Bookish Ramblings

Beneath An Irish Sky – Publication Day – Author Q & A

Posted in Bookish Ramblings on August 6th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

Recently I reviewed an ARC of Beneath An Irish Sky and I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this gentle romance.  Whilst I’m still not a full-on romantic, I could be converted yet!  Today is publication day so I am posting a Q & A with the co-authors Val Olteanu and Liv Thomas.  I was particularly interested in gaining a clearer insight into how writing partnerships work, surely there must be some fall-outs en route!!


Hi Teresa, thank you so much for inviting us to be on your
blog. ‘Beneath an Irish Sky’ has been part of our lives for over five
years, but it’s very surreal to now see it in print! We hope people
enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

Liv and Val

Meet the Co-Authors: Val Olteanu and Liv Thomas (pen-name: Isabella Connor) whose debut novel is ‘Beneath an Irish Sky’

How did you two meet and what made you decide to write a novel together?


Val: Tolkien brought us together! Liv and I were both members of a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan forum. It’s unbelievable but – eight years on – we’ve still never met in person because I’m in Canada and Liv is in England.


Liv: I asked Val if she wanted to write a novel with me. It’s still a bit of a mystery why I chose her because I barely knew her. Sixth sense, perhaps? I’d had an idea for a book kicking around for some time and had started getting some of it down on paper, but I was quite an impatient writer and found it hard to concentrate on detail. I preferred broad brush strokes; in Val, I found someone who could paint in the details.


You write as a partnership. How does this work?


Val: Because we’re both in different countries, everything is done via emails and phone calls. When we start a new novel, we brainstorm ideas together and then create chapter outlines. It’s essential as co-authors for us to know exactly which part of the novel the other person is writing, or there could be duplication.


Liv: When I finish writing a scene, I send it to Val for comments, and she does the same with her own scenes. We then critique each other’s work. All of it: ideas, style, grammar, punctuation. We give detailed, honest feedback. We don’t sugarcoat things or worry about bruising egos, and I think our work is stronger because of that.


Do you each have particular strengths and weaknesses in terms of writing?


Val: I think Liv and I started the novel believing we each had particular strengths and should write to those. However, as the novel progressed, we both tried out different types of scenes and our confidence in our abilities grew. So working together has been like an extended writing workshop.


What are the advantages of writing with a partner?


Val: For me, it’s having my co-writer’s input, feedback, and support. Liv and I also complement each other, so there’s a tremendous synergy in our writing partnership.


Liv: Working with a co-author, you get to be a reader as well as a writer.


And the disadvantages ?


Val: The eight-hour time difference between us. I’m on the west coast of Canada, and Liv is in the UK. When I’m going to bed, she’s waking up. What that means in practical terms is that sometimes I’m having a phone conversation with Liv and I’m exhausted – and vice versa.


Liv: I’m sure it takes longer to write a novel with a partner. We also have to make sure we consistently use a unified voice and tone. It was quite a challenge for us in the early stages to find our combined voice. When we first submitted our partial manuscript to the RNA New Writers’ Scheme, the reader said our book was ‘seamless’ – that she couldn’t tell two writers had been involved in its creation. We were delighted with that.


How do you resolve any disputes?


Val: We do have disputes. It’s inevitable if you’re co-writing a novel. The disputes don’t arise out of our egos, though – they happen because we’re both personally vested in the novel. If we have a disagreement about a major plot point, we know it has to be resolved sooner rather than later. We might talk to each other by phone since it’s quicker than e-mail.


Liv: If the problem is a minor detail of style, we might leave it and come back to it later with a fresh eye. Sometimes with time and distance, and because of things we’ve written later in the novel, the dispute resolves itself. We both had to compromise with parts of Beneath an Irish Sky. Not with major plot points, and not with key character development, but we’ve both sacrificed some lines and scenes that were near and dear to our hearts.


Do you plan to continue writing together?


Liv: We’ve almost finished our second novel together, and are planning more.


Val: It would seem strange now to write without Liv!

Valerie Olteanu

Val Olteanu

Liv Thomas
Liv Thomas







  • Share/Bookmark

The Week That Was…Meeting John Boyne

Posted in Bookish Ramblings on June 14th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

The week began with sunshine, a funeral and a blown exhaust.  It ended with a visit to A & E with my daughter, queried meningitis which thankfully turned out to be an infection accompanied with photophobia.  In the midst of all this,  Bry and I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Belfast Book Festival to hear John Boyne speak about his latest novel, This House is Haunted, as well as revisiting previous work and hinting at future projects.

I must confess this was my first author signing, apart from going to see Robert Muchamore with my son.  I booked the tickets on impulse informing Bry closer to the date.  His reaction was a bit along the lines of why would anyone want to go and hear some guy reading from a book…the philistine!

The setting was intimate with cabaret style seating, complete with little round tables, candles and low lighting.  I almost expected the reading to be accompanied by subdued piano playing although one of those old cinema organs would have been more apt, given the Gothic tone of This House is Haunted.

Spot the Bry!

After reading a section from the novel, John was interviewed by Hugh Odling Smee with some questions from the audience at the end followed by book signing.   No, I didn’t take notes….although I did notice one lady scribbling away but she must have been able to see in the dark.  Anyway, from my middle aged brain, I can pluck the following key points.

  1. John does research for his books by reading copious amounts of fiction from the chosen period in order to attain the right voices for his characters.  Dickens is one of his favourite authors so how better to start the novel than with,  “I blame Charles Dickens for the death of my father”.
  2. He has experienced the presence of not one but a pubful of ghosts whilst stone cold sober.
  3. He has a particular fondness for John Irving as a writer.
  4. He always wanted to write a ghost story and he always knew it would be called This House is Haunted…spooky..
  5. Speaking of titles, he is happy about all the titles of his previous books with the exception of Mutiny on the Bounty which he wanted to call Bligh and I.  He could barely bring himself to speak the MOTB title aloud…
  6. Stay Where You Are And Then Leave, the title of his next children’s novel (to be published this Autumn), came from when he spent time in Christchurch, New Zealand and noticed these somewhat paradoxical instructions in a What to Do In Case of Earthquake leaflet.
  7. As a child he was obsessed with books about orphans who usually had a dreadful time at boarding schools.  He hastened to add that his childhood was quite normal and his parents paid little heed to his frequent requests to be sent to boarding school.
  8. His next adult novel will be set in Ireland.  One might be forgiven for thinking that he was hellbent on writing books set anywhere other than Ireland but he felt the time was right now.  In a strange way he found it harder to get the “voice” of his characters in this Irish novel.  I understand that as you are perhaps too close  to the subject plus  there is the added burden of the tradition of excellent Irish writing.

This last point made me think of Maggie O’Farrell’s recent comments about the Michael Flatley effect of Irish Writers.  I don’t think this has stopped John Boyne from writing a novel set in Ireland, more that each project has to happen at the right time and place for him….an eminently sensible plan.

I decided to take the opportunity to buy a copy of This House is Haunted and get it signed, simultaneously kicking myself from not bringing along a wheelbarrow load of books including Barnaby Brockett, Striped Pyjamas, Crippen, The House of Special Purpose etc etc.  Not knowing the etiquette for book signings, perhaps  that wouldn’t have been such a good idea.

So, an eventful week and new resolutions to attend more book events.  I might even have converted Bry…ever the optimist!

Meeting John Boyne



  • Share/Bookmark

Waiting on Wednesday – Tom-All-Alone’s – Lynn Shepherd

Posted in Bookish Ramblings on February 1st, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at,  highlighting upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

This week, I have chosen to highlight a novel which has both an intriguing blurb and a delicious cover (superficial, moi???)

Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd


  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Corsair (2 Feb 2012) UK
  • available on Kindle
  • Tom-All-Alone's

    Product Description

    London, 1850. Fog in the air and filth in the streets, from the rat-infested graveyard of Tom-All-Alone’s to the elegant chambers in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where the formidable lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn has powerful clients to protect, and a deadly secret to hide. Only that secret is now under threat from a shadowy and unseen adversary – an adversary who must be tracked down at all costs, before it’s too late. Who better for such a task than young Charles Maddox? Unfairly dismissed from the police force, Charles is struggling to establish himself as a private detective. Only business is slow and his one case a dead end, so when Tulkinghorn offers a handsome price for an apparently simple job Charles is unable to resist. But as he soon discovers, nothing here is what it seems. An assignment that starts with anonymous letters leads soon to a brutal murder, as the investigation lures Charles ever deeper into the terrible darkness Tulkinghorn will stop at nothing to conceal. Inspired by Charles Dickens’ masterpiece Bleak House, Tom-All-Alone’s is a new and gripping Victorian murder mystery which immerses the reader in a grim London underworld that Dickens could only hint at – a world in which girls as young as ten work the night as prostitutes, unwanted babies are ruthlessly disposed of, and those who threaten the rank and reputations of great men are eliminated at once, and without remorse.

    About the Author

    Lynn Shepherd lives near Oxford, with her husband. She studied English at Oxford in the 1980s, and went back to do a doctorate in 2003. In between she spent 15 years in business, first in the City, and later in PR and has been a professional copywriter for the last ten years. She published her first novel Murder at Mansfield Park in 2010. Find out more on

    • Share/Bookmark

    “Waiting On” Wednesday (another first..)

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings, waiting on wednesday on January 25th, 2012 by admin – 5 Comments

    I’ve never done one of these linky, meme, bloggy type things so let’s hope it all works out – well, hopefully no-one will die in the process…see, I copied the logo three times…oh, well better three than never…

    “Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

    This week I happened upon a new article by Joanne Harris here about her much anticipated forthcoming novel Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure.   Cue squees of delight all round!  I have devoured and relished almost all of Joanne’s previous novels and I cannot wait for this, the follow up to The Lollipop Shoes (US title was The Girl With No Shadow).

    Peaches for Monsieur le Curé

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (24 May 2012) UK – later in the US – sorry!
  • Synopsis

    It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead. When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in which eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop. But returning to her old home, Vianne is completely unprepared for what she is to find there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea – and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the church, a minaret.

    • Share/Bookmark

    How do YOU Review?

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings on January 31st, 2011 by admin – 9 Comments

    I haven’t been at this book blogging lark for very long, not even a year yet, but it struck me today that we must all have different ways of collecting our thoughts of a book and of organising our reviews.  This thought came to me as I recalled the fact that I had neglected to review a book I’d read in the past month and now, I’d be pushed to remember what happened in the book or even any of the main characters’ names!  Now, some of you might say that it couldn’t have been a very good book but I did enjoy it at the time.  So, either I am still suffering from post-natal brain 7 years on or I should have made notes whilst reading or perhaps it was just one of those books which entertained me at the time but has since vanished into the ether of my brain to be replaced by more pressing concerns like “Is it PE day today and for whom?”, “Do we need more bananas?” and, even, “What day is it today?”.

    So, how do you review books which you have read?  Do you leave them a while to cogitate, digest and mull over the themes?  Do you move straight onto the next book?  Do you make notes, copious or otherwise?  Do you, like me, intend to note down sections which made you gasp but haven’t the heart to turn down the corner of the page or have a handy supply of post its lurking nearby?  Do you review absolutely every book you read?   Do you spend a lot of time on your reviews? (I do as I want to get my message across clearly but I do tend to ramble on…as if you haven’t noticed!)  Would you consider reviewing a book which you did not finish?  That’s a definite no-no for me, silence about a book which I have read/failed to read is very telling.

    So many questions and I hope some of you out there in the blogosphere will share your reviewing methods with me.  I have a sneaking feeling that my somewhat disorganised approach to reading and life in general might not be the norm amongst book bloggers.  However I do find it interesting to hear more about how others approach the reviewing process.  Thanking you in advance – (now, don’t go shaming me by not commenting!! ;-)

    • Share/Bookmark

    Book Blogger Hop

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings on January 28th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

    In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word! This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books! It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!

    This weekend’s bookish question is -

     ”What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?”
    For me, there are three books which are firmly on my bookish radar this year.
    The Thirteen Secrets by Michelle Harrison – the final instalment in a children’s/YA trilogy filled with faeries but not the saccharine sort!
    The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown - not out here in the UK until August 2011, be still my beating heart, I have heard so many good things about this on US book blogs that I am positively salivating at the prospect…
    and last but most definitely not least Gillespie and I by Jane Harris.  I have been eagerly awaiting a new book from this author since I devoured her debut novel The Observations in 2006.  Now to make my life complete, all I need is for Diane Setterfield to follow up her wonderful debut The Thirteenth Tale

    • Share/Bookmark

    Erm..another reading challenge…

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings on January 4th, 2011 by admin – 10 Comments

    Right that’s it…no more..this could get addictive!   As well as the 100 Books in One Year, I have decided to participate in the TBR challenge which basically involves my reading at least 12 books which have languished on my TBR for at least 6 months or more – plenty to choose from!

    So here is my A List (list B to follow…)

    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle ~ David Wroblewski

    the post-birthday world ~ Lionel Shriver

    Kafka on the Shore ~ Haruki Murakami

    Daughter of Fortune ~ Isabel Allende

    Anansi Boys ~ Neil Gaiman

    Crippen ~ John Boyne

    The Little Giant of Aberdeen County ~ Tiffany Baker

    Wise Children ~ Angela Carter

    Still Here ~ Linda Grant

    The Faces of Angels ~ Lucretia Grindle

    The Knife of Never Letting Go ~ Patrick Ness

    The Last Witchfinder ~ James Morrow

    Ahhh, I feel a strange sense of satisfaction that I’ll actually be tackling the “core” of my TBR and giving much needed attention to those poor wallflowers in the Ballroom of Books – let’s hope I don’t stumble during the dance… ;-)

    • Share/Bookmark

    My First Book Challenge!

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings on January 3rd, 2011 by admin – 8 Comments

    I am no longer a book challenge virgin well I think I’m not…technology and I do not always see eye to eye so fingers crossed I have signed up to the challenge correctly and not signed up for some weird wonderful cult instead….

    In order to keep myself focussed reading wise this year I have decided to go for a straightforward, general challenge as hosted by Book Chick City here  I intend to read 100+ books this year, my record keeping has been rather harum scarum this year and hopefully this challenge will help me through periods of readers block etc.  I don’t like to be too limited in what genres I read and very rarely schedule reads, going where the reading muse takes me so I think this is an achievable goal.

    PS I’ve just realised I haven’t done the right link and haven’t properly joined up so bear with me BCC!!! ;-)

    • Share/Bookmark

    Have you been injured by a book when it wasn’t your fault? ;-)

    Posted in Bookish Ramblings, Children's Books on December 9th, 2010 by admin – 13 Comments

     I loved her Little House series of books and particularly enjoyed The Long Winter (apt??) and On the Banks of Plum Creek.  They count among the few books I was able to salvage from my parents’ house after they died and my brother moved in and decluttered! 

    For some reason, I have seen several adult bloggers writing articles on these books in recent weeks, either re-reading them or reading them for the first time.  Some have claimed that there is a deep rooted racism in the stories, that Rose, Laura’s daughter was largely responsible for injecting narrative pace and interest into the autobiographical tales, that Rose was a white supremacist…I’ve also learned a new phrase “manifest destiny”, the belief of many white Americans in the mid 18th century that they had a God given right to colonise all of North America – (I think the British Empire employed that concept too! Stick out tongue)

    Well, knock me down with a feather, but I think I preferred the innocence of reading these books as a child without delving for the subtext or getting on my PC high horse.  I will hold my hands up and confess to reading all of the Narnia series without being aware of the “overtly” Christian themes despite what a recent reviewer wrote “Anyone familiar with Christian beliefs cannot help but notice the symbolism in the Chronicles of Narnia”…… obviously the nuns were not as influential as I thought!  And don’t start me on Enid Blyton whose books delighted me as a child and how traumatised when my sister returned from one term at teacher training college to announce to my parents that I was not to have any more EB books as the lecturers thought they weren’t literary enough – cue me bawling my eyes out!  This was long before the whole racist/sexist attack on EB.

    Anyway, only this week we’ve had a book nominated for the Blue Peter Book Award shortlist and then removed when it was considered unsuitable for very young readers.  It’s hard to keep up with all the changes – one minute we shouldn’t have age ranges recommended for children’s books, the next we should…

    Well, after much digression, did you enjoy the Little House series, the Narnia series, Enid’s tales of fantasy and adventure or have you been emotionally scarred by them – cue the ad saying “having you been injured by a book when it wasn’t your fault!”

    • Share/Bookmark