Cover Story by Julia Chapman

One of the questions I get asked most is how much input authors have into the covers that end up on their books. To be honest, it really depends on the publisher as to how much they include the author in the final decision. But I’ve been blessed when it comes to the Dales Detective series.

I remember the day my editor at Pan Macmillan called me to tell me that they’d decided to ask Emily Sutton to come up with a design for the books. Born and bred in North Yorkshire, Emily was an ideal choice. For a start, she has worked extensively with the Yorkshire institution, Bettys Tea Rooms, her drawings on everything from tea caddies to mugs. And when she submitted her first sketch for the series, I knew that she had captured the heart of my fictional community, Bruncliffe.

From the iconic stone walls to the teapot and slice of brack that grace the cover of Date with Death, the prospective reader is pulled straight in and given a taste of what’s to come. But how does Emily get it so right, especially when she’s often working a full twelve months ahead of publication? Sometimes she’s working ahead of the books even being started!

This is how we manage it. Once I start ruminating on the next novel, I jot down ideas, pulling out the main heart of the story and isolating aspects that would work as images. I have to be careful not to include anything that might give the plot away, while still allowing enough of a reveal to be tempting. And also allowing myself enough wriggle room, should I decide to change the storyline!

When I’m happy that I have provided enough content for Emily, I send a short cover brief. And from that she works her magic! Here’s the cover brief I sent for Date with Danger, the latest in the series (don’t worry, no spoilers!):

Book 5: Date with Danger

Plot revolves around sheep rustling, blackmail and gypsies.

  • Season: Spring – mid-to late April. Blossom on cherry/apple trees, fells turning green, bluebells out, LOTS of lambs
  • Setting: Auction mart on the edge of Bruncliffe; Bruncliffe; surrounding fells

Other Features:

  • Sheep rustling – being loaded onto a truck by two men in flat caps…
  • Gypsies in traditional horse-drawn bow caravans travelling to Appleby horse fair
  • An isolated barn on the fells which features in blackmail plot
  • Samson’s Royal Enfield (cf cover Date with Death)
  • Tolpuddle (cf cover Date with Death for best representation of him)
  • Bacon butty and a big mug of tea as food – from auction mart cafe!

Not much, is it! And that was written when I’d only just started writing Danger and the plot was still hazy. Yet it was enough for Emily to produce something truly amazing, without her having read a word of the finished novel.

I think the true testament to Emily’s talent lies in the fact that my French publisher, La Bête Noire, kept her designs for the covers of the translated works – an unusual step, as the French have very different tastes when it comes to cover design. But the reaction from French readers has been amazing. Time and time again I get told by fans across the Channel that it was Emily’s artwork that attracted them to the series. Hopefully, it’s my writing that keeps them coming back!

Interestingly, La Bête Noire also made the decision to stick with the original comic-book-style combination of images while here in the UK, Pan Macmillan moved to a single central picture for book 4 onwards, wanting more clarity. This reflects the difference in shopping habits across the two countries, with online book buying far more prevalent here, hence the importance of clarity of image when potential readers are looking at small pictures as opposed to a real book.

While my heart still lies with the original style, I’ve conducted numerous polls with captive audiences at events I’ve been talking at and Pan Macmillan’s decision does seem to be borne out – UK audiences seem to prefer the more traditional cover of the English version. What do you think?

Personally, I think they’re both brilliant and a testament to the power of a good cover. And a gifted cover artist. Because, like they say, every picture tells a story…

To find out more about Emily’s work, visit her Facebook and artist page:

New Gracie Hart Novels from Diane Allen

The latest two books, written by me under the name of Gracie Hart, started when I attended the Romantic Novelist’s conference in Leeds eighteen months ago. It was whilst enjoying a glass of a very refreshing gin and tonic when the idea came to me – I must add, it was just the one! Gillian, my publisher at Ebury, just happened to mention how gin had become very popular of late. It was with these words that The Gin Girls started to develop in my mind, and with a new contract dually signed I wrote the first chapter to see if my agent and Gillian thought it was suitable. Now I’d love to share the fruits of my labours with you, with this quick taster of the first book in the two-book deal.

A Mother’s Ruin by Gracie Hart – When 18-year-old Eve runs away from her small village to start a new life in the growing town of Leeds, she quickly discovers it is not everything she expected it to be. Wandering the cold streets in search of shelter, timid Eve can only find work as a barmaid at the Bluebell Inn – a place her strict parents would never approve of.

Serving ale and cheap gin to the rowdy crowd, Eve eventually catches the eye of dashing Sergeant John Oates – but his attentions are not honourable, and he will leave her with more than just a broken heart …

The Gin Palace Girls is due to be published later in the year, and continues the story of Eve and her daughter Mary.

I hope that you enjoy my gritty saga’s set in Leeds. They definitely keep me out of mischief when I’m writing them. Although, I may add that a few gins were drunk, all in keeping with valued research, you understand!

With warmest Wishes, Gracie, aka Diane Allen

In praise of the happy ending, by Leah Fleming

There is a school of literary thought that infers that novels with a happy ending are childish and unsatisfactory. This school of thought feels that by creating a resolution where characters find happiness and satisfaction in a future life together, the story is somehow inferior. (Tell that to Charlotte Brontë, Jane Austin, Maeve Binchy or Jilly Cooper!) In this way the genre of romantic fiction has often been relegated to supermarkets shelves as mere chick lit or beach reads, and worst of all, ‘women’s fiction’. But what’s so wrong with a happy ending?

By ‘happy ending’ I don’t just mean “ Reader I married him”, but an ending where a resolution is offered to the conflicts that characters have endured throughout the story; a real conclusion, and not rushed strategies inserted to sort everything out, (like the mediaeval drama’s Deus ex Machina). These endings must be believable, or risk leaving the reader feeling cheated and unsatisfied, and this can happen in even the most literary of novels. Sometimes the denouement may be open ended or hopeful, allowing us to imagine the future lives of the characters carrying on even after the story ends. This is what I aim for when I am writing.

In these lockdown times, I have turned to some old favourites; novels that are familiar and trusted to give comfort. Many of these have happy or hopeful endings. I’m sure that a lot of us have been doing the same. Some of my choices have been Olivia Manning’s Balkan and Levant Trilogy, The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, The House of Glass by Hadley Freeman, plus a biography of one my local heroes, Harry Ree, The Schoolmaster’s War, written by his son, Jonathan Ree.

PD James once addressed the annual awards ceremony of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, saying that romantic fiction, in its fullest meaning, contains the stuff of life and death. It deals with the power of attachment and loss, punishment and reward, riches and poverty. All life is there whether set in the past, present, or future.

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It was founded by Vivian Stuart in 1960. Its members have included, Denise Robbins, Barbara Cartland, Mary Stewart, Catherine Cookson, Joanna Trollope, Rosamunde Pilcher, Wilbur Smith, Jessica Stirling, and latterly, Elizabeth Buchan, Lisa Jewell, Katie Fforde, Jojo Moyes, and Milly Johnson.

In the early days, it was a very glamorous organization with balls at the Connaught Hotel, but now it is the go-to professional association for any budding writer who wants to hone their skills. With over 1000 members, it supports writers across a broad spectrum of commercial and women’s fiction, promoting inclusive values and diversity. There are sponsored awards for genres such as romantic comedy, psychological romantic suspense, fantasy, saga, and historical fiction, alongside contemporary and LGBT novels. Many authors sell millions across the world in translation, and where would some publishing houses be without their success?

The RNA also help their members to link up with other writers through Regional Chapters to cope with the rollercoaster highs and lows of publishing life. Many published writers give their time and expertise voluntarily to support new authors with the acclaimed New Writers Scheme, giving them a leg up on the ladder to success.

I am proud to be to have been a member of the RNA for over 25 years. The annual conference gala to celebrate our anniversary has sadly been cancelled but there will be sessions held online in July. Anyone interested in finding out more can do so here:

Leah Fleming’s new novel ‘A Wedding in the Olive Garden’ is due out in paperback in August 2020.

When will I see you again? Part 2…..

We now have an answer to this – from Tuesday the 16th of June!!! We’re very excited to be able to open our doors again and show you all of the beautiful books we’ve been hoarding since closing. And we’ve got lots of new stock arriving every day too.

But we also appreciate that this is still a very strange and unsettling time for a lot of people. We’ll be doing our best to make everyone feel safe and comfortable, and in order to do this, we’ll putting a few things in place.

  1. We’re limiting the number of customers in the shop at any one time to 2. We have a small space, and 2 people feels like a sensible and manageable number to us. So when you visit, you may need to queue outside for a little while to gain entry. We hope you understand.
  2. We are asking people to sanitise their hands on entry. Bookshopping means handling books and this is the best way to keep everyone safe. If you can’t use the sanitiser, just ask the bookseller to handle the books for you, or give you information. We’re happy to help.
  3. We’ll be encouraging contactless card payments. This is the safest payment method for everyone. However, we understand that lots of our customers use cash, so we will still take this as a payment method. Rest assured, we will be washing or sanitising our hands after handling cash.
  4. We’ll have limited opening hours in the first instance. This is so we can do lots of other things – clean the shop thoroughly at the end of each day, catch up on email/Facebook orders, deliver to local customers who are still unable to come in, offer private shopping appointments to those who need them. As these things become less necessary, we will look at extending our opening hours.

We know this is a lot of information to take on board, but we’re sure that soon it will become second nature, and everyone will be enjoying their book-loving shopping experience once more. We look forward to seeing you.

Best thing about owning a bookshop?

Having access to all sorts of exciting new books is right up there – and getting to find out about the new releases coming up. Sometimes it’s really frustrating because I hear about a book and feel desperate to read it, only to find out it’s not published for another 10 months!!!!

In amongst my book delivery today is a book I heard about a long while ago.

‘The See Through House’ is a moving memoir of one man’s distinctive way of looking at the world, told with tenderness and humour and a daughter’s love. It’s also a very funny account of looking after an adored yet maddening parent. Shelley grew up in the Scottish Borders, in this house, designed on a modernist open-plan grid. With colourful glass panels set against a forest of trees, it was like living in a work of art. Her father, Bernat Klein, was a textile designer whose pioneering colours and textures were a major contribution to 1960s and 70s style. As a child, Shelley and her siblings adored both the house and the fashion shows that took place there, but as she grew older, Shelley began to rebel against her father’s excessive design principles. Thirty years on, Shelley moves back home to care for her father, now in his eighties: the house has not changed and neither has his uncompromising vision. As Shelley installs her pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill, he insists she take them into her bedroom to ensure they don’t ‘spoil the line of the house’.

Being a huge fan of mid-century design, I can’t wait to get stuck in.

When will I see you, again?

Sadly we don’t know the answer to this question, so we can’t tell you. However, despite our physical shop being closed, we can still order books for you. Hurray! Here are a few of the latest releases you might want to try.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell £20, hardback. On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home? Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week. Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief.

Gallows Rock – Yrsa Sigudardottir £16.99, hardback. On a jagged, bleak lava field just outside Reykjavik stands the Gallows Rock. Once a place of execution, it is now a tourist attraction. Until this morning, when a man was found hanging from it. The nail embedded in his chest proves it wasn’t suicide. But when the police go to his flat, a further puzzle awaits: a four-year-old boy has been left there. He doesn’t seem to have any link with the victim, his parents cannot be found, and his drawings show he witnessed something terrible. As detective Huldar hunts the killer, and child psychologist Freyja looks for the boy’s parents, the mystery unfolds: a story of violence, entitlement, and revenge.

Silver Sparrow – Tayari Jones £16.99, hardback. A Most Anticipated Book for 2020 according to The Sunday Times, the FT and the Guardian. A breathtaking tale of family secrets, from the international bestselling author of An American Marriage. This is the story of a man’s deception, a family’s complicity, and the two teenage girls caught in the middle. James Witherspoon has two families, one public, the other a closely guarded secret. But when his daughters meet and form a friendship, only one of them knows the truth. Theirs is a relationship destined to explode.

The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy £8.99, paperback. Saul Adler is hit by a car on the Abbey Road. Apparently fine, he gets up and poses for a photograph taken by his girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau. He carries this photo with him to East Berlin: a fragment of the present, an anchor to the West. But in the GDR he finds himself troubled by time – stalked by the spectres of history, slipping in and out of a future that does not yet exist. Until, in 2016, Saul attempts to cross the Abbey Road again… ‘A time-bending, location-hopping tale of love, truth and the power of seeing.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid £7.99, paperback. Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jump-start her career. Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens as the actress tells her story, from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ’80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love.

Slime – David Walliams £12.99, hardback. The new children’s book from No. 1 bestselling author David Walliams – a fantastically funny tale illustrated by artistic genius, Tony Ross. WELCOME TO THE ISLE OF MULCH…This little island is home to a large number of horrible grown-ups. The school, the local park, the toy shop and even the island’s ice-cream van are all run by awful adults who like nothing more than making children miserable. And the island is owned by the most awful one of all – Aunt Greta Greed! Something needs to be done about them. But who could be brave enough? Meet Ned – an extraordinary boy with a special power. SLIMEPOWER!

What we’ve been reading…..

We’re getting through books at a rate of knots at the moment? Are you? Yesterday we whipped through this little beauty from Chris Brookmyre:

It has a fantastic plot that twists and turns in all the right places and kept me guessing right up until the end. Focusing on new nanny Amanda, and the Temple family, we see a former actress, a famous professor and their three successful grown-up children, who all seem to have something terrible to hide.

Prior to Brookmyre, I worked my way through Hanya Yanagihara’s epic, traumatic novel, A Little Life.

It’s written beautifully, and tells the story of four college friends – from the moment they meet in college, right into their later years. Mainly about Jude, a young man who has suffered a terrible childhood, it shows us how events from our early years really do come to shape the adults we become. A devastating read, a tough read, but an important read.

Grow your own…….

Hands up if you’ve been planting potatoes this weekend. Here’s a photo of ours from a couple of years ago.

If you’re looking for a bit of veg growing advice, here’s a beautiful new book from Kew, and a great guide from the no-dig genius, Charles Dowding. Both available to order for home delivery.

£12.99 Hardback. Create your best vegetable garden ever with a few packets of seed and some fertile ground. In this book Kew’s Kitchen Gardener, Helena Dove, combines practical elements with inspiration and beauty. She shows how to grow some of the most popular staple crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, radishes and rocket, and also some more unusual exciting choices such as oca, tomatillo, seakale and yacon. She gives easy to follow instructions on how to be a successful vegetable gardener, plus 12 exciting projects to try throughout the year including forcing rhubarb, creating an asparagus border and growing in raised beds.

£14.99 Paperback. Charles Dowding draws on his years of experience to show how easy it is to start a new vegetable garden. Any plot – a building site, overgrown with weeds or unwanted lawn – can be turned into a beautiful and productive vegetable area. Charles’s no-nonsense and straightforward advice is the perfect starting point for the beginner or experienced gardener. With step-by-step guides to Planning and early stages, Clearing the ground, Mulch, Minimizing digging, Sowing and planting across the seasons, Growing in polytunnels and greenhouses, this book is filled with labour-saving ideas and the techniques that Charles uses to garden so successfully. Illustrated throughout with photos, and tales from Charles’s first year in his new vegetable garden.

Great new releases coming up this week…..

City of Girls – Elizabeth Gilbert (Paperback) – Published 7th April. New York, 1940. Young, glamorous and inseparable, Vivian and Celia are chasing trouble from one end of the city to the other. But there is risk in all this play – that’s what makes it so fun, and so dangerous. Sometimes, the world may feel like it’s ending, but for Vivian and Celia, life is just beginning. City of Girls is about daring to break conventions and follow your desires: a celebration of glamour, resilience, growing up, and the joys of female friendship – and about the freedom that comes from finding a place you truly belong.

To Be Taught If FortunateBecky Chambers (Paperback) Published 9th April. At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, Ariadne goes on a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. As they shift through both form and time, life on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Redhead by the Side of the Road – Anne Tyler (Hardback) Published 9th April. An offbeat love story about mis-steps, second chances and the elusive art of human connection. Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. He measures out his days running errands for work, maintaining an impeccable cleaning regime and going for runs. He is content with the steady balance of his life. But then the order of things starts to tilt. His woman friend Cassia (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a ‘girlfriend’) tells him she’s facing eviction, and when a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with another surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique.

Great new crime, thriller and mystery titles

Date with Danger – Julia Chapman (Paperback) The wait is over – Julia Chapman’s new Dales Detective Novel is out on the 2nd of April. ‘Hurray!’ we hear you all cry – hear hear we say. A fatal accident at Bruncliffe’s livestock auction mart leads auctioneer Harry Furness to call in detective duo Samson O’Brien and Delilah Metcalfe, but what starts as a simple health-and-safety investigation soon takes a sinister turn as they discover evidence that suggests murder. Meanwhile, Poacher Pete Ferris sets in motion a blackmail plot. Samson and Delilah find that their latest investigations are fraught with danger; a danger that will leave them fighting for their lives.

Trace Elements – Donna Leon (Hardback) In Donna Leon’s haunting twenty-ninth Brunetti novel, a woman’s cryptic dying words in a Venetian hospice lead Guido Brunetti to uncover a threat to the entire region. When Dottoressa Donato calls the Questura to report that a dying patient at the hospice wants to speak to the police, Commissario Guido Brunetti and his colleague, Claudia Griffoni, waste no time in responding. Brunetti promises he and Griffoni will look into what initially appears to be a private family tragedy. As she has done so often through her memorable characters and storytelling skill, Leon once again engages our sensibilities as to the differences between guilt and responsibility.

The Chain – Adrian McKinty (Paperback) Your phone rings. A stranger has kidnapped your child. To free them, you must abduct someone else’s child. Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child. If any of these things do not happen, your child will be killed. Victim, survivor, abductor, criminal. You will become each one. You are now part of the chain. A scary, breathtaking, thrilling read – one you won’t be able to forget.

Blood and Sugar – Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Paperback) An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking on a parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that would cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing . . . To discover what happened, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, to delve into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation threatens his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and forces a reckoning with his past. Can he survive the mortal dangers awaiting him in Deptford?

Joe Country – Mick Herron (Paperback) In Jackson Lamb thriller number 6, memories are stirring. All of them bad. Catherine Standish is buying booze again, Louisa Guy is raking over the ashes of lost love, and new recruit Lech Wicinski, whose sins make him outcast even among the slow horses, is determined to discover who destroyed his career, even if he tears his life apart in the process. With winter taking its grip, Jackson Lamb would sooner be left brooding in peace, but even he can’t ignore the dried blood on his carpets. When the man responsible breaks cover at last, Lamb sends the slow horses out to even the score. This time, they’re heading into joe country. And they’re not all coming home.

Fallen Angel – Chris Brookmyre (Paperback) To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the hugs and smiles, there lurks far darker emotions. Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. As Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible, and suspicion is a dangerous thing.