Welcome, Jennifer

Today I say hello to fellow Crooked Cat author Jennifer Wilson, who’s here to talk about her fascination with Richard III and Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London, the novel that came out of it.  Welcome, Jennifer!

Hi Tim, and thank you for inviting me onto your blog today!

We’re pretty much a year since I received a relatively unassuming white envelope, retrieved from the post-box one morning as I hurried out to work. I didn’t think much of it, until, on the Metro, I flipped it over, and saw the gold logo of the Richard III centre in Leicester. My heart started racing – surely, it was just to tell me I hadn’t been successful in the public ballot for places at the funeral? But then, thousands must have entered for one of the six hundred places – waste of money to write to us all? With trembling fingers I peeled it open – an invite! To the Service of Compline. I didn’t even know what Compline was, but who cared? Research could be done later. I was going to Leicester…


Once there, it was a strange combination of lecture series, city-break and pilgrimage. The University had made a full weekend of it, with a series of talks and demonstrations, and I threw in a couple of guided tours around buildings not usually open to the public. The whole weekend was such an inspiration, that it gave me the spur I needed to get the 50,000 words from a previous NaNoWriMo into shape. Funny, half the time I was wandering around Leicester, my mind was firmly in the Tower of London!

Even though Richard has always been buried in Leicester, I thought of all the places his ghost could go, the Tower made the most sense. It was the heart of English power during his time, and of course, where those pesky Princes managed to go missing. Surely this is where he would go. And he’d already have plenty of ‘friends’ to keep him company when he arrived.

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, following the ‘lives’ of the Tower’s ghostly community, was released by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015, and as part of their paranormal-themed week, it is currently reduced to 99p/c.

If you do take a look, I hope you enjoy it.


Kindred Spirits: Tower of London:

A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers… In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews. Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury. With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.


Key Links:

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

International Amazon link: http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

Smashwords link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/586365

A Dog’s Life

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Sarah Stephenson, who is here to tell us about a dog, his diary and lots of other interesting things!

Welcome, Sarah! Tell us about your newly published novel, Dougal’s Diary.

Tim, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today.

Dougal’s Diary is a humorous story about a dog dealing with the complexities of modern life and the unusual characters he encounters.

When Dougal leaves the quiet of Kent for Greenwich, he has no idea what sort of dog he’ll become, no clue about London life, or if he’s chosen his owner well and landed on his paws. Dougal documents his first 18 months of life through the highs of Wimbledon, the Olympics, birthday parties, bonfire night, playing a sheep in a Nativity play and getting into trouble with his young mate, Jacob. And then there are the lows; puppy classes, coping with his chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, a booze cruise to Calais and struggles with his own obsessions; health, socks, balls and Sat Nav skills. Dougal is convinced writing his diary saved his sanity.

DD cover

Is it based on a real dog?

There is a 3D version of Dougal. The moment I got him home I realised he was very different from any I’d had before. He was a lover of life and adventure, a social animal and party-goer, rather more human than dog. I felt his character was asking for a story.

Do you have any further books planned?

Yes, I’m planning a series of cozy crime thrillers set in various homes in Britain, Europe and the States. Recipe for Death, the first book, takes place in Gloucestershire, another in Palm Beach and one in Mallorca.

Tilly Carey, a recently trained chef is sent to work for various clients. Her own family (mother and twin brother) run through the books, as does her assistant, a student from Tbilisi. A young Scottish man she meets on a train brings in some love interest.

It’s a way of using my own experiences without being done for slander.

Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?

Two things: the theatre and my mother.

I grew up in Bristol in the heyday of The Bristol Old Vic and was taken to most of the plays; the Classics, Wilde, Ionesco. Amongst many wonderful productions I saw the young Peter O’Toole, pulled out of the nick (drink problems) just in time for the matinee, play an elderly man and watched Leonard Rossiter as Richard 11.

My mother considered every rule was there to be broken, even driving round a roundabout the wrong way, if it was quicker. She despised men but wanted 2.4 children so conned the Nuns at an orphanage into allowing her, a single parent, to foster my brother. For us children it was like living in a bad, improvised play. We had no idea what tomorrow would bring; food, school or a bed to sleep on – she made money by letting out rooms.

It was easier to exist in an imaginary world.

You’ve been an actor, a dancer, a chef, a novelist. What do you say when people ask “what do you do?”

I just say I cook. If encouraged by others, I might expand and tell stories. No-one knew I was writing until Crooked Cat were about to publish Dougal’s Diary. When I told a bunch of friends over dinner one night, they were absolutely flabbergasted!

Do you find that your different creative outlets complement or conflict with each other?

I’m used to being on my feet, so find long periods sitting at computer, difficult. And time, is another problem; fitting in writing with cooking jobs. There was a dreadful week coming up to Xmas- always a busy period for parties- when I had to get written permission from all those in the book. Yes, it’s fictional but based on real dogs and people. So, in between food shopping, cooking and delivering, I was charging round Greenwich Park, asking surprised folk if they knew where Bertie, the black Poodle or Tiny the Yorkshire terrier, lived. I was hoping to gain answers before my orange sorbets, melted.

Of course, they were in a special container, but you never know. I tend to panic.

Do you have any other talents or interests that you would like to share with us?

I’m supposed to be a good painter; landscapes and portraits – oils. But, you must have the passion. Writing seems to have taken over.

As for interest: walking, opera, films, travel. At 17, I went to Japan alone, on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a two week trip on train, plane and boat, sleeping in hotels where all the rooms were bugged. When I finally arrived – I was to stay with a friend from the Royal Ballet School – she didn’t want to sightsee, so I toured Japan on my own.

What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

Did you ever enjoy 15 minutes of fame and if so, was it fun?

And what is the answer?

I did and no, it wasn’t.


Actress Sarah Stephenson has become the world’s first Desdemona to strip on stage.

The directors, in their wisdom, decided it would make her death scene more poignant, if in the dimmed light she slipped off her nightdress and climbed into bed. Then Othello enters, picks her up, wrapped in a sheet, and kills her. The story was covered by most papers in Europe.

I had members of the audience sitting in the front row watching through binoculars, received fan mail asking for photos and hate mail. ‘If someone was guilty of such an act on the public highway, they would be subject to prosecution. Why should you be allowed to get away with it? Shame on you!’ There was worse, much worse.

But interestingly enough and thinking of his later conviction, I received a letter from Jeffrey Archer on House of Commons notepaper.

‘Just a line to say my wife and I are looking forward to seeing your performance on Thursday and to wish you every success.

I can imagine the past few days have not been all that stimulating for you, nevertheless those of us who love the theatre will judge the play on its merits and not on pathetic articles appearing in the papers.

Very best of luck….

They came round to congratulate me, after the show.

Although they say all publicity is good, I don’t think this experience helped establish me as a serious actress!

Wow, what interesting lives you and Dougal have had! Thanks for sharing those insights with us, Sarah. I hope the book earns you both another slice of fame – and a more comfortable experience of it this time round!

You can find Dougal’s Diary on Amazon

Crooked Cat Books promo: historical adventures

Crooked Cats' Cradle

This week on Crooked Cat Books you’ll find three excellent 5* examples of entertaining, fast-paced historical adventures: Tim Taylor‘s Zeus of Ithome; The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine and Emma Rose Millar‘s Five Guns Blazing!

Go back in time and escape the Spartans, fight the Romans, and sail the High Seas with dashing pirates!

CCBBrush up on your ancient history! Sparta reigns over Greece, yet there is unrest beginning to stir in Tim Taylor‘s 5* “first class read”, Zeus of Ithome! If you enjoy quality historical fiction, this one is for you.

Three Hundred Years of Slavery. Greece, 373 BC. For three centuries, the Messenian peopleZeus of Ithome have been brutally subjugated by their Spartan neighbours and forced to work the land as helot slaves. Diocles, a seventeen-year-old helot, has known no other life but servitude.

After an encounter with Spartan assassins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind…

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Welcome, Carol

Having recently blogged about research for historical fiction set in ancient Greece, today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Carol Maginn, who gives us insights into her own experience of researching a very different period and place, and offers her distinctive take on the pleasures and pitfalls of history.  Over to you, Carol …


It’s a real pleasure to be on Tim Taylor’s blog and in the company of an accomplished historical novelist, and Kirklees Writer in Residence. I’m going to try to add, very briefly, to his thoughts….

History, as I think he’ll agree, can be irresistible for a writer—partly because we know how it comes out, and partly because we don’t know how it was to be alive in the past, and can only guess. It’s a great combination.

Having spent time in the present in my first two novels, Ruin and Daniel Taylor, I found Victorian Liverpool had drawn me back for my third, The Case of the Adelphi. I should explain that Liverpool is my native city, and I spent some time in my youth working in the Central Library’s Records Office. It’s an extraordinary place, containing everything from the annual reports of the first Medical Officer of Health (the renowned Dr Duncan) to the Minutes of the Workhouse Committee, the handwritten manuscript of Liverpool novel Her Benny, the births, deaths and christenings of the city, and a great deal more besides.

Add to that the astonishing nineteenth century boom which meant that Liverpool was the second city of Empire (there were Liverpool banks with branch offices in London), and the intense contrast between burgeoning wealth and growing poverty, and there’s a world just inviting the writer in… I tiptoed into the splendour of Liverpool’s Adelphi. It was a leading city hotel then as now. I created a character who believes that the hotel is in danger from evil forces, drawing on the nineteenth century’s fascination with spiritualism and the supernatural. I had a great time.

adelphi undated

The Adelphi

So much so, that my fourth novel (currently just 4,000 words long) is set at the same date, 1856, in New York. Why? Partly because there was a constant traffic between Liverpool and New York back in the day, and partly because the history of New York is just fabulous. Heroes, villains and rogues abound, and will soon be joined by my doughty fictional heroines.

I’ve tried to avoid what I dislike in historical fiction. This includes over-long descriptions (The Minaturist springs to mind, perhaps unfairly) and tedious language. Of course the dialogue must be credible (I did check that the phrase ‘blithering idiot’ was actually current in 1856) but deliberately archaic language, I would argue, is just annoying.

With The Case of the Adelphi, I’d already absorbed lots of reading whilst the City Libraries were mistakenly paying me to work for them. With The Devil of New York and his Downfall (a working title) I’m wading my way through several magnificently huge histories of the city. But…. it’s all too easy to get lost in the background. The advice I was given, and which I’d pass on, is to write the story first, and then check details. Would there have been sidewalks then? Did women wear bonnets? Amanda McLean, who wrote the fabulous The Flaxflower recounts how she constantly rewrote as she checked: the wealthy didn’t ride in carriages in her era in her part of Scotland because there weren’t any roads; they rode horses. Peasants bought, and didn’t bake, their bread, as they didn’t have ovens.

And I’m trying to emulate what I like about historical fiction: a sense of time and place, an insight into other ways of thinking about the world—an experience which, in the hands of a master like Hilary Mantel, can feel more real than our everyday world.

And behind it all lies the knowledge that all of us, even while we’re heading into the future, are…slowly….becoming….. history….


Many thanks for those insights, Carol!   I’m currently reading Daniel Taylor and enjoying it very much.  I look forward to hearing more about The Case of the Adelphi and its successor.

Welcome, Sue

Sue Barnard author pic

Today I welcome Crooked Cat writer and editor  (also poet and fiendish question-setter!) Sue Barnard.  Let’s see what she’s been up to since we last spoke in the summer.

Welcome Sue, and happy new year!

Thank you, Tim – and a very happy new year to you too. I hope it will be a good one for you.

Did you have a good Christmas?

Yes thanks, though already it seems a very long time ago, and there’s a big gap where the Christmas tree used to be. But my elder son’s birthday is in mid-January, so this somehow manages to keep the festive spirit alive for little longer!

When you last visited, you were mulling over the possibility of writing a time-slip novel based on an old French legend; or possibly a sequel to your second novel Nice Girls Don’t. Have either of those projects come to fruition?

Yes and no. The time-slip novel has progressed a little since we last spoke. After long periods of no activity, I tried to use NaNo 2015 to give it a bit of a boost. I fell a long way short of the NaNo target, but at least I managed to get some of the key scenes written. The book currently stands at around 30,000 words. When I go back and edit, I expect that about 20,000 of them will end up on the cutting-room floor.

The sequel to Nice Girls Don’t is still very much at the concept stage, but it will be my next project if I ever get the time-slip one finished.

Have you got any further plans for future novels?

I’ve had one or two ideas, but at the moment that’s all they are: ideas. (Er – what are these “plans” of which you speak?)

Written any good poems lately?

I’ve written some poems. Whether or not they are “good” is a matter for serious debate!

What else is new in your life?

A new living-room carpet. Yes, I really know how to live!

Have you made a New Year resolution?

See below.

What else would you like to do, or would you like to happen (or both), in 2016?

I’m very lucky that I’ve managed to achieve most of the things on my bucket list, but there are still a few that I need to tick off. One of these is to go to a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. I have a significant birthday this year, so here’s hoping this might form part of the celebrations.

TUCOA front

On the subject of the Bard, I’d really like my Shakespeare-inspired mystery The Unkindest Cut of All (which at the moment is only available as an e-book) to be issued as a paperback. This will depend on how well the e-book sells. It’s currently on special offer, for one week only, at a princely 99p – so if enough people are kind enough to buy it (for less than what they would pay for a cup of arty-farty coffee!), they could help to make an ageing author very happy!

Finally, last time we spoke, you shared with us a limerick and a quiz question. Anything you’d like to leave us with today?

Well, if you insist…


Each year in December I say that next year

will, for me, be a brand new beginning,

but years of experience make it quite clear

that whatever I try, I’m not winning.


Three years last December I made a firm vow

that I’d concentrate more on my writing,

but all the rejections which flow in suggest

that it’s obviously not that exciting.


Two years last December I firmly resolved

that I’d lose weight and get myself fitter,

but less than a week without chocolate or chips

made me ravenous, twitchy and bitter.


A year last December I vowed to cut down

(I don’t smoke, so that bit wasn’t hard),

but when the champagne toasted in the New Year

it caught me completely off guard.


After so many failures I know very well

that my will-power just goes to the wall,

so on this occasion I’ve firmly resolved

to make no resolutions at all.


Thanks for that!  And thanks for coming, Sue. Good luck with The Unkindest Cut, and your time-slip novel. 


Sue Barnard was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. After graduating from Durham University, where she studied French and Italian, Sue got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent. If she had her way, the phrase “non-working mother” would be banned from the English language.

Since then she has had a series of part-time jobs, including some work as a freelance copywriter. In parallel with this she took several courses in Creative Writing. Her writing achievements include winning the Writing Magazine New Subscribers Poetry Competition for 2013. She is also very interested in Family History. Her own background is stranger than fiction; she’d write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue has a mind which is sufficiently warped as to be capable of compiling questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014. This was followed in July 2014 by her second novel, a romantic mystery entitled Nice Girls Don’t. Her third novel, The Unkindest Cut of All (a murder mystery set in a theatre), was released in June 2015.

You can find Sue on Facebook, Twitter (@SusanB2011), or follow her blog here.

A seasonal tale

Every so often I share on this blog a piece I’ve written at one of the two writers’ groups I go to.  Here’s one I did a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t quite know where this came from – it was in response to a jumble of words (of which ‘cockroach’, ‘pallid’, ‘clown’ and ‘towering’ made it into the piece).  I suppose the time of year and the miserable weather had something to do with it.  Anyway, since we are still in the Christmas period, just about, here you go ….


How have I come to this? The question often comes to me when I wake, when my mind is at its clearest: clear enough to see what I have become, not so clear that I understand. Was I not once respected, loved, gainfully employed? Did I not once have friends, money, a house? For a home now I have a damp cardboard box and a grubby sleeping bag, with a bottle of Thunderbird for central heating; for money, a baseball cap full of small change; for friends a few rats and cockroaches. Not the junkies across the street, that’s for sure. Call me a drunk if you like, but I consider myself a better class of addict. At least I don’t rent my arse out to strangers. Who am I kidding?  I almost envy them, in a way. At least they sometimes get to spend a night in someone’s bed.

It’s always worst at this time of year. The Sally army came round yesterday and gave us all mince pies and Santa hats.  I’d rather not be reminded what day it is today, thank you very much! Still, the hat is warmer than a baseball cap and I managed to swap the pies for a can of Special Brew. Kind of wish I’d kept ‘em now – I’m starving, and the Brew is long gone. Still, there’s an inch of ‘Bird in the bottom of the bottle. That’ll do for breakfast, I suppose. I take a swig from the bottle, then another one. All gone.

I can’t tell you how cold it is. Not the sharp, icy cold you get when it freezes, but a kind of wet, clinging cold that seeps into every part of you. There’s a clammy fog, so thick I can barely see across the street. It’s not fully light yet and the fog has a pale, eerie glow to it like some alien mist from a science fiction movie. This is not the kind of place you want to be when you wake up, or any time at all. It’s starting to freak me out.

A shadow moves through the fog, silhouetted from behind by the light of a street lamp. It moves almost silently, yet in jerky, robotic steps. And it’s coming this way! As it approaches, the shadow becomes bigger and bigger. What is is? Jack the Ripper? Or the ghost of Christmas yet to come?

I’m scared now. I should run, but my numb legs will not obey me. All I can do is squirm in my box and hug the sleeping bag around me. Now the figure is towering over me and at last I can make out features: a pallid, ghostly face with deep-set, dark-ringed eyes like a clown. An arm stretches out towards me.

“Bring it on,” I say to myself, “but make it quick.”

From the face a voice issues, high-pitched and oddly cheerful.

“Happy Christmas, mate,” it says. It’s one of the junkies from across the street. I extend a hand to meet the one held out to me. And I take a mince pie.