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:



Love stories

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here are my top ten great love stories – what are yours?


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.