Friday, 28 November 2014

Interview with author Alexandra Brown



British women's fiction author Alexandra Brown is best known for her popular Carrington's novels, a heartwarming series of books set in a luxury department store in the aptly named Mulberry-On-Sea.

This month saw the release of her latest novel, The Great Christmas Knit Off, which takes place in the cosy town of Tindledale and involves a whole new set of wonderful characters for readers to fall in love with.

I absolutely loved her latest novel (read my review here) and am very excited to be sharing my interview with Alex, which first appeared on Woman's World.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing-zone or a particular word count you set for yourself each day?

I’m a very lucky writer, as I have a brilliant editor who not only brainstorms story ideas with me, but she also writes my synopsis, which makes the actual writing part of the process so much quicker and easier.

I tend to aim for between 1000 – 2000 words per day and I’m very superstitious when I write – I can’t possibly start without having lit a candle first and making sure my lucky writing poncho is on my chair…

You spent three novels and an ebook novella writing about Georgie Hart and her Mr Carrington, was it difficult to (temporarily) let them go and create a whole new set of characters for The Great Christmas Knit Off?

Very much so and I was super conscious of not rewriting Georgie’s character, but once I got going I absolutely loved writing The Great Christmas Knit Off and getting to know the new characters.

The knitting theme of the novel really speaks me, how did you come up with the idea to revolve your new book around it?

I’ve always wanted to write a book with a knitting theme, since childhood really, when I used to knit and natter with my nanny Edie - I have such fond memories of this, and the The Great Christmas Knit Off is dedicated to her, she even has a little cameo part as one of the Tindledale Tappers knitting group.

As your new release is a festive read, the inevitable question of course is: What does your ideal Christmas look like? Or, after spending the hotter months of the year knee-deep in seasonal sparkle for your book, are you ready for January to roll around?

I absolutely adore the festive season and my ideal Christmas is at home, with my husband and daughter - a crackling log fire, enormous real pine tree, huge pile of presents, lots of festive food and plenty of fun, love and laughter…

Even though The Great Christmas Knit Off has only just hit the shelves, can you already reveal what you're working on next? Another cosy novel set in Tindledale or perhaps you're reuniting with Georgie and the gang?

I’m just about to start a new novel, the second in the Tindledale series which will be out next summer.


The Great Christmas Knit Off is out now, so get your copy from Waterstones, Amazon or your own preferred retailer.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Launch party for The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman



I don't often tend to venture Camden ways, but when I received the invite for the book launch of The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman (read my review of the book here) I was more than happy to make an exception. Ever since I read Rob's excellent debut novel The Second Life of Amy Archer (review here) I've been hoping to get a chance to meet him in person and this was the perfect opportunity to do so without having to travel to a faraway book fair.

We were welcomed inside the Cecil Sharp House in a themed room, which was decked out with bees dotted around on the ceiling and the iconic black and yellow stripes decorating the walls. Thankfully these were cute-looking creatures, rather than a swarm announcing imminent doom like it does in the book!


Also gracing the walls were some of the superstitions Rob had come across during his research for the novel - ranging for the peculiar to the downright horrific. I thought they were incredibly interesting to read, particularly as I hadn't heard of many of them before, though I'm glad I'm not a superstitious person because I wouldn't have wanted to follow all of the 'cures' listed.

As soon as we arrived we went up to Rob to thank him for the invite; he was incredibly kind and I'm so pleased we finally got to meet after having spoken on Twitter ever since I reviewed his first novel last year. We briefly discussed his first two books and the fact that his third one - another psychological thriller, but without the superstitious angle of his most recent release - is nearly finished. It always amazes me that authors are already writing their next novel when the latest one has barely hit the shelves, I don't know how they find the time to write one book while promoting another.


Not wanting to hog Rob's time as there were plenty of other people there wanting to congratulate him on his new novel, my friend and I sat down with some of the delicious canapes pictured below (I'm not usually a fan of chips, but these were lovely!) and listened to the beautiful folk music being performed live by Ben Moss and Laurel Swift.

The book launch wasn't just the perfect excuse to mingle with the author and buy a copy of the new book to get signed, as has been the case with previous launches I've been to, but there was also an extensive reading and bonus Q&A session, which was a great way to learn a little more about Rob's writing background and how his books came to be. Particularly fascinating to hear was that he is superstitious himself and he picked up some new ones while he was researching The Prophecy of Bees. It's probably a good thing his third novel does not involve any!


After the readings and Q&A I also got my books signed and Rob was so incredibly gracious and kind. It was a wonderful night, filled with interesting bookish insights, yummy canapes and good music - the perfect way to spend a Wednesday evening and unwind after a hectic day at work. Thank you very much Rob for the invite!


Monday, 24 November 2014

Theatre review: Irving Berlin's White Christmas



The treetops glisten and the children listen to hear sleigh bells in the West End after the glittering opening of Irving Berlin's White Christmas.

Admittedly, when I first arrived at the Dominion Theatre I was missing the eye-catching Freddie Mercury statue which had been guiding tourists and theatregoers to We Will Rock You for over a decade, but the almost life-like snow that fluttered down onto the red carpet and the gorgeous seasonal decorations inside of the theatre, not to mention the fresh-looking recently refurbished interior, made me feel very festive and forget all about Freddie.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Book review: The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown


My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Harper, 400 pages.

Description: Heartbroken after being jilted at the altar, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession and now her home is filled to bursting with tea cosies, bobble hats, and jumpers. But, after discovering that she may have perpetrated the cock-up of the century at work, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit and, just weeks before Christmas, runs away to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needle craft. But Hettie, the outspoken octogenarian owner, is struggling and now the shop is due for closure. And when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wonderfully wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen…

Rating:

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Theatre review: The Scottsboro Boys



The Scottsboro Boys is the third musical I have seen in as many weeks that references the story of Rosa Parks, an African American women who refused to gave up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in the 1950s, which goes to show how topical racial discrimination remains in today's day and age.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Book review: The Prophecy of Bees by R.S. Pateman


My edition: paperback, to be published on 20 November 2014 by Orion, 362 pages.

Description: When Lindy, a recently widowed American expat, buys a large manor house in the Cotswolds, she thinks it's the fresh start she and her wayward daughter Izzy need. Stagcote Manor is a large, rambling house with a rich history and Lindy is thrilled at the prospect of their new life there.

Izzy, however, is less convinced. She longs to be back in the hustle and bustle of London. There's something unnerving about the house that she can't quite put her finger on. And as Izzy begins to immerse herself in Stagcote life, she gradually realises the locals have a lot of strange and disturbing superstitions, many of them related to the manor.

When Izzy begins to investigate the history of the house, her unease soon darkens to fear as the manor's dark past finally comes to light.

Rating:

Friday, 14 November 2014

Book review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart


My edition: Paperback, published on 6 November 2014 by Hot Key Books, 342 pages.

Description: Fifteen-year-old Frankie Landau-Banks has grown up a lot over the summer. She's no longer daddy's little girl - and almost immediately after starting the new semester at her highly prestigious school, she bags goofy-but-gorgeous Matthew Livingston as her boyfriend. They get along great but then Frankie discovers that Matthew is a member of a boys-only secret society that specialise in 'hilarious' pranks. Which hardly seems fair... especially when Frankie knows she's smarter than any of its members. And to prove this, she's going to teach them a lesson.

Impersonating lead member Alpha by using a fake email account is surprisingly easy, and soon Frankie is setting the boys up with all sorts of ridiculous schemes and sending them on wild goose chase after wild goose chase. Alpha's not prepared to lose face and admit it's not him sending the emails - but the fun can't last forever, and soon Frankie will have to choose between what she think she wants, and the reputation she deserves.

Rating:

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Book review: The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Lisa Dickenson


My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 6 October 2014 by Sphere, 223 pages.

Description: At thirty, Claudia's life is stale and the romance with long-term boyfriend, Seth, has disappeared. Determined to inject some festive spark back into their love life, Claudia and Seth go on their first date in a very long time. But when the night ends in disaster, Claudia suddenly finds herself facing life - and Christmas - alone.

Life alone is exciting, scary and full of soon-forgotten exercise regimes and ill-advised attempts at crafting sexy underwear. It's also filling up with dates, surprisingly. With best friends Penny and Nick at her side, a surplus of festive markets, mulled wine and Christmas tunes, Claudia attempts to face all this change with gusto. One thing's for certain: this year, Christmas is going to be very different . . .

Rating:

Monday, 10 November 2014

Theatre review: Made in Dagenham



For the past six months it has been very quiet in terms of big, exciting new shows moving into the West End, but with autumn comes a change of wind to the theatre capital of the UK with many new musicals and high-profile plays opening in short succession. For the longest of time I was most excited for the opening of British-born Made in Dagenham, starring none other than Gemma Arterton.

Friday, 7 November 2014

PapayaGold's PAW PAW balm



This balm isn't intended to soothe the paws of your precious pet, instead the name refers to Australia's tropical Paw Paw (more widely known as papaya), which is used to create the ointment. The moisturising product is also enriched with bioactive Manuka Honey 20+, farmed in the country next door to Oz; New Zealand, and is free from harming ingredients such as parabens and sulphates.

Lacking colour, odour and taste, in the first instance the look and feel of the product when opening the lid was similar to that of a tub of Vaseline. However, it's far less greasy and more thick in consistency, making it perfect to apply to visible areas of the skin, such as on your face, without leaving an unsightly filter of grease behind, or sticking to your clothes.

When trialling the ointment I found that it was wonderful to use on tougher areas of my skin, such as my knees and the back of my heels, as it not only soothed but also softened. And this wasn't after consistent use either, just two of three applicants made a world of difference for me. It also worked wonders as a moisturiser on my face and limbs, though foremost this has very quickly become my lip balm of choice.

I love a good balm or gloss to treat my lips and prevent them from chapping, especially in the current biting autumn weather. While I was happy with the brand I was using before, it didn't last as long as this one does. The PAW PAW balm rarely needed topping up throughout the day, which is perfect for me as I always forget to do this until it's too late.

Also good to note is that the product comes in a bright red travel-sized, sturdy tube, which makes it ideal to pop into your favourite handbag. It's small enough as to not take up unnecessary space and the popping colour means it's easy to spot, even if your bag is filled to the brim with random bits and bobs.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

#LDNTheatreBloggers meet-up at Soho Grind



Coffee cocktails at Soho Grind

The fabulous Rebecca from Official Theatre has started something very exciting for London-based (and those who don't mind travelling to the capital) theatre bloggers by regularly bringing them together for evenings of helpful info about blogging and theatre while enjoying delicious cocktails and chatting to like-minded people (point in case: the first gin-up and group outings to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Autobahn and Sunny Afternoon).

The Official Theatre outings are always tremendous fun so when I received the invite for Monday's meet-up I immediately RSVP-ed even though I only arrived back in London the night before. I knew it'd be worth swapping an evening watching television from under my duvet - after all, I could always catch up on sleep (and my TV-shows) the rest of the week after work.

Though I work near Soho and often venture there for a bite to eat, I'd never actually been to Soho Grind before, the bar which was hired especially for the 30-odd theatre bloggers invited to the evening. While it was quite small, it was very cosy and the Prosecco reception definitely added to the appeal of the evening (not the mention the plentiful cheese and meat platters, which made for excellent dinner fare).


Some of the delicious meat and cheese platters laid out for us

While enjoying drinks and cheese I mingled with fellow theatre lovers; catching up with old faces and meeting new people as well, as the network of theatre bloggers is ever expanding. Before too long we were 'officially' welcomed with coffee cocktails (the bar's speciality) and a brief masterclass on how to make the drink. As a non-coffee drinker myself (I know, I know) I was given a different cocktail instead and while I don't remember the name, I loved the sweet strawberry concoction.

And we even got to make our own cocktails on the evening as well, though our team's name was once again already taken (and ended up winning!) by the time it was our turn. We need to learn to use our quiet voices.

The evening wasn't solely focused on consuming and making cocktails though, there was some 'serious' stuff discussed as well, including an interesting introduction by James from SeatPlan on the website's admirable intention of capturing regular people's comments (and pictures, where possible) of every seat in London theatres, to provide information to potential customers that isn't readily available yet.

After all, theatres often have different price ranks for their seats, but a cheaper price doesn't always mean the seat is bad (and the other way around too, some top price seats are not as good as others). So by including honest opinions from the regular public, it should make it easier for people to decide which tickets to buy to a play or show. I think it's a great idea as I'm always after finding a great seat for a fair prize and I hope many people will be leaving their reviews so SeatPlan can create a comprehensive database.


The cocktail we made, with subtle zesty decoration...

To top off what was already a fantastic night we were also treated to a beautiful acoustic set by Bity Booker, what a talented lady! If you enjoy listening to new music then I definitely recommend visiting her website for a free download of her digital album. It's worth checking out, I promise.

Anyway, long (blog) story short, I had a brilliant night with the #LDNTheatreBloggers, it's always a joy to get the chance to catch up with this lovely lot. Many thanks to Official Theatre and SeatPlan for fabulous evening!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Book review: A Most Desirable Marriage by Hilary Boyd


My edition: Paperback, published on 2 October 2014 by Quercus, 441 pages.

Description: Lawrence and Jo have enjoyed a strong marriage, the envy of their friends. Even after thirty years they have lots to say to each other, many interests in common and, until recently, a good sex life.

But Lawrence seems wary and restless. Something’s wrong. Just how wrong, Jo is about to discover…

Can they use their years of history – all the things they’ve shared – to overcome a devastating betrayal?




Rating: