At the start of this story, Sophie is feeling a little restless after spending nearly a year in her new village home, so winning a writing retreat couldn’t have come at a better time for her. She is also wondering about the future of her relationship with Hector, who runs the village bookshop where she works, as he’s starting to seem a little staid.

Hector gives her a fond send-off on her journey to her retreat at a tiny Greek island, where she is set to spend a week with a bevy of aspiring writers on a course led by the abrasive bestselling romantic novelist Marina Milanese, who quickly makes enemies of them all. When Marina disappears in the shadow of the clifftop windmill, Sophie finds herself accused of murder. With a storm cutting the island off for several days, Sophie must try to solve the murder mystery herself before the police can arrive.

This story was inspired by a writing retreat I attended on Ithaca many years ago, before I’d written my first novel. Until then, I’d considered myself primarily a journalist and a short story writer, but the retreat gave me the confidence to tackle my debut novel.

My eleventh novel (Sophie’s eighth adventure) Murder in the Highlands, will be published by Boldwood Books in March. Will Sophie’s retreat work the same magic on her writing ambitions? And what effect will it have on her romance with Hector? You’ll have to read it to find out.

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I love writing books with a strong sense of the season, and my favourite season is the spring, so I really enjoyed writing this one! The story takes place in the early part of the spring, when the Cotswold countryside is filled with a succession of cheery flowers, from snowdrops and crocuses to daffodils and wild garlic.

I also had some fun with the notion of the Easter Bunny, introducing a wily old lady nicknamed Bunny because she had so many children. In her old age, cared for by her dissolute daughter, she is taking pleasure in teasing the pesky Mrs Petunia Lot, persistent fundraiser for a local charity, Cats Prevention (their mission is to neuter all cats!).

You’ll also find familiar favourite characters here, including Carol, the eccentric shopkeeper; the elderly Billy, the almost-retired odd-job man; teenage tearaway Tommy and his sparky sister Sina; plus of course amateur sleuth Sophie Sayers and her boyfriend/boss, the handsome Hector, proprietor of the local bookshop. Not to mention any number of cats, including Sophie’s new kitten… They are all waiting to welcome you to another cozy Cotswold village mystery!

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My latest release, Healing Hearts at Bumblebee Barn, features farmer Barney Kinsella who’s struggling to find someone special with whom to share life on the farm. When his sister Fizz – fed up with him repeatedly choosing women completely unsuited to life on a farm – convinces him to apply for a new reality TV show called Love on the Farm, his search for ‘the one’ takes an unconventional turn.

Several years ago, I had the notion that I’d like to write a book that was set in the world of television. I didn’t have a clear idea of where the story would go but, when an opportunity came up to do a bit of research, I knew I had to take it. This opportunity was a contestant call for Deal or No Deal. I was invited to an enormous audition event in Newcastle. Although it was an eye-opener to see what happened, I didn’t enjoy the experience at all and wasn’t surprised not to progress to the next stage. I decided not to let it put me off and applied to a contestant appeal for ITV’s The Chase. This was a much warmer, friendlier audition and I was thrilled to be invited to appear on the show.

My episode was filmed in November 2016 and first aired in June 2017. I believe it has been repeated at least twice since then because I’ve had messages from viewers who’ve spotted me! I’ve even reconnected with an old school friend who recognised me, which has been lovely.

Appearing on The Chase (as Julie – my real name) was a really special experience and provided a fascinating insight into what goes on behind the scenes in making a TV show from the audition stage, through to how contestants are briefed and supported on filming day, through to the filming itself. Particularly fascinating was how careful the team were to avoid anyone knowing who the Chaser would be. Genuinely, nobody knows until the Chaser walks out onto their platform that first time so the reactions you see on TV are genuine.

*Spoiler alert* I didn’t come home with any money, not that I expected to. By taking a positive low offer, I made it to the final chase with one other contestant but we were rubbish! We were too slow and had very limited knowledge between us so didn’t provide much of a threat for Shaun ‘The Dark Destroyer’ Wallace.

Even though The Chase is a completely different type of show to my fictional Love on the Farm, the research opportunity was still invaluable.

Since then, I’ve applied to appear on Pointless with my bestie, author Sharon Booth, but this was pre-pandemic and we didn’t hear anything so I think my TV experience will start and end with The Chase. Which is fine, especially now that I’ve written the book for which I wanted the research experience. I’ll stick with those positive memories of a unique experience.

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People always ask me where I get my ideas from, and the truth is it’s usually something quite random. In this case, the seed for A Love To Last a Lifetime was planted when I read a story about dementia patients who were being treated with music therapy. I found it fascinating – although it couldn’t bring full cognitive function back, what music could do – and was doing, regularly – was help those people who had lost all of their memories to remember things, even if only for a few moments while the music was playing. It was fascinating, and I realised I wanted to find out more.

I read quite a bit about the subject, and it seemed to be something that was being increasingly recognised as a way of helping all kinds of patients, from dementia sufferers to patients in Intensive Care. Of course, it also got me thinking about music and memory, and how I could write a story using this somehow – because to me, everything is a potential story!

I started off with grand ideas about music triggering all kinds of memories for Erin, the main character in A Love To Last a Lifetime. I thought if she could see other people’s memories when she heard certain songs, it could be a brilliant story.

Well let me tell you, it was a brilliant one-third of a story, and then it stopped working. Completely. There was nowhere to go, and the strands of the story didn’t make any sense. After much re-thinking and even more re-writing, I realised it didn’t need that magical realism element. Music as therapy for memory loss is interesting enough on its own – and that’s where the idea of Erin being a music therapist came from. This way, she can help not only her own mum, Penny, who has early-onset dementia, but when Adam, the love of her life, comes back into town suffering from memory problems of his own, she feels compelled to spend more time with him that she should trying to help him – despite having marriage problems to sort out.

I loved researching this subject, and it made me realise that the potential for music to not only help memory loss but also to trigger memories – some welcome, others perhaps not so welcome – is immense, and it’s something I’ve explored in this book from several angles. I really hope you enjoy it!

In fact, music is so important in this story that each chapter has its own significant song attached to it. If you fancy listening to the songs as you read, I’ve even made a Spotify playlist to accompany it – why don’t you check it out and see how many of the songs that feature trigger memories for you?!

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In The Ideal Man, the lives of three women are changed forever when Sandy Gilligan, the man who connects them all is released from prison. The three women are Sandy’s daughter, Colette, his girlfriend, Lynne, and his former victim, Jane.

When I first started writing The Ideal Man, I knew it would have a father-daughter relationship at its heart. Whenever I read news stories about respected family men being accused of sexual offences, I often wondered what their daughters really thought about their fathers. In her non-fiction book, Daddy Issues, Katherine Angel discusses Ivanka Trump’s support of Donald Trump and says that, ‘She like many public daughters serves as a validator for her father.’ Colette has played this role for Sandy. She believes in his innocence and has defended him, even though this has resulted in her losing her career, her marriage and her friends. She believes her father is the one man who will protect her. The one man who would never hurt her. So, when doubts about his behaviour begin to surface, will she choose to act on them or to hold on to her ideal image of him?

A constant companion when I was writing this novel was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I saw parallels between the young, nameless narrator who is married to the widower Max de Winter and Colette and her father. Like the young Mrs de Winter, Colette idealises her father, she is wary of his moods and she wants to please him. In the introduction to the 2003 Virago edition of Rebecca, Sally Beauman says that the fate of the narrator is to have her identity taken over by her husband. At the start of The Ideal Man, Colette, a surrogate wife in place of her dead mother, is in danger of being entirely taken over by her father.

Lynne, Sandy’s girlfriend, is twice divorced and unlucky in love. She is convinced Sandy is ‘the one’ and is determined to make the relationship work. Sally Beauman describes the narrator of Rebecca as, ‘a masochistic woman, who is desperate for the validation provided by a man’s love.’ This certainly applies to Lynne. For her, the idea of romantic love is so important she is willing to ignore her instincts to maintain it, just like the narrator of Rebecca.

Jane doesn’t idealise Sandy. Her past experiences with him are too difficult for that. However, in order to maintain the romantic vision of her marriage and family life, she has never told her husband about what happened with Sandy. She doubts her husband’s ability to deal with the truth and is scared he won’t love her if she is no longer a ‘perfect’ woman. It is this inability to confront her past that will ultimately put Jane in danger.

Each of the three women in The Ideal Man is faced with a choice between romance and reality. What will each of them choose and what consequences will that choice bring?

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