Posted in Books, Events, News

Event – and Giveaway!

A quick update to let everyone know I’ll be taking part in a Facebook launch party on Sunday. The event is to celebrate the release of Alex J Adams’ new book Finding Beau, a m/m romance set in my home city of Liverpool – so how could I not take part?! – and I’ll be giving away one digital copy of my own paranormal m/m romance December Roses, as well as chatting about ways to keep cool in this inferno of a heatwave.

So where’s it all happening? Here’s the details:

Where: Facebook group M/M Fiction Addiction Cafe

When: Sunday 17th July, 7-11 pm UK time

There’ll be simply loads of other authors taking part, many with other giveaways and freebies, so why not join the group to join in the fun? Hope to bump into you there!

Posted in Books, read around the rainbow, Writing

Read Around the Rainbow: Setting Books where you Live

I chose the topic for this month’s webring blogpost, but oddly I tend not to set books in the place I currently live. I’m not sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with being too close to the location and/or loving it too much to be objective about it. In order to successfully use somewhere as a setting for a book, you need to be able to see it clearly, “warts and all”, and use both the good and the bad in your story. But when I’m plonked down in the middle of a town or city I struggle to do that. I can see all the aspects I love, but less so the ones I don’t, so if I try to use it as a location it tends not to feel very real.

For example, we spent many years living in one of the posher suburbs of Birmingham, and while I was there I couldn’t write about it for toffee. It seemed much too nice to feature in the dark, gritty crime and noir I was writing at the time. And now we’re lucky enough to live in the Lake District, and I’m finding exactly the same thing there. Part of me knows it would make a fantastic setting for all sorts of books, but the best I’ve managed is a handful of creepy short stories, two of which you can find here (Taking Flight) and here (The Summons – scroll down the page for the story).

So what do I do instead?

Well, the minute I move away from an area, it seems to free me to view it with new eyes. I can see the rough as well as the smooth; the dodgy areas jump out at me as settings for murders or nefarious goings-on; while even the more attractive parts reveal themselves as good settings for a yarn. So, since we moved away from Birmingham I’ve set several books and lots of short stories in and around the city I knew and loved. Raise the Blade and Gravy Train (both published under my Tess Makovesky pen name) feature various suburbs, canals, and dodgy back streets, as well as tourist hotspots like the Gas Street canal basin and Cannon Hill park, and little-known gems like the City Centre Gardens.

If that fails, I can resort to my own home city of Liverpool, where I was born, grew up, and went to university. Echoes of Blood features St Luke’s church (bombed during World War II) and the palm house in Sefton Park, and I’m still hoping to set at least one sequel in the city, revisiting those locations and adding more. And I also make use of places I’ve visited over the years, including the incredible Biddulph Grange gardens (pictured above) which inspired the garden setting in December Roses.

Of course, the downside to using locations once I’ve left them is that places can change, and if I’m not on the doorstep to spot those changes I could end up writing about things that no longer exist. However, I tend not to describe locations so precisely, preferring an overall impression to fine detail about streets, buildings, and the people that occupy them, so I’m crossing my fingers any small deviations won’t be noticeable.

So far, it seems to have worked out okay. But one of these days, I should probably pluck up courage to set something longer here in the Lakes. It would make the most amazing backdrop to a romance…


And don’t just take my word for it. Have a look at whether or not the other webring members set their books where they live:

Nell Iris :: Ellie Thomas :: K L Noone :: Holly Day :: Addison Albright :: Ofelia Grand :: Lillian Francis :: Amy Spector

Posted in Art, Books, Gardening, History, read around the rainbow, Writing

Read around the Rainbow: Weird Research

When this topic was first suggested, I wasn’t sure I could write about it. Most of my books are contemporary, with backdrops that I’m reasonably familiar with (archaeology, old buildings) and plots that revolve around wholly fictional ideas (vampires, talking ghosts). But then I realised that even I need research. The books may have contemporary settings but they also include fragments of history, and occupations I’m less familiar with – and of course I need to fact-check everything. So perhaps I do more research than I thought.

Because my books are a weird mix of history, mystery and romance the research is obviously quite a hotch-potch too. In Echoes of Blood, for instance, I checked up on several of Liverpool’s well-known buildings including St Luke’s church which was bombed during World War 2, and the Palm House and various other features in Sefton Park. I then spent a couple of happy hours reading up on the famous Ninth Legion of Rome, which apparently disappeared in mysterious circumstances. It should have been longer, really, but I soon discovered that there’s surprisingly little evidence (hence the mystery). That was frustrating, but it also gave me free rein to invent an appropriate backstory for the arrogant, enigmatic character of Vincent.

In December Roses, which is set in a once-grand and beautiful garden, there was lots of research on plants and flowers, and on historic garden design. However, main character Nat is a soldier who’s been injured in a bombing in Belfast and suffers not only broken bones but also PTSD as a result. That meant a lot of reading around the subject of army rehabilitation, from the ranks and uniforms of army medical staff to the symptoms of PTSD and how they represent. I tweaked some of it to fit the needs of the story (in real life no soldier would spend as long in rehab as Nat) but at least I understood what I was tweaking and why.

Ghosts Galore brought its own learning challenges, especially in the realms of TV production. I’ve been involved in a minuscule way (I was filmed for an episode of Antiques Roadshow once, and accidentally gatecrashed a TV recording at Blackwell House). But for much of the detail in the book I spoke to my friend Angela King (author of Blood of Kings), who has much more experience. She provided the information on some of the techniques (eg the continuity photographs) as well as the structure of smaller production companies, and I’m deeply grateful for her input. And I spent a lot of time digging into the subject of priest-holes, which have always fascinated me. The ones at Greystones Hall are loosely based on real-life hiding places at old houses I’ve visited over the years, especially Harvington Hall in Worcestershire which is riddled with them.

However, I think the weirdest research I’ve ever done was for December Roses again, and involved the wonderfully grotesque frog pictured above (pic courtesy of the Beautiful Britain website). I discovered that it was designed by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, the man responsible for the famous dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park, and was created for the Chinese garden at Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire, which helped to inspire the setting for the book. It’s delightfully ugly and I’ve always had a soft spot for it, so much so that it has a cameo role in the book.

They were approaching it from a different direction and the first thing he saw was a massive stone frog. It was a bit hard to miss, since it was squatting on a wall leering down at him, and for one startled moment he wondered if they’d been putting LSD in his tea. But no, it was real enough, if utterly grotesque. ‛One of your ancestors?’ he called.

That made the flying legs stop. ‛Oi.’ Richie’s voice was a pretend growl, as he stopped, came back, and used one long musician’s finger to prod Nat in the midriff. ‛That’s the family crest. Three frogs and three crowns. Don’t ask me why—something to do with the Frogmorton name, I suppose. But there are frogs all over the inside of the house if you know where to look.’

If you like the sound of any of these books then head for my website where you can find out more.

And while you’re at it, check out the posts from the other webring members on the weird research they’ve done:

A L Lester :: Addison Albright :: Nell Iris :: Ofelia Grand :: Ellie Thomas :: Amy Spector :: Holly Day :: K L Noone

Posted in Books, History, LGBT, paranormal, romance

Two years of self-publishing

It’s hard to believe that it’s two whole years since I self-published my first book – but Echoes of Blood is exactly two years old today.

My dark-themed, m/m vampire romance came out on 2 February 2020, just as the first tendrils of news about the pandemic were creeping through – and weeks before the initial, hard-hitting lockdown.

While the virus has raged, being self-published has been a real bonus. No need to visit bookstores to arrange for stock, no need for book launches, book signings, readings or other events – because it’s all handled online anyway. I’ve enjoyed the process, too. Being in control of every stage from writing to editing to formatting to timing the publication to marketing, and even designing my very own book covers has been a steep learning curve but tremendous fun.

I’m hoping to get at least a couple more books out this year, to add to the five I already have available. The first may well be The Happy Medium, a m/m reworking of my paranormal romp Got Ghosts? which came out of contract just before Christmas. I’m busy with edits on that and should have more news soon.

In the meantime, if you want to get your paws on a copy of Echoes of Blood (which has been described by readers as ‘haunting’, ‘lustful’, and ‘chilling’) then it’s still only £2.99 on Kindle, or free on Kindle Unlimited. That’ll buy you Liverpool vampires, New Romantics, a missing Roman legion, and a lonely man sucked in by the lure of history – and blood. Cor! Want to take a look? You can find it here. Thanks – and I hope you enjoy the ride.

Posted in Books, Gardening, History, Photography

Even goats have statues…

I’ve been hunting high and low for this photograph for simply ages. Although the original was a print made from 35mm film, I knew I’d scanned it but it didn’t seem to be on any of the folders on my computer. And then early this morning I got a flash of inspiration, checked a different folder, and there it was!

This was taken in the mid 1980s inside the Palm House in Sefton Park, a wonderful green open space in the middle of Liverpool. I used the park extensively as a setting for my short story Lonely Sky, which eventually became vampire romance Echoes of Blood, mostly because of the Palm House and the many intriguing statues dotted around both inside and out. (There’s a copy of the famous Peter Pan statue, the original of which stands in Hyde Park, for instance. I used that in Lonely Sky, where all the little animals came to life, but couldn’t see how to translate that successfully into the updated book.)

These days on a digital camera you’d be able to take shot after shot, changing the focus and the angle. Back then I couldn’t afford to waste that much film (not to mention the processing costs), so this one shot is all I got. It’s a bit fuzzy and the statue itself is out of focus, but I’ve always liked the way it caught the light filtering down through the tropical plants and palms. So much so that this exact statue even turns up in the book!

In spite of the heat Daniel shivered and hugged himself.

‘Second thoughts, my boy?’

‘I… no, not really. It’s just…’ Just what? He wasn’t sure. Didn’t know what was coming, knew only that he wasn’t coming out of it unchanged. He shivered again. ‘Never mind.’ They pushed through the leaves, past a twinkling fountain and a statue of a goat, to a small bower beneath the central palm. The others must have gone ahead, although he hadn’t been aware of it. They waited in a group, all three of them.

If you like the sound of that and want to know how the Palm House fits in with the rest of the book, then why not treat yourself to a copy on Kindle, or free on Kindle Unlimited?

Posted in Books, History, News

Blue plaque for Helen Forrester

I was pleased to see that Liverpool author Helen Forrester (real name June Bhatia) has been honoured with a blue plaque on the house she lived in as a child. Forrester is most famous for writing the autobiography Twopence to Cross the Mersey, which tells of her growing up in the city during the Depression in the 1930s.

The house is in Hoylake on the Wirral, a short ferry ride over the river from the city itself – and an unreachable goal for the young Forrester.  After her newly-poor family settled in Liverpool she longed to return to her grandmother’s house, but couldn’t afford the twopence fare for the Mersey ferry.

I read the book in the late seventies and remember enjoying some of the descriptions of Liverpool and the 1930s way of life, but I was more interested in fantasy at that point so didn’t get as much out of it as I probably should. However, my Mum, who grew up in Liverpool at almost exactly the same time as Forrester, loved it.

Forrester went on to write another two books in the series and has been forever linked with the city of her birth. It’s nice to see that city giving something back.

Posted in Architecture, fiction, News

New listing for Liverpool landmark

I was delighted to see the news that Liverpool’s Philharmonic Dining Rooms, more usually known as the Philharmonic pub or even just “the Phil”, has been awarded Grade I Listing for architectural and historic merit.

Although I grew up near Liverpool and went to university there, I’ve only ever been inside the building once. My family didn’t really ‘do’ pubs and I was too nervous as an 18 or 19-year-old to go in by myself. But when I was finally dragged in by some friends, I found it really was every bit as amazing as the descriptions suggest. Pretty much every surface is covered in decoration of some kind, and the result is luxurious, beautiful, but slightly overwhelming. You do start to wonder why a mere pub was treated to so much opulence.

The announcement is well timed for me since the Phil is just around the corner from St Luke’s church (Liverpool’s famous “bombed-out” church, gutted during the second world war) which appears in my new vampire book Echoes of Blood. I didn’t think to use the nearby pub as a location, but I’m hoping to write other books in the same series so there’s time to put that right.

In the meantime, maybe one of my characters will do something I never got the chance to do, which is visit those magnificent gents’ toilets. In my case, the photos will have to be enough!

Posted in Books, paranormal, Writing

Coming soon: Echoes of Blood

I haven’t blogged much about my writing recently, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been beavering away quietly in the background. In fact, in the last few weeks I’ve finished a brand new vampire book based on an old short story that I’ve completely rewritten and expanded.

Lonely Sky was originally published in the anthology One Degree of Separation by Torquere Press. It told the story of Daniel, a man starting a new life in Liverpool who enjoys the gay New Romantics scene and discovers some very unusual friends at local club the Fallen Angel.

The story has languished in a folder ever since the anthology contract expired, but last year I rediscovered it and realised I could make a longer book out of it, together with some additional material. And so Echoes of Blood has been born. Not only does it add more flesh to Daniel’s bones, but it also introduces some new characters including three assorted vampires and Daniel’s older colleague and friend Edmund, who introduces him to them, and a sub-plot involving the mystery of the missing Ninth Legion of Rome.

I’m quietly excited about the book, which I’ve decided to try self-publishing since it’s already earned its keep once before. I’ll be uploading the file to Kindle in the next few days, and if all goes well, it’ll be available soon after that. I’ll be back with fanfares (and buying information) once it’s all in place. In the meantime, here’s a brief snippet, while the image above gives you a teaser of the cover (with a super bat image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay). I hope you like them!

‘Tell me there’s no such thing as vampires,’ he said to Edmund next time they met at the coffee machine.

Edmund spilled the sugar. ‘My dear boy! Have you been smoking something?’

He chuckled. ‘No, but I feel like I should have.’

‘Is everything all right?’

‘Yes. No. I don’t know. Bit of a weird vibe going on with someone I met at the Fallen Angel. Just what kind of people hang out there?’

Posted in Nature, Photography

Friday Five – daft birds

Birds can be really difficult to take good photographs of – just as you click the shutter they move, squawk, waddle away or fly off. But over the years I’ve been lucky enough to snap a few memorable, and unusual, shots, which I thought I’d share with you here.

Seagull, Windermere


This seagull was cheerfully ignoring the local parking regulations at Lakeside, on the shores of Windermere, but flew off before anyone could fine it.

Pigeons, Liverpool


Even the pigeons looked fed up on a recent trip to the (otherwise brilliant) Liverpool waterfront in non-stop pouring rain.

Cormorant, River Thames


These birds perch on anything to dry their wings after a fishing trip…

Doves, Windermere


Sleepy, puffed-up doves braving the promenade on a freezing cold morning in Bowness.

Pigeons, V&A


Who needs waiting staff or cleaners when you can just get the pigeons to tidy up for you? Taken at the V&A museum café in London a few years ago.

Posted in Architecture, History

Liverpool trip

Although I’m originally from Liverpool, I hadn’t been back for over twenty years, ever since a disastrous visit in about 1995 when the streets were piled with filth and everything looked so scruffy it broke my heart.

That all changed yesterday, when a sudden realisation that my passport had expired meant a hasty trip to the passport office for a renewal – and that’s our nearest branch.  We got the train down from Windermere, got the paperwork lodged with them, and then had four hours to kill in the city while they prepared the actual passport.  So we set off to explore… pretty much everything!

We must have walked over 4 miles, from Lime Street Station to the waterfront, to the business district, to the huge new shopping area of ‘Liverpool One’… and then back again.  On route we saw lots of interesting ‘things’ including the famous Beatles statue (I queued up for a photo), some of the original old buildings, new venues like the museum on the waterfront (where we had a really good and cheap lunch), and lots of new bits of sculpture, art, and heritage trails.

It’s changed out of all recognition from that scruffy place of the mid-90s into an incredibly smart, cosmopolitan, bustling city that beats Birmingham, Manchester and even Glasgow into so many cocked hats, in my opinion.  In fact, wandering the streets, the feel was far more of a London of the north than any other city I’ve visited in the last 20 years.  Even on a drab, wet day of constant spattering rain, it was vibrant and interesting, and we’d have loved to stay and see more.

Sadly, we couldn’t as we had things on over the weekend, but we’ve made a mental note to go back soon and stop over a few more nights so we can visit some of the new museums, get up the hill to the cathedrals again and generally mooch around more.

Here’s a few photos I managed to grab in spite of the drizzle, including some rather damp pigeons… and that Beatles statue, minus John’s foot.