The Susie Orman Schnall Fortieth Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop

Susie Orman Schnall, author of On Grace (US Link, UK Link), started the fortieth Birthday Swag Bag Blog Hop. You can read the original post HERE. I was invited to take part by Nicky Wells: fabulous blogger, prolific author of romance that rocks and all round lovely lady. Do have a look at Nicky’s swag bag HERE, and be sure to check out her novels as they’re all excellent reads.

So, the idea is I’m going to a friend’s fortieth birthday bash in an exotic island resort. Sun, sea and Sangria (if it happens to be a Spanish island!) here we come. I can’t wait, but in the meantime I need to think of a few of my favourite things to add to the birthday swag bag. OK, here goes:


Oh my goodness, let’s start with a tough one eh? Like most authors, I am a voracious reader – one of my favourite pastimes is to curl up on the sofa with a good book. Another is to sit Hello, Darkness Coverunder a tree on a sunny day with a good book. Another is to snuggle under my duvet with a good book – you can see the pattern emerging here, can’t you? I’ve resisted the temptation to weigh the swag bag down with the complete works of Charles Dickens, or a collection of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, in favour of championing an author whose work I have recently discovered. Being a fan of the thriller genre, I have gone for the excellent HELLO, DARKNESS by Sandra Brown. Here are the purchase links if you’d like to read this wonderful book yourself: UK Link. US Link.


Ah, now this is much easier than the last category. Much as I love my expensive perfumes, there is one beauty product I couldn’t do without, and that the Aussie Three Minute Miracle conditioner. Leave this in for three minutes (the clue’s in the name!) and even my unruly mop of hair turns to silk. It smells divine too.


Mmmm, I’m getting hungry contemplating this one. Again, it’s not a difficult choice. It’s got to be – ta dah – Twiglets. Oh, not just any old Twiglets, but the gorgeous dinky little Twiglets in the festive tubs that only seem to be available during the run up to Christmas. I suppose that’s because they’re festive, duh – and trust me to want one in June. Quite simply, though, these nibbles take snacking to a whole new taste level, so it’s got to be the Christmas tub of Twiglets.

Flogging Molly

Click image for UK purchase link.


WHAT?!!!! I’ve had to choose a favourite book, and now I’ve got to narrow my vast cd/vinyl/MP3 collection down to one? Again the classics spring to mind, as I never tire of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, but there’s one album that never fails to lift my spirits, and that’s the one I’m including. I first discovered this Irish/American band at Reading Festival a few years ago, and as I love Irish folk music with a rocky edge I fell in love with them immediately. Pour the Guinness; crack open the whiskey; tap those feet – it’s the brilliant Flogging Molly’s Within A Mile of Home.

And finally…

MY CHOICE:wakeboard

This one’s easy: a wakeboard. It might be a bit bulky in the swag bag, but as long as we could find a motorboat, and there’s a fair chance we could on a holiday island, we can get out on the water for hours of endless fun.


Next week the swag bag will be hopping over to two of my favourite bloggers.

DEBBIE YOUNG, an English author, journalist, blogger, book reviewer and book promotion consultant. Her entertaining blog, Debbie Young’s Writing life, can be found HERE along with information about her books. Debbie edits the blog for the excellent Alliance of Independent Authors, an organisation championing the cause of indie and self publishing authors of which I’m proud to be a partner member. I was lucky enough to meet her twice recently: once at Cambridge Lit Fest, then again two days later as she launched the book she’s co-written with Dan Holloway, OPENING UP TO INDIE AUTHORS (US linkUK link).

CATHY BROCKMAN will be taking the blog hop back across the Atlantic for her post. Cathy’s blog, Cathy Brockman Romances, is a thoroughly enjoyable mixture of author interviews, book reviews, sneak peeks at forthcoming book releases including her own ‘Love Bites: First Bite’, free stories, and anecdotes and observations about life in general. Cathy loves books, especially romances, and if there’s a touch of the paranormal or a few fit cowboys thrown into the mix she is in her element.

I follow both ladies’ blogs regularly, and always look forward to their posts. If you’ve enjoyed today’s post, do visit Debbie and Cathy in Blogland next week to see what they’ll be adding to the swag bag.


Christmas Reads Day Four – Christmas Ghost Stories – Festive Skin Crawlers with a Twist

My recommendation for today is CHRISTMAS GHOST STORIES – FESTIVE SKIN CRAWLERS WITH A TWIST by Stewart King

Ghosts and Christmas seem to go hand in hand. Yesterday we had benign ghosts with a touch of the rock star about them, helping a fallen hero to find his way in life. Today, the featured ghosts are somewhat less benign. If, like me, you enjoy a good spine tingling tale, a creepy paranormal occurrence, a sinister spooky spectre, then you will love Stewart King’s collection of festive ghost stories. As the title suggests, each story has its own surprise, none of which I managed to predict. Here’s the blurb, and an excerpt Stewart is happy for me to share.



A remote Cornish village on Christmas Day battered by the howling seas.

An old house that needs emptying on a Boxing Day.

A woman who spends Christmas by herself every year.

Prepare to be scared out of your wits with this collection of Christmas Ghost stories from the macabre pen of Stewart King.

While Christmas is a time of crackling fires and roasting turkeys, it can also be a time of dark nights, howling winds, creaks on the stairs, and strange noises from the cellar.

And while it a time for re-unions and parties, for some people it is also a time of loneliness and memories.

And it is not necessarily just the living members of the family that come back for the festive season.

Written in the style of the traditional masters of the genre such as Charles Dickens and MR James, each story in this collection captures the essence of Christmas – except with a deadly sting in its tail.

So if it cold outside and you’re safe and cosy indoors watching the snow fall outside, throw a log on the fire, pour yourself a glass of something warming and snatch a few shiveringly good moments with these festive spine-tinglers.

But don’t forget to leave the light on.

Stewart King is the best-selling horror author of books such as ‘BLOODBATH ON THE TITIANIC’ and ‘THE ARCONA COVENANT’.



Even though it was only momentary something cracked when Mr Jacobson saw their faces.  It sounded like walnut shells being broken deep inside both ears.  He was held in the chair by what felt like a slab of wet stone across his bony lap and even though his eyes had rolled upwards, as if scuttling there from their reflection, his brain still held the impression of the expressions that populated the area behind him.  

A bunting of dead people faces with eyes open, the bulk of their bodies that he imagined were as emaciated as their jaundiced features, hidden in the gloom.  He couldn’t turn; his spine felt as if it had been screwed into the seat of the chair.  His nose filled with an overpowering smell of paraffin.

He felt their weak and dank breathing grazing his neck before a palm was slapped heavily against his chest.  He couldn’t open his eyes.  Even if he wanted to see them it felt like they’d been stitched shut.  The hand slid sideways so it covered his heart, overwrought muscle pounding rapidly under cupped fingers.

The odour saturated him and he felt nausea fizzing cold in his throat.  The hand slid up to his shoulder and to the frayed edge of his cardigan collar.  Would it touch his exposed flesh, his face?

Mr Jacobson briefly tore his eyelids open and through burning, watery vision saw in the mirror’s reflection the blurred faces behind him.  Fingers scrabbled at the back of his head.  He closed them again and heard himself wretch against the stench.

A bony palm scraped harshly across his scalp and the sound of its coarse abrasion rasped around the interior of his skull.


If you would like to take some time out from the festivities over the next couple of weeks and curl up with a good old-fashioned collection of ghost stories, CHRISTMAS GHOST STORIES – FESTIVE SKIN CRAWLERS WITH A TWIST is a must. Here are the purchase links:


Click here for UK purchase link


Click here for USA purchase link


Click for Canada purchase link







I’m delighted to say Stewart has another book of Christmassy ghost stories available, THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT, which definitely on my Kindle wish list.

Ghosts of Christmas Present

Click here for UK purchase link

Ghosts of Christmas Present

Click here for USA purchase link

Ghosts of Christmas Present

Click for Canada purchase link







Alternatively, THE FRIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS offers both books in one.

The Fright Before Christmas New

Click here for UK purchase link

The Fright Before Christmas New

Click here for USA purchase link

The Fright Before Christmas New

Click for Canada purchase link







Enjoy them, if you dare…

To find out more about Stewart and his work you can follow him on Twitter

***Advent Calendar 004Today’s advent calendar picture – An angel

Author Interview – Janet Hopton

My apologies for not posting an author interview last week. It was a bit of a hectic week for me one way or another, but I’m back on the case now and would like to extend a very warm welcome to Janet Hopton. Janet’s fast paced thriller ‘Strange Days’ was published towards the end of 2012, and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to catch up with her and bombard her with questions.


Purchase Strange Days on Amazon

UK link         US link


Alison – Hello Janet, welcome to my blog and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start with your debut novel Strange Days. In your own words, please tell us more about the book and its launch.

JanetStrange Days is Crime/Thriller Fiction.  It is my debut novel and it tells the story of a young barmaid whose life is changed for ever when she gets herself involved, after witnessing a car accident.

Since the launch of Strange Days on the 29th of November 2012, I have done two book signings, one at Waterstone’s in Derby and another at Waterstone’s in Burton-on-Trent.  Both signings went very well resulting in 45 books been sold altogether.  Unfortunately, since then I have had a fall resulting in some injuries, which has meant that I haven’t been unable to do anymore promotion but I hope to get back on track very soon.  I intend to arrange more signings and talks at Women’s Institutes and Townswomen’s Guilds.

Alison – I’m sorry to hear about your accident, and hope you are on the mend now. I’m sure you’re looking forward to getting back to the business of promoting Strange Days. What inspired you to become an author in the first place?

Janet – Since being a teenager I have had it on my mind that I would like to write but for some reason never got started, other than writing a few poems.  It wasn’t until I was married and with teenagers of my own, did I decide to have a go.  It has always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to achieve something, to be recognised in someway, to leave something behind after I am gone.  Maybe that is my driving force!

Alison – I can’t think of anything better than books to leave behind for generations to come! Looking to authors from the past, do you feel that anyone in particular has influenced your writing?

Janet – I don’t think my writing has been influenced by any other authors.  I think it is entirely me, or am I being naive thinking that?  You ask which authors I like.  To be honest, I think I like the books rather than the authors.  A good book makes a good author and you have to be a good author to write a good book and there are many who fit that category.  I particularly like the classics, such as Dickens, The Brontes, Jane Austen but any good book will do!

Alison – I’m a big fan of Dickens myself, I love his turn of phrase. Was there anything in particular that gave you inspiration for Strange Days itself?

Janet – My inspiration for Strange Days was when I worked behind the bar in our local pub.  It came from observing the clientele and getting intrigued by them and wondering what their lives must be like.

Alison – People watching is something I guess all authors must do. Our characters would be a little boring otherwise! Going back to the subject of books in general, what are you reading at the moment, and what is your opinion?

Janet – The book that I am reading at the moment is Small Island by Andrea Levy.  I am enjoying reading it.  I thought at first that she was taking too long to get to the plot and going into too much detail about the characters in it but as I have read further I have found that she has brought the characters to life for me in a very interesting way.  I am only two thirds through it at the moment, therefore cannot give my full opinion on it.

Alison – I recently read a highly entertaining blog in which an author describes the rituals she has to perform before she begins writing for the day. A second author commented that she has to be wearing certain jewellery when she writes. Do you have any idiosyncrasies when you’re writing?

Janet – None in particular, other than that I like to be alone in the house when I write and nobody can see it until I am happy that it is finished.

Alison – I can relate to that. My poor partner gets snarled at if he so much as glances at my unedited work! As I’ve mentioned I’m reading a lot of excellent blogs by fellow authors, and one thing that intrigues me is the different writing styles each one has. Do you like to plan your work, or do you just see where the story takes you?

Janet – I didn’t plan Strange Days.  I had an idea and worked on it.  I let my imagination run away with me as I typed.

Alison – That’s very much how I write too. Once I get to know my characters the story becomes theirs and I just follow along to write it all down. I remember hearing an author speaking on a radio show, saying his characters told him when they considered it the right time to finish their story. Do you find your characters talk to you?

Janet – I haven’t noticed my characters talking to me, if they did I would worry that I was Schizophrenic, but I will say that I do become my main characters as I write.

Alison – That’s very interesting. My characters chat away to me all the time, but I’ve never felt that I was one of them. It just goes to show we all have our own unique ways of writing. It must be very exciting, and quite daunting, once your book is published and you know people are reading it, especially when those people start to write reviews. Has Strange Days received any reviews, and were you happy with them?

Janet –  I have had some favourable reviews, the ones on Amazon giving Strange Days 4* status and some on my Facebook Site – Fans of Strange Days, all very favourable.

Alison – Do you feel you have learnt anything throughout the publishing of Strange Days?

Janet – I think I learnt a lot from my publishing experience.  The way the process is done from the editing, through the proof reading and artwork stages.  I looked at self publishing at first but felt out of my depth, so I went through an independent publisher, Book Guild.  I was glad that I did, as when it came to promoting my book at Waterstones, I was told that they wouldn’t have been interested in it, if I had self-published.  I am not sure whether that is always the case!

On reflection I think I might have benefited from a more local publisher, the only reason I say this is that Book Guild Publishing is in Brighton and I am in Derby.  There were occasions that I thought maybe they would have attended promotional events if they had been closer and that I could perhaps have attended promotional events that they are involved with.

Alison – I think bookshops are becoming very wary of promoting unknown authors now, with all the competition from e-books making it harder and harder for them to survive. I’m convinced Waterstones would never have agreed to hosting my book launch had I not had the support of an established publishing firm. Aside from book signings, have you joined any book clubs or writers groups while promoting Strange Days?

Janet – I am not involved with any book clubs, but having said that I recently joined Vixen Fiction, a small group of ladies who like to write and meet at our local library once a month.  We have a trip to D H Lawrence’s House and Museum in Nottinghamshire coming up soon.

Alison – I’ve found networking with authors, editors and book lovers very useful as I approach the publication date of my novel. At the very least we can bounce ideas off one another, and I’ve made some useful contacts for when the time comes to get reviews rolling in. I’ve mentioned editing here; would any writing other than fiction, such as editing or script writing, appeal to you?

Janet – I would be interested in other writing ideas, such has writing plays but I am not sure how good I would be at it.  As for writing reviews, I don’t think that I am eloquent enough to do a good job, especially when there is so much at stake.  Editing is very specialist, I think one must need a degree in English Grammar to be able to do it.

Alison – I’m not so sure about that. Obviously, an editor needs a high standard of grammar and a good command of the language in general, as well as an eye for storylines and characterisation, but I think one can learn all that from being a voracious reader. You’re right about script writing, which I think is very different to writing a novel. As for reviewing, I think you do yourself a disservice! Anyone who can write a book deemed worthy of publication is eloquent enough to write a review. Revisiting the subject of editing again, do you think authors need to get their work professionally edited and proof read, or is it something they can do themselves?

Janet – I do think that professional editing and proof reading is essential for the publishing process for most of us.  I hope that someone edits and proof-reads this before it goes out!

Alison – Just me I’m afraid, although I may be able to persuade one of the lovely people at Book Guild to cast their expert eyes over it too! It’s no disrespect to an author’s talent, but I don’t believe anyone can successfully edit and proof read their own novel, and it’s a shame that some authors think a DIY job is a good way to save some money. Apart from employing the professionals to edit and proof read, is there any other advice you would give to a budding author?

Janet – My advice to any budding authors out there is to give it a go, what can you lose?  You will never know, unless you try!

Alison – I’ve recently received the first copies of my debut novel, which I found immensely exciting. What a great feeling it was to hold my book in my hands for the first time. How did you feel when the initial copies of Strange Days arrived?

Janet – I felt a bit overwhelmed when my book arrived all done and dusted.  In fact I made my husband open the box and look at it first.  My first reaction when I got my hands on it was ‘WOW’, it was a lovely book and nicely presented.  My only gripe was that I thought it would be thicker.  The strangest feeling was seeing it being advertised in Waterstones for my signing.  I then expected to see it everywhere, on bookshop shelves, in libraries, I guess that only happens, every blue moon!  Not giving up hope though!

When in London I called into The British Library and asked for it, only to be told I was too early as it takes more than six months to get there.  Must try again!

Alison – Are you planning a sequel to Strange Days?

Janet – I haven’t planned a sequel to Strange Days but it isn’t out of the question, especially as friends tell me that they need to know what happens next to some of my characters.

I do have another novel nearly finished and hope that my publisher will like it.

Alison – I shall keep my eyes open for that. Would you ever consider ghost writing a novel for a celebrity ‘author’?

Janet – Ghost Writing for a celebrity author – I think that if I was younger that would be a great idea.  I am not sure what the celebrity author would think of me doing it though.

Alison – Have you ever thought about Strange Days being made into a film or television drama? If so, would you like to appear in it?

 Janet – Some have said that Strange Days would make a good television drama, as for me starring in it; I think that would be best left to the actors.  Maybe an extra on set would be good!

Alison – Just a couple of general questions to round off the interview. What are your top five books, if you can narrow it down to five?

Janet – My five top books are:

  • Papillon – Henri Charierre
  • Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Blind Miller (I like a good cry) – Catherine Cookson
  • The Secret Garden (Childhood Inspiration) – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Oh yes, I did like Puckoon (I also like a good laugh) – Spike Milligan

Alison – I loved The Secret Garden as a child too, I must have read it dozens of times. I do love my Kindle for its convenience, but I don’t think it will ever replace the pleasure of opening a brand new book and smelling the print before I delve into the story. Do you think there is a future for physical books, or will the e-book eventually take over completely?

Janet – I do hope that the future is okay for real, touchable, smellable books, however I think that there is a place for e-books to.  Perhaps everyone who purchases an e-book should buy a real book to make amends.  I can’t see readers loaning out their e-books, can you?

Alison – No, I can’t see that happening either; but, on the plus side for us authors, it means everyone will buy their own copy for their e-reader and we make more sales. Kerr-ching! Thank you very much Janet for taking part in this interview. It has been a real pleasure to chat and hear your news and views.

Janet – Thank you Alison, I think this is a great idea!

To find out more about Janet and her work, please visit her facebook page Fans of Strange Days or follow her on Twitter