Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Guest Author: Victoria Cornwall

This week it's my great pleasure to welcome a guest, fellow Choc Lit author Victoria Cornwall, whose debut novel, The Thief's Daughter is out now. I'm reading it at the moment and can thoroughly recommend it.  Here's Victoria to tell you about her novel the inspiration behind it.

Victoria Cornwall
Inspiration for a novel comes from many sources, a passing conversation, a newspaper article, a photograph, even an obituary. I suspect if you asked ten authors what inspired them to write their book you would get ten different answers. For me, a novel often begins with a location, whether it is a house, place or room and my debut novel with Choc Lit, The Thief’s Daughter, was no different. Although at the time I was a little breathless and in need of a drink!

For many years I have attempted to walk the Cornish coastal path. Unfortunately, the lack of time, rather than a lack of desire, has meant I have only completed a quarter of the 296 miles so far. During one walking session, I came across a very narrow, oddly named inlet called Pepper Cove. Its name was a clue to its murky past, as in times gone by it had been used as a drop-off point for smuggled spices.

Victoria walking the Cornish coastal path

I wasn’t surprised that it had been used for smuggling. Smuggling was rife in many parts of England during the 18th and early 19th century, when taxes were high, the coastline was poorly guarded and poverty-stricken communities were driven to earn money in any way they could. Cornwall was no exception, and its numerous miles of coastline meant there were many landing places to take advantage of the disorganisation of the establishment. At one point, it was said that more goods were smuggled into England than arrived by legitimate routes.

Pepper Cove
Pepper Cove spurred me on to research more and the characters of Jenna and Jack slowly emerged when I learned the true extent of the smuggling trade and the environment that helped it to run out of control.

The Thief’s Daughter is set in 18th century debt ridden England. The Bloody Code threatens all with the hangman’s noose, whilst corrupt thief-takers thrive. Yet, when night falls, free traders swarm onto the beaches and smuggling prospers.

Jenna grew up in a family of thieves, but has always resolved to be good. However, when her brother, Silas, asks her to pay his creditors and secure his freedom from the debtor’s prison, Jenna feels unable to refuse and promises to help in any way she can.

Jack Penhale is drawn to Jenna at a hiring fayre. As they discover each other’s secrets, they learn their lives are more entangled than they first thought.

As the line between housekeeper and employer becomes blurred, love and loyalty are tested to the limit, while her blood tie tries to tear them apart.

Website: www.victoriacornwall.com
Twitter: @VickieCornwall
Facebook: www.facebook.com/victoriacornwall.author
Instagram: www.instagram.com/victoria_cornwallx
Pinterest: uk.pinterest.com/vickiecornwall

Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: The Last Word

Christmas isn’t a time of year I look forwards to; it’s too commercial, too full of expectations and false promises and the daylight hours are too short. However, I appreciate I’m very fortunate to have friends and family and I value the time the season offers to be with them. At the River Cottage Canteen in Bristol, just before Christmas, we celebrated Tom’s birthday with three of our four children, their other halves and Bee. A truly happy occasion was made even happier by the news that we’re anticipating not one but two new arrivals in 2017. It looks as if we’ll need a bigger table for my birthday next November!

Without my dad and Tom’s mum it felt important to make memories with our remaining parents so we drove to the south east to collect Ma and Tom’s dad, Ken, so that they could spend the Christmas week with us. We’re very happy that they’ve both been out on the boat this year, but we’ve added fish and chips at Tenby, beach walks at Aberaeron and Poppit and surprise Christmas stockings to the store of thing to look back on. The nine hour traffic jam to take them back home again is probably best forgotten!

For all that I know that every year brings its share of ups and downs, I love New Year. I have a brand new diary for work on my desk and my pocket diary (yes, I’m old-fashioned like that) is already filling up with dates. 2017 lies ahead like a stretch of newly-washed beach still damp from the receding tide - what impressions will we make on it, I wonder?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Autumn Statement

Well, I knew I was in for some hard work and so it’s proved - and there’s more to do - but we’ve managed to find time for leisure and family too, so here’s a quick update of what we’ve been doing:

We went out for a late October sail and had visit from a seal who tapped the bottom of our boarding ladder hoping to be rewarded for a treat. There wasn’t much on offer but our visitor seemed happy to stay and chat for several minutes.

We had a sad but healing trip to Devon to scatter the final remains of my mother-in-law’s ashes in the village where she was evacuated to and spent so many happy years. On the way back we stopped in Cardiff to introduce my father-in-law to the delights of Welsh rugby… he says he enjoyed it, but he doesn’t look totally convinced in these pictures.

I also roped FiL into making marmalade with me. There are no Seville oranges but this batch should see us through until then. My poor elder daughter, a busy working mum, has had one illness after another, ‘I’ve got the immune system of a stray kitten,’ she observed - but at least it means I’ve spent lots of time amusing Smallest Person (and she me, of course!).

I had a lovely time with two of my fellow Choc Lit authors, Christina Courtenay and Evonne Wareham chatting to an audience at the newly opened Ystrad Mynach library. You can read writer and blogger Kathryn Eastman’s account of it here. I’ve also seen some of the hard work bear fruit; I received the paperback copies of Only True in Fairy Tales and a copy of the latest edition (January) of The English Home in which I have two feature articles. I’ve celebrated a birthday and received some lovely cards and gifts, including flowers from my younger stepson and his very thoughtful girlfriend. And that huge cup of coffee and a cake? Tom had a study day at the OU in Milton Keynes so that was a treat to myself before I headed to the OU library to work. So now it’s head down again to make a last push to finish my latest novella.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Looking Glasses and Rabbit Holes

No sooner have we waved goodbye
to dear friends Jill and Martin who’ve been staying with us for a few days than I’m off to Aberystwyth with friend and blogger Preseli Mags to meet up with a group of blogging friends. Jo, Jayne and Jane are here, Mountainear has come down from her small mountain kingdom and Elizabeth has temporarily swapped one set of Welsh hills for another. We’ve ‘known’ each other for almost ten years now since we, and many others, started blogging for a competition in the hope of being picked to write a magazine column. Although none of us won we ended up with a much bigger prize, an enduring online friendship with bloggers across the globe. Today we have a chance to catch up; some of us have met before, others are new faces but those shared virtual glimpses of our lives make conversation easy. There’s lots of laughter, many cups of coffee but also an acknowledgement that real lives - with all the usual trials and tribulations - go on behind the looking glasses of our online personae.

Being a writer sometimes feels like tumbling down a deep, dark rabbit hole whilst holding a small flame and desperately trying to keep it alight. It’s a constant battle against doubt and uncertainty - even when there’s good news. I’m delighted to have written the words to Jake Fitzjones’ beautiful photographs of a stunning Highgate home in this month’s edition of The English Home (November. Issue 141). I’m also thrilled to have been commissioned to write two more features for the magazine, yet as much as I love writing these articles, a freelance writing career is precarious and I’m keenly aware of wanting to do my best for the home owner, the photographer and the magazine. The finished article should appear to be effortless, informative and easy to read, but lots of material has to be gathered and sorted first and all the time the deadline clock keeps ticking. Luckily it’s a challenge I enjoy, for all the tense moments of wondering if all the pieces of the puzzle will ever fit together, and it’s still something of a dream come true to see my name by a feature in a glossy magazine.

All the training for my recent half marathon’s been a useful reminder that goals are achieved one step at a time and I’ve been making slow progress - at last - with fiction. A novella is inching towards completion and I’m 12,000 words into a new novel. Just when I need an incentive to keep going during those times when I feel as if I’m working in the dark, I receive some very welcome news. I’m pleased to say that my novella, Only True in Fairy Tales will be available in paperback from November and, very excitingly, Turning the Tide is one of nine Choc Lit titles being launched by Norwegian publisher, Cappelen Damm AS, as a new mass market series in 2017. And now, it’s back to real life and hard graft!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Running The 'Diff 2016

Some 22,000 runners are taking part in the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon but as I thread my way through the crowd to my starting pen, I feel lonely and a bit daunted. I know
people will be thinking of me, but I won’t be seeing any of my family en route as I don’t feel it’s reasonable to ask them to turn out for such a busy event. In my pen, however, I’m quickly gathered up by a group of blokes who offer Jelly Babies and talk race tactics. The fellow feeling between runners is a real tonic! I start to relax and enjoy the fantastic atmosphere. The race starts at 10 am - later than I would normally run - and it takes seven minutes to get to the start. Then I’m away!

It’s a glorious day in Cardiff; there’s no wind, the sun is shining… and it’s absolutely boiling! By mile 4, I know I’m not going to make the time I set for myself - that sub 2 hours so tantalisingly within reach. It’s just too hot for me and the busy field requires energy-sapping weaving between runners so I just dig in and do the best I can.

The support from the crowds in Cardiff is always brilliant and this year is no exception; every mile of the route is lined with people cheering and lending their encouragement, there are choirs and bands, old folks and babies and I try to ‘high five’ as many children as my energy levels permit. Oh, and I certainly don’t have to worry about being short of Jelly Babies or Haribou sweeties as so many kind spectators are handing them out to weary runners - in fact by the end of the course, the smell of Jelly Babies is rather overwhelming in the heat; all I want is a long cold drink!

I’m running for Pancreatic Cancer UK so I’ve stitched a photo of my dad to the front and back of my race vest. At mile 9, Dad suddenly defies my sewing and flies off my shoulder! Oh no, has he abandoned me? Rose says later he was just lifting the weight off my shoulders which is a lovely thought. Two years ago, when I last ran this race, I was thinking not only of my dad but also of the tiny little spark who became Bee, who my daughter, Lily, was carrying. This year, there’s an equally happy glimmer of the future to contemplate, all being well.

As I cross the finish line I’m absolutely exhausted - I’ve given it all I have. The wonderful students of Cardiff University who’ve given up their time to volunteer to give out finishers’ goodies are of many nationalities and religions - food for thought in these Brexit times. I express my thanks to the young woman in the hijab who places a medal round my neck and her beautiful face lights up. Then it’s a 20 minute trudge to meet Tom and another 20 minute walk to the car by which time I’ve got nothing left in the tank. At Lily and Russ’s house in Cardiff, Lily runs me a bath and tenderly dresses me afterwards in the first reversal of our roles.

Checking the official results, my time’s slower than I hoped for - 2:14:12 but I’m 50th out of 175 women in my category and 9935 overall which I’m pretty chuffed with. But the best news is that thanks to the generous support of so many kind people, I’ve raised £576 for Pancreatic Cancer UK. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who made that happen.

I would also like to thank everyone involved in the wonderful event that was the 2016 Cardiff University Half Marathon and made it such a memorable day.

PS. It turns out I did have a supporter in the crowd - Lily’s lovely friend Ruth - and I didn’t even hear her shouting! So, sorry, Ruth - you’re a star!

The blessed relief of seeing the finish line!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

One Week to 'GO!'

Well, that’s it! I ran my last long training session this morning and after weeks of hard work I’m counting down the days until the 2016 Cardiff Half Marathon on 2 October. I’ve quite literally run up hills and down dales, I’ve run short sharp races across sand and, thanks to the company of my running buddy Helen, the long runs haven’t been quite so lonely. All I can do now is to try to stay as fit as possible and avoid colds and lurgy before race day.

Thanks to the kindness of many supporters, my JustGiving page stands at £486.98 raised for Pancreatic Cancer UK. This LINK will take you to the page on Pancreatic Cancer UK’s website showing the valuable research projects the charity is funding. This LINK takes you to Pancreatic Cancer UK’s tribute wall and explains why this cause is so important to me.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Green Remembered Hats

A quest to find old paperwork finds me sorting through boxes in the loft. Not that many, actually, since I’m not a hoarder and I’d rather look forwards than over my shoulder. I find the documents I’m searching for but also another folder which contains certificates. Leafing through them is quite unsettling as I discover records of achievements for everything from my degree and professional qualifications down to third prize in a miniature garden competition! Who was that girl, I wonder, who skied, swam, typed, quizzed and first-aided her way to success?

Prompted by the imminent arrival of a dear friend, I also recover a box full of our school magazines and lose an afternoon reading them. In a week that’s brought heated debate about Theresa May’s intention to lift the ban on establishing new grammar schools, I remember how liberating, exhilarating even, it felt to be in a place where academic excellence was celebrated and every girl - it was a single sex school - was encouraged to reach her full potential.  

All right for some, you might say, but I wasn’t from a privileged middle class background and I certainly didn’t have private tuition; my dad was a carpenter and joiner and Ma spent most of her working life - when she wasn't raising me and my sister - as a school cook. I remember a withering comment from a neighbour from one of the new ‘posh’ houses up the road that there surely must be some mistake that I had passed the eleven-plus and her son hadn’t. And whilst I was overjoyed at the brave new world opening up for me, I was keenly aware that my parents had to work harder than ever to pay for the long list of uniform requirements and equip me to take up my place.

So yes, I was lucky, and fortunate, too, that my parents encouraged me to go to university in an age where further education for girls was still seen as a ‘waste’. However, it’s not the rights and wrongs of our education system that are foremost in my mind as I read the school magazines, but the names and the faces. Several times I’m moved to tears; I read a funny, engaging account by one pupil of her university interview in one magazine, the next year there’s a poignant obituary to her. Here’s a poem by that gifted all-rounder in the year below me who went on to have a stellar career yet died, aged 44, of a brain tumour. There are fabulous illustrations, wonderful music - yes, one of the magazines contains a vinyl record of music and poetry - reminders of school plays and trips, sporting achievements and speech days. A testimony to the superb teachers who drew out the best in us. How many of those bright girls, I wonder, carried on achieving, how many simply got crushed by life?

Like most people, I’ve had ups and downs along the way, but the seeds of my own career are planted in those school magazines; I rediscover poems, travel pieces, life writing and reviews and remember that I worked as an editorial assistant on two of the editions. I’ll always be grateful that I was encouraged to fly and wish more children could have the same opportunity. Give a girl a pair of wings - or in my case a green hat - and you never know where they’ll take her.