Readers on Reading – Rosie from the UK

With over 200 books read each year, Rosie Amber clearly loves to read. She’s 50, lives in the UK and is an eclectic reader and avid book reviewer.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction? For me, fiction provides, escapism, learning, armchair travel and enjoyment.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? I prefer well written, well edited and well proofread books. A story with deep point of view, multi-layered characters and ones I can empathise with. I dislike dialogue-led books and stories that are all ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’. Info dumping is also a no-no. I also find an epic cast of characters too many to follow. It can mean that the author has filled the book out with characters rather than developing the main ones and making them of interest.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’Using deep point of view and multi-layering of characters help. As does a slower drip feed of info, enough to keep me interested. Bringing the characters to life on the page, is a must for me.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? Let Me Be Like Water by S.K. Perry – a contemporary novel that celebrated friendship found after a young woman reached great depths of despair. (Good on emotions)

The Inruder by P.S. Hogan –  a mild thriller where the focus is on an ordinary man rather than the popular police investigations that currently flood this genre. (Something different, I liked it)

River by India R Adams – magical realism. An emotion filled book. I would read anything by this author. (India writes for the YA/ Na genre, and is great at emotions)

Lancelot by Giles Kristian – an historical fiction set around the folklore of the mythical King Arthur. (Great if you are a fan of Arthurian legend)

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull – historical fiction set around the first women aviators. (Fascinating info about these early flyers)

Shark Bait by Matt Walker –  an action adventure thriller set in the UK. (Very compact and to the point which kept the pace moving briskly making it engaging and drawing me in.)

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? No.1 authors that I already know and like. No. 2 book recommendations from people or book bloggers that I trust. No. 3 books that I find on book blogs.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? I tend to stick to books from authors who are English, American, Australasian, Western European or from author’s whose primary language is English. Or books written for those markets.

If you’re a book blogger or run a book site, please tell us a little about your focus and features. I’m a book blogger, and have run my book review site for 7 years. I have a team of around 20 reviewers who read and review for the site. We can offer the possibility of multiple reviews for a book. Reviews will be posted on a minimum of 2 sites, they include, Goodreads, AmazonUk, AmazonUS, reviewers blogs and a copy also is posted on my own blog.

We review books across a wide range of genres. We pride ourselves on giving honest, unbiased, balanced reviews, which means that we do not guarantee that all our comments will be positive; however, any criticism will be constructive. We promote book reviews on Twitter each Tuesday encouraging the book community to use #TuesdayBookBlog – it trends regularly.

If there is anything else about reading fiction, the kind of books available today, or the way reading is changing that you’d like to comment on, please do so.  Publishing a book has been made easier with self-publishing and e-books. But any book should still be of the very best an author can make it, with multiple drafts and edits. Writing a book is hard, marketing and selling it can be harder. Never rush to publish.

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts on reading, Rosie. You can find Rosie at her blog Rosie Amber, which offers clear and succinct reviews in a variety of genres along with a rating for each novel. Rosie’s site has been awarded a Top 100 UK Book Blog designation.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Transported in Time and Place – Nicola Cornick, The Phantom Tree

Nicola Cornick is a writer and historian who was born and brought up in the north of England. She left the world of academia to become a full-time author and loves to write dual timeframe novels inspired by the history and legends of her local area.

Transported in time and place – Nicola Cornick, The Phantom Tree

As a reader of historical fiction first and a writer later, the concept of being transported through time and space via the medium of books has always intrigued me. As a child I didn’t travel far from home and so my reading became the way in which I learned about different and exotic experiences, from boarding schools to boating holidays. As I grew older the appeal of the past as a “foreign country” took hold of me. I wanted to travel back. I wanted to be transported via my imagination and the words on the page to another time and place, one of magic and vivid experience.

Writing dual time Gothic fiction, I use the idea of transporting a reader in several different ways. Firstly there is the historical research that provides an authentic framework for the book. In the case of The Phantom Tree, I was writing a book set in the later Tudor period of English history, so I read a lot of general political and social histories of the period before focussing in on the details of everyday life in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – what people wore, what they ate, how they travelled. These elements are the threads that come together to create the background tapestry which I hope will help to build the world in which the story takes place.

The next layer of world-building comes from specific details and for this I study letters, portraits and diaries; this feels as though it puts me within touching distance of the people about whom I’m writing, the things that were important to them and their daily pre-occupations. I love the information that material objects can provide to a researcher.  The Phantom Tree was inspired in part by a little portrait of a Tudor lady that belongs to a member of my family. As soon as I saw it I was fascinated; I wanted to know who she was and to tell her story. So I studied the style of clothes, the colours, the background imagery, all the while building up an imaginative picture of who she might be.

My favourite part of the research process however, comes from visiting the place where I am setting a book and experiencing it for myself.  The Phantom Tree is set in Savernake Forest in Wiltshire and I spent many hours wandering along the paths and bridleways, losing myself amongst the trees. It wasn’t difficult to imagine what Savernake would have been like four hundred years ago. Studying the forest through the seasons, the plants, animals and insects, the way that the mist hangs over the fields in the autumn and the sun cuts through the leaves in the summer… All of these give richness and texture to the imaginative world I hope to create. So do the local myths and legends that I build into the story. Visiting Wolf Hall, the iconic home of the Seymour family in the forest, was the ultimate inspiration, especially when I went on a tour of the Tudor sewers under the house! You can’t get closer to the traces of history than that! [And yes, that’s Nicola coming up from the sewers!]

I’ve never been able to paint but I visualise the process of creating my imaginary world as a picture in which layer upon layer of detail is added, from the frame that surrounds it to the tiniest figure in the corner. I aim to take all the different elements that have made up my research and through vivid description, conjure a time and place that is waiting to welcome the reader in.

Below is an extract from the book where the heroine, Mary Seymour, experiences the forest as a child.

“Forests were full of concealment and surprise and I had known that from the beginning. I took delight in exploring Savernake. It was by no means an empty land. It seethed with people: Sir Edward’s Ranger, the foresters, the villagers whose pigs grubbed for nuts in the undergrowth in the autumn, the poachers who risked their lives to take the Queen’s deer, thieves, gypsies, runaways, witches. I saw them all and avoided them as much as I could, slipping between the trees like a wraith, like a hind.

Now that I had a bedchamber to myself it was easy enough to slip away at night, simply by climbing down the ivy that covered the old brick wall of the manor. I knew every ancient oak in the forest now including the one that marked the boundary of Edward’s land with its huge bulging belly. It was rumoured to be the oldest tree in the woods, already ancient when the Conqueror had claimed Savernake along with the rest of the kingdom, a tree in possession of old magic. I had heard Dame Margery whispering to the scullery maid, with many gestures to ward off evil, that the witches sought its power to summon the devil. I could imagine that they did and I shuddered to think of it. Old magic was dangerous and unpredictable. Even though I had never dealt in it myself but I had an instinct for it, never knowing where my knowledge had come from, only knowing that I saw and heard things that others did not. However the threat of heresy, of witchcraft, haunted my every step. I thought of my mother and longed for an ordinary life, free of visions, untouched by magic.”

Many thanks for sharing your perspective with us, Nicola. I’m sure readers will enjoy being transported to Tudor times in Wolf Hall and Savernake Forest.

The Phantom Tree by Nicola Cornick

“My name is Mary Seymour and I am the daughter of one queen and the niece of another.”

Browsing antiques shops in Wiltshire, Alison Bannister stumbles across a delicate old portrait – supposedly of Anne Boleyn. Except Alison knows better… The woman is Mary Seymour, the daughter of Katherine Parr who was taken to Wolf Hall in 1557 as an unwanted orphan and presumed dead after going missing as a child.

The painting is more than just a beautiful object for Alison – it holds the key to a past life, the unlocking of the mystery surrounding Mary’s disappearance, and the enigma of Alison’s son.

But Alison’s quest soon takes a dark and foreboding turn, as a meeting place called the Phantom Tree harbours secrets in its shadows…

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

What keeps you turning the pages?

We all want to hear the response – “it was a real page-turner.” As readers, such an endorsement from friends and other sources offers a promise that a novel will be worth the time and effort invested. As writers, we love hearing from readers who describe our stories that way. And this writer, when hearing a book described as a page-turner wants also to understand what makes a book stand out in this fashion.

Often page-turners are plot-driven with fast pacing and lots of twists and turns and unexpected – though very satisfying – climaxes. In my recent reading, All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn fit this category. I could also mention The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Pompeii by Robert Harris.

Sometimes a page-turner contains characters whose worlds we eagerly inhabit and whose absence, when the story ends, create a great hole in our hearts. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and Mary: Tudor Princess by Tony Riches come to mind. But I could equally mention The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick or Mary Called Magdalene by Margaret George or The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (even though the sequel was much less appealing), or The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner.

In my case, many are historical fiction 🙂

Some time ago, I wrote a few posts about Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James Hall. Hall itemizes twelve features of best-selling books. The first feature he calls “An Offer You Can’t Refuse”, which he further describes as a novel that:

  • entertains
  • engages readers in a compelling, simple and dramatic premise
  • offers an unfolding story with “one complication after another”
  • includes characters “of deep conviction and fervent, stubborn resolve, capable of passions that rise well beyond the normal range of human experience”
  • makes the story worth the readers’ time by forging a “powerful emotional bond … composed of one part pity, one part fear”
  • minimizes backstory
  • creates “some form of serious peril” very early on
  • enhances the tension with “the power of the ticking clock”.

You can read two other posts based on Hall’s book: More Features of Hit Lit and Hit Lit: The Final Six Features. I wrote them in 2012, no doubt full of deep intention to incorporate these features into my novels. But did I?

In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about writing and had modest success. And yes, some readers have used the phrase page-turner to describes one or more of my novels. But, as Robert Frost is so often quoted: “These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

I’d love to hear what keeps you turning the pages and novels that you’d describe that way.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.