Friday, 30 April 2021

Cover and Book of the Month - April

designer Cathy Helms of
with fellow designer Tamian Wood of
select their chosen Cover of the Month
with all winners going forward for 
Cover of the Year in December 2021
(honourable mentions for the Runner-up)


designed by Silverwood Books

Runner Up

Cover designed by Oliver Bennett, 

Book of the Month -APRIL
a personal selection
by Helen Hollick

Read our review

runner up

read our review

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

To The Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce

book of the month

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

fictional drama
late 1700s, 
England and the Pacific Ocean

Ben Dearlove, an aspiring writer, rescues an ill woman from an angry mob at a Covent Garden theatre performance and sees her safely back to her impoverished lodgings. A month later the whole city is abuzz with praise for a spectacularly successful book An Account of a Voyage to the Fair Land. It’s about a voyage to an imaginary land in the Southern Ocean but the author is anonymous: even the publisher doesn’t know who it is. Ben takes on the challenge of uncovering the mystery, with the hope that this will secure his financial future. The trail leads him back to the lodgings of the unknown woman, only to find she has vanished and her lodgings have been ransacked.

The story races along with danger at every turn. Where is the woman, and who is she? Why has the Admiralty sent thugs to find her? Who are the people behind a missing ship, the Miranda? Murder is done, vital artefacts are stolen, danger stalks in unexpected places. The plot thickens but Ben is determined to find answers.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s well written, the descriptions are graphic and engaging, the writing is tight and well done, and the story is a page turner. Boyce brings the period to life with excellent dialogue and fast paced action. An excellent read and an author I’ll be watching out for.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Robyn Pearce
 e-version reviewed
note - this is new re-published edition

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Book and Cover of the Month announced
30th April

Monday, 26 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of The Travels of Ibn Thomas by James Hutson-Wiley

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

Fictional Drama
twelfth century
Egypt / England / Europe

The world at the beginning of the twelfth century was a complicated place—especially for someone with a Christian father and a Muslim mother who has been raised as a Muslim in Egypt until one day he is sent off at the age of seven to be raised by Christian monks. Why this brutal uprooting? Well, little Thomas’ father has disappeared, and according to his instructions, his only son is to be sent back to England.

Baptised on his way to England, our young protagonist is now firmly Christian—or so everyone around him assumes—and after some initial years of schooling in England he is sent off to Salerno to become a highly educated physician. The Church (or rather some of the shadier organisations within the Church) expresses a keen interest in young Thomas—especially once he has completed his education at a school where Christian, Muslim and Jewish texts are used to impart as much medical knowledge as possible.

Through the machinations of the Church, Thomas ends up in Sicily, charged with a mission to spy for the Holy Church and do whatever else may be required to safeguard the faith. When Thomas discovers this safeguarding includes such distasteful tasks as poisoning the young Ruggerio of Sicily, he refuses. He also refuses to spy, which is why he is suddenly obliged to flee for his life when the vindictive Church lashes out. Over the coming years, Thomas will suffer pirate attacks, travel across the Mediterranean, befriend a hashashin, be sent off on a secret mission to Damascus and, finally, make it to Jerusalem where he is determined to find out what happened to his father. 

Thomas is something of a chameleon. As comfortable with Christian rites as with Muslim teachings, he fits in as he must to stay alive. At times, this causes him anguish and a lack of identity. It also makes him tolerant—and confused. To Thomas, there is no major difference between the faiths of the various People of the Book, but in the times he lives, divisive lines are drawn between the various faiths and anyone attempting to straddle the divides is, per definition, a potential apostate. 

Thomas Ibn Tomas is a resourceful if credibly naïve young man when he sets out to somehow navigate his way through what, at times, is a much too exciting life. Life, however, has its own way of imparting lessons, and by the time The Travels of Ibn Thomas comes to a close, our protagonist has lost his innocence and instead gained a modicum of two of wisdom. Not, all in all, a bad trade. 

It is evident Mr Hutson-Wiley has enjoyed submerging himself in the complexities of the time, be they the divisions within the Holy Church or the enmity between the Sunni and Shia Muslims. There is a lot of detail in this book: about the texts Thomas studies, about the spices he uses, about how to make soap, about the trade in sugar and various methods of worship. At times, all this detail has the pace dragging. At others, a couple of sentences indicate we have now leapt several months forward. It is a tad distracting, this uneven flow of time. 

The narrative itself is well-written with excellent descriptive passages. At times, it reads very much like a memoir, which creates a distance between the reader and the described events so it might not suit those who like fast paced adventure. For readers fascinated by the evident religious friction in the time of the first crusades however, The Travels of Ibn Thomas is an elucidating read.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Anna Belfrage
 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Sunday, 25 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Kathryn Gauci

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!

Hello Kathryn, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book, a box of chocs and glass of wine to hand.

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. Before becoming an author, I was a carpet and home textiles designer. 

Q. Where do you live?
A. Melbourne, Australia.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. Istanbul.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A. Modern. (The castle is something I am aiming for!)

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Cat

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. Both. I like to decorate the table when I have guests and I am afraid to say, I eat in front of the TV when engrossed in a good movie.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. Documentary, drama, thriller.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. “The Embroiderer”. It spans 150 years and is set against the fall of the Ottoman Empire through to 1970’s modern Greece. It’s about the rise and fall of several generations of one family through the female line.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. A WWII novel set in 1944. Preparations for the D-Day invasion are well advanced. When contact with Belvedere, one of the Resistance networks in the Jura region of Eastern France, is lost, Elizabeth Maxwell is sent back to the region to find the head of the network, her husband Guy Maxwell. It soon becomes clear that the network has been betrayed. An RAF airdrop of supplies was ambushed by the Gestapo, and many members of the Resistance have been killed. Surrounded on all sides by the brutal Gestapo and the French Milice, and under constant danger of betrayal, Elizabeth must unmask the traitor in their midst, find her husband, and help him to rebuild Belvedere in time for SOE operations in support of D-Day.

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. One genre.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A. Yes. I will try my hand at another soon.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. Sophia from “The Embroiderer” and Claire out of “Conspiracy of Lies”.

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
A. We would have afternoon tea at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Sophia would entertain us with stories about her thriving couture house which was once situated opposite the hotel. Tragically, WWI and the subsequent war between Greeks and Turks brought it to all to an end. Claire would tell us how she managed to operate as an SOE agent in France during WWII and Sophia would also tell us how she gained important information for the Greeks during WWI through her couture house. 

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. All three.

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. Ask him if he’s alright.

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)

1. “The Bridge on the Drina” Ivo Andric
2. “Birds Without Wings” Louis de Bernieres
3. “Freedom & Death” Nikos Kazantzakis
4. “Collected Poems of C.P.Cavafy”
5. “The Kite Runner” Khaled Hosseini
6. “A Year in Provence” Peter Mayle 
7. “Paris 1919” Margaret Macmillan
8. Any Martina Cole.

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. A Greek island with a beautiful beach and clear water to take a swim.

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. Dom Pérignon sipped out of a fine crystal champagne glass.

Click HERE (and scroll down to 'G') to find our  reviews of Kathryn's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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Friday, 23 April 2021

Paris In Ruins by M K Tod

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon AU

"A few weeks after the abdication of Napoleon III, the Prussian army lays siege to Paris. Camille Noisette, the daughter of a wealthy family, volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and agrees to spy on a group of radicals plotting to overthrow the French government. Her future sister-in-law, Mariele de Crécy, is appalled by the gaps between rich and poor. She volunteers to look after destitute children whose families can barely afford to eat.
Somehow, Camille and Mariele must find the courage and strength to endure months of devastating siege, bloody civil war, and great personal risk. Through it all, an unexpected friendship grows between the two women, as they face the destruction of Paris and discover that in war women have as much to fight for as men.
War has a way of teaching lessons—if only Camille and Mariele can survive long enough to learn them.!

This gripping story focuses on the two young women Camille and Mariele but both come from large families and their mothers, fathers and brothers are all also caught up in the fighting in various ways and the fate of all hangs precariously in the balance.

Camille is quite headstrong, with a tendency to ignore convention, take risks, not toe the line. Mariele is less so, at first in awe of, and perhaps a little envious of Camille. But neither is stereo-typically 'feisty' and both are hugely aware of their place in society, and their duty, despite railing against it at times. Camille lives life to the full in part because of the death of her sister, Juliette. It is as if she is living life for the both of them, and this drive, born of such a loss, felt very credible. She knows, even before the siege begins, that life is fragile and can be snuffed out in a moment. This knowledge informs her actions.

The horrors of war, the effects of the violence not only on the soldiers but on the civilians, are graphically and unsparingly described. The author has an economy of words which gives us the bare detail, and somehow makes it more visual. However for me the main interest lies in the development of the young women and their burgeoning awareness not only of what war can do to people's lives, but of their own place in the world. Did it take war to make them realise that marriage and children are sometimes not enough, or was it the age in which they were living? There is a stark contrast between their privileged existence and the plight of the poor of Paris. The women who live in the poorer quarters agitate for change and a powerful message comes through that women from all corners of society want, nay demand, more rights.

Woven into this driving narrative are the individual stories, the breaching of the divide between rich and poor, and the brave people who put their lives and careers on hold in order to help the war effort. One such example is the actress Sarah Bernhardt who here is shown turning her theatre into a hospital. In such times, social niceties have to be ignored, to the acceptance of some and to the horror of others: there are situations where young ladies cannot be chaperoned, for example; these moments, and the day that Mariele brings two poor children back to her family's grand house, demonstrate that this was an age where the older generation in particular were at first scandalised and then had to grow to accept the changes all around them, changes that would endure beyond the war.

This period of French history is not one with which I was familiar, and the author has a knack of providing just enough information about the military campaign without slowing down the narrative. There is no awkward exposition, and no 'info dumping'. The characters who provide the news do so in a believable and logical way; they would indeed have been the ones to receive the intelligence. Other characters talk about what they've read in the newspapers, in a very conversational style.

The only thing I would have liked to have seen explained is how Andre, a young man of Camille's acquaintance, initially came to be doing his dangerous work, more of which I won't say, for fear of spoilers.

The pacing of the book is fast; rarely a page goes by without the plot moving forward, and this completely chimes with the subject matter. These were eventful, frightening times and this is expertly conveyed. A great read which I heartily recommend.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
Discovering Diamonds Senior Reviewer

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

A Wider World by Karen Heenan

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

"Memories are all he has… Now they could save his life. Returning to England after almost five years in exile, Robin Lewis is arrested and charged with heresy by the dying Queen Mary. As he is escorted to the Tower of London, Robin spins a tale for his captor, revisiting his life under three Tudor monarchs and wondering how he will be judged—not just by the queen, but by the God he stopped serving long ago. When every moment counts, will his stories last long enough for him to be saved by Mary's heir, the young Queen Elizabeth?"

A Wider World tells the story of Robin Lewis, who features in the author's debut novel, Songbird. That novel centres around Bess and her childhood friend Tom, but this new book gives us Robin's story both before and after his life coincided with theirs. I'm happy to say that Bess and Tom do make an appearance, but this is Robin's tale, and he's the one telling it. 

I liked the structure of the book especially. We go back and forth between Robin in the present, as an older man, and Robin in his youth. Once you've been drawn into the two timelines, it is beautifully revealed that it was not the author's idea to present the story this way, but Robin's himself. And, there's a very good reason why he's doing it, too. I won't say more because it would be a bit of a spoiler.

The skilful presentation of the story is not all down to Robin, though, for Ms Heenan is a natural storyteller, writing scenes which have perfect shape and pace. She has a great way of using first-person narrative so that we see through Robin's eyes. There's actually very little use of the personal pronoun 'I' which means that we are not watching him, we are seeing what he sees.  

And what we see is a wonderfully realistic Tudor world. The author's research was clearly diligent but it sits lightly on the page and there is masterful and delicate placing of information, for example when Robin pinches his candle and puts it in his satchel when he has finished his work. There is no need to tell us that folk carried their own candles from place to place; that one tiny action revealed the fact. 

Ms Heenan is an American and uses US spellings which I don't mind at all because, and here's the crucial thing, her characters inhabit their Tudor world absolutely and the dialogue is spot on. Robin thinks, acts and speaks like a Tudor Englishman and he is so very real. He is a man of faith; prayer restores him. Though raised a Catholic, as were all of his generation, he sees the merits of some of the Lutheran ideas. And we see how often even those who were drawn to the new faith took comfort in the old. 

Just as with Songbird, we see the workings of the court but the main characters are not the historical figures. It was fascinating to see how the offices of the likes of Cromwell operated. And we are shown very clearly how the decisions, especially of the capricious Tudor monarchs, affected the lives of the ordinary people and in particular the fate of the monks who were turned out of the dissolved monasteries. That said, there are also moments of great commentary about the more famous history: something I'd not thought about before was that, in bringing Anne of Cleves to Henry, Cromwell held up a mirror to the ageing king, showing him a suitable bride for a man of his years, failing health and looks. And Henry didn't like it. 

The author has a lovely economy of words which nevertheless conveys a whole picture. Robin staggers slightly on the solid ground when disembarking from the ship and we know exactly what she means. A monk hugs him but wraps his hands round Robin's midriff while Robin places his chin on top of the monk's head and thus we know the difference in the men's heights. Other phrases made me smile: when Robin describes a young girl as being 'refreshing' the reply comes from her grandmother, 'Like cold water to the face.' When he's drunk, Ned falls across the bed 'like a tree', which perfectly describes the motion. Ned is Robin's friend and, in fact, is such a well-drawn character generally. A scene where he finds a borrowed shirt of Robin's which he'd forgotten to give back was a lovely vignette which summed him up and made me smile in affection for him, despite his questionable habits! In fact, Ned is such a rounded character that his older self is changed, but also recognisable as the man he once was.
Another constant in Robin's life is his manservant, Seb, who also grows up and older as the novel progresses. Towards the end there is a lovely scene where Seb goes off 'muttering' and we know exactly how he is feeling because we've spent so much time with him. (I won't say why he was muttering - that'd be another spoiler.) 

In Songbird, Robin was introduced as quite a prickly, unpopular character, who developed and grew and managed to make friends. But here we discover that he doesn't understand why people love/are interested in him. He knows he's stand-offish and so he thinks no one should like him but he forgets about his vulnerable side and that others can see it. There is a joy in watching him as he learns to accept that people love him and towards the end of the book there is a  jokey discussion about getting rid of Robin's beard. Again, no spoilers, but in that small moment Robin is super-aware that he's not alone and never has been. It is quite a skill to present a character in a first-person narrative and yet allow the reader, through that character, to see him as others do. Songbird was a confident and excellent debut and now Ms Heenan goes from strength to strength with this new book. There is a third book in the offing and I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Annie Whitehead
Discovering Diamonds Senior Reviewer

 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Monday, 19 April 2021

A Discovering Diamonds review of A Healing Touch by Liz Arnold

18th century

A Healing Touch by Liz Arnold is set in 1796 and centers around a young woman, Molly Hillard's journey from Baltimore to Ohio after completion of medical training. She has undergone her training as an apprentice to Dr. Andrew West who develops a romantic interest in her. Molly does not reciprocate his feelings and insists on traveling, despite the dangers, that a single white woman could encounter. During the journey, she falls in love with Romney, a white man who was raised by the Delaware tribe and is often treated as a "half-breed" among white people. She is captured by another tribe despite Romney's efforts to escort her safely home. How they deal with the challenges en route, the conflict between the White people and the Natives, the prevalent illness at that time i.e smallpox, and how Molly's skills as a healer influenced her capture and release are detailed in the novel.

What was well done: The descriptions of life in the US at that time, the plants used for healing, how people lived and traveled are well researched and described.

There were a few inconsistencies: In the beginning Romney is shown to have a problem with English words because he was raised by Native Americans. After a few chapters, this disability disappears. He rescues his sister from her captors very easily at night in chapter 5 without any resistance, although in the previous pages, dogs were mentioned. The reader is left wondering why the dogs did not bark - were his sister's captors away with the dogs etc? Another inconsistency with respect to his sister was that she was captured by a man ten years ago from the Delaware tribe. When Romney, after rescuing her, is heading down the Ohio River, the Shawnee tribe appears and claims that they had taken his sister 10  years ago and now want her as the wife of one of the Native Americans. One wonders why the Shawnee tribe didn't care about retaking the girl in the ten years that she was with another tribal man.

Molly is portrayed as a strong woman, no stranger to men, being a medical person. She falls in love with Romney the minute she sees him, with the attraction being physical and the reader is left to wonder why a strong woman, determined to travel to her family at the beginning of the novel, changes her plan and decides to accompany a stranger on his mission to find his sister on the day after she met him for the first time. The same goes for the physical encounter they later share. I found it hard to believe that single women were unchaperoned in the late 1700s.There were also some characters and over-detailed descriptions that could have been cut to maintain the pace, especially in the middle where the narrative lost moment a little.

Having said all that, this was a typical, straightforward romance (girl meets boy, falls in love etc.,) with 'author's licence' where historical fact is concerned, but fans of light romance will enjoy this story for what it is - entertaining romance.

Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds 

© Juhi Ray
 e-version reviewed

You will find several items of interest on the sidebar

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Sunday Guest Spot - Joanna Courtney

Continuing our Sunday Series
of taking a look at some fabulous authors!

Hello Joanna, welcome to our Discovering Diamonds Guest Spot. Along with my readers and visitors I love to hear from authors who write wonderful stories. There’s nothing better than curling up with a good book,  box of chocs and glass of wine to hand!

Q. Would you like to tell us a little bit about yourself...
A. I’m 48 and I’ve been writing from when I was very little, and publishing novels since 2013, although it feels like a lot longer than that as I was writing them for years before I secured a contract. I studied English literature at Cambridge and it was there that I discovered a huge interest in medieval – and earlier – literature and a general fascination with the world pre the 1100s. I firmly believe that the idea of a ‘dark ages’ is one of the most damaging anyone could ever have come up with – casually dismissing so much vital history as if it were a mere parade of dull, featureless days of just digging the land. I’m passionate about bringing light into those early periods and feel strongly that fiction is a great way to do that.

It was my great privilege to meet you, Helen, at several Battle of Hastings re-enactments and I found your drive, knowledge and enthusiasm a huge inspiration and encouragement to me. I was delighted to work with you on our collaborative book of short stories – 1066 Turned Upside Down - and am honoured to feature on your blog. Thank you.

Q. Where do you live?
A. I live in a Derbyshire village with my husband, dog and two children.

Q. If you had a choice to live anywhere – where would it be?
A. I love it in Derbyshire but, ideally, I’d like to live by a river or lake I could swim in and row on.

Q. Modern house, old cottage, castle or something else?
A.  I live in an old cottage and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sometimes I yearn for the simplicity of a house with right-angles, and decent lighting and insulation, but I love the history of my house. It was built in 1745 and when I sit by our stone fireplace, I love thinking about all the people who must have sat here before us. That said, if a castle was on offer…

Q. Cat,  dog or budgie?
A. Dog. I’ve had cats before and love them but my husband is approaching retirement now and we’ve just bought a campervan to head off around Europe, with him cooking and me writing. The dog can come along but I don’t think a cat would be too keen!

Q. Are you a ‘dining room for dinner’, or a ‘tray on your lap in front of the TV’ person?
A. I’m mainly a dining room for dinner person. We’ve still got two kids at home (just) and it’s an important time for us to actually sit around together and chat, even just for 15 minutes. That said, every so often, if we’re all tired, I love an indulgent in-front-of-the-TV dinner.

Q. TV preferences – documentary, drama, comedy, soap or thriller?
A. I like them all, though I only really watch documentaries for research. I love a good drama and have just finished watching The Queens Gambit on Netflix which I thought was fantastic. I was a sucker for Downtown Abbey and quite like The Crown, although I confess that a drama about living people always feels slightly uncomfortable to me. I also love a good old-fashioned murder mystery, with Morse and Frost being old favourites and Shetland and Silent Witness newer ones. There’s always room for comedy isn’t there? Blackadder remains my abiding favourite of all time, but I recently watched After Life – part comedy, part terribly sad drama – and I thought it was excellent.

Q. What was your first published novel about?
A. My first ever published novel, Running Against the Tide, was originally a People’s Friend serial and was a Romeo and Juliet style love story between a lighterman working the West India docks in London and the daughter of one of the powerful traders. My first true novel was The Chosen Queen, about Edyth, wife of King Harold in 1066.

Q. What was your last novel about?
A. My last novel was Iron Queen, the ‘true’ story of Cordelia from Shakespeare’s King Lear. In my version she is one of a trio of revered Celtic princesses in the Iron Age tribe of the Coritani in what is now Leicestershire. I loved writing it because I grew up very near Beacon Hill, the central fort of that tribe, and used to drink Thunderbird and cheap cider up there in the sixth form. Rediscovering the history of the place that had such happy memories for me and bringing the Iron Age to life was very rewarding.

now also in paperback

Q. Do you write in one genre or several?
A. I only write historical fiction as Joanna Courtney, but I also write contemporary fiction as Anna Stuart and enjoy the different challenges of that genre.

Q. Have you ever considered exploring a totally different genre?
A.  I’ve been dabbling for a while with a Young Adult time travel series… Nothing concrete yet but watch this space.

Q. If you could, which two of your characters would you like to invite to spend an afternoon with you?
A. I would love to spend the afternoon with the dynamic, vigorous Harald Hardrada, who I confess to fancying like mad. I’d like him to bring along his sidekick, an Icelandic called Halldor, who was one of those fantastic characters that just seem to come to life independently. He’s a gruff, tough warrior who just happens to have a golden tongue when storytelling and I’d love to meet him in real life!

Q. Where would you go / what would you do?
I’d ask them to take me out on their Viking ship – ideally all the way to Iceland, which I’m longing to visit, but I doubt we’d make it in an afternoon!

Q. How do you prefer to travel? Plane, boat, car?
A. I love trains best, as long as they’re empty enough for me to have some space to write. There’s something very soothing about the motion of a train and about there being people around to watch. That said, I love driving too and am very happy pootling about the place in my car. You can’t write at the wheel though!

Q. You are out for a walk. You see a chap sitting on a wall, looking right fed up – but there’s something odd about him... What? And what  do you do?
A. I’d say the odd thing is that he’s dressed as a Viking (a proper one – no stupid horns!) and I would, of course, go up and talk to him – he’s got to have some great stories.

We have a long-running Radio programme here in the UK called Desert Island Discs on which celebrities talk about their life and select eight of their favourite discs... so changing that slightly...

Q. If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what eight books would you want to find left in an abandoned hut? (There’s already a Bible, the Quran, and the complete works of Shakespeare)
Wow – that’s really difficult! I’m not a big one for re-reading novels as there are so many out there waiting to be discovered, but I guess if I was stuck on the island I’d need books that really bear re-reading so here’s my best attempt:
1. Tess of the D’Urbevilles, Thomas Hardy
2. Wolf Hall (Am I allowed the whole trilogy?), Hilary Mantel
3. A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles
4. The Keeper of Lost things, Ruth Hogan
5. Milly, Molly, Mandy (my favourite childhood book for comfort)
6. Notes on a Scandal, Zoe Heller
7. The Whale Road, Robert Lowe
8. A very, very large blank notebook that I can write in!

Q. What sort of island would you prefer, and why? (e.g. Desert Island... Hebridian Island...)
A. I love the beauty of a Scottish island but I’d definitely want it hot – now that’s a fantasy!!

Q. And you would be allowed one luxury item – what would you want it to be? (a boat or something to escape on isn’t allowed.)
A. I feel I should say something sensible like a really comfy bed, but I think the honest answer is – wine!

Click HERE (and scroll down to 'C') to find our  reviews of Joanna's books  on Discovering Diamonds

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Friday, 16 April 2021

A Tribute to Richard Tearle .... (7th May 1948 - 13th April 2021) by Helen Hollick

Father, grandfather, husband and treasured friend 

           A kind, generous, witty and supportive gentleman

Some while before Christmas 2020  my dear friend, and stalwart supporter of indie writers became ill – terminally, as it turned out, with diabetes and circulation problems, cancer, Covid 19 and then a stroke, which left him bed-bound, unable to use his hands efficiently and affected his voice. Before all this happened, I was intending to indie-publish Richard’s first short novel, The North Finchley Writers’ Group, and thereby help him achieve a life-long ambition of publishing a novel. He had already been immensely proud of the two volumes of short stories of Melody Mayhem that had been published for him  by Gaskell Press in 2020, but NFWG was to be a full ‘writ long’ story.

It had started, however, with a simple short story about a group of writers, which I casually suggested could make a darn good short novel.

Richard thought about the idea... and started writing.

I loved what he came up with, a fly-on-the-wall type story where the reader eavesdrops on the members of a writers’ group based in North Finchley, London, where Richard lived for several years and remained an area close to his heart.  The group members have their secrets, their hopes, their despairs (as writers, don’t we all?) and there’s a bit of romance flourishing for good measure. Richard cleverly wove into the story some hints and tips for budding new or novice writers: choosing character’s names, cover design tips, some ‘dos and don’ts’ – all knowledge gleaned from his love of supporting new and established indie authors to ‘do well’

Richard was passionate about this support. He had been an avid reader since childhood when he discovered the 'romances' (as they called them then) of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Dejah Thoris, he claimed, was probably his first crush. Nevertheless, it wasn't until he retired in 2013 that he began writing short stories seriously, contributing regularly to Discovering Diamonds' annual feature of Stories Inspired By A Song, and also to a Richard III-based anthology, entitled Right Trusty and Well Beloved

Sadly, he became ill before NFWG had completed its editing – so I took over the task of the ‘final polish’. As his medical problems increased I decided to pull out all the stops to ensure that he achieved his life-long ambition of having a novel published. I was determined that Richard would hold a copy of his little paperback in his hands and enjoy some of the favourable reviews that followed. I’m so pleased that this was achieved – thanks to Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics for designing the classy and eye-catching cover, to Alison Morton who formatted the text ready for publishing, to Caz Greenham, Elizabeth St John, Nicky Galliers and Annie Whitehead for proof reading and editing – and especially, to an author who wishes to remain anonymous, who funded some of the cost involved.


Richard's passion for music
inspired many of his short stories

I first ‘met’ Richard when, in 2011, purely on a whim, he applied to my plea for more reviewers for the Historical Novel Society’s indie authors reviews, of which I was, then, Managing Editor.

Having always enjoyed reading about characters of history, he thought, “well, why not?” He soon found himself caught up, not only in the stories that others had created, but the hoary problem facing all independent writers. Like many, he had assumed that Indie Publishing was either something akin to Vanity Publishing or books that weren't good enough for mainstream publishers.

“How wrong I was!” he later said.

Richard quickly cottoned on to the fact that many indie-written novels were good – very good, in fact. He also realised that indie writers had a hard time getting noticed, so set about “doing something to help”. He did this by reading, reading, reading – and giving fair, honest, constructive reviews. He would always consider that the author had spent blood, sweat and tears in producing their baby – for indies, financing and publicising it themselves. Therefore every effort should be made by a reviewer to honour that commitment by being fair.

At the tail end of 2016 I decided to open my own review blog (Discovering Diamonds) and Richard wholeheartedly and enthusiastically supported and assisted me to set the site up. #DDRevs (as it is fondly called) went from strength to strength with Richard as our Senior Reviewer (I repeatedly assured him that this meant our ‘top’ reviewer – not our eldest!)

Richard took the time to correspond with authors who hadn’t quite got things right, explaining why and suggesting another edit, or a quick proof read to correct the too-many typos. His greatest pride was reviewing, and loving, Paul Marriner’s novel The Blue Bench, which I subsequently selected as the #DDRevs Book Of The Year.

Richard was also my ‘Book Buddy’, he would read through my early drafts and  give his honest feedback and opinion. In return, I gave his name to a character in my Sea Witch novels – Richie Tearle appears in On The Account (and will be in future Voyages)

I miss our email correspondence, and it will be a lasting regret that we never actually met. I even miss his terrible jokes that were so bad, you just had to laugh.

Richard was born in Muswell Hill, London and nearly went to school with the Kinks and Rod Stewart. Starting work at the Ever Ready Company in 1964, he moved on to the Performing Right Society and ended his working life as a Civil Servant. Retiring in 2013, he lived in Lichfield, Staffordshire. He leaves four children and an equal number of grandchildren, and many writers who will remember him with deep fondness and gratitude.

Richard was a life-long Tottenham Hotspur football supporter, liked most sports, especially tennis, and also followed the New Orleans Saints in the NFL.

He said of himself: “I take neither life nor myself seriously.”

Tributes from fellow authors:

 From Annie Whitehead:

I can't remember when or how I first got to 'know' Richard, but we met online and chatted about life, music - our tastes coincided a lot - motorbikes (another shared passion), history and writing. He was a gentle, kind soul who was also laugh-out-loud funny. Like a lot of my friendships this one was mainly conducted over the internet, but Richard and I seemed to collide a lot there, especially when we both ended up on Helen's Discovering Diamonds team. I met him in real life back in 2018, when I was giving my first ever talk. He came to the venue, made sure to arrive early, hugged me, and said he'd sit front and centre so that when I looked out into the audience I'd be able to look straight at a friendly face. It calmed my nerves enormously and I'll never forget that act of kindness. Richard sent me a lot of his stories pre-publication and I was especially honoured to be able to read not only The North Finchley Writers' Group when it was in its early stages, but also his first historical novel, which he asked me to edit. Sadly, that won't now happen. Richard took  his work as a reviewer very seriously indeed, and his thoughtful appraisal of the many books he reviewed for DDRevs was always worth noting. A friend, a laugh, a stalwart, a writer, reviewer and a lovely person. He will be missed by everyone whose lives he touched.

From Nicky Galliers
I'm another of those who knew Richard without ever having met him face to face, but his boundless enthusiasm and kind, kind comments on every one of my December stories on Discovering Diamonds - and a shared love of Highlander - won't be forgotten. I had the privilege of working on his novella, The North Finchley Writers Group, and I do hope he was able to understand how good it is and how much fun. My thoughts are with his family - thank you for lending him to us a while, we'll miss him.

From Elizabeth St John
Richard's wit, wisdom, and kindness have an enduring place in my heart. He was always ready with an encouraging word, a thoughtful suggestion, and, best of all, a horrible joke. His enthusiasm for my research and writing was boundless, and when I chatted to him about my latest work, he immediately got to it with some inspiring insights that truly helped me decide to write this challenging book. I enjoyed his reviews immensely, and loved his short stories, all of which carried that special Richard magic of humanity and a touch of poignancy. You will be sorely missed my friend; know that I will talk to you often as I write, and I will always keep you close in my thoughts.

From Mercedes Rochelle
I’ve only known Richard through emails, starting with a wonderful review he left for one of my books on Discovering Diamonds. Since then, we found that we had a lot in common, and his cleverness with words shone through both in his correspondence and the short story collections he put together. I’m sorry he wasn’t able to finish the novel he was working on, Ulfius, which showed great promise. I meant to ask him how he was progressing on it and regretfully never took the chance. He was very insightful and, most of all, supportive. Richard was one of the kindest souls I ever met, and I miss him terribly. 

Comments From Facebook:

Kathryn Gauci: Oh no! I am so sad to hear this. He was always so supportive of me and we shared some fun posts. A huge loss. Condolences to his family.

Judith Arnopp: Very sad, he will be missed

Judith Greenwell: Sorry to hear the news, my deepest sympathy to Richard's family. RIP Richard.

Dave McCall: Really, really sorry to hear this. I'm just 80% through The North Finchley Writers' Group - it's a great legacy Richard's left us!

Paul Marriner: Sad news. He was such a good guy, a very good writer and so supportive of others.

Debbie Young: I'm so sorry to heart that, Helen, and my heart goes out to him, his family and his many friends. It was a wonderful thing you did to get his book across the finishing line while he was still able to appreciate it

MJ Logue: Oh I am so sad to hear this.

Liz Barrett: A lovely man who Dave and I got to meet. He will be very sadly missed.

Erica Lainé: I am so very sorry. He was exceptionally supportive of writers. He will be missed by his community.

Colin Crosby: I am so sorry to hear this. I met Richard several years ago when I led a Guided Walk in Lichfield, and found him a convivial companion. Rest in peace, Richard

Mary Anne Yarde: Such sad news.

Janet Lonton Was Sparey: So very sorry to learn of Richard's passing. My deepest sympathy.

Wendy Myers: How very sad. Thoughts to his family and friends.

Elisabeth Anne Millard: Sad news condolences to his family and friends

Claire Dunn: Very sad.

Kelly Confer-Stambaugh: Sincerest condolences to Richard’s family

Marsha Lambert: Very sad news! My condolences

Jeanette Taylor Ford: Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. I was looking forward to being able to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. My condolences to all the people who loved him.

Jane G. Harlond: I can't believe we won't have Richard with us any longer. So very sad. Love and good wishes to all family and those of you close to him.

Alison Morton: Very sad. He loved books and his reviews were detailed and enthusiastic and always full of support advice for authors, all delivered in a gentle but well-defined voice. His short stories were atmospheric and clever. Vale, Richard!

Loretta Livingstone: Oh, I'm so sad about that. I didn't know him well but we had chatted. I know his son was reading reviews of his books to him and hope it gave him joy to realise his dream of publishing.

Clare Flynn: Oh no. I am really sad and sorry to hear that. He will be missed. Condolences to his family.

Wendy Percival: So sorry to hear the sad news. I was wondering only the other day how he was getting on. My condolences to his family.

Liz St.John: So saddened. A fine and generous man, and a dear friend to writers everywhere. My thoughts are with his family for such a heartfelt loss.

Inge H. Borg: So sorry to hear this. He was such a staunch supporter of his writer colleagues. My condolences to his family.

Lisa Williams Adair: My sincere condolences his family.

Katherine Pym: I am so sorry to hear this. I wondered where he'd gone to when I stopped seeing his lovely reviews. Sadness all around.

Deborah Swift: Really sorry to hear it. A much loved member of our community who always supported other writers with a generous spirit.

Char Newcomb: So sorry to hear this. He will be missed.

Cryssa Bazos: I’m so very sorry. Richard has been in my thoughts since learning of his health problems. My condolences to his family and dear friends.

Elizabeth Chadwick: Oh I am sorry to hear that. I never knew him personally, but he always seemed like a lovely man.

Amy Wilson Maroney: What a kind and generous man, and what a profound loss. I'm so sad to hear this news

Paulette Mahurin: I’m so sorry to see this. My condolences to his family and friends.

Derek Birks: A sad loss. Richard was a terrific chap.

Elisabeth Hawkins: I'm so sorry. I'm sending condolences to his family and the many friends he had.

Matthew Harffy: I remember Richard championing my books from the beginning. I always looked forward to his reviews and was pleased to see he'd published a book. My sincere condolences.


Some of Richards Articles and Stories



Available on Amazon

Melody Mayhem: A collection of short stories


Melody Mayhem: The Second Movement


Right Trusty and Well Beloved

Amazon UK


The North Finchley Writers’ Group