Finding Secrets by Lauren Westwood

Alex Hart loves her dream job as manager of Mallow Court, a historic Elizabethan house. But the discovery of a precious jewelled locket changes everything, and Alex realises that things are not as they seem.

From an old diary, to a handsome barrister, a mysterious clockmaker, and the darkest hours of the London Blitz, Alex must follow the trail of clues to uncover the truth about the things she holds dearest – whilst someone is determined not to let sleeping dogs lie!

Phil: Finding Secrets, at 403 pages, offers plenty of story for your money at very least. In fact, it offers two stories.

Alex who finds herself in charge of a stately home, a job with which he appears to have loads of aptitude for, but absolutely no qualifications or experience. This makes you wonder how she ended up there in the first place – one of the many mysteries solved by the end of the book. along the way, there are lots of mysteries and plenty of plot strands for the reader to keep on top of.

Fortunately, Alex’s story is pretty well signposted.  For example, when she meets the hunky, cool clock mender and goes weak at the knees, everybody reading is going knows she’s going to end up with him in another 300 pages. (Incidentally, how come chick-lit is full of people who do no exercise whatsoever but still manage to be in physically tip-top shape for the heroine to lust over?)

Alongside the modern tale of Alex, a story of ambulance men working in the blitz rescuing people and some of the dark deeds that went on at the time. Of course, the two stories are relevant to each other and the wartime tale explains how we end up with Alex where she is, and more importantly, who she is.

Readers need to suspend their belief on a hook a long way from wherever they read this book as the conclusions, while reasonably logical within the context of the story, are pretty far-fetched. There are a few moments when you wonder how she can be so dim, but then remember that Alex doesn’t know she is a character in a book…

Does this matter? Not at all. This is escapism. If you want a documentary on the war then there are lots of books to read, or endless documentaries on the higher numbered digital TV channels. This is a modern fairy tale and none the worse for it. It rattles along – if you need regular breaks the text is split up into several sections. I’m wondering if it was originally published in serial form, but can’t find anything on-line.

Another interesting detail for writing nerds. The cover on Amazon is very different from the cover of the book I read. Which one works best for you?


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Will it be light again?

Image result for sun rise


Candice: I’ve probably mentioned this before but I really don’t like the dark days we have in the UK.  I get slightly obsessed this time of year with when it is going to be light in the morning and evening.  It’s even stranger as it seems to get lighter in the evening before it gets that way in the morning.

Why don’t I like it? Well I struggle to get up as it feels like I’m getting up in the middle of the night.  This doesn’t help when I have someone who bounces in to my room all bright and breezy in the morning.

Days like today help when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, dark, cloudy days just make it feel like the sun has never come up.  I’m currently sat in our dining room soaking in as much sun as I can to get my Vitamin D levels up!

I have a long-term plan to build a sun room on to our house so that I can get as much sun as possible inside, with heating.  And when I retire I plan to take a sunshine holiday in January every year.

So how does this help or hinder the writing?  Well having a project helps me to get motivated in January.  I’m in the middle of stripping the wallpaper off our spare room to redecorate it into a much better office.  Its been the general dumping ground since we moved in.  We have new furniture, with fresh paint and a tidy then it will be a room I’ll feel like going in to, and therefore one I want to write in.  Well, that’s the plan anyway.  I find mess terribly distracting so anything that can stop the distraction.

Is it time to freshen up your writing space and find your new motivation?

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The Picture House by the Sea for pedants

The picture house by the sea is the Palace at Polwhipple – a lovely art deco cinema, nestled in front of azure Cornish seas. But it is long past its heyday now, and its only saving grace is Ferrelli’s, the family run ice-cream concession in the foyer, which is widely known as the best ice-cream for miles.
So when Ferdie, the owner of Ferelli’s, breaks his leg, his granddaughter Gina drops everything to come and help out. But when she arrives she is dismayed by the state of the cinema, which she remembers fondly from summer holidays when she was little, and she is determined to give it the makeover it deserves. Along with local renovation expert Ben, she sets about reviving the Palace to its former glory. 
But the cinema needs more than a lick of paint. Its very future is under threat from a developer with greed in his eyes. Can Gina save the place before it is too late?

Phil: There’s a lot of this book – 449 pages to be precise – and it’s a really good fun read. You can probably guess the outcome from the first page (Spoiler: she ends up with the hunky old friend and all ends well) but this doesn’t really matter. In fact, it might even be that the lack of jeopardy is part of the reason I rattled through it and enjoyed the lot.

My only diversion was to check whether the town of Polwhipple in Cornwall actually exists – it doesn’t – but then the story lives in that special universe where a lot of light chick-lit exists. The sun shines, you can survive financially from a vintage clothes shop or give up your job in London for 4 months and not be bankrupt. I imagine it’s the same world that many TV shows inhabit where a columnist for a local paper services the mortgage on his 4-bed house in the capitals suburbs. We’d like to live there, but as we can’t a little holiday will suffice.

However, I feel that there are few points I need to pick up:

Ben did not show Gina around the signal room and ticket office at the local preserved railway. He gave her a tour of the signal BOX and ticket office. That’s as annoying as suggesting they would go to the train station to do this…

Cinemas don’t have “archive rooms”. Films do arrive on multiple reels as described but before the projectionist shows them, each length of film is stuck to the others and then wound onto a big reel. This is 4ft in diameter (a bit more for Lord of the Rings) and weighs as much as a small child. Trust me, you don’t lose one! Each print of a film costs about a grand so the distributors want them back after you’ve finished showing – the only thing you might find in the cupboards are trailers and that’s only because they don’t chase when no-one bothers sending them back. If you want to save your cinema by showing old films, you’ll need to order them from your distributor, although it can be done – and it is popular with audiences.

One area where the book is spot on is that all volunteers on a preserved railway, indeed railway enthusiasts generally, are hunky surfers with rock hard six-packs. And they always get the girl.

I think La Nolan passed this book on to me as I have been a projectionist, and can be described as a railway enthusiast (If you said “trainspotter”, you are both wrong and due a slap) so would either enjoy the story or niggle at the details.

Just to be awkward, I’m going to do both.

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Who looks after the writers?

Phil: I’m starting to worry about our burgeoning careers as humourous novelists. I’m worried that we might be invited to work in television and I’m not sure I like the idea very much any more.

Reading Paul Merton’s autobiography “Only when I laugh”, he describes working on a TV show (and I can’t work out which one despite 20 minutes leafing through the book again) where there was a script. Being a writer himself, he trotted off at one point to thank the scriptwriters for their efforts. He finds them shut away in a little room hidden down a corridor. They are surprised as none of the previous hosts has bothered to pay them a visit.

This compounded the best TV I saw over the festive period.

Eric, Ernie and Me, tells the story of how Eddie Braben essentially created the popular duo Morecambe and Wise.

Lured away from working for Ken Dodd, he saved the pair from being nothing more than a footnote in entertainment history by changing their act dramatically. Basically, what you see on TV is Eddie’s work. And if the drama is to be believed, they didn’t always appreciate his work, at least in the early days.

For his efforts, he got two bouts of “nervous exhaustion” thanks to the stress of single-handily writing the most popular TV shows of the period. The audience demanded Morecambe and Wise and Eddie was the only one who could deliver.

That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun to me. I know I need a deadline to produce work, but I also know how I fall apart when the deadlines are continuous and never-ending. At least I have a friend to share the burden and commiserate when times are tough. And someone who appreciates the effort.

She still nicks bits of my cake though…

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Welcome to 2018

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Candice: Well it’s another new year.  They just seem to fly by I must say.  We were watching ‘Back to the Future’ over Christmas and I still can’t believe it was made in 1985.  We also introduced the near four year old to it, and she really liked the skateboard chase so that was a good sign.  None of this Disney rubbish in our house (except ‘Frozen’ from which she likes to re-enact ‘Let it go’ in full, including cape toss and hair loosening).

I have to say I do like Christmas but I find the day a bit flat after the build up.  There is all that planning and shopping and discussing and eating and then the big day comes… and I open my presents and go… “oh”.  It’s not necessarily that the presents are bad its just the build-up is so much I need a lie down after all that.  I prefer the bit afterwards; or would that be known as the sale shopping afterwards? I got some good bargains this year and could keep going but have just had to rein myself in before the credit card bill got too large.

January has become more of a big thing in our house as we now have two birthday’s to celebrate, my daughter’s and my husband’s.  I go in to full planning mode as soon as boxing day comes round getting ready for their big days, especially as this will be the last year we can celebrate with my daughter before she goes to school.

And of course, there is the need to book a holiday to look forward to.  Tick, that one is done.

And so on to book reading and writing.  I haven’t had the chance to watch ‘The Miniaturist’ as it was on over Christmas but I shall be interested to see how it compares to the book. We did watch the first episode of ‘McMafia’ last night, which looks quite good.  But the brain is already ticking over thinking of ideas for Book 3.  I have a few but Phil and I need to book in our Post-It note session to work out the plot before we go in hell for leather, as we found last time, it works better that way.

Happy writing.



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Piling on the Christmas pressure

Phil: So there we are, sitting in a cafe awaiting the delivery of drinks and cake, and La Nolan passes me a Christmas card. I open it up and along with the exhortation to have a merry festive period, is the message above.


I mean, we’ve only just finished Book 2. Can we really be releasing book 3 in 12 months time?

Worse was to come. We exchanged gifts. Normally this is a low key business but this time she insisted that I open this, “Because I want to see your face.”.

I did as I was told and found a copy of the book Make a Killing on Kindle.

Ahah! I realise that as the techie half of the team, it’s going to be my job to make sure our books are found by as many people as possible.

But there was more to come, I opened the cover and found:

It seems someone has serious ambitions and loves Only Fools and Horses.

Somehow, I suspect I’m the Rodders in this partnership. I’ll be getting a 3-wheel van. Candice will be behind the wheels of the Capri Ghia!

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Christmas is here

Image result for drunken christmas party

Candice: I’ve let Phil do most of the writing on the blog this year.  Being a parent and working full time does not allow a lot of time for thinking so I keep it for book writing and editing rather than blog writing.

But I felt we were  missing our traditional Christmas blog post about photocopying bums at Christmas parties.

The first book finishes with a Christmas party, and I still like the way that it opens.  I can still see dry ice and characters walking through the fog in a ‘Batman and Robin’ style.

I had my work’s Christmas party last week.  I can only just write this blog now as my head is still recovering.  I am not the best drinker so try to keep the alcohol intake to a minimum, this was not the case with my work colleagues who also decided that, as organiser of the Christmas do, I should have lots of free drinks as thanks.  One of those was a Jagerbomb…

I sloped off at midnight as I’d had a good two hours dancing and drinking since a lot earlier, I was an early bird compared to most.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Christmas party.  I pretty much always end up organising it, because no one else will, but it also means I have to spend a lot of time dealing with people asking stupid questions – what time does it start, how much is it etc.  But once the meal part is out of the way – ‘ herding cats’ is how a colleague described it, then I got what I really wanted. A chance to show that Mrs Demure in the office knows how to shake her butt.  Think more Tracey than Kate.

The other thing I had to organise was the Secret Santa, yet another herding cats experience.  However, I ended up with a well thought of present… a magic mug with that – when you put hot water in to it, the book appears.  Someone had been listening then.  So thanks to Secret Santa, I’m chuffed with it.


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