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Friday, September 27, 2013

Taking Tea with - Ella Quinn

At the Romance Writers of America Conference in 2012 I met the delightful Ella Quinn. We clicked immediately. Apart from both being writers of historical romance we were both ex Army lawyers (but more on that later). Ella is one of the most generous people I have come across on the interwebs and I was so thrilled for her when she finally "got the call".  I am delighted to have a chance to take tea with her today and have a good, old fashioned chat!

My dear Ms. Quinn, as an American living in a former British Colony, I expect you to be well acquainted with the taking of tea… do you have a particular favourite I can provide you with? 

Actually I live in a former Danish colony that England took custody of a few times, though I did live in England for a couple of years. (AS:  I never knew the Danes colonised the Carribean! You live and learn...)

I prefer a blend of Ceylon and Assam. (AS...I am sure I can rustle something up...just let me push the Earl Grey to the back of the cupboard)

Occasionally one runs into fellow writers whose lives and careers have followed a similar trajectory and you and I share the peculiar career choice of military lawyers. My career was as a reservist but yours was as a full time Army Officer in the JAG Corps. Can you tell me a little bit about your time in the military and, if you are not going to be shot, the most interesting case or period of your career?

My most interesting jobs were as a prosecutor where I got quite a bit of trial time. For some reason we went through a period where we had a slew of sex cases. I won every one of them so that was quite a coup as I was up against more experienced civilian attorneys. My other most interesting job was as the operational law advisor for an Army Special Forces battalion. I have degrees in international relations, so I actually got to use them.

(AS:  Operational law was my particular interest as well. I loved my job as a Brigade legal officer advising on the Geneva Conventions and Rules of Engagement...oh and I have visited the JAG school in Charlottesville, VA)

Of all my friends, you probably win the prize for the most exotic location…how do you come to be living on the Island of St. Thomas in the Carribbean?

My husband didn’t want to retire in Europe. We’d been living there for quite some time, but he didn’t want to be a expat. He never was able to explain why. Anyway, I had to find a place we both liked with a US flag. Neither of us had been in the Virgin Islands, but we had friends living here. So we visited and fell in love.

You are a writer of Regency Romances. What draws you to that period?

The Regency had always been my favorite period, I’ve read and re-read my Georgette Heyers I don’t know how many times, but, when it came to writing, it picked me. I knew I wanted to write something, but I kept hearing, write what you know, but that was boring to me. Then I heard, write what you read. A month or so later, I had an image of a lady in Regency dress striding angrily around a room, and I had to write it down.

What do you love most about a regency hero?

That they were encouraged to be skilled in bed. They also knew how to dress, dance, and had manners. I can’t tell you how tired I am of the “guy” culture.

Your  first two books are coming out in rapid succession, with THE SEDUCTION OF LADY PHOEBE, released on September 19 and THE SECRET LIFE OF MISS ANNA MARSH coming out in November. The third book comes out in January. Are the books in a series? If so what is the common theme that unites them?

They are part of my series the Marriage Game which appears to have a total of seven books. All the men and some of the women are friends. They also don’t mind meddling in each other’s lives if necessary. 


Ella’s studies and other jobs have always been on the serious side. Reading historical romances, especially Regencies, were her escape. Eventually her love of historical novels led her to start writing them.

She is married to her wonderful husband of twenty-nine years. They have a son and granddaughter, Great Dane and a Chartreux. After living in the South Pacific, Central America, North Africa, England and Europe, she and her husband decided to make St. Thomas, VI home.

Ella is a member of the Romance Writers of American, The Beau Monde and Hearts Across History. She is represented by Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency, and published by Kensington. Her debut novel The Seduction of Lady Phoebe, will release in September 2013. Find out more about  Ella and her books on her WEBSITE

Polite society has its rules for marriage. But for Ella Quinn’s eligible bachelors, their brides will show them that rules are for the weak of heart…

Phoebe Stanhope is not a typical Lady. As feisty as she is quick witted, no one can catch her, especially when she is driving her dashing phaeton with its perfectly matched horses. And unlike her peers, experience has guarded her against a growing list of would-be suitors. But when she encounters Marcus Finley, what she fears most burns deep within his blue-eyed gaze…

For Lord Marcus, the spark of recognition is but a moment in the love he has held these many years. Now that he’s returned to England, all the happiness he desires rests on Lady Phoebe never finding out that he was the one who turned her heart so cold and distant. He must work fast to gain the advantage—to convince

her what she wants is exactly what she denies—but in order to seduce her into his arms, he must be willing to give up more than he can control

We may all dream of retiring to a tropical island and Ella was able to fulfill the dream. 
Where would you like to retire to?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Travellers Tales - The Ghosts of Gwydir Castle

Some years ago I took my sons, then aged 12 and 8 on their first visit to England. For reasons I won’t go into, my husband was supposed to accompany us but didn’t make the trip so it was just me and the two boys circumnavigating England in a Fiat Punto… and we did castles. I mean we really DID castles! Starting in the Tower of London on our first day through Warwick Castle, Ashby de La Zouch, York and down into Wales.

If you want to see castles then Wales is the place to go. The great castles built by Edward I as a symbol of his power and authority over the rebellious Welsh ring the Welsh border down through the Marches and across the coastline. However by the late middle ages, the need for these great stone edifices had diminished and the wealthy landowners were building elegant houses with minimal fortifications and “all mod cons”.

Our adventure was in the days before GPS and Navman and I was driving a car with an 8 year old and a 12 year old who, for all his badges in Scouts, appeared incapable of reading a map. So every evening, in consultation with the road atlas, I would painstakingly write out our route for the day for him to read out loud to me.

Gwydir Castle - exterior
This system worked well until we got to Wales where all the road signs are in Welsh. The inevitable happened and we got lost… spectacularly lost somewhere in northern Wales and on a back road I saw a sign that said “Gwydir Castle”. If nothing else it was a chance for a break and to consult the road map and ask a friendly native where we were. 

As it turned out Gwydir Castle was not so much a castle as a late medieval/Tudor fortified manor house. Probably owing to its strategic position in a narrow valley, the site of Gwydir had been in continual occupation for centuries before Meredith ap Ieuan ap Robert, the founder of the Wynn dynasty, built the present Gwydir Castle, using material from the dissolved Abbey of Maenan. Of particular interest to me, as a student of the English Civil War, the house was reputed to have been visited in 1645 by Charles I, as the guest of Sir Richard Wynn, 2nd Baronet, Treasurer to Queen Henrietta Maria, and Groom of the Royal Bed Chamber.

It had recently been purchased and opened up to the public by the owners to raise the money to restore it (I believe it is now a B&B). At the time I happened upon it in 1996, these works were very much in their early stages and it was dark, gloomy and overgrown. Everything you would imagine a thoroughly haunted house to be! In preparing for this article I found wonderful images on the internet which bear no resemblance to the half derelict building it had been!

Gwydir Castle - gates
I have an interest in ghost stories and the paranormal and while I have not ‘seen’ a ghost I have visited places where I have felt decidedly uncomfortable and Gwydir was one of those places. From the moment I stepped through the heavy front gate, it felt as if my heckles went up and I am not surprised to see it described (more recently) on its website as “One of the most haunted houses in Wales”. 

Needless to say we were the only visitors so I got talking to the caretaker, asking her about the spectral inhabitants of the house. The most frequent ‘visitor’ is a grey (or white) lady thought to be the ghost of a servant girl who was murdered after becoming pregnant during a romance with one of the lords of the manor and her body  hidden in a wall space beside a chimney breast (a priest hole). The presence of this apparition is said to be accompanied by the stench of decaying flesh. It is said that the 5th Baronet confessed on his death bed to a murder in his youth. The other suspect is the first Baronet, Sir John Wynn (whose ghost is also seen) who was reputedly something of a local tyrant.

Also seen is a monk (said to have died when trapped in a tunnel from a secret room) and the sound of crying children is also heard.

Gwydir Castle - interior
Thankfully our visit was uneventful and free of nauseating smells of decay. However the chatty caretaker did tell us about the ghost dog. She owned a dog which came with her to work at the Castle. Hearing barking she looked out of the window and saw her dog joyfully gambling in the garden with a strange dog (she described as “a tall, grey dog”) she had never seen before. She went out to call her animal in and at the sound of her voice the second dog just vanished. FOR MORE ON THE GHOSTS, CLICK HERE

Some years later, the owner of the house found some bones in the cellar during the restoration and had them sent away for analysis. The result came back saying they were the bones of a dog. Conscious that the bodies of animals were often used in the foundations of houses to ward off evil spirits, she restored the bones to where they had been found and the spectral dog has not been seen since.

We went on to visit Conwy Castle (where I nearly lost the boys to a harrassed school teacher in charge of a large school group), Ruthin Castle (complete with hokey medieval banquet), Harlech Castle (Men of…) and my favourite castle, Denbigh Castle but if I look back at that trip, it is the quiet, brooding menace of Gwydir Castle that stays with me more than any of the others!


Friday, September 20, 2013

Taking Tea with - Iris Blobel (and giveaway)


It's my pleasure to introduce a "new to me" author this week, the peripatetic, Iris Blobel. Her books deal with the complexities of relationships between parents and children, men and women and siblings and her voice is probably more reminscent of what is loosely described as "women's fiction" rather than straight romance. 

Welcome to my tea table, Iris... Are you a coffee or a tea drinker?

Definitely a tea drinker. If I don’t get my cup of Earl Grey, things can get really nasty around me J 
(AS:  Earl Grey...shudder!...fortunately I do keep some on hand for such emergencies

You have led a peripatetic life…born in Germany, au paired in Australia, lived in Scotland, London, Canada and now living permanently in Victoria, Australia…  what drove your travel urge?

We always travelled. As long as I can remember, we headed off somewhere during the holidays. Those days we had little money and all the other kids in my class when to the “in-places” like Ibiza or Majorca. Instead, our travels took us to places like Romania or Bulgaria. It was great. We never missed out. Even at a very mature age, mum’s still travelling and I envy her for that, and  I’m really happy that she does. We’ve got postcards from Namibia and Israel, Thailand and the Czech Republic. I hope my two daughters will have that travel bug as well – then again, I’m pretty sure they already do!

I have read that you met your Australian husband in Canada (Australians are great travelers too). Would you like to share how the two of you first met?

OMG – not sure. It was on one of the Contiki Tours. I heard the tour guide saying his (German) Surname every day when it came to the room allocation and wondered who on earth he is. I thought I’d met all the Germans on the tour already and couldn’t figure it out … until one of the first party evenings … the rest is history. (AS:...sigh...I love "first meeting stories)

You have worked in the film industry, is it as glamorous as people like to think? What is the funniest thing (or most peculiar request) that you encountered? 

Yes and No. I loved it. As a twenty-something-year old I was very impressionable (if that word exists).  I used to work for the ZDF, the German Television station in town, one of the biggest, if not the biggest TV station in Europe. It’s massive, so much so that at least once a year I couldn’t find my car in the car park, because I hadn’t parked it in the usual spot.

It was great working there, and I really enjoyed the daily atmosphere of ‘new books’, ‘new stories’, actors, ratings and the letters from the viewers. I’d have a guess if I had worked there at a more “mature” age, I’d probably still be there. The actors I got to meet and talk to had mostly been local actors, and I’ve got to admit, none of them really stood out that much that I can still remember them … except for Pierre Brice. That was one day to remember!

Pierre Brice in "Bravo"
After that I moved on to Filmproduction and worked as the PA to the CEO at a company called FFP – long hours, lots of international connections, absolute great time, but worn out after only one year … time to move on.

Oh … funniest thing … the letters from the viewers. We had a production called “Schwarzwaldklinik” (loosely translated: Hospital in the Black Forrest). We honestly had people writing in wanting help with their ailments. Funny and sad at the same time, I suppose!

Has your experience in film production influenced your writing?

No, not at all. For me it’s kind of a different lifetime. The only thing I got out of working in this industry is that actors aren’t any better than us.  But it is a buzz and today I often say “I worked in the industry”. Gives me a bit of a kick … LOL

I do most of my reading in the car, commuting to and from work. I LOVE audible books and I fascinated to see that two of your books are available as audible books. What was the process involved in turning your novels into audible books and is it worth it? (self interested question!)

I LOVE THEM, TOO!!! But I mostly listen to them while doing housework or ironing.  But as for the process, I’m afraid I can’t help. It was all organized through my publisher Astraea Press.

Dreams seem to be a recurring theme in your contemporary novels.  What is their significance in your own life?

Very important!  One day when I have enough time, I will have to actually find someone who can tell me more about it. Having said that, though, I do take my time and check out dreams that are very intense or recurring.  But I also believe everyone should have “dreams” in life and work towards them. Life’s too short to do what’s “just” right  or do what you don’t like. Life’s a journey, and like all journeys you should enjoy and treasure it.

Your current WIP is the third in the “Beginnings” series, can you tell us a bit about this series and when we can expect the third book?

I’m hoping to start edits for “More Beginnings” (#2) soon. It’s set 6 years after the first book and we get to follow Mia (the younger sister) through some teenage struggles including her first love.  I’ve only just started Beginnings #3 (Fresh Beginnings) and I’m not quite sure where to head with it, but it’s going to be Jared’s story.  


Iris Blobel was born and raised in Germany and only immigrated to Australia in the late 1990s. Having had the travel bug most of her life, Iris spent quite some time living in Scotland, London as well as Canada where she actually had met her future husband. Her love for putting her stories onto paper has only recently emerged, but now her laptop is a constant companion. Iris resides west of Melbourne with her husband and her beautiful two daughters as well as her two dogs. Next to her job at a private school she also presents a German Program at the local Community Radio.

For more about Iris and her wonderful books visit her WEBSITE/BLOG


To believe in new beginnings is to trust in tomorrow

Twenty-two-year-old Sophie Levesque has been guardian to eight-year-old sister Mia since their mother’s death a few years ago. Luck comes their way when they inherit a small house in Hobart. Problem is, though, they don’t know or have even heard of Clara Bellinger, the testator, and Sophie is afraid it’s all been a mistake.
As Mia settles well into her new school and life in general, Sophie is not only occupied by her search of what connected her to Clara, but also her new studies and the two men, who suddenly have become part of her daily life - Mark O’Connor, the lawyer representing Clara’s estate, and Zach, the hunk from across the road.
 Purchase  NEW BEGINNINGS on Amazon: 


If you could have a chance for a “new beginning” what would you like it to be? 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taking Tea with - Venetia Green (and 'Name that Viking!")

My guest this week is Venetia Green, who may be a "new to you" author. Venetia caught my eye with her first book, A HAWK ENSLAVED, set in the Viking era. I know nothing about Vikings (except what I have learned from Horrible Histories). I now know they never had horns on their helmets and were quite disposed to have the occasional bath.  I am currently reading THE HAWK ENSLAVED and just love being transported into such a foreign (to me) world. It makes a fabulous change from the more conventional "historical romances"!

Ms. Green, if you would care to set your battle axe and shield on that table, I will pour tea or would you prefer coffee?

Tea? Pah! Vikings don’t drink tea! Gimme a good strong draught of ale.


Always a pleasure to welcome another “cross genre” writer to my tea table. I would describe your writing as historicals with romance and your period of passion is the Vikings.  “Vikings” hit the TV screens recently, what is your professional opinion of the portrayal of Viking life in the show?

Hmmm. Firstly, I resent the fact that the (Australian) lead role of “Vikings” has stolen the name of my own novel’s hero! (i.e. ‘Ragnar’)  So the series and I did not get off to a good start, but I opened my heart and was willing to fall in love.

It didn’t happen.  I simply found it too ludicrous that said Vikings were not aware of the British Isles just across the North Sea. We are not talking about the New World here, although if you believed the series you’d think it just as momentous an undertaking. All they had to do was sail along the coast of Denmark, Belgium and France and scud across the English Channel.  Come on – the Vikings weren’t stupid. They knew full well England lurked over the western horizon.

I could whinge on, believe me, but I’ll stuff a sock in it now and set my Tardis forward a few centuries …

You also write stories set in Medieval London? Where did the passion for these two disparate periods of history come from?

14th century England is SO much easier to research than 10th century Norway. Those pesky Vikings didn’t write anything down until centuries afterwards (unless you count the odd runic inscription) and archaeological digs only provide artifacts, not stories!

When you get to High Medieval England, however, there are reams of written stuff.  One of the wonderful things about historical fiction is real characters, places and events all jostle into your story from the primary sources and make the experience so much richer. You can dive into the historical sources and find stories just begging to be told.

London itself offers a rare glimpse of urban medievaldom. Most people hung out in the country in those days, so a slink down some slimy back alley is a welcome respite from glacier-capped fjords or rolling green hills!

You come from an academic background and famously abandoned your PhD to concentrate on writing fiction? What was your thesis and why did you feel the call to write fiction was stronger?

I did my history honours project on environmental change in medieval Iceland and simply adored it. But I was never able to hit upon a topic quite so enthralling for my PhD. I tried to get cross-disciplinary with an English-History thesis on popular culture interpretations of Vikings but just couldn’t make myself do it. You see, there was no end-goal to make the slog worthwhile. I didn’t want an academic job – I just wanted to write historical novels!

Why? Because a good novel is so much more vivid and visceral an experience than a history text. There is nothing like historical fiction to breathe life into the past.

Your first book A HAWK ENSLAVED, set in the Viking era, has had some glowing reviews. What’s next for Venetia Green?

I’m contracted for a novella set in medieval London at the time of the Black Death, and I’ve written a naughty Viking romp of a novel entitled The Good Viking. I had loads of fun playing with the stereotypes in that one. I even put horns on my hero.

But right now I’m absorbed in rewriting Chaucer. No hubris there, eh? More precisely, I’m reimagining the wicked Wife of Bath, she of 5 husbands and a fine bele chose.  My novel takes her all the way to Jerusalem in the company of some very dodgy characters.

 A HawkEnslaved
Venetia Green
A beautiful hawk-tamer enslaved by Vikings.
Ragnar Ulfsson must find his king a concubine. His solution is Isolde, captured whilst climbing the sea-cliffs for falcons. Enslaved in his own way, Ragnar has few qualms about binding another to his lord for the greater good. After all, it is an honor to share the bed of a king.
Isolde does not view slavery so complacently. Like a hawk caged, she is frantic to escape. But the king’s hall is a bubbling stew of political intrigue and Isolde is an essential ingredient in the mix. Her only hope out is Ragnar, who captured her but also promises to free her—eventually. But there is something strange about this dark Viking, oddly withdrawn and controlled, and their growing bond will lead her into greater danger still.
For Ragnar doesn’t touch women. For good reason.
(A Blush® Historical romance from Ellora’s Cave)

Buy Links for the Book:

About Venetia
Venetia was spirited from misty England to the wild west of Australia as a child and is still unsure which world she belongs in. Perhaps that is why she escaped into the past ...

When she grew up, Venetia spent 10 years studying literature and history before the need to write her own overwhelmed her – at which point she abandoned her PhD and dived headlong into historical fiction. Now she writes dark and sensuous romances set amongst the fjords of Viking Age Scandinavia and back-alleys of medieval London.

Visit Venetia's Website

Venetia Green (left) and Sasha Cottman (right) hamming it up as vikings at the 2013 Romance Writers of Australia Conference (with historically incorrect helmets)

GIVEAWAY:  A copy of A HAWK ENSLAVED to the best names for this duo of fearsome vikings!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writer's Life: The Critique Group*

On the weekend my "critique group" met. It was loud, excited and fuelled by champagne but oh, so terribly important! Goals were re-established, current works in progress assessed, a new member welcomed, we brainstormed and a story opening was critiqued. They are my tribe and an absolutely integral part of who I am as a writer.

Writing is by nature a solitary past time but the trope of the writer in the freezing garret scratching away to the light of single guttering candle has been supplanted in the digital age by computers and internet. We are no longer alone, there is a whole writing community out there with whom to connect. Online workshops, elists, forums, blogs… but one thing remains constant: around the country, at any given time there is a little group of writers sitting around a table with printed paper clutched in one hand and a pen in the other. (There are also online critique groups but I have no experience of those so I will just talk about the “actual” critique group as opposed to the “virtual” critique group).

Most writers are introverts, so it takes a great deal of motivation (and courage) to join a critique group. Not only are you putting your writing on the line but also yourself and it’s that very vulnerability that either makes or breaks your experience with a critique group.

I started off as the lone wolf, driven partly by a need to keep this part of my life “secret”. It was only when I moved to Singapore with my husband’s work and found myself utterly stranded without direction or identity. Like a drowning woman I reached out and joined the ANZA Writers Group. In that group I found a core of wonderful women of different ages and different interests. As writers we were all different which meant we had to find some common ground on which to share our passion for writing. We found it in short story writing. Every month our convener would set us ‘homework’ of some kind which would more often than not translate into a short story. (Ironically my current release SECRETS IN TIME began as ANZA Writers Group homework). Because we were so different, critique was gentle but encouraging. That experience ended in the publication of two volumes of short stories by a local publisher (these days we would probably just have self published them and put it out as an ebook – how the world has changed). For a recent article about this group and what became of us all click HERE.

The ANZA Writers Group in 2002 at the Launch of NOT ALL PINK GINS

On return to Australia, I went back to lone wolfdom but having had the taste of what a good crit group could be, I went in search of another and found it. Through Romance Writers of Australia, a group had just been formed in my area. A bad experience with a potential new member had made the group a little wary but they invited me in and I now count them amongst my dearest friends.
What makes or breaks a critique group?

The members. It does matter that you find a group of people with whom you have something in common. There would be little point in me joining a group of science fiction writers. We would have very little common ground. Although the group in Singapore were quite disparate in their writing interests, we still found common ground in our writing. Universally we were women writing for women. My current critique group are romance writers but within that broad genre our interests are quite different but there is enough room to tolerate difference - although I will say in all honesty I don’t know whether we would operate so comfortably if a member who wrote erotica joined us. That’s not where any of us are or want to be. It is terribly important that the members of the group mesh together. So much of what makes a good group is trust.

How critique is delivered. Each member of the group needs to be clear about how they want to receive critique. We tend to use our face to face meetings for brainstorming, setting of goals and writerly business. We can circulate writing for critique by email but occasionally we have specific face to face critiquing sessions. It is here that the main danger of critique groups lie, I have heard stories of young writers whose spirit has been broken by harsh critiquing. I try to couch critique in the form of “suggestions only” and I would advise any writer to take from the critique the bits that are useful to you. There is a danger in absorbing everything – after all it is only someone’s opinion and I have seen young writers whose voice has been lost in a welter of over critiquing. Have faith in your own writing.

A good critique group has a range of experience within its members from experienced writers through to newbies. A good group will nurture and encourage new writers and even “experienced writers” need the support and encouragement of other people. Since I joined my little group, one of our members has had “the call” (Sasha Cottman's LETTER FROM A RAKE - out now!). We watched that story go from brainstorming to publication. It is OUR book! And my own, SECRETS IN TIME, was read and critiqued by the group members. I am no longer a lone wolf…I have my little pack to run with.

Alison's "tribe" at work on a writing retreat

How do you find a critique group? That is a surprisingly hard question to answer!

  • If you are a member of Romance Writers of Australia you can contact the Group Liaison who can either help you start your own group or find a group in your area.
  • Your local community centre may have details of local writing groups but expect to find a wide range of writing interests within such a group. The larger the group the more structured you will find it.

Looking for suggestions: What makes a critique group work or where/how do you find a suitable group?

(*based on an earlier post appearing on Long and Short Reviews May 13, 2013)

Ms. Stuart is paying calls...

It has been a busy week for Ms. S.. She has been out visiting friends and talking about her favourite subject - the seventeenth century. 

So if you are wondering where she is, why not pop around and visit her at:

When she is not paying calls, she has been hard at work doing requested revisions on a new story...hopefully there will be some good news on that front soon :-)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Taking Tea with - Ebony McKenna

It is my great pleasure to welcome YA ("young adult") author, Ebony McKenna to my tea table today. It is a little known fact about Ebony, but she is the world's expert on the politics and history of the (fictional) kingdom of Brugel, a small country somewhere in Eastern Europe and famous mainly for its utter failure to achieve anything at the Eurovision song contest. 

I hope you all enjoy this chance to learn something about a hitherto little known corner of our world and perhaps add Brugel to your tourist destinations on your next trip to Europe?

Ebony I have recently returned from Russia where tea is the most popular beverage (not Vodka!)  and is made using huge samovars. Does Brugel have its own tea ceremonies?

A public samovar in downtown Venzelemma

Oh yes, the Brugelish love of tea goes foot-in-boot with Russia. Samovari (the Brugelish name for one who prepares tea from a samovar) are more popular than Baristas in downtown Venzelemma.

Tea has always been a favourite of Brugelers. Coffee did gain a small foothold, but during the communist years, when Brugel was part of the USSR, Coffee became incredibly hard to obtain. The neighbouring state of Craviç tried growing Chicory as a substitute. Vile stuff. People switched back to tea, as this was easy to obtain through trade routes with China.

In Brugel, tea is often taken with a slice of lemon, rather than milk. This leads to the local idiom - I’ll take it with a slice of lemon - meaning you don’t entirely believe them. The more popular western phrase, “I’ll take that with a grain of salt” makes no sense in Brugel, as tea with salt tastes horrid.

As you know, my interest is historical fiction and just recently we were discussing the hitherto little known history of Brugel (so insignificant that every major tyrant in history has bypassed it). Would you care to give us a potted version of Brugelese History?

Brugel has a marvellous and yet conveniently ignored history.

Settlement in the region can be traced back to nomadic goat herding tribes wandering through (on their way to better pastures) from at least 10,000 BC.

Historians are still vibrantly discussing the ensuing 12,000 years of Brugelese (or Brugelish, depending on which team you’re on) history. At a town called D’senterie, in the northernmost part of Brugel there is a historical marker dedicated to the place where Napoleon’s army rested for an afternoon. They picked Brugel Oak nuts and crushed them for a delicious sauce to dress the boiled chicken. This is also the first recorded outbreak of gastric upset in the Napoleonic Campaign.

Monument to the Russian occupation in central Venzelemma
Brugel has survived through many hardships, having been annexed into the Constantine, Austro-Hungarian, Prussian and Holy Roman empires at various – and mercifully short – times in history. In the 1950s Soviet tanks often rumbled through the main streets of Venzelemma – on their way to somewhere else.

It’s a little known fact that Brugel is the home of the sundial. This was more by tradition than design, from the days when sensible folk would abstain from drinking before the shadow of the castle tower cleared the main road.

Would you recommend visiting Brugel as a tourist? What would be highlights?

The latest campaign from the Brugel Tourism Board is, “The Weekend Starts on Wednesday.” BrugelAir has free one-way flights to Venzelemma from Prague, every Wednesday for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, there are no return flights, but I hear the train journeys to Slaegal the following Tuesday evoke equal measures of nostalgia and sciatica.

There are so many wonderful highlights; it’s hard to know where to start. Probably the most beautiful part of Brugel is the beach. (Singular, Brugel only has one). This one-hundred-metre-long strip of waterfront at the Black Sea is a charming way to fill a half hour on a summer morning.

It’s best to head into Venzelemma for the rest of the day, as the fishing boats return with their catches around ten and are not refrigerated.

Hiking is a popular pastime, as Brugel has the most manageable hills in all of Europe. Mt Verka Seduchka is the highest point, at a mighty 200 metres above sea level. It is also home to the transmission tower for BTV. The tower’s crumbling foundations and acute lean make for some dramatic photographs.

What is it with ferrets?
Hamish the talking ferret...
a recent delegate at the RWA Conference

Ferrets are comedy gold, and are completely adorable. For the briefest of moments, when the idea for Ondine’s story first sprouted, Shambles was a rat. I screwed up my face and came up with a better idea because even I could see a rat would be a hard sell. A ferret on the other hand is full of life (in the two hours a day they're not asleep) and can double as a scarf when the weather turns chilly.

My toy ferret is lightweight and a charming travelling companion. He also doubles as a neck pillow on the plane.

I adore the Ondine series, even though they are strictly speaking, “Young Adult” (one can be young at heart!). SUMMER OF SHAMBLES and THE AUTUMN PALACE are up and out there and garnishing lovely reviews. When can we expect to see THE WINTER OF MAGIC and THE SPRING REVOLUTION?

Thank you so much! There really is no upper age limit on enjoying these books, and I've loaded them with plenty of jokes for parents as well as teenagers. The wait for the next books will be over soon. The trequel, THE WINTER OF MAGIC will be out in December - hooray  Then book four, THE SPRING REVOLUTION will complete the quartet in March, next year. These will both be worldwide releases, on multiple digital platforms.

Ebony McKenna lives in Melbourne, Australia with her family, living the slob-urban dream. She loves trivia nights, train sets and the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite having such a deep and abiding love for ferrets, her only pets are two RSPCA-rescue rabbits and the ring-tail possums that keep getting into the roof.

THE AUTUMN PALACE - Book 2 in the Ondine Stories

This second sassy adventure in the young adult series from author Ebony McKenna combines fairytale romance with magical fun. 
15-year-old Ondine is desperate to escape the confines of her family’s hectic hotel to be with her gorgeous new boyfriend Hamish.
When his talent for transforming into a ferret results in a dangerous new assignment from the Duke of Brugel - at his stunning autumn palace - Ondine seizes the opportunity to tag along.
To her annoyance, Ondine’s Great-Aunt Col insists on joining them as chaperone. Making matters worse is the ageing witch’s embarrassing habit of performing the wrong kind of magic at the worst possible time.
Upon entering the palace grounds they are confronted by a fierce tornado that awakens something dark and ominous. Unexplained phenomena begin intruding on everyday life at an alarming rate.
Surrounded by strange magic, Ondine and Hamish must expose a royal conspiracy, champion the palace’s downtrodden servants and solve a baffling mystery.
With so much at stake, will they ever find time to be together?

The Autumn Palace is the second novel in the wonderfully witty four-part ONDINE series. Fans of The Princess Bride will love this book. (Fans of the first book will love it too, obviously!)

Thank you for being my guest today, Ebony. I have read both the Summer of Shambles and The Autumn Palace and I can attest that these are not just books for youngsters. They had me laughing out loud  ... most undignified I know (and somewhat alarming for my husband) ... but there you go. Sometimes you just find something that tickles the funnybone!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Writer's Life: If I had 3 wishes...? (and Giveaway)


Today I’m participating in the Three Wishes Blog Blitz, hosted by author Juliet Madison! From 2nd to 6th September you’ll have the chance to win some awesome prizes at all the blogs participating in the blitz, including mine. All you have to do is follow my instructions below for winning the prize I have on offer, and then you can click over to Juliet’s blog to enter her prize draw, and see the list of all other blogs taking part and enter their giveaways as well. 

Why is it called the Three Wishes Blog Blitz? Juliet’s new  romantic comedy release, I DREAM OF JOHNNY, is about three wishes, a high-tech genie in a lamp, and one very unfortunate typo that proves magic isn’t all it cracked up to be… and Ms.Stuart loves to support her fellow writers particularly those who write quirky (and time travelley stories).

In keeping with my regular theme of the Writer’s Life, here are my three “writing wishes”. 

Now if I recall the old “Genie in the Bottle” stories…generally wish making has a down side so let me see how I go with my three wishes.


The sub text to this wish is “That I could earn enough from writing that I could give up the day job”. The fact is that very few writers (and I am lucky enough to know some of them!) make a living wage from writing. A friend recently calculated that in order to make a minimum wage she would need to sell 30,000 ebooks. It’s almost enough to make one throw down the pen and vow to write no more…except the money is probably not why most of us write.

I actually have a confession to make…The “day job” is a very a manageable 40 hours a month which is about 2 days per week. Nearly 2 years ago I did give up the day job (or at least it gave me up) and for nearly 18 months it was just me and my stories, but you know something? I found I needed more than just me and my imaginary friends. I missed going to work, chatting with colleagues in the tea room, navigating the murky waters of corporate life and in short “ze leetle grey cells” felt like they were beginning to atrophy and (a consequence of the circumstances of losing my previous job) my self confidence was rock bottom. Going back into the workforce had a knock on effect of making my writing more productive and you know something else...? I actually rather like my "day job"!


…And all my books would appear on the front stands of airport bookshops accompanied by a life size cardboard cut out of me…!

Now this really would be a case of “be careful what you wish for”. To start with the days of huge contract advances are long gone. The big publishers still seem happy to hand out multi-book contracts but for a fraction of what they were offering 5 years ago. I have seen my friends ecstatic at being given the multi-book contract begin to sink under the weight of responsibility. Those contracts contain strict, non negotiable deadlines which must be met at all costs. The writer is shackled to his or her computer with those golden handcuffs.

How often have you read the first book in a series, only to be disappointed by the second and third? Could this be because the writer spent years honing and perfecting that first book, the one that was picked up, only to find #2 and #3 had to be written within 6 months, or at best 12 months? Could it also be because the writer is now subject to an editor who wants everything they loved about that first book to now look like something else entirely?

At the moment I am a free spirit…I write what I want, when I want. I am only really subject to my own self imposed deadlines. OK, I don’t make a lot of money (or much at all!) but do I really want that big contract? Well…it would be nice to be offered one…then I could see!


It is all very well to be a writing free spirit but despite my best intentions, time fritters away beneath my fingers. Just glancing at the clock I realise it is nearly lunch time and I have been doing anything but writing this morning… I might just as well wish for more hours in the day...

Better time management is required. I keep downloading useful apps to my iPad which are GUARANTEED to assist me in time management. Now if only I had the time to set them up...

As per #1 above, oddly enough I find having the day job does make me more organised. When confronted with endless writing days stretching on into infinity, there is always something else to claim my attention!

And…all work and no play makes Jill (or Alison) a dull girl!

In honour of the Blog Blitz, I am offering a $15 Amazon voucher to a random commenter on my blog, but you have to answer this question.... If you are a writer: What is ONE writing wish? OR If you are a reader: What is your ONE reading wish? 

Once you’ve entered my giveaway, visit Juliet’s blog & enter her giveaway too, and visit any or all of the other participating blogs to enter more prize draws. You could potentially win a whole heap of prizes! Good luck! 

Visit the official Blog Blitz post here: