Author In the Limelight: Rena Rossner

Rena

I’m really happy to welcome Rena Rossner today. She’s an agent at Deborah Harris Literary Agency and an author who lives in Jerusalem. Her amazing (and unutterably attractive!) novel The Sisters of Winter Wood (a magical tale of secrets, family ties and fairy tales weaving through history) is published by Orbit and released on 27 Sept. 2018.

sisters winter wood

Isn’t this book beautiful? Rena’s incredibly busy but I was lucky enough to catch a quick interview with her, after reading a thread she wrote on Twitter (and pinching it, with her permission):

Tracey: Hi Rena. It’s great to have a chance to chat with you again. We go back a few years to the days when we were both posting chapters of our WIPs on the writers’ website, Authonomy (now defunct.) I was thrilled and delighted when, as a novice writer, you invited me to join your LitFic forum, on which we all took turns to have our work critiqued by fellow members ‘under the spotlight’. After a year or so, a small group of us joined together to follow our own imaginary yellow brick road in search of agents or publishers. You helped us all with a spreadsheet of agents  and plenty of querying advice.
We all met up in autumn 2012 in the Peak District. (RIP Judith Williamson.)

yellow brick road crew (2)

Since then, Rena, you’ve gone on to become a world-travelling agent for the Deborah Harris Literary Agency. I’ve enjoyed meeting up with you several times at the London Book Fair and I love to keep up with the goings-on of your family online; like me, you are the mother of several children, and I see from your online pictures that yours are growing up as quickly as mine!

As you write your second (‘nth!) novel – to a deadline – I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts on your writing process.

Rena: Thanks, Tracey. I’ll share something about writing: it sucks. No. I’m just kidding. It is life-giving. It is why we do this thing called books. It is everything. Also: sometimes it really sucks. Getting the perfect beautiful scene you have in your head onto paper can be excruciating.

Tracey: Does being a literary agent help?

Rena: Yes. I’m glad that I’m an agent who is also an author. Because I know how hard it is. But I also know that everyone’s process is different. For example: maybe YOU actually really do love the writing process. I personally love the rewriting process.
It’s not just that my first drafts suck. It’s more than that. My first drafts aren’t books. They are piles of bones. And only when I finish with all the bones can I go back and figure out which bones are missing and what goes where until I make a skeleton. And then I start again.

Tracey: I like the way you describe the process as organic – i.e. flesh and bones – and describe both the pleasure and pain as equally necessary elements of building a book.

Rena: It feels that way. Next I need to add the sinews and the muscles and the organs. The blood flow. And then I start again. Then there’s skin. Then hair. Then facial features. But right now I’m growing bones and it’s the part I hate the most. I like making things pretty. And this is not pretty.

Tracey: It’s not?

Rena: No! Me writing a new book is excruciating. It’s pain. It’s not fun.

Tracey: So why do  it?

Rena: I write because only in rewriting am I able to make the body of the work match what is in my head. And I have to start somewhere. I hate this part of writing because it’s ugly. But I don’t know any other way to do it.

Tracey: Tell me more about your methods of pinning a WIP down on paper.

Rena: I’ve been thinking so much about process. Wondering how I can enjoy this more. And I realized that part of what I enjoy is the research. Yes, it’s falling down rabbit holes and feels like procrastination. But only in research do I make connections b/w all the threads in my head.

Tracey: So how do you solve your mental torment when writing a new book?

Rena: I’m always learning to embrace my process. It’s hard. Especially now that I’m writing a book on a deadline for the first time in my life. But I keep reminding myself: these are just bones. Nobody sees the bones.

Tracey: Nobody Sees the Bones sounds like a great novel title (*makes note*)

Rena: I tell myself that none of what I’m writing now will show. Nobody will ever see this part. Maybe none of these words will make it to the final draft…it helps me keep going. Putting one word in front of the other, even if I know that they are all wrong. But that’s just me.
Anyway. That’s what I have to share. That’s my wisdom from the past painstaking month of trying to grow the bones of my next book. Growing bones is hard. But if I don’t do this part I won’t be able to get to the next part. So I keep going.

Tracey: Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, Rena. Personally, I’ve learned so much from watching you progress through the stages of becoming an incredibly accomplished writer and renowned agent over the past eight years or so. I can’t wait for your novel to be released in September. We’ll have to try and meet up again next year and I can buy a signed copy directly from you. But first, I may have to treat myself to a sneak-peak on Kindle…

 

 

 

The Road is Forested

drivin

In June Phil and I set off in our latest van (RIP the Bus-with-a-woodstove!) For our first-ever trip abroad. We’ve spent years exploring all the corners of the British Isles but this was the first time we’d taken the van on the ferry to Europe. As we now live in Hull, we had only a short drive down the Clive Sullivan way to the ferry. It was exciting to have a cabin of our own, and entertainment laid on for the night. (Yeah, I know: little things please little minds, etc.) We stood on the top deck as we sailed out of the Humber, while Phil helped me plot a future novel, which would involve this very estuary. There was a rainbow to cheer us on our way.

estuary

I can’t say I slept that well – I don’t like total darkness and so I had to keep putting the light on. No worries for Phil though, it takes a lot to wake him up! The next morning, we obtained a free breakfast because the card machine wasn’t working. Then we drove off the ferry and into Holland. We also passed through a corner of Belgium before entering Germany.

bridge, rotterdam

We were headed for Stuttgart and planned to arrive there the following afternoon. (The extra special purpose of the trip was to attend my youngest son’s wedding!) Phil drove and drove and after a while I kept falling asleep and waking up with a snort. It was hot, too. I was pleased when we stopped for the night in the beautiful Mosel Valley, surrounded by vineyards.

 

Fortunately, a wine-tasting session was just about to begin as we arrived. We bought six bottles. Later we went for an evening walk.

river mosel

I had no idea  Holland, Belgium and Germany were covered in so much forest. No wonder there are so many European fairy tales set in the deepest, darkest woods. I was blown away by the Baden Württemberg landscape. I fell in love with Germany.

forest mountain

Forests, forests as far as the eye can see. this is the view from the road and it goes on and on. After another long day of Phil driving, and me falling asleep and waking up to make tea and serve lunch in some of the beautifully-landscaped and well-provisioned laybys (no height barriers or ‘No Overnight Camping’ signs such as we’re accustomed to in the UK, here) We arrived at the final, busy stretch of road into Stuttgart. My son and his wife are both world foot-travellers. They met in Iceland, and I was privileged to be present at the time so I’m so happy he’s married Jacky. They’re planning to live and work in Stuttgart for a few years and they’ve just moved into an apartment. This is the view from their balcony: (as you can see, it’s only a short walk into the forest.)

street to the forest

Phil and I slept in a parking lot by a running track, a short walk from their apartment. The next morning, Jacky took us to the Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart, a library that looks as though it ought to feature in a Sci-Fi film. We climbed up to the roof for an amazing view of Stuttgart. It was humbling to hear of the city being flattened during the Second World War.

 

Phil and I went on into Stuttgart for lunch and a look around.

schloss platz

Schloss Platz

fountain schloss platz

phil stuttgart

That evening, Phil and I met the rest of the family at Jacky’s parents’ house. We were treated to an amazing meal and lots, and lots of wine. The following morning we put on our glad rags and set off from the hotel with some of our new relatives-to-be for the train into Ditzingen where the wedding was to take place at the Rathaus (town hall). There was time to take tea in the market square beforehand.

pre wedding tea with the in laws

I can’t even describe the joy of what followed…

wedding

Leaving the Rathaus, Jacky’s colleagues at the market stall presented the couple with balloons and a vegetable-bouquet. Caat, the dog Zak and Jacky rescued in Catalonia, was present throughout the whole day. Jacky wore a traditional dress that had belonged to her great-grandmother. Luckily, Zak’s outfit matched perfectly.

wedding couple

The three men at the feast are Zak’s father, stepfather and father-in-law 🙂

three men at the feast

Photographs in the park between wedding cake and dinner… (Zak’s dad on the right and stepdad on the left)

fam at the wedding

An outdoor living-room…

garden chair

Ulrika, one of Jacky’s grandmas, made the couple a personalised quilt as a wedding present.

wedding quilt

I’ll finish up with some photos from the second week of Phil’s and my journey…

 

wing mirror view

 

eb town centre

 

campsite

rhine

My Dogs in my Books

Our beautiful, black Labrador, Riley, travelled all over the UK with Phil and I in our former van, the bus-with-a-woodstove. Similarly to ‘Jack’ in my novel The Eliza Doll. Jack lives in a van with his companion, Ellie, who travels the country selling her handmade dolls at craft fairs. Jack is modelled entirely on Riley.

blue streaked sky at Arran

riley me van

It nearly broke our hearts when Riley had to be put down in 2016. He had poisoned himself by eating what we think may have been a death cap mushroom.

Beloved boy

We now have two rescued dogs who were both found on the streets of Romania. Luna, my birthday present two years ago, came to live with us when Riley was still alive. They were a perfect visual contrast and shared a brief love. Luna had been found in a cardboard box…

dogs in box

…on the street in Budapest with her two sisters at the age of about five months. Riley helped her acclimatise to family

black and white

(and beach) life.

Luna Riley beach

In my sixth novel, Luna ‘plays’ Alicia, a white stray dog that adopts my character Maya, while she’s living in a Catalonian mountain community. The Vagabond Mother, as yet unpublished, is the story of a middle-aged woman who takes off with a backpack, in search of her missing son. In the book, Alicia follows Maya as she leaves the community she’s been staying at to hitch hike to Barcelona, and Maya ends up taking her back to the UK with her. Alicia is as loyal, nervous and loving as my own lovely Luna.

Luna

Pixie is the second dog we adopted from Seven Strays Dog Rescue. It was too sad that Riley had to be put down and that Luna was left alone, so we chose a smaller dog to keep her company. Allow me to present introduce Miss Pixie:

Pixie

Pixie was also abandoned in Romania. She had a puppy, who has now also been rehomed in the UK.

pix n pup

Pixie ‘stars’ in my fifth novel (currently out on submission) Sea Babies. Pixie plays a similarly-small, brown dog call Titania (Tatty) who’s dumped on my main character, Lauren. Lauren quickly grows to love Tatty and they explore the wild countryside of Uig on the Isle of Lewis together (see second-to-top picture in this post) and Tatty comforts Lauren while she comes to terms with a recent, drastic change in circumstances

Luna and Pixie love each other, and they love me and Phil and our cat, Pheoby. The Girls (including the cat) are happy whether we’re off on one adventure or another in our van, but also when we cuddle up on the sofa at home.

P and LL and P

both

Oh, and here’s a picture of Pheoby, the camping cat. I really must add a strong, female cat character in my next book…

pheobs

Another Rebecca News!

AR eBookPaper

I’m excited to announce that Another Rebecca (originally published by @InspiredQuill in 2015, will be re-released with a brand-new cover by @wildpressed in September this year.

AR meme

Here’s the blurb:

Rebecca Grey can’t shake off the hallucination she had while in hospital, but her alcoholic mother Bex is too wrapped up in the ‘Great Grief’ of her youth to notice her daughter’s struggle to define dream from reality.
The two of them lurch from one poverty-stricken situation to another. But why does an old woman she has never met believe she is Rebecca’s grandmother, and why did Bex swear to stop living when she was only nineteen?
Another Rebecca is a family story of secrets, interdependency and obsessive love.
Another Rebecca was inspired by the painting ‘There is no Night’ by Jack B. Yeats.

INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Tracey Scott-Townsend on ANOTHER REBECCA

 

1) Comparing the writing of my second novel, Another Rebecca with my first, The Last Time We Saw Marion?

The seeds of both novels were sewn in 1989 when I lived alone in a flat in Hull. I was between two long-term relationships and in the third year of my art degree. I did a lot of writing as well as painting. The Last Time We Saw Marion was a novel from its inception, but Another Rebecca began as a short story, inspired by the painting There is No Night by Jack B. Yeats.
I began my full-time writing career in 2010 when my job as a teacher ended. By this time I had married for a second time, after being a single parent to my four children for ten years. I resurrected the 1989 draft of The Last Time We Saw Marion and completely re-wrote it. While the completed book was doing the rounds of agents and small presses, I started to develop my short story There is No Night into a second novel which became Another Rebecca.
Writing, rewriting and several rounds of edits of my first book had taught me that for me the production of a novel to the standard that I want it to be is a long process

I learned along the way by experimentation and whatever feedback I could glean from multiple rejections of The Last Time We Saw Marion. In writing Another Rebecca I had more experience and also some highly professional input, such as a workshop with one of my most-admired writers, Audrey Niffenegger.

2) Family is an important theme in my writing.

I am a product of the things that have happened to me, the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken. Childhood is a deeply buried influence in anyone.
I believe I’m susceptible to some degree of synaesthesia: a name would always conjure a colour in my mind’s eye and a picture, a snippet of music, a smell or a touch evokes memories in the same way that a film is brought on screen at the touch of a button.
I resurrect memories from my childhood onwards and dissipate them into plot lines. New characters are born from the cells of the disappeared versions of me and my past.
I am a daughter, a sister and a mother. I’ve experienced losses and gains in all of these roles. Because my novels are essentially about the human condition; family, in whatever form it occurs, cannot help but be an important theme to me.

3) Narrative voices.

I tend to use more than one narrative voice in my novels. Initially Another Rebecca was told exclusively from the close first-person perspectives of Rebecca and Bex. But the reader could only see and know what these two claustrophobically intertwined characters were telling us and there was too much story to be told effectively in this way. So I brought in Jack, Rebecca’s father, as the third first-person narrator. He also steps back and gives us a wider view of the character of Bex in the past which helps to give us the full story.

4) The settings in Another Rebecca.

The book is set in England and Ireland. Skegness, where Rebecca lives at the beginning of the story, was my local seaside town when I lived in Lincoln. Rebecca then moves to a caravan in a Lincolnshire village which is based on the real village of North Scarle where I lived in a caravan when I was Rebecca’s age. My father built a house on the site.
Rebecca visits her aunt in County Leitrim, Ireland, where my sister lived for a long time. Then Rebecca goes to live in a fictional house in the village of Newtown Linford in Leicestershire. I have been camping with my children in this district for more than 20 years, so I know the area well. It’s on the edge of Bradgate Park. This is the home of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen of England, who appears to Rebecca in the park and gives her some salient advice. I’m familiar with the location because I go to a camp in some adjacent woodland every year, and we always take a walk through the village to the park.

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The Maiden Quartet

MAIDEN YOUNG

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Stood in Assembly
Tension in the back of my neck
I thought everyone would notice
How my head
Trembled on its stem.

Someone told me I’d been
Left on the shelf.
Up there in the dust
I hardly knew myself.

Walked out of school on the last day
Disappeared from memory.

0DD3C668-E913-456E-810F-9932750DDCDCMy sociology teacher
Once told me I was beautiful
I can’t remember
In what context
But it was during a group meal
On a college trip to Cambridge.

CF458272-6ED8-4BE2-A4F3-6DCE9B789709I left home
And went to sleep on my sister’s floor.
Sometimes she let me sleep in her bed
If she was bringing someone back
And needed time to decide
But then I had to move again
In the middle of the night.

Sitting in a crowded room,
The air thickened by a smoky haze
Dustmotes danced on rays
Music played, top volume.
There were endless cups of tea.
I never knew what to say.

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My sister accompanied me
To the family planning clinic
Saying I should always be
Prepared.

It was on a blue and yellow day
When I met him.
We clashed eyes in a noon-time club.
My sister was there, we both knew his brother
I felt he and I
Recognised each other.
We fell out of the dim interior
Into sunlight, traffic noise
And Saturday shoppers.

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I felt the hairs on his arm brush mine
As we walked side by side
On the busy street.
Sunshine forced my eyes into a squint
And tiny stones from the pavement
Got caught between my sandal soles
And my bare feet
But most of all I was aware
Of our electric arm hair.

when it was perfect

I wore a belted shirt
With knees-ripped jeans
My hair henna-red.
His t-shirt sparkled white,
And he carried a leather jacket
The sun made a golden halo
Around his head.

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We chatted, glanced shyly at each other
And smiled
Weaving our way through crowds
On the summer Saturday streets.
When were young
And not quite holding hands.

MAIDEN RENEWED

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With the radio she sings Sail Away
Rocking with her arms around herself,
Forgetting the damp laundry in the hallway but

Remembering his fingers on the keyboard
And later on her skin.
When the children are away
She’s a renewed maiden
She dances now like she danced with him
When he told her she was so tempting

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Gripped her hand so tightly
She felt his fingers on her bones
Honey, sail away with me
But she was tied to family and home
The youngest of her children only three.

Clouds threaten the perfect sky
She lugs the basket onto the trodden grass,
Thinking of insects underfoot
Going about their daily business.
A wren flits from the birdhouse in a tree.
She lifts her arms to the washing line
Feels the first spots of rain
Too late now to get the laundry dry
But she hangs it out anyway
Takes the empty basket back inside.

garden fig final

A text pings from her mobile
Sorry, I won’t be there this weekend
He says there’ll be an email to follow
She steps over disappointment like the
Children’s toys,

allathighdyke
Hugs herself again,
Thinks about tidying
But there’s too much crap to sort through.

She flops down on the sofa
Hands pressed into eyes, to stop the crying.

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He burrowed into her shoulder
As they lay on this sofa
The last time her children were away
He’d said: You’re just so likeable
But it hadn’t been enough
To make him stay.
They’d all used similar terms: Soft as shit,
And: You’re just too nice
As if this was the crime for which she’d pay.

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A woman sings on the radio
In a voice like liquid
Rain flicks on the windows and
She watches it stream down the glass.
Now men will want her, the words go,
‘Cause life don’t haunt her
But neither line is true.

And all the time she’s crying
The washing’s still out on the line,
Not drying.

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Two years out of marriage, she’d
Made it back to maidenhood
Everything closed,
To be reopened.
Older but no less naïve, if not more.
Four children, four!
Proved to be more of a barrier than she’d thought.

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In the hot tub
He said he had to take the risk
Of never finding another like her
Whose children were too many. In the end
He chose a woman with only two
And twice her income.
That loss, of self-esteem, of hope,
Was the one that hurt the most.

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Singing water, singing hands,
Hot water on the underside of her skin
The cold rain glancing from above,
Leaves trapped in a circle of light
Around the hot tub.

BSS poetry
They sat there late into the night,
Are you all right there, honey? Sail away with me, honey.
But she was too late.
I most definitely do love you, he said
But I have chosen Kate.

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The last things she saw of him
Were the buttons on his uniform
And when she later heard an aeroplane
She buried her face in her own hair,
Refusing to look into the air.

After a train journey home, for the first time
She took the grief into her family.
She resisted its rise into resentment,
Like yeast in dough.
She battled its attempt to subsume her
And she wrestled it to the ground.

field (2)

MOTHER of the MAID

When she comes in the house
You shout Hi
But you hear the door slam
And it makes you want to cry
Because you know the confusion
Behind her face
You were once there
In a similar place.

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She thinks she hates you
But you know you love her
And the one thing that’s sure
Is that you’re her mother
She’s so raw and tender
You try hard not to break her

But you still feel hurt
When she places cold remarks
Around your fragile motherwall
More than anything
You want to hear her laugh and sing
Like she did when she was small

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But there’s no sticking plaster
Or magic kiss
Or tell-her-a-story that will fix
The broken world that makes her sad
And that makes you mad.

Then she sees your anger
And she thinks it’s against her
But it never was
It was always because
You were powerless
To help her.
All you could do
Was strengthen your motherwall
For her to beat her fists upon
And get stronger.

face traces1 (2)

You’re proud of her
But nervous too
Because she’s a carbon copy of you
And you wouldn’t know what to do
If she did all the things you used to.

You wish she was stronger
Than you think you were
And you wish she could see
That she’s so lovely
Like you never felt.

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You want her to embrace
All the things you couldn’t face
But most of all you hope
She stays safe.

You want her to be happy
Whatever she does
Everything’s her own choice
She has her own voice

dustmotes on suns rays

The one fear you had
Was that she’d be taken advantage of
Mentally or physically.
You feared that she
Wouldn’t be accepted for
The person she is.

You hope you can teach her about relationships
But you want her to make decisions that are sage
And not take on the worries
You had at her age.

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You wonder who she’ll choose
To partner her in life
And hope that it’s someone
Who walks alongside
Without an agenda of dominance
Or pride.

You picture the babies that she
Might have
And if so, hope she experiences the joy
And love
And accomplishment
Of maternal nourishment
Like you did.

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You hope she remembers
You’ll always be there
For a reboot or some mothering care
And that it
Gives her the strength not to
Take any shit.
From anyone.

MAIDEN REMADE

We carve water with our hands
Shape ripples
Plough channels.
We inhale,
We exhale,
We leave a trail of bubbles
In our wake.

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We sculpt the silver element
Painting light on its surface
Drawing lines in it with our bodies
We stroke the waves.
Groom the water
That filters like silk
Through our fingers.

We inhale,
We exhale.

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Our bodies feel weightless,
Slipping like seals
Through the foam.
We reform
Underwater,
Emerge on dry land
Unfamiliar
Like a new body
Has taken us over.

It works differently,
Giving more time
To our mind.

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We can’t see clearly without our glasses on
Though clearer, in some ways
Than ever before.
We don’t mind the folds of flesh
Unfolding
As we undress.
We let our bodies fall
Into place
When fabric releases us.

We’re not here to people-please
In our nakedness.
We have dry skin,
Red patches appearing,
Feminine ‘issues’
And hot flushes
As we
Transition
Into the remade maiden.

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In the changing room we once
Held a baby on the bench with our knee
While we
Struggled to dress ourselves,
A toddler pulling at our clothes.

Now we shed our clothes
With hands free,
Thinking of how
Those days
Seem no more than a moment ago.

Wrapping our spectacles carefully
To avoid breakage
We close the locker.
Fumble our way to the pool-entrance
And slip into the water.

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Poem (2018) and all artwork (c) Tracey Scott-Townsend. Images of performance captured from phone video-footage shot by Kirsten Luckins of Apples & Snakes. @applesNorth @arcstockton #Derangedpoetesses #maidens

Performance “MAIDENS” for Deranged Poetesses, an Apples & Snakes commission at Arc Stockton on 10th March 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On accepting the inevitable…

The good, the bad (and the ugly) of ageing: Terry Tyler’s thoughts

I constantly remind myself to maintain a positive attitude on getting older because my older sister’s life finished when she was six years younger than I am now.  Something that never fails to shock me. Maybe there’s a new blog post in that. But for now, I’m focussing on women’s views on their own ageing process. I recently wrote a post for A Daydreamer’s thoughts blog. You can read it here: My thoughts

Ocean_woman_

 

The Eliza Doll by Tracey Scott-Townsend

Thank you to Sharon Booth for this wonderful review of The Eliza Doll!

Sharon Booth

Ellie can’t work out whether she’s running away from the past or towards a future she always felt she should have had. She left university and had baby after baby without even meaning to. But it was her third child she blamed for ruining her life.

Now her children have grown and Ellie is on her own. She shocks everybody by selling her home and moving into a converted van to travel the country selling handmade dolls at craft fairs.

It can be lonely on the road. Ellie has two companions: her dog, Jack, and the mysterious
Eliza who turns up in the most unexpected places. At every encounter with Eliza, Ellie feels as if she’s standing again in the aching cold of a waterfall in Iceland, the sound of crashing water filling her with dread.

Ellie can’t change the past. But is it really too late to rectify the…

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