend it – so unless your book happens to be one of the favoured few, you will still have to do all the legwork yourself. So include in your letter a sentence or two outlining your plans for this (blog posts, social media, local press etc). If a publisher or agent sees at this stage that you know you will need to be pro-active in this area, this could help to put you ahead of the competition.
Finally, please don’t say things like “All my friends (or family) love it.” Friends and family are rarely objective, and are already a guaranteed sale. And unless your friend or relative is the Book Reviewer at The Sunday Times, publishers or agents just won’t care.

Good luck!

Fantastic – thanks Sue and best of luck with the new book!

About the Author:
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
She was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.

Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014. Since then she has produced three more novels: Nice Girls Don’t (2014), The Unkindest Cut of All (2015) and Never on Saturday (2017).

She now lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), Amazon, or follow her blog here.

Author and Editor at Crooked Cat Books

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The Ghostly Father: Amazon, smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Apple iBooks, GooglePlay

Nice Girls Don’t: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Apple iBooks

The Unkindest Cut of All: Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Nook, Apple iBooks

Never on Saturday: Amazon


Cover story

Well here it is – the cover art for my new novel. I love it – hope you do.

Choosing a cover involves so many decisions – like whether to go for a light or dark image, the typeface, the size and colour of the letters, the position of the words…Anyone who knows me will know what a ditherer I am – I’m very lucky to have such patient publishers! They also pointed out things I hadn’t thought of – like the fact that it will most often be shown online as a thumbnail size so we’ve gone for simple but arresting.

I’d love to know what you think.

You can find out more about the book on the My Novels page or sign up for my email newsletter using the pop up form for first news, exclusives and excerpts.




Growing up with books

Books are so much more than ink on paper – like tunes they can evoke strong memories. Certain books will always remind me of my children at the age they were when they read them. My eldest, Raffaella, has always been a bookaholic. These are the titles that map her childhood from 0-18.

AGE 0-5

img_4251Guess how much I love you – Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
Big Nut Brown Hare and Little Nut Brown Hare search for ways to express how much they love each other. A very simple story with beautiful illustrations. A friend gave this book to R when she was born and and it was a perfect bedtime story. I hope she’ll read it to her own children.

Don’t put your finger in the jelly, Nelly – Nick Sharratt
img_4248This interactive book was ideal when she reached the inquisitive stage. Each page has a hole for the child to poke their finger into and the following page reveals a possible consequence of that action e.g. if you put your finger in the jelly you might upset the jellyphant.

One Snowy Night – Nick Butterworth

I was given this book by the author when I wrote an article on his house and it soon became a firm favourite with Raffaella. Percy Park Keeper tries to get to sleep but it’s a cold night and he keeps getting disturbed by animals wanting to join him in his warm bed – but will there be enough room for them all?

AGE 5-8
img_4250Horrid Henry – Francesca Simon

These books about a self-centred, prank-playing big brother were a hit with all my children. They gave us so much fun, keeping us entertained on car journeys and rainy days and we all enjoyed listening to Miranda Richardson reading the audio books.

The Witches – Ronald Dahl
As she got older she started to look for adventure stories that stretched her imagination. This tale is about a brave young boy and his grandmother battling to save the world’s children from witches who have an evil master plan. Although the ending is not one most readers would hope for it’s a compelling, gruesomely funny read and teaches children not to judge by appearances.


Harry Potter – JK Rowling
If I hadn’t had children I wouldn’t have known what the fuss was about but these stories captured R’s imagination and I found myself getting drawn in and liking the main characters. I would read a few pages to her at bedtime and she’d carry on by herself. Like many JK Rowling fans she grew up with the books and it’s hard to imagine her childhood without a wand or a Hogwarts scarf.

AGE 8-12
img_4252The Twins at St Clare’s – Enid Blyton

Written in the 1940s, these books with their jolly japes, dares and midnight feasts, still have such strong appeal. In the first of the series the rebellious twins are determined to be as difficult as possible so they will get sent to a different school but St Clare’s gradually works its magic on them.

img_4255Dustbin Baby – Jacqueline Wilson

Another author that R grew up with, from the young children’s titles to the teenage ones. These stories fired R’s imagination and got her thinking about how it would feel to be in similar situations. Her favourite, Dustbin Baby, is about 14-year old April who has spent her childhood in care and takes a day off school to try and find her mother who abandoned her as a baby. It’s a powerful and moving story that had me in tears.

img_4256Neville the Devil – Michael Lawrence

Another story that had me in tears but this time from laughter. Part slapstick, part satire, the Jiggy Mccue stories revolve around the mad, unpredictable things that happen to Jiggy and his friends Pete and Ange. I suppose we all have days when we think “what just happened?” but with Jiggy it’s always something that bit stranger than you expect.


img_4257The Medusa Project – Sophie Mackenzie

This six-part thriller series follows a group of teenagers who as embryos were implanted with the Medusa gene, giving them psychic abilities. They are brought together by a government agent to form the Medusa Project, a special crime-fighting unit performing dangerous undercover operations. R loved it and went on to read all the other books by this author.


Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman This dystopian young adult novel is about forbidden love between Sephy, a dark-skinned Cross and Callum, a light-skinned Nought against a background of prejudice and distrust. It’s clever and cathartic although it’s very sad and raises awareness about racism.



Twilight – Stephenie Meyerimg_4262

The Twilight series of four vampire-themed fantasy/romance novels had her gripped. In Twilight, the first of these, Bella finds herself drawn to the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen but Edward has to battle his vampire instincts. The pair are caught on a knifepoint between desire and danger…


img_4263The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
R was so lucky with the books her school chose for English Literature A Level. This was her favourite and got her interested in gothic novels. Dorian Gray is drawn into a hedonistic world but stays as young and beautiful as he was when his portrait was first painted, whereas the portrait ages.