The Trials of Isabella Smugge

The Trials of Isabella Smugge is the second book of author, Ruth Leigh, and her lifestyle blogger and influencer, Isabella Smugge. It is somewhat darker or you could say, more realistic than the first book, the Diary of Isabella Smugge.

In the first book, we saw the family move from London to Suffolk with, seemingly the perfect family of three children, devoted husband, Johnnie and au-pair, Sofija. The family, at first seem to struggle to fit into the local community of rural Suffolk, appearing very successful and wanting for nothing. Then gradually, by the end of the first book, we see everything begin to fall apart for Isabella. Her good friend and vicar’s wife, Claire, is seriously ill in hospital following the birth of her fourth child, Johnnie has left her to shack up with the au-pair, Sofija and Isabella finds herself pregnant again after a night of fighting and drunkenness with her cheating husband.

But did I enjoy the sequel? You bet. I feel right at home with Isabella and look forward to following her further adventures. It simply took me longer to read than the first book because of the frequent interruptions of our new energy full puppy, Bella, currently giving me the run-around. She has even chewed the pages of the last quarter of the book – not sure the author, Ruth, or Instant Apostle will want a photograph of this to share!

In the trials of Isabella Smugge, we find Isabella developing as a person and a mother with the trials that befall her, coming out stronger on the other side of them as she discovers that other people’s problems can be worse than her own. She also finds some answers to life’s questions in her newly emerging Christian faith, as she tries to identify the mysterious village snitch, who is adding information to fuel Isabella’s arch nemesis, the gossip columnist, Lavinia Harcourt. Isabella then struggles to learn the art of forgiveness.

We leave Isabella in a better place at the end of the book. Claire has recovered and is out of hospital, she has made lots of good friends in rural Suffolk, come through her fourth pregnancy, her sister is back in the UK and she has a better relationship with her mother than she has had for many years as the mother’s health declines. Could true happiness be just a few hashtags and followers away? We await with great anticipation the continuing saga of Isabella Smugge…

Ruth Leigh is a freelance writer, novelist and book reviewer. Married with three children, she is a recovering over-achiever.
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My Scottish holiday and Harper’s Highland Fling

Over the August Bank Holiday, my husband and I took my elderly mother-in-law to visit her family in Scotland. The weather was brilliantly sunny. Indeed, we were probably in the best part of the country for the weather. We visited Perth, Dundee, Broughty Ferry, St Andrews and Pitlochry. To accompany all this wonderful scenery and good weather, I was reading Harper’s Highland Fling, by author and Scottish enthusiast, Lizzie Lamb.

Lizzie in Scotland

This is the third book I have read by this author. I really enjoyed the conflict between the two main characters of the book, Rocco Penhaligan and Harper MacDonald as they travel together in search of their gallivanting teenagers – Rocco’s son, Pen, and Harper’s niece, Ariel. It all made for page-turning fun as they chased the youngsters all the way from Cornwall to Plockton in Scotland.

Lizzie says, “Having independently published six novels to date I’ve got a real feel for what my readers want. I’d long had a fancy for writing a ‘road trip novel’ and decided that Harper’s Highland Fling would be it. As an avid caravanner I’ve stayed in most parts of the country and once I got out the atlas to plot Harper’s journey north the novel almost wrote itself. My husband enjoys restoring old vehicles and I imagined exactly how Harper would feel when Rocco turns up on an old motorbike and tells her to ‘get on or get left behind.’  Left with no choice she does the latter. We were both primary school teachers for thirty four years, so I was able to write with some authority about how Harper felt at the end of a long, gruelling academic year when she discovers that her wayward niece has scuppered her holiday plans.”

Finally, one of my favourite places in Scotland is Plockton so it was a no-brainer for me to set the novel there (with a stop over in Leicester where I live).”

Plockton is a small village in the Lochalsh, Wester Ross area of the Highlands, with a population of less than 500. It has often been called ‘the Jewel of the Highlands’

Lizzie’s book, certainly is a jewel which I would highly recommend. It kept me fully entertained over the break and even for a few days on my return. I think it is probably my favourite by this author, although they are all good and unique in their own ways.

The five others are also featured below and as we’re all different, other readers may find their favourites among the titles featured below.

Lizzie’s books can be found on her Amazon author page or her website at https://lizzielamb.co.uk

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Creativity Matters

At the start of the new school year has your passion for writing deserted you? Do you feel all dry and used up? Help is at hand with the new book compiled by author, Wendy H Jones and a compendium of other writers all sharing their unique styles and genre.

I have certainly struggled to rediscover my own passion for writing. Finding lockdown hard like most people, I sought a focus in a writing course at my local University of Gloucestershire – Creative and Critical Writing, and I’m glad to say that I have emerged at the end of the year with a certificate passed with merit, and a whole lot more writing and editing experience. But what now?

Before this time I published ‘Waireka,’ my historical romance set in New Zealand, but then I didn’t know what to do next. Should I write a sequel? After reading selections from this great book, I am beginning to find my ‘mojo’ again. inspired by Sheena MacLeod’s chapter on historic non-fiction, Joy Margetts historical fact-based fiction and Lorraine Smith’s historical fiction, so much so that I feel I might just write that sequel after all. I could even explore the story behind my Irish relations, as like these great writers I love social history. I also love genealogy, so was inspired by reading Jennifer Ngulube’s chapter on memoir. I might just continue where I left off on my university course assignment.

But at the moment, I have chosen to be inspired by Kirsten Bett and her chapter on writing poetry. I chose prose to study for my university course, so it’s great to get back to a bit of poetry again, the place where my writing largely began. I have subscribed to a three week poetry course – Writing Poetry and Getting Published. I might even try my luck and use some of the submissions from the course to enter a few competitions. I have been highly commended in a couple before, but never won. Perhaps now?

The important thing is that this book has given me purpose and direction again and that’s with only reading just half of it. I still have to explore writing for children, flash fiction and short stories, drama, cat tales, crime and mystery, faith stories, science fiction, humour and re-visit romance. The list of possibilities is endless. Wendy suggests writing a flash fiction piece in each of the genres in the book, so pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Why not? Great idea, Wendy.

If you’re now burning to get hold of a copy of this book, you can find it in several places on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B09D9Q181D/ or via Wendy’s own website page at https://www.wendyhjones.com

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Journaling

I have always journaled in my life in one form or other. As a youngster my diary took more of the form of a step-by-step view of my day. E.g. Got up had breakfast, made my bed. Altogether rather a tedious re-read, which at times contains gems of memories and experiences. However, as I’ve progressed my journal has been something that I’ve used to record my thoughts, prayers and faith experience.

Journaling can also open up an opportunity for God to speak to us.

Amy Boucher Pye, in her soon to be released book, 7 Ways to Pray, mentions journaling in her book in chapter 4 on hearing God.

She had been campaigning in her journal to get her family back to her country of origin, the US, rather than living in the UK. But God speaks through our thoughts and desires and she suddenly feels, one day, that God is telling her to give up her campaign. I use this example to explain how when we put down our thoughts in writing, it is a way of understanding ourselves and exploring our deepest desires and feelings.

This book can be pre-ordered as the image above suggests at the  Big Church Read

I have just returned from an overseas trip which my husband and I had to make for family reasons. As a result we are currently having to isolate due to someone testing positive for Covid-19 on our flight. So far, so good, no symptoms. However, getting back to journaling, it is something I always do when away on a trip, be it in the UK or abroad. It’s a great record of each country and place that I’ve visited, and, even better, over the years I’ve been able to turn these memories into money. Along with my husband’s brilliant photographs, I use my notes to tell the story of the place, selecting out the relevant and key sights of interest. 

Pena Palace

Pena Palace in the mountains above Cais Cais, where we were staying, is a beautiful place and home of the last Portuguese monarchs. Although our reasons for going out to Portugal weren’t simply to take a holiday in these difficult Covid-19 times, we were still able to enjoy the spectacular places and foods that Portugal has to offer.

Journaling therefore, can have a dual purpose. It can help to grow our faith and relationship with God and it can, at times, be turned into money making articles. 

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My Interview

I was recently interviewed online by nfreads.com A requested interview and well worth doing if you are asked. I believe you have to be invited. It’s free of charge and a great way of promoting yourself and your writing. Although there is a link to this interview on my ‘about me’ page, I was so pleased with the outcome that I thought I would also share it on my blog for this month.

 Please introduce yourself and your book(s)

Hello, my name is Sheila Johnson. Brought up on a farm in the south east of England, I wanted to write from an early age. Apart from creating a couple of issues of a newspaper while still at school, my first main foray into writing was as a poet. I still write poetry and enter competitions from time to time.

I have a diploma in journalism, deciding to study journalism as a second career after finding and writing a front page article for my local newspaper along with an in-house journalist. On qualifying, I freelanced for Gloucestershire Media for a couple of years. Since then, I have written travel, history and charity articles for both national and international newspapers and magazines and interviewed some well-known personalities, including Cricketer, Jonty Rhodes, and Rugby player, Lesley Vanikolo.

 What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I published my first book in 2016 under my maiden name of Sheila Donald. It is a novella, called Alpha Male, a romance based around an Alpha Course. Quiet, shy church going beauty meets sexy, good looking newspaper journalist. This book was self-published. I am happy with the cover of this book, which I chose myself. Alpha Male can be found in book or kindle form on Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alpha-Male-Sheila-Donald-ebook/dp/B01FVBEZIU/ or https://www.amazon.com/Alpha-Male-Sheila-Donald-ebook/dp/B01FVBEZIU/ in the US.

I published my second book, historical romance, Waireka (sweet waters) with Ambassador International in 2018, again under my maiden name. This was a full-length novel based upon my family history. Being part Kiwi, when visiting New Zealand for the third time a few years earlier, I was given a family history book written by a distant relative, also a Donald. The book contained the story of my great uncle’s trip from Scotland in 1850 as one of the first early pioneers. He became a farmer and an important member of the local community in the Wairarapa area of the north island of New Zealand. The story was so fascinating that I knew at once it was one I had to tell in fictional form. My story is told from the viewpoint of a young nursemaid, Eliza. I have changed many of the names and circumstances, but I loved writing it and learning all about the early New Zealand pioneers, their bravery and resilience. Waireka can be found on Amazon in book or kindle form at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ in the UK or https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ in the US.

In addition I have contributed to three anthologies – Stones Before the Ocean, Edited by Daniel Paul Gilbert, in which I have two poems included; Merry Christmas Everyone, Edited by Wendy H Jones, Amy Robinson and Jane Clamp, in which I have a piece of prose and a poem included; and recently, When this is all over, Edited by Jan Moran Neil and Adrian Spalding, a charity anthology about the pandemic, in which I have a poem included. Please visit my website at www.journojohnson.com for more details.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

It’s a difficult decision for an author to choose between self-publishing and being published, they both demand a great deal of self-promotion. However, if I had my time again, I would not have chosen an American publisher for Waireka, either self-publishing or finding a British or New Zealand publisher would have been preferable.

 Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

I think one of the most important things in launching a book is the cover and the blurb on the back. I know that it is these two factors that influence my decision in buying a book and therefore will influence others too. It is important to make the cover attractive, appropriate and stand out from the crowd, and it is a crowded market. Titles too are important. I now wish that I had been advised to use a subtitle in my book, Waireka. I do give the meaning of the Maori word in the book, but that’s too late. I will have already lost the casual browser well before they open the book.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

I think I found it harder having had a contract to take 250 copies of my book, Waireka on publication, especially as the publisher did very little to promote the book except to give away a few review copies. I objected to that more than the bad reviews I received from some of these reviewers.

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

I guess, like most writers, I write what I personally enjoy to read, which in my case, is a mix of biographies/life stories, romance and historical romances. Crime for me would have to be the cosy type, more Agatha Christie or M.C. Beaton than Ian Rankin or Lee Child.

How has your creation process improved over time?

I have just completed a postgraduate certificate at my local university of Gloucestershire in Creative and Critical Writing and graduate in the autumn of 2021. Not only has this course given me a focus during lockdown, but it has also improved my writing with regular workshop input from lecturers and other MA students. Grammar and punctuation have been meticulously studied and rectified.

 What are your plans for future books?

Now my university course has finished, I would like to continue to write my memoirs which I began as part of my assignment submission. I am also interested in writing another historical romance. I have Irish relations too and have considered telling their story next. Alternatively, I love interviewing people and telling their stories, particularly if they are unusual, so that would also be something I would consider in the future.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself.

Our family is very international and I love studying genealogy. We are even adding to that genealogy in this generation, with one son being married to an American and the other son has a Portuguese partner, a language I’m currently trying to get to grips with.


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Forgiveness and Vikings

The recent UK television series, Time, explored some interesting issues regarding prisons, crime and forgiveness. As you watched the three part series, you were able to put yourself in the place of the main character, excellently played by Sean Bean. He had killed a cyclist through drink driving and left the scene of the accident. In prison now, not only is the family of the man he killed unable to forgive him, he is unable to forgive himself, haunted by what he has done. Forgiveness is a hard issue. Fellow Dutch writer, Maressa Mortimer, deals with this self same issue in her novella, Viking Ferry. I have asked her a few questions about the book.

Maressa Mortimer

Your book deals with the whole subject of forgiveness and how hard it sometimes is to forgive those who have mistreated us or misused us. It’s a huge topic, especially for the Christian. Can you comment?

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness. We can forgive someone, until we remember another detail, and we’re angry all over again. I think it is a bit like grief, not a one off thing. It’s certainly easier said than done, and sometimes I think we are afraid that forgiving someone means there won’t be consequences, which isn’t true. Often we think of reasons why we shouldn’t forgive, and the book’s idea of not being sure if the characters are real or not, seems like a good excuse for harbouring anger!

Why did you decide to write a book about the Vikings? What is your interest in this period of history and how did you do that research?

I used to read a Viking series in the Netherlands, which is an amazing couple of books. I wondered what would happen if you woke up on the ferry and then found a bunch of Vikings. I got more interested in them and read quite a lot about them. I’m now doing a course about Vikings.

Did you research the language they would have used ? I loved the way in which you slipped in words like ‘Holmgang’ and Trälinna.

Yes, I love languages. It turns out, there were different words for slaves, depending on the jobs they did.

Are your main characters Marieke and Gunilla, Erika and Ingeborg based on anyone in particular?

Not really. Marieke’s hair is inspired by a wonderful friend, who helped me with hair care and what you should and shouldn’t do with very curly hair!

In Chapter 4 you mention the arrival of the horses. Marieke seems very afraid of the horses. Is this fear yours or just hers?

I’m not over keen, but I know various people with a fear of particular animals, so I decided to use that.

Ingeborg seems to be Marieke’s main form of communication. Do we know how she learnt her English or is this all part of the fantasy? She is certainly Marieke’s means of escape.

Yes, I’m not quite sure where Ingeborg came from. She might turn up in my next Viking Series that I’m plotting, in which case Viking Ferry is a minor spin-off!

You also mention Marieke’s dislike of porridge. Is this something you also dislike?

I really can’t stand porridge, never could… My children and husband love it, so I do make it, as long as I don’t have to touch it. Literally!

Did you research Marieke’s clever swimming technique with her bag and coat out of the water? Maybe it’s something you have tried?

In the Netherlands, swimming with belongings or fully dressed etc, is part of your swimming certificates.

What is nasi goreng? I’m sure your readers would love to know.

It’s a delicious Indonesian rice dish, with spices and vegetables and usually pork. It can be very spicy. It is also made in the Dutch Antilles and Suriname.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the book. So much so that I’m now researching and plotting a Viking Series, which will also include time travel. Learning more about the Vikings has been very interesting, especially as to how Christianity affected them.

Maressa has also written three other books. Her first, Sapphire Beach, was published by Onwards and Upwards but her Elabi Chronicles series – Walled City and Beyond the Hills were set in an imaginary fantasy world.

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When this is all over…

This book of poems and prose from writers across the world has just been published and I’m happy to say that I’m one of the selected writers for my poem ‘A Piece of Thyme’ written about the first meeting between my sons and their partners during lockdown. We met up during the summer of 2020 when we all had a brief period of getting together before things became even worse than they had before! A brief period of normality with restrictions.

I heard about this project, whose funds all go to a local hospice via one of the editors, Jan Moran Neil, a lady who was previously interviewed for the Association of Christian Writers magazine in 2009, when she discussed her passion for the theatre. Jan and I have kept in touch since. I recommend as many as possible buying a copy of the book, not because my poem is in there but because it supports such a worthy cause. It has been over a year in the making and is available on Amazon in both book or kindle form. https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=when+this+is+all+over&crid=2JNR3BF3OI21Q&sprefix

My poem is shared below.

The Piece of Thyme

This piece of thyme is all I have left of the time
we spent together in the walled Victorian garden
at Hughenden. We could not touch because of
coronavirus, simply bash elbows for our contact
even though you, my children, adults now, 
I longed to hug you, kiss you, hold you with
a mother's love. This virus has separated us. 

You in your worlds of computers and medicines
and I in mine, dreaming, thinking, wishing, writing
about what could have been, should have been
if things were normal. But what is normal now
as we live through a pandemic of global proportions? 
We laugh and joke and take our photos, socially distanced, 
marking the moment, this moment in time when we
walked together, yet spaced apart.  

I kiss the air of these embraced moments, 
our moments in the sun as I press the piece of thyme 
stolen from the garden to my heart
as I would have pressed you if I could. 
But the moment now has passed like the thyme. 
All I can do now is hold you in my heart, 

praying for better days. 

I hope you enjoy reading it.

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My University course’s ending

After almost a year’s hard study, I handed in my last assignments last week. Hooray. Now I just have to wait for the marking and then, hopefully, in the autumn, a graduation. I certainly feel that my writing has improved a bit rubbing up against some really talented young writers. Following the submissions, we all celebrated our achievements with a lovely sunny picnic on our university campus. What a lovely weather!

As you can see from most of the above photographs, I have been by far the oldest student. Old enough to be the mother of most of the above. But, as they say, it’s never too late to learn. I have learnt so much about many things, particularly punctuation and ‘show and not tell’ – I’ll try and remember, Duncan! The course has also started me down the path to writing up my memoirs for my boys, having realised that there is so much about my parents childhoods that I never learnt and now never will. I also have had the privilege of learning about so many well known poets and writers in our beautiful county of Gloucestershire, both past – Ivor Gurney, the Dymock Poets, Laurie Lee and present – Angela France, Adam Horovitz. I have enjoyed reading many books I might not have otherwise thought to read and read some I don’t wish to read again, but I feel the wiser for the process. Now as we all go our separate ways in the world, I’m not sure where my writing will take me next. Suffice it to say that this last year has been both an interesting, rewarding and useful experience. I have also got to meet some amazing people for which I am truly grateful.

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Invitations

Recently on Facebook, a little message has come up saying – who would you most like to meet and dine with in history? There are so many interesting writers and artists I would have liked to have met. Jane Austen is probably near the top of my list, along with Constable (poor and tortured in love for a lot of his life), Coleridge, Gerald Manley Hopkins, L.M. Montgomery, I could go on….

But what about Jesus? Suppose you received an actual invitation to dine with Jesus. Would you go? What would you say to him? How would you behave? This is exactly what happens to Nick Cominsky in the book, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger.

A New York bestseller, this has to be one of my favourite ‘Christian’ books ever. Probably because its not ‘religious’ in any sense of the word, its just two men having a rather nice upmarket dinner in an Italian restaurant talking about the issues of life and things they struggle with. The conversation seems normal and interesting. Jesus comes across as a regular guy. Well, yes, he is American, but the book is set there, so this seems reasonable.

I have just discovered that there is also another book in the series entitled ‘A day with a Perfect Stranger’, which features Nick’s wife meeting with Jesus on a plane.

Perhaps you think this is a bit too much of a coincidence? I think I would agree. The first book is definitely the best. There is even a DVD on Amazon of the dinner, entitled ‘A Perfect Stranger’, although I’m not quite sure why the film makers have substituted Nicola for Nick. Who knows? But worth checking out. It’s free to view if you are an Amazon prime member but won’t cost much if you’re not.

So what do you think? Would you like to have dinner with Jesus? You may not have Nick or Nicola’s privilege of dining with the actual person of Jesus but in the Bible Revelation 3 verse 20, Jesus says – “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”

Food for thought this month!

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Loss and Death

The loss of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the longest serving consort in history, has been an event with worldwide significance. The funeral last Saturday, 17 April, was watched across every corner of the world, especially countries in the commonwealth group of nations. But although significant for the nation, how much more significant was his death and funeral to his immediate family, especially to his wife of 73 years, our Queen Elizabeth II? To her, he wasn’t just the public figure at her side for all of her reigning years, 1953 till the present day, but a dearly beloved husband, the only one to call her ‘Lillibet’. Quite simply, the love of her life. What words can answer that grief? She, who over the years has dispensed so many 100 birthday cards yet denied sending one to her beloved, dying just two months short of the date.

Perhaps only the poignant words of poet, W.H. Auden’s poem somewhat explain the inexplicable -:

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Of course, there is still good. Prince Philip had a strong Christian faith, like the queen and so although she mourns his loss, she knows that one day she will see him again.

In my book, Waireka, Eliza loses the love of her life, Robert, to cancer at a much younger age but she is similarly distraught, especially as, unlike the queen, she can’t even attend his funeral to say ‘goodbye’. Informed after the event by his wife, Mary.

“Robert, dead or alive, would always be a part of her life. He would be in her every waking thought and prayers until she went up to be with him.” (p 218, Waireka)

Available either from me, or Amazon UK, https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ or from Amazon US, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DP8KBD9/ Book or e-book.

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