Monday, 20 June 2022

 Guest Post with Chris Penhall

This week I'm delighted to welcome fellow Ruby Fiction author, Chris Penhall to the blog. Her new novel, the third in her Portuguese Paradise Book series, is to be published next week. 

Chris, welcome. I'm looking forward to finding out more about The House on The Hill: A Summer in The Algarve and how it fits into your series.

 Hi Jan. Thanks for inviting me onto your blog to talk about the challenges of writing books connected to one another in a series. 

The House on the Hill is the third in my Portuguese Paradise series of books. Set in Lagos in the Algarve, it’s about Layla Garcia who runs a yoga and mindfulness studio in the hills above the city. Her apparently well-organised and calm life is knocked sideways when she gets a new neighbour who reminds her of a bit of her past she’d rather forget. 

When I wrote The House That Alice Built, which was the first in the series, I wrote it as a stand-alone. I had no plans to continue Alice’s story on, as my main focus was to actually finish writing the book, which took me 8 years from when I first started it to actually getting it published.

I had fully intended to start on my next novel, which was to be Finding Summer Happiness and set in Wales rather than Portugal, but I felt Alice’s story hadn’t really finished. So, I began to formulate the plot for New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun. In some ways, it wasn’t too difficult – after all, I had the characters and the beautiful setting of Cascais; but I needed to give Alice another challenge or two before she could really be happy, and that took a little while for me to work out. Once I’d realised what hurdles she needed to overcome, however, I found it quite easy to do. I had to decide which characters didn’t need to return, invent a few more, and formulate a way to bring everyone together in the end. 

I also took the story to Lisbon more and also over the River Tejo southwards, which is a beautiful part of the world, so enjoyed revisiting that in my memory too. A long weekend in Lisbon gave me a well-needed burst of energy and I finished the book soon after that, and, rather quickly, the second in the series was done.

Was there more to say for Alice and her friends? I didn’t think so, and therefore began work on Finding Summer Happiness, turning my attention to Pembrokeshire with other characters and new dilemmas.

I couldn’t really let Portugal go, though, and during the period of the pandemic when I couldn’t visit my beloved Lagos in the Algarve, the idea for a story set there began to find its way steadily into my mind. I wanted to connect it to the first two, but had a whole new set of characters I wanted to spend time with, and so spent a few weeks deciding whose story needed a little bit more attention from the first two books. I’m not giving anything away, but someone has travelled down to Lagos and spent time with Layla and her friends, and has a little storyline of their own. There are also a few tiny cameos along the way, too.

I had great fun dotting in references here and there about the first two novels and some of the people in them, so that anyone who has read them can enjoy a knowing smile or two. But for those who are new to the books, they wouldn’t know, so it can be enjoyed as a story on its own.

What’s common to all of them is Portugal, of course, and once again I have immersed myself in the beauty, vibrancy, colour and warmth of the country and hopefully that has come across in the new book. Layla looks down from her 'House on the Hill' to the long, golden sands of Meia Praia, with the lagoon at one end and the city at the other, and drives down into Lagos for work, or food, or even a ride on the road train. The research into all of this was very, very rigorous, I must say, and I’m more than happy to do it again. So, although I’m now writing something different, Portugal is always calling, so I’m sure there’ll be a Portuguese Paradise book 4 in the not too distant future.

Thank you, Chris. It's interesting that you couldn't let Portugal go. For me, setting plays an important part in a story and it's clear that your love of the country shines through in your books. I wish you every success with Book 3 of the series.


The House on the Hill: A Summer in the Algarve (Portuguese Paradise Book 3) 

Layla is calm, in control, and is definitely not about to lose her serenity for the man next door!

Surely it can’t be hard to stay peaceful at one of the oldest yoga and mindfulness retreats in the Algarve, surrounded by sea, sun and serenity? Mostly, owner Layla Garcia manages it – with the help of meditation and plenty of camomile tea, of course.

But keeping her grandparents’ legacy alive is stressful and Layla has become so shackled to the work, that for her, the ‘house on the Hill’ is fast becoming ‘The Fortress on the Hill’.

Then writer Luke Mackie moves to the villa next door, bringing with him a healthy dose of chaos to disrupt Layla’s plans, plus a painful reminder of a time when she was less-than-serene. But could his influence be just what Layla needs to ‘dance like no one’s watching’ and have the fun she’s been missing?

Buying link here:


Chris won the 2019 Choc Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House that Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun, was published in August 2020. Both are available in paperback, e-book and audio and are part of the Portuguese Paradise series. Finding Happiness, set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales, is available in e-book, audio and paperback. The house on the Hill - A Summer in the Algarve, the third novel in the Portuguese Paradise series, is published in e-book on 28th June 2022. 

Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio. She also has her own podcast - The Talking to My Friends About Books Podcast - where she chats to her friends about books. Good title!

A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.


Twitter: @ChrisPenhall

Instagram: christinepenhall

Facebook: Chris Penhall Author

Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed finding out about Chris and her Portuguese series as much as I did. What do you like about reading novels in a series? Why not share your thoughts in a comment? Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer page. 

To find out more about me and my novels, please visit my AMAZON page.

Monday, 23 May 2022

 A Virtual Writing Retreat

Back from a wonderful holiday in Madeira for the flower festival, I was very much in need of a boost to get back to novel four after not having written anything for a few weeks. Back in February, our Cariad Chapter held its first virtual writing retreat, led by our lovely Jessie Cahalin. We all agreed it was a huge success with members achieving what they'd planned to do. From a personal point of view, I felt I gained not just from the words written but in my state of mind regarding writing in general. I felt enthused again after some time in the doldrums and feeling a bit rubbish! When I knew we were going to spend another day with Jessie, I wondered if it would have the same motivating effect on me as the first one.

I'd spent the previous day mapping out some scenes in my character, Claudia's, viewpoint so that I would be ready to start writing straight away. Because the novel is another dual timeline and there are two stories, it's important for me to plan in some detail. That doesn't mean that things don't change and characters act and think in a way I wasn't expecting but for me the planning is important. I also decided to take on a Nano 'don't get it right, get it written' approach. It does mean more editing for me later but it helps me get fully immersed in the story. Each time I came across something that would need researching, I would insert a comment with notes of what was needed so that I didn't veer away from the writing. So, did it work out? How was the day for me?

On the morning of May 17th, we met together with Jessie via Zoom at 9am. and shared our plans for the day. I had no idea how many words I would write but as long as I moved the story on, I would be happy. Referring to my planned scenes proved invaluable. We met again at 12 noon to report progress before a lunch break and I was pleased to find I had written over 1300 words. By the close of the retreat at 5pm, my novel stood at 23,409 words after starting at 20,018. Not a huge amount for some writers but I was pleased I had stayed focused - no procrastination - and best of all, I'd enjoyed getting back in my characters' company again. A spin-off to the success of the day was that I continued writing each day afterwards. The WiP now has a working title, 'A Tale of Two Sisters'. I know that will probably change but having a title seems to make the manuscript more real as opposed to just calling it 'novel four'.

I reflected back on the day and asked myself why do retreat days work so well for me.? Here are some of my thoughts:

  • I've stated my plans for the day in front of my fellow writers
  • by setting aside uninterrupted time, I have no excuse to get distracted especially by social media
  • I write without researching or editing
  • knowing that others are writing at the same time and reporting back to each other at certain times is motivating
  • if I hit a character or plot problem, I'm able to discuss it with others in the group

I'm much more positive about the new novel now. It will need a lot of work, of course, but isn't that what writing a novel is all about? Since I last talked about the novel, I have booked a research trip with my daughter to Sicily. We are flying into Catania which we will use as a base for visiting places of interest in Taormina and Syracusa. By then, I hope to have researched where and what we want to see as it is only a five-day trip. I hope that when and if  'A Tale of Two Sisters' is published early next year, readers will be able to walk in the footsteps of 
the characters, taste the food and drink and experience the climate.

Thank you for reading. What do you think are the benefits of a virtual writing retreat? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

To find out more about me and my books, please visit my AMAZON page. 

Saturday, 23 April 2022

 A Relaxing Time in Los Gigantes

One view from our balcony
At the end of March, we travelled to our favourite corner of Tenerife for an eleven-day holiday hoping for some sunshine after the Welsh winter. Los Gigantes is a resort town in the Santiago del Teide municipality on the west coast of the largest Canary Island. Its main feature is an array of giant rock formations, Acantilados de Los Gigantes, that rise from the sea to a height of 500 -800 metres and give the town its name. Los Gigantes means 'The Giants'. The first time we visited the town coincided with the annual four-day Carnival. Described as 'a riot of colour... (with) fancy dress competitions, dancing and processions...The burial of the sardine marks the end of the fiesta." Watching the festivities from our balcony inspired me to write a short story about a little girl lost in the crowds. It's entitled 'Burning Our Sardine' and appears in my collection of short stories, Smashing the Mask and Other Stories.

One strikingly beautiful dancer dressed head to toe in bright turquoise made her way to our side of the street and made eye contact with me. The sequins on her leotard glinted in the bright sunshine and accentuated the curves on her slim but shapely body. Huge aquamarine feathers plumed her head and shoulders, forming wings. I smiled back at her as she moved her neck and arms as if she was a performing a dancing ritual to attract a mate.
    “I’m back. Where’s Mia?” Lucy’s concerned voice brought me back to the present. 
    “She’s watching from the front,” I said, looking towards the place where our daughter had been standing moments before. I went cold. Goosebumps formed along my neck as I realised she’d gone.

Because of COVID, this year's Carnival has been postponed to later in the year but we did have a troupe of 
colourful dancers visit the hotel in a practice run.

Although the sun was hot and shone as brightly as we'd hoped, there was sometimes a strong wind. The dramatic coastline with the sea pounding on the rocks was quite a spectacle on our walks. 

For me, a relaxing holiday like this means plenty of time for reading. I like nothing more than to escape through an author's words and lose myself in the worlds they have created. I'm always drawn to dual time-line novels and especially ones where the reader is taken to another country. One novel that stood out for me was 'The Postcard from Italy' by Angela Petch. It's a beautifully crafted novel where I'm transported to Puglia to sample life in the 1940s as well as the present day. I felt I was there in Italy with the characters. The heartbreaking yet uplifting story captivated me from beginning to end.

The other novel I want to mention is 'The Olive Grove' by Eva Glyn. Not a dual time-line as such, the novel opens in 1996 but the rest of the story is set in 2019. However, there are frequent references to events in the past as we get to know the character of Damir. The wonderful sense of place is almost a character in its own right. I was taken straight to Croatia, marvelling at the views and getting to know about the Croatian way of life. A poignant, emotional novel, its characters were with me long after I finished reading it.  

Thank you for reading. What novels do you like to read on holiday? I'd love it if you left a comment. Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page. 

For more about me and my books, please visit my AMAZON page. 

Monday, 14 March 2022

 Writing Novel Four

The last time I wrote a post about novel four was when I was at the planning and research stage. One of the things I realised was that both those stages could go on forever and I needed to start writing it. The James Thurber quote, 'Don't get it right, get it written', became more important than ever. 

Back at the beginning of February, a member of the Cariad RNA Chapter of which I'm a co-organiser, the lovely Jessie Cahalin, offered to run a Virtual Writing Retreat via Zoom. Members met at 9am to say what their plans and aims were for the day, met back at lunchtime and finally congregated at 5pm to review the day and celebrate each others' achievements. Some people used the time to write, others to edit or plan; some people came for part of the day. From everyone's feedback, it was a huge success. I had started writing the novel beforehand, but being totally immersed in the story for the whole day was just the kick-start I needed. Thank you, Jessie.

Since then, I have tried to write whenever I can and I am now over twelve thousand words into the story. Some things have changed. The husband of my main character, Sara, was called Alwyn and their son is Aled! I've kept the little boy's name, but Alwyn is now Fred, a common name during the 1940s. I have a new character, too. Jane Lewis, Sara's mother-in-law, now has a sister Gwen who was needed to show Sara kindness and support as a complete contrast to the character of Jane. One of Fred's previous girlfriends also now has a role. Babs is as streetwise as Sara is innocent 

Although writing the story is my priority at the moment, it doesn't mean that finding out about the Italian POWS and Sicily itself has stopped. I follow a wonderful blog White Almond Sicily run by a British woman, Sarah Kearney. As an introduction to her blog, Sarah writes: 'My love for Sicily inspired me to write a blog sharing travel tips and advice, Sicilian food tips and living life "The Sicilian Way", writing in a fun and visual way to encourage more visitors to the island...' There is always something to learn from her posts and the photography is wonderful, 'whether you are a lover of art, history, mythology, food, vineyards or literary, walking and hiking or just a sun worshipper of beautiful beaches with lazy days on board a yacht.' Sarah very kindly chose my second novel, Her Sister's Secret, as one of twelve novels set in Sicily. My daughter, Jo, and I are hoping to visit Sicily on a research trip in the next month or so and I shall be contacting Sarah for advice on the best places to visit as she has offered.

On Friday, I shall be travelling to Los Gigantes in Tenerife for an eleven-day holiday. I shall;l be packing my notebook and hope to get some writing done. As well as having my KIndle jammed full of novels I can't wait to read, I shall be taking this wonderful-looking book by Daphne Phelps. It was recommended by Sarah on her blog. She bought it on her first-ever visit to Sicily. She describes how she loved '...the way (Phelps) wrote about her life in Taormina with its colourful characters and visitors... and living life the Sicilian way.' 

She goes on to say:
'Casa Cuseni is an enchanting villa that was designed and built fo9r the English painter, Hawthorn Kitson in 1905. His Taorinese house and its lush gardens were designed in an art nouveau way mixed with Sicilian influences.

After his death, Daphne inherited Casa Cuseni and in order to sustain the enormous cost of the house, she started to rent out a few of the rooms to illustrious guests who came to write and paint.'

Thank you for reading. Can you recommend any books set in Sicily? I'd love to know what they are. 

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

For more about me and my books, please visit my AMAZON page.

Sunday, 27 February 2022

 Guest Post with Kirsty Ferry

This week I am delighted to welcome author, Kirsty Ferry, back to the blog. Her latest novel, It Started with a Wedding, was published by Choc Lit on February 22nd. 

Kirsty, welcome!
Can you tell us where the idea for your new novel,
It Started with a Wedding, came from?

I needed to write a story for Alfie, as he was the only McCreadie left who didn’t have a story. He’s a scientist and pretty much sees things in black and white, and doesn’t always want to acknowledge his rather psychic ‘gifts’; so I wanted to make his love interest completely different to loosen him up a bit. Fae was perfect and the setting of Bea’s Garden, a mystical garden where magic is somehow real, was inspired by Dilston Physic Garden near Corbridge in Northumberland. I’ve wanted to write a story set in a garden like that for ages, and this is it.

This is your fifth book in the Schubert series. When writing a series of novels as opposed to a single story, what challenges are there for an author?

Trying to remember what I wrote in the first book and making it match! Because I never plan my books, I tend to write all sorts of random things in book 1 and have to try and match them later. Also timelines. They can sometimes pose a problem and I have to make sure characters are the correct age and things. In It Started with a Wedding, I have to bring in Isla’s pregnancy which I mentioned in It Started with a Pirate – so all the wedding planning had to take place within those few months. When I wrote Every Witch Way, the first in the Schubert series, I just kept merrily mentioning Nessa’s brothers. Then I realised that because I’d given her four brothers, there needed to be at least five books in the series – which did seem daunting at book 2, but here we are with book 5 and it’s been a lovely journey.

As well as uplifting, fun, light-hearted and entertaining, your new novel has been described as quirky. Explain why someone should describe it as such.

Because you really need to suspend your disbelief! Schubert is a real witch’s cat, and it’s a standing joke that people always go ‘Mow wow!’ whenever he’s mentioned. He has gained a bit of a cult following and if I step away from the books and look at them objectively,  I go, that’s crazy – who would ever read this and not make a snarky comment? Then when I read them back, they just seem to work somehow. Reality has been so grim recently I think we all deserve a little fun and escapism and these books have all that, in my opinion. Every McCreadie – and some of their partners – all embrace a few quirks and a little magic in their characters; so I think “quirky” is a lovely, fun word to describe the series and I am actually delighted by that adjective in relation to my books.

Please tell us more about the McCreadie family including their very special cat, Schubert.

The books are based in and around Edinburgh, and we started by meeting Nessa in Every Witch Way. She’s inherited more than her name from her great great granny, and she’s decided to embrace her ‘witchy propensities’ and learn a bit more about Wicca and witchcraft. What Nessa maybe doesn’t realise, is that she has a certain power that she’s never really explored before; and Schubert, the kitten she rescued on the Norfolk Broads, is actually a true witch’s cat – as well as being absolutely enormous and spoilt rotten – and already knows more than she does about her great great granny. Schubert is often passed around the siblings for cat-sitting duties, and it seems that every time he’s involved in a budding relationship, magical things happen. Scott, the eldest sibling, has more than a hint of the fallen angel, devil-may-care attitude about him; Hugo has a wild, ‘chequered past’, as Nessa says, and has had a constant battle with a childhood rival. But one mustn’t underestimate the Celtic myth of the Holly King and the Oak King – one of them has to come out on top eventually. Billy has seen ghosts all his life, and when Scott’s daughter attempts a love potion to bring Billy and Lexie together, it raises a rather bonkers Jacobite ghost as well. Alfie is, as I say, a scientist – and his quirk is predicting the future. Which of course he doesn’t really want to embrace, as it’s not logical – everything has to have a scientific explanation as far as he is concerned. But sometimes, it’s really ‘just magic’. At the heart of the series is, of course, Schubert – who loves Nessa, loves his manky old soft toy Catnip, and loves his family in his own special way. He also has his own special way of helping people and I love him as a character. He’s pretty real to me and his fans!

Is Schubert based on any particular cat?

Our next-door neighbours had a gorgeous cat called Flossie. She used to wait at the bus stop for my son coming home from school and take herself for walks around the estate, and attach herself to random people as she walked. She had about five ‘homes’, and ours was one of them. She would get into the house by unknown means, and one day I was in the bath, and she just appeared in the doorway meowing at me. One Christmas Eve, there was an enormous clatter in the loo, and she’d squeezed in through the open window and landed on the cistern. She’d sit outside my son’s bedroom window on the conservatory roof and meow pitifully, hoping he’d let her in. So parts of Schubert are loosely based on her, but Schubert’s largely his own creation. And he’s rather unique, I have to say!

Are there any more novels in the series planned?

Good question. It’s sort of reached a natural break as everyone is paired up – but there is scope for a couple of new books, I think. I pulled out a character from It Started with a Wedding and have begun to write about her. I’m struggling, though, as part of me thinks Schubert should be there, although I didn’t intend him being in it. I need to put it aside and have a think about it before I decide for sure.

What is the biggest compliment a reader could pay you after reading It Started With a Wedding?

I don’t know – I’m always delighted when people enjoy my books and tell me about it, so any positive comments are always very well received and encourage me to continue writing. It would be nice to hear a brand new reader say something to the effect of, ‘That was amazing! I need to read the rest of the Schubert series, and buy all your other ones too!’

Where and when do you do your best writing?

I find I write better in early afternoon, at home, between lunch and tea! Also, I write quite well in coffee shops. If I take my laptop with me, I’m usually time-limited, so I get quite a bit done in the time I have. The nice coffee and occasional cake help greatly.

Having had so many novels published, what would be your top tip for a novice writer?

Enjoy yourself, and don’t put any pressure on yourself. And don’t just talk about writing a book - write the book and submit it. And don’t give up after the first rejection. Also, once it’s accepted, it will be edited and changed, and you just can’t be precious about the manuscript. Your publisher knows what their readers like so respect that.

What are you currently working on?

A book that’s flailing at the minute, finely balanced between Schubert or no-Schubert. I need to have a good look at it and make a decision. But like I said above, I’m not putting any pressure on myself.

When not writing, how do you relax?

In the summer I enjoy my garden. I’m doing an art qualification at the minute, which has been on my ‘to do’ list for years, so I’m enjoying that as well. I like to read, and also to have lovely deep bubble baths, and go for walks and coffee shop visits with my family and my dog. I like doing the odd jigsaw, and I’ve even dragged my ancient sewing machine out to do the occasional project with. I usually have so many activities on the go at once, I struggle to fit everything in as I have a day job as well. I think I need a clone.

Can you pick one book you wished you had written?

Wuthering Heights is the one I always say. Also, Thornyhold by Mary Stewart is another favourite. I know that’s two books, but it’s a tough question!

Thank you, Kirsty. I'm in awe of the number of books you write and this latest novel sounds a great read. I hope the sales will fly for you. 


It's one thing to be asked to plan your sister's wedding; it's quite another when your sister is Nessa McCreadie...

Alfie McCreadie wants his twin sister Nessa to have the best wedding ever, but he's not happy at being roped in as wedding planner - especially as, unbelievably, his main assistant seems to be Nessa's cat, Schubert. Anyway, Alfie is a scientist. He might know his protons from his neutrons, but what does he know about weddings?

It's Nessa who points him in the direction of Bea's Garden, just outside Edinburgh, where he's tasked with picking a 'very-relevant-bouquet'. It's there he meets Fae Brimham, who might be prettier than any bouquet bloom but doesn't seem impressed by Alfie's sensible, scientific side.

But when Nessa and Schubert are involved, surprises are bound to happen and, despite less-than-perfect first impressions, perhaps something can still blossom for Alfie and Fae... 


Kirsty Ferry(


Kirsty Ferry is from the North East of England and lives there with her husband and son. She won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 and has had articles and short stories published in various magazines. Her work also appears in several anthologies, incorporating such diverse themes as vampires, crime, angels and more.

Kirsty loves writing ghostly mysteries and interweaving fact and fiction. The research is almost as much fun as writing the book itself, and if she can add a wonderful setting and a dollop of history, that's even better.

Her day job involves sharing a building with an eclectic collection of ghosts, which can often prove rather interesting.

For more information on Kirsty visit:

Thank you for reading. What is it about reading a series that appeals to you? I'd love it if you left a comment for Kirsty and me. Thank you.

You may also follow me on Twitter @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

To find out more about me and my books please visit Jan Baynham Amazon Page. Thanks.

Monday, 14 February 2022

 Guest Post With Marie Laval

Today, I'm so pleased to welcome author, Marie Laval, back to the blog to talk about her novel Queen of The Desert. I enjoyed finding out about the story behind it and I'm sure you will. too.

Marie, welcome! 

Thank you so much, Jan. for inviting me on your blog today to talk about Queen of the Desert, my latest historical romance which is published by Choc Lit tomorrow.

I am very excited about this release, not only because I absolutely love my brave and unconventional heroine Harriet Montague and my formidable and wonderful hero Lucas Saintclair, but also because writing about their adventures took me to another period in time – 1845, to be exact – and to a faraway land which has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. 

Your new novel, Queen of the Desert, sounds fabulous. What was the inspiration behind it?

Famille Cantrel
Jan 1940
My mother grew up in Algeria in a very vibrant and colourful Italian, Spanish and French family who had settled there in the late nineteenth century. They weren’t wealthy at all, and my mother often told me how being the youngest child, she was the one her parents sent to the corner shop to buy food ‘on the tab’ when money had run out. If the greengrocer refused, then my mother and her siblings would have to make do with slices of bread dipped in olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove for tea.

Tombeau de la Chrétienne
Sep 1959

However, it wasn’t all hardship and she had weird and wonderful stories of fishing for mussels or urchins with one of her very eccentric brothers ‘dressed’ or rather ‘undressed’ like Tarzan with nothing else than a loincloth and a spear ((he was a fan of Johnny Weisssmuller); of family trips to the stunning Roman ruins of Tipasa or the beautiful

Tipasa, Algeria
‘Tombeau de la Chrétienne’ near Cherchell... and of curses and the evil eye and all kinds of superstitions her family believed in.

It is no wonder then that I wanted to go to Algeria myself not only to see the places where my mother and her family had lived, but to travel further South to the Sahara desert and discover the oases, the rock art and the Ahaggar mountains (also called the Hoggar).

I read many novels, travellers' accounts and short stories set in Algeria too. Some of the most memorable being by Isabelle Eberhardt, who was an incredible woman explorer and writer whose life was cut short in 1904 when she was only twenty-seven.

I may never have been to Algeria but I have so often dreamt about it that I knew I wanted to set some of my own stories there.

Before I even read a word of your novel, I’m drawn in by the striking cover design. Can you tell us about that and the chosen title?

I do love that gorgeous cover too! It is all I was hoping for, and more...

As for the title, it refers to Queen Tin Hinan, who is rumoured to be the ancestral queen of the Tuareg people who live in the Sahara – or as they are sometimes called, ‘the People of the Veil’ or the 'Kel Tamasheq' (those who speak Tamashek). Her tomb which is in Abalessa near Tamanrasset was discovered in 1925 by archeologist, adventurer and allegedly occasional com artist Byron Khun de Prorok (you couldn't make up such a name!) in 1925.

In my story, it is Harriet's father, archeologist Oscar Montague, who discovers the tomb. Harriet believes that he has been taken prisoner by some Tuareg who are angry at him desecrating the tomb and hires former army scout Lucas Saintclair to take her to Tamanrasset and pay her father's ransom. At first, she absolutely despises Lucas who appears to be only interested in money, taverns and women, but in the course of their long and arduous journey, she discovers that he isn't quite what he seems...

Can you say which came first, the characters or the story you wanted to tell?

It’s all mixed up, really. I wanted to write about a heroine who refuses to be bound by the conventions and constraints of Victorian society, and who loves nothing more than working on archaeological sites alongside her father and sketching their finds in her beloved sketchbook. Harriet Montague is incredibly brave and knows her own mind, and she definitely isn’t made for sipping tea, making polite conversation, or doing her embroidery in the drawing room of her father’s London house. And of course, there was Lucas Saintclair – the bad boy who seems to care about no one and nothing, apart from money, women and pleasure, and who in fact hides a broken heart and a broken soul... They seemed to me to the perfect pair for my North African adventure.

Thank you, Marie. That's such a fascinating story and all the more special because of your links to the area because your mother lived there. I hope the novel flies for you. 


Sometimes the most precious treasures exist in the most barren and inhospitable of places …

Harriet Montague is definitely too much of a gentlewoman to be frequenting the backstreet taverns of Tangiers. But her father has been kidnapped whilst on an expedition to the tomb of an ancient desert queen, and she is on a mission to find the only person who could save him. It's just unfortunate that Lucas Saintclair, the man Harriet hopes will rescue her father from scoundrels, is the biggest scoundrel of the lot. With a bribe in the formn of a legendary pirate map, securing his services is the easiest part - now Harriet must endure a treacherous journey through the desert accompanied by Sinclair's band of ruffians.

But on the long, hot Saharan nights, is it any wonder that her heart begins to thaw towards her guide - especially when she realises Lucas's roguish façade conceals something she could never have expected?

Author Bio

Originally from Lyon in France, Marie now lives in Lancashire and writes historical and contemporary romance. Best-selling Little Pink Taxi was her debut contemporary romantic novel with Choc Lit. A Paris Fairy Tale was published in July 2019, followed by Bluebells Christmas Magic in November 2019 and bestselling romantic suspense Escape to the Little Chateau which was shortlisted for the 2021 RNA Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Award. Happy Dreams at Mermaid Cove is her latest contemporary romance. Queen of the Desert is Marie’s second historical romance, following on from Angel of the Lost Treasure which features another member of the Saintclair family.

Website and/or Blog:


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BUYING LINKS for Queen of the Desert:

Queen of the Desert is available as ebook from AMAZON  and KOBO

Thank you for reading. If like me, the story behind Queen of the Desert together with the fabulous cover and intriguing blurb has persuaded you to download the book in the morning, I'm sure Marie would love to hear your thoughts after reading. 

You may also follow me on Twitter: @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.

More about me and my books may be found on my AMAZON page.

Monday, 7 February 2022

 Guest Post With Jo Boden

Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Joanne Boden, to the blog. Jo's debut novel, Escape to Little Bluewater Bay,  was published by Choc Lit on January 31st.

Jo, welcome. I think you're going to tell us something about the inspiration behind your new novel. Over to you!

Hello Jan and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog to
celebrate the publication of Escape to Little Bluewater Bay. I am so excited to share Willow and Noah’s story! I thought it’d be a nice idea to write about the inspiration behind the novel.

A grandmother and granddaughter relationship 

I felt the need to write about the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter. This was my initial idea. The grandmother in the story, Annie, is very much an amalgamation of my maternal and paternal grandmothers, both of whom have now sadly passed away. 

I thought it’d be fun to explore the relationship between the generations. I wanted to show the strength of older women and how a grandmother can help guide a young woman through a difficult period in her life. I also wanted to write about the joy and life and love that embodies this relationship. 

A winter-themed romance 

I loved the idea of writing a winter-themed romance.  There’s something so incredibly romantic about sharing hot chocolates and getting to know that special someone when cosied up together in front of an open fire. So, I needed to find a location and I needed to set it in the winter. What better than a remote island in January? Once I'd come up with the setting and time of year, I then had to think about the kind of man Willow would meet on the island. Why had Noah moved to the island? What was his backstory? I had a lot of fun creating Noah Atkinson. 

So, I had everything I needed to create a winter-themed romance. The seaside location, the friendly cafe along the shore and the handsome man, a loner, who lives in a shack off the beach.

 The slower pace of life 

Little Bluewater Bay has no Wi-Fi and for very good reason. I wanted there to be fewer
distractions. The inhabitants are not plugged into smartphones or laptops. When Willow turns up in the bay, she begins to appreciate the 
joy of outdoor life – walking on the beach, absorbing and appreciating nature and simply being able to take a step back and breathe. I suppose writing this novel during lockdown helped me to focus on the most important things in my life. Being able to access outdoor space, to go for a walk, and chat with people. I wanted Little Bluewater Bay to echo these qualities and to evoke a feeling of times gone by. 

The lack of technology and the remoteness of the island also contribute to the characters slowing down, both physically and mentally. They have time to sit and think, to talk to others and to share a hot chocolate while putting the world to rights.

 A feel-good read

I also wanted to write an uplifting story – a feel-good read, full of hope. I love reading books that make me feel good and leave me feeling hopeful and happy. When Willow travels to Little Bluewater Bay, she is a little lost in life and not in a good place. This was my starting point for creating a feel-good romantic read.

Thank you, Jo. I enjoyed hearing about what inspired you to write Willow and Noah's story. Judging by the excellent reviews the novel has already received, it sounds as if you have achieved your aim of writing an uplifting and feel-good story.


Start the new year in Little Bluewater Bay…

New year, new Willow Jenkins? All Willow knows is that she needs an escape. So, she takes an extended break from her PR job and retreats to her grandmother’s cosy cottage by the sea in Little Bluewater Bay, where a limitless supply of hot chocolate will soothe her broken heart and a limited wi-fi connection will prevent her workaholic tendencies.

Willow is soon made to feel welcome by friendly locals – although grumpy artist Noah Atkinson doesn’t seem to like her very much. Just what is his problem?

But then Willow is asked by her grandmother to approach Noah with a very special commission, only to discover that he hasn’t painted people for a long time – and with good reason. Will he make an exception, and in doing so usher in a hopeful and healing new era for them both?



Twitter: @JoBodenAuthor



Choc Lit:

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed finding out more about Jo and her novel. If you could escape from your busy life, where would you retreat to, and in what season of the year? I'd love it if you left a comment and told us. Thank you.

You may also follow me on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page and on Twitter @JanBaynham

To find out more about my books, visit Jan Baynham Author page on Amazon and on Ruby Fiction.