Nov 2015

See my other news at the end of this post.

Letters from Elsewhere

My guest this week is Cassandra Longmore (nee Graham) who is the protagonist of two archaeological romances, The Calgary Chessman and The Book of Lismore, set in the Inner Hebridean islands of Scotland. The third book in the sequence will be The Ashentilly Letters, in which Cas has to return to her home in New Zealand. This letter, from Cas in New Zealand to her best friend Bernie, on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, refers to some of the events in the upcoming book.

Many thanks to Yvonne Marjot for letting Cas out for a while.

Dear Bernie,

It was wonderful to get your letter. I’m reading it now in the kitchen, surrounded by the best silverware, because at about three o’clock this morning Nanna decided she needed to start polishing. I’ve finally managed to get her back to sleep, but now the birds are waking up and I think my day has begun.

It seems odd to be thinking about spring on Mull – daffodils coming out and the days getting longer – just as we are beginning to deal with the cold, windy weather of autumn. I hardly noticed the summer – I feel as though I’ve been working from dawn to dusk, while the world has gone on turning without me.

Enough complaining. We’re doing all right, and while things are worse than I feared I’m not alone. We have a wonderful lady called Tina who has had experience with dementia. She’s the best thing that has happened to Nanna for a long time, really brings her out of herself. Granddad is starting to get the help he needs – we’re waiting for the test results, and I think all of us fear the worst, but at least he’s not struggling to care for Nanna and look after the farm as well.

And we have good neighbours. One of them in particular. I’m not sure what to tell you about him.

I was so glad to hear about your mum getting the all-clear. She managed incredibly well through the chemo-therapy, I always thought she’d be all right, but it’s a relief when you hear it confirmed, isn’t it? Give her my love. I hope things work out that well for Granddad.

Yes, I can hear you tutting about me changing the subject. All right, here it is…

Did I ever tell you about my life on the farm here, growing up? I met a boy when I was fifteen, a couple of years before Andrew. He came and worked here for a summer, learning the ropes. We had a kind of love-hate relationship. Well, that’s probably too strong a term for it. I was fascinated by him and he ignored me. Until I forced the issue! Then it became clear that he had a man’s interest in me. You know what I mean.

Who knows what would have happened if Granddad hadn’t realised what was going on and sent him away. I never saw him again, and two years later I met Andrew and made the stupidest decision of my life, and you know all about that.

Well, it turns out that Cam, my teenage obsession, is now my grandparents’ neighbour. I know – you should have seen the look on my face!

He’s lovely. Apparently he’s been helping out around the place for years, gradually doing more on the farm, and now he’s running it practically single-handed in tandem with his own. I’m worried he’s going to wear himself out if he doesn’t get help, but he’s been a godsend. I’m trying not to rely on him too much. I don’t want him to think all us Grahams are needy and demanding. But I can’t help thinking about some of the things I’d like to demand from him.

You know how when some people grow up they’re not as good looking as they were when they were children? Cam’s the opposite. He was interesting looking when I first met him. And fit – I love a man who does physical work for a living, with real muscles that are used for real work. But he’s matured into someone very attractive indeed, and he’s smart with it. I hope I’ve hidden my feelings from him. But I have a feeling he’s intelligent enough to see through me.

I shouldn’t have any energy for such thoughts. Life is so busy. But when I step outside for a minute, for a breath of fresh air or to watch the sunset, and he’s there to share a piece of news or stop for a chat, it just makes all the rest of it that much easier to bear.

I miss you. Write soon, and tell me everything those kids of yours are getting up to. Is Emma Jane walking yet? Is Tom looking forward to his first day of school? Has Tilly found a new interest, or is she still horse-obsessed? Do you see much of Sam and Niall? Sam writes every now and then, but his letters are all about Uni. I can’t get over the fact I haven’t seen him since Christmas. It seems such a long time ago, now. I’m so glad he has Niall. I can’t believe it was only two years ago he told me he was gay and I thought it was the end of the world. It just goes to show – life goes on, regardless, and things we think are problems turn out to be solutions. You were right all along.

Enough rambling. I’m going to get this in the post today. Tomorrow we’re off to the hospital to find out the results of Granddad’s tests. I’ll keep you posted.

Lots of love and hugs.


About The Calgary Chessman Trilogy

 The Calgary Chessman

YMarjot TCC TBL picsDiscovery is Only the Beginning

On a windswept beach on the Isle of Mull, Cas Longmore is walking away from loneliness when she unearths a mystery in the sand. To Cas, torn between Scotland and her New Zealand home, the object seems as odd and out-of-place as herself.

Intrigued, she begins to search for its origins, thinking it will bring a brief respite from isolation. Instead, the Calgary chess piece opens the door to friendships and new hope. Her son, meanwhile, brings home his own revelation to shake her world.

The Book of Lismore

The Past is a Lost Book

While visiting the beautiful Hebridean island of Lismore, Cas and Sam stumble upon a new chapter of the island’s past. Once again, they are confronted by the ghosts of the distant past, and ancient tragedy combines with present danger as each is faced with a fresh challenge.

Archaeology provides a strong bond between Cas and her favourite men, but the mystery they uncover proves easier to solve than the ongoing conflicts in her personal life, and love seems as fragile and elusive as ever.

About Yvonne Marjot

YMarjot profile 1Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. She has a Masters in Botany from Victoria University of Wellington, and a keen interest in the interface between the natural and human worlds. She has always made up stories and poems, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). In 2012 she won the Britwriters Award for poetry, and her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

Her archaeological romances The Calgary Chessman and The Book of Lismore are published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

She has worked in schools, libraries and university labs, has been a pre-school crèche worker and a farm labourer, cleaned penthouse apartments and worked as amanuensis to an eminent Botanist. She currently has a day job (in the local school) and teenage children, and would continue to write even if no-one read her work, because it’s the only thing that keeps her sane. In her spare time she climbs hills, looks for rare moths and promises herself to do more in the garden.

You can follow her work via the Facebook page and group The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the WordPress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.

In Other News

  • I’m still on target with NaNoWriMo and looking forward to reaching 50,000 words by the end of Monday. There have been some wonderful write-ins this year. I’ll tell you about them in December.
  • Today, Black Friday, Crooked Cat Publishing is selling all its wonderful novels for under a pound/dollar on Amazon UK and Amazon US.


Letters from ElsewhereToday, you’re invited to meet Rachel Swift, who tops and tails The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman, another great Crooked Cat read. Here is her letter to Maria Orsini, whom she never met but who had a great influence on the lives of Rachel’s family.

Dear Maria,

Rugged Corsican landscapeYou died long before I was born and I really wish I had had the chance to meet you.

I came to Corsica wanting to find out more about my ancestors. This was my first visit and, as soon as the plane touched down, I had a sense of coming home. Somehow, the rugged but magnificent landscape and the perched villages seemed familiar. And that scent of aromatic herbs from the mountain scrub they call the maquis was almost intoxicating.

My search led me to the beautiful village of Zaronza, where I stayed in the house you once lived in. I discovered that my grandmother, also called Maria, had lived there as well for a while, although you weren’t related. There is still much more to find out about my grandmother and my other relations and that quest will take me to other parts of Corsica and to the French mainland.

But I became intrigued by you, because of the framed love letters addressed to you that hung on the walls of the house. As I discovered later, you had hidden them in the attic and the present owners found them when they broke down a wall. You never married your schoolmaster, the author of the letters, because of something terrible that a person close to you did. And you spent your life regretting it.

Corsican villageWhat an extraordinary woman you were! From a sheltered upbringing in a quiet backwater, you left Corsica in 1917 to nurse at the Western Front, something that would have been unthinkable for a Corsican woman a generation earlier. But you were always deeply attached to the island and now I understand why. I feel something of that bond myself.

You had a huge influence on my grandmother, who also left Corsica in search of her dreams. One day, I will piece together the jigsaw of my family’s history. In many ways, although you are not my ancestor, you are a key part of that puzzle.

With love and thanks,


About The House at Zaronza

Front cover final 2Set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front in World War I, The House at Zaronza is loosely inspired by a true story.  Maria Orsini, the daughter of a bourgeois family in a Corsican village, and the local schoolmaster carry on a secret romance. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the ‘island of beauty’, and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, betrayal, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes.

You can find The House at Zaronza at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Kobo.




About Vanessa Couchman

Vanessa CouchmanVanessa lives in France and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture, the inspiration for her writing. The House at Zaronza is based on an intriguing true story that she came across when holidaying on the beguiling Mediterranean island of Corsica.

She is working on a sequel, set in World War II, and another novel set on Corsica during the 18th century.

Vanessa has been writing fiction since 2010. Her short stories have won, been placed and shortlisted in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies and online.

Vanessa has a degree in history from Oxford University and an MBA. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, ex-pat writing community Writers Abroad and the Parisot Writing Group.

Find Vanessa at:

Letters from ElsewhereI’m delighted to welcome Mr Sykes to my blog today. Actually, between you and me, I was surprised to learn that Mr Sykes is only in his sixties, because he seems like a very sweet old man in the novel (Nice Girls Don’t by Sue Barnard) and “sixties” isn’t old in my book – not any more. I suppose in the early ’80s we had a different attitude to age – I know I did!

It’s 1982. A few years ago Mr Sykes took early retirement to look after his wife, after she was left crippled by an accident.

Following her death two years ago, he has slowly begun to rebuild his life.  Every day he comes to the local library to do The Times crossword.  He is well-liked by the library staff, especially Emily, whom he treats with old-fashioned gentlemanly charm.

But events are about to take an interesting turn, in both his life and Emily’s…

6th April 1982

The crossword was a real stinker today.  I think they must have got that dreadful compiler back again.  Goodness knows how he thinks up the clues, but most of them are impossible to solve from first principles.  I have to hazard a guess at the answers, then work back to try to make them fit.  It takes all the pleasure out of it.

 Emily was full of a cold today.  Poor girl; she looked like death warmed up.  I think she was on the late shift yesterday, too.  Frankly I’m surprised she came into work at all.  But then, I suppose she’s worried about the cutbacks.  If she wants to stand any chance of not being made redundant, she daren’t give the Council any reason to criticise her.  And I’ve no idea what I’ll do if they close the library altogether.  It’s been my lifeline since I lost Hilda, even if one day is very much like the next.

 Having said that, something rather different happened this morning.  I was looking through the dictionary trying to find a word which would fit the letters I had for 14 down, when a young man (well, probably in his late twenties, I would guess) wandered into the reference section carrying a pile of books about researching family history.  He spread them out on the table next to where I was sitting, and seemed to be trying to decide which ones to take out.  It struck me as odd because he seemed a bit young to be interested in that sort of thing.  Anyway, we got chatting, and it turns out that his grandfather died about six months ago, and that he’s now uncovered some kind of mystery about the old man’s past. 

 He said that he’s found a lot of old papers amongst his grandfather’s stuff, but can’t make much sense of them.  I told him about my own interest in family history, and offered to help.  I didn’t think he’d really be interested, but he leapt at the chance.  He’s going to bring it all in tomorrow for me to have a look at.

 He seemed like a pleasant young fellow, and very well-spoken.  It was only after he’d gone that I realised I don’t know his name.  I must make sure that we introduce ourselves properly tomorrow.

 I’ve no idea if we’ll find anything interesting, but it will make a nice change to have something else to think about for a little while…

About Nice Girls Don’t

NiceGirlsDont - Sue BarnardWho knows what secrets lie hidden in your family’s past?

Southern England, 1982. At 25, single, and under threat of redundancy from her job in a local library, Emily feels as though her life is going nowhere – until the day when Carl comes into the library asking for books about tracing family history.

Carl is baffled by a mystery about his late grandfather: why is the name by which Carl had always known him different from the name on his old passport?

Fascinated as much by Carl himself as by the puzzle he wants to solve, Emily tries to help him find the answers. As their relationship develops, their quest for the truth takes them along a complicated paper-trail which leads, eventually, to the battlefields of the Great War.

In the meantime, Emily discovers that her own family also has its fair share of secrets and lies. And old sins can still cast long shadows…

Can Emily finally lay the ghosts of the past to rest and look forward to a brighter future?

About Sue Barnard

Sue BarnardSue Barnard was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.

Since then she has had a series of part-time jobs, including some work as a freelance copywriter. In parallel with this she took several courses in Creative Writing. Her writing achievements include winning the Writing Magazine New Subscribers Poetry Competition for 2013. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is stranger than fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014.  This was followed in July 2014 by her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t.  Her third novel, The Unkindest Cut of All (a murder mystery set in a theatre), was released in June 2015.

You can find Sue on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), or follow her blog here.

Letters from ElsewhereIt’s Friday again and time to meet Katie Button. It was supposed to be a new start for Katie and James but Jack’s arrival at Southampton forces Katie to board and travel alone to New York with the promise that James will follow as soon as he can. Oh and the ship Katie is travelling on is called the Titanic. Here’s her letter to James.

14th April 1912

Dearest James,

    I am somewhere in the Atlantic, surrounded by nothing but blue sea as far as the eye can see. It’s been a calm sailing so far, a bit chilly today though but a bracing walk along the promenade is rather invigorating.

   I’ve met and made a friend. Her name is Polly. She’s from Ireland and like me, travelling on her own. But downstairs (third class) they know how to make everyone feel welcome with wonderful music and dancing. I feel comfortable with Polly and her friends; I can talk to them about my life as it’s pretty similar to Polly’s. She was a maid too and is looking for a new life in America. I think we’ll stick together when we reach New York. It won’t be so daunting.

    I’ve been thinking of you and your father. I hope he’s not suffering  and I’m sure he’s grateful to have you there. You made the right decision to stay with him in his hour of need. You can also keep an eye on Jack but don’t be mad with him for his actions at the Southampton. He just wants what’s best for you. You’re his brother and the thought of you sailing away to the other side of the world is probably most upsetting for him.

     I miss you so much. I will write again soon. I’m filled with excitement but I’m so nervous.

    Lots of love,


PS My good friend, Polly wrote this letter for me and she is teaching me to read and write. She said her father helped build Titanic when it was in Belfast.

About The Adventures of Katie Button

The Adventures of Katie ButtonWhat happens when your dreams collide with reality?

Katie Button doesn’t believe in soul mates. When charismatic Jack Masterson asks her out on a date, despite him being her new boss alongside his more aloof brother, James, she agrees.

But her romantic dreams about a dashing highwayman, heroic gladiator and Tudor lord are becoming more frequent. And, worryingly, they feel real. She remembers every detail, every touch, every kiss. Until she realises the man in her dreams is James.

But Katie doesn’t even like James. And what about Jack, who is whisking her away for sexy mini breaks in the here and now?

Katie knows she needs to put an end to her dreams before they ruin her life. But how?

Find Lizzie Koch


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