Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Ravine of the Wild Woman, Algiers - Family Memories by Marie Laval

Our romantic anthology ESCAPE TO AFRICA is published today! This latest offering from the World Romance Writers is a collection of six very different romantic suspense short stories, all set in Africa, and available here for the special price of £0.99.

Let your wild side free and Escape to Africa! Come along on an adventure through these 6 stories brought to you by 6 best-selling, award-winning authors. You will uncover tales of an undercover operative in Casablanca, a safari guide in the Serengeti, students on holiday in Morocco, time-traveling agents in Tripoli, vengeance in Algeria, and deadly secrets in Carthage. Each of these stories will captivate you with love, danger, intrigue, and excitement. What better way to Escape?

When I was asked if I wanted to write a story for the anthology, I didn't hesitate for one second. Africa, and particularly Algeria in North Africa, always held a special place in my heart, and I hope that one day I will be able to visit and see the wonderful landscapes I have dreamt and written about.
Renée Cantrel, my mother, 1950s

My mother was born and brought up in Algiers, the sixth child of the Cantrel family. There was Marcel, who died at Dunkirk on June 1st 1940, Roger, Christiane, and twins Georgette and Guy.

Famille Cantrel, 1940. My mother is standing on the chair. Marcel is in his uniform. 
 My great-grandparents had a mixed and colourful background, since they came from Spain, France and Italy to settle in Algeria in the nineteenth century. They were what French people call 'Pied-Noirs'. They weren't wealthy at all but worked as builders and engineers, although there was always that story that my grandmother's family - the Di Bernardis - were aristocrats and had left their castle near Turin to emigrate to Algeria. I strongly suspect this was just one of those family fantasies handed down from generation to generation...

Paul in his Zouave uniform and his wife Noelie Cantrel
 My grandfather, Paul Cantrel, fought in the Zouaves regiment during the First World War.

Whilst in the trenches in Verdun he formed a friendship with a director from the Maison Godin de Guise - who still to this day manufacture stoves and cookers. They kept in touch after the war and he was appointed sales representative for Godin in Algeria.
The company gave him a car, which I believe the family was exceedingly proud of. Incidentally, the Godins were also 'visionaries' or 'utopian industrialists' who in 1846 built an ideal industrial city for their workers in the North of France, the Familistère, a fascinating building and project which is open to the public (details here).

Marcel, Roger, Christiane and twins Georgette and Guy Cantrel in the Godin company car, some time in the early 1930s
The Cantrel family lived in the Robertsau district of Algiers, and shared a cabanon (literally, a shack) on the coast where my mother said she spent the most carefree and wonderful holidays, swimming and fishing for sea urchins and mussels with her brothers and sisters. Like I said, the family weren't rich, and my mother was often sent to the local grocery shop to get supplies to put on a tab because she was small and cute and the grocer had a soft spot for her. She remembered that tea often consisted of slices of stale bread rubbed with garlic and softened with olive oil.

(I had posted a photo here which I genuinely thought was the summer house my mother's family came on holidays to in the seaside in Suffren, but I was apparently wrong and the copyright holder demanded I removed it, so there you are...)

She came to live in Amiens in the North of France after Algeria became independent in 1962, and found it really hard to adjust to the climate and the 'strange accent' and 'funny ways' of people there. It would be fair to say that people found her strange too. All her life she kept her Pied Noir accent, full of sunshine and quirky words and phrases taken from the Spanish, Arabic or Italian languages. This Pied Noir dialect even has a special name - the Pataouète.

She often talked to my sisters and I about her youth, and filled our heads and imagination with her memories of the Mediterranean sea sparkling under the midday sun, of hidden coves where pirate Barberossa's treasures were rumoured to be buried, of exotic scents, foods and colours. At times it was almost as if we'd been there ourselves.
Garden in Algiers, courtesy of Pixabay
My inspiration for The Ravine of the Wild Woman is a real place in Algiers, close to the Birmandreis Forest, named after a wild woman who lived there in the 1840s. Who was she really? Some said she was a melancholic young woman who had been abandoned by her lover and lived in a cave on the charity of locals. Others claimed she was a young mother who had lost her mind after her children vanished in the forest one day...

Algeria, North Africa, 1865.
Lenora Sharp is Azerwal's perfect woman. Brave, determined and unconventional, she is also related to the man who stole his name, his childhood and his identity - the very man and he has vowed to destroy, even if it takes him all the way to hell. Will love get in the way of revenge, or will Azerwal lose his soul before he loses his heart?

Author Bio
Originally from Lyon in France, Marie has lived in Lancashire, Northern England, for the past twenty-five years. A member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Society of Authors, Marie loves dreaming up romantic heroes and writing love stories. Her native France very much influences her writing and gives her novels 'a French twist'!

You can find more about my novels on

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Romance of the Lake District by Helena Fairfax

I am delighted to have author Helena Fairfax on the blog today. I always love Helena's romantic stories, and I am very much enjoying reading her latest novel, FELICITY AT THE CROSS HOTEL, a wonderful romance set in the spectacular Lake District, which was released last Friday.
Hello Helena and congratulations on the release of your novel. I have to say that I absolutely love your cover! The Lake District has just been designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco, and deservedly so. I am lucky to live not too far away and try to visit at least once a year. We went to Coniston last August and absolutely loved it, even if we had a bit of a misadventure when walking up The Old Man, but that's another story...

Tell me, why did you choose to set your romantic novel in the Lakes?

Is there a better setting for a romance novel than the Lake District? With its spectacular landscape, its green mountains and the shining lakes, Cumbria has been inspiring writers for centuries. In the nineteenth century Cumbria inspired a whole school of poets – the "Lake Poets" of the Romantic Movement. The most famous of these poets is Wordsworth. Nearly every school child has heard of Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils, and in some ways his poetry has become devalued because it's now so often quoted. But actually, even in his day Wordsworth had his critics. Byron once said of him, "What will any reader out of the nursery say to such namby-pamby?"

To be honest, I have to agree with Byron about the "namby-pamby". I find Wordsworth's poetry a bit too simplistic and a little childish in its optimism. Here is the last verse of "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

It's strange that Wordsworth wrote mainly about the gentle beauty of the Lake District – the dancing daffodils - when there is also so much that's dark and dramatic. Besides the romance of the landscape, the setting of the Lake District is also perfect for a novelist because a soft, sunny day can swiftly turn threatening. Patrick Cross, the hero of my novel, is grieving the death of his friend, who died because of an act of recklessness while diving in the still, green waters of the lake. There have been many deaths in the mountains and lakes of Cumbria, and in my book I've dwelt on the contrast between the beauty and the danger of the landscape.

Derwent Water
It's a shame that nowadays some parts of the Lake District are inundated with tourists, and the roads in summer are very often clogged. But it's only in recent times that the Lakes have become a tourist destination, and there are many quieter areas that have remained unchanged for centuries. Alone in this magnificent landscape, away from the traffic, you can't help but feel a part of a long, long history of the soil that stretches back thousands of years.

Lots of people have fallen in love in this wonderful setting, but there are some exceptions. Bill Clinton was famously moved to propose to Hillary for the first time by the shores of Ennerdale Water, but she turned him down. Obviously there are some people who remain unmoved by the romance of the Lakes!
Ennerdale Water, scene of Bill Clinton's proposal, Trevor Harris via Wikimedia Commons
Will love blossom for Patrick Cross and Felicity Everdene, the hero and heroine of my novel? Here is the blurb to Felicity at the Cross Hotel:           

A quaint hotel in the Lake District. The Cross Hotel is the perfect getaway. Or is it?
Felicity Everdene needs a break from the family business. Driving through the Lake District to the Cross Hotel, past the shining lake and the mountains, everything seems perfect. But Felicity soon discovers all is not well at the Cross Hotel …
Patrick Cross left the village of Emmside years ago never intending to return, but his father has left him the family’s hotel in his will, and now he's forced to come back. With a missing barmaid, a grumpy chef, and the hotel losing money, the arrival of Felicity Everdene from the notorious Everdene family only adds to Patrick’s troubles.
With so much to overcome, can Felicity and Patrick bring happiness to the Cross Hotel … and find happiness for themselves?

Author Biography:

Helena Fairfax is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now which is just as well, since these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. Helena walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings. Subscribers to Helena's newsletter receive news of free stuff, competitions with prizes, gossip, and links to cool websites she's been looking at when she should have been writing.

Thank you very much for being my guest today, Helena. I had no idea Bill Clinton has proposed to his Hillary in the Lake District! Congratulations once again on your release. Felicity at the Cross Hotel is a wonderful read.

Amazon universal buy link for Felicity at the Cross Hotel:

Social Media Links

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Author Jenny Twist takes us to beautiful Morocco!

I am continuing my tour of Africa and the authors of the romantic suspense anthology ESCAPE TO AFRICA, which will be released by the World Romance Writers on July 14th as an ebook, and on July 15th as a print book.

Let your wild side free and Escape to Africa! Come along on an adventure through these 6 stories brought to you by 6 best-selling, award-winning authors.

You’ll uncover tales of an undercover operative in Casablanca, a safari guide in the Serengeti, students on holiday in Morocco, time-traveling agents in Tripoli, vengeance in Algeria, and deadly secrets in Carthage. Each of these stories will captivate you with love, danger, intrigue, and excitement. What better way to Escape?

Hello Jenny and welcome. What were your initial thoughts about the theme for the anthology?

When World Romance Writers told me the theme for the next anthology was to be romantic suspense set in Africa, I told them I couldn’t do it since I know nothing about Africa and I don’t even know what romantic suspense means. Then one of my friends said, “I know for a fact you’ve been to Morocco. You’ve got pictures of it all over your Face Book page.” I felt like a complete twit.

Of course I know Morocco. I’ve been there twice and loved it both times.

The problem was it sort of didn’t feel like a foreign country. For a start it’s practically just down the road from me. I live half-way up a mountain in Spain and on a clear day I can see the Rif mountains of Morocco poking over the horizon.

The other thing is that the part of Spain I live in was ruled by the Moors for hundreds of years and was, in fact, the last Moorish stronghold when the Christian monarchs finally drove them out. Our buildings, our landscape and much of our culture was shaped by the Moors. So when I went to Morocco, I found it very familiar.

The major difference was that everything was miles cheaper than in Spain and that you can’t have a beer with your lunch. The only place you can drink alcohol is in tourist hotels. That is, in fact, for me, the only thing that prevents Morocco from being a paradise.

Casa Joya, Jenny's house
How lucky you are to live in such a beautiful place, and in a hot climate. Having suffered many Lancashire rainy and grey summers, I can only envy you! What you tell us about the setting of your story?

Tangiers is a typical tourist town, full of shops, restaurants and hotels. The hotel where we stayed was a delightful example of Old Raj splendour gone to seed. Beautiful carved wooden panelling, a huge ‘Scarlet O’Hara’ staircase sweeping down beneath a gorgeous stained glass skylight. The reception rooms and bars were luxuriously furnished. It was all a little shabby but somehow endearing.

However, upstairs was rather different. At some point someone had had the bright idea of refurbishing all the bedrooms in formica and white plastic. Even the headboards and bedside tables were plastic. This gave you the uncomfortable feeling that you were in a Wendy House.

The pianist in the bar was a total delight. I won’t describe him here, since he figures in the story and I don’t want to spoil it. Just take it from me we had one of the most entertaining nights ever.

Moroccan market, courtesy of Pixabay
We didn’t go on any of the wonderful tours on offer in the hotel lobby, nor did we accept the services of any of the ‘guides’, so perhaps our experience wasn’t typical. We just wandered through the streets, shopping and stopping to eat from time to time. I bought two leather handbags, my friend bought a djellaba (the loose, flowing, Kaftan-like garment beloved of tourists) and my husband bought a pair of bright orange slippers with those pointy toes that curl up at the end. I’ve never seen them since. I wonder what happened to them?

They sound like the kind of fun slippers a genii might like! Where else did you visit in Morocco?

Blue door, Chefchouen
Later we visited Chefchouen . . . it was a joy. The town was founded by Jews driven out of Granada by the Christian monarchs. It is typically Spanish with narrow, winding, cobbled streets lined with stalls, a Moorish fort and a delightful place by the riverbank where the women still do their washing. I was told they all have washing machines but for large or heavy things, such as carpets, they still go to the river. Indeed, when we went we saw all the carpets hanging over the walls to dry.

But the really amazing thing about Chefchouen is that the houses are painted blue! This is nothing to do with Smurf films. Legend has it that that was the Granada style and they brought it with them.
Granada is not painted blue now, so maybe Chefchouen is your only chance of seeing what Granada might have been like under the Moors.
I would go back. I intend to go back. The next time we have guests who are staying long enough to make it worthwhile I want to go again. It seems a shame not to share it. Meantime I have written about it.

I was lucky enough to read your fast-paced romantic suspense story before anybody else, and I really enjoyed it!

Incidentally I still don’t know what romantic suspense is. I googled it and nobody else seems to know either with any degree of confidence. Therefore I have written a sort of thriller with a romance in it and introduced as much suspense as I could.
I would be really grateful for comments on this when the book comes out.

I am sure you will get lots of compliments on your story, Jenny. Thank you very much for being my guest on the blog today.

Here is the blurb for Jenny Twist's story - An Object of Desire
Two students on holiday in Morocco discover that two sinister looking characters are following them. They meet an attractive man who offers to take them to their next destination. All seems well until one of the girls disappears.

ESCAPE TO AFRICA is available for pre-order at the special price of £0.99  here