Review of The Changing Room by Jane Turley

Jane and I are both members of the Book Connectors group on Facebook. I’d read, and enjoyed, her short story collection, A Modern Life: Sweet and Salty Short Stories. So when I ran into her at the Triskele Literary Festival in London on the 17th September, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s always fun to meet someone in person who you’ve only chatted to online.

Jane was manning a table of her lovely books at the festival and, as they looked so intriguing, I gave into temptation and purchased one. Of course, Jane was lovely too.🙂


I chose a limited edition hardcover of Jane’s first novel, The Changing Room (edition at back). As you can see from the above photo, the cover was later changed (front-most edition) and, while I do find the new cover attractive, it also looks similar to another cover I’ve seen somewhere. The cartoon on the hardback version drew my attention right away and made me question what the book was about. I have to admit, I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. Also, now having read the book, I think this cover suits the story better.


The back cover is nicely decorated too.


What do you think of Jane’s two covers, and which would you have chosen? I’d love to hear so do consider leaving a comment below.

Here’s my review of The Changing Room.

My review:

“Parenthood is one long journey of discovery isn’t it? I’d better go,” I say, snatching a look at Mum. “My mother’s keeping a watchful eye on me.”

As Sandy Lovett’s mother becomes increasingly confused and disoriented due to her Alzheimer’s, Sandy has to step up and take on a caring role for her. When, one night, Sandy enters her mother’s home to find her huddled underneath the table in the dark, fearing the arrival of German forces—her mind is often stuck in World War 2—Sandy realises her mum needs full time care. Not yet ready to put her mum in a home, Sandy decides to quit her job at Hendersons furniture store to look after her full time, in addition to her responsibilities to her three children.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t be worse for husband Dave’s small scale building business. He’s struggling to get by and refuses to lay off any of his workforce in order to increase profits (good on Dave). When Sandy’s friend and fellow PTA-member Deidre offers her a part time sales job at The Herald, Sandy jumps at the chance—she can sell anything and working out of the office will mean she can spend more time with her mum. But, despite Sandy’s excellent sales record, the job still isn’t lucrative enough to support Dave’s ailing business. Luckily, phone sales isn’t the only line of work Deidre has to offer. What she proposes next will heat things up in more ways than one.

With a colourful cast of well drawn characters and a fantastic sense of humour, Turley’s The Changing Room was just the kind of book I’d hoped it would be and more. I admired Sandy’s strength and tenacity in choosing the right battles to fight and, sensibly, letting the others go. Of course, I also appreciated her witty reflections on those around her and, indeed, on herself.

Turley’s writing is hilariously funny in parts as well as poignant. Her empathy for her characters shines through at all points. I found The Changing Room to be both uplifting and refreshing–a story about working families makes for a welcome change. I look forward to reading whatever Jane Turley chooses to write next.

Readers can purchase The Changing Room from Amazon UK:

Amazon U.S.:

And where all good books are sold.

Visit Jane’s website, The Witty Way’s of a Wayward Wife:

Follow her on Twitter: @turleytalks

Like her page on Facebook:





New article published today in Lothian Life

I’m pleased to announce that an article I’ve written on the historic role of the Edinburgh Fire Brigade in making the world a safer place has been published today in Lothian Life. The article was inspired by a recent trip to Edinburgh where I visited the Edinburgh Museum of Fire on my partner’s behalf (he works in the fire service). While there I learned some very surprising facts.

The Story Behind Laying Ghosts

For those of you who read my review of Virginia King’s latest story, Laying Ghosts, yesterday, I thought you might be interested to read more about the inspiration behind the story. Of course, even if you missed my review you might still enjoy hearing the story behind the story.🙂


And for those who missed it, just a quick reminder to let you know that Laying Ghosts is now available to download FREE from Amazon UK, Amazon US and other retailers.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Virginia King:

A Ghost Story Needs … a Ghost

(A version of this post first appeared on ‘Hey Said Renee’  in May 2016.


Vasilisa the Beautiful at the Hut of Baba Yaga, by Ivan Bilibin 1899, public domain image,

My psychological mysteries have a mythical twist so I’m into visionary mirrors and mystical graveyards, suspect stalkers and symbolic objects. I’ve never sidled up to a ghost. But the idea to write a ghost story – as the prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series – crept up on me, especially in the middle of the night – just like a … ghost.

Click here to continue reading:


Review of Laying Ghosts by Virginia King, a new #FREE short story ebook


Having read and enjoyed both of Virginia King’s novels in her Selkie Moon Mystery Series—The First Lie and The Second Path—I was both excited and flattered when Virginia approached me back in February asking if I’d like to read her 10,000 word short story prequel to the series, now titled Laying Ghosts. Of course I said I’d love to.

At the time that Virginia approached me she was still in the process of developing the manuscript and wanted my honest opinion on what I liked/didn’t like as a fan of the series.

One of the things that instantly struck me about the story was how well-developed Virginia’s characters are—I instantly recognised Selkie from the novels and could picture her friend Rina well. And, of course, the story as a whole was strong and required very little work from an editorial point of view. In fact, my desire to publicly offer my services as a development editor partially arose from my experience of working on Laying Ghosts with Virginia.

When Selkie Moon plays sick in order to get out of attending husband Andrew’s business conference in Vanuatu, she finds herself with a full four days to herself. She decides to settle in with a glass of wine and have an early night. But that all changes when she receives a mysterious text message on her phone, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.

While Selkie and Rina were once best friends, they’ve not spoken to each other since attending a sinister house party nearly four years ago, at a remote beach house called Crystal Cottage. When Selkie responds to the text, she receives the same message back. ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina.’ Uncertain as to what’s happening, Selkie decides to drive up to Crystal Cottage to meet her friend, and see if she’s okay.

When Selkie arrives, however, the house appears to be deserted. Or is it?

In Laying Ghosts, Virginia King slowly and tantalisingly reveals the mystery to her readers. As is usual with Virginia’s work, there are many layers to this story. A fantastic tale in its own right, it also provides a fascinating backdrop to Selkie’s later adventures.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the series, enjoying a great (free!) ghost story or have already read the novels but would like to know more about Selkie Moon, you’ll love Laying Ghosts.

“A strange message, a deserted beach house, a shocking incident from the past … Selkie Moon’s life will change forever.

When a text message from a long lost friend lures Selkie Moon to Crystal Cottage, the events from a house-party four years earlier wrap her in ghostly fingers and turn her life upside-down.

A prequel to the Selkie Moon Mystery Series plus your bonus first chapter of The First Lie.”

Laying Ghosts is available FREE from Amazon:

It’s also available from Barnes and Noble, Kobo and iBooks:

And from Virginia’s website:

You can follow Virginia King on Twitter: @selkiemoonbooks

Like her page on Facebook:

Check out Virginia’s website where you can also subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to hear about Selkie’s latest adventure:


Review of Islanders by Teow Lim Goh


If I don’t tell her story

we cannot see her,

and without a reason for her being,

how will we let her survive?

–from “Her Story,” page 71

As a follower of Conundrum Press—a small publishing house based in Denver, Colorado which specialises in quality, literary titles—I was very pleased to hear about the publication of this poetry collection back in July.

To give some background to the collection, between 1910 and 1940 as many as 175,000 Chinese immigrants were detained and processed at Angel Island Immigration Station which is just off the coast of San Francisco, California.[1] They had made the long, arduous and often dangerous journey from China to seek a better life in America, only to find themselves imprisoned under racist and discriminatory immigration laws designed to curtail the influx of Asian immigrants. Some were joining family members who had already immigrated, others were arriving with their families in tow, only to find themselves separated upon landing, sometimes forever in cases where one partner was allowed to remain while the other was immediately sent back to China (usually the wife).  Others were single and hoping to find work and create a life for themselves free from the poverty and hardship they’d experienced back home, as so many immigrants to America sought to do.

Many of these immigrants were detained for months or even years under harsh, prison-like conditions. Others were sent back to China, never to see their families again. Between interrogations by immigration officials—supposedly designed to test their credibility but in reality designed to exclude as many Chinese as possible—the immigrants languished in their overcrowded barracks. To help cope with their miserable conditions, many of them composed poetry upon the walls of their cells, some of it carved onto the wooden surface.

All of the poems on record come from the men’s barracks. The women’s poetry was destroyed by a fire which happened in 1940 and which resulted in the closure of Angel Island.

In this poignant and powerful collection, the lost voices of these women are imagined, remembered and brought to life for modern-day readers.

In the opening poem, ‘Angel Island,’ Goh recalls the legacy of the Chinese in America, ‘To the miners who sailed the Pacific / with dreams of golden rivers. / To the workers who built the railroads / over mountains and prairie skies. / To the farmers who made the desert bloom.’ She then contrasts the hardships they endured with her own relatively easy experience as a recent immigrant. ‘This is my history. / I crossed the sea. / I sat on a plane. / I came with the dream / of freedom / to speak / to believe.’

Goh then goes on to structure the collection in five sections.

In the first section, ‘Voices: Angel Island 1910-1940’, Goh imagines the experiences of the women who were imprisoned on Angel Island, waiting to go ashore and separated from their families. In the poem, ‘In a Wooden Building,’ she writes: ‘Each day we knit in silence, / socks for the children, / hats for the parents, / and our words swirl in the sea.’

‘The Waves’ tells a story about a young man whose father dies suddenly. In order to help support the family, he goes to America to work. When he makes enough money, the man returns to China, to marry his sweetheart and bring her to live with him in San Francisco. But when their ship docks in California, she is turned away, ‘There’s nothing / we can do. Foreign wife / of a Chinese merchant, your case / is automatically / denied.

In ‘Between the Sea and the Sky,’ a woman commits suicide while in Angel Island, and another tries to.

The second section is titled, ‘Echoes: San Francisco: 1910-1940.’ Here Goh tells the stories of the family members waiting for their loved ones in San Francisco. Some of these stories overlap, such as in ‘Letter Unsent,’ which is written from the point of view of the same Chinese merchant whose first wife was refused entry and who has now married for a second time, only to find his second wife detained at Angel Island for over a year. Also, in ‘Consolation,’ the husband of the woman who committed suicide, reflects on the experience. He is told she died of ‘causes unknown,’ but he knows the truth as he too has been on Angel Island and is aware of the terrible conditions there.

In ‘Tomorrow’ a man anticipates the joy of finally bringing his wife home. ‘I will hug you and never let you go. /  / I will bring you home to a feast.’

‘Work: Angel Island 1910-1940,’ includes the stories of those who were involved in running Angel Island. These include the privileged, smug and disdainful official whose decision changes lives for better or for worse. Then there are those officials who are the children of recent immigrants and who cannot help but see their own parents in the faces of the families who arrive. ‘In her eyes he sees his mother / fleeing a homeland plagued by famine, / huddled on Ellis Island.’ (‘Daydreams’) There is also the cleaner in ‘Housekeeping’ who tries her best to make sense of the words scribbled on the walls, having only recently learned to write herself.

In ‘Riot: San Francisco, July and August 1877,’ Goh skilfully and sensitively imagines the voices of all those who were involved in the Anti-Chinese riots. The Anti-Chinese riots happened during an economic downturn in the American economy when labourers, including those in trade unions, blamed the Chinese for the lack of available work, claiming that their willingness to work for reduced wages drove everyone’s pay down. Instead of trying to unionise the Chinese workers, they persecuted them instead.

She empathises with both the out-of-work labourers as well as the Chinese immigrants who’ve come to carve out a new life, much as many of those labourers did a generation before. ‘Maybe his wife just left him / in a string of shattered plates. / Maybe he’s looking for / something beyond himself, / a crowd he can become.’ (‘To Chinatown’) But Goh does not shy away from exposing their racism for what it is either. ‘I hear him tell the boy / he should count his blessing: / / unlike those dregs of Asia, / he was born to a worthy people,’ she writes in ‘Nob Hill’. In ‘Immolation’ she tells the tale of a Chinese man who committed suicide by overdosing on opium, unable to bear up any longer. A mob discovers him dying in an alley and stuffs the head of a duck down his throat.

In the final section and poem, ‘Pilgrimage’, Goh reflects on the history she shares with those long-ago immigrants as she herself pays a visit to Angel Island, ‘the borders we inhabit, the borders / we inherit, and in writing this story / / I find my way home.’

Islanders is a beautiful and remarkable collection, as important for the stories it tells as for the restrained and resonant way in which it tells them. Goh brings a little known piece of American history vividly to life and reminds us of how relevant this history is to our modern day experience of living in a world where people cross national boundaries every day in their search for a better life.

Readers can purchase Islanders direct from the publisher:

From Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Learn more about Teow Lim Goh’s writing by visiting her website: 


My cat, Othello, enjoyed her poetry too.



Guest post by Peter Taylor-Gooby, author of The Baby Auction

Recently I was approached by fellow author and Book Connector Peter Taylor-Gooby about writing a post for my blog. Peter mentioned that he’s a social scientist by day and has a particular interest in what he calls ‘social science fiction’. As I found his ideas intriguing, I said yes. Here Peter tells us about the difficulties he encountered when planning his novel and gives a few tips which helped him along the way.

So, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Peter…

20121214 Kichen 099 (2) (2)

credit: Sue Lakeman

What should come first in planning a novel – the characters or the plot?

Writing a novel is like building a house of cards: change one character, realign the plot just a tiny bit and it all comes tumbling down.


image courtesy of Instability, public domain photo, taken by Daniele Pellati

As a newbie author I thought I wanted to write plot-driven fiction. My background’s in social science and I wanted to talk about issues of trust and empathy and how market capitalism weakens and distorts them. Imaginative writing is much more fun than writing academic articles (but much harder work). Then I found the characters I’d imagined wouldn’t do what I wanted them to – they’d suddenly say and do things that weren’t in the plot-line and the whole house of cards would collapse and have to be rebuilt.

The next attempt started out from characters. I thought them through, wrote sketches of them and set them off. Again I couldn’t control them. They developed and changed in ways that I really wanted to pursue, but at the cost of demolishing everything. Back to the starting point!

So how do you make your characters do what you want them to?  Three possible techniques:

  • Write backwards: (I’ve tried this in a number of short stories). You get the characters where you want them with all the loose ends tied up and the twists and turns unravelled and take them back. Problem: you find they couldn’t have been the same people you thought they were when they started out on this adventure. You think you’ve got control because you’ve fixed the end point, but that doesn’t mean you can tie down how everything starts off.
  • Shift point of view: if the character starts off in a direction you don’t want, you shift PoV away from them, so you see them from outside. You don’t have to deal with all the internal passions, hopes and feelings that drove them where they are going, they become a smaller part of the world and it’s your new PoV character you are wrestling with. Problem: if you are handling multiple PoVs the reader has to be prepared and the novel has to be structured around that approach. In any case, it’s often the characters you can’t control that are most interesting to the readers – and to you.
  • Try and work out what’s going on – why did this character in that situation say and do that? Why did they feel the way did, what were their emotions, their responses to the other characters? Did they change, or was there something else going on that you, the author, hadn’t initially understood? Now you’re getting somewhere (maybe).

These issues bear on how you think about the job of the author. To what extent is writing a matter of describing a world that’s in some sense already out there, of constructing it from one’s own imagination, or of exploring something that you don’t yet fully understand?

Novel-writing involves all three in different mixes. John Lanchester’s Capital, for example, rests very much on our shared conceptions of contemporary London and the plausible lives and feelings and aspirations of a range of people within it. It’s a world we are convinced is there and in a sense is being described, yet the people it includes are real because of Lanchester’s skill in realising them and that involves creative imagination. But it’s much more than simple imaginative creation. The people in the novel develop and the whole created world has a trajectory. The patterns of the novel (the story of the immigrant builder who finds a fortune and gives it up to the rightful owner, or of the aspirant artist who oversteps the mark and ends up in gaol with his life ruined) tell us new things about choice and the value of moral action even within the huge and diverse city, where at first sight anything goes.

So how to handle all this? In my current work I tried to side-step the choice between character and plot. I start with situations – vivid scenes in which people are interacting, which set them off in new direction, conflicts, debates, meetings, ceremonies – and try to get them on paper. Most go straight in the bin, but some are there, with their own life, on the page so powerfully that you can’t throw them away and that’s when you can start on the story. So it’s not a choice between character and plot – both emerge in interaction with each other. After all, how do you know someone’s character until you’ve seen them make choices in real situations?

Baby-Auction-work v2

Thanks very much for that fascinating article, Peter, and for the useful tips as well.

Readers, what do you think? And are you planners or ‘pantsters’? I, for one, agree with Peter that character and plot are intimately intertwined. And I find the idea of using fiction to explore ideas and change people’s perceptions about society to be an intriguing one. I’ll be adding The Baby Auction to my reading list.

Peter’s novel, The Baby Auction, is published by The Conrad Press and is available from Amazon UK:

Amazon US: 

It is also available to purchase direct from the publisher:

About Peter:
My novels deal with how people live their lives and relate to each other in the modern globalised capitalist world. In The Baby Auction Ed and Matt must find a way to lead a passionate, humane and generous life in a world run entirely on market principles, in which no-one can understand that caring for someone else might be a motive.
In my day job I write academic texts (for example The Double Crisis of the Welfare State). My work shows how globalised market capitalism generates inequalities between haves and have-nots and promotes a corrosive individualism that stunts our capacity for empathy, charity and love. People live for themselves and their families and vote for more privatisation and less redistribution and against the welfare state.
I enjoy hill-walking, riding my bike, holidays and looking after my grand-daughter (not in that order). I became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. I’ve worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa.
Follow Peter on Twitter: @PeterT_G
Like his page on Facebook:

Shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival Writing Competition!

Recently I was very excited to learn that I’ve been shortlisted for the Tarbert Book Festival writing competition for my short story “Breathing Room”. Part of my prize for being shortlisted is free entry to the festival (the other part is a professional critique of my story). I’m looking forward to going up at the end of October to attend the festival and to do a little exploring of Tarbert itself (which is a lovely fishing village on the Kintyre Peninsula, and the gateway to the Inner Hebridean Islands of Islay and Jura).

On the Friday evening there will be a special reception and Festival launch at the Loch Fyne Gallery where the grand prize winner will be announced. Oh, and did I mention that the grand prize is a week’s course at Moniack Mhor? I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed!🙂

(Please note that an earlier version of this post stated that Tarbert is in the Hebrides. While there is a Tarbert in the Hebrides, on the Isle of Harris, the Tarbert I’ll be visiting is on Loch Fyne.)

My review of Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin



‘You know more about magic then you let on, don’t you?’

‘Magic’s easy. It’s real life that’s complicated.’

Hopkins women have always been secretive and, at present, there are three of them. Lilwen Hopkins is a Hopkins by blood, unlike her sister-in-law, Violet, who only came to the village in order to marry Lilwen’s brother, Teilo. Violet and Teilo’s 14-year-old daughter, Cadi, spends all her time trying to discover her family’s deepest, best kept and most frustrating secret–what happened to her father and youngest sister, of whom there are not even photographs. While Lilwen lives alone in the small cottage, Violet and Cadi live next door to her in the big one. Yet although the three women live in close proximity, each is a world unto herself, even Cadi keeps her own confidences, not wanting to share everything with her mother and aunt.

Lilwen was raised in the village under her mother, Gwenllian’s, guidance and is therefore familiar with all the old ways—how to keep a trailing jasmine alive in a climate ill-suited to it, what herbs act as the best salves for cuts and bruises and, most importantly, how to make herself invisible in order to ‘see’ others better. Yet although her ways are rooted in tradition, Lilwen is grounded in the present and spends much of her time looking after Cadi, as she’s done since Cadi was born. For Violet, her past is as important as—if not more important than—her present. Violet is largely absent from everyday life, doing only what is necessary to get from one day to another, unable to bear the pain of her past. It’s Violet’s silence, and Lilwen’s complicity in keeping Violet’s secrets, which brings about Cadi’s irrepressible desire to discover what happened to her family, a desire which, ultimately, leads Cadi to do things she wouldn’t otherwise do.

Lovekin’s story contains elements of magical realism and, in many ways, resembles a fairy tale. She uses stunning sensory detail to transport her readers to the small village in Wales where the story takes place. I could smell the over perfumed roses cut through with the occasional burst of meadowsweet, feel the wild winds and wet, hot August downpours, see the mysterious feathers and leaves which sometimes littered Cadi’s bedroom floor and, most importantly, empathise with her characters.  In addition to this, Lovekin challenges the traditional notion of family—Violet, Cadi and Lilwen are very much a family, yet they are all women and none of them spends their time pining after men, nor do they define themselves in relation to men. I found this depiction to be refreshing as there are many families who consist entirely of women, for varying reasons. Lovekin’s writing shines with the difficult magic of female camaraderie, and with real magic as well, which is why when the Not the Booker shortlisting vote came around, I voted for Ghostbird.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Carol Lovekin’s stories in future.

Ghostbird is published by Honno Women’s Press and is available direct from them:

You can also order it from Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Follow Carol’s blog to learn more about her writing and inspiration: 

Like her page on Facebook:

See what she’s up to on Twitter: @carollovekin





Interview with Marianne Wheelaghan, bestselling author and director of

Today I’m welcoming Marianne Wheelaghan to the blog. Marianne is the author of The Blue Suitcase and The Scottish Lady Detective series, which includes Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer. She’s also the director of the excellent writing school,, which I attended and whose alumni and teachers continue to be an incredible support to me.

Welcome, Marianne!


Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your writing and books?

I write both crime and historic fiction and am interested in exploring themes to do with “home” and “place” as well as “identity’ in my writing.

Food of Ghosts and The Shoeshine Killer are my first two crime novels in the bestselling Scottish Lady Detective series and are inspired by the time I spent living in the Pacific.

My first non-crime novel is the bestselling The Blue Suitcase. It is inspired by letters and diaries I discovered after my mother’s death and tells the true life story of a Christian girl growing up in Silesia in Nazi Germany.

How did you begin writing?

I have six sisters and two brothers. Growing up with so many siblings meant it was sometimes a bit difficult to get heard. My way of standing out was to tell stories. I suppose I must have been reasonably good at it because telling stories quickly became “my thing”.  It was only as an adult I started to write certain stories down and quickly realised there was nothing I’d rather do. I enrolled on a Master’s degree in Creative Writing with Lancaster University to help hone my skills. This changed my life. Not only did I develop my writing skills, but I gained the confidence I needed to take my writing seriously.

The Blue Suitcase

Marianne’s debut novel

Your debut novel, The Blue Suitcase, was loosely based on your mother’s experience of living in Silesia at the time that Hitler came to power. Could you talk a little about how the idea for the novel came about?

Shortly after my mother’s death I was helping my father sort out her personal things. We discovered a scuffed, blue suitcase full of her letters, diary extracts, photos, old postcards and faded documents, written in German, my mother’s first language.

My father wanted me to translate the documents – I’d studied German so it was not as mad as it sounds. I was appalled at the idea, my mother had been a very private person. I thought it a terrible intrusion of her privacy to read her private stuff. But Dad wouldn’t give up. You see, my mother was from Germany but she never talked about her family life before coming to Scotland after the end of WW2. In fact, you could say my mother’s early life was a mystery – we weren’t even sure where she was from in Germany. Dad believed knowing what was written in the letters and documents would bring her closer to him. I resisted doing what he asked, until we discovered this photo of Mum’s family.


Mum is the smiling girl at the front of the photo, next to the older man – I recognised her immediately. The other people in the photo are her family – who knew I had so many aunts and uncles? However, it was not seeing all the family that made me change my mind, it was, rather, seeing the picture of Hitler on the wall behind them: if you look carefully, you can see it above my grandfather’s head. I was totally shocked at the sight of it. My mum was a good, kind, thoughtful person and although I didn’t know her family, I couldn’t believe they were not also good people. So why was there a picture of Hitler, a war criminal, on their living room wall?

Around this time I was also very aware of a book that had been around since 1996 called Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Goldhagen.  In it, he argues that the vast majority of ordinary Germans were “willing executioners” in the Holocaust. The book was scathed by historians, and in the words of Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg, “it is totally wrong about everything and worthless”. However, seeing this photo of Hitler on my grandparent’s wall made me wonder if, after all, there could be some truth in Goldhagen’s theory. I decided to translate the documents to see if I could discover the truth once and for all.

The more I read about Mum’s life, the more shocked I was by what I discovered. When I finally finished translating everything I was both astounded and horrified and felt compelled to share my findings. Like thousands and thousands of ordinary Germans, my mother was not one of Hitler’s willing executioners, far from it. Like thousands and thousands of other ordinary Germans, she was a victim of Hitler’s terrible regime. As if that wasn’t enough, after the end of WW2, in peace time, my mother’s family, along with millions of other Silesian Germans, were forcibly expelled from their home. I knew what I had to do. It was time to set the record straight and the idea for The Blue Suitcase was born.

Food of Ghosts

Book 1 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

Your Scottish Lady Detective Series is set in the Pacific Islands, specifically Kiribati and Fiji. Why did you choose to set the novels in this region?

When I was growing up we didn’t have a lot of money. This meant we never went on holiday like others did and treats were for birthdays and Christmas only. But one thing we had all year round were books, hundreds of them, bought by my mum and dad from second-hand shops and jumble sales. They included, amongst many others, almost all of Agatha Christie’s 66 novels, RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Stacpole’s The Blue Lagoon. These books fuelled my imagination and shaped my dreams. When I wasn’t reading, I was travelling around the world in my head, voyaging to faraway, unspoiled places, populated by gentle, innocent people.

Then, one day I was lucky enough to get a job in some of the lesser developed countries in the Pacific, namely Papua New Guinea, Kiribati and later Fiji. I was going to live my dream. The reality, however, was very different from what I expected. Yes, there was unspoiled beauty and traditional culture and kind people, but there was also a dark side to life there. My paradisiacal countries were wonderfully different, but also wonderfully not so different.

It struck me that travelling was not so much about going to new places, as seeing our surroundings with a fresh perspective, and seeing it all: the good and the bad and the ugly. As Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in looking with new eyes.”  As a writer, I wanted to share this lightbulb moment with others and I did what writers do, I wrote a book, or two. Why a crime novel? I believe a good crime novel can tell us as much about the darker side of society as any literary novel. Plus, I have many fond memories of reading an Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham into the wee hours, riveted until I found out who had done it. I wanted to recreate that feeling of suspense in my readers. So Detective Sergeant Louisa Townsend, AKA The Scottish Lady Detective, was born. Maybe not surprisingly, DS Townsend is a kind of modern day Miss Marple: a tad more gritty than cosy, she doesn’t suffer fools gladly but can also be kind, who is shrewd and intelligent but who can also make mistakes and even behave downright silly sometimes, and who has a dark side of her very own.

The Shoeshine Killer

Book 2 of the Scottish Lady Detective series

What challenges did you encounter when writing your novels and how did you overcome these?

In the Scottish Lady Detective novels, one of the biggest challenges is to bring totally alien peoples and places to life for the reader, and in doing so make the unfamiliar, familiar. I hope to achieve this by using very specific sensory details in the writing, so the reader really sees the magnolia trees, hears the traffic, tastes the overripe mangoes, smells the earthy market smells, and feels the giant drops of warm rain on their skin.

The biggest challenge when writing The Blue Suitcase was distancing myself emotionally from writing about my mother. I struggled with this until I had an epiphany: I would create a fictional family, very much like the true family but not exactly the same. This worked. Much of what happened to my fictional family happened to my real family, but some stuff didn’t, although it could have. Certainly, everything that happened in the novel is based on true historic fact: if didn’t happen to my family, it happened to someone else’s family.

Could you tell readers about How did the school come about?

I decided to set up writingclasses for two reasons: I love writing and wanted to share my passion for it with others. I also believe to teach a skill is an honourable way to earn a living and in the words of Hanif Kureishi “I felt if I knew something, I should pass it on.”  

How are classes taught?

Today, with massive online open learning courses (MOOCs) becoming a part of everyday life, it is difficult to understand how in 2002 online courses of any kind, but especially short courses, were unusual.  As a lover of online learning, I was determined that writingclasses should offer short online creative writing courses, the kind of courses that I would have loved to have attended when I began writing. In my opinion online learning offers a flexibility that face-to-face classes simply cannot. Students can join in at a time that suits them, there is no being early or late and no need to find childminders/babysitters. For those of us juggling work and family life, learning online gives us access to courses that would have otherwise been denied us.

One of my favourite elements of the courses was that tutors read and commented on all assignments (quite often in other courses I’ve taken, tutors leave the critiquing primarily to students and, while peer review is always helpful, it’s the expert guidance of a more experienced writer which is most sought after). Why did you decide on this model?

 As all beginner writers know, one of the hardest things to find is an experienced writer who will read your work and give you honest, constructive feedback. This is why attending a course can be so helpful. However, when I was a beginner writer taking short courses, a tutor might give feedback on one piece of writing, possibly two, but never three. In my opinion this is simply not enough. We writers learn by our mistakes. It follows that the more we write, the more mistakes we can potentially make and the greater the opportunity we have to develop our writing skills, always assuming we have an expert at hand to help us recognise what the mistakes are. This is why on all writingclasses courses students are encouraged to write something new every week, why  “making mistakes” is obligatory, and why our experienced tutor-writers give helpful constructive feedback on every piece of creative writing the student submits during the course.

Several of your students have gone on to become published writers, myself included. Could you talk a bit about your students and why you think it is that so many have been successful in their writing?

A little bit of encouragement and feedback can go a long way but, ultimately, the students who succeed are, very much like yourself, the ones who do not give up.  Determination and staying power are often as important as ability and creativity.

And, finally, are you working on anything at the moment?

I am writing two books – the follow on from The Blue Suitcase and a third Scottish Lady Detective novel set in Edinburgh.  I’m not sure if it is a good idea to write two books at the same time. Time will tell😉.   

Thanks so much for coming by to talk with us about your writing and teaching!

Readers can learn more about Marianne and her writing by visiting her website:

Check out the courses on offer at her writing school:  (Tip: The next semester starts on the 3rd October so do sign up early to guarantee your place– they’re great value!)

Follow her on Twitter: @MWheelaghan and @solovewriting

Buy her books:




My winning one-liner!

Last month I entered the Mslexia / one-liner greeting card competiton. This morning I received notification that…you guessed it, I won! Woo hoo!

Here’s the lovely design they came up with based on my one-liner.

my winning card!Thortful will be selling the cards on their website. So, if you like it, you’ll be able to purchase one.

I’ll let you know more later, when I have more details.🙂

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: The cards are now available to purchase via the thortful website, using this link: 

As I’ve now received mine in the post, I can confirm that they’re very good quality, A5 size and printed on paper from sustainable forests.🙂