Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Books #9: With Helena Halme to the Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea


Meet Helena Halme, Finnish author

I’m delighted to welcome my Finnish author friend, Helena Halme, who although now living in London and married to “The Englishman” who inspired a series of novels, is here to talk to us about her Love on the Island series, set on the Åland Islands, situated in the middle of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden.

This fast-growing series of romantic novels plunges us into Åland Island life, and so far four titles are available, with the fifth due out later this year. 

The Island Affair (Book 1)
An Island Christmas (Book 2)
The Island Daughter (Book 3)
An Island Summer (Book 4)
The Island Child (Book 5)

Over to Helena to tell us more about them…

All the books follow Alicia, whose teenage son, Stefan, dies in a motorcycle accident in London. After her marriage breaks up with the British surgeon Liam, returns to her native islands and has a passionate affair with the Swedish journalist Patrick. 

Alicia’s tumultuous relationship with both Patrick and Liam spans the series. We also meet Alicia’s mom, Hilda, her best friend Brit, and her late son’s girlfriend Frida. The four women’s relationships face difficulties as babies are born and elderly parents die. There are long-held family secrets, newly found love, as well dark mysteries on the islands which threaten to destroy both Alicia, her family, and friends.

Helena, what makes the Åland Islands such a great setting for your stories?

Islands have always fascinated me, mainly because they are such contained places, both physically and culturally.

There are no bridges between the mainland and the Åland Islands, so you have to either travel by sea or fly in order to reach the islands. They are also a huge tourist spot, with a small population tripling during the summer months. On top of all that, the islands lie closer to Sweden but are an autonomous part of Finland, where the official language is Swedish.

Is it any wonder that the islanders are very independent and don’t consider themselves either Swedish or Finnish.

There are all kinds of special rules attached to the islands. For example, you cannot own land unless you are a resident and you have to be able to speak Swedish to gain residency, which is a sore point to many Finns. 

The islands are a tax-free zone, which increases tourism but also encourages cruise liners to make briefest of stops to the islands when the passengers never even have time to set one foot on land. 

All this make the islanders quite insular and quirky. Perfect for a novelist!

landscape of island
Typical view of houses, sheds and boats on Aland islands

What is your relationship with Åland Islands and how much of your life have you spent there?

I have a very personal reason why I set my books on the Åland Islands. For the past thirty years, my mother has been living on the islands (she’s married to a local farmer) and I’ve become ‘a summer islander’ as the locals call me.

I’ve wanted to set a story on the islands for a long time, but it wasn’t until I dreamt up the characters that I was able to do it. Alicia, especially, didn’t really come to me until I had explored many kinds of stories set in Åland. 

In my imagination, there was always a locally brought up woman returning to the islands from the UK, because this is something I myself dreamt of doing. (I didn’t want to leave my Englishman, though, so it never happened!) 

When I discovered Alicia and the tragic story of the loss of a son, I knew I had an idea for a series. I don’t know any mother who doesn’t constantly fear that something like that happens to their children. Wouldn’t you want to go home where you felt safe in such an awful circumstance? And wouldn’t your marriage suffer? Especially if you blame your husband for the accident as Alicia does?

What challenges do your characters from beyond the island face dealing with the local people?

The person most at odds with the local islanders is Alicia’s ex, Liam. While their son was alive, the family would spend a couple of weeks each summer on the islands, which Liam resented.

Firstly, he didn’t like the food. There’s so much heavy rye bread and other stodgy, strange dishes. And who eats raw herring? 

He hated the daily ritual of the sauna. It’s too hot and, he’s certain, bad for your heart. He never learned the language, although the island folk don’t speak much in general, preferring silence to small talk. Which Liam also found odd, and, frankly, rude. On top of everything, Liam gets seasick and hates flying, the only two ways you can reach the islands.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the Åland Islands?

Definitely do arrive by sea, either via Finland or Sweden. The archipelago is stunning any time of the year. 

The summer is the best season to visit. During any other time of the year, the islands and their residents go into a kind of hibernation.

My children used to say that  during the last week of our holiday in August when the schools had already started on the mainland, there was tumbleweed rolling along the main shopping street of Mariehamn, the capital of the islands. 

image of islands across the water

Another top tip is to eat as much of the local food as possible. Liam is wrong: it’s all fresh and lovely and delicious. Try the local speciality, a clafoutis-like oven-baked pancake, Ålandspannkaka. It’s served with local plum preserve and whipped cream. Washed down with a cup of strong coffee, naturally. Unmissable! 

Where will your next book be set?

The next book in the series, The Island Child, is again set on the Åland Islands. The story centres around Brit, Alicia’s best friend who after travelling the world has settled on the islands with a local sea captain, Jukka. But her past comes knocking with an unpleasant character bringing a nasty surprise to the heavily pregnant Brit. To complicate things, just as Brit is about to give birth, Jukka’s ship runs aground outside Mariehamn. With Alicia’s mother Hilda onboard…

The story will also touch on Alicia’s continuing love triangle with her Swedish lover Patrick and her ex-husband, Liam. Alicia’s mother Hilda also has a new love interest!

The Island Child will be out before Christmas, but is now on pre-order.

EXTRACT from An Island Christmas

This is a short excerpt from the second book in the Love on the Island series, An Island Christmas. It’s a scene set on Christmas Eve, the main day of celebrations on the islands. It’s Alicia’s first Christmas back and she wants the day to be perfect, but her plans are disrupted by the unwelcome arrival of someone she’s decided to forget …

Patrick turns into the Ulsson’s drive and parks the car next to a VW Golf. He turns off his lights and stays in the car for a moment. On the passenger seat is a paper bag filled with Christmas presents wrapped up expertly by one of the assistants at the fashionable interior design shop in town. They are beautifully understated, in white paper with wide red ribbons. 

There’s also the large box containing a magnum of vintage champagne resting on the floor of the car. He wonders if that is overkill. Should he perhaps leave the bottle behind and fetch it later, if he gets a good reception from Alicia?

He gazes up to the house, shining brightly in the dark afternoon light, the downstairs windows decorated with large star lanterns. The freshly fallen snow has formed a blanket over the sloping roof and the landscape. With the large pine draped with white lights, the whole scene looks serene and festive, like a TV advert.

Damn it, be brave. 

Hilda will appreciate the champagne, he’s sure, so he picks up the box, takes hold of the paper bag, slams the door of his car, and makes his way up to the house.

‘Who’s that?’ Hilda asks.

Alicia cannot believe her eyes. She watches as Patrick gets out of the car, picking something up from the passenger seat. She has her phone against her ear, still talking to Frida. The baby is crying in the background.

‘Can I ring you later?’ Alicia says and ends the call.

‘Is that who I think it is?’ Hilda says, her mouth open, forming an ‘o.’

‘What the hell does he think he’s doing?’ Alicia says and hurries to the door. 

But Patrick is quicker than she is, and by the time she opens the door, he is already standing there, a wide grin filling his face. He’s carrying a bag full of presents and a large box.

‘Surprise!’ he says.

Alicia stands there, dumbfounded. She cannot speak.

‘Can I come in?’ Patrick asks. ‘It’s bloody cold out here.’

‘Patrick, what a lovely surprise!’ Hilda says. She’s standing behind Alicia, who’s unable to move or speak. At her mother’s words, she turns to scowl at Hilda. She widens her eyes at her daughter. ‘Come now, let the poor man in. He must be freezing.’

Patrick smiles at Hilda and steps past Alicia, who is still holding onto the door handle. Alicia gets a waft of his perfume and the smell of the crisp outside. She tries not to let his rousing presence affect her judgment. 

What is he playing at? He must know Liam is here?  

‘Alicia, close that door before we all catch our death,’ Hilda says.

God Jul!’ 

Patrick hugs Hilda. He hands her the box he’s holding and when she sees what it is, she exclaims, ‘Oh, my goodness. Thank you and Merry Christmas to you too!’

‘I’m sorry I’ve come unannounced, but I thought I’d drop my presents off. I didn’t get a chance to do it before today, but I won’t keep you.’ 

With that, he turns around and hands her the bag of presents.

‘Happy Christmas, Alicia.’ His voice is soft and he bends down to give her a kiss on the cheek while grabbing the door handle, ready to go back outside.

‘Patrick, you can’t leave without at least having a drink with us!’ Hilda exclaims.

‘I couldn’t possibly, it’s a family occasion,’ Patrick says.

Alicia rolls her eyes at him, but he either doesn’t see her or ignores her on purpose and, smiling at Hilda, continues, ‘If you’re sure?’


Visit her website and follow her lively Instagram account at


If, like Helena Halme (and Agatha Christie!), you love stories set on islands, you can also take a trip to Ithace, Greece in the company of Sophie Sayers in my sixth novel about her, Murder Your Darlings.

Shortlisted for the Selfies Award 2021, given to the best independently-published adult novels in the UK



Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Books #8: With JJ Marsh to Salzburg, Austria

headshot of JJ Marsh
Meet JJ Marsh, author of psychological thrillers and crime novels

Today I’m delighted to welcome JJ Marsh to whisk us away to Salzburg, Austria, the setting of her new psychological thriller, Wolf Tones. I’ve never been there, but it’s a city I feel I know at least a little, thanks to watching The Sound of Music multiple times. Of course, Salzburg is also the birthplace of Mozart, and it’s the city’s classical music tradition, rather than the exploits of the Von Trapp Family Singers, that permeate Wolf Tones, and I enjoyed its portrait of how orchestras and professional musicians live and work, as well as the gripping plot. Over to JJ Marsh to tell us more!

cover of Wolf TonesFirst, please tell us a little more about Wolf Tones and why you set it in Salzburg. 

Wolf Tones is a psychological thriller set in the world of classical music. The Austrian city of Salzburg is the perfect backdrop to my story of dark truths behind an austere facade.

What makes this place such a great setting for thisstory?

Music is everywhere in Salzburg; in churches, in parks, in concert halls and in the street. The legacy of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is inescapable: his birthplace, house, statues and of course, his music are defining features of this city.

It’s also extraordinarily beautiful, with a hilltop castle overlooking the city and the Salzach river flowing past Baroque buildings. In fact, the Altstadt (Old Town) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s formal and organised and on the surface, well behaved.

I wanted my character to be thrown into a stiff and very proper environment, both in terms of the orchestra and his surroundings, where he struggles to adapt and learn who to trust.

Photo of hill-top castle in Salzburg
(Photo by Sebastian Mittermeier via

What is your relationship with Salzburg and how much of your life have you spent there?

Usually I make a point of visiting my locations to ensure authenticity, if only for a weekend mini-break. But I wrote this book in 2020/21, slap-bang in the middle of the pandemic, when travel to other countries was out of the question. So I was dependent on research, friends’ experiences and picking Austrians’ brains.

That said, I live in Zürich. Switzerland has a great deal in common with its next-door neighbour. Café culture, the language, architecture, food and the alpine countryside create a similar atmosphere. My very first trip in two years will be to Salzburg.

(Photo by Reiseuhu via

Your protagonist comes from elsewhere – what challenges does he face dealing with the local people of Salzburg?

Rolf, the main character, comes from Bratislava in Slovakia. Many Slovaks speak German or English as a second language, but Rolf has some gaps in his education so finds navigating daily life using German and speaking English in the multi-national orchestra a huge challenge.

What are the distinguishing features of Salzburg in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?!

Probably the best known fact about the city is its role in The Sound of Music. All the iconic locations in the film are in and around Salzburg: Maria’s convent where the Nonnberg nuns still sing Gregorian choral music at 06.45 every day; the Mirabell gardens and fountains seen when the children learn Do-Re-Mi; the Felsenreitschule, where the von Trapp family perform their patriotic songs just before fleeing from the Nazis to Switzerland.

(Photo by Kateryna-jw via

As for flora, obviously Edelweiss. These woolly white flowers are rare and only grow on the mountains above 2000 metres. Austrians and Swiss both claim it as their national flower.

You can take walking, cycling and bus tours to visit all the movie landmarks, but your companions will probably be British and American tourists. In the German-speaking world, the film is largely unknown.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

Eat cake! Flaky apple strudel, refined chocolate Sachertorte, the fabulous marbled Gugelhupf or shiny groovy Rehruecken, accompanied by a cup of classic Austrian coffee.

Where is your latest book set?

Rio Negro, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Black River is the second in my Run and Hide series, out October 2021.

Where will your next book be set?

Macau, on the Pearl River Delta between Hong Kong and China. I just hope they make decent cakes…


cover of Wolf TonesThey spent Sunday morning arranging their new apartment to Leonor’s liking, ate a simple lunch of tinned goulash and walked out to enjoy the sunshine. Hand-in-hand, they strolled the streets, delighting in the blossoms and civic floral displays. Salzburg, in his mind, was clean and white. But his one and only visit had been in the wintry days of February. Now it was a riot of colour with green buds and grassy parks and flowers everywhere. The wide, muddy Salzach River flowed through the city, much like the Danube through the Slovakian capital, lending a sense of openness and light. Rolf had left Bratislava to come to Salzburg, but the river was headed in the opposite direction. The water rushing past his feet would continue its journey to the Danube, past his home town and eventually into the Black Sea.

Selfies against the backdrop of the castle, a coffee and pastry, the obligatory visit to Mozart’s birthplace and a pause to listen to a string quartet in one of the many beautiful squares. It was almost too much to take in, although as far as the quartet was concerned, he had some doubts about the second violinist’s fingering technique. Street performers puzzled him. The casual interest of passers-by was nothing like the breathless attention of a concert hall audience. Rolf was relieved he’d never have to play in the street like a busker. Fine for these music students, of course. It was a way to cut their teeth, but not appropriate for a professional.

Read the first chapter on JJ Marsh’s website here:


Visit her website:


Or take a trip to the Cotswolds any time, through the pages of my own fiction books.

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Books #2: From the Caribbean to Exmoor with Helen Hollick

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As a longstanding fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland, which I first visited in the original theme park in California at the age of eight, I was delighted to discover when I first met Helen Hollick that one of the series of historical novels she writes has as its hero a charming pirate Captain Jesemiah Acorne whose adventures often take him to the Caribbean.

The smash-hit Jack Sparrow films came much later than the theme-park ride,  and I believe it’s the only case of the ride inspiring the film rather than the other way around.

Just like the ride and the films, Helen’s pirate novels plunge you into the Caribbean, amongst other places, including, closer to her home and mine, the rolling hills of Exmoor in Devon. I’m delighted to welcome Helen to my blog today to tell us all about her travels with her books!

headshot of Helen Hollick
Helen Hollick, author of historical, fantasy and contemporary fiction

Hello, Helen, and welcome! To set the scene, could you please your books’ setting on the globe

Now, this is going to be one of those ‘which one shall I use?’ moments. You see, my Sea Witch Voyages are set in various locations because they are, well, voyages aboard a ship – the Sea Witch – with a pirate and his crew. Captain Jesamiah Acorne finds himself getting into trouble from Jamaica to Devon, from Virginia to the Bahamas via Cape Town, South Africa! However, as it is rather cold here in the UK at the moment, let’s head for somewhere warm …Port Royal, Jamaica!

Please briefly describe the books you have set in the Caribbean.

When The Mermaid Sings is a prequel novella to my Sea Witch Voyages series telling the story of how Jesamiah fled his home in Virginia because of his bullying elder half-brother. He is seeking a sailor friend of his father – but ends up finding more than he bargained for: the ghost of his father, Captain Morgan, a mermaid – and the start of a life of piracy!

What makes Port Royal, Jamaica, such a great setting for fiction?

Back in the late 1600s Port Royal was known as ‘The Wickedest Town In The World’ because of all the pirates and privateers who dropped anchor in the harbour. So much looted Spanish treasure was taken there, even servants were well off financially.

Unfortunately, in 1692 a massive earthquake destroyed most of the town and killed thousands of people.

The harbour remained, but the town was never rebuilt – Kingston was established on the other side of the bay instead. I wanted to make When The Mermaid Sings a partial ghost story, so Port Royal was an ideal location for Jesamiah to go to.

What is your relationship with Jamaica and how much of your life have you spent there?

None at all! I’ve never been to the Caribbean – however, later in the series (Ripples In The Sand, Voyage Four and On The Account, Voyage Five,) I bring Jesamiah and his wife (he’s grown up since When The Mermaid Sings) to Devon, England, so I have many scenes set in and around Barnstaple on the North Devon coast, and on Exmoor, both of which I know very well as I live nearby!

What is special about the people native to Devon?

May I mention one real person in particular? My previous editor, Jo Field, now retired, used to live at Instow not far from Barnstaple. I used to live in East London, so visited her twice a year for a writer’s chinwag and a holiday. It was because of where she lived that I decided to bring Jesamiah (and his ship, Sea Witch) to Devon, and consequently I also fell in love with the place. In 2012 we won the lottery (on the opening night of the London Olympics) and decided to move to Devon.

I hadn’t realised, all those times that I came on the train to visit Jo, travelling from Exeter to Barnstaple, that I would be passing right by the house I now live in!

I can see a section of the Tarka Line railway as it winds through the Taw Valley from my bedroom window – it’s like looking down on my very own real model railway!

If your protagonist or other characters come from elsewhere, what challenges do they face dealing with the local people?

Jesamiah was born in Virginia, the son of an English privateer and a Spanish mother. I rather assume he would have a typical Colonial Virginian accent – which is quite far removed from the Devon dialect. When he first sets foot ashore at Appledore he has a bit of a job understanding some of the Devonshire words, as the following excerpt from Ripples In The Sand shows:


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The rain had started to lash down as Jesamiah kicked open the door to the Full Moon and negotiated his way through, taking care not to scrape or bump Tiola enfolded in his arms and wrapped in a swathe of blankets.

    The landlady, a homely woman in her early thirties, bustled from behind the counter concern bubbling from her as energetically as the wisps of hair escaping beneath her lace cap. “Oh my, the poor maid looks nigh on exhausted.” She shooed away an elderly man sitting before the fire, ushering him to another seat. “Set ‘er down ‘ere Cap’n. The girl’s lighted the vire upstairs an’ put a pan in t’warm the sheets. It be a nice corner room overlookin’ the harbour, it’ll do you cheerily.” She pursed her lips and tutted. “I suggest you keep them shutters closed ‘cross the smaller side winder though, sir. The view o’ the drang oft’n be not respec’able.”

     Grumbling beneath his breath the old man, as bald as a coot but with a great bush of a white beard, took his half empty tankard of cider along with his pipe and baccy pouch, and shambled to a settle near the window. He sat, sniffed disdainfully and wiped his nose on the cuff of his coat, which he ostentatiously drew closer around his chest, then turned the collar up against the draught. “It be goin’ t’snow on them moors,” he predicted. “Prob’ly ‘ere an’ all. Vruzzen in us’ll be.”

     “Drang?” Jesamiah queried, not recognising the word and struggling to understand the conversation. Tiola had a slight Cornish burr, but his ear was not attuned to this unfamiliar Devon dialect. He shrugged, guessed he would pick it up soon enough.

     The old man chuckled. “Nowt wrong with Cock Lane tha’ an ‘ealthy man can’t be makin’ good use ov.”

     Getting the gist of the statement Jesamiah raised an eyebrow, was about to repeat his ‘drang’ question, but let it pass.

The typical ‘pirate speak’ that we think of (‘arr’ and such) actually originates from Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in Treasure Island. He was a Cornishman so improvised his West Country accent. Many sailors – and pirates – came from Cornwall, Devon and Bristol, so all had a similar accent, including Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

What are the distinguishing features of one of the destinations you write about in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?

I will take us to Exmoor, as I know it better than Jamaica. (Although as I write this, in mid-January, I believe it is snowing up on the moors, so Jamaica would be warmer!)

Wild Exmoor ponies

Exmoor is a wild place – it is even home to the wild Exmoor ponies (we have three moorland bred ponies of our own on our farm). The moor was made famous by RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, and indeed I have borrowed the Doones and used their fictional descendants in Ripples and Account.

Valley of the Rocks, Exmoor (photo copyright Cathy Helms)

The north coast of Exmoor rises steeply from the sea, giving glorious views, although usually also windswept ones. There is a particular geological features of rocky outcrop that looks a little like the ruins of a castle. Many Victorian poets visited this incredible geological feature, Robert Southey in August 1799, was impressed, describing it as ‘… the very bones and skeletons of the earth’.

In On The Account, Jesamiah’s wife, Tiola Oldstagh (who is actually a white witch) spends the night on Exmoor, described in the following extract:

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An hour after dusk had settled into the star-frosted night, Tiola fed another stick into her meagre fire. The wood was damp and it gave off more smoke than heat, but it was better than nothing up here on the windswept openness of Exmoor’s exposed coast. She was sheltered in the hollow behind the magnificent tor of rocks that separated the valley from the sea, three hundred feet below. A place steeped in myth, legend and mystery. It was said that the Devil had resided in a castle of rock with his many wives, but angered at their infidelity he had blasted the eyrie to pieces. All that remained were the bare, jagged bones; the skeleton rocks piled stone upon stone. Nothing but a story, an old tale to explain the strangeness of a natural glacial formation – the Devil did not exist, but Tiola was aware that something was lurking out there in the darkness, watching her.

     The stick flared into flame and the light caught the glint of an eye a few yards off. Tucking a loose strand of her black hair behind her ear, Tiola calmly added more wood to the fire and smiled to herself. This was the Valley of the Rocks, known also for the herds of feral goats that thrived on the coarse sea-salt grass. A huffed snort and a stream of misted breath evaporated into the cold air. A wild pony then, not a goat; one of the distinctive two-thousand-year-old Exmoor breed with their thick, weather-resistant, shaggy coats and light-coloured muzzles. Had she borrowed such a pony from the stables at Tawford Barton she would be at her destination by now, but her mission was secret and she wanted to know who had been watching her these past seven days, and had followed her, this night, up on to the moor.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

To Jamaica – watch out for pirates, and parrots who have learnt to sample the beer from kegs in the taverns … of course, that only applies if you can also time travel back to the 1690s!

To Exmoor – take stout walking boots and something warm and dry to wear. Even on sunny days it is windy up there… but breathtakingly beautiful.

Helen Hollick hangs on to her hat on Exmoor!

‘Only in Port Royal…’ name three things that could only happen there!

  1. In November 1720 you would have seen the trial of Anne Bonney and Mary Reed, the female pirates who sailed with Calico Jack Rackham. Mary died in gaol, Rackham was hanged, but no one knows what happened to Anne.
  2. Time travel back a little further, and you could meet Captain Morgan, who was a privateer against the Spanish, but then became Governor of Jamaica … and yes, he is the Captain Morgan who gave his name to the rum!
  3. ‘Jamaica Gold’ – pineapples – used to be  highly valuable because Jamaica was one of the few places where they grew, were easy to harvest and transport back to the Colonies – and even England.
stone pineapple on a building
Spot the pineapple!

Because of its rarity, and the difficulty in keeping it fresh during a long sea voyage, the pineapple was regarded as the food of the wealthy. For the well-to-do, ‘visiting’ either for afternoon tea, or to dine, was one of the prime sources of entertainment. Social intercourse was a way to show off what you had, and an essential way to keep up with the local gossip and news. Status, and the ability to show it, was an essential element. Keeping up with the Joneses is nothing new!

The Colonial hostess would seek subtle ways to brag about what she had, and would take great pains to outdo her neighbours. Elegant furniture, sumptuous and elaborate gowns, exquisite china and silver tableware, fine linens, expensive tea… Food was displayed on platters and arranged in elaborate pyramid styles, often dripping with sugar. Dinner was a culinary delight and always extravagant.

The laid table would be kept as a surprise, behind closed doors until the moment to reveal all came. Fresh fruit was a grand thing to be displayed, but topping it all would be the pineapple. It was rare, expensive, and wonderful to look at, touch – and eat. It was the crowning celebrity-status glory of the feast.

Have you ever noticed stone pineapples outside houses? To have one on display at a dinner party meant you’d made it to the top of the tree – but fruit doesn’t stay fresh for long, so it soon became popular to place stone ones on gateposts and such to indicate a wealthy household, and also as a sign of welcome. So keep an eye out for the not-so-humble pineapple!

Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?

Dozens, but I am going to cheat and select Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier.  It was – still  is – a real pub, on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, named by the Trelawney family who founded it in 1750, from the money they made in Jamaica – and for the smuggled rum which passed through on its way from Cornwall to London. Du Maurier wrote her story after being stranded there in thick fog one night.

Where is your latest book set?

Helen’s latest novel takes us to Chingfod, Essex

Somewhere completely different! A north-east London suburb, Chingford, where I was born in 1953, brought up and worked until the early 1980s. A Mirror Murder is a cosy mystery set in 1971 with the lead character, Jan Christopher, working (as I did!) as a library assistant.

I decided to give writing a murder mystery a go after being inspired by Debbie’s wonderful Sophie Sayers Series! (I confess, I am a little in love with Hector – although this might be because he owns a bookshop!)

Here’s an introduction to A Mirror Mystery:

Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.

But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram,  a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…

Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into  murder?

Where will your next book be set?

Which one? *laughs* I really must write the sixth Sea Witch Voyage – which starts in Gibraltar, and will feature Exmoor and Devon again – but also Spain, possibly Portugal and France as well, I’m not sure because I’m never quite certain where trouble will lead my Jesamiah…

I am also writing the second in my planned Jan Christopher Mystery series: this one will be set in Devon at Christmas. Great fun with lots of snow and murdered victims.

I’ll look forward to reading them all, Helen! Thank you so much for taking us on this virtual journey around your books today. 

(All images in this post are the copyright of Helen Hollick unless otherwise stated)


Helen Hollick taking inspiration from atmosphere at Instow, Devon

Helen Hollick and her family moved from London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown. She loves her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including hens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.

First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of glaucoma, Helen is now branching out into the cosy mystery genre with a new series of quick-read novellas. The first in her Jan Christopher Mysteries series, set in the 1970s, is out now. A Mirror Murder  incorporates often hilarious memories of working for over a decade as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She occasionally gets time to write…

Click the link to order A Mirror Murder in ebook or print: 

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Next month: join Alison Morton for a trip to the fictitious land of Roma Nova, evolved from the ancient Roman empire in her series of alternative history novels – and for a trip to France in her new contemporary thriller, Double Identity

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Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Introducing a New Series of Author Interviews: Travels with my Books #1 – To Fiji with BM Allsopp

Although I’ve lived in the same cottage in a quiet corner of the Cotswolds for thirty years, I’m better travelled than this statement might suggest.

  • By the age of 9, I’d made a road trip with my family across the USA from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, visiting more states than many US citizens.
  • Before I left school, I was a seasoned pan-European solo traveller by train and plane, flitting between Frankfurt, where I lived aged 14-18, to England and the Netherlands to visit family and friends.
  • By the time I was 40, my career in journalism and PR had paid me to travel to many European cities and to join conventions in Hong Kong and on a Caribbean cruise ship.
  • Since 2000, I’ve spent many holidays Greek island-hopping in the small sailing yacht in which we owned a small share (more affordable than it sounds – just £3k!) or  touring Scotland and northern mainland Europe in our camper van.

Reading to Travel

While my wanderlust has abated as I’ve got older and have fewer places left on my bucket list, I still like to “travel by book”, reading about distant lands, whether in fiction in the form of novels and short stories or in non-fiction via travelogues and memoirs.

I enjoy revisiting places I’ve been and which I love (eg to the Scottish Highlands and Islands in Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore), and I also welcome the chance to virtually visit countries I’m never likely to reach in person (eg to Iceland with Bjorn Larssen in Storytellers)- such as anywhere that is host to venomous snakes! While not a habitual reader of fantasy, I’ve also had some pleasurable trips to places that are the stuff of myth, from Homer’s Odyssey to Lucienne Boyce’s To the Fair Land.

While so many of us face continuing travel restrictions, I thought it would be fun this year to make the theme of the monthly guest posts on my blog “Travels with my Books”, interviewing author friends all around the world about the settings of their books.

First Stop: Fiji!

BM Allsopp. author of the Fiji Islands Mysteries

I’m delighted to begin the series with about as distant a destination as possible from my English village home: Fiji, in the company of B M Allsopp (Bernadette).

I first discovered her compelling and colourful Fiji Islands Mysteries when Bernadette emailed me out of the blue to offer a review copy, having discovered my English village mysteries on the internet. Despite the distance, and although we’re unlikely ever to meet in person, we have become firm friends. I so enjoyed the chance her first book, Death on Paradise Island, gave me to learn about Fiji through the first adventure of her Inspector Josefa Horseman and his sidekick Sergeant Singh that I’ve now read all of her books and eagerly anticipate new additions to her series.

I hope my conversation with Bernadette will encourage you to take a virtual trip to Fiji too. Join her mailing list at and you can even get two free books to sample her work!


The first in BM Allsopp’s Fiji Island Mysteries

Hi Bernardette and welcome to my blog. Can we please kick off by pinpointing your books’ setting on the globe?

Spin your globe to the vast blue segment of the Pacific Ocean. Trace down the 180-degree meridian to south of the equator and you’ll find Fiji above the Tropic of Capricorn.  You’ll notice the International Date Line diverts east from the meridian here, so that Fiji, some other islands, New Zealand and part of the Russian Far East are in the same time zone. The sun truly rises in Fiji first!

What a neat claim! Next, can you please give a nutshell summary of your books?

My Fiji Islands Mysteries are police procedurals featuring Inspector Joe Horseman, washed-up Fiji rugby star, and Sergeant Susila Singh, a driven woman defying the odds. Their partnership grows as they strive for justice in their fragile paradise.

What makes Fiji such a great setting for your stories?

My stories wouldn’t exist without Fiji because they have sprung from my own experiences there.  As a huge fan of exotic crime fiction, I aim to give readers the same sense of discovery that I enjoy with authors like Alexander McCall Smith (No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series set in Botswana).

What is your relationship with Fiji, and how much of your life have you spent there?

I lived in the South Pacific islands for 14 years, including four in Fiji, where I taught at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. I love Fiji!

Fijians have an impressive seafaring heritage

What is special about the people native to Fiji?

The first settlers were unsurpassed navigators who arrived around 3,500 years ago from islands to the west, perhaps from as far as New Guinea. Indigenous Fijians now comprise 58% of the population and own most of the land through a traditional hierarchy of hereditary chiefs. Fijians are courteous and dignified while also vital, smiling and friendly. Renowned in the nineteenth century for the quality of their boats and houses, many traditional skills still thrive, as do elaborate ceremonials surrounding the chiefs.

Does your protagonist or other characters come from Fiji?

My main series characters are Fijians from different ethnic backgrounds. The only foreign series character is the Australian pathologist, Dr Matt Young, who has lived in Fiji for over 20 years. His late wife was Fijian and he considers Fiji his home.

The collared lory – one of the Fiji Islands’ many beautiful birds

What are the distinguishing features of Fiji in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?

Most of Fiji’s 320 or so islands are of volcanic origin and fringed by coral reefs. The biggest four islands have rugged mountains and support rainforest, grassland and wetland habitats for diverse plants and animal species. Although native mammals are restricted to just four kinds of bats, a number of beautiful birds, reptiles and plants are found only in Fiji. Of these, the red shining parrot and the crested iguana feature in my first book, Death on Paradise Island.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

With over 320 islands, Fiji’s transport network includes seaplanes

As Fiji is economically dependent on tourism, the people are suffering terribly from the current Covid-19 travel restrictions. When the world opens up again, why not escape to these glorious islands? Here are my top tips for when you do!

  • Unless you thrive on hot and very humid weather, I recommend the months from April to October, when the temperatures are moderate, cool breezes blow and the risk of storms and cyclones is small.
  • Fiji offers much more than sand and coconut palms. You can gently snorkel over a dazzling coral reef, visit a rural village school, scuba dive with feasome sharks, play golf… and much more.
  • Don’t spend all you time in one of the big international hotels, lovely though they are. If you hate backpacker beach huts, there are 5-star boutique island getaways where you’ll experience traditional culture and still luxuriate.
  • Don’t hesitate to chat to the locals. Wherever you go, Fijians will always be welcoming and wonderfully friendly.

“Only in Fiji” – name three things that could only exist/happen there.

  • Uniformed police officers direct traffic wearing a starched white skirt (sulu) with a saw-tooth hem. The dress uniform of the Fiji Military Forces is similar.
  • The whole country stops when the Fiji rugby team is playing an international game. Except on remote islands with no TV or Internet reception, the entire population is glued to a screen.
  • Fijians readily acknowledge their ancestors were feared cannibals not so long ago. They are not at all embarrassed to talk about such customs but are very thankful times have changed.
A Fijian police parade shows off their striking uniform
Cover of Death Beyond the Limit
The latest in the series

Where is your latest book set?

Death Beyond the Limit, the third in the series, is set in Fiji’s capital of Suva, the beautiful mountainous island of Ovalau and at sea.

Where will your next book be set?

Fiji – the precise location is still a mystery.

Thank you so much for that lightning introduction to Fiji, Bernadette, and thanks also for kindly allowing me to share the following extracts from your books for a further taste of Fiji.

Start Your Journey to Fiji Here!

The Prologue from Death on Paradise Island

The first in BM Allsopp’s Fiji Island Mysteries

A crested tern swooped down to the edge of the fringing reef, attracted by the flutter of white in the water lapping the exposed coral. But the tern flew away disappointed, for this was no fish, just a scrap of cloth. The cloth was torn from the uniform worn by all the Paradise Island staff for the marine reserve celebrations: tailored white tunic patterned with black coconut palms and rugby balls, worn with a black sulu, the Fijian wraparound skirt.

If the tern investigated the white flapping further, it would find the cloth scrap still partly attached to the tunic and the girl wearing it. She had washed in from the sea and was caught by the jagged shelf below the coral overhang. The delicate coral was merciless, abrading her golden-brown skin as the waves tossed her back and forth until the tide retreated.

So it was a small hermit crab who first discovered the dead body of Akanisi Leletaku, who had so proudly arranged the floral decorations for the festivities. The crab picked its way over her uniform and scuttled into her open mouth, where it began to feed on the soft tissue.

© B M Allsopp 2021

Detective Horseman tells the story behind his name – Death on Paradise Island

‘But I like my ancestor’s story better. Legend has it that he was a survivor of a ship wrecked on a reef off Vanua Levu. A few men managed to get ashore, where they were clubbed and prepared for the ovens.’ He paused, trying to gauge if they were really interested.

‘Come on! Truly? I’m sure all those cannibal stories are highly exaggerated for ghoulish tourists,’ McKenzie protested, ever the diplomatic host.

Horseman glanced at Adi Litia, who calmly replied, ‘Not at all, Ian. The victors ate all the enemy killed in battle, for a start. The chiefs’ cooks roasted anyone put to death for offending the law or the chief too. There were even raiding parties whose main purpose was to bring back meat. All Fijians praise God for sending the brave Christian missionaries to deliver us from those evils.’ She put a forkful of rare steak into her mouth and chewed it with strong white teeth.

McKenzie subsided into a stunned silence.

Horseman went on. ‘My ancestor clung to some timber and washed up in a different bay. He came to on the beach as he was being nuzzled by a horse, part of his ship’s cargo. The club-wielding warriors were keeping their distance, terrified. You’ve got to remember, none of them had ever seen a land animal bigger than a pig.

‘The chief’s men reported the wreck to him, and he came along to inspect the flotsam and jetsam for himself. It was true love at first sight. The chief would have given anything for the horse—guns, war canoes, slaves, women—anything and everything. My ancestor sensed the chief’s desire and stayed close to the horse for protection. He stroked and soothed the traumatised animal, and kept repeating the word Horse, trying to placate the Fijians. Desperate to convince the chief of his value, he climbed on the horse’s back and showed off his riding skills before the gob-smacked Fijians. Up and down the beach. Bareback. Trotting, galloping, wheeling and rearing. Impressive.

‘The upshot was my ancestor became the chief’s horseman, groom and riding instructor. He was given a house and at least one wife, and lived long enough to have several children. Only one son had children himself, and he adopted his father’s title as a surname, which has been passed down in the European way until today.’

‘Are you sure you’re not making this up?’ asked Pat McKenzie, suspiciously. Another glare from her husband.

‘No, but it might have been made up a long time ago. Who knows now? Six generations have passed since then. But we’re here, and my ancestor’s word for the animal was horse, so I guess he was from Britain, Ireland or America.’

‘The first horse in Fiji—a fabulous story.’ McKenzie spoke softly, awed.

Adi Litia laughed. ‘Fijians believe it. I hope it’s true.’

‘There are a lot of us now, and we’re officially classified in Fiji as kailoma, part-European. The leaves on my branch are mostly Fijians, so I look Fijian. I’ve cousins in Australia who look completely European. We’re all Horsemans, though. Or should it be Horsemen? Our clan can never agree on that, especially the women.’

© B M Allsopp 2021

Inspector Horseman arrives at Tanoa village, where a man has been murdered – Death By Tradition

cover of Death by Tradition
The second in the series

Mist shrouded the river, thinning as it rose to the hilltops. The hazy river bank opposite curved to the point where the bridge crossed.

To the right stood clusters of houses and a church. Further up the slope was a terrace with a school and a grassed rectangle with bamboo posts at either end. This would be the rara, the ceremonial space that in small villages doubled as a rugby field, both functions equally vital. Here and there were washing lines and small sheds. At the beach below the bridge, women washed clothes, slapping them rhythmically on the smooth river stones. Others tended fish traps, watched closely by a couple of thin dogs. A typical backblocks village—picturesque, placid, dull. But this one harboured an unusual and dangerous killer.

To the left of the bridge, the land rose steeply to a high outcrop of rock, a near-vertical cliff. The stone at the top had been shaped, maybe boulders hauled up to increase the height. Horseman recognised the ruins of a precolonial hill fort. His hackles rose as he gazed through the mists of time at bloody battle scenes. Rough battlements would have protected the Tanoa defenders hurling spears, shooting arrows, throwing missiles with deadly accuracy. What better site to spot attackers from down river? What better site from which to repel them?

© B M Allsopp 2021

For More Information & Free Books

cover of Death of a Hero
Download this prequel for free when you join BM Allsopp’s mailing list

To find out more about B M Allsopp and her Fiji Island Mysteries, visit her website at Her website also includes a gallery of beautiful photos of Fiji and a section of useful resources.

If you join her mailing list at, you can even get two free ebooks!

You can also follow her on Facebook at and on Twitter at @bmallsopp.

Next month: join Helen Hollick for a piratical journey around the Caribbean! 

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