The Secret Letters by Catherine Law

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Published by Zaffre, Oct 2016, 377 pages, £3.99

”A heart-breaking tale of love and loss”- heart-breaking indeed.

Elderly Rose Pepper finds a few unopened letters by her long lost love hidden between the floorboards. She is forced to relive her past and confront the secrets she has kept from her two adult daughters. What we know from the start is that she had lived in Prague straight after the war but had to leave her beloved Krystof behind once communist forces began to take control. We also know that her two daughters have different fathers. Her youngest belongs to Krystof, but her eldest is from Will, a man they all agree to hate. If this is not the great secret then what is? And whatever happened to Krystof?

The rest of the book tells the story from the start, we meet a young Rose heading off to work as a land girl in Cornwall. She is engaged to Will, an older man who her parents adore. He is controlling, tempestuous and she struggles to break off the engagement. The only thing giving her hope is the chance to move away from them all and immerse herself into the countryside. The work is harsh and the people she lives with are also rough but good-natured deep down. Rose is someone you can feel slowly growing in strength and confidence. However, I did find her inability to leave Will, not just in their relationship but as a figure who dominates her life, very frustrating. This insecurity carries on throughout the rest of the novel with great consequences.

Will was a piece of work. I do admire authors who can create characters you loathe as much as ones you love. I cannot imagine any reader not hating him with a passion. So when Krystof arrives, he was like a ray of soft sunlight. Gentlemanly, sensitive and witty, Rose falls deeply for him. But dark shadows were constantly threatening their short-lived passion. The plot becomes more gripping and there was a nervous point where I thought everything was going to crumble. As the story moves to Prague, we get a temporary spell of happiness as the couple reunites, but punctuated by increasingly dark events from the communist army. As we knew from the start, Rose had to leave and then we return to her elderly self. When she finally opens the letters it was more of a confirmation than a revelation. I felt overwhelmingly sad and wished for something a little more uplifting. If you want a tear-jerker this is the one.

For more on Catherine Law check out her tips on beating writer’s block!

Many thanks to Zaffre for my review copy

XXX

How To Beat Writer’s Block by Catherine Law

 

Catherine Law is the bestselling author of Map of Starsa tear-jerking wartime romance for fans of Kathryn Hughes and Leah Fleming. Her latest novel The Secret Letters was just published last week by Zaffre (review to follow). Set in WW2 England and Communist Prague, it promises another heart-breaking story of love, hope, lies and buried secrets.

She’s here to give her tips on how to conquer the formidable beast that is writer’s block…

 

When the writing stops…

All writers have been there at some time or another. But what do I do when inspiration fails, when I’m wading through the frustrating and scary depths of dreaded writer’s block? I find that half the battle is recognising that I have it. A fog of general dissatisfaction seems to creep up on me. Symptoms include lack of confidence, very lazy writing, and a tendency to find other things to do, such as cleaning the leaves of a houseplant with a wet wipe and checking in to Buzzfeed to divert a few more of my brain cells away from the path that they are supposed to be taking. Hands up, who feels that the pesky distractions of the internet have become such an annoying and common phenomenon?

When I was writing my first novel, A Season of Leaves back in 2008 (to be re-issued as an e-book on 6 October 2016 with the new title The Secret Letters), I did not have to struggle against these disruptions. I’d never heard of Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or Instagram. I got about one email a day. And I did not have all these icons right there on my computer desktop alongside my Word document – I still had dial-up, for goodness sake!

Was my head clearer then? Was writing easier? Did inspiration strike more often? When I think back, I was at a different, much earlier place on my learning curve, my long journey as a writer. And I hope that, over the years, the more I have written, the better I have become, developing my skills all the time. So, despite the interference of the modern digital-age, my creative process remains the same.

But if I realise that I’m plunging into a well of non-creativity, while trying not to panic, I do something else creative, something else that will feed my imagination, often in an unlikely way. Here’s a mini check list that works for me:

  • Read books outside of your genre.
  • Listen to music – comforting favourites or something fresh and new.
  • Watch films, really good stirring modern classics, such as The English Patient or Atonement, or something fun like Bridesmaids or Bridget Jones and laugh that block away.
  • Do a practical – and quite mindless – task, such as clearing out cupboards or something more creative like the decorating.
  • Go for long walks and if you can, reconnect with nature. Stand in a wood or on a beach and just listen.
  • Stay away from your lap top and try to let your mind drift to allow your imagination to click back in to gear.
  • And, still avoiding the lap top, sit down with pen and paper and force yourself to work through the problem, whether it is that there is something wrong with the plot or the characters.
  • Finally, treat yourself. Sometimes all it needs is a nice cup of tea and a bar of chocolate.

It goes without saying that social media is the killer of creativity, so I do try to resist the urge to constantly check it. My best time for writing is very early in the morning, so I set aside a portion of the end of the day for all the emails, posts and tweets that demand my attention, and help to get my work out there.

By the way, I recently downloaded an app that was supposed to block the internet from my computer as and when I wanted it to. But I found it too tricky and time-consuming to use, which was not part of the plan at all. I got so annoyed with it for constantly sending me emails, that it had to go! I’ll just have to stick with good old-fashioned discipline and self-control.

 

CATHERINE LAW  was born in Harrow, Middlesex in 1965 and has been a journalist for twenty-two years, having trained first as a secretary at the BBC and then attending the London College of Printing. She now works on a glossy interiors magazine and lives in Buckinghamshire.

 

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A truth buried for over forty years.
A love that lasted a lifetime.

Rose Pepper has kept her wartime past a secret for decades. Forty years ago, she fled communist Prague and left behind the love of her life.

Now in her sixties and with two daughters, Rose discovers a bundle of unopened letters sent to her by her lost love, hidden beneath her home. Confronted with the possibility of facing up to her past, she decides it’s finally time to go back to where her story began and uncover the truth buried for so long in Prague . . .

5 Top Tips For Writing Historical Romance and Getting Published by Valerie Bowman

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Valerie Bowman, St Martin’s Press bestselling author of The Irresistible Rogue, The Untamed Earl, The Unforgettable Hero and coming soon The Legendary Lord, shares her top tips for getting published in romance…

 

1.Join Romance Writers of America. RWA is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance the professional and common business interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy and by increasing public awareness of the romance genre. This group taught me everything I know and I’ve made some of my very best friends there. I cannot recommend it enough!  www.RWA.org

2. Read. Read. And read some more. If you aspire to be published in historical romance, read a lot of historical romance, especially the newest historical romance being published. Find debuts and see what sort of stories they’re writing. 

3. Browse the internet. Some of my favorite sites for writers include agent Kristin Nelson’s archived blog http://nelsonagency.com/pub-rants/. It is one of the best sources of information for writers out there. Some other sites I love are: http://writerunboxed.com/, http://pred-ed.com/, and http://queryshark.blogspot.com/. But the fact is there there are hundreds of fantastic sites for writers and they’re all at your fingertips. Find, read, and learn.

4. Did I mention reading? You not only need to read historical romance, but I also highly recommend that you read books on the craft of writing. My favorites include: Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain, and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. I spent a summer several years back reading every single craft book I could get my hands on. It did wonders for my writing. In addition to reading books, if you can swing it, I highly recommend writing workshops by Michael Hague, Bob Mayer, Margie Lawson, and Donald Maas. 

5. My biggest tip for writing and publishing historical romance, however, is:  sit down and write. There’s no substitute for actually writing the words on the page. In fact, I’d argue that finishing a book is probably more important than how good it is…at least at first. When I started writing, I finished two manuscripts from beginning to end before I did any of the other things I mentioned above. Why? Because i wanted to prove to myself that I had the stick-to-it-ive-ness to actually finish. Don’t let research or perfectionism slow you down, either, just type (or handwrite) and FINISH!

VALERIE BOWMAN grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her two rascally dogs. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is also the author of the Secret Brides series, starting with Secrets of a Wedding Night, Secrets of a Runaway Bride, and Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.

“The story that unfolds is filled with humor, a twisting plot and the vibrant characters that have become Bowman’s hallmark… exactly what readers want.”
−The Washington Post on The Irresistible Rogue

“With its lively plot, heated sexual tension, surprising twists, engaging characters and laugh-out-loud humor, Bowman’s latest is another winner.”
−RT Book Reviews on The Irresistible Rouge

“With a romance novel as good as this one, it’s difficult to accept anything less from other Regency romance novels.”
City Book Review on The Untamed Earl

The House in Quill Court by Charlotte Betts

 

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Published by Piatkus, 25th August 2016, 383 pages, 5.99

‘Romantic, engaging and hugely satisfying’

Katie Fiorde on The Apothecary’s Daughter

‘A highly-recommended novel of love, tragedy and the power of art’

Daily Mail on The Painter’s Apprentice

‘Full of passion and drama . . . I was captivated by this moving, heart-warming and beautifully woven story – gripping, atmospheric, eloquently told and full of rich detail’

Kate Furnivall on The Chateau on the Lake

2.8 stars

The beginning got the plot cogs churning nicely. Its 1813, imagine a young, noticeably handsome but hostile, man strolling in to inform your family that your father has been murdered. Not only this, but he secretly had another family in the city which he hopes for you to live with, to which this young man’s a part of. Shock and horror for Venetia, a young, ambitious woman as she experiences her whole privileged world smash against their elegant wall. We follow her family as they uproot themselves to London, meet the ‘others’ and overcome all the shame buzzing around. They also have to find a way to support themselves, so Venetia busies herself with re-opening her father’s furniture business. Jack Chamberlaine, the guy who broke the news, reluctantly helps her. He’s war-wearied, initially suspicious, but soon softens, and conveniently not a blood-relation. Together, they try to gather up the mess while something blossoms between them.

We also get POV chapters from Kitty, their maid, who accompanies them. Kitty is sweet and lively. She was bored with the village life she had, where the end point was to be married in a tiny shack with a bundle of babies. When she arrives, she runs into Nat, a good-looking street rat who is as fascinating as the city. He introduces her to a whole new world of women wrestlers, dangerous alley-ways and professional house burgling. So it was refreshing to get a change of story now and then. I grew to like Venetia and Kitty as pleasant characters. The main vein that connects to two is a mysterious mafia called King Midas that controls the neighbourhood and begins terrorizing their lives. He is also connected to the death of Venetia’s father. So the book gradually gets darker almost to the point of echoing Les Miserables.

As Kitty and Venetia begin to clash with King Midas and his cronies, the book unfortunately reaches a bit plateau 40-70% through. The pacing slows down and you’re basically living with the characters during their daily activities. I found this slightly mundane, but it suits those who enjoy soothing sagas. Those like me, who prefer heart-constricting romances and thrilling paces, will feel a little held back during this stage. Things pick up towards the end. There is a sneaky little twist which I didn’t see coming, and a good old fight scene. Kitty’s ending saddened me because seemed a direct result of class. Despite it being a fairly realistic portrayal, it seemed a bit typical of Victorian yarns and gives off the wrong attitudes if it intends for readers to be OK and accept it as a happy ending.

Many thanks to Piatkus for my review copy xxx

 

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About the Author:

Charlotte Betts began her working life as a fashion designer in London. A career followed in interior design, property management and lettings. Always a bookworm, Charlotte discovered her passion for writing after her three children and two step-children grew up.

Her debut novel, The Apothecary’s Daughter, won the YouWriteOn Book of the Year Award in 2010 and the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, was shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2011 and won the coveted Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Historical Romantic Novel RoNA award in 2013. Her second novel, The Painter’s Apprentice was also shortlisted for the Best Historical Read at the Festival of Romance in 2012 and the RoNA award in 2014. The Spice Merchant’s Wife won the Festival of Romance’s Best Historical Read award in 2013.

Charlotte lives with her husband in a cottage in the woods on the Hampshire/Berkshire border.

www.charlottebetts.com | @CharlotteBetts1

For further information please contact Clara Diaz on 020 3122 6565 | Clara.Diaz@littlebrown.co.uk

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