Alaskan Delights – Stan Jones

We’ve just had the great fortune of getting mail all the way from Alaska saying how the booktrail has reached the farthest point of the earth! Well we were shocked  – very pleasantly I might add, and there may have been a happy dance or two around the room. That’s how we heard about Alaskan author Stan Jones who we just had to meet!

TUNDRAAnd so we did, and his books. And today, we’ve tempted him out of the cold to speak to us.

We warm him up with some hot chocolate and a little bit of flaming Christmas pudding and then we chat like crazy!….

Hi Stan!. What a pleasure to meet you and read your Alaskan set stories!

Can you tell us more about StanJones (1)and why he is your lead character?

 Almost from the moment I arrived in Kotzebue, I knew I wanted to write about that lovely part of the world and the fascinating people who live there. Crime novels seemed as good a way as any, because that form offers the author latitude to explore any aspect of culture, society, history, or circumstance that strikes his fancy.

The question was, who should be the cop in crime stories about the Arctic? It needed to be someone with ties to the place and people, but at the same time someone who was conflicted (the first law of fiction being, torment your characters!).

Thus did Nathan Active spring into being: An Inupiaq born in Chukchi, but to an unwed teenage mother who knew she was unfit to raise him. So she adopted him out to white schoolteachers, who soon moved to Anchorage and raised him there. 

Nathan resented his birth mother for giving him away, and grew up trying to pretend she and his birth place didn’t exist. He considered himself an Anchorage boy and set out on a law enforcement career by joining the Alaska State Troopers.

Luckily for fans of the series, life got complicated the moment Nathan completed training. The Troopers, with the customary blind perversity of every bureaucracy since the beginning of time, posted him to Chukchi for his first assignment and he’s been there ever since.

At first, he angled for a transfer back to Anchorage at every opportunity. But, over time, he has reconciled with his birth mother, and has come to appreciate Chukchi for the fascinating place it is. Now he’s there to stay, and has moved on from the Troopers to head the public safety department of the Chukchi Regional Borough. He’s The Law north of the Yukon River and south of the Brooks Range, as he puts it.

Despite all the change, Chukchi is still as unique as ever. As a character put it in the very first Nathan book-White Sky, Black Ice–“It makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

You are a native of Alaska. What is particularly special and dear to you about Chukchi where Nathan Active  is  born?

Caribou hunter's cabin
A Caribou hunter’s cabin (c) Stan Jones

Chukchi is fictional, but is modeled pretty closely on a real village named Kotzebue. My family has lived there at various times and one of my children was born there.

Chukchi (Kotzebue) is about 35 miles north of the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi   Sea. Because it is above the Arctic Circle, that means there are a few days in summer when the sun doesn’t set and few in winter when it doesn’t rise–talk about the edge of the world!

One of the side-effects of this phenomenon is what they call Village Time, meaning that people don’t pay a lot of attention to the clock. Since it’s either light all the time or dark all the time for much of the year, one time’s as good as another!

Chukchi/Kotzebue is home to about 3,000 people, around 80 percent of whom are all or partly Inupiaq Eskimo.

Kotzebue bluff (c) Stan Jones


The first time I landed there was a clear October day. When I stepped off the Boeing 737 jet, it was about five degrees above zero (Fahrenheit) with the wind rolling in off the sea ice at 15 or 20 mph. It was beautiful and, strange as it may seem to denizens of milder climes, it just felt right to me.

Since that day, the place has never been out of my heart or head. I haven’t lived there in a while, but my wife and I still go back to visit whenever we can.

The last such occasion was September of 2015, when President Obama paid a visit–POTUS on the Permafrost, as the occasion came to be known. While I was there, I managed to give one of his Secret Service agents a signed copy of one of the Nathan Active books, Village of the Ghost Bears. I signed it for the president, and expressed the hope that, having seen the real Kotzebue, he might enjoy reading about the fictional version. Wouldn’t it be cool if he read it and posted a review on Amazon!?

And with that thought (Stan we think he should for sure!) we leave Stan warming his hands by the fire and filling his flask full of hot chocolate ready for the ride home.

You can get the book here: Tundra-Kill

And meet Stan here:


#booktrailadvent Melissa Hill brings the sparkle!

Melissa Hill celebrates Christmas on the booktrail!


Melissa Hill, author extraordinaire has returned to the booktrail to talk about the magic of Christmas and the sparkle that this season can bring.

And I’ve just read her latest book which celebrates everything to recreate the perfect snowy magical atmosphere at Christmas – a nice wedding in Central Park in Snowy New York with the twinkly lights, the promise of true love and a sparkling Tiffany diamond to light up the magic factor.

So I wanted to ask her more about what Christmas means to her and why this time of year is so special…

Apart from a diamond, what else do you think is a girl’s best friend?

This book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved pet dog Homer, who died while I was writing it. He was fifteen years old and was with me throughout so many highs and lows. As I mentioned in the dedication he was my best friend, better than any diamond, and I still miss him desperately.


Two stories – those of Rachel and Gary and then Ethan and Terri intertwine with unexpected results. Two very different stories. Which was the most fun to write?

Garys and Rachels – purely because Gary is such a love/hate character! Like many Irish men, he puts up this macho front which is why hes so difficult for Rachel to read, and he finds it difficult to express his feelings, but is ultimately a softie inside.


Where is your special place at Christmas and why?

Somewhat untraditional really, but my family and I have spent our last three Christmases at a beach house on the Gulf Coast in Florida and its incredibly beautiful and relaxing there.

Stunning Christmas Eve sunsets, followed by celebratory drinks by the pool, then walks on the powder-white sandy beach on Christmas morning alongside the local dolphin family, followed by Christmas dinner on the terrace beneath blue skies and palm trees. Again, quite untraditional but very definitely jolly!


Life should be fun of sparkle you say on the cover. Which sparkling restaurant or unusual place in New York would you recommend readers visit to capture the spirit of your book?

I adore the Central Park Boathouse, where Gary and Rachels wedding takes place in the book. It sits right in the heart of that gloriously green space with Manhattans breath-taking skyline all around. In summer the front of the restaurant opens up to a wonderfully romantic view right across the water and people (usually couples) rowing boats on the lake. Its the perfect location to celebrate a special occasion and to my mind, theres really nowhere better to capture the true magic of the city.

With many thanks to Melissa for a perusal and use of her lovely photo album of happy and poignant memories. And the cake with diamond frosting we enjoyed was a lovely touch!

Send some sparkle to Melissa via :

Twitter: @melissahillbks

Facebook: /melissahillbooks


Melissa Hill sparkles with inspiration..


Some authors set their books in a place that they love, have visited or have travelled to. Some even set books in places they would like to go, that has a story to tell of its own. Melissa Hill has chosen to set her book The Hotel on Mulberry Hill, in her home country of Ireland but in the fictional place of Mulberry Bay for a very nice reason indeed.

Melissa, it’s over to you…

MElissa-HillMy home town. The fictional Bay Hotel at the centre of the novel was inspired by my own feelings about a hotel in my hometown – a place wrapped in significant personal nostalgia that will always hold a place in my heart.

My family celebrated a host of personal celebrations there; christenings, confirmations, birthdays as well as my own wedding.

Taken by the idea that a particular place or building could have such emotional resonance, not just for one person but an entire community, I wanted to explore what would happen if such an important institution were to come under threat.

Community: The locals populating the small town of Mulberry Bay are just  as important to the storyline as the main characters. The notion that community, and a great sense of shared history could be a real force for change against the odds is a powerful one, and perhaps relevant to small town life today, where family-run businesses and the heart of communities themselves are under threat from outside influences.

MULMy father:  Ned, the father in the novel has in the past sacrificed something of great importance to keep his family and the hotel afloat, and is reluctant to let go of their only remaining legacy.

This particular plot strand was again borne out of personal experience, as I discovered some time ago that when I was born, my own father – an avid Beatles fan – sold his much-prized record collection to buy me a pram.

(Booktrail – what a lovely man!)

Music: Following on from the above, music by the Beatles was the soundtrack to my childhood.

Summer afternoons spent playing in the garden with Here Comes the Sun in the background, birthday parties boogying to All You Need is Love; any Fab Four song or anthem I hear immediately summons a fond childhood memory, as it does for Penny in the story.

Interior Design 

I love interior design, and the idea of vicariously renovating a ramshackle old hotel and turning it into a beautiful contemporary space, perfect for relaxation appealed to me enormously. I had great fun going through each room in the hotel and imagining things for the characters to do – and even more fun finding ways to thwart them!

Thanks Melissa for sharing inspiration with us today. And I tell you something if there is someone that needs inspiration for a Xmas something special that sparkles ….

melissa xmas

A diamond from Tiffany and a literary one from  Melissa Hill. What more could you ask for?

Author Info:


Denmark – Lone Theils – A Writer to Watch…

Today we welcome Lone Theils to the Booktrail sofa as she chats about her book Fatal Crossing – Pigerne fra Englandsbåden in Danish. This debut takes place in both Denmark and the UK and is set in the modern age of globalisation

LONEThe star of the show? Nora Sand – the no-nonsense kickboxing UK correspondent for Danish newspaper Globalt starts to investigate a suitcase and onto the trail of two Danish girls that disappeared in 1985.A chilling story inspired very much by true events…

Lone – welcome to the Booktrail and thank you for this yummy liquorice! Salted Poletter – there’s nothing like it!

Why did you choose to mix Scandinavian noir with traditional British crime?

It was natural to me, because I love both genres and I am in a way a mixture myself. I have spent most of my professional life working as a journalist out of London and so when I travel between the UK and Denmark I always say, I am going home to Denmark and I am going home to London when I travel the other way. It kind of makes sense to me.

I just love a great crime novel and I used to gobble up Agatha Christie from when I was 12 years old, later on I started on Sjöval and Wahlö, so in a way I am a product of both traditions.

Nora Sand is quite the no-nonsense kickboxing main character? Can you tell us more about her?

She is a complex person. In many ways she is so used to taking care of herself that she finds it difficult to let anyone help her or even think that asking anyone for help is an option. In that respect she is a bit annoying, you could say. But she is also this clever and quite tough journalist who knows both how to use her brain and also can use kickboxing to get out of a sticky situation.

This is mainly inspired by my own great love of kickboxing, which I do a couple of times a week.

I think there has been a tendency to let female heroines be smart, but not so physical, and I thought: Why not? Why can´t a woman be smart AND take action and defend herself?

Women can do both, I feel, and maybe that is part of my Scandinavian heritage, the Pippi Longstocking idea that girls a strong. (Pippi can, after all, lift a horse) and she is dead clever.

pigerna_fra_englandsbåden_omsl-e1439289174816Your novel is inspired by true events. Can you tell us more about this?

I read this story in Politiken online which just really stayed with me. Not least because it was illustrated by an old photo of two girls taken at the central station in Copenhagen many years ago. The story was this: In the US a serial killer had been apprehended and convicted for a number of murders, but the police suspected there were more victims. He had a pattern where he would photograph people before he killed them. After he was put on death row, the police found a storage room he had rented, and in there they unearthed literally piles of photos of unknown people. Potential victims. The background of one of these photos made it clear it had been taken in Denmark and for that reason the police in the US had contacted their Danish colleagues to try to establish who the girls were, and if they were alive at all. The piece I read was basically the Danish police appealing for information: Did anybody know these girls?

In real life they turned out to be alive. But the story stuck with me, the idea that after many years a photo would emerge who could solve a crime. I moved the setting to the ferry between Denmark and England and made the serial killer British. Deliberately I did not read more on the real story, so as to feel free to make my own twisted plot.

Your job is reporter for the Danish newspaper Politiken how has this helped or shaped your writing?

It has helped in more ways that I can count. First of all I has sent me to many corners of the UK, so it has given me knowledge about how people live, talk and what things really look like. I often approach setting a scene in the story as I would write a feature article. What details are important, how you capture people´s dialogue.

Secondly, just being a journalist gives you a good working relationship with the act of writing. You have had to respect thousands of deadlines during a working life, so you know that sometimes you cannot spend five hours waiting for inspiration. Sometimes you just sit down and get on with it, so the working discipline is there. Also as a journalist, I think you get less sensitive to editing. Which is a good thing, because what most people don’t know is that there is so much editing work with a book. So it helps that you don’t feel like crying when your editor says you have to cut five pages of this or that.

Finally it has of course helped me that I am a journalist myself and has a job that is similar to Nora´s. I know how it works to be a correspondent. Both the good and bad parts and I try to make that a part of the book.


What are the things you miss about living in Denmark? What English habit or word do you still find amusing?

I miss most of all my nieces and nephews, they are 4 to 8 years old and they don’t really get why I need to live so far away from them. One of my nephews actually at some point called me Auntie London instead of Auntie Lone. I miss friends, but it is pretty easy to stay in touch these days.

Oh, and every time I am in Denmark I stock up on Danish rye bread and liquorice (I don’t know why the Brits do not see the beauty of salty liquorice, such as Poletter  – What is not to like?)

I have in some respect turned so British in all these small things that you almost stop to notice. Such as apologizing when people bump into you, being overly polite when people are being rude to you. And I believe I have gotten the art of saying Really? as I arch my eyebrows just so down to a t. I believe in the healing powers of a good cuppa, and I even put vinegar on my chips (admittedly that last bit did take me a while to pick up on).

But there are things that I still get a little bit baffled by such as cricket (I respect it and love the white outfits, but I just cant seem to grasp the finer points), carpets on bathroom floors and how some of the more sordid papers are actually selling so well despite being so full of blatantly non-journalistic stories.

Now then – a lighter topic for a moment. What about Danish cake and drink?

One of the most Danish of cakes is, in my opinion the Brunsviger. It is a quite bready cake but with a completely decadent slather of a thick layer of brown sugar mixed with butter which melts into it in the oven. For added naughtiness some people eat with ice cold whipped cream. My mum used to make that as a birthday cake when I was a kid and would even decorate it with sweets.

For drink, a very Danish thing that I have for some reason never seen in the UK is elderberry cordial. I don’t mean the cordial you make from the flowers (which I also love), but the small black berries. It taste amazing and is also full of C-vitamins. I swear by the stuff in wintertime and I feel secretly and somewhat irrationally convinced that drinking it with hot water and sometimes a bit of fresh ginger will cure anything from flu to heart ache. I don’t know why it hasn’t caught on in the UK.

Where are you from in Denmark and why does the landscape fascinate an English audience do you think?

I was born in Holstebro, which is in the WestDENMARKern part of Jutland, not quite as rough as Søndervig, but pretty close. Western Jutland is a place where most of the trees point East because of the hard wind coming in from the West and where people tend to not speak too much and just get on with it. It probably would not be too far off to compare it a bit with Scotland. What I mostly loved about my hometown was that there was an amazing library. It played a great part in my life long love affair with books.

I feel I belong to many places in Denmark now, I lived in Århus, in Copenhagen and I have a Summer house now in Djursland. But part of me will always have a streak of Western Jutland in me. For better or for worse.

Please share with us a fun Danish word, phrase or saying.

I once had a British friend coming over for a visit to Denmark and she was laughing really hard when we passed a shop with a sign that proudly pronounced that here was a Boghandel.

You can see what she must have been thinking. In Danish it means book store. Also as a writer there is a great satisfaction when you can write the word Slut in your book. Because in Danish it means The End.

Not such a great phrase in English.

And on that note, we decide to finish the rather nice salty licquorice she’s brought. Lone you are more than welcome back.

Twitter – @LoneTheils

Facebook: /ForfatterLoneTheils


Cornwall – Emylia Hall talks about setting, location and the lure of the sea…

Today we’re talking Cornwall with Emylia Hall, author of The Sea Between Us which tells the story of Robyn Swinton and local boy Jago Winters who saves her from drowning  –  a moment that will change both of them forever.

SEAThere’s this line from the book for example –

“One day we’ll buy a house on a cliff without a neighbour in sight wake up each day tasting sea salt, go to sleep to the sound of the waves”

Cornwall is as much a character in this story as Robyn and Jago. Their relationship grows but then they are forced to go their separate ways…but has fate finished with these two or will the ebb and flow of the tide decide their destiny?

I just had to speak to Emylia after reading this captivating story. So, here we are on a Cornish beach in November – sheltered from the wind however, eating sandwiches and cake with a flask of tea. Emylia has brought a lovely rug so we’re all set!


What do you think we can learn or take from Robyn and Jago’s story?

Follow your heart. That’s probably the crux of it. Not just when it comes to who you love – and it is very much a love story – but what you love too – nurturing your creative spirit, doing what makes you happy, finding fulfillment.

Why is location so important to you as a writer and does this inspire plot?

I always begin with place – the characters, and their story, then follows. My first novel, The Book of Summers, is set in rural Hungary, and A Heart Bent Out of Shape is set on the Swiss Riviera. I’m interested in how people change, or see the potential for change, when they find themselves in new environments. That’s a common theme across all three of my books, in fact – how we respond to our surroundings, and which aspects of our personalities are drawn out by the landscape we move within, how we impress our desires upon it. With The Sea Between Us I liked the idea of taking a local boy, Jago, and an incomer Robyn, and having their two worlds collide – what they share, because they walk on the same soil (sand!), but also what divides them, and the part that their environment plays in that. I also have an innate wanderlust, and a heavy sense of nostalgia, so my novels often have an aspect of wish fulfillment as I satisfy these impulses through my writing.

Life for your characters is really like the tide which ebbs and flows and one random wave put you on a new direction. What has been a tide changing moment in your life?

Leaving London and my job in an advertising agency to spend two winters snowboarding and working in the French Alps was very much a tide changing moment. It was in 2005, and I was 27. It was while I was living in the mountains that I began to write, and the idea for my first novel began to grow. If I hadn’t taken that step in a different direction – changed my environment, and the rhythm of my life – I don’t think I’d be writing now. In fact, I know I wouldn’t be.

What is it about Cornwall you love so much?

I particularly love Cornwall’s far west for its blend of surf, art, and spectacular landscape. It makes for an atmosphere that’s cool, creative, and just plain beautiful – altogether good for mind, body and spirit. I’m a Devon girl, and Cornwall has always held a certain allure for me – it’s that bit more wild and westerly. Now that I live in Bristol and have a small son my husband and I are enjoying introducing him to our favourite Cornish beaches.

What is the best cake you’ve eaten in Cornwall?

After bodyboarding in the rain at Porthmeor in St Ives, very early one September morning, I staggered back across the sand – head full of salt water, grinning exhaustedly – and sank into a seat at the West Beach Bakery. There I tucked into an enormous slice of pumpkin and chocolate cake and it was truly one of the best cakes I’ve ever had. I was still in my wetsuit, looking out over the deserted beach, watching a few surfers and bodyboarders turning their tricks in the water – my husband somewhere among them – and savoured the moment and all it included. It was the unbeatable sensation of relaxing and recovering after having tested yourself physically, the appreciation of the big waves from a distance (no longer getting pounded by them!), and the quite delicious cake.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the first draft of my fourth novel. It’s set in Italy, on the Tuscan island of Elba. At the start of the summer I spent several days there – my first time away on my own since having a baby last year. It was such an inspiring stay – I wrote masses, and absorbed the island atmosphere. I came home in love with Elba, and it’s that feeling of amore that’s carrying me through the rest of the draft.

And with that feeling of ‘amore’ lingering in the air, Emylia tells me there’s a lovely icecream shop not far from the beach selling the best icrecream Cornwall has to offer. So, off we go to find some amore we can eat. Thanks Emylia for chatting today!

Susan Booktrailer

You can contact Emylia Hall here – 

Twitter – @EmyliaHall

Web  –

The London of Bryant and May by Christopher Fowler

One of the most perfect literary guides we know for London has to be Christopher Fowler.

londons gloryLondon – its quirks, idiosyncrancies, history and essence all feature in his books with the dashing duo of Bryant and May. His latest? A series of short stories filling in some of the gaps of previous cases and exploring angles you may not have considered before.

These are the books, the Bryant and May ‘guides to London’ where history and setting is as much a character as the police characters themselves. Think you know the city? Well you’ve not met Christopher and discovered how he portrays the city in his tales of crime and intrigue…

Welcome to the London of Christopher Fowler…..

I was born in the centre of London and let loose in Piccadilly Circus at about age four, so it always fascinated me. As kids we used to sneak into the scenery docks of theatres and watch rehearsals, and generally treated London as our playground; it never felt weird or unsafe. Although I’ve since lived in other countries, it was obvious that I should settle on London as my main location for books. One of my favourite locations for a story was the Clerkenwell House of Detention, one of the most disturbing underground buildings I’ve ever entered, and it’s impossible to live nearby and not be aware of what lies below the streets. You can see the Fleet tributaries through drain covers, and follow the chain of wells from King’s Cross down through Farringdon to the river. It’s a perfect setting for a murder mystery.

Christopher Fowler
Christopher Fowler

But for me there were other connections. My parents met in The Griffin pub on Clerkenwell Road, having worked at the nearby engineering firm of Griffin & Tatlock together. My father bought his wedding ring from a friend in Hatton Garden, and my mother always took me to the circus in the basement of Gamages department store in Holborn at Christmas. My first fountain pen came from one of the local suppliers, as did my first typewriter. Today I still live just a short walk away in King’s Cross.

At the London Metropolitan Archive, I read the story of the party-loving Lady Hatton whose dance with the Devil became a London myth. This became the basis of ‘Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart’. The more I dig into any part of London, the more I end up including it in the finished book.

bleeding heart Dickens pointed out that in London even the snowflakes were covered in soot, ‘gone into mourning for the death of the sun’, and there’s something about the low level of light that mutes the shades of brick and concrete,  and depresses those of us who suffer through the purgatorial month of February. The geography of London near the river matches its weather, being perverse, willful, confusing and unsettling. The roads are always atmospheric, so they make fertile ground for the creation of dark tales. Add to that mix the stories of murders and hangings associated with Smithfield, the animal bones washed down from the butcheries on the riverbanks, and half the job is done for me.

All this makes writing (and reading) my crime novels sound depressing, but I have a lot of fun mixing fact and fiction, sending my elderly detectives around the backstreets in search of murderers. Fans write from around the world asking about the different London areas I use. I can’t see myself ever running out of ideas, because London provides them. One day I’ll have to start my own guided tour!

Well, what a lovely idea to end on, a Bryant and May guided tour seen through the eyes of Mr Christopher Fowler. Now that would be a tour to remember!

Rediscovering the Past – The Letter – Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes is in booktrail towers today. We’ve got her book here to chat and a cake made from an old recipe found in a charity shop cake book so it fits very nicely with the theme of the old forgotten letter which is the subject of Kathryn’s novel.

Hi Kathryn!


Have you ever found something in a charity shop that has made you curious like Tina?

I’m often amazed at what people are prepared to throw away even though I’m no hoarder myself.  Once, whilst sorting through a pile of books in the charity shop where I helped out I came across an old book entitled ‘With Marlborough to Malplaquet.’  It was old, dusty, a bit battered and did not seem to have much to recommend it but when I opened the front cover it had a sticker on the inside which said the book had been awarded as a Prize to John Baker for ‘Trying Hard.’  The first thing that struck me was the simple reason John had been awarded the prize.  Not for coming top in an exam but for just trying his best.  Then I noticed the date:  August 1914, just a month before the start of the First World War.  The book was aimed at thirteen to fourteen olds, so John would not have been eligible to fight, but I’ve often wondered how much his life would have changed just a month later and what became of him. 

What is your favourite memory from the 1970s?

A poll was conducted recently which concluded that the 1970s were the best decade in which to live.  I was only a child then, but my most vivid memory is of long, hot summers, especially the unsurpassed summer of 1976.  From June until August that year it was consistently dry and sunny, with zero rainfall during the second half of July and most of August. The reservoirs dried up, hosepipes were banned, you weren’t allowed to have a bath that was more than five inches deep and we were plagued with ladybirds. We would wake up just taking it for granted that it was going to be hot but we’d never heard of Factor 50, we just used cooking oil.  Oh the blisters!  Happy days.

LETTERSome of the scenes are raw and heartbreaking. Did you find Tina’s story for example difficult to write?

An oft-repeated piece of advice given to writers is to ‘write what you know.’ Thankfully, I have never been the victim of domestic abuse so had to do a lot of research and some of the stories were indeed heartbreaking to hear.  The main problem in writing Tina’s story was that in 1973 there was no law against domestic violence and even more shockingly a certain level of abuse was deemed acceptable. This is alluded to in the book when Molly Craig tries to defend her son by saying ‘What husband doesn’t cuff his wife once in a while.’ Abuse was not talked about, there were no helplines and it wasn’t until the 1976 Domestic Violence Bill that women at risk from violence could be acknowledged as homeless and earn the right to state help with temporary accommodation. Even then, it was deemed impossible for a husband to rape his wife because it was believed the wife was the property of her husband and that by marrying him she had relinquished her right to refuse sex. It was against this backdrop that I had to write Tina’s story, whilst ensuring that the reader did not lose sympathy for her when she returned to her violent husband.

Chrissie’s story was heartbreaking. How did you research the 1930s section of the novel and the role of women?

The internet is such a useful tool for anybody doing any kind of research and a simple search will reveal hundreds, if not thousands, of results for whatever you are looking for.  However, it is also too easy to wander ‘off-piste’ and start looking at all sorts of irrelevant gossipy topics and before you know where you are, you’ve wasted a couple of hours.  For me, there is nothing better than doing the research in the local library.  The whole ambience of the place lends itself to serious study and I have spent many hours there poring over books and old newspapers.

You made me cry! This is one emotional novel. It must have been quite hard to write in parts. How do you get through the tough parts whilst keeping the realism?

Whilst I am delighted that people are moved to tears as it shows they care about the characters, I have to force myself not to be too over-protective of the characters I like. I didn’t really enjoy writing the more violent scenes involving Rick and Tina  and even though it’s a work of fiction I found that I couldn’t pack up for the day and leave Tina or Chrissie, in the middle of a scene in which they were in mortal peril. I made sure I finished for the day on a more upbeat note so that I was able to sleep at night.

So you can sleep at night after this novel but it will stay with you for a long time. Thanks Kathryn for chatting today and hope you’ve enjoyed the cake.  It was made from a recipe found in a 1970s cook book so quite apt! (As long as it didn’t taste as if it was made in the 1970s, I’ve done ok)

Ah I’m assured by Kathryn that it didn’t. So all is well. Enjoy this read, it’s a memorable one!

Susan Booktrailer

Contact Kathryn – @KHughesAuthor

Scottish banter with Alison Baillie – Debut author spotlight

A baillie

On the booktrail sofa today is debut author Alison Baillie. Why do we rate this lady? She writes a cracking crime mystery and she’s a lovely person to boot. We met at a literary event and her passion for her writing and her book was plain to see. Oh how we chatted and drank tea! Now we’ve had to keep a lid on this cuppa and cake as we could talk for hours.

Her book Sewing the Shadows takes us to Edinburgh, Africa and the Outer Hebrides… Hi Alison. Here, have a piece of cake and let’s chat books!

Why did you choose the three locations you have in your novel and what does each of the settings mean to you?

My mother is from Portobello and we always spent my holidays at my grandparents’ house there. It is a very special place for me, tied up with memories of my childhood and also of the time when my sons were young. We were living in Edinburgh then, but we went down to Portobello every weekend to visit my grandmother and run on the beach, whatever the weather. After university I did my teacher training at Moray House in Edinburgh and then was lucky enough to get a job teaching English at Portobello High School. I lived in Edinburgh for the next 20 years, my sons were born there and for me it is the most beautiful city in the world. I go back there as often as I can and would definitely live there if I could.

Erisky Beach -(c) Alison Baillie
Erisky Beach -(c) Alison Baillie

I based the part in the Outer Hebrides on a very poignant trip I made with a friend of mine, whose family is from South Uist, to scatter her husband’s ashes. The part set in Eriskay and South Uist is very closely based on reality and my friend has a lovely auntie like Mary Agnes that we stayed with. Afterwards we drove to Harris and Lewis. The weather and atmosphere changed and I can still remember the impressive stark beauty of the Callenish Stones against the glowering clouds of the sky. The whole section set in Lewis is completely imaginary but based on what I felt there..

Plettenberg Bay is a really beautiful beach on the Garden Route in South Africa. I have a friend who has a house there and I have been lucky enough to visit four times now. I wrote quite a bit of the book there (as there was no internet and no distractions) and hope I have captured the beauty of the place. Actually when I started the book I had Tom and family going to Australia, a place I’ve visited only once and really liked but don’t know very well. It was only when I was in Plettenberg Bay that it occurred to me that this was a place I knew much better that would fit in well in the book.

Can you explain the title?

Sewing shadowsThe title comes from the poem Bat by DH Lawrence, which is reprinted at the beginning of the book. I remember reading this poem when I was about thirteen with a young inspirational English teacher, who bears some similarities to HJ Kidd (only the nice bits of his character). It made a big impression on me then and when I was writing the book and looking for a title it suddenly came back to me. As the theme of the poem is the difference between appearance and reality (the swallows flying round the Ponte Vecchio in the dusk in Florence turn out to be bats) it is very appropriate to the theme of the book and the title could also suggest making sense of some traumas of the past. Also I just love the sound of the words.

Have you ever attended a school reunion? Why did you choose this as a major setting?

I did attend a school reunion about ten years ago, and it is the basis for the reunion scene in the book. I actually went to Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire, but I’ve transferred the scene to Scotland. My charismatic old English teacher was there and it was wonderfully organised by a dear old school friend (who doesn’t bear any resemblance to the annoying Patsy). I thought then that this would be the perfect way to get all my main characters in the same place at the same time at the beginning of the book. It was also the 400th anniversary of my school’s foundation and we had a trip round the new school with my old English teacher, a scene which I have also used in Sewing the Shadows Together.

How secrets destroy families is a complex web of intrigue. What kind of research did you do into this area?

I didn’t really do any formal research. It was more as a result of several high profile murders which took place when I was teaching in Edinburgh; I began to empathise with the families and wonder how young people, the age of the students I was teaching, would be affected by tragedies like these. Since then, I’ve often been surprised by people around me – even the most perfect families on the surface were full of secrets and conflicts which were only revealed once you scratched the surface.

Were you inspired by stories of innocent people convicted of a crime in the news?

Oh, yes. I became very interested in stories of miscarriages of justice and read several books, read hundreds of internet articles and followed many campaigns. I was horrified by the way so many people’s lives had been ruined, often on the flimsiest of evidence.

And with that, Alison and I decide to have more coffee and cake and chat about Scotland since it’s a country close to both our hearts and well, talk books too as you can never talk enough about books can you?

Alison Baillie:

Twitter: @alisonbailliex

Facebook: /alisonbaillieauthor


Writing about the Island of Dreams – Dan Boothby

Author of Island of Dreams Dan Boothby popped into Booktrail towers today as I wanted to know what led him to do the ultimate booktrail – to go to the island where Gavin Maxwell once lived. Gavin Maxwell wrote  A Ring of Bright Water – a captivating story about his relationship with three otters and the enchanting landscape of the Scottish highlands.

Dan Boothby
Dan Boothby

Following in his inspiring footsteps, Dan Boothby spent time on Maxwell’s island of Eilean Ban and wanted to write about his experiences. The result- 
Booktrail to the Island of Dreams

but how did he get there?

Getting Into Print Ain’t Easy.

I left the island in November 2007. And drifted. I went sailing a lot – working as delivery crew on yachts all over the world; eking out savings by wintering in India, Malaysia, Thailand; working now and again at Tŷ Newydd – a writers’ retreat in North Wales: cooking, cleaning, a lot of washing up – pandering to poets and students of various genres of writing.

And writing sometimes about the island and what the experience had meant to me. And, through the writing, figuring out – in an unconscious, subconscious way – what it was about Gavin Maxwell and the Highlands that had so obsessed me from boyhood.


I wrote other stuff, tried to write a ‘comic’ novel set in Morocco and, because I couldn’t get the island book to work (early drafts were too ‘lyrical’, with far too much nature writing and not enough bridging passages), I put it away from me and turned my back on wanting to be ‘a writer’, hated writers (those liars!) and writing in general.

Then, in December 2011, in Malacca in Malaysia, bored and looking through my laptop for something to do, something to work on, something to write, I looked again at Island of Dreams and thought, It’s almost there. . .

For some reason I decided to decamp to Krabi in Thailand, where I checked into the cheapest room in a hotel in the centre of town (it was one of two rooms at the top of the building. I think the other (these were more like cells really) was used for, ahem, short-time occupancy, judging by the noises coming through the wall.) I wasn’t interested in my surroundings, in the comings and goings of the Thais and the tourists and expats and the strange, symbiotic, cynical relationship the Thais and the tourists have, and so could get into a daily routine.

I wrote and rewrote and edited. I returned to the UK in February 2012, did a final line-by-line edit and then started sending ‘3 chapters and a covering letter’ to agents and publishers. I figured it would be a numbers game. I got an agent that October. The day after he agreed to take me on, I got another two rejection letters from agents. It makes you laugh in the end.

The agent had my book for two years and couldn’t interest a publisher in it. So, frustrated, I said goodbye to the agent in October 2014 and send out another nine submissions to publishers. I hooked one. Or to be precise – I hooked five, within the space of three weeks.

Odd. And wonderful.

If you want to make it as a writer, get a thick skin and understand well – none of this is personal. It’s about timing and luck as much as quality of writing. And connecting with the right editor for your work.

Thanks to Dan for his words of wisdom. The Island of Dreams is out now!

Twitter – @danrboothby

Web –