A Holiday in the Cotswolds – 14th October 2015

Every now and again I like to write about something different – beautiful places which inspire me. This year, my husband and I decided to take my mother on a holiday in the Cotswolds with us, a place we hadn’t yet discovered.


Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds

Having arrived in Bretforton, we were touched by the charm of this village which unfolded like a scene from a Jilly Cooper book; a row of thatched cottages snuggling together on the approach – a backdrop of houses in Cotswold Stone, smothered in a cape of Virginia creeper – and behind the wooden gates, our holiday home awaited us.

The owners could not have done more to make us feel welcome and what a nice touch to leave us a welcome hamper that included a bottle of chilled white wine along with homemade marmalade and lemon drizzle cake. After sinking into the luxurious chairs in a lovely light conservatory, we decided to take the dog for a walk through the village only to discover yet more treasures; a community shop, a manor house and church and best of all, a very olde worlde pub where we enjoyed dinner on our first night.

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Holidays don’t get much better; and how lucky we were to be blessed with such glorious weather. With the autumn trees just turning, there was something almost dream-like about the luminous golden sunshine – the way it lit up the leaves, not to mention all those honey-coloured houses the Cotswolds villages are renowned for. We explored plenty of those; Broadway, Moreton-on-the-Marsh (which has a great market), Stow on the Wold, Chipping Camden (my favourite) and Chipping Norton.

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Other days out included Hidcote Gardens (my mother is a talented gardener), Batsworth Arboretum (a treat for our dog), Bourton on the Water (regrettably, a bit touristy) and Lower Slaughter which was stunning. Further afield we stumbled across Jepson Gardens in Leamington Spa to catch up with an old friend and enjoyed a lovely day – and finally we ventured to Oxford where the architecture left me breathless.

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I would recommend the Cotswolds for anyone who loves things which are quintessentially English with the touch of a bygone era; it is a place filled with beauty from the avenues of rolling countryside to its blissfully quiet villages and embraces everything I adore in England (with plenty of teashops to enjoy a cream tea, many of which are dog friendly.)

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Same Face Different Place Update – 10th August 2015

It’s been an exciting year for the series and as it’s been a while since I updated my blog, I realised it was time to share the news.

PLEASURES-coverI was overjoyed to finally publish Book 3 Pleasures on Easter Sunday. This is a story that took 18 months to complete including a full edit before I wrote the ending (not to mention further edits, comments from Beta readers, more edits and publishing in kindle and paperback). At 555 pages it’s a fairly hefty book, but packed with story lines. I’ve had 2 reviews on Amazon and people who’ve told me it’s my most exciting novel to date.

After the completion of this novel, I had already made a decision I wanted to look at Visions again (Book 2) and do another edit. I simply thought it was too long – it’s my favourite out of the three, yet feedback wasn’t forthcoming. Some described it as ‘taking a while to get going,’ ‘not as gripping as the 1st’ and I haven’t seen many reviews. Others said they loved it and never wanted it to end. But I had to listen to what my heart was telling me.

Visions Special
Thus the remainder of April and May were put aside for this purpose. I tightened up the 1st half and brought in more suspense – and without sacrificing the quality of detail, reduced it down from 560 pages to 484. Best of all, two new ‘readers’ gave it a first look thoroughly enjoyed it – according to a Facebook post, one finished it in a week and said it was a “bloody good story.”

By the end of May however, a printed proof turned up for Pleasures, so I spent the whole of June Proofreading it (and yes, there were some typos) hopefully now all corrected and the market copy should be perfect. My proof reading skills are getting better!

BeginningsCome July, I went right back to the Beginning – that is, my first Book, Beginnings. Belonging to a group like CHINDI (Chichester Independent authors) brought me into contact with writers who have very sharp editing skills. It was a few minor flaws pointed out to me, that inspired me to give this book another look too; but not for the story – more for the writing style. I wanted to improve on it. So a newly edited version of this book went live on August 3rd. I’m delighted to say this book has attracted some wonderful reviews, even in its raw state, so hopefully it’s even better.

I really enjoyed visiting it again, for its 1970s setting, its powerful characters and to remind myself how the entire series began.

So on to Book 4 Retribution: I have finally started writing it. Unable to sit still or take a rest from writing, I got stuck in, next day. In between re-writes, edits and proof reading, I have been making notes for a synopsis. The book is well underway now and I can hardly tear myself away from it! Such is the life of a writer and I do love writing. It took the last 4 months to realise how much I have missed it so I’m really pleased to get back to it.

The book continues where Pleasures left off, Summer 1991, with flashbacks into the past and a shocking prologue. It will hopefully be out some time in 2016, but who knows? There are a lot of loose ends to tie up so I’ll keep everyone posted with the progress.

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Some Great British Days Out – 9th July 2015

London 2015Time to take a break from writing… (Well not quite: since the completion of Book 3 Pleasures I have done complete new edit on Visions and currently looking at Beginnings again) but in between times, we’ve taken some time away from the office and visited some lovely places – so I have decided to blog about these for a change.

Exbury Gardens

This is a place I’ve always wanted to go and it’s been a while since we visited the New Forest. So at the beginning of June (and just before my Mum’s birthday) we thought we’d steal a visit while the Rhododendrons and Azaleas were still in flower. This 200 acre site is famous for its displays – set out with footpaths which meander around lakes, woodland, parkland, natural and formal gardens. It’s also a lovely place to have a picnic.

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Sussex Weald and Downland Museum

This is a really nice attraction at any time of year, but especially nice if there is some type of craft fair going on. So on a Sunday, when a very good friend was exhibiting his beautiful hand made rustic wood furniture and mirrors, what better excuse to make the trip. Set in lovely rolling Sussex countryside, this museum offers visitors an array of building exhibits from a bye-gone age: workers’ cottages and barns. Most are open to go inside.

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London Eye and Southbank

To celebrate my birthday, we headed for Waterloo and booked a place on the London Eye; well worth it for the amazing 360 degree photos over London (on of which may even be used for the cover of my 4th book Retribution.) Unfortunately, we chose the hottest day of the year. London reached a sweltering 37 degrees C! However, there is lots to explore along the Southbank, where we spent much of the day wandering around; saw the Tate Gallery, Globe Theatre and crossed the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.

(Click photos to zoom)

It makes me appreciate what a beautiful and very interesting country we live in where there is so much to see and cherish – gorgeous gardens and countryside, fascinating architecture and tourist attractions which are well worth the time and money.

My love of all things English is also a common theme running through my writing.

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A Debate on Self-Publishing – 25th June 2015

This week I found myself sat amidst a panel of local authors from our networking group, CHINDI for a lively Q&A session, in Chichester Library, to talk about the various paths we took in publishing.

A Big Turn out at Chichester Library Talk for CHINDI Authors Q&A Session

A Big Turn out at Chichester Library Talk for CHINDI Authors Q&A Session

I have to say I was a little amazed by the sheer volume of people pouring in through the door. One gentleman even said he’d heard something about us in the Telegraph. Yet it shows how much interest there is in self-published books. Where many years ago people turned their noses up if a book even showed a hint of being ‘self-published’ (and it used to be called ‘vanity publishing’) it is reassuring to know that “According to Jon Fine at the London Book Fair in April 2014, 30% of the top 100 books on Amazon are self-published – and that percentage is still rising.”

Hurrah to that – I enjoy a greater diversity of books which otherwise would have never seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for this flexible new platform. In the old days, the publishing industry was very controlling, thereby restricting the distribution of some great books I might never have discovered.

Now onto the discussion: Panel host Jill King and Jane Cable, (one of the other panel members) chose an author assisted program, known as Matador. They will provide a whole package: from cover design, formatting, publishing on Kindle and in Paperback – to offering marketing and PR services. They will even assist in the reviewing process via a website known as Netgalley – an excellent way of bumping up reviews as part of your book launch. Jane also used a professional editor to work with alongside a proofreader.

Authors Jeremy Good and Ray Green went their own separate ways in publishing their books, but used a selection of professional services; for example Ray used an editor but wasn’t entirely happy with the process – while both authors  had their book covers professionally designed and with excellent results. Jeremy used CreateSpace to publish his book, which is the route I took. Ray too now also uses CreateSpace. So they didn’t employ a company to handle the entire publishing process – just certain elements.

I am the one exception in so much as I did everything myself, mainly due to the fact that I regarded writing as more as a hobby than a profession and simply did not have the funds to invest in professional services at the time. So once I’d wrote my books, I did the editing and the proofreading myself – and coming from a design background with experience in photoshop, I designed my own covers too using library images.

Many of us have used Beta readers at some point (people who read a finished draft before it hits the market, to give an honest evaluation of the content). There are many routes open to authors (and believe me I would love to employ a few professionals to give my work a cutting edge) but most of all, writing is something we all enjoy and to be able to see your own book and hold it in your hands is well worth the time and the effort.

To conclude, this was a very enjoyable evening and the people who attended gave excellent feedback for our advice on self-publishing. I’d like to think a few have been inspired by us.

Jill King, Jane Cable, Jeremy Good,  Helen Christmas and Ray Green

Jill King, Jane Cable, Jeremy Good, Helen Christmas and Ray Green

Panel Host: Jill King, author of AITCH A Life in Colour (Biography)
Panel Members:
Jane Cable, author of ‘The Cheesemaker’s House‘ and ‘The Faerie Tree’ (Mystery Suspense)
Jeremy Good, author of ‘The Butcher’s Son‘ (WW2 Thriller)
Ray Green, author of ‘Buyout‘, ‘Payback’ and ‘Chinese Whispers’ (Corporate Thrillers)
Helen Christmas, author of ‘Beginnings,’ ‘Visions’ and ‘Pleasures’ (from the British Thriller Romance series ‘Same Face Different Place’)
Thanks also go out to Chris Casburn (Child author) who helped organise the event, Dan Jones, (author of Hypnotherapy Scripts) and his wife Abbie, who filmed the event and my Husband Peter, who was there to support me.

See the supporting article on our website: www.chindi-authors.co.uk/sell-out-event-at-chichester-library/

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Visions: Condensed, re-worked but with the same powerful message – 11th May 2015

With the election now over, I guess it is time to write another blog.

I can’t say I’m surprised at the result  – just hoping we won’t see another 5 years of austerity and job losses, forcing more and more people into poverty and homelessness. Yet it is strange to see some of the same patterns forming in our culture (which tend to be the result of a harsher society) many of which were featured in my second novel, VISIONS, (set in 1980s Britain under Mrs Thatcher’s government.)

Hilarious depiction of Mrs Thatcher in Spitting Image.

Hilarious depiction of Mrs Thatcher in Spitting Image.

I am currently doing another edit on this book and it is nice to revisit it again. It is a novel which includes the rise of anarchy and especially in the ‘New Age Travellers’ movement. I don’t like the concept of anarchy but with the events in London, this weekend, it looks like it’s already here! People are angry. But I can’t help thinking there are better ways to urge our politicians to improve the country for everybody.

I would like to see the government do more for businesses, especially small enterprises like high street shops, urge councils to reduce business rates so less of them go out into liquidation. Our own high street has seen dozens of shops close down and the town is starting to look shabby. This isn’t a Britain to be proud of – you can almost imagine the tumbleweed rolling down the road, as the town gradually degenerates into a ghost town. I couldn’t help noticing the same in Orpington last year, loosely the area where my own fictitious town, Rosebrook, is located.

Yet I wanted to feature the good and bad in every government in VISIONS. And on the subject of small businesses, there was this one element of promise: 

‘As for Luke – he’s finally opened up an exclusive wine shop, right here in Forest Haven. If there’s one good thing that’s come out of Mrs Thatcher’s government, it’s been this ‘Enterprise Allowance Scheme,’ designed to help people like my son set up their own business.” Nothing could have delighted Eleanor more – recalling, this had been his dream.’

So take heed, Mr Cameron! You have promised us the Conservatives will be the ‘Party for the ordinary working man’ so prove it. Do something to help small businesses, encourage growth and get this country back on its feet. I for one, will not forget the party election promises you made when the next General Election comes our way.

The new edition of Visions will be available on Amazon in about 2 weeks time. You can discover more about the story and it’s political climate by visiting my Pinterest Board, filled with stuff from the 80s.


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The Importance of Affordable Housing – 15th April 2015

With the election looming, I’m sad to say I heard something on the news yesterday which made me very angry.

The Conservative Government are proposing ‘The Right to Buy’ for people living in Housing Associations. This is EXACTLY what happened the last time we had a Tory government. People may remember a similar policy was proposed for those living in council houses. 

It may have seemed a great idea at the time and don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge anyone who bought their own council house. But it ultimately led to a huge amount of social housing drifting into the private sector. A few residents made a profit. Yet many of these houses ended up being purchased by greedy landlords who are now charging sky high rents to their tenants. It has also led to a drastic shortage of social housing for those who need it most.

It seems preposterous to imagine that in the light of another tragic housing shortage, some 20 years later, the Tories are suggesting exactly the same thing again.

Housing Association

When I was researching my 2nd Book, Visions, I was exploring the area around Bromley and Orpington (which was roughly where I decided to base my fictitious town ‘Rosebrook.’) It was in one of the Orpington estate agents, I was trying to find out the average price of housing in the area, but it seems no coincidence, I stumbled across this news article.

Source: Bromley Times, September 11th 2011
Some 3,000 people are facing “imminent homelessness” because of a desperate shortage of affordable housing in the borough, according to a shocking council report…

Bromley Times, September 11th 2011

I have scanned and attached the piece for reference. But it seemed uncannily relevant, since this was one of the themes I wanted to focus on in my decades based British thriller series, Same Face Different Place. It draws on my own experience. In 1987/88 I found myself infuriatingly forced out of the housing market. I had my heart set on a small terrace in North Notts only to discover that house prices had trebled by the time I graduated.

It started with the electrification of the railway line – an influx of wealthy commuters selling their expensive London homes, forcing up property prices and ‘gazumping’ people. It was the well-known 80s phenomenon which led to soaring property prices. However, in 1990 and just before the recession, I started a new job and was just about able afford a tiny studio flat for £40,000.

This leads me on to the issue of borrowing. It used to be the norm for Building Societies to lend 2 and a half times your salary to purchase a home. I actually borrowed 4 times my salary to get my mortgage. So what is the situation for house buyers today?

  • Having done a little research, it appears that:
  • in 2014 the average wage in Britain was about £16,640 (£18,848 in the south east)
  • whereas the average property price was about £218,844 (£209,428 in the south east)
  • That is a staggering 11 TIMES YOUR SALARY!

No wonder so many young people are still living at home with their parents and will possibly never be able to afford a home of their own.

This is where housing associations were a Godsend. Take my sister, for example. She and her husband moved into a housing association when they were newly weds. Fortunately, their earnings went up as they successfully pursued their careers and as a result, they were finally able to get a foot on housing ladder.

But it was this type of accommodation that threw people a life line especially for those on low incomes. Housing associations have helped many people who would otherwise never be able to afford a decent home. So it seems particularly shocking that here is yet another form of social housing about to be turned over to the private sector.


 A piece from Visions by Helen J. Christmas

Visions“There’s also this government initiative, which allows council tenants to purchase their houses,” Peter continued. “I’ve got nothing against it – but what will those people do when they move? They’ll sell, won’t they? I know I would! Probably make a nice little profit too, which means a lot of council accommodation is eventually going to drift into the private sector.”

“You’re worried there won’t be enough social housing, aren’t you?” Eleanor muttered, “for those who really need it. So what’s your idea? And I promise I won’t laugh.”

“I was thinking about setting up some sort of housing trust,” Peter said in earnest, “for people on a lower income – to rent, not buy. Honest working people, who have been priced out of the market.”

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New Release! Pleasures by Helen Christmas

Helen J. Christmas:

Was honoured to receive this lovely feature in respect of my new book ‘Pleasures’ with lots of stuff about the new title, including one of its story extracts.

Originally posted on A Woman's Wisdom - The Book Blog For Lovers Of The Written Word:


Helen Christmas was born in Sussex and raised in the Midlands. She aspires to bring true-to-life experiences into her books, having grown up in the iconic decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s, where the political and cultural events shaped her own life. Now in her 50s, Helen lives in a lovingly restored 300 year old cottage on the south coast of England. She and her husband, Peter, earn a living by running their own web design agency from home – a business they started in 1998. They have no children, but share their delightful home with a border collie named Barney and a fluffy white cat named Theo.

In between running a website business and writing, Helen now has a third part time job, working as a ‘picker’ for Sainsbury’s Online Shopping department.

“It began as a Christmas temporary job but they asked me back – I enjoy it…

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