Alice in Wonderland themed cafe – Publication day celebration at Kitty’s Cake Emporium

When my local paper reported that an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed coffee shop was opening up locally I was super excited. I was obsessed with Alice when I was a child, and looking around my study with the amount of quotes and memorabilia I have, perhaps I still am… I immediately contacted Kitty on Facebook to arrange to come and meet her and take some photos and then, before they could properly open, the first lockdown hit.

With one thing and another since then I hadn’t got around to visiting but publication day for my second ‘Amelia Henley’ novel ‘The Art of Loving You’ (my eight published book) rolled around and I wanted to do something to celebrate Jack and Libby’s love story being out in the world. Tea and cake sounded perfect.

Kitty’s Cake Emporium is wondrous, from the minute you arrive outside with the quirky signpost, the entrance hall with the playing cards stuck to the ceiling. This place is small but all my favourite ‘Alice’ scenes are here. Everywhere you turn there is something to look at. The two small rooms downstairs are overflowing with references to the book. Upstairs is mad hatter tea party themed with furniture stuck onto the walls and ceiling. I cannot imagine how long it took to pull this place together but I’m very grateful it exists. It’s very special.

The menu is extensive. Lots of cake and desserts which suited me fine. It was a celebration for my publication day so I felt entitled skip the savoury course and order both rhubarb and ginger crumble and a scone while the rest of my family opted for sundaes. We sat in the back garden which was filled with toadstools and plastic flamingos.

Even the toilets are worth a visit!

The food was homemade and wonderful. Just when we thought our experience was over the bill was brought over in this fabulous box with a lolly with an ‘eat me’ label.

If you love ‘Alice in Wonderland’ or even if you don’t but want a decent lunch at a reasonable price with great service, I’d highly recommend Kitty’s and if you fancy reading a book while you eat, ‘The Art of Loving You’ is available to download for just 99p for August only (also available as a paperback and audio book). Find it via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Kitty’s website & facebook page & Instagram

When life gives you lemons – Polly Phillips

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome Polly Phillips to share her inspiring story.

I was sitting on a bus when my husband called me to tell me he’d been made redundant. I was heading into town to meet him on his lunchbreak to do our Christmas shopping while our two-year-old daughter was in nursery. At first, I thought he was joking. We were living in Copenhagen and there was snow on the ground. I had been picturing skipping in and out of shops, carrying brightly coloured parcels, fat snowflakes falling around us. So far, so Love Actually. Instead, we met in a dark and dingy bar and sat hunched over a pizza to try and figure out what the hell we were going to do.

The industry he worked in was depressed and there was no way my income as a part-time freelance journalist would sustain us. Without jobs, we couldn’t stay in Copenhagen. So, on top of losing our main income, we were going to have to pull our daughter out of the nursery she loved, pack our lives and move country. In truth, that bit didn’t bother me too much. Although Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer the people who live in it, I’d been dreaming of moving back to Perth, Western Australia, since we had left it two years before. In fact, when he first called, that’s what I thought he was ringing to tell me. He’d been talking about a transfer for a few months and I was already picturing feeling the sun on my skin and teaching my daughter to swim in the sea. Now we were moving back to London with no jobs and no money.

My husband was offered a new job just before we moved. Salvation beckoned. But of course, there was a downside. The new job was in Algeria. And they wanted him to start straightaway. He had just enough time to help move us back to London before he flew to work in an office in the middle of the Algerian desert with scarcely any phone signal and patchy WiFi. With no other job options out there, it didn’t make sense to turn it down.

So, there I was in London, suddenly a single parent, with a challenging two-year-old, who didn’t understand why her whole life had changed. And, to be honest, I could see her point. Friends and family tried to help, but they had their own lives, lives that they weren’t expecting me to suddenly parachute into. Being on my own highlighted all my insecurities. I felt like a terrible parent, shouting too much and not being able to control my daughter. I felt like a rubbish wife, resenting my husband for being away. And I felt like a complete failure as a person, not having a well-paid enough career to pull us out of the mess we were in. Finally, after too many long and lonely evenings spent at the bottom of a bottle, I realised there was nothing I could do to change the situation so I had to try and make the best of it.

It might sound a bit twee and clichéd and it certainly wasn’t an epiphany that came to me in a lightning bolt of clarity – there were still a fair few nights at the bottom of a bottle that came after it – but I’d always wanted to write a book. With evenings yawning emptily with nothing to fill them, here was my chance. I signed up to an online writing course with the Faber Academy and started writing. There were a lot of false starts and the book that I wrote on the course ultimately came to nothing, but I kept going. I signed up to another course and starting something else. After a lot of editing, the next book that I wrote, a thriller called My Best Friend’s Murder, was published this year. By the end of the year my husband had another job, and we did move back to Perth. Whenever I feel overcome by moments of self-doubt or misery, I try to remind myself of that year, when I felt like life was collapsing around me and I was never going to achieve anything. It doesn’t always pull me out of my mood, but it definitely helps.

You can find ‘My Best Friend’s Murder on Amazon here

A tough 12 months made me the writer I am today – N.J. Simmonds

A few days ago I wrote a blog post about how my life didn’t turn out as I’d envisaged and how the best laid plans can’t always come to fruition – you can read that post here. Today, I’m delighted to welcome the lovely N. J. Simmonds to share her inspiring story.

There are years that fly by where we can hardly remember what filled them, and other years that are forever stained by the challenges life throws at us. For me, late 2016 to late 2017 was twelve turbulent months of extremes.

With every high came a low. The day we emigrated to the Netherlands from Spain my daughter broke her arm. We were stuck in a hospital in the UK for days and missed our flights. When we finally arrived in Holland after not seeing my husband for three months, he had to leave for 6 weeks to the UK after his father was pronounced unexpectedly and terminally ill. We all suffered greatly from that loss. Then days away from my debut, The Path Keeper, being released I learned that my imprint was about to fold. I had been signed for the full trilogy, but this meant now only one book was ever going to exist.

By late 2017 I was close to giving up writing, even though I’d hardly left the starting block. When you suffer a sudden death in the family it puts everything into perspective, yet coupled with our children trying to integrate into a new country, all the political horrors on the news at the time alongside the awful stories of the #MeToo movement, that year had me wanting to get a nine to five job and give up on my writing dreams forever. Everything was too hard, too dark, too futile.

But the problem was I had promised my readers a trilogy. The Path Keeper came out February2017 and it had already received over 100 five star reviews in a matter of months, not to mention I’d channelled so much of that year’s pain into its sequel, Son of Secrets, that it felt criminal to deny my readers the next part of the story. But my imprint was folding, which meant the rest of my trilogy wasn’t going to be printed. I had a choice – leave my story only 33% told…or keep going.

I reasoned I had nothing to lose by trying, so that’s what I did. My book went out of print just six months after its debut launch, but instead of getting upset I got busy. I talked to agents and publishers, made more author friends, got advice from the SoA, and researched writers who had gone through similar situations. Needless to say, most publishers and agents weren’t interested in a series that had already partly launched. But six months after my book went out of print a relatively new publisher in the US, BHC Press, took a gamble and signed me.

Two weeks from the day I write this, the third and final book of that trilogy will be hitting the shelves. Children of Shadows is a book about hope, perseverance, and resilience. And that’s no coincidence. Four years ago, I was about to throw in the towel and give up on this writing game – and now I have not only released an entire trilogy but I’m also writing manga, I cowrite a paranormal romance series as Caedis Knight (Blood Web Chronicles) which has sold also internationally, and I’m working on another exciting collaboration with a fantastic author, which our agent is currently talking to publishers about. Not to mention the illustrations, lecturing, school visits, and coaching I do on the back of my writing.

We’ve all had no shortage of strange years lately. 2020 was, for most of us, the year that never was. But if my own intense and turbulent twelve months taught me anything, it was that it’s not up to life how our days and weeks and months are filled, but down to us. WE get to decide which year will be forever muddied, and which will shine.

So from now on, my years are going to be full of dreams and hope, words and worlds, and remain perpetually polished…no matter how hard life tries to push me off track!

CHILDREN OF SHADOWS is out now:  mybook.to/ChildrenOfShadows

N J Simmonds is the author of fantasy series The Indigo Chronicles – she also writes Manga comics and is one half of paranormal romance author duo Caedis Knight. Her stories are magical, historical and full of complex women, page-turning twists and plenty of romance. When Natali’s not writing, she illustrates books and runs her own marketing consultancy, lectures on storytelling and self-branding. Originally from London, she now lives with her family in the Netherlands.

Website: njsimmonds.com

Writing my novel didn’t go as I’d planned…

I certainly didn’t plan for my brand new release ‘The Art of Loving You’ to be so relatable to virtually everyone when I began writing it in 2019.

In my second love story Libby and Jack think they have their life figured out. With the help of their dear friend, eighty-year old Sid, they’ve bought their first home and have big personal and business plans for the next few years. But then suddenly, unexpectedly,  tragedy strikes, the future suddenly uncertain, and huge compromises and sacrifices have to be made in order to move forward.

When I began writing I drew on my own experience, exploring the emotions I had felt after my own life veered off course and my carefully laid plans couldn’t come to fruition.

I had spent years training as a naturopathic kinesiologist and building up a complementary therapy practice when a car accident exacerbated a pre-existing health condition, caused some new damage, and whisked away my mobility. In an instant, everything changed. No longer able to stand unaided I couldn’t practice anymore and the future looked very bleak. I’d lost my health, my business, my social life and my sense of identity, but worst of all I had lost my hope. When I’d spent so long planning and imagining the shape of my future how could I even begin to envisage starting again?

And yet somehow, much like the people in my story who became so dear to me (particularly 80-year old Sid who was such a joy to write), I did.  

While the world has been gripped by a pandemic most of us have had to make drastic changes to our day-to-day life as well as altering, postponing, or cancelling our plans for the future. 

The characters in my book, like the majority of us, couldn’t being to imagine their world ever feeling ’normal’ again but little by little, they carved out a new path, found new hopes and dreams to hold tightly against their hearts. 

‘The Art of Loving You’ is a story of resilience, hope and courage, drawing on the power of friendship and family. 

It’s the story of never giving up, finding happiness and moving forward after you fear all has been lost.

But, most of all, it’s a story about love.

Download ‘The Art of Loving You’ for just 99p for a limited time only or order the paperback or audio book via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

The Art of Loving You prologue & why I love prologue – novel writing

Anyone who reads either my Louise Jensen psychological thrillers, or my contemporary Amelia Henley fiction knows I love a prologue. Here I’m sharing the opening of my brand new release, ‘The Art of Loving You’ which you can download for just 99p on any digital platform during August. (Amazon link here).

PROLOGUE

Four phone calls. 

It took four phone calls to tip my world off its axis. I remember them all with sharp clarity; the things I wanted to know, the things I wished I’d never been told. The disbelief, the fear, the hope. The impossible, impossible choice I am faced with. I want everything to slow down. 

Stop.

‘I can’t …’ What I can’t do is look my sister, Alice, in the eye. It’s too much. All of it. 

‘Say yes, Libby.’ She’s crouching before me, reaching for my hand. I snatch mine away. As vivid as the memories of the calls are, it’s the time in between each one I am struggling to recall. Alice says shock has the power to whisk memories behind a hazy curtain, sometimes replacing them with a better, shinier version – the way we wished things were. The way we wished they could have happened – and she’s probably right. Right about that at least, but the rest? I have to remember if I’m to make the right decision. Again, I try to summon a slide show in my mind but the images are as fuzzy as an out-of-focus photo, nothing quite making sense. ‘I think …’ I tail off, unsure what I think. What I know. Alice has been telling me a new life, a better life is what I need. What I deserve. 

That word plucks a hollow laugh deep from my belly. Deserve. Do I deserve … this? 

‘You know what you have to do, Libby.’ Her voice is thick with tears. ‘For your sake. For Jack’s.’ She adds softly, ‘For mine.’ 

Sometimes I hate her. 

Should I do what she is asking? If I agree, it’s an admission that my life has been built on a lie and the childish part of me taunts; why should I give her what she wants when I can’t have what I want? 

‘Please, Libby, please,’ she pleads. ‘I know it’s a big ask. I know you weren’t expecting this – none of us saw it coming but …’ One whispered word. ‘Please.’

Neither of us speak. The clock ticks. In the distance the thrum of a tractor. Alice’s perfume fills my throat, something light and floral.

‘Jack—’

‘Don’t speak his name,’ I snap. 

She flinches but still she doesn’t leave. She’s waiting for an answer as she tucks her long blonde hair behind her ears. My eyes flicker towards the nicotine-yellow ceiling we never did get round to painting bright white, as though I might find the right response written there. 

Yes or no? 

Yes or no? 

Yes or no?

The words are loud. I raise my hands to my head, fingertips digging hard into my scalp. I can’t decide. I won’t.

Jack.

I have to.

Think.

‘You know if I could change things, I would,’ Alice says softly. She places her palm against my cheek; it’s cool and I lean against it, allowing her to take the weight of my head which is heavy with thought. With doubt. For the first time I look at her properly. Her eyes, the same green as mine, are rimmed red. The whites streaked with tiny blood vessels from where she’s been crying. She is no more together than I am. This is a torturous for her as it is for me. ‘If I could go back …’ She falls silent before she can blame herself again. I can’t bear her guilt. Her shame. I have enough of my own.

I shift my gaze around the room which was once warmed with love but now feels as chilly as my cold, cold heart. If we could go back, I would return to the exact moment everything changed. It was the day Jack and I moved in here. I allow my mind to travel, tumbling down the rabbit hole to that ordinary Thursday when it all began. 

The point which had led to this. 

The memories bring me pleasure. 

Pain.

Think.

I have to make my choice.

Yes or no?

I have to give Alice my answer.

Yes or no?

I have to tell her now.

Before it’s too late for her, for me.

For Jack. 

Think.

Choose.

Time is running out. 

Yes or no?

In the opening to ‘The Art of Loving You’ my hope is that I’ve intrigued readers enough to want to read on. To wonder what has happened between Libby, Alice and Jack. Not all of my books have prologues but I do enjoy them as a reader and a writer and you can read more about why I find them so valuable and whether your novel needs one on an earlier blog post here.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read you can download ‘The Art of Loving You’ for 99p or order the paperback or audio book via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Publication day & a competition!!

It’s publication day today for my second Amelia Henley love story (my eighth published book!) ‘The Art of Loving You’ and I’ve been blown away by the pre-publication reviews. Over 100 early reviews with an average of 5 stars have already been shared with my publisher. It’s wonderful to see ‘The Art of Loving You’ out there next to ‘The Life We Almost Had’. I think they look gorgeous together.

I owe a huge thank you to the superstar bloggers on this week’s blog tour who are really helping spread the word. ‘Amelia Henley’ is a new name in fiction and reviews are SO important to gain visibility. If you’ve read, or do read, and enjoy ‘The Art of Loving You’ I’d be so grateful if you could please pop a review either on Amazon or elsewhere. Also thanks to everyone who came along to my live Facebook/Instagram launch last night. If you couldn’t make it, there are more giveaways to come so do follow me on social media to keep up to date.

Writing Libby and Jack’s love story became more personal to me than I could ever envisage and I’ll be sharing why over the next couple of weeks.

For now, I’ll share the blurb and an exciting competition.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?
 
The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again. 

You can order a copy via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

If you love to craft, check out this competition where you can win £100 of Hobbycraft vouchers.

WIN books & live launch invite!

Prizes galore on offer next week during my live launch for my second Amelia Henley love story, ‘The Art of Loving You’.

Competitions will be added daily to the event beginning tomorrow (you don’t have to be able to attend the event to win most of the prizes).

Sign up as ‘going’ on FB here to be notified each day when a competition goes live or follow me on Instagram here.

I’ll be going live on Facebook and Instagram at 8pm on Wednesday 21st June and really hope to see you there. I’d be SO grateful for the support.

Louise x (Amelia!)

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

‘The Art of Loving You’ will be released on 22nd July and is available to preorder now via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

I fed the bears at Hamerton Zoo!

I’m a huge animal lover, perhaps bears the most of all. Maybe it’s because, growing up, some of my favourite fictional characters were bears, from Winnie-the-Pooh to Paddington, Rupert to Bungle. Baloo. There’s something very comforting about them. Very familiar. Perhaps the main character in my next book could be a bear…

I’ve been visiting Hamerton Zoo Park since they first opened to the public and have seen how much they care, watched the conservation work they do, observed how they’ve grown over the past thirty years. I was super excited last January when they announced the arrival of 3 young bear cubs as part of a global project to restablish Syrian bears which are sadly extinct in Syria. As soon as lockdown restrictions lifted I went to visit them, admiring them from afar, thinking it was the closest I’d ever get. I was wrong.

For my birthday my husband, Tim, surprised me with a ‘feed the bear’ experience. And a few days ago we excitedly set off to do just that.

We were met by one of the bear keepers who led us through some locked gates, into the bear enclosure. At the first site of Laiko, Jaiko and Newton I was so overwhelmed I found myself close to tears. They were so adorable. So near I could reach out and touch them (I was told not to reach out and touch them).

For the first part of our adventure we loaded spoons with honey and peanut butter and let the bears lick it off. Now, I hand feed my cat sometimes and he is ferocious around food. With him, I worry I’ll lose a finger. Not with Laiko, Jaiko and Newton who sat patiently waiting for their turn. They were SO gentle. I accidentally dribbled honey onto the bars and they each licked it off, sharing it equally. The bond between these siblings is so touching.

Next, we were taken into the shed to choose some props for their enrichment. We picked some barrels and boxes. We filled the barrels with their favourite foods – nut, seeds, oranges, avocados and apples, with some dog biscuits for protein (apparently they also eat meat once a week and fish twice a week). We sealed the lids on the barrels, loaded everything into a wheelbarrow and then took it all into their main enclosure. We positioned the barrels near the fence so the waiting crowd would be able to see the bears close up. it felt a little odd and unsettling to be on the wrong side of the fence. The keepers told us that most of the animals enjoy watching the humans and were pleased when the park reopened after lockdown. Apparently we are just as entertaining to them.

After we’d laid out the barrels and boxes we walked around their enclosure and hid fruit and nuts behind trees and on top of lower branches so they had something to seek out. Then it was time for us to step out and the bears to have their lunch.

For the last part of our experience we were allowed to stand in front of the safety barrier so we could position our cameras to take photos without the bars in the way. It was joyful to observe them getting the lids off the barrels and enjoying eating. Playing.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. After we’d left I had a little cry. I felt so privileged to have been able to get so close to my favourite animals. It was one of the best things I’d ever done and I’ll definitely go back to do it again. I’m even considering featuring a zoo and a keeper in my next book so I can keep returning for ‘research’ purposes…

Find out more about Hamerton here.

New paperbacks & giveaways!

I am THRILLED that the paperbacks for my forthcoming release ‘The Art of Loving You‘ have arrived and they look GORGEOUS. Huge thanks to my editor, Manpreet, and my publisher, HQ Stories for pulling them together.

I can’t quite believe that in just one month my second love story publishes under my pen name ‘Amelia Henley‘. My first, ‘The Life We Almost Had‘ was so well received I’m hoping that Libby and Jack’s story lives up to expectations.

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?
 
Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.
 
All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

I am so grateful to these authors who have provided such lovely quotes: –

‘An ode to finding the meaning in grief, in our life’s purpose, and in deciding to live and love fully, The Art of Loving You broke my heart and then rebuilt it again. Just gorgeous’ Laura Jane Williams, bestselling author of Our Stop

‘A heart achingly beautiful story of love, grief and hope that reflects on the power of love, family and friendship’ Jules Wake, bestselling author of The Spark

‘Wistfully uplifting, with a sprinkling of the extraordinary – Libby and Jack’s story is a testament to the power of love and the comfort of hope. I loved it!’ Holly Hepburn, author of Coming Home to Brightwater Bay

If you’d like to read this before its publication I’m currently running giveaways to win four signed proof copies. Check out either Instagram or Facebook to enter and for the Ts&Cs.

The Art of Loving You will be released on 22nd July and is available to preorder now via Amazon, Waterstones, Kobo, Google Books, Apple.

Look! My new book!!

I am INCREDIBLY excited to reveal the details of my seventh psychological thriller – seventh! When I began writing in 2014 I had no idea of the journey it would take me on and today, looking at my book covers hanging on my wall I feel immense gratitude, and, if I’m honest, relief that so far I seem to be pulling off masquerading as an author…

I’m loving the cover of ‘All For You’ and very thankful for my editor and the wonderful team at HQ Stories/Harper Collins who have created a package that fits this very twisty story perfectly. It’ll be published on 30th September in the UK on paperback, ebook and audio, and is available to pre-order now via Amazon, Waterstones, or your local bookstore can order you a copy. 

So, are you ready to meet the Walsh Family?

Lucy: Mother. Wife. Falling to pieces . . .
Aidan: Father. Husband. In too deep . . .
Connor: Son. Friend. Can never tell the truth . . .

Everyone in this family has something to hide, but what are they trying to protect, and at what cost?

IT WAS ALL FOR YOU.

I’ll be sad to let the Walsh family go, they’ve shocked me continuously throughout the writing of this book. There were times I thought I had the plot all figured out but Lucy, Aidan and Connor are strong characters who wouldn’t do entirely what I wanted them to do. I’m very fond of them though because, despite their secrets and lies, they’re an ordinary family with a lot of love for each other.

The proofs are being printed right now and I’ll be giving away a signed copy soon, as well as a signed proof of ‘The Art of Loving You’, my second contemporary fiction novel which publishes under my pen name, Amelia Henley this July so do sign up to my blog or newsletter to keep up to date and follow me on social media over at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For now I’ll leave you with pre-order links and I’ll be back soon blogging about how I structure my books and why I’m still evolving as a writer.

Find ‘All For You’ at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Waterstones, Google Play or ask your local bookstore to order a copy in.