Saturday 31 March 2018

Can't Get You Out of My Head - Sue Shepherd

Ever since I heard the title of this book I've had an earworm! Take another look at the title.. . .🎡🎡 Can't get you out of my head 🎡🎡 La La La, La La La La La 🎡🎡 Whoops, sorry, are you singing it now? πŸ˜‚

I read Love Them And Leave Them by Sue Shepherd last year and I loved it so I couldn't wait to get stuck into this one.

Beth and Lisa are twins and they're inseparable. They do everything together and they tell each other everything. Beth feels that it's time to get on with her own life but why is it so difficult for her to distance herself from Lisa? After Beth has an encounter with a young Italian boy named Mario, their loving Nanna suggests the girls take some time out and they head off to the other side of the world with their childhood friend Michelle. It's not long before they meet a group of friendly lads and one of them seems to take a shine to Beth.

Once they are back home Beth is ready to find her feet, get a job and take the step from being a carefree teenager to responsible adult, but Lisa has other ideas. She isn't ready to settle down and is more than happy to carry on partying, getting drunk and she tries to encourage Beth to do the same. When a face from the past arrives on their doorstep it could change the future for both Beth and Lisa.

I don't want to say anything else about the story, not because I didn't enjoy it, but because I don't want to accidentally give anything away.

Can't Get You Out of My Head is a story about  the close relationship between siblings and families. Twin sisters Beth and Lisa felt real to me and I went through a whole myriad of emotions with them both. One minute I would be feeling sorry for Beth and her circumstances whilst being angry at Lisa for being so heartless but the next minute Lisa would have all of my sympathy and I'd think that Beth was being a heartless bitch. I must admit that I had a genuine soft spot for Nanna and she reminded me of my own nan, always there to offer support, baking and coming out with funny phrases and comments. Creating such believable characters, I think, shows what a talented writer Sue Shepherd is. I wanted to be there for all of them, I laughed with them and cried with them and I even got angry on their behalf and it's not that often that I get quite so emotionally involved.

Although at first glance, this might appear to be a light and frothy romantic comedy, don't be fooled, it's a story that has hidden depths. I absolutely loved every page and I honestly can't get it out of my head!

Can't Get You Out of My Head is available to download now at the bargain price of just 99p/99c

Amazon UK πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§
Amazon US  πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ

With kind thanks to author Sue Shepherd and Jane at Corazon Books for the review copy.

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Mary Grand

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog you’ll know that a few years ago I hosted my first Virtual Mini Book Festival which featured lots of amazing authors from the Isle of Wight. What started off as an idea in my head came to fruition through a very lovely author called Mary Grand who lives on the island, she put me in touch with other authors who live there and I’m absolutely thrilled to be chatting to Mary today and finding out about her new book Behind the Smile.

Welcome back to The Hippo Mary, it’s wonderful to have you back here. Please, grab a chair and introduce yourself to everyone.

Photo courtesy of Mary Grand

I was born in Cardiff and have retained a deep love for my Welsh roots. I worked as a nursery teacher in London and later taught Deaf children in Croydon and Hastings.
I now live on the beautiful Isle of Wight with my husband, where I walk my cocker spaniel Pepper and write. I have two grown up children.

'Free to Be Tegan' was my debut novel. The second 'Hidden Chapters' is set on the spectacular Gower Peninsula. I have also published two short books of short stories 'Catching the Light' and 'Making Changes'. 'Catching the Light' is also available as an audiobook, narrated by Petrina Kingham.

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Do you often hear from your readers and what do they say?
If you’d asked me the question ‘what do you expect your readers to say?’ the day before I published my first novel Free to Be Tegan I probably would have said ‘very little’! I had written a book from my heart and hoped maybe one or two people may read and enjoy it. However I was very lucky; it was well received and formed the foundation of many new friendships on line and in ‘the real world’ with both writers and readers.

Within a fictitious setting I do like to write about issues I care about. They are usually things I have at least touched from a distance and then done a lot of research on. The responses to these from readers are among some of the most moving I receive. I have heard from people in recovery from living in a cult, children of alcoholics and parents of Deaf children.

Also I hear from people who read the stories as chance to escape into beautiful parts of Wales …a number plan to visit Gower after reading Hidden Chapters which is lovely as it is the most beautiful place.

On line a very supportive group has been the one I joined when I first got my cocker spaniel Pepper. Pepper has taught me just how much a dog can bring to your life and in acknowledgement of that there is usually a cocker spaniel tucked away somewhere in my stories. The question from my group on Facebook therefore is naturally ‘what colour cocker spaniel is going to be in the next book?’

Photo courtesy of Mary Grand
I love this photo of Pepper, he looks so handsome πŸ™‚

What’s your favourite motivational phrase?
“Bird by Bird”. This is the title of a book about writing by Anne Lamott and is one of my favourite books. The phrase ‘Bird by Bird’ is one that keeps me going when I feel overwhelmed when writing or in fact by life itself. The story behind the saying is wonderful.  Anne Lamott’s brother was feeling totally at a loss as how to write up a complex report on birds for school. It was due in the next day but he was over whelmed by the task. His dad them put his arm around him and said ‘Bird by bird buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’ Good advice.

I think this picture is so clever – a bird made up of lots of tiny birds.

What advice would you give your younger self?

This is what Glinda, the Good Witch of the North told Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz, at the end of her journey in Oz, as she is trying to get back home. All along, the ruby slippers on Dorothy’s feet had the magical power to fulfil her wish.

As a child, partly from being brought up in a very strict sect, I was made to feel that I couldn’t do anything worthwhile in my own strength; if I tried I would fail. When I succeeded in school or socially I never believed it might be anything to do with my own ability but thought it had to be someone else, maybe God or someone in authority who had enabled me to do it. It took me a long time to realise that I am often able to work some things out for myself, that I don’t always need someone to rescue me, tell me what to do.  I know now I can try new things and am able to do some things well. I wish I’d had that confidence when I was younger. I am also learning that although I sometimes make mistakes it is not God judging me but part of the process of learning and growing. As someone said ‘the only way to avoid mistakes is to do nothing.’

What character in your book are you least likely to get along with and why?
The leader of the cult in Free to Be Tegan is called Daniel. He shares some of the traits of leaders in the sect I was brought up in and I guess this is why I feel so strongly about him and what he tries to do to people. Writing his character, understanding what makes a cult leader tick, was very therapeutic.

Daniel has charisma, charm, people are attracted to him however he is also controlling, demands unquestioning obedience. To keep them in his cult he manipulates and uses mind control.  He isolates members from the real world, in fact he teaches them that the world is the enemy and warns them that the world will disapprove of them because it is blind to the truth. Members are discouraged from  critical thinking and slowly loose their sense of self and self worth.

This is a terrible way to treat people; it is done in a cold, calculating way. For the character of Tegan in the story it is the only life she has known and the book opens with the devastating scene of her being cast out of the cult, cut off from her family, for a relatively small misdemenor.Daniel’s words are harsh in the extreme “You will be judged with all those in the Domain of the Beast. On the day of judgment the High One will show you no mercy and you, Tegan Williams, will be thrown into the lake of fire, there to suffer for all eternity” Fear is an important tool of control within a cult.

Later in her story Tegan confronts Daniel. This to me is the pivotal point in the book and in her healing.

What is your guilty pleasure?
I thought I’d choose a reading guilty pleasure although I don’t think we should ever really feel guilty about the books we choose to read, we need different books at different times in out lives. For me, when life gets just too much, I escape into one of Simon Brett’s Fethering Mysteries. I love these two amateur female detectives, uptight Carole Seddon and her easy going, free spirited friend Jude. The stories are well thought out mysteries (and lots of wine is drunk!). They are books for a rainy Sunday with a cup of coffee and chocolate biscuit in hand.

What did you edit out of your last book?
Stephen King said ‘Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, and kill your darlings.’

It’s is very hard when editing to make major changes such as taking out characters but I had to do this when editing  my latest novel “Behind the Smile.” This is the story of Lowri who, facially scarred and hiding dark secrets goes to idyllic village on the Isle of Wight. She wears the mask of a fake smile but soon learns that she is not alone, that everyone has something to hide, be it an addiction, unrequited love or even a desire to destroy her.

In the first draft I had created a complex back story for Lowri, written scenes when she met her grandmother and mother. Both were characters I had become attached to. However, I came to realise that they did not move the plot forward. The characters may have been well-developed but they were still weak because they didn't serve a strong purpose. They did reveal things about Lowri but I found a different and I hope tighter way of sharing this with the reader. Sadly they had to go!

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You mentioned your latest book, Behind The Smile, can you tell the readers more about it Mary?

Behind the Smile is my new novel, a gripping family drama set on the Isle of Wight.
 Lowri is pregnant, looking forward to a new life with her lover, Simon. But her plans are shattered. She finds herself alone, her face scarred, her future uncertain.

Her estranged husband, Jack, proposes they “settle” for each other, and raise Lowri’s unborn child on the Isle of Wight, in the idyllic village of Elmstone.

Lowri is befriended by Carina, the beautiful Italian woman living in Elmstone Manor, and Heather, the popular local cafΓ© proprietor. However, she soon discovers that no-one is the person they appear.
What dark secrets is Heather hiding from her family and from the village?

Why is Carina desperate for Lowri to fail in her new life and prepared to go to increasingly desperate lengths to destroy her?

As she confronts her own insecurities, and faces another devastating loss, will Lowri find the courage to be proud of the person she is hiding behind the smile? Will she find true love amid the confusion and intrigue?

It sounds like a great book to curl up with and read over a long weekend. . . . . like an Easter weekend perhaps Mary? πŸ˜‰

Behind The Smile is available now so if you’re looking for something to read this weekend why not take a look?

You can find out more about Mary, her books and connect with her using the links below:


I'd like to say a big thank you to Mary for taking the time to stop by and chat today. It's always a pleasure to see you and I wish you lots of success with Behind The Smile πŸ˜‰ 😘

Friday 30 March 2018

The Hippo Hands Over . . . . to Abigail Osborne

It's been a while since I handed over the reigns of my blog so when the lovely Abigail Osborne, author of The Puppet Master, asked if she could write something for me I couldn't turn her down. But wait there's more! Not only did she want to write a post about her recent weekend away on a writing course . . .  she wanted to give you all the chance of winning, what I think is a fantastic prize! Well I couldn't let you miss out on that opportunity dear readers could I? So let me start by introducing you and then I'll leave you in Abigail's capable hands.

Abigail is originally from the Lake District but moved to the West Midlands for University where she completed an English Literature & History degree and also met her husband. She is a passionate reader and has an unsustainable collection of books. This obsession with books has led to her creating her own Dewey decimal system and she has been known to issue fines to family and friends if her book is not returned on time. 'The Puppet Master' is Abigail's debut novel and has unleashed a passion for writing. When not writing or reading Abigail is usually playing her violin or hiding from her much too energetic cats. She also works as a Needs Assessor for disabled university students in the West Midlands.

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                                        The Power of the writing course

In February, I attended the Crime and Publishment writing course at Gretna Green. Run by the inspirational Graham Smith, author of two successful crime book series. Apart from the Creative Writing I did at University I’d never attended anything like this before and I was really excited but also apprehensive. I shouldn’t have worried as this writing course was better than I could ever have anticipated.

I had a clear idea what I’d like to get from the course. I’d looked at the seminars that were scheduled and I couldn’t wait to pick the brains of those more experienced in writing and the industry. Whilst I knew that the course was designed to help me with the mechanics of writing I couldn’t have predicted the other benefits I would come away with. I got all the answers I wanted from the weekend. However, questions I did know I should be asking were also answered.

I found Craig Robertson’s talk about research eye-opening. I realised that my first book had been completely reliant on what I knew. My first book was based on two places I’d lived and things I didn’t know I was vague on. Choosing to focus on plot over details. During Craig’s talk I thought about how much I could add to my next book by not relying on things I knew. It fired me up and gave me the tools I needed to start adding more depth to my book. I was too scared to do this as I didn’t know how so this was just the thing I needed to take that first step in developing into a better writer. That was the first talk I had and I was astounded by how much knowledge Craig had to offer. I have been worried about my next book as I am writing something that has nothing to do with my past experiences unlike my first novel. Craig’s knowledge and experience gave me a remedy for worries I hadn’t yet voiced. The secret concerns I’d been trying to ignore were brought to the forefront but Craig’s reassurances that we actually all know people that will know someone who can help us with research gave me confidence.

Craig Robertson

The other talks were similarly fascinating, Michael J Malone helped me realise a crucial character missing from my book. Karen Sullivan made me consider my writing style and gave me insight into the publishing industry. I will no longer blush in embarrassment and be lost for words when someone asks me what my book is about. Russel McLean made me consider the tropes of my genre and how I could use them to my advantage. It was a fascinating weekend and I wasn’t prepared for the wealth of information I was going to receive. My writing hand still hasn’t recovered. The one to one with Michael gave me the opportunity to address the specific concerns I had with particular thorny parts of my plot. He was really helpful, and I am so grateful for his direction.

Karen Sullivan

Russel McLean

Abigail & Michael J Malone

All the things I was expecting to be helpful happened to be helpful in more ways than I thought possible. However, the other attendees on the course were the real surprise for me. When I arrived on the Friday, there were a lot of people there. Far from being the intimate gathering of a few writers that I had thought it was going to be. I was instantly nervous as I don’t enjoy being in big groups of people. To my surprise, by the end of the weekend I had managed to speak to every single person that attended. Far from being full of people and their egos, everyone wanted to get to know each other. You could come down to breakfast and sit with a different set of people than those you had dinner with and it didn’t matter. Everyone was welcoming and so respectful of why we were all there. They all wanted to learn from the tutors but also from each other. As someone who has self-published and traditionally published I really enjoyed giving people the benefit of my experience, especially what not to do! The people on the course were an incredible gift as their support and kindness allowed me to feel comfortable interacting and speaking out. I loved hearing about everyone else’s writing journey. It felt like I was part of a community. I was so inspired by all the people around me that I couldn’t wait to get started with my writing. 

This weekend was so inspiring not just for what I learnt about writing. But because when you leave, you leave with this unquenchable desire to write and create. I don’t feel I’ve done this course justice in my explanation on how deep an effect it has had on me. If you are one of those people that feels you have a book in you. I urge you to go to Crime and Publishment, or any writing course, as the writing community is a supportive one just waiting to welcome you with warm arms. Bring on Crime and Publishment 2019 – hope to see you there!

P.S to everyone that attended thanks again for signing my Mother’s Day card. I am forgiven for forgetting now πŸ˜‰

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It sounds like a weekend that was not only informative and productive, but one that was filled with lots of fun and new friendships Abigail! Thanks so much for sharing that with us.


You might remember that at the beginning of this post I mentioned a giveaway! I hope you're all ready to hear more about it.

Abigail is very kindly offering you all the chance to win a signed copy of her book The Puppet Master . . . .  AND. . . the winner will also have a character in her next book named after them! How fabulous would that be? Imagine reading about your fictional self in a book. Would you be a good character or an evil one, who knows? Only Abigail has the answer!

To be in with a chance of winning, just go to Abigail's Facebook Page which you can find here, share the post about this giveaway (and maybe show her page some love with a little like while you're there), sign up to her newsletter (you'll also find the link to this on her Facebook post) and leave a comment to say that you've signed up. You'll then be given a number and a random number generator will be used to pick a winner. That's not a lot to ask to win a signed copy of a brilliant book and to be immortalised forever in a book is it? So what are you waiting for? The giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday 8th of April and the winner will be announced a few days later. Due to postal costs this is UK only. If you want to know more about The Puppet Master just take a look here.

Good luck everyone and have a fabulous Easter weekend!

Picture found on Mom Junction