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Friday, May 30, 2014

Taking Tea with... Jenn J McLeod

My guest today is Australian author Jenn J. McLeod.  Jenn and I met over a cup of tea at a Romance Writers of Australia conference. We were both in a blue funk about the difficulties of breaking into the publishing industry. Fortune smiled on Jenn and within a year of that conference (or was it two?) she had found an agent and been picked up by Simon and Schuster just at the moment when Australian "rural" romance was taking off... although personally I would describe Jenn's books as more akin to "women's fiction" (if you are into labels). They are wonderful small town stories of real people and I am delighted to call Jenn a friend.

Jenn, it’s always a particular pleasure to welcome old friends and in honour of our Australian-ness… George is out the back swinging the billy for a cup of good old fashioned bush tea. However if that is not to your taste we can do something else…?

Any tea I don’t have to make is okay with me. Thank you, Ms. Stuart. Oh, and can I see a small slab of damper over there? (AS - it is... with real butter!) 

Oh, and speaking of boiling billies, hope you enjoy my little segue at the end. Ha! (AS:  )

I actually feel slightly nervous serving you tea as you are famous for having thrown in the corporate life and buying a tea shop in a small country town… can you tell me how that came about?

Funny you should use that word – famous. I discovered a sense of celebrity comres from moving into a small town and into a much-loved business. I had never made an espresso coffee – never even stood behind a coffee machine – but I had consumed a small continent of caffeine in corporate life so I figured how hard could it be.


Owning a small town cafe was a dream come true until I realised how physically demanding the work could be. One Sunday, over the breakfast/lunch period I walked 16 kms!! (Sitting on my butt all day at a work desk seemed suddenly very appealing!) We last 4 years before selling the café. We now run a dog-friendly B&B. Absolutely no regrets (in fact I champion sea changes. Get your life back, people!) Most importantly, my sea change allowed me to focus on ‘other’ next dream. To be a published author. Four years later … ! *smilie face*
(AS:  As a lawyer I saw clients who had always dreamed of owning 'a little cafe' trying desperately to offload their dreams when the reality of how HARD it was hit home)

I am curious – what was the worst/funniest/most memorable customer experience in your café?

Hmm, the worst was a phone call (after only a couple of weeks in the business). My chef had been locked up in jail for a traffic offence. We were on our own and I had never worked the grill or done more than assemble toasted sandwiches. No meals and definitely no poached eggs. Well, I did 35 breakfasts and 58 covers over the lunch that day. You don’t know what you can do until you do it. So, aspiring writers out there. Just start putting words on the page. (AS:  As that famous Chinese philosoper Ni-Ke said... Just do it!)

The most memorable customer experience was much later when I rather robotically said to a customer after they ordered at the counter: “Take a seat. I’ll bring the coffee over.”
His reply. “I have my own seat, thanks.”
Yes, the customer was in a wheelchair. Thing is, we had such a laugh that day. Glen (his humour and attitude to life) became the inspiration for my character, Will, in House for all Seasons. Both guys are just gorgeous.

Funniest – there is nothing funny about working that hard at my age! ;)

Your debut novel, HOUSE FOR ALL SEASONS, has been a great success. When did you start writing seriously and was this the book that first called to you?

Thank you. A highlight was certainly finding out HOUSE came in at #5 in the 2013 debut best-selling novels list (in Aust). I’d say 2008 was my ‘get serious’ phase. I’d sold the café and I set a deadline (my 50th). If I hadn’t managed to attract some attention for my writing by then I would stop trying to BE published and go back to writing for enjoyment. (I was living and breathing my books and had no time for family of life in general.) I signed with my agent the day before my 50th !

Like most authors, there are old books in the bottom drawer. I learned a lot by writing them. I learned what sort of writer I was and what I wanted to write. But it was NaNoWriMo 2009 that made me stop trying to be a writer and start being a storyteller. The process of writing as many words as possible very quickly (with no editing or endless perfecting) allowed my natural voice to come through. It was this that attracted Simon & Schuster’s publisher and won me a book-a-year offer. (AS: It sounds like a dream come true... but there is a lot of hard work behind making it all seem so effortless. Congratulations!)

I am very excited about your new book, SIMMERINGSEASON which is just out. Firstly is it in the same series as HOUSE FOR ALLSEASONS and are there are any more to come?  What is the premise behind the series?

Loosely linked is how I describe my first two novels (HOUSE and SIMMERING) as they are both set in the same fictional town of Calingarry Crossing and a couple of characters from HOUSE make an appearance in SIMMERING. Other than that they are standalone stories. Book 3 (Season of Shadow and Light) is set in a new town, but not too far away as I found it hard leaving Calingarry Crossing behind. Book 4 is looking more coastal, closer to some of the lovely areas near me in Bonville (a quaint rural hamlet south of Coffs Harbour).
The ‘seasons’ theme came about when planning HOUSE. It is the story of four estranged school friends who inherit a century-old house and have to spend a season each back in their old hometown. I wanted to write a story with four women, each as different as the seasons. To me, the seasons offer so many sights and smells and sounds. Such wonderful contrasts and contrast makes for great conflict. Don’t you agree?   

SIMMERING SEASON revolves around a school reunion. I have never actually been to a school reunion and after nearly 40 years I’m not sure I’m all that keen to start now…  Have you endured a reunion and if so what is your enduring memory of the day? If not… what is your enduring memory of school!

Funny thing, the day I finished SIMMERING SEASON edits I received an email from an old school friend inviting me to a reunion. I couldn’t attend but I have since connected with the Manly Girls High Facebook page. I think there is a little bit of me in my lead character, Maggie Lindeman when she thinks about school reunions. She and I both had a nemesis at school - P.E Class, balance beams and floor mats! Argh! Here is a little extract from the book in which Maggie sums up how I feel about reunions:

In a matter of days, her so-called youth would be catching up with Maggie, the past and present converging with the unpredictable in a celebration of Calingarry Crossing’s centenary.
The idea of a school reunion to Maggie remained both terrifying and fascinating, like a swollen river about to burst its banks; just going for a look could be dangerous, yet it was impossible to stay away. The worst thing was how this reunion was making her question her worth, her achievements ...
Her life.

Thank you for the tea, Ms Stuart. It was delightful. You know, Watching a simmering billy on the fire reminds me of the slow simmer in SIMMERING SEASON and how, if you turn up the heat a little and overload the pot with lies, pretty soon you will blow the lid of that lifetime of secrets. (What a segue!)


When a school reunion brings home
more than memories…
It’s summer storm season and Calingarry Crossing is sweltering.

A devoted mother, sole breadwinner, and now local publican, Maggie Lindeman is back in Calingarry Crossing with her teenage son to sell the family pub, hoping to turn their lives and finances around. The trouble is, the girl people once called Magpie is so busy protecting everyone else she has no idea the perfect storm is heading her way, until her past and present converge with the unexpected to blow the lid off a lifetime of secrets.

No stranger to embracing a second chance or trying something different, Jenn took the first tentative steps towards her tree change in 2004, escaping Sydney’s corporate chaos to buy a small cafe in the seaside town of Sawtell. Moving to the country was like coming home and she now spends her days maintaining her NSW property and writing contemporary Australian fiction—life-affirming novels of small town life and the country roots that run deep.

Ms. Stuart in her final year.
I recently participated in a blog Jenn put together in which she asked authors about their enduring memories of school... School Daze. A recommended read if you have a moment to spare :-)  
This was my contribution:
“Unpick it and do it again”… from Mrs. Plummer the sewing teacher. But seriously I think I owe my biggest debt of thanks to Miss Robinson who had the misfortune to try and teach a bunch of Year 9 girls English grammar. She was the first teacher who encouraged my creative writing.”

Dear readers... you have two days left to enter the May Rafflecopter Contest... so get in quickly and leave a comment for Jenn and I below. 

What are your memories of school or your experience of a recent school reunion?

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Dog of A Life - A moment on the soapbox

I'm going to take a moment to dust off my soapbox and vent about a situation which is seriously impacting on me! The dog next door.. 

Not Freda...
For the last 12 months I have been under siege in my own home from a brindled mutt called "Freda" (name changed to protect the guilty). Freda belongs to the new neighbours and she spends her day on their rooftop balcony, where she has panoramic view of the neighbourhood. She stands on their outside table and barks at anything or anyone or nothing at all, because she is young and she is bored and her owners are out of the house from early in the morning until late in the evening.

We live in an inner city suburb where yards are small and houses are close together and my office faces directly on to the balcony where Freda reigns as self proclaimed Queen of the street. We get barked at as soon as we show a nose outside and collecting the mail or going to the car or gardening are under constant scrutiny from madam.

There is no doubt that the persistent barking is seriously affecting my writing. Noise reducing headphones and  music are OK up to a point but I really don't like things on or in or over my ears for any length of time. I have decamped downstairs with my notebook computer but I can still hear dear Freda and that option really only works when I am home alone. It is hardly fair on my husband to have to tiptoe around me. 

I won't go into the attempts we have made to deal with the problem. Let's just say addressing the issue directly with the neighbours has made no difference  If it was me, I would be mortified if a neighbour approached me to tell me my animal was a nuisance and do everything in my power to remedy the situation...particularly when the only thing being asked is to prevent Freda from having access to the balcony.

Don't get me wrong, I love animals and although I am primarily a cat person, I have had some lovely dogs in my life and do not grudge for a moment anyone's rights to own a dog.  However there is such a thing as responsible ownership and if you work full time and own 2 large dogs surely there is some obligation on you to ensure they are exercised and entertained and not left to become a neighbourhood nuisance? All dogs bark but there are plenty of other dogs living around us who make for perfectly acceptable doggy neighbours!

Is it me or is there a movement among certain (not all!) dog owners to think in some way their dogs are "special" and exempt from council by laws, such as nuisance laws or being kept on leashes near playgrounds or have their droppings picked up?  The leash off exemption for "special dogs" is particularly prevalent along our most popular walking paths by the sea. As a runner (cough!) I have been tripped by loose dogs who should have been on leashes and if you dare point out to a "special dog" owner that their dog should be on a leash, you get a stream of abuse for your efforts.

There is no doubt that the stress of living next door to Freda is affecting not only my quality of life, amenity of my home etc but also my writing. I think I will have to consider working away from home, from my beloved office (and my favourite desk) unless the situation changes. Watch this space.


It is the last days of my Rafflecopter Contest, so please enter below!

Also if you are in or around Melbourne (Australia) this weekend is the Williamstown Literary Festival where I will be running a beginners workshop on Scrivener and Chairing a fabulous panel of Romance writers! Come along and cheer...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 23, 2014

What is it about the Regency?

This is reblog of a recent post on LOVE HISTORICALS... 

In the film “Austenland”, the heroine, a mousy young woman obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, and believing she will never find her “Mr. Darcy” in modern New York, spends her life savings on a trip to England and a Jane Austen theme park, Austenland. Of course all is not as she may have dreamed and Mr. Darcy may not be what she expected… but you need to read the book or see the film.

Having just released my first Regency romance (suspense), LORD SOMERTON’S HEIR, I have been thinking about the Regency. My previous novels have been set mostly in the English Civil War and while I love all periods of history, there is SOMETHING about the Regency that draws readers like magnets.

I wasn’t brought up with Georgette Heyer or, I am ashamed to say, Jane Austen. My own reading taste was rather more for battlefields rather than drawing rooms, so I am a late comer (and a full on convert!) to the genre.

So in my quest to understand more about Regency Romance I have discovered there are two distinct sub genres: TRADITIONAL and REGENCY HISTORICAL. I am probably preaching to the converted when I note Traditonal Regencies are found in the tradition of Georgette Heyer, mannered romances where romance and attention to historical detail is all. Regency Historicals are everything else (and do run the risk of being modern costume dramas). Attention to historical detail is terribly important in whatever period you write and small details like Christmas trees in a Regency drawing room or an English lady fussing about her pumpkins for Thanksgiving are going to be noticed.

These are my thoughts and it will be interesting to know what others think:
  • Firstly I believe that Regency romances are, in fact, fantasies. If the real Regency England had been filled with quite so many amorous members of the aristocracy, there would have been no room for the common people and there were common people. It was actually a time of great misery - the Napoleonic wars and the industrial revolution had a huge impact on the populace. Poverty was rife in the large, industrial cities and changes in agricultural practice were forcing more and more people off the land and into the cities, worsening the situation. No one wants to read about that in the world of Regency romance, it is big houses and beautiful people, brooding Dukes and feisty heroines.
  •   Secondly I think it is the first accessible period of history. The clothes and the hairstyles and the way of life are understandable in a modern context. The civilising factor allowed for gracious houses and comfortable furniture. We recognise (and can transpose ourselves) into the lifestyle of the “ton”.


In this short excerpt Sebastian Alder ventures out to explore the new world he has just entered...
He sanded the letter and folded it and picked up a seal, engraved with the same coat of arms, and applied it to the wax, shaking his head in disbelief as he inspected the impression.
Rising carefully from the chair, his hand going to his side, he limped over to the door.
Beyond it, a wide gallery circled around from a broad, sweeping staircase. Using the balustrade for support, he took the stairs with care, cursing the infernal weakness of ill health.
When he reached the ground floor, he found himself in an elegant, circular entrance hall with a floor of black and white tiles. He turned a slow circle, taking in the elegant Grecian statuary in the alcoves and the fine paintings on the walls.
A number of closed doors, all of which were now his to open, led from the hall. He took a deep breath, hesitating and, for a moment, closed his eyes. Surely this magical world would vanish and it would all be revealed as a fevered dream. But when he opened his eyes, a white marble statue of Diana and her hounds beamed back at him. He smiled and put his hand to one of the doorknobs. .
The first door revealed a dining room dominated by a long polished table and th
second a handsome reception room. The third revealed a bright, cheerful parlour — a woman’s room, he thought.
‘Captain Alder!
Lady Somerton rose from a small escritoire as he entered, her eyes wide with surprise. 

Don't forget to enter the May Rafflecopter to win an author goody bag... details on my website:

Friday, May 16, 2014

Taking Tea with... Lisa Belcastro + Giveaway

When you see the word "Shenandoah", apart from being a lovely song, thoughts come to mind of the beautiful Shenandoah River and images of the American Civil War.  In fact the actual CSS Shenandoah was a Confederate War ship that visited my home town of Melbourne during the the Civil War... but that is a story for another blog.

When I saw the title of Lisa Belcastro's books AND they are time travel stories, I felt she was destined to be a guest of Ms. Stuart. Lisa writes seafaring historical time travel novels and lives in (or is that on) the island of Martha's Vineyard. 

Hi Lisa…tea or coffee?

Hello Alison, and thank you for having me visit with you. I am an avid fan of Australia and delighted to stop by and pretend I’m actually IN Australia. I spent a month there a few years ago. Had a fabulous time, swimming the Great Barrier Reef, horseback riding for five days in the Snowy Mountains, and flying over to Tasmania and the Cadbury Chocolate factory. As to your question, I am a tea drinker. I have a large assortment of teas to suit my mood, the weather, or a guest’s palate. (AS:  I was only at the Cadbury factory in January... sadly you can no longer do the tour!)

I have a confession. I am no sailor… being out on a small boat on the big, wobbly blue thing (to quote Blackadder) absolutely terrifies me. How big a part of your life is sailing and when did you begin?

I wish I could tell you that I own a sailboat, even a small one, and that I’m on the water at least once a week. Sadly, no such luck. The boat I’m on most frequently is the car ferry between our Island and America. If a friend invites me to go sailing or fishing, then I can get dressed and ready to go in five minutes! My love for sailing on a proper sailboat – no motor, straight wind power --  began five years ago when I chaperoned my daughter’s school trip aboard the schooner Shenandoah. All of the Island schools are offered the opportunity to sail for a week aboard the beautiful vessel, and the students experience life as it would have been hundreds of years ago – no electricity, no cell phones, no iPods, no running water, no hot water for that matter.  I fell in love with the peace and solitude. Nights were the best, anchored in the ocean with gentle waves lapping the sides of the ship while I drifted off to sleep. Pure bliss! (AS:  It sounds wonderful... and I love this picture)

You live on Martha’s Vineyard which the whole world knows as the summer playground of Presidents of the United States. Firstly, how did this little island get its name and have you always lived there? I also have to ask, what is it like when the President comes to holiday there? (Imagining the place swarming with security and gawping tourists!)

You have the right image in your mind, Alison. “Swarming” brings to my mind the annoying buzzing of hornets around one of their nests. When the president is here, there is much swarming about. The traffic increases, the noise increases, roads are closed down, and people act a little silly as they hope to be in the place he or his family are passing through. I went for a walk one afternoon with a girlfriend who’d recently had a child. We strolled down familiar streets in my neighborhood, happily chatting and ooohhing over her precious baby girl. Next thing we know, we round a corner, and are stopped by four secret service. The President was playing golf on the course to our left. We couldn’t walk any further. Two moms and a newborn baby were a threat to national security. Go figure!

The Island was named Martha’s Vineyard by the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold in 1602. The “Vineyard” part of the name is easily explainable. Many years ago, an abundance of grape vines grew all over the Island. When I moved here fulltime, there was only one winery left, and it has since closed. There are no clear records where the “Martha” came from. Gosnold had a mother-in-law named Martha and his second child, who died before her first birthday, was also named Martha. Depending on which historical account you read, the namesake varies. (AS: That's fascinating - I love knowing the origin of place names)

When you are not writing, what occupies your days? 

I am an outdoor girl at heart. I love walking the beach looking for sea glass, or packing up a cooler and hitting the beach for a picnic and evening sunset. During the warm weather months, I’m often found in my gardens, weeding, harvesting or planting seasonal flowers and vegetables. I am also a runner. Over the last five years I completed a full marathon (26.2 miles) in all fifty states. Now I’m training for a 50-mile race this fall. With summer coming, I can’t wait to get back to hours in the sunshine.  (At this point, Ms. Stuart, collapses fainting on the sofa and has to be revived with smelling salts!)

You have written three time travel stories (and I LOVE a good time travel!), SHENANDOAHNIGHTS, SHENANDOAH CROSSINGS, and SHENANDOAH DREAMS (which comes July1, 2014). Here in Melbourne, Australia, we have a special affinity with the real life Confederate Ship Shenandoah which docked here during the American Civil War (fabulous story – I must do a blog about it).  What was the inspiration behind your Shenandoah?

I’m so glad you asked, Alison, and I’d love to read a blog about the Confederate Ship Shenandoah. In 1964, Captain Robert Douglas launched the Shenandoah from Vineyard Haven Harbor. She has been sailing the Island waters and beyond for the last fifty years. As I mentioned above, I was fortunate to chaperone two school trips aboard Shenny. During the first summer sail, my mind begin to imagine what it would have been like to live, sail, and experience life during the American Revolution. Living without hot running water, a modern-day toilet, and electricity can do strange things to my already overactive imagination. The following summer, when I was back on board to chaperone another trip, I took copious notes and pictures. From those two journeys and my notes and imagination, Shenandoah Nights became a reality. The first book led to another, and now I’m toying with the idea of writing a Christmas novella because I miss those characters.

Thanks so much for having me to visit. It’s my goal and dream to go back to Australia, and then to hop on over to New Zealand. I’ll be sure to let you know, and we can plan a non-sailing activity – such as chocolate consumption!

“It’s just a dream. It’s just a dream,” Melissa Smith whispers as her eyes focus on the two men standing before her. 
She lives in the twenty-first century. She is chaperoning her sixth-grade students on an educational sailing trip. They are not visiting Plimoth Plantation, or the Boston Tea Party Museum, or the Concord Bridge reenactment. They are sailing over the waters of the Vineyard Sound around the island of Martha’s Vineyard. So the men before her, dressed as though they’ve stepped off the set of a movie about the American Revolutionary War, cannot possibly be real. She’s dreaming. She will wake up.
But can a dream man touch her and send bolts of electricity through her veins and ignite a fire in her heart the likes of which she’s never felt before? Can a dream man serve her food that tastes divine? Can a dream lasts for weeks on end? 
And if she’s not dreaming, then she’s traveled back in time, which is impossible. But here she is, in 1770, uncertain how she arrived, how she’ll get home, and if her heart could bare to be parted from Captain Isaiah Reed. Only time will tell if Melissa is given a chance at love with Isaiah or swept forward once again to her previous life.

 ALL THREE BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON and LISA is generously offering to give away copies of her first two books to one lucky commenter :-)

Lisa Belcastro lives with her family on Martha’s Vineyard. She writes inspirational romances set on the Island and the surrounding waters.  She loves chocolate, reading, writing, running, working in her gardens, including weeding, and almost all outdoor activities -- as long as the temperature is above sixty degrees! Being on or near the water is pure joy for her, and she can’t wait for the warmer weather to arrive. 
When she’s not at her desk working on her next novel or writing the cuisine column for Vineyard Style Magazine, Lisa is volunteering at her daughter’s school, serving in her church community, gardening, training for her first 50-mile road race, or walking the beach looking for sea glass.  To find out more about Lisa and her wonderful time travel stories visit her website. Click HERE

And down under... Williamstown's own Shenandoah connection
Please stop and say hello to Lisa and I and go in the running for copies of SHENANDOAH NIGHTS and SHENANDOAH CROSSING but also get the chance to enter the May Rafflecopter CONTEST.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Brenda Novak Auction - Win a basket of Ebooks by Australian authors

  The Auction for the BEST basket 

That's right, here's your chance to bid on a whole heap of books donated by more than a few wonderful Aussie Writers - mostly members of the HISTORICAL HEARTS.

Thanks to the hard work by the lovely Christina Phillips a large bunch of us Australian writers, mostly writers of historical romance, donated some of our favourite books to this worthwhile cause. If you are interested in connecting with Australian writers and reading a collection of books in a different sort of voice, then this is the item to bid on!


This is the 9th Annual On-Line Auction for Diabetes Research New York Best Seller Author - Brenda Novak has held.  Follow the links to find out more details and how to sign up for your bid here: Brenda Novak - Auction for Diabetes.

To take a look at the Basket of E-Books on behalf of the Historical Hearts Group click the link  HERE

This magnificent collection of Romance Titles takes in Historical, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Outback, Erotic and Spicy and Contemporary Reads. Something for everyone  OR Everything for one lucky Bidder!! (Including a copy of my own best selling, multi award nominated GATHER THE BONES).

I'd like to acknowledge the support of ALL the Authors who made the donation basket, from the Historical Hearts RWA group of Writers, such a marvellous item to bid for.

Tamara Gill, Erin Grace, Maggi Andersen, Carol Hoggart, Euphrasia Holmes, Alison Stuart, Jo DuncanSuzi LoveS E GilchristCatherine Evans,   Kylie Scott, Marianne Theresa, Beverley Oakley, Annie Seaton, Keziah Hill,  Mel TeshcoRhian Cahill, Nicole Hurley-Moore, Rhyll BiestShona Husk, Tracey O'Hara

There is also a virtual Gift Basket of Critiques for Writers from HERE

This basket Includes:
**From developmental & copy editor Annie Seaton:1 10-page edit
**From author Erin GraceOne 3-Chapter Critique
**From author Euphraisa Holmes
1 10-page edit.
Thanks Ladies :))

BUT WAIT - There's more ...  Check out these Hot & Spicy Reads from the Hot Downunder Authors. 14 Titles to help put a Sizzle into your Winter reading..