Tag Archives: Journeys

All in the name of research



To me, research is rarely a chore. It’s the dead opposite in that I get completely carried away and enjoy it so much I go over the top. For example, I find it very difficult to skim a book I need for reference and find myself reading it cover to cover. Or with Google, I can’t stick to the one website but click all those enticing links. But I don’t think any research is ever wasted and I usually learn some interesting facts and snippets along the way that I can slip in to make the story really authentic. Warning: it doesn’t half eat into your writing time. So beware.

Not all research has to be through books and Google. For Juliet’s Story I wanted her to sail to Australia so, of course, I needed to visit the country. That line of research was definitely a chore! What a fantastic month I had making notes and taking lots of photographs and talking to helpful people along the way.

As with most folk I flew to Australia but I didn’t want my heroine to go the conventional route. Juliet was to go by freighter. Through the shipping company I met a lady who had sailed round the world (different journeys) on one. Coincidentally, she lived a couple of streets away from my aunt in Pimlico, and I spent a wonderful afternoon with her. When she asked if I would like to borrow her journals of the different voyages I couldn’t believe my luck. She was a superb writer with a sharp eye for detail and I encouraged her to write a book about her travels. I think people would love to read about her adventures. The daily entries gave me great insight into freight travel but I knew it wasn’t going to replace the real experience.

freighterHaving never been on one, or even close up and personal, I thought I’d take a few days away from my estate agency business and chose to sail on a German cargo ship called Ever Conquest, bound for Hong Kong, though I disembarked in Zeebrugge. Something strange happened the minute I stepped on board – I became ‘Juliet’ and spent six fascinating days at sea, though sadly as the only passenger, with no romance in sight! Against all their rules (they knew I was there for research for my novel so bent them) the Captain and Chief Engineer answered my constant stream of questions and even allowed me on the bridge which is normally sacrosanct.

It’s wonderful when you tell people you’re a writer – you often sneak into places normally out of bounds. So don’t be modest. Tell people you’re a writer. You’ll be amazed at the doors that will swing wide open for you – all in the name of research, of course!



Juliet’s Story will be published on 25 January 2016.
Pre-order now Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Juliet’s Story – cover reveal!

Juliet's Story front coverThe cover is one of the most exciting parts of producing a book, especially when you first set eyes on it. When it pings through on an email attachment and you open it for the first time, all the year’s work (give or take a month or year or two) in writing and editing has culminated as a real book. So far, this has happened to me four times and every time it’s thrilling.

There’s usually some to-ing and fro-ing before the cover is perfect, and then the decision is – when do you do the cover reveal to your adoring fans?

You can do a ghostly one two or three months before publication. This is usually in black and white and a little fuzzy round the edges, but hopefully it whets the reader’s appetite. Then maybe a few weeks before publication day, when your readers can usually pre-order the book, you can do the proper cover reveal. This can be broadcast on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and any other social media you’re signed up to.

I’m a little late with my cover reveal of Book 2 of The Voyagers trilogy: Juliet’s Story, but now it’s here, I think you’ll agree it’s gorgeous!

So what’s Juliet’s Story, set in 2005, all about?
Whatever the risk, businesswoman Juliet Reece grabs a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with both hands.

She’s been given the freedom and time to sail to Australia to trace her emigrant grandparents’ story back in 1913. But buried under the surface is a more compelling reason – a secret she has held close since she was a vulnerable sixteen- year-old, which only her grandmother, Annie, shared – and whose answer may lie in Australia.

When Juliet boards the Alexandria at Tilbury she doesn’t count on meeting the enigmatic Jack Delaney. But is it wise to fall for a man from the other side of the world who seems to be carrying dark secrets of his own?

To be published on 25 January 2016. Pre-order now Amazon UK  Amazon US  Kobo

Off to Oz

Australia was never top of my list for a place to visit, partly because of the exhausting flight, and partly because I love history and I still look upon Australia as being ‘new’. Not to mention all the men were chauvinists, weren’t they?

But if I wanted my first two novels, Annie’s Story and Juliet’s Story, to feel authentic I was going to have to visit at least Melbourne and Sydney. And it would be a great opportunity to find out more about my grandparents who emigrated to Australia in 1913, the same year as the fictitious Annie.
The Ghan

Much as I was tempted to follow in their footsteps and go by sea, I knew that wasn’t really practical, especially when travelling with my incredibly-easily sea-sick sister, Carole. We decided to see as much of the country as we could fit in over the four weeks we’d allowed ourselves, so we booked the Ghan from Darwin. Named after the Afghan cameleers who once traversed this route, the Ghan, regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys, followed a fabulous route through the centre of Australia to Adelaide, stopping at various places of interest along the way. More train journeys took us to Melbourne. This was where my grandparents disembarked.

Luckily, Carole had teamed up with June, a very nice lady, and they toddled off sight-seeing while I delved into the family history. My dad’s cousin, Jean, had told me my grandparents had married in England just before they left, but I seemed to remember Nana saying they were merely engaged, and had to be segregated on the ship. This turned out to be the case, and I excitedly left the Births, Deaths, and Marriages building in Melbourne clutching their marriage certificate. From there I found where they lived, where my grandfather worked as a waiter at the Hotel Esplanade at St Kilda, and that at one point they moved to Sydney. They returned to Melbourne, and finally, after seven years, went back to England.

Everyone who helped me track them down seemed almost as thrilled as I was to find another piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and Carole and June were suitably amazed when I told them all I had discovered over dinner.

Following my grandparents felt as though I was actually following Annie and her new husband, Ferguson, in Annie’s Story, as all the parties were of a similar age. Soaking in the Oz atmosphere and culture really helped to bring to life both novels, and the greatest surprise for me was that I fell head over heels in love with the country and its people. And without doubt the men! I can’t wait to go back, but unfortunately Kitty, in Book 3, doesn’t go. However, she does travel to Cairo, Naples and Rome, but that’s another story!

Annie’s Story will be published 20 April 2015

Two paintings – enough to inspire my debut novel

ORSOVA_383Hanging on the wall in my writing cabin are two old hand-painted prints, about 2 feet across, in their original black japanned frames. My grandparents bought them as souvenirs when they were on board the R.M.S.Orsova, a ship carrying the mail and twelve hundred sea-faring passengers and crew. The young engaged couple were bound for Australia. The year was 1913. One image is of the ship in stormy seas, the other in calm.

Since a child I’ve always loved these two pictures. When our parents would take us to visit Nana and Pop in their little terraced cottage in later years, my sister would fly through the front parlour to find them, but I would always hover in front of the two ship pictures, staring at them, imagining the people on board and wondering where they were going. It was only when I was about ten that Pop told me he and Nana had sailed on that ship all the way to Australia, and I would beg them for stories about the voyage and what happened when they got there. They eventually came home with two-year-old Harold (who was to become my father), after seven years because Nana pined for her sisters. At least that was what they told me at the time. The truth was very different. If only I’d written it all down, as I only remember bits and pieces of their lives in Melbourne.

MigrantsBut the pictures were enough to give me the idea and inspiration to write my first novel, using my grandparents’ decision to emigrate to Australia as a trigger point for my heroine, Annie. But almost everything in Annie’s Story is fictitious and does not follow my grandparents’ story. I don’t want Nana and Pop performing somersaults in their grave thinking the readers will get the wrong idea!

It was a moment of connection when Tracy Chevalier gave a talk at a Persephone lunch one day on her best-selling Girl with a Pearl Earring. Apparently Tracy had Vermeer’s print on her bedroom wall since she was nineteen, and one day she wondered what story lay behind the girl in the painting.

I believe that behind every novel lurks a real-life snippet that inspires the author to get that story written down. In fact, if authors made a point of telling their audience what inspired them to write their novel, I am sure some fascinating stories would emerge.

The Marrakech Express

marrakech trainPeople’s jaws drop when I tell them my sister and I have just been to Morocco and back by rail. ‘I didn’t think it was possible,’ several people said, so I had to explain there’s an hour’s ferry trip involved when you cross over to Gibraltar. But it was so much more fun than hanging around an airport for hours, with all the queues for security searches, not to mention being trapped in an aeroplane with inferior food and breathing in the same stale air. By rail means you simply board the train, open the window to let in some fresh air, and start travelling. And because every train ran on time there were no delays.

We were a group of 28 on The Marrakech Express booked through Great Rail Journeys. Irene (flowery t-shirt on left-hand side below), our bubbly German tour manager, kept us all under control (being mostly of the older generation we sometimes became a bit unruly), looked after our welfare, sorted out any problems, and shared hilarious anecdotes of previous trips. She was a hoot. We came off the train every night, staying between one and three nights in Biarritz, Seville, Rabat, Marrakech, Fez, Granada and Barcelona.

For practically the whole way the scenery was stunning: mountains, fields of swaying wheat, barley and corn, grazing cows, goats and sheep, and extensive forests. When we arrived in Morocco it wasn’t red and barren as we expected, but green and lush. If we’d flown we’d never have enjoyed the changing countryside as we travelled from Europe to Africa.

Being a writer I made lots of notes of the trip and our mini adventures, as my next heroine might well go to Morocco by train. But she’ll have to tell me what happens when she meets a gorgeous Moroccan on board, as unfortunately I didn’t have that experience! It will have to be a case of ‘write what you don’t know!’