Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Dead Wife's Handbook by Hannah Beckerman

Rachel was in her mid-thirties when she died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving behind a grieving husband and their young daughter. It has been a year since Rachel's death and since then, she has been looking down on her family, watching as husband Max and their daughter, Ellie cope without her.
I'd been looking forward to reading The Dead Wife's Handbook as I thought it had an interesting concept and I've heard some wonderful things about it - and now I can see why. I thought the book was such an interesting and compelling read, not to mention an emotional journey as both Rachel and her family come to terms with her death. My heart went out to Rachel as she looks on as her family struggle with their grief, unable to comfort them and I could feel her frustration and helplessness, but it was Ellie I felt for most. Ellie is only young and is sometimes confused about the loss of her mother and what lies ahead for her. She was probably my favourite character from the book as I thought was she was a lovely little girl who was battling such horrific grief, often with a maturity beyond her years. Like Rachel, I wanted to scoop her up and give her a big cuddle.
As well as Max and Ellie, Rachel's death also impacts on her mum, Celia and best friend Harriet's lives, and we see how the different people from Rachel's life react when she is gone. I really felt for Celia, who had leant on Rachel quite a lot over the years. She still has Ellie, but she doesn't see her as often as she would like and I could understand her developing fears as the book moves along. The book could have been quite depressing as Rachel watches her loved ones continuing without her, but while there are some moving, poignant moments, there are plenty of lovely and uplifting ones too, which made it a great read.
I loved Hannah Beckerman's writing style. I was immediately comfortable when I started reading the book and soon felt like I'd known Rachel and her family for a long time. The Dead Wife's Handbook is the kind of book that I wanted to go on and on, so I can see what happens next in their lives.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Giveaway Winners: The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me

Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway or shared it on Twitter and Facebook. Rafflecopter has selected the winners at random and an email has been sent out. They are:

Kayleigh B
Sheerie F
Congratulations! I hope you enjoy your prizes.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Writing Book 2 - Part 4

Covers, Titles & Blurbs

One of my favourite parts of self-publishing A Beginner's Guide To Salad was getting the chance to design the cover myself. I hadn't a clue how to do this but decided to learn as I went along - and I'm still doing that now! I love playing around with the program and figuring out new techniques. It's sometimes quite hard translating the image in my head onto the computer screen, but it's fun seeing what I can come up with.

I originally created a cover that was pretty close to the image in my head, but after leaving it a while, I decided it wasn't right and started it from scratch. The new cover is a simpler design, but I love it and can't wait to share it. It isn't quite finished yet as it needs refining, but it'll be 'out there' soon.

Sometimes titles are easy. But (for me, at least) mostly they are not. For Book 2, the title was inspired by (nicer talk for 'stolen from') a Take That song. I knew the plot of the book, I knew my characters, but I didn't have a clue what to call it until a particular song was played on the radio. It was a proper Eureka! moment and it stuck.

I've read a lot of blurbs over the years, but I feel like a newbie when it comes to writing them, having only ever written public ones for A Beginner's Guide To Salad and A Beginner's Guide To Christmas. When submitting to agents I always dreaded writing the synopsis - urgh - but I have discovered that blurbs are HARD. You have to sum up your book in not a lot of words while making it sound vaguely interesting. You'd think writing an 80,000 word book would be the hard bit - Ha! I've had a few goes at writing the blurb for Book 2. I think I'll need a few more!

As well as sharing the cover, I'll be sharing the title and (severely practiced) blurb soon!

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Chocolate Box: A Short Story And Giveaway

As it's almost Easter, I thought I would write a chocolate-themed short story and give away a load of chocolate (yes, you may call me the Easter bunny).

The Chocolate Box
Kat Reese’s morning was not going well. Her hair wouldn’t stay secured in its bun, the toaster had decided to pack in mid-toast and she had a ladder in her only clean pair of tights (one day Kat may be organised enough to stick a load of washing in the machine before she runs out of clothes, but that day wasn’t near).
But Kat didn’t have time to rectify any of these things. She was currently flinging open her front door, preparing to leap over the doorstep as she called a hasty goodbye to her housemate.
‘The toaster’s broken and there’s no milk.’ There wasn’t any cereal either. Or tea bags, and Kat was pretty sure she’d used the last of the sugar last night. Steph was not going to be a happy bunny that morning, especially as it had been Kat’s turn to shop (she’d forgotten, ok? Nobody’s perfect).
Kat turned away from the sound of an irate Steph as her feet left the ground. She was a gazelle, flying gracefully through the air, soaring in a beautifully executed arc. But then she was distracted by an object sitting on the doorstep and she landed awkwardly, twisting her ankle upon impact.
‘Ouch.’ Kat limped back towards the step. She was running late for work, but curiosity won and she scooped up the exquisitely wrapped rectangular box. The purple paper was thick and gleamed in the weak morning sun, the thick organza ribbon and bow a contrasting lime green. Kat was about to push the door open again and cheer Steph up with the news that she had a surprise gift – because it would be for Steph. This sort of thing always happened to her – when she spotted the label. She lifted it, her brow creasing as she read.
For Kat? For her? But why? It wasn’t her birthday (neither was it Steph’s birthday, but as previously stated, this sort of thing always happened to her).
It wasn’t April Fool’s Day, was it?
‘For me?’ Kat didn’t understand what was happening – was the gift a hoax? Some kind of mix up? – but she didn’t have time to dwell. Flinging the box under her arm, she scurried out of the small garden, wincing with each step as pain shot through her ankle. The pain had almost receded by the time she reached the village green and pushed her way into The Green Teapot.
‘Sorry I’m late. Bad morning. Hello Mrs Freeman. How’s your Arthur’s back? Still playing up?’ Kat dashed across the tea room, only wincing very slightly now, and dumped the rectangular box on the counter en route to the tiny cloak room. She’d pushed a couple of stray grips from her handbag into her hair by the time she returned, so she looked almost presentable.
‘What’s this then?’ Enid Thomas, owner of The Green Teapot and Kat’s boss, was standing at the counter, head cocked towards the rectangular box.
‘Oh that.’ Kat tied her apron around her middle and joined her at the counter. ‘That’s nothing.’
‘Doesn’t look like nothing, duck.’ Mrs Freeman had risen to her rickety little legs to have a gander. ‘Looks right fancy to me. Who’s it for?’
‘Erm, me. I suppose.’ Kat grabbed a cloth and moved over to a table by the window. She knew it didn’t need wiping down, but it gave her something to do and meant she didn’t have to flash her reddened cheeks at anybody.
‘Ooh, is it your birthday?’ Mrs Freeman sat back down again. Her legs weren’t what they used to be. ‘Many happy returns, duck.’
‘It isn’t your birthday until September.’ Enid lifted the label, a smile creeping onto her face. For Kat. With no indication of who had sent it. ‘It looks like you’ve got yourself a secret admirer to me.’
‘Don’t be daft.’ Kat wasn’t the sort of girl who had admirers, secret or otherwise. Her last relationship ended almost two years ago and she hadn’t had a sniff of another since.
‘I’m not being daft.’ Enid wished Kat would take a bloody good look in the mirror and see how lovely she was. In fact, she wished the girl would get out more so potential suitors could see how lovely she was too. Kat wasn’t going to meet a nice chap serving tea and cake to pensioners in the village’s tea room, was she?
Or maybe she was, judging by the mysterious gift.
‘Come on, open it.’
‘Do I have to?’ Kat stopped wiping down the table by the window, fearing she’d create a hole in the middle if she continued to scrub unnecessarily.
‘Yes!’ Of course she had to open the gift. Enid was dying to know what was inside.
‘I’d hurry up if I were you, duck.’ Mrs Freeman tapped her watch with a wrinkled finger. ‘Hetty Carmichael usually comes in for an iced finger before her knitting club and you know what a terrible gossip she is.’
‘She’s right. It’ll be all round the village that you’ve got a man on the go if you don’t get it open quickly.’ Enid pounced on the parcel and shoved it at Kat, fingers itching to undo the bow herself.
‘Well?’ Mrs Freeman’s rickety legs suddenly took on a Usain Bolt quality as she rushed across the tea room to peer down at the box through her thick glasses.
Kat pulled back the thick purple paper. ‘It’s a box of chocolates.’
‘But not any old chocolates.’ Enid recognised the name, although she’d never had the pleasure of tasting their chocolates. ‘They’re from that expensive shop in town.’
Who would send Kat expensive chocolates? Or any chocolates at all? Her last relationship had dented her confidence so much (being told you’re fat, ugly and stupid on a daily basis will do that to you) that she barely left the house these days. Ted Grayson had pinched her bottom the other day as she bent down to pick up his dropped changed (which, in hindsight, was not accidental, the mucky old git), but he wouldn’t go to all this trouble or expense.
Kat lifted the lid to reveal row upon row of luxury chocolates, each a perfect square enclosed in its own plum-coloured paper case. The chocolates were decorated with golden floral patterns, black and white swirls and lime green and purple geometric shapes. Kat had never seen anything like it. The closest she’d ever got to luxury chocolates was a giant tin of Roses at Christmas.
Kat pushed the box towards Enid and Mrs Freeman. ‘Come on then, dig in.’
‘Oh no, love. They’re yours,’ Enid said. Mrs Freeman had already stuffed one into her mouth.
‘I can’t eat them all to myself.’ See, Kat wasn’t a greedy pig with no self-control. Where was her ex when she needed to prove him wrong?
‘Maybe one then.’ Enid gave Mrs Freeman a sharp look. She was chomping her second chocolate, with a third selected and warming in her fingers. ‘So, who do you think sent them to you?’
Kat selected a chocolate painted with a dainty gold daisy chain. ‘No idea.’ She popped the chocolate into her mouth, her eyes widening at the sheer sumptuousness as it melted on her tongue. ‘Oh my, that is good.’
‘I don’t think I’ve had one of those.’ Mrs Freeman stooped to take a look in the box but her fingers paused mid-air at the frosty look Enid shot at her. ‘But I’m pretty full.’ Losing interest, Mrs Freeman wandered back to her table where she slurped her tea and tried not to sneak longing looks at the chocolate box.
‘Do you think they’re from Norman Greene?’
Kat closed the box and hid it under the counter, away from any prying village gossips that may come their way. She pulled a face at Enid’s suggestion. ‘Norman Greene is almost seventy.’
‘But he’s always had a thing for you.’
‘Norman Greene has a thing for anything in a skirt,’ Mrs Freeman piped up. ‘Sorry, duck.’
So it was back to the drawing board then. Enid and Mrs Freeman threw a few ideas around while Kat wondered if crawling into the refrigerated display counter would eventually freeze her to death, which would be preferable to this conversation.
‘How about that young chap who was in here at the weekend. You know the one.’ Mrs Freeman waved her hand about, as though she could waft his name into her brain. ‘He was in here with Mavis Butterworth. Her grandson or something.’
Enid gasped, slamming her hand down on the counter (which stung a little, but she didn’t let on). ‘Yes! He was her great-nephew, if I recall. Here to put her a new bathroom in. He spent quite a while chatting to Kat, actually. What was his name?’
Kat’s cheeks were on fire. She really should climb into the refrigerated counter. ‘I can’t remember.’ Kat could remember. She could remember everything about Mavis Butterworth’s great-nephew, from his name (Spencer), to his job (builder, mostly new-builds, but able to turn his hand to most plumbing and electrical jobs too) and his hobbies (plays rugby, the odd round of golf and is a member of a film club). She could remember his close-shaven hair and the way it invited her fingers to stroke it (which thankfully she had fought), the wide smile that had oddly put her at ease despite his evident hotness, and his eyes. His eyes were probably her favourite part about Spencer. They were so warm and friendly yet mesmerising. So much so that she’d almost refilled his lap with tea instead of his cup.
‘What was his name?’ Enid was pacing the floor now, her fingers cupping her chin as she tried to pull the name from somewhere.
‘Didn’t it have something to do with that telly program?’ Mrs Freeman wafted the air again with her hand. ‘You know the one. My Arthur used to like it.’ That narrowed it down a bit then. ‘He was an utter fool, always breaking things and falling over. Used to make my Arthur howl, he did. What was his name?’
Enid shook her head. She hadn’t a clue what Mrs Freeman was banging on about.
Kat knew.
‘You know it, you do. He had a wife.’
Enid caught Kat’s eye, ready to share an exasperated look, but she suddenly stood straighter, pointing at her. ‘You do know his name.’
Mrs Freeman thumped her hand down on the table, rattling her cup and saucer. ‘Frank! His name was Frank!’
Enid folded her arms neatly across her chest, her eyes never leaving Kat’s. ‘Is his name Frank?’
‘How would I know?’
‘I get the feeling you do.’
‘Your feeling is wrong.’ Kat picked up the cloth and attacked the counter top. ‘I don’t remember what his name was. In fact, I don’t think he mentioned it.’
‘Doesn’t matter, duck,’ Mrs Freeman said. ‘You can ask him yourself.’
Kat’s hand froze on the counter as the door tinkled open. She turned slowly and there he was. Spencer. Good grief, he was even more handsome than she remembered.
‘We were just talking about you,’ Mrs Freeman piped up. Kat dropped the cloth before she shoved it into the old girl’s chops to shut her up.
‘Oh?’ Spencer was now fully in the shop, seeming to fill the small space with his bulk. Kat couldn’t tear her eyes away.
‘Ignore her. Her mind’s playing up again.’ Enid shot Mrs Freeman a warning look before smiling at Spencer. ‘What can I get you?’
‘I just came to have a quick word with Kat.’
‘Is it about the chocolates?’
Kat wanted to die. She pleaded with Enid telepathically, begging her to zip it.
‘You got them, then?’ Spencer turned to Kat, but she was too busy examining the floor tiles to notice and it was Enid who answered on her behalf.
‘She did, yes.’
Please shut up, Enid.
‘I take it you want to take our Kat out on a date. Tonight perhaps?’
‘Um, yes, actually. Kat?’
Kat was still admiring the tiles. They were very nice tiles that she could stare at forevermore.
‘She’d love to. Pick her up at seven. You know her address.’
‘Enid!’ Kat finally tore her eyes away from the tiles. What was the mad woman doing?
‘What? You want to go out with him, don’t you?’ Kat did, very much so. More than she’d wanted to do anything in a long time. But it had to be some kind of piss take. Men like Spencer didn’t ask podgy girls like her out. ‘Then it’s arranged. Have fun for a change, Kat. No excuses.’
Kat was sure she could come up with a dozen excuses if she’d been given a minute. Which was why Enid had bulldozed her into it.
‘I’ll pick you up at seven then,’ Spencer said, looking from Kat, to Enid and back again, not sure who he should be talking to.
Enid nudged Kat when she failed to respond. Quite hard. ‘Ouch. Yes, seven would be great.’
‘I’ll see you later then.’
Kat rubbed her ribs as Spencer turned to leave. Was it really possible that this man liked her? He had gone out of his way for her this morning – twice.
‘See you later. And Spencer?’ Spencer turned towards her, flashing a wide smile that she found herself returning, though she was sure hers wasn’t quite so dazzling. ‘Thanks for the box of chocolates.’
And now for the giveaway!

You can win the chocolate pictured above by filling in the rafflecopter form below. The giveaway closes at midnight on Wednesday 23rd of April. The winner will be picked at random by rafflecopter, notified by email and then announced on the blog on Thursday 24th April. This is a UK only giveaway.
Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Quiz: Which Beginner's Guide Girl Are You?

If you've read A Beginner's Guide To Salad (or even if you haven't - there aren't any rules here), why not take the quiz to find out which Beginner's Girl you are.

Which Beginner's Girl Are You?

What is your best trait?

A: Loyalty

B: I’m so laid back, I’m horizontal. Literally, most of the time

C: Patience

D: My boobs. That’s not a trait? Oh well, I’m choosing them anyway.

What is your worst flaw?

A: I can’t pass a chocolate bar without eating it.

B: I can’t pass a man without sleeping with him.

C: I’m too trusting at times.

D: I don’t have any flaws, darling. They were nipped and tucked years ago.

You organise a night out with friends. What will you be doing?

A: Bowling, followed by pizza. And ice cream.

B: Cocktails. Dancing. Flirting.

C: A night out in our local pub. Maybe karaoke if we’re feeling adventurous.

D: Men. Lots of men.

You’re hosting a dinner party. What do you cook?

A: I can’t cook, so I’d ask my housemate to cook while I make the table look pretty.

B: Takeaway counts, right?

C: Something pretty simple but delicious, like a carbonara.

D: I’d hire a professional chef, darling.

You’re going to an office party. Who do you bring?

A: My best friend/housemate

B: I’d go alone. But don’t worry, I won’t be leaving on my own *wink*

C: My boyfriend/husband/partner

D: Someone deliciously hot.

You have a crush on a guy. And then find out your best friend has already kissed him. How do you react?

A: I’d be gutted but I’d keep it to myself.

B: Who cares? Plenty more fish in the sea and all that.

C: I’d be disappointed but he obviously isn’t the guy for me after all.

D: I’d scratch her eyes out. Bitch.

How do you feel about marriage?

A: My dream is to meet the man of my dreams, fall head over heels and live happily ever after. I’m not sure it’ll ever happen though.

B: Not. For. Me.

C: I can’t wait to get married!

D: Been there, done that. Never again.

Which kind of pet would you prefer?

A: Dog

B: Fish

C: Cat

D: Animals are more trouble than they’re worth.

What is your ideal holiday destination?

A: Somewhere with a quiet beach where I can read a book.

B: Las Vegas

C: I love camping.

D: Somewhere where it’s hot and the men are hotter.

How would you describe yourself?

A: Bubbly and fun.

B: Passionate

C: Quite reserved

D: Sexy as hell, darling.

You’re getting ready for a big night out. What do you wear?

A: Something I feel comfortable in.

B: Something tight and short. I have a good figure – why not show it off?

C: A floor-length dress that sparkles.

D: Very little.

So which Beginner's Guide girl are you?

Mostly As:

You are Ruth.

Ruth isn’t the most confident of women but she likes to have a good time and she’s fiercely loyal. She cares about her family and holds her friendships very close to her heart.

Mostly Bs:
You are Erin.

Erin is young, free and single and she likes to keep it that way. She breezes through life and never lets herself get tied down but friendship is important to her. She can be flippant at times but she’ll always support you when you need it.

Mostly Cs:
You are Clare.

Clare is a reserved young woman but she knows her own mind and won’t let anyone walk all over her. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which can lead to heartache at times, but she is confident in who she is.

Mostly D:
You are Angelina.

Angelina is a passionate and determined woman who usually gets what she wants. She’s so focused on her love life, she doesn’t have time to build up friendships but she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Blog Tour: If I Could Turn Back Time by Nicola Doherty

 Today I'm pleased to be taking part in the blog for If I Could Turn Back Time with an interview with the author, Nicola Doherty.

Can you tell us about your new book?
If I Could Turn Back Time is about a girl called ZoĆ« who wakes up six months in the past, and gets a chance to fix the mistakes she made in her previous relationship. She also gets to re-apply for her dream job as a fashion buyer (she messed up the interview last time). But things are even more complicated second time around …

What was your inspiration for If I Could Turn Back Time?
I can remember very vividly the moment I thought of the idea. I was walking along Oxford Street just before Christmas, thinking about all sorts of things; regrets, decisions, mistakes, mishaps and various ghosts of boyfriends past. There was one particular relationship, when I was twenty-five, where I blamed myself for the break-up for ages. And I thought: what would happen if you COULD go back and change the past? What would happen if someone did go back, and didn’t make any of the mistakes she made with her boyfriend that led to their break-up ... what then? It was so exciting, I rushed straight home to write it all down.

What has been your greatest experience of being a published writer?
It’s all been incredible but in a strange way, I don’t think anything has ever equaled the very first email I got from my agent when she said she loved my book and wanted to meet me. I jumped up and down and screamed. Nowadays, I get a similar buzz each and every time somebody contacts me to tell me they enjoyed my book. That makes me very happy.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I have some more advice on my blog but it can be summed up in two words: ‘Keep going’. Finish your work to your own highest standards, before you worry too much about getting published. Also, take up yoga. I never had back problems in my life before I started writing full time …

What was the first book you ever bought yourself?
It might have been an Enid Blyton – or Gnid Blyton as I thought she was called because of the handwritten font. I do remember wanting a Sweet Valley High and my mother refusing because it was so trashy (fair point!)

What was the last book you read?
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, which has the famous opening sentence ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ It was wonderful – compulsive reading. Everyone should read it.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?
A new series. I’m not allowed say too much about it yet but it involves travel, romance, lots of laughs, and some characters from my previous two books! 


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Blog Tour: The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me

Today I'm thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice's The Best Thing That Never Happened To Me.

I loved the book (you can see my review here) so I'm super duper happy to be giving away 3 copies of the book. The paperback isn't out until July, so you will receive an uncorrected paperback proof copy.

To enter, simply fill in the Rafflecopter form below. The winners will be contacted by email and announced on the blog on Monday 21st April.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway