Meet the Author – Vicki Beeby and her new book The Ops Room Girls

I’m thrilled to have Vicki Beeby stop by my blog today as she celebrates the publication of her wonderful new novel, The Ops Room Girls which was published by Canelo on 16th July. Grab a coffee and sit back to enjoy this post as Vicky talks to me about her writing life.

Author Vicki Beeby

What started your journey into the world of writing?

I’ve always known I wanted to write books one day, but I only knuckled down to writing novels about ten years ago. From my teens to my early thirties I wrote a daily journal, and I think that was a good introduction to the discipline of regular writing. In my twenties, I also started writing fan fiction, well before I knew fan fiction was actually a thing. I liked to write about minor characters and give them a story of their own. When I discovered internet sites where you could post fan fiction, I dared to upload a few stories and was encouraged by the feedback to keep going. After a while I wanted to create my own characters and worlds, so started writing original fiction. It still took a lot of perseverance to get my first publishing deal, but I don’t think I would have started if it hadn’t been for the encouragement I got from fellow fanfic authors.

What is it you most enjoy most about being an author?

I love the whole process of starting out with a spark of an idea and developing it into a complete story. At times the process can be painful, but nothing can beat the kick of holding a book in my hands, knowing that the words inside came from my own head.

Tell us about your latest book and why you chose to write it.

The Ops Room Girls is the first in a series called The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. It follows the story of Evie Bishop, a working-class girl who joins the WAAF near the start of World War Two after having her hopes of an Oxford Scholarship dashed. She is posted to the operations room of an RAF fighter station where she befriends two other WAAFs – shy, awkward May and flirty, glamorous Jess. The book is set against the background of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain and follows Evie, Jess, and May’s adventures as they embark upon romances and join the struggle to keep their pilots safe. 

 

I love watching old war films but have always been frustrated that the action mostly centres on men. You would occasionally see women in the background, but you never discovered what they actually did. In particular, I was curious about the women in some scenes in the Battle of Britain films, who could be seen pushing blocks around a chart on a large table. When I found out what their job involved, and the vital work they did during the Battle of Britain, I knew I wanted to tell their story.

Who are your top three favourite authors and why?

Rosemary Sutcliff Douglas Adams & Marion Keyes

Rosemary Sutcliff – I fell in love with history and historical novels thanks to her. Douglas Adams – I love his sense of humour and his way of looking at reality and twisting it. Marian Keyes – What can I say? She’s a goddess. I’m in awe of how she can write about dark stuff like addiction, grief and depression and still make her books funny and uplifting.

What are your writing plans for the next year?

I still have to write the third book in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force series, so I’m looking forward to getting stuck into that. After that, I’d like to write another World War Two series, although I haven’t fixed on what to focus on. I’ve got a list of story ideas that came to me when researching the current series so I’ll read through them and see which ones spark more ideas.

How do you celebrate on publication day?

I’m not one for elaborate celebrations, but I do take time off work so I can enjoy the day properly. When my first three books were published—medieval romances under the pen name Tora Williams—I went out for breakfast with my mum to celebrate. With lockdown, celebrations will be even more low-key. I’m in a bubble with my mum, so I’m going to take a cake around to her house and she’s ordered a cream tea by post. I’m such a party animal!

 

It was such a pleasure to talk to Vicky and I am currently reading and loving The Ops Room Girls – watch out for my review soon. You can follow Vicky on the links below:

 

The Ops Room Girl links:

Amazon: Mybook.to/OpsRoomGirls

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ebook/the-ops-room-girls

Google: http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN9781800320888

Apple: https://books.apple.com/book/the-ops-room-girls/id1509441974?app=itunes

Social media links:

Twitter: @VickiBeeby

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/VickiBeebyAuthor

 

 

BOOKS BY CAROLINE JAMES

Meet the Author – Morton S Gray

I’m thrilled to have Morton S Gray on my blog today. Morton’s latest book, The Truth Lies Buried, is now available in paperback and audible as well as all ebook platforms. Morton, like me, loves beautiful Cumbria…

Thank you for inviting me over to your blog, Caroline. When you asked me to Meet the Author, I tried to think of a linking factor between us to spark the blog post and came up with The Lake District! Why? Because your super novel The Best Boomerville Hotel is set there and I have enjoyed many holidays in the area over the years. So, I thought I’d talk about a few snapshots from those visits.

Author Morton Gray

A favourite teenage holiday photograph sees me on the ferry across Lake Windermere. I had just become conscious of what I wore and can still remember the feel of the turquoise flared trousers and green floaty tunic top. I felt amazing.

Fast forward to when my eldest son was small – I used to take him to the Lakes at least once a year. After driving up the motorway, I very often couldn’t face the car for a few days, so we used to explore by bus or ferry and had lots of fun. One year, son insisted on wearing his pirate bandana and carrying his plastic sword all of the time – surprisingly we made lots of friends that year.

Fast forward again and I had my first holiday with my now husband in Bassenthwaite. Hubbie severely overestimated both my level of fitness and the length of walk across the fells I could cope with. I had never climbed that far up a hill in my life and had never seen Windermere laid before me like a map as we were so high up. I think it was when I was exhausted and finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other on the scree slope on the way down that I began to seriously question whether our relationship had a future! (P.S. we’ve been married sixteen years!)

We’ve had several holidays with youngest son in the Lakes (who if we were celebrities should by rights be called Bassenthwaite, but he gets embarrassed when I say that!), but these days it’s usually hubbie and I on our Lakes holidays whilst youngest son is on some school camp or other.

Our favourite place to stay is Grasmere, as you can walk off in all directions without having to travel in the car. Last year, we stayed at the lovely Daffodil Hotel on the banks of Grasmere Lake. And, no trip to the Lakes is complete without a visit to the wonderful restaurant, The Jumble Room.

Thank you, Caroline, I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about Lakeland holidays, but what I really wanted to tell your readers and that feels almost cheeky now, was about the paperback and audiobook release of my second novel for Choc Lit, The Truth Lies Buried on 12 March 2019. You’ll find details below.

“A brilliant read and I would highly recommend anyone to read either of Morton’s books.”
Amazon Reviewer

Author Interview – Sandra Danby

I’ve long been a fan of Sandra Danby’s writing and with the publication of her new book, Connectedness, it was a good opportunity to have a chat with the author herself…

Tell me a little about Sandra Danby the person and why you write.   I write because I can’t not write. It’s what I love doing… telling a story, finding the right way to tell it, inventing things, shaping it. Any day away from my desk feels like a lost day. I have loved reading from my Janet and John days through Enid Blyton to Mary Stewart, then an English degree followed by +35 years as a journalist. When I had the chance to write fiction seriously I found it difficult to unshackle myself from my journalism training, to loosen up and let my imagination go rather than worry about researching facts and getting everything right. I’m getting there now.

 

I love the cover of your new book, Connectedness, can you explain why you chose this?

Connectedness by Sandra DanbyIt is lovely, isn’t it? I’m so pleased with my ‘Identity Detective’ series covers, they were designed for me by Jessica Bell who asked incisive questions about characters, imagery, themes, symbols and excerpts before starting work. The tree represents our connections to known and unknown branches of our family, and it is the recurring image of all my book covers. The nodding woman was Jessica’s idea and it is a wonderful way of showing Connectedness is the story of one woman at two different stages of her life; as a twenty-something art student, and as successful artist in her fifties. As mature adults, we are all the sum of our previous life experiences and Justine Tree, the artist in Connectedness, certainly is.

The title is unusual – how did you come up with, Connectedness?

The title came early in the writing process, one day I was playing with words to do with family, relations, , identity, the sense of belonging, connections, and ‘Connectedness’ came into my mind clearly and strongly. The step of making it into the name of Justine’s new art collection came much later when I was re-drafting.

This is the second book in the Identity Detective series. Can you explain what the series is all about?

Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel that I’m writing now, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz. Each novel is a mystery about adoption reunion, family secrets and romance, lost and found.

It is a clever author who links their books in a series this way. Is the subject matter personal to you? Do you identify with the lead character Rose Haldane or is she like anyone you know?

I’m asked this a lot! I write adoption mysteries but I’m not myself adopted. I was however over-imaginative as a child, the youngest of three with quite a gap before I came along. So I used to imagine exotic parents who were foreign, royal, adventurers, the usual childhood fantasies. As I grew older this developed into a fascination of how we become who we are; is it blood and genes, or upbringing and experience? A mixture of the two? And if you were a cuckoo in the family but not told about it, would you sense it? Rose is a journalist because I was one and I knew her world but though she started off as a mixture of myself and my fellow journalists, she evolved into her own person.

What’s next in the series?

Sweet Joy tells the story of Theresa, an elderly lady who feels she has one last chance to answer the questions of her birth. On the night of November 29, 1940, Twickenham endured a horrendous night of bombing in The Blitz. In the rubble of a bombed house, an ARP warden finds a baby untouched by the devastation. She is healthy and obviously cared for, but she is alone and no adults are found near her and no one claims her.

The locations in Connectedness are beautifully described. Do you have a strong knowledge of Filey (Yorkshire), Málaga (Spain) and London and if so, what are your connections and why did you want to write about these locations?

 

Yes I know each of the locations intimately and hope it shows in my writing. I grew up on the East Yorkshire coast and, though I merged several locations into one and invented Justine’s cliff top home Seaside Cottage, the place is very dear to me. I have lived in and around London since I was eighteen when I travelled south to university while Spain has been my home for the last ten years. We live inland from Málaga in the beautiful countryside around Ronda and are frequent visitors to the city for its art, its food and the beaches. I used many of my experiences as a newcomer in a foreign country to enrich Justine’s arrival in Málaga as a foreign student at art college. Her struggles with ordering coffee, buying bread and attempts to make herself understood are things that happened to me.

Plaza de la Merced, busy traffic - photo @SandraDanby
Plaza de la Merced

You cover the art world in depth in Connectedness – did this involve a great deal of research?

Malaga, entrance to Museo Picasso - photo @SandraDanby
Picasso Museum Malaga

A fair amount of research and reading but I can’t say it was hard work. I have always loved art but never studied it so I had a very superficial understanding. I gradually built up my knowledge by reading, watching documentaries and visiting exhibitions, by not limiting myself to artists I was familiar with but consciously exploring periods and styles new to me. The Málaga location also provided the connection to Pablo Picasso who was born in the city. He was a childhood inspiration for Justine as she, like the young Picasso, drew the birds she saw around her every day as a child, mostly seabirds and pigeons.

 

You have received some fabulous reviews for Connectedness – will we be seeing more in this series and when?

Thank you! I am a slow writer so it will be three years or so before we see Sweet Joy. I often wish I could write quicker but I have health issues that make it difficult for me to spend long periods at the computer. So I tend to break up my days, combining writing one novel at the computer and then later in the day taking a break away from my desk while researching the next. So I am currently researching book four in the ‘Identity Detective’ series, currently title-less, which will be set again in Yorkshire.

What’s your favourite and why:

Book. Pride and Prejudice

Tipple  Does tea count? I’m tee-total now as alcohol stopped agreeing with me.

 Outfit  I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl, a scarf around my neck and New Balance trainers on my feet.

Film  All the President’s Men. The film that made me aspire to be a journalist. My second choice is another Redford film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. What a fantastic script by William Goldman.

About ‘Connectedness’

Connectedness by Sandra Danby

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.

Download your copy here: Connectedness

Author Bio

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.

Author Links

Author website: http://www.sandradanby.com/

Notes on a Spanish Valley blog: https://notesonaspanishvalley.com

‘Connectedness’ at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2q6qy5Z

‘Ignoring Gravity’ at Amazon http://amzn.to/1oCrxHd

Twitter: @SandraDanby https://twitter.com/sandradanby?lang=en

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sandradanbyauthor

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6563021.Sandra_Danby

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/sandradan1/

Strictly Come Dancing with Caroline James

 

To celebrate the hugely popular TV Show in the UK, Strictly Come Dancing, this autumn on the BBC, Caroline James joins with Apricot Plots authors, to share a ‘dance’ extract from her new novel, The Best Boomerville Hotel. Here we find Bob, having spent too long in the tepee with the mystical Shaman, dancing his socks off in the garden. Much to the dismay of the hotel manager, Hattie…

Hattie found Bob dancing around the meadow. Jo was going to have a fit and Hattie couldn’t let Bob go back to the hotel in this condition. Damn the Shaman and his herbs. She must do something.

  ‘Oi!’ Hattie called out. ‘Fred Astaire! Get your dancing feet over here.’

  ‘I’m singing in the rain.’ Bob sang as he twirled over to Hattie.

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  ‘And I’ll be singing in the sin bin if you don’t get your act together.’ Hattie shoved one arm under Bob’s shoulder and tried to head him off and away from the caravan. But Bob was not to be stopped and, pushing Hattie to one side, broke into a repertoire of song and dance from all his favourite shows. Kicking his legs in the air and striding across the meadow, he belted out a medley.

  ‘And all that jazz!’ Bob sang.

 fullsizeoutput_12a3 ‘You’re in bleedin’ Marland not Chicago.’ Hattie tried to grab Bob but he twirled away.

  ‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.’ Bob held up a finger and Hattie looked around. He clearly thought that he had an audience. ‘Bright copper kettles and warm coloured mittens …’

  ‘Look, Bob.’ Hattie grabbed his arms. ‘There are no brown paper packages tied up with string and these may all be a collection of your favourite things,’ she waved her arms vaguely, ‘but it’s time to get you safely back to your room.’

  Bob shrugged Hattie away and ran to the gate.

  Bursting through, he hooked his thumbs around a pair of imaginary braces and line-5cbe8b0f454d1e7ebf47d3c800d0e5c7danced down the garden. ‘Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day.’ Bob arrived at the top of the steps and his chorus reached a climax. ‘I gotta beautiful feelin’ …’

  A group of guests enjoying a game of croquet on the lawn, looked up as Bob achieved full throttle. They held mallets and one struck a ball in the direction of the hoop nearest the pond. But the player, distracted by Bob, miss-hit and sent the heavy ball speeding across the path where it hit a stone and bounced up. Hattie heard a whoosh as it sped in Bob’s direction.

  In a split second, she pushed Bob out of the way.

  Bob heard the players call out and as Hattie lunged, he turned and missed his footing and fell headlong into the pond. Hattie skidded to a halt and gravel flew in all directions, pebble-dashing the guests.

  Time seemed to stand still as Bob started to sink into the water.

  ‘Help him!’ Hattie screamed and everyone dashed to the pond to pull Bob out. He lay motionless, with eyes closed, and Hattie fell to her knees. ‘He needs the kiss of life,’ she cried and began to rip his shirt open to begin chest compressions.

  ‘Everythin’s goin’ my way!’ Bob woke up and Hattie fell back.

  He looked around and smiled at the crowd, then jumped up and began to wipe at his wet clothes. ‘Has it been raining?’

  Hattie pulled herself to her feet and stared at Bob. ‘Are you all right?’ she asked. A lump had appeared on Bob’s temple. He must have hit his head when he landed in the pond.

  ‘Where am I, sweetie?’ Bob looked vague.

6964143  Thank God! Hattie took his arm. He had a concussion, which could be put down to the fall and would explain his bizarre behaviour. Hattie knew that Jo would murder her if she thought the Shaman had been overdosing the guests again.

  ‘He’s fine,’ Hattie told the anxious bystanders, ‘just a little incident which can easily be sorted out.’ She grabbed Bob’s arm and led him away. ‘Finish your game and we’ll all go and get ready for dinner. There’s hot toddy in the bar if anyone fancies a drink.’

  The croquet players held up their mallets and formed a salute as Hattie and Bob staggered into the hotel.

  Hattie looked back and sighed. Another bleedin’ day at Boomerville!

Head over to APRICOT PLOTS for more dance extracts from the

Apricot Plots Authors

Download the book here:

Extract from: The Best Boomerville Hotel

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Happy reading with love from

Caroline and Apricot Plots xx

Apricot Plots is born…

I’m so excited to share the news about Apricot Plots. In the summer, at the Romantic Novelist’s conference, I chatted with fellow authors Morton S Gray, Angela Barton and Carol Thomas. Like-minded, we thought it would be good to form a group as a place for discussion and motivation, both for ourselves as writers and the wonderful readers who follow us.

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Apricot Plots was born.

Three more authors have joined and they are, Jane Cable, Mariam Kobras and Tora Williams.

As writers, our general theme is romance but we all branch off into comedy, crime, mystery and history and appeal to many readers. Apricot Plots will highlight our news, offers, competitions and give-a-ways and we hope, become a place for those interested in reading and writing to engage and enjoy our work.

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Why not click through and say hello…

Apricot Plots Facebook

Apricot Plots Twitter 

#Apricot Plots

Happy reading and writing everyone,

Caroline xx

 

 

 

Coming Soon – Boomerille Two! Excerpt

If you enjoyed The Best Boomerville Hotel enjoy a slice of the follow-up. Here’s an excerpt when Hattie is re-acquainted with Harry…

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Sergeant Harry Knowles liked to think of himself as a chameleon when it came to policing his patch. A man who blended in with his surroundings. This had its good points and served him well as a shadowy observer of situations, swooping in when least expected to utter the phrase he liked the most, ‘You’re nicked!’ Not that he had much opportunity to use the words, for very little happened when Harry was on duty and this he put down to good law enforcement by himself and fellow officers.

  Some would say that Westmarland was a sleepy place, where not much happened, other than chasing visitors for speeding fines or litter-dropping on the pristine streets of the tourist towns and villages of the county. Others, like Harry, who’d recently been promoted, found a crime around every corner and made it their duty to report and investigate each lost kitten and the many stolen bikes.

  But that morning, the station at Marland was a quiet as a tomb.

  Harry paced around the reception area and straightened posters on a notice board then wandered over to the main desk to tidy scattered pens and miscellaneous memos. He glanced over to the corner of the room where Constable Derek Jones sat with his feet perched on a stool, sipping from a large mug of tea. The local paper was spread out before him and he studied the crossword. The constable was in shirt-sleeves, the buttons of his uniform shirt straining over a paunch. Podgy fingers reached for a biscuit from a half-consumed pack and he dunked absentmindedly as he contemplated clues.

  ‘Pinging call as they search for food around Bassenthwaite,’ the constable called out. ‘Eight letters, third letter, Z.’

  ‘Buzzards,’ Harry replied and stared out of the window.

  It had been a glorious day and now in late afternoon, the streets of Marland were filled with holiday-makers who’d descended for the Easter break. Families bustled about before the shops closed, stocking up on burgers for their Sunday barbeques and local fudge as a take-home treat. Harry sighed as he watched the world go by. He was bored and longed for some action, something to set the streets alight and prove his worth in his new position. Anything to liven up his day.

  Suddenly, the front door was flung open and a woman bustled into the station. Hot and harassed, she swept up to the front desk and drummed her fingers on the counter. ‘Anyone home?’ Hattie called out.

  Derek whipped his feet off the stool and ambled to his feet, ‘What can we do for you, Madam?’ he said as he straightened his tie and wiped crumbs from his mouth.

  ‘You can make me a brew and shove those biscuits over here,’ Hattie said. ‘Is Harry the Helmet at home?’

  ‘Hello Hattie,’ Harry called out, wishing that Hattie wouldn’t be so familiar. ‘What can we do for you on this lovely sunny day.’

  ‘I want to have a word,’ she glanced at Derek. ‘Haven’t you got something to do? Crime won’t crack itself, Constable.’

  ‘Step into my office,’ Harry said, ‘two teas, when you’ve a moment, Derek.’ He guided Hattie along a dingy corridor and into a small room, where he pulled out a chair and sat Hattie down beside a rickety table. Pulling a chair up for himself, Harry rubbed his hands together, perhaps Hattie had something interesting for him to get his teeth into?

  ‘So, you’re back.’ Harry said.

  ‘State the bleedin’ obvious,’ Hattie replied, ‘hardly needs a copper to suss that out.’

 Harry looked at Hattie. She was still attractive and vivacious with lovely ginger curls. Her ample chest bounced as she babbled.

  Derek appeared with tea and biscuits, laid out on a china plate. As the door closed behind him, Hattie began.

  ‘My house has been trashed and I want you to find the good-for-nothings who did it.’

  Harry whipped out a notebook and licked the end of a pencil. ‘I thought you’d rented it out?’

  ‘I did.’

  ‘It’s a civil matter then.’ He closed his notebook.

  ‘Aye, it probably is and my own fault for not putting it with an agent but what I am concerned about is a puppy.’

  ‘A puppy?’ Harry asked.

  ‘Half-starved and as good as dead when me and Alf found it in my old shed.’

  ‘Animal cruelty, a job for the RSPCA.’

  ‘No, Harry, it’s a job for you.’ Hattie was adamant. ‘The vet says the puppy will live if properly looked after. He’s got it on a drip and anti-biotics and is hopeful it will recover. We found it just in time but I want whoever is responsible for murdering an animal and trashing my house, to be prosecuted. Criminal damage, animal cruelty, whatever you can throw at them. I’ll give you what details I have of the tenants.’

  ‘They’ll all be false,’ Harry said, doubtful that the tenants would ever be traced. ‘Very well, but before you start, tell me what you are up to now, where are you going to live?’

  ‘I’m going back to Boomerville,’ Hattie said. ‘Jo seems to think the place can’t run without me and I’ll find a bed there while my place is being put back together.’

  ‘Boomerville busy, is it?’ Harry sat back and stretched his legs.

  ‘Booming I hear, you should pay us a call sometime, come and teach the old ’uns a bit of road safety or how to stay safe at home,’ Hattie grinned, ‘I can set up a course.’

  ‘I’d like that.’ Harry returned the smile, he’d jump at the chance of a few hours at Boomerville, anything to break the monotony here. There was always a pot of tea and a warm welcome, if Hattie was in the mood. ‘Jo keeping well?’ he asked.

  ‘She’s grand and will be glad to have me back.’ Hattie stood. ‘I’ll be on my way. I need to find a new home for the puppy but I’ve no doubt Jo will have room for another, she’s daft when it comes to dogs.’

  ‘She’ll have it running about the place in no time,’ Harry replied as he followed Hattie through the station where Derek, now occupied, was busy cracking crime. ‘Don’t forget to have a word about me running a course there.’

  ‘Aye, I will. You know where to find me,’ Hattie nodded to both. ‘I’ll be back at Boomerville.’

BOOMERVILLE TWO – COMING SOON!

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Have you read:

THE BEST BOOMERVILLE HOTEL 

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BOOKS BY CAROLINE JAMES

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HAPPY READING XX

A Recipe For Disaster, Interview with Author & TV Producer, Stephen Phelps

A Recipe for Disaster

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“Cooking up a Big Italian Idea!”

 

“A cookbook & travelogue companion to Cookucina, a TV series .”

www.cookucina.com 

The blurb also tells me that this book and accompanying cookery series is an, “Entertaining journey of an Englishman struggling with the ups and downs of living in rural Italy.”

I was hesitant to read something with a title that suggests a gloomy outcome but having spent time in the area of Italy so lovingly described, I was curious and decided to plough on. I am so pleased that I did.

Recipe for Disaster Cover

 

Stephen Phelps gave up a successful career in television, to make a TV cookery series in Tuscany, a region of Italy that he had come to love. His partner, Tam, can’t cook but inspired by neighbour Lia, a great cook, he is persuaded to embark on a six-part series. The book that followed and the series, A Recipe For Disaster outlines their many encounters with the real Italy – a world away from the picture-book ideal of summer holidays in Tuscany. I was keen to throw some questions to Stephen and learn about his experience…

Recipe for Disaster - SP best pic
Stephen Phelps

Stephen, welcome to my blog. I adored your book but the title of your book seems an ominous premonition of things to come, did you chose the title before or after filming and writing and why?

I chose the title after making the series and just before completing the book. It was originally to be called MY BIG ITALIAN IDEA, and I think you can still find traces of that in the text. It starts for instance with the notion that our neighbour Lia was trying to sell us on a “Big Idea.”

Trailer for Cookucina – https://youtu.be/rh_wHv1o1Lg

Other than the 30-degree heat in August what was the most difficult thing you experienced during filming?

That’s easy, the lack of a fully-trained and properly equipped support crew. As exemplified by the problems we faced when we came to record the sound during filming in the tight  confines of the kitchen. Here’s a clip from the book about that particular problem:

Now here’s something else you can’t get in a small country town in Italy at a moment’s notice – a boom. Professional sound recordists use a specially designed telescopic arm that allows them to get their microphone into the best possible position without getting in the shot. Sometimes they can be twelve or fifteen feet away and still get a microphone close enough to pick up a whisper. And somehow, by magic, they seem to know just exactly how close they can get without their fluffy grey windsock peeking into shot. … We didn’t have a windsock (of course), nor did we have a “specially designed telescopic arm”. So we had to improvise. Fifteen minutes later we were ready. The arc lights were switched on and I swung my “boom” into position. The microphone was now attached to the end of a broom handle with a red and white striped towel wrapped around it to act as a windsock. This was the Dunkirk spirit in action.

 What is Tam’s favourite recipe and why?

Her favourite recipe from the series is the Simple Onion Soup, because a) it’s the one she could really cook on her own, and b) it’s Simple!  But there’s one dish that I cook occasionally that she absolutely loves – chicken breasts wrapped in pancetta, drizzled with balsamic vinegar (the real, expensive, stuff) and honey, then baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Always guarantees me a compliment about my cooking.

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I tried the Simple Onion Soup recipe and it is absolutely delicious! But moving on, would you recommend self-financing to other would-be film-makers?

Not unless they can’t avoid it. The pros are many. You are your own boss, and you can decide exactly what you want to do. If you get money from a broadcaster they will Inevitably be very prescriptive about how they want the series made. There’s more good news in that you hang on to all the rights to the show. But the bad news is that you have to find the way to get it out into the marketplace and then you have to do all the marketing yourself. Having said that, there are mechanisms like Quiver Digital now available for getting self-financed programme out there. Make no mistake though, filming the series is the easy bit!

Was it difficult to stick to budget and why?

In truth we had no actual budget. We just started, paying for things as and when they came up. Then, as it became apparent that we were actually going to get the material for a proper series, we began to encounter real outside costs like the editing of the series. And that’s when we had to be very sure that we were going to get something saleable at the end of it – otherwise it would have been money down the drain.

Have you any advice to would-be, self-financing film-makers?

Don’t do it! Unless and until you cannot find a proper outlet for the kind of work you really want to do. And be very sure that you have a clear marketing strategy in place before you start on this road.

What was the best bit about making a cookery series other than tasting the delicious recipes?

Travelling around and meeting the local farmers, the people who make the cheese and salami and so on.

What is the reaction of your friends and neighbours in Le Marche by this project?

Very positive. So far. After the recent earthquakes the region needs a boost to its tourism prospects and I think they see this as very helpful in that respect. Most of the neighbours don’t speak any English though – so I could be saying anything about them. But they trust me, thank goodness!

Will you make more episodes and if so, what would the content be?

Yes, but only if this series really takes off and delivers some financial return. We shot this first series in high summer, and we always had a vague plan to do a series for each of the four seasons. The seasons here are markedly different, and so is the food that gets eaten. Chestnuts are really plentiful and delicious right now for instance.

Do you think online viewing with content by independents is here to stay and a good way to market a series? Please explain your thoughts.

I would like to think so. But whether it will be in the form of “conventional” series like COOKUCINA or through much shorter clips of the sort that populate YouTube is another question. We did think for a while of producing a series of Cookucina shorts for YouTube – but maybe that is for another day. The real issue is where does the money come from. Traditional TV costs a great deal of money to make (often upwards of $50,000 an hour). It’s by no means clear what future, online, financial model will generate the funds to support those kind of production values. It’s what we have tried to do with Cookucina, but so far we are well out of pocket. The good news, though, is that it can stay on sale for ever, and with the right promotion maybe its time will come!

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Your writing is very eloquent and makes great reading. (Thank you for that, Caroline!) Did you do an MA in creative writing to assist in script writing or have you found it has helped in other areas?

Recipe for Disaster Cover

I thought I was going to make a living as a TV dramatist, but in fact I have written a lot of radio drama for the BBC, but no TV. I have three full-length screenplays waiting to be discovered, and I do have to say that the scriptwriting training taught me a lot about how to structure when I sat down to write my first book.

What’s next for Stephen Phelps?

No idea! I am a great one for just picking up the next thing that comes along and running with it. Having said that, I have just started on a  rather difficult novel (my first). I’d like to think I have a good novel in me – but then don’t we all?

Thanks for joining me on my blog and good luck with your venture.

Download: A Recipe For Disaster

You can contact Stephen on the links below:

Stephen Phelps – Social Media Links 

Twitter                   @StephenP_Writer

Faceboook           https://www.facebook.com/stanley.tinker

Instagram              stephenp_writer

Medium                https://medium.com/@stephenphelps

Web                         www.cookucina.com

Trailer for Cookucina – https://youtu.be/rh_wHv1o1Lg

Purchase links:

iBooks                     http://bit.ly/iRecDis

Kindle                     http://bit.ly/KdleRecipe

Paperback             http://bit.ly/RecDis

Goodreads            http://bit.ly/GoodRec

Smashwords        http://bit.ly/SmaRec

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The Power of a Review

review

Are you influenced by reviews?

I try not to get upset by a bad review but I had a real stinker recently and it hurt.

The book in question hasn’t had a review below four stars and most are five, but along comes a one star, which the reviewer says she gave grudgingly and her review is vile. The book clearly didn’t float her boat and looking at her other reviews I can see it wasn’t her usual genre and I wondered why she bothered to read the book at all, let alone leave such a vitriolic opinion on a very public space.

Recently I read a poor review of a book and was so incensed by the arrogant attitude of the reviewer that I immediately bought the book – a sort of two-finger cyber salute. I then went on to enjoy the book immensely. Reading matter is subjective and what suits one doesn’t always suit another.

We are influenced by reviews, whether when buying books, goods or services and have an absolute right to report on poor quality workmanship but shouldn’t reviews, be useful to other people? Positive reviews almost never get challenged but a negative review instantly draws the reader to the reviewer’s poor opinion.

Reviews are incredibly helpful, good and bad. My debut book was self-published and I made grammatical mistakes which were soon screamed out through reviews and never again did a manuscript or piece of work go online unless it was polished to perfection. Reviews stay online forever, you can’t press delete.

I love reviewers, readers and bloggers who review – what author doesn’t? These lovely people read your work and then take the time and trouble to pen their thoughts and opinions and publish online. There is nothing more heartening than being told that someone has genuinely enjoyed your work – months, maybe years of hard slog disappear in a moment of sheer joy, knowing that your story enhanced someone’s life if only for a short while.

I asked a popular reviewer for their tips on reviewing and the comment was, “Be respectful, keep it real and write your review well.”

A negative comment, taken in the right spirit can be very helpful but I do wonder what is behind the mind of a person who slates a book with pure hate.

Thoughts anyone?

C x

@carolinejames12

Caroline James on Amazon