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Author, Avid Tweeter & Blogger, Lover of books, Teacher of Maths & Swimming, Mother, Speaks Spanish, Friend to many...

Monday, 30 March 2015

Tonia Parronchi and the food of love...

Thank you, Tonia, for agreeing to be featured on my blog.

I read “The Song of the Cypress” after getting a copy via Rosie’s Book Review Team. Here is my review…

4 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“It's hard to even begin to explain what I thought of "The Song of the Cypress". This novel is so unique and beautifully written that I feel inept at writing down my own views about it.

Ultimately, the story is about the self-discovery of Ann (or Annie). A woman who needs to find herself as a person, spiritual soul, lover and member of a community. Until she dreams of the "Cypress" her life has been depressed. Following the needs of her mother, she has no time for herself. When her mother dies, she finally gets the freedom she desires and leaves everything she has in England to start a new life in a remote cottage set on the mountains in Italy.

Once here, she explores her spiritual side through an eccentric old woman, or local "witch", who guides her in finding out about a connection with the Cypress tree that spans many centuries. The ability of the spirit or soul in this book is interesting and it beckons us (the reader) to seek out our true instinct as human beings and the role we have play with nature.

Her relationship with Joe is interesting and cleverly done, although it did have a ring of perfection that at times felt unbelievable. Every relationship has some trauma. This had barely any. Annie also seems too content in her own skin towards the end. It certainly is something for us all to strive towards.

Without giving any more away, this is a book you can taste (I got hungers pangs from some of the descriptions), smell, feel and almost touch.

My own upbringing in Gibraltar came to mind as the author described the traditions and mannerisms of Italians. My distant relatives were of mixed origin, but many descendants of Gibraltar come from Genoa. We definitely like our food!

I have rated it a 4 because as much as I loved it at times the pace slowed too much for me and I needed more than excellent descriptive writing. But, this is a personal preference.
I highly recommend this and think it should be studied as part of an English course on how to write creatively. I certainly don't think I could ever achieve this level!”

What do you think of my review?

I was very pleased to have this honest review. I was surprised and flattered by your praise and also understand some of your doubts and am glad to have the opportunity here to explain a few things. My intentions do not really matter, as each reader has to get what they feel from a book, but here are my explanations.

Joe - yes, he could be seen as a bit too perfect. However, I wanted someone solid and at home in his own skin, to counterbalance Annie. Joe knows what he wants and has the patience to wait until Annie is ready for life and love. In my head he was the sturdy oak, the gateway to another realm and she the cypress, constantly reaching for the ethereal sky.

I did not base Annie on me but can say that my own spiritual journey has led to me now being very content in my own skin. I tried to make Annie have this awareness and peace as she moved ahead in the book. There will always be moments of stress and upheaval in our lives but if we learn to really know ourselves, shadow side and all, they become easier to deal with.

Finally, the pace of the book, which at times you found a little slow. I tried hard to follow the rhythms of nature within the book and it is certainly not a tale of adventure but of a gentle unfolding of life, love and deep universal connection.

Thank you again for your words.

I certainly felt this way in reading it. It was a journey, beautifully written at that. What inspired you to write this story?

Walking in my Tuscan hills, seeing new life unfurling in the woods in spring, while the ancient cypresses remain unchanged season after season, made me want to capture the beauty in words.

I had written about seven chapters but was unhappy with it when we went away for the summer months on our sailing boat. There, far away from my valley, as I sat mesmerised by the ever-changing waves, I realised that what was missing was the sense of magic I feel when walking there, as if connected to the universe in some strong way. That is how the character of the cypress came into being. The cypress is an ancient spirit that can dream through centuries or concentrate on the intimacy of a second and through its wise council my main characters can gain access to that spiritual dimension we all dream of attaining.

Can you tell us a bit about how you came to publish your book? What was the editorial process like?

I decided to self-publish "The Song of the Cypress" because trying to find a UK publisher while living here was not easy. I was lucky to find the lovely Sunpenny Publishing House for my second book, "A Whisper on the Mediterranean", which is a true tale of our family sailing adventures when our son was a small baby. It is a funny book, full of beautiful places to visit and has easy recipes at the end of each chapter. Believe me, if I could make these dishes on a constantly moving boat, anyone can!

A great friend of mine, Valerie Poore, is also with Sunpenny – what a small world!

The process for each book was very different and each had pros and cons. With Sunpenny I had the benefit of a proper editor to sharpen my text and bring it all together well, whereas with this novel I relied on the help of friends, who did a wonderful job but maybe with a different editor I would have ironed out some of the things that did not work for you, Vanessa.

The easy part is writing. Editing is hard because it is not a simple thing to have the proper detachment needed. I wait until months have passed and I am not so emotionally involved before beginning to edit and need to print off pages and read them instead of using the computer or I miss lots of mistakes.

I know all about the editing process! I agree on walking away for a while. Best advice is to forget it for a while.

Do you think social media is important? If so, how do you prioritise your time?

It is very important if one wants to become known. I am a real dinosaur when it comes to technology. I have a mobile phone but turn it on maybe once a week! I have really struggled with this aspect of being a writer but have now managed to set up a website, a Facebook page and am beginning to tweet along merrily, even if it seems a bit potty to me. I try to do all my social media stuff when I wake up, with my second coffee in hand, because my husband is usually still in bed then and I can concentrate better. When I get stuck or have a technical question I have to wait for him to wake up and come rescue me!

Ha ha… my husband is clueless when it comes to technology! I had to work it out for myself – I am a computer geek really J

Do you have a favourite author or genre? Did anyone inspire you to start writing?

Oh, I have so many! How can I give you a favourite? I am an eclectic reader and have been since a child. I love poetry and certain lines stay with me while doing the house work, like song tunes do. Sometimes they then trigger off something that I want to write about in my own way.

I love books with a hint of what Joanne Harris calls "everyday magic" and I really love her books.

I also enjoy a good murder, adventure stories and even science fiction as well as literary fiction. I remember reading "My Sweet Orange Tree", by José Mauro de Vasconcelos, one Christmas morning when I was quite young. It was in my stocking and I always woke early to open that. I started reading and could not stop. I cried my eyes out and my parents were worried that they had chosen the wrong sort of book until, through my tears, I managed to tell them it was the most beautiful thing I had ever read.

Personally, I loved your description of Italy and the food. Can you tell us your favourite places there, and why?

Well, my valley of course, the Valdarno, with its pretty hill villages and wild countryside full of olives and cypresses. It is not as well-known as the Chianti area but for me is far more beautiful. I prefer wild nature to perfectly groomed hills.

I also love the Mediterranean islands that we sail around each summer, in particular Ponza. When you approach Ponza by sea on a spring morning the scent of yellow broom wafts down from the cliffs and Ponza harbour looks like a rainbow with its multicoloured houses rambling up the hillside.

Can you name an Italian dish that you love and another you hate?

Dishes that I like are easy because there are so many. The fresh vegetables used for each seasonal dish are amazing. Right now the asparagus is beginning and last week I bought a slender stemmed bunch and made pasta with asparagus and bacon. 

An unusual dish which is being eaten right now that your readers may not have heard of is fave with pecorino. 

This is perfect picnic food. Fave are small, tender, broad beans which are served in their pods. You break them open, pop out the beans and eat them with fresh pecorino - wonderful.

I used to peal these with my grandmother when I was growing up... I love them!

What do I dislike? A Roman dish called pagliata, is made from the intestines of an unweaned calf and I cannot bring myself to think about it! 

Ahhh.. this does NOT sound (or look) good at all! I have a feeling my parents have eaten this. Sounds like tripe? I tried it once - and did not like it! 

I am feeling ill now... 

In Gibraltar, we have a lot of Italian descendants. Might explain why the food is so familiar to me. My mother's maiden name is Olivero. 

Where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

You can have a look at my website, www.toniaparronchi.com , for more information. I also write a blog, Tonia Parronchi at Wordpress and am on Facebook. I really love to hear from my readers and make sure to reply to any messages I get as soon as I can.

The best places to buy my books are through Amazon or the Book Depository which has free delivery worldwide. Your local book shop will be able to order the books for you if they are not in stock.

Anything else you want to share with us?

I have just finished a new novel called "The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow" which I hope will make my readers laugh as much as I did while writing it.

Frosty estate agent, the formidable Miss Angelina Snow, has no time for romance or other such frivolities or so she believes, until her well-ordered life is turned upside down by a very troublesome client, Leonardo Marconi.

This book is set in England but with a very Italian hero and I am hoping it will be published this year. Sounds exciting! Best of luck with it.

Now I am thinking about a new story. At the moment it is a jumble of ideas dotted on post-it notes and in notebooks but it is slowly taking shape and will be more similar to my first novel in so far as it will be a literary novel. I am fascinated by our relationship with water and want to explore that realm with all its mysterious charm. A tentative title would be "Mermaids Breathing".

Fantastic! Keep writing and living the dream. Thank you for being here. I look forward to reading your next book!

Monday, 23 March 2015


For the last few weeks I have suffering from a tooth ache and knowing that I had a dental visit waited patiently until today! So, one filling later and after being made fun of by my husband (he was actually really funny) I now talk like a dummy... hopefully, it'll pass!

Anyway, last week I made some progress on my new novel and it is now approaching the 60,000 work mark. I still have no idea if any of it is any good. Major editing will be needed. Even so, it is great to keep going and the love-story part is finally coming together! It's really hard to visualise a wedding 150 years ago in Jamaica, but I tried!

Yesterday, it was my daughter's Birthday Party and it was brilliant - thank you to Pizza Hut for an amazing job.

My daughter made this cake herself - with a little of my "unwanted" help" HA!
If you don't know about it (I didn't) they do kids parties for excellent value - click on the LINK! The staff at the Newport branch on the Isle of Wight could not be praised more. They were amazing...

After this, I took my daughter to see Insurgent in Cineworld in 3D. It was a treat for her - honest! This is a great review of the film by ENTERTAIN THIS, which basically says it all.

I really liked the film and the way it was different from the book. Why do things the same? Kate Winslet pulled off her character, Jeanine (crazy cold-hearted Erudite) really well. I liked the way Tris is portrayed as so tough, but wonder what they are saying about the perfect human being? (for those who know what's coming)

Either way, I would LOVE to see Theo James as the main character, Steven, in my trilogy! Added bonus, he is English - PERFECT for the role! Contacts, anyone? :)

I know, I know... I AM allowed to dream!

I do wonder how successful this franchise will be in the long run. For the third day showing, there were about ten people in the theatre... I personally look forward to the next installment.

Have a great week everyone - let's keep trying to live the dream.

Al the best,

Monday, 16 March 2015

Advertising your eBooks? My experience as a Self-Published Author

Since I published my first ebook, HYBRID, in 2012 I have been plagued with the writers curse... "How to get noticed?"

Some self-published writers seem to effortlessly get to the top of the charts and I am constantly in awe of them!

Let's explain for those who do not know what a self-published writer is nowadays!

In my mind, a SP writer is someone who has published their work themselves.

They have arranged for the formatting, covers, proofreading, etc by themselves and then gone on to publish via Amazon, Smashwords, etc. They might have paid for some of these services, but ultimately they made all the decisions.

If you have an agent, publisher, or have paid a publisher to do the work for you, then in my books you have not self-published. When you get an agent and publisher who does it all for you and pays you an advance (amazing this) you are traditionally published. If you paid someone to publish it all for you then you are bracketed as using a "vanity" publisher.

Sorry, but this is the way I see it. I understand that you are a writer and might not want the hassle, but then you are not a SP author.

I pride myself in having done most of the work myself. I have been fortunate to have amazing help from people willing to proofread my books, and only recently paid for covers (thank you Shutterstock!) to use for my trilogy for the first time. This will hopefully prove to be a worthwhile investment. BUT, I have spent hours figuring out how to do everything and do not think I did it for vanity! It was a self imposed challenge.

My new covers - what do you think?
This being said, I want my hard work to be seen and to get some feedback for it. This is where it gets hard. Having not used any services there was no one to promote me. Ultimately, paying people to do things for you might get them to spread the word. At least, I'd like to think this is the case, but I do hear of many authors who have paid a lot of money and see no results.

So, the question... how is it done? How do you get seen?

This is my take on "success"...

1) Write a fantastic book. 

Make it different from the rest or follow the trend, and get readers of certain books attracted to yours. For example, for Twilight, Fifty Shades, or Harry Potter fans? A lot of readers like books that are formulaic.

2) Have a Book Launch (either a real one or virtual)

When I finished my trilogy, I held a book launch in Gibraltar and gave a talk on my experience. It was fantastic.

I sold lots of paperbacks, got my name out, was featured in magazines and the local newspaper, and had a ball!

I blogged about it HERE!

I was lucky though - people in Gibraltar are amazing and I have contacts. My dad knows many people...

3) Spread the word via Social Media and hope your friends, family and followers will tell others about it.

This tends to work well at the beginning, but fizzles out fast in my experience. You don't want to annoy close acquaintances by constant promotion. I find Twitter is the only place I tend to schedule posts. I have so many followers that I figure if it annoys anyone they'll simply unfollow me.

I suggest you use something like HOOTSUITE to schedule and CROWDFIRE to keep tabs on followers.

Facebook has a lot of groups that allow you to post your work. How effective this is is questionable. But, you never know... it might lead to some success. I think the reader groups are a better way to make friends and promote. If you are a writer you should be a reader too. If not, are you mad? Ha!

4) Use the Amazon threads to promote your work.

The discussion threads used to be a good place to advertise. Of late, I fear this is no longer the case. Too many promos going on.

5) Advertise with successful companies

In 2015, my plan was to let things go. To stop trying and give up. Then I decided to reinvest some of my takings.

Bear in mind that these promotions were to promote a FREE ebook - that's right, I give it away and then have to PAY to get it noticed! 

I have heard that BookBub is the place to go, but I never get in! I think they favour KDP promotions, or books with lots of reviews. I think this is unfair since the whole point of a giveaway is to get more reviews. But, they have a reputation to uphold so have the right to be picky. Saying this, I have seen some featured which are not the best books! They don't read them - the expression judge a book by it's cover comes to mind!

So, I tried FreeBooksy on a paid promotion. I had got featured on there last year by chance and had success. This worked a treat and my free eBook soared up the US Amazon charts. Since I also publish on smashwords, I also saw a huge increase in downloads via Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc. I do have sales for the next books in my trilogy here too which is great. It is not cheap - $100! But, I think it was worth it and the customer service is fantastic. I am trying another in April for $200 - Eek! A series promoter... I'll have to let you know how it goes!

I have also tried a paid promotion for a free eBook feature with Facebook (£5 + £13), AwesomeGang ($10), Bookgoodies ($30), and KUFads (£10 - Book of the Day). All of these were a complete flop! I might as well have given the money away to charity...

6) FREE eBook promotion

As I have said in 5) I have paid for promotions to increase the visibility of my free ebook, HYBRID. Some of you might be asking how it is always free. Well, Amazon have a price-match policy. I have published my book via smashwords for FREE, which distributes to Barnes&Noble, Apple, etc. when Amazon see it is free they match it. You might have to inform them via their website though if it does not happen automatically.

This is a good idea if you have a series, or if you have many books to promote and want to offer one of your older books for free.

Again, the effectiveness of this is dubious now. When I first published in 2012, free eBooks were snapped up like hotcakes! However, with the constant offers via Amazon or mainstream publishers, us SP authors are no longer as attractive.

Readers are no longer attracted since they have had bad experiences with free eBooks. I admit this also happened to me, and many free ebooks I download disappoint me. Saying this, because it is free I am ruthless. I simply do not read it!

This is the downside. A free ebook will not inspire readers to review. I find myself more willing to review something I have paid for. Weird but true. So to all you readers out there, please review free books! (Like that's going to work!)

I do have a great site to recommend, which allows you to place your book for free. It may not work but it's free to try - Author Marketing Club

7) Sell your paperbacks at local events

I have tried this a few times. The first few times it was exciting, but I am not an aggressive salesperson! If you are you'll do just great :)

8) Participate in Reader forums like Goodreads

This is a great way to sell books, especially if you were a reader before you wrote a book!

Again, I have not found the confidence to pull this off well yet. But, I know others do a super job!

9) Write Another book

This is my worst offence at the moment. So I wrote a trilogy... and? You have to keep on writing to sell more books. If readers like what they see they will want to read more of your work. If you procrastinate and publish nothing new then what's the point?

Saying this, I also wonder what motivates some authors to continue. If you can't sell the books you have why publish?

My husband tells me I am too vain! I think maybe he has a point. I need some feedback or sales to make me believe that I am doing a good job. How sad am I?!

Ultimately, I have never continued with something that I have seen limited results for. I want to succeed. If I can't do it via writing I'll find something else to do with my time.

10) Think about why you write...

BUT, the truth is I NEED TO WRITE. I will always write... I know this now.

Today, I continued writing my next book and felt like writing this post. So I did. Sometimes, you have to vent in the direction your mind goes.

If by writing an idea down you find some peace or escapism from the world around you then you have succeeded no matter how low your sales are. I'll just keep telling myself this...

Thanks for reading & I hope this helps in some way.

All the best,

*~Okay, so now I can pitch my work!~*

HYBRID (The Evolution Trilogy) is FREE

Smashwords http://ow.ly/AbP0V


Get the entire trilogy (and prequel, EMILY) in a boxset via Amazon only http://www.bookgoodies.com/a/B00K24EA0U

Friday, 6 March 2015


After HOURS of "fun" I have managed to update my covers and paperbacks! As well as publish a paperback for EMILY! I will celebrate this somehow (not sure how exactly at the moment).

I am thrilled with the final result and hope someone appreciates my efforts. So far the response from a lot of you has been extremely positive. You can click on the link on the side of this blog to go to my page to find out more about my trilogy or CLICK HERE!

In the meantime, can I remind you all that HYBRID is *~FREE to download~*

Barnes & Noble

Please take the time to review it if you have read it already. It would be amazing to get 100 reviews one day. Recently, I have had a series of feedback from readers and they all seem to like it.

You have no idea what this means, or how relieved I get hearing it!

This one is from Amazon UK - 4 Stars :)

"Vanessa Wester's vampires are unlike the familiar fanged protagonists of other paranormal capers. Their humanity is at odds with their physical requirements and the lengths they go to to contain their needs lend the novel a realism not usually found in the genre. Hybrid is an enjoyable read with just enough mystery, romance and suspense."

Woo hoo!

Since it is also Read An eBook Week on smashwords you will find that Emily is free, and Complications & Return are half price via a promo code available on the site!


This offer expires on the 7th March so head on over there...

Thanks again for your continued support.

All the best

Saturday, 28 February 2015

FREE Children's Anthology

Please take the time to consider...

*~FREE via Amazon from 27th - 3rd March only~*

GURNARD'S BOOK OF DELIGHTS is a collection of stories written by children aged between four and eleven years of age for a Primary School literary competition. They had to write a story involving an element of time travel... and they certainly did that.

It features three bonus stories by authors, Vanessa Wester and S.P. Moss, who judged the entries.

S.P. Moss commented: 

"I've had so much fun reading your wild and wonderful stories. There were stories that made me giggle, stories that made me gasp and stories that amazed me with the places they took me to. I travelled in time back to the war, the Victorian times and even further - to the Aztecs, the ancient Greeks and ancient Egyptians with your stories. The time travel mechanisms were most ingenious - from boffin-like time-travel machines to everyday objects like a TV and a toy train. Not to mention a hat and some rather fabby pink boots - and even magic guinea pigs! Thanks to all of you who took part and keep on writing..." 

Any funds raised from sales of this book will go to Gurnard Primary School.

Please read & review.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Fifty Shades... the music is great!

Okay, it's been a while since I spoke about this, so here we go...

For those who read my blog, you'll know that I read the second book in the Fifty Shades Trilogy (worst £3 purchase of my life) and thought the writing was terrible!

However, I have not read the first or third so maybe I am missing something. Either way, one day I might read them! Doubtful, but never say never...

However, the song by Ellie Goulding is pure genius

For more visit Wikipedia 

As I wrote on my own trilogy acknowledgements, the Twilight Soundtracks inspired me whilst writing my own trilogy. Music is a powerful tool. So much so that I am even considering going to watch the film! It has to be better than the books... ha ha!

I think this is what I find most offensive. The media constantly draws comparisons between Twilight and Fifty shades. Now excuse me if I fail to see ANY similarities!

Bella was always perceived as attractive. Edward was a vampire that could read minds, which is why he was torn. Whatever people think, Twilight appealed to a wider audience.

Let's keep Fifty Shades for adults... at least those interested!

Enjoy the music,

Saturday, 24 January 2015

What a treat! Interview with Linda Chamberlain, author of THE FIRST VET

Linda, thank you for agreeing to be featured on my blog.

Before last month, I rarely read a book that featured horses! Now, I have read three. I thought a lot of the book & film “WARHORSE” as I read this. Not as much for the content, but for the fact that horses have been used (and abused) by humans for years. One of my favourite stories ever written, ANIMAL FARM, depicts this perfectly with the catchphrase “must work harder”.

In your book, THE FIRST VET, we get to see the other side. How men fought to protect and create a better life for animals by creating a new profession, veterinary science. Ultimately, they had a vested interest. The longer the horse lived, the more they could use it. However, your addition of complex characters added to my overall enjoyment.

This was my official review…

5 stars – Review on Amazon and Goodreads

“I came across this book by chance after I sent out a request for book links a few days before Christmas! For a change, I decided to buy some books instead of getting free books! I loved the sound of this one and I was not disappointed - what a fantastic story!

Basically, this book is written from the point of view of Bracy, a man who has given up a career as a surgeon to become one of the first vets ever. Even though set in the late 18th Century, the story is vivid and I immediately liked Bracy a lot. He stands by his principles, is kind, hardworking, and will not tolerate corruption.

Whilst challenging the new head of the veterinary college, a surgeon more interested in lacing his own pocket, he meets his "crippled" sister, who becomes another key figure in this well-crafted tale. Without giving away the plot, Bracy then goes on to establish himself as a vet in London and prove that he can help people keep their horses, and livelihood, alive.

I devoured this book and learnt a lot in the process. I would highly recommend for readers who love a romantic story with a historical element and horses! I also think it does a lot to raise awareness of the perception of disability that still exists today.”

What do you think of my review?

It made me emotional and I had trouble reading it aloud to my family. I’m a very emotional person and it was my first professional review so I was a little choked that you liked it so much. It’s great if friends, or even strangers, think your book is good but if a reviewer likes it, you have to take yourself very seriously. I used to do theatre reviews for a living and know how jaded some critics can become. I was never jaded but a critic searches for quality so much that they end up demanding it, unlike someone who doesn’t get out much! I was chuffed with your very erudite and well written review!

I am over the moon that my review created this response… you deserve my praise.

Moving on, did you find it hard to write historical fiction? I am currently writing one and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done! One step forward, two steps backwards. How did you research it?

Hard? I was screaming, ‘Let me write chick lit,’ most days. Writing isn’t easy. (I totally agree…)

Writing historical fiction is so frustrating and difficult that it’s a wonder anyone finishes one. There were so many times that I had to rewrite because I’d got the history wrong. Not all of it was easy to research. How did they ‘put a horse to sleep’ in 1794? How long would it take to lead a lame horse from Camden to the city of London? Such useful information is not on the Internet but there were plenty of sites telling me that women didn’t wear knickers in those days!

Fortunately, I was writing about a man who wrote a lot of books and he helped me a lot. He told me of his battle with the head of the college and explained many of the veterinary terms and medicines used at the time. I included his recipes and I used many of his cases. There was even an account of a young child burnt in an accident who Bracy thrust into a huge wine bucket full of icy water which was on the dinner table. It wasn’t generally known at the time that cold water would soothe a burn. I loved being able to put real events like that into the book although I swapped the dining room for a wood yard.

It’s a well-documented period in veterinary history and there are a number of books available that cover those early days. I also took myself many times to the Royal Veterinary College library and the British Library. There I found Bracy’s books, his many periodicals and his letters. That’s how I knew he was a man determined to give up surgery to help the horse, a man who cared little for money. He was a worthy hero of a book.

What was the editorial process like once the book was written? Did this take a long time?

I had a wonderful editor – Liz Bailey. She has written novels in the Georgian period herself for Penguin and was pretty damned sharp.  She kept my writing tight and she kept me in period if I slipped up, which I did occasionally. Thoroughbred? Did they call horses thoroughbreds then, Linda? she asked. No, they were known as blood horses, I should have remembered that.

I spent a few months rewriting once she gave me her suggestions. It’s not always easy to hear where your book is not working but it’s something authors and journalists have to learn to listen to. You need to find someone who treats you and your manuscript with sympathy and respect. They need to be able to explain why it’s not working. I particularly had to work with my opening chapter, a sagging middle and the character of Edward Coleman, the head of the college, who was too urbane and placid until I gave him a bit more temper. (This worked very well)

Can you tell us about the inspiration for the story?

Bracy Clark himself was the inspiration. He led in the first horse to the veterinary college; he was one of our first vets. He is still highly controversial today and I am drawn to a good contretemps! Let me explain…you see, he was ahead of his time 200 years ago and horse owners and veterinary professionals are still struggling to keep up with him now. He spoke out against strong bits, spurs and whips but most importantly he made the important discovery that nailing a metal shoe to a horse’s flexible hoof was harmful and shortening their lives.

He proved his case using science but his work was ignored by the veterinary establishment and it’s still being condemned now by many sceptics who remain unconvinced. Ah, but that is changing slowly; his name crops up on a number of websites and his work is being revisited.

More and more people are riding horses without shoes, myself included. I first found him in an obscure book by a German vet of all places and thought he’d make a brilliant subject for a book.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I began researching him, though, because the real story was very strong. He didn’t care about money and he spoke against the abuse of these animals the economy so relied upon. His battle against corruption helped me to understand why his veterinary work was suppressed; he was making someone extremely uncomfortable. That someone was the head of the veterinary college; a man he accused of pocketing the student fees, a man who was patenting and selling horse shoes and medicines! Imagine the headlines in the popular press today. (Animal welfare cases can get into the headlines today, but I wonder if it would make the front page?)

I was completely engrossed by the two main characters, Bracy and Christina. I respected Bracy for his dedication and Christina for her fiery nature. I found the way they both dealt with her disability to be beautifully portrayed. Do you think society has changed significantly in over 200 years in its perception of disability?

Yes, I do. I’m not saying it’s easy for people with disabilities but at least they are sometimes admired and celebrated for their achievements. They are given some protection in law against discrimination and they are much more likely to lead full, independent lives.

I went to the Paralympics just as I was beginning to write The First Vet and it was awesome. There were riders who had limbs missing, some who could barely walk and yet they rode a horse in a crowded stadium with such skill. Seeing them made me confident that someone with Christina’s disability would manage much better on a horse than she would on the ground. Riding would give her a rare chance for equality, a need in her that Bracy, as a Quaker, would understand. Thanks to the brilliant riders of the Paralympics, my character of Christina was born.  

I have never ridden a horse, and find that I am nervous amongst animals, having never had much exposure to them growing up in Gibraltar. What experience do you have, and did this help you write your novel?

I have ridden horses most of my life and I don’t seem to be able to give them up even now! I have my own horse, plus one for my daughter, and we look after them ourselves. If you have horses you learn how to care for them when they are injured or ill – you become their nurse even though you can’t become their vet. So, sadly, I am familiar with some of the medical conditions described in The First Vet and that was a great help. There is a scene in the book where Bracy is fighting for the life of one of his patients. It was very emotional for me to write because I’d been there and done that. Equally, there were appalling treatments that I was ignorant of, such as firing which is now illegal in Britain. Bracy described in one of his books how a burning hot, metal rod was applied to a horse with an injured tendon. He began to abhor the practice and said the scene he witnessed at a forge in Brighton was enough to ‘make a grown man shudder’.

Vanessa, don’t be frightened of horses! Remember they are grass eaters and are rarely aggressive. (I will try to remember that)

The head of the veterinary college, Edward Coleman, was not someone I regard as honest or likeable. He was definitely the villain, even though he kept the college in an outwardly ship-shape condition. The way your story evolved I was drawn back to my GCSE English days, when I studied THE CONE GATHERERS. I was in tears when I read that book, since its depiction of disability was brought to life by Duror, a man driven to madness by his disgust of his wife. Do you think a “nasty” character adds a certain depth to a story? Did anyone inspire Edward?

Yes, a story needs characters of contrast – the yin and yang of a book. A nasty, or negative, character gives the hero something to battle against and something to overcome. Once again, my character was based on the man himself or, at least, what I could find out about him in the history books. Edward Coleman was the head of the college for more than 40 years and one historian described him as an ‘unmitigated evil’.

Bracy’s own account of him would make a wonderful libel trial were he to write something similar today with our current laws against defamation unless he had proof of the corruption that he alleged. I didn’t set out to make Coleman a villain but the more I read of him the more I turned against him. Importantly, he couldn’t be two dimensional in my book. He was said to be a charming and popular man, particularly with his less educated students. He successfully secured the future of the college by getting funding from the government by providing vets for the cavalry regiments. He wasn’t all bad and I had to ensure that his treatment of Christina was misguided and not simply cruel. I would have been unjust had I made him a ‘straight forward baddie’.

But, according to Bracy, there was something very unethical going on thanks to Coleman and his young assistant, William Sewell. Places on the veterinary course in exchange for payment was one of the allegations. With such stories abounding, I didn’t need to make one up.

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

Primary school, probably. By secondary school I was rewriting news stories from the newspaper in my spare time. When I got a reporter’s job on my first paper (rather than go to university) I was writing on my days off. Time I got some help for this addiction? It’s the news story rather than writing that hooks me. A literary agent once advised me to ‘quit focusing on an issue and get on with the romance’ but I can’t separate them. They fuel each other. (I agree with you. Not all readers are interested in the facts, but I am not one of them. Give me a well-researched story and a healthy dose of romance and I am in heaven)

What advice would you give to new authors to finish their books?

Borrow a news editor who shouts in your ear – ‘Where’s that bloody story.’ That always helps productivity. Failing that – find out which is your most awake time of day to write; some people are better in the morning, others at night. Then devote some of that time to your writing. Never, ever wash the kitchen floor in your peak time when you could be nurturing that manuscript. Don’t iron any clothes and seriously consider whether or not skirting boards look better with a light dusting of…well, dust. (Ha ha ha… so that’s where I’ve been going wrong this year! I decided to do housework!)

Thank you for your time. Can you tell us where we can find out more about you and buy your books?

Thank you for having me here, Vanessa, and good luck with your own historical. Dare I ask which period you are working in?

Victorian Times. My novel is based on the lives of my great, great grandparents – the first Beanland to arrive in Gibraltar in 1866!

Find out about Linda via her Horse blog 

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