January Rescue: Decorative Hood

Detachable hood from my winter coat.
The decorative hood that came with my Big Coat

“Snowstorm expected. If you’re English, stay inside and wait for the all-clear. If you’re Scottish, you’ll need your Big Coat.”

This is the hood that came with my Big Coat. The coat itself is perfect, but the hood is decorative. Decorative! I ask you!

Some designer actually thought, yeah, let’s put a hood on a winter coat that looks great, but you can’t actually tighten it around your head to keep the snow out or even to keep it on your head. People will love that!

Maybe in California, where you need a winter coat a few times a year, maybe, and a hood just messes up your hair. But in Scotland? Where bad weather is a thing?

Please.

This hood is wonderfully made from water resistant quilted nylon and high-quality synthetic fur. It’s warm and fuzzy and fits my head perfectly. It would be exactly the right thing if it would actually stay put.

But that is not the case.

Skip the Chat and Go Right to the Directions

How Long I’ve Had It

I bought my Big Coat at a Super Tesco about four years ago. Many British grocery stores have an impressive clothing section, and the buyers for those clothing sections totally get me. I love this coat and have worn it daily for four winters.

But the hood? It has to go.

Why I Like It

It’s padded and warm and ringed with really decent fake fur. The nylon is water-resistant, and this hood is toasty warm.

As long as I use one hand to hold it on my head.

Why I Don’t Wear It

It will not stay on my head. There is no drawstring, chinstrap, snaps, or any other sort of mechanism for securing it. Despite its top notch construction, it is not made to be worn.

It’s like a butterfly that’s stuck in its chrysalis. Such beauty! Such utility! Such wasted potential!

It makes me sad.

The Challenge

I want to turn this Stupid Unusable Decorative Hood into a working hood fit for a Scottish winter. Also, I want to do it in a way that’s attractive. It would be easy to make an ugly brute-force job of it, but I don’t want that.

My Tools

Here’s what I used.

Eyelets and Eyelet Accessories

Two eyelets and an eyelet setter.
Eyelets and an eyelet setter

There are two kinds of people in the world. As often as not, they marry each other.

To wit: I’m the kind that never throws anything away. The man to whom I’ve plighted my troth, on the other hand, has no compunction about binning perfectly good items for which he has ceased to see a use.

The latter, admittedly, leads to a wonderfully tidy house.

But if you find yourself in the middle of Scotland, suddenly in desperate need of an eyelet setter, nonessential businesses are closed and it’s been snowing for three days, who you gonna call?

Eyelets (or grommets) are little metal rings that come in two parts. They’re used to reinforce holes in fabric or leather. You may recognize them from your favourite pair of shoes.

You’ll also need an eyelet setter and a light hammer.

A hammer, two eyelets, and an eyelet tool.

So why do I have eyelets and an eyelet tool hanging about?

Years ago, I had a little business called Faraday Bags. I designed and made handbags with a Faraday cage inside. Eyelets were a fun and fashionable way to attach different bits to the main part of the handbag. I used them a lot.

Five small crazy-quilted wallets.
Five painstakingly handmade data-shielding wallets (no eyelets, sorry).

I don’t make handbags anymore, but neither do I throw anything away. As I tore through the garage this morning looking for eyelets and an eyelet setter, I worried that they might have fallen victim to my generosity. 

Before moving to Scotland, I invited a few friends over to help themselves to the fabrics and notions that I wasn’t taking with me because I foolishly thought that these things would be as cheap and easy to find in Scotland as they had been in Los Angeles. 

Spoiler: they’re really, really, not.

But I did find them, and my little hammer, too. And also quite a few other bits and bobs like this refrigerator magnet advertising my first novel.

A refrigerator magnet with the cover of The Affair of the Porcelain Dog by Jess Faraday.
Yes, you can buy my first book!

Another spoiler: our Scottish fridge would be a great size for a dorm room or camper, and the door is not magnetic.

Drawstring

A coiled length of black paracord on a wooden table.

Do you remember that six months or so where everyone was making paracord survival bracelets? Faraday Bags remembers, too. And Past Me thoughtfully did not bin the miles of paracord I bought to make bracelets that I never ended up selling.

So now if I get lost in the woods while wearing my newly useful hood, I can take the drawstring out and make myself a fishing net.

Sewing Machine

Because this is a topstitching job, I used my regular sewing machine. You could also do this job sewing by hand.

Fabric Pen, Pen, or Tailor Chalk

Use this to mark where you’ll put your eyelets. You can also use it to trace your stitching line if you like.

Seam Ripper

If you need to unpick stitches at any point, a seam ripper or razor blade can be your best friend.

Decorative Hood Reincarnation: Step By Step

So, here’s what I did. It was pretty easy and took a little less than an hour. Best of all, though, my winter coat now has a hood that’s both fashionable and functional.

So, how did I do it?

Step 1: Mark Your Holes

I first put the hood on separately from the jacket, and made marks where I thought the holes should go. Fortunately, I thought to re-attach the hood and double-check, because my first marks weren’t in the right place at all. I made a second set of marks with the hood attached, and those turned out to be perfect.

I made the mistake so you don’t have to.

Protip: Don’t be like me. Measure with the hood in the finished position and use tailor chalk to mark your holes.

Step 2: Make The Holes

I used my seam ripper to gently and carefully make small holes over each of the marks. I also unpicked a few stitches to one side so that I could insert the eyelet.

Important! You’ll only be making the hole in the first layer of fabric.

Step 3: Insert the First Half of the Eyelet

Now, slide the first half of the eyelet beneath the top layer of fabric. Bring the prongs up through the hole. Functionally, it doesn’t matter which half of the eyelet goes here. But I think it’s more attractive to have the taller-pronged half on the bottom.

An eyelet peeking up through a hole in fabric.

Step 4: Insert the Second Half of the Eyelet

Now, place the second half of the eyelet on top of the first, sandwiching the fabric between them.

A finished eyelet sitting on top of yellow fabric.

Step 5: Position Your Eyelet Tool

An eyelet tool looks simple, but positioning is important. Try to centre your tool within the hole.

Step 6: Give it a Bash

It takes a bit of practice to find the right balance of power and precision. On one hand, you need to whack the setter hard enough that the prongs of the eyelet splay. This secures the halves of the eyelet together. On the other hand, if you strike too hard or your eyelet tool is off centre, you will ruin the eyelet and possibly your garment.

Protip: Hammer a few practice eyelets on a piece of similar fabric so that you can get your technique down.

Step 7: Sew a Line Along the Edge of Your Hood

Sew a line along the inside edge of your hood. You can use tailor chalk to mark it. This line will form the outer edge of the tube where you’ll insert the drawstring, so make sure that the string can go all the way through.

  • Pass a wire through the tube to check for obstructions like fabric edges
  • Also check that no seams intersect your tube
  • If a seam cuts through your tube, use your seam ripper to unpick the offending stitches

Protip: In addition to matching your thread colour to the fabric, match the thread content. Synthetics with synthetics, cotton for natural fabrics.

Step 8: Insert Your Drawstring

Drawstrings can be a real pain, especially when you’re putting one in a place not originally designed to hold it.

My favorite technique is to insert a wire into the drawstring and use the wire to push the drawstring where you need it to go.

This may take several attempts.

Helpful hint: Be gentle with your eyelets!

Step 9: Knot off Your Drawstring

One of the only things worse than putting in a drawstring is having to put it in again because you accidentally pulled it out. So knot those ends good. If you’re feeling fancy, you can attach beads or buttons that are bigger than the eyelet. Alternately, if your string is made from synthetic material, you can use a gentle flame to melt the knot into place.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

This is the time to sew back any functional stitches that you’ve unpicked. You can do this by hand or with your machine

Ta Daaaaa!

Now my decorative hood looks good and works!

By the way, if you try this at home, and it works, I’d love to see pictures!

Just the Facts

If you just want the directions without all the chat, here you go. Thank you for playing!

The Task

To turn a “decorative” hood into a fully functioning yet still attractive hood.

Your Tools

Decorative Hood Rescue: Step by Step

Here’s how to rescue your own decorative hood.

1. Make Your Mark

Helpful hint: attach your hood to the coat and find the natural place where the drawstrings should emerge. Make your mark on the inside of the hood.

2. Clear a Path

Carefully unpick a few stitches along the outside edge. Just enough to slip the eyelet beneath it.

3. Make a Hole

Using your seam ripper or the tips of your scissors, cut a small hole where you’ve made your mark for the drawstring. Only make the hole on the top layer of fabric!

4. Insert the First Half of the Eyelet

Slide the first half of your eyelet underneath the top layer of fabric. Bring the prongs up through the hole.

5. Insert the Second Half of the Eyelet

Set the second half of the eyelet atop the first.

6. Position the Eyelet Tool

7. Give it a Bash

Helpful hint: Do a few practice eyelets first. It can be difficult to tell how hard to hit it. You may have to hit it quite a few times to get that balance of securing the eyelet without deforming it.

8. Sew a Line Inside the Edge of the Hood

Sew a line about half an inch inside the outer edge of the hood. Your eyelets should fall between this line and the hood edge.

9. Draw the Drawstring Through

Push or pull the drawstring through. I find it helpful to push it along with a long section of wire.

10. Knot the Ends

Once your drawstring is where you want it, knot the ends. If you’re using a synthetic cord, you can melt the outside of the knot with a lighter. Alternately, you could tie beads on the ends.

11. Finishing Touches

Go back with a hand needle and re-sew the places that you unpicked before.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Please feel free to share. And I’m always grateful for a linkback!

Simon Pearce’s Edinburgh: The Firth of Forth

At the heart of Simon’s second story, Slough Dog, is the story of a ghost dog, which workers on a building site believe has killed a man.

In the story, an ancestor of the building site owner attempted to throw the family doginto the Firth during a storm. The result was a generations-long curse on the family.

This is the pier that appears in the story. It’s near Queensferry Crossing, which sits on the border of Lothian and Fife.

The inspiration for that part of Slough Dog came from a trip we made to Inchcolm Island. The island itself is a fantastic day trip, if you’re ever in the area. However, the water can be impressively choppy. It was easy to imagine slipping and sliding along the rocks, attempting to keep one’s feet and not be pulled into the water by a gigantic wave.

There are three bridges over the Firth of Forth at Queensferry Crossing. The first, the Forth Rail Bridge, opened in 1890. It’s a cantilevered bridge, and it’s still in operation, carrying 200 trains per day and as many as three million passengers per year.

The Forth Rail Bridge is a World Heritage site, and a much beloved symbol of Scotland. 

Image CC BY 2.0 by Jess Faraday

In 1964, Scotland built the Forth Road Bridge, for auto traffic. This is a suspension bridge. It was the first of its kind in the UK, and the longest such bridge outside of the US. So popular was this bridge that it had exceeded its capacity by 2017.

Today, the Forth Road Bridge operates as a world class cycling and foot bridge, with limited access for busses and taxis. It will also carry the planned Stagecoach Fife, a fleet of driverless vehicles carrying passengers between Lothian and Fife.

Image CC BY 2.0 by Jess Faraday

The third Forth bridge (see what I did there?) opened in 2018. This bridge set records from the get-go, including:

  • The longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge in the world, at 1.7 miles.
  • This generation’s biggest Scottish infrastructure project.
  • In 2013, builders managed the largest continuous underwater concrete pour (16,869 cubic metres.)
  • Guiness world-record setting balanced cantilevers (644 metres tip to tip). Also the longest freestanding balanced cantilever in the world.
  • The highest bridge towers in the UK

It’s also incredibly pretty when the sun shines on the cables.

Simon Pearce landed in Edinburgh before any of the bridges were built over the Forth. The busy residential and commercial area surrounding Queensferry Crossing would have looked quite different. 

However, if you’re wandering around the city on a foggy twilit evening, you might just see a big black dog out of the corner of your eye.

If you’d like to read more about Simon’s adventures, check out his first volume, Shadow of Justice, available now from all of your favorite booksellers.

Simon Pearce’s Edinburgh: Comiston House

“Comiston House sat aloof on a large tract of land, a little more than three miles to the south of Edinburgh, and north of the gently sloping, green-carpeted Pentland Hills. It was modest in size, square in shape, and constructed from large bricks of local sandstone. Ionic columns stood to either side of an arched entrance, and to the side of each of those, sculpted evergreens pointed up toward the stars.”

The Haunting of Comiston House by Jess Faraday

There are actually two properties that can claim the name Comiston House. Confusingly, they both stand very close to one another, in the same patch of South Edinburgh, a bit more than three miles south of the city centre. 

I discovered both properties along what is now my 5K running route–the one I take when I need to put in the miles but don’t really feel like it. I do my best thinking while running, and when I’m running through pretty and historical surroundings, it’s no wonder that story ideas seem to spring from the trees and the air and the ground beneath my feet.

Old Comiston House

From John Adair’s Map of Midlothian, 1682

The first mention of the lands around either of the buildings is in 1337, when an Elizabeth Auldburgh transferred the “lands of Braid, Baulay, Colmanstoun and Ravinisnuick” to a John Burgens Virgin. 

Historians believe that a defensive structure might have stood on the land as early as the 14th century. However, all that currently remains is a tower, which dates to the late 16th or early 17th century. The tower was used defensively, then later as a dovecot.

Photo by Jess Faraday, CC BY NC (no commerical use, please attribute)

The current owners have incorporated the tower into the wall around their new build.

The property is tucked away in a wood near Fairmilehead Park. There’s a trail that runs past it called White Lady Walk, which is purportedly haunted by, you guessed it, a female ghost in a white gown. I’ve never seen her, but my dog refuses to walk more than a few steps down that path.

Photo by Jess Faraday, CC BY NC (no commerical use, please attribute)

You can read more about the history of Old Comiston House at Straivaging.com, which is a wonderful resource.

New Comiston House

Photo by Jess Faraday, CC BY NC (no commerical use, please attribute)

New Comiston House, on the other hand, is the structure that figures into Simon’s story. In the story, it serves as the home of Cal Webster’s friend, Richard Fraser, Laird of Comiston. 

New Comiston House is a 19th century structure. It was the home of the Forrest baronets, a title that was created in 1838 for James Forrest, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh. There were five Forrest baronets, each of which was named either James or William or John. The title went extinct in 1928.

Today New Comiston House has been converted into flats, albeit posh ones. The building borders Fairmilehead Park, and is located up a small rise from Old Comiston House.

Edinburgh is filled with ghosts, legends, and, most importantly, stories. Simon Pearce’s Edinburgh stories are but a few. If you’d like to read more of them, you can check out Simon’s anthology, Shadow of Justice wherever fine books are sold.

And if you’re enjoying these little travelogues, keep your eyes peeled for Simon Pearce’s Edinburgh, my upcoming collection of essays and photos about this magnificent city.

Meeting the Author: Camilla Downs

Today I have the honor of sitting down with author, book blogger, and the face behind Meeting The Authors, Camilla Downs. In addition to being a generous voice for authors and a powerful force of positivity, Camilla has a number of books of her own, and we’ll talk about that in a bit. But first, let’s get to know her!

Camilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of MeetingtheAuthors.com and lives in Northern Nevada, USA with her two kids.

JF: Let’s start out with five fun facts about you. Go.

  1. I swear a lot!
  2. I love having solo dance parties.
  3. I’m finally cleaning photos from my iPhone. I had about 10,000! 
  4. I haven’t had a television since 2008.
  5. I’m actually a very lazy person!

JF: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? What other jobs have you held? Have they influenced your writing?

Before I became a mom, I was a paralegal for 10 years and before that I worked in the mortgage industry. My attention to detail and tenacity to figure things out in these previous careers is part of my personality. This carries into my life experiences, including my writing.

My day job for the past 18 years has been being mom to my two kids, 18 year old Lillian, and 14 year old Thomas. I’ve homeschooled (well, unschooled them) for about the past 5 or 6 years, with Lillian graduating in June 2019. Lillian is special needs, having a chromosome deletion called 18p-, so I’ve been her caretaker too.

Throughout the past 13 years, I have had many “jobs” so that I could focus on being a parent, being in charge of my own schedule. I’ve made jewelry, been a social media consultant, been a substitute teacher, Reiki practitioner, mentor, delivered newspapers, dog walking, and cat sitting.

JF: Wow! That sounds like a lot of material right there! What experiences in particular have inspired your writing?

Life. Pain, heartache, sorrow, joy, accomplishments, learning and growing … My life experiences paired with a walking practice and nature photography are my inspiration.

JF: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I like to go for walks, capturing nature with photography. I love to lounge around the house (my sanctuary), in comfortable clothes, reading or having a movie night with my kids, at times having a solo movie night. When inspiration is sparked, I like to create artwork using items from nature; rocks, twigs, branches, sea glass. It’s fun and empowering to see what I can create using beauties I’ve collected on walks.

JF: Is there a particular place you’ve been that gives you inspiration?

Fallen Leaf Lake, Mount Tallac and Lake Tahoe were the catalyst for poetry to begin. When I visited Fallen Leaf Lake with Mount Tallac in the background, it woke something that caused me to sob with knowing. On the drive home, I made several stops around Lake Tahoe. By the time I arrived home, I had written my first poem titled, Earth Dance.

JF: That is powerful! Can you tell us about your writing process?

I am something altogether different. I mean, my first book was titled, D iz for Different! I have this weird aversion to doing anything the typical way. Since I’ve only written non-fiction to date, that’s another reason I’m neither of these. I write as I’m inspired. My life is the plot. 

JF: Do you read your reviews? How do you handle ones that are not so great?

Yes, I read reviews. I don’t have a thick skin. I completely fall apart with not so great reviews. Although, the older I’ve gotten, the less I care what others think.

JF: What inspired you to take the leap and write that first book?

In 2006, my 10 year marriage fell apart. I became a single parent to one year old Thomas, and five year old Lillian. Lillian had been diagnosed just 2 years earlier with 18p-. Beginning in 2009, I openly shared my life experiences through my blog and social media, including how I was processing events, handling things, or not handling things. The feedback received solidified into a gut knowing that I was to write a memoir of my experiences. D iz for Different – One Woman’s Journey to Acceptance was published in February 2012. 

Available on Amazon!

JF: Are you traditionally published, self-published, both or neither? Why did you choose that path? What are some of the good things and bad things about doing it that way?

I began as a self-publisher. Now, with 4 published books, I’m an indie publisher under my own imprint of Loving Kindness Books. The good: having control and freedom. The bad: not having a larger publishing company’s support, guidance, and marketing assistance.

JF: What is the one thing you wish you’d known about writing before you started doing it seriously?

I wish I’d known about imposter syndrome before I finally figured out what that was, and how it affected me. It still happens, but I’m better at recognizing it, and not letting it stop me.

JF: That’s good advice for all of us! Now, what about your books?

My latest book, Words of Alchemy, is a collection of free verse poetry from the past six years. It’s a memoir of life experiences, how I view them, and how I moved forward, or didn’t move forward! It’s not what I expected my next published book to be, yet, my intuition kept pulling me back to it. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition, that there’s a reason. 

Available on Amazon!

Since I’m the main character, I’d say my emotional arc throughout this collection is one of a steady, ongoing rise. I’ll be completely honest. Since I write non-fiction, I had never heard of the term emotional arc. I researched it, and whether or not it’s proper to assign an emotional arc in a non-fiction, I’ve done it. HA!

JF: Where did you get the idea for the title and book cover?

Every time I had an idea for the title, I would note it in a “Thoughts for the Title” file. Words of Alchemy was one of those ideas. Being that writing has been therapeutic for me, helping me to alchemize my experiences, this seemed a perfect fit. In the longer poems, you can see how by the end of the poem, the experience was alchemized, changed. I also check to see if the title is an available domain. If it is, I purchase it right away, redirecting it to a page on my website.

The photo of the dandelion, or puff ball, as I’ve seen it called, is one I took on a walk. It was a sunny day, I walked by a patch of puff balls, picked one to make a wish and blow the seeds. I had a thought, wondering what it would look like if I held it just so, where the puff ball covered the sun, and took photos. It turned out pretty good, in my opinion! 

JF: What idea would you like your readers to take away from this collection?

I feel each person’s take away will be a bit different, depending on where they are in life. It blesses me when a reader is inspired, when their appreciation for life, for nature, for experiences is rekindled, when they find a poem or two that truly speaks to them and their experiences. When a reader feels a camaraderie, a knowing that they are not alone, that’s the reason I began sharing my life and writings. No star rating can top that.

JF: What’s next for you?

I’m taking this year for rejuvenation. I’ve been on a 13-year healing journey, of diving deep into myself. It’s been exhausting, overwhelming, unlovely at times; balanced with many times of joy, success, and peace. It’s been completely and utterly worth it.

The beginning of 2020 was the tipping point. I’m on the other side of it now, ready to relax and regroup. I’m being very relaxed about writing. If I write, good. If I don’t, good. Now that my mental and emotional health have been looked after, I’m looking after my physical health this year. 

There will be more books. I’m just not sure what they will be. I know there will be at least one more memoir, and would love to write a creative non-fiction. I also get the feeling there’s a fiction in me waiting for the perfect time.

In short, I plan on enjoying the fruit of 13 years of laborious healing. 

About Words of Alchemy

The poetry of nature, the poetry of healing, the poetry of appreciation, the poetry of love … in one beautiful book.

In Words of Alchemy, Camilla Downs invites you to walk with her to share her love of Nature and Life through a heartfelt free-verse poetry memoir.

During her daily strolls she is mindfully present as she delves into life in the raw and experiences her heart’s observations.

Camilla embraces what happens when she opens her heart and invites the written words to flow. The Alchemy of Love and Healing is what happens.

Excerpt

The Light of Freedom

Time to step into the flames of the fire.
Time to connect with that which you fear from your past.
The past no longer exists and cannot cause you harm.
However, when it is avoided and sidestepped; it does indeed
cause you harm.

Avoidance and sidestepping keep you a prisoner of the past.
Held captive to a perceived smallness.
As the flame grows, be still and know that you are not alone.
Be still and know it cannot hurt you. It cannot consume you.

Bring your light to the flames of the fire.
It shall be engulfed and transformed into the light of freedom.
The freedom to claim your power.
The freedom to know who you are.
The freedom to shine your light with others.
Be still. And Know.

Praise for Words of Alchemy

Words of Alchemy, a heartfelt new collection by Camilla Downs, lives up to its namesake in numerous ways. Downs spans the broad range of nature, healing, love, and parenting, while making sure we have a little fun along the way. And the bridge she creates from the mindfulness of how we see the world at large to the poetry of everyday life is certainly worth a stroll or two across its borders.” – Thomas Lloyd Qualls, Award-winning author of Painted Oxen

“This poetry collection offers contemplative words, soothing thoughts and peace to the reader.” – Sue Bentley, Bestselling author of Second Skin

“Camilla Downs shares truth, vulnerability and wisdom in her Words of Alchemy collection, inviting readers to be inspired, contemplate and dive into her world of self-awareness and growth.” – G. Brian Benson – Award-winning author, actor and spoken word artist

“These poems take you on a calm and loving walk through the verses of the author’s thoughts. Alchemy is a perfect word for the title as Camilla Downs understands nature; connecting with its magical, medicinal qualities and beauty which she conveys throughout her poetry.” – Ailsa Craig, Author of The Sand Between My Toes

Words of Alchemy is a chronicle of hope. These poems are an encouragement, especially when we are feeling at our lowest, to keep seeking the light that is our way forward, and focus on the real. This collection is a walk through the positive nature of life. Camilla Downs is to be commended.” – Frank Prem, Author of free-verse memoir Small Town Kid

Where to Buy:

Words of Alchemy: If you’re in the U.S. and would like a personalized, signed book – free shipping! (I will ship internationally, if the reader would like to pay the international shipping fee): http://camilladowns.com/books/words-of-alchemy/

Amazon – Words of Alchemy: mybook.to/WordsofAlchemy

Amazon Author Central:  amazon.com/author/camilladowns

All of our books: http://camilladowns.com/books/

Connect With Camilla Downs

Website: http://camilladowns.com/

Family Website: http://theteamtlc.com/

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CamillaDownsAuthor/

twitter: https://twitter.com/camilladowns

instagram: https://www.instagram.com/CamillaDowns/

pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/camilladowns/

Amazon Author Central:  amazon.com/author/camilladowns

Meeting the Authors: http://meetingtheauthors.com/

Camilla, thank you again for sharing your life and your work!

Sitting Down with Rebecca Cohen

REBECCA COHEN spends her days dreaming of a living in a Tudor manor house, or a Georgian mansion. Alas, the closest she comes to this is through her characters in her historical romance novels. She also dreams of intergalactic adventures and fantasy realms, but because she’s not yet got her space or dimensional travel plans finalised, she lives happily in leafy Hertfordshire, England, with her husband and young son. She can often be found with a pen in one hand and sloe gin with lemon tonic in the other.

You can find her here: Blog  Facebook  Twitter

Hello, and welcome! Today I have the pleasure of chatting with Rebecca Cohen, the author of the newly-released novel James, Earl of Crofton.

JF: Rebecca, it’s lovely to see you, and congratulations on your new release! Now, tell us a few things about yourself. Five quickies, right off the top of your head. Go!

  • I spent nearly seven years living in Switzerland, but my German is still terrible
  • I studied microbiology and virology for my undergrad, and then biochemical engineering as a post-grad – yeah, I’m a proud nerd.
  • I set one of novellas (Summer Season) in Cornwall, where the characters had a moonlight date on the same beach where my husband proposed.
  • My son is so much of a mini me that the UK border control looked between us when returning to UK and said, “Yup, he’s definitely yours.”
  • I’m love a long bath – more bubbles the better. 

JF: Wow! That’s a really impressive background. I always love getting a peek at the lives of the people behind the books.

We all approach writing differently. How would you describe your process?

I’m a plotter – but I’m not such a stickler that I can’t switch if I get side-swiped by a character going off script. I like to build a skeleton of each chapter or scene (typed in block capitals) which I then write, sometimes in order but often I’ll jump ahead. I try to have most of a full draft in place before I do a read through to edit, but that doesn’t always happen.

JF: What inspired you to take the leap and write that first book?

I’d written copiously when I was younger, but then I went off and embarked in a science career and the writing was put to one side. Then I realised there was something missing in my life and started dabbling again, and a story came to mind but it didn’t really go so far. I bit the bullet and did an Open University diploma in Creative Writing which gave me the confidence to carry on writing and I wrote a story called Servitude – which was my first published novel. Unfortunately, having received my rights back from Dreamspinner Press, Servitude is currently out of print but I hope to self-published it and the rest of the series.

Find James, Earl of Crofton right here.

JF: I’ll look forward to reading that! Now, on to the good stuff. Tell us about James, Earl of Crofton.

James, Earl of Crofton is a m/m romance novel set in 1670, during the period of British history known as the Restoration. At the start of novel James is enjoying his life as viscount, living a merry life attending the court of Charles II, and encountering an enigmatic rogue called the Chivalrous Highwayman. He also takes a fancy to Adam Dowson, the son of a famous Cavalier general, although Adam is not as easily charmed as James would have hoped. His world is turned upside down when his father is unexpectedly taken ill and dies, leaving James, who doubt his own abilities, to become the earl. And he discovers that there are things going on below stairs at Crofton Hall that mean he needs to clear out the rotten apples in household. 

Find James, Earl of Crofton right here.

JF: Ohhhhh that does sound intriguing…and full of intrigue! And everyone loves a Highwayman. Where did you get the idea for this story?

I decided a few years back that I’d like to build on the world and family I created in the Crofton Chronicles, a series set in Elizabethan England about Anthony Redbourn, the 1st Earl of Crofton and his actor lover, Sebastian Hewel. Those books were written from Sebastian’s point of view and I decide to write another novel from Anthony’s (Anthony, Earl of Crofton). That got me thinking about the Redbourn family and how they would have survived through the years, and I decided to select earls from various periods and tell their story. James appeared in the epilogue of Forever Hold His Peace, and I decided to start with him, during the Restoration which is a fascinating period. I have plans for two others: Charles (Regency) and Henry (Victorian).

Find Anthony, Earl of Crofton, right here.

JF: Wow! A house through generations — that’s a really interesting way to structure a series. I can’t wait to read the rest of them! What’s next for you?

I will be republishing several more of my ex-Dreamspinner Press back catalogue, the next being a sci-fi romance called Under Glass. But my next writing project is Making History at Crofton Hall, set at the modern-day Crofton Hall. I need to republish the first in the series, Saving Crofton Hall, in which Ben the 16th Earl needs to save his ancestral home, but Making History will uncover several secrets of the Redbourn family.

JF: Now you’re just teasing us! Get on with it! Just kidding. Not really. This sounds amazing.

Readers, if you want to leap into the world of Crofton Hall, you can find James, Earl of Crofton right here at Amazon.

And if you want a taste, check out the excerpt below.

Thank you, Rebecca, for joining me today. And best of luck with your exciting series!

§§§§§§§§

Come, Crofton, it’s time you were seen at court as the earl.”

James flinched at the use of his earldom. Marchent had, for years, called him that. As viscount it had been allowed, but it meant more now, and hearing it for the first time from Marchent’s lips in the new context made everything more real. “I am not sure I am in the right mood for court.”

“Since when has that stopped you?” Marchent got to his feet. “Besides, it does not matter if feel you in the mood or not. You will be expected. It is known you returned to London yesterday, and one night’s grace may be granted, but now you must present yourself.”

“Surely I would be granted one more day.”

“And then what? Another, and another after that until you have hidden away so long no one remembers who you are? I do not think so. You are the 4th Earl of Crofton. The James Redbourn I know is not a coward.”

James slammed his fist upon the top of his desk. “It is not a matter of cowardice.”

“Then what is it?”

James hesitated, then sighed. “I am not ready to be the earl.”

“Nonsense. You were born to be the earl,” barked Marchent. “You are a good man, a great man. I understand your concern, I really do, but do not let your insecurities take hold. It will not help you, or your estate, or your family. You need to be strong, hold up your head and swagger into court as if it would not survive another day without your presence.”

James knew Marchent had also been reticent when his own father died, but it had been a moment’s pause and not James’s crippling inaction. “I am not the man my father was.”

“Are any of us? Listen to me, Crofton. We are not normal men; we are born into power and privilege. A privilege that was taken from us, and it was our fathers and grandfathers who fought to restore it. No one man has lived through such a time before. We are at the precipice of the start of a new world. Are you really telling me you would rather sit and hide here than come and face it? If you had no intention to attend court and show the world just who you are, you would not have left Crofton Hall.”

Marchent was a complete and utter bastard, and he knew exactly how to coerce James into doing things. He picked his words perfectly to stir James’s blood, and even though James knew what Marchent was doing, he couldn’t help but rise to the challenge.

“Then I should get my hat.”

“That’s the spirit.”

Buy James, Earl of Crofton here.

A Chat with Charlie Cochrane

Today I have the privilege of chatting with one of my favorite authors and people, Charlie Cochrane. Charlie has a new book out, Lessons in Following a Poisonous Trail, and it’s excellent.

Charlie’s Cambridge Fellows stories were some of the first LGBT+ mysteries I ever read, and they have a special place in my heart. I’m also a big fan of the Lindenshaw mysteries. In addition, Charlie is one of the organizers of the biannual UK meet, which, if you haven’t experienced, you really should.

JF: Hi, Charlie! Let’s get started with Five Fast Fun Facts about you. Go!

I’m eccentric – some might say mad as a hatter

I once fed a Polo mint to the famous racehorse Red Rum

I can write backwards – joined up, as well

I once nearly took my eye out with a French stick

I got a double first from Cambridge University 

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? What other jobs have you held? Have they influenced your writing?

Not a paid job at present, but I am a director of a small charity. That’s never influenced my writing, although a previous career – being a freelance trainer of school governors – has given me many an inspiration. For several reasons, the Lindenshaw Mysteries (of which there’ll be a new one out next month) would never have happened had it not been for the training courses I delivered or sat in on. If you read those books and think, “People in education would never say that!” chances are you’re wrong, because they do and have and I’ve squirrelled them away.

 Everything. I have a magpie mind so I’m always noticing what people are doing or saying and I’m storing it away for later. (Like I did with some of the school governors on courses I ran.) I also get inspired by locations, wondering what it would be like to put my characters here and see how they’d react. Or it may be a simple thing I read: a true tale I came across of two Agincourt veterans going on a pilgrimage together made me want to write a story about two soldiers in WWI doing the same. Promises Made Under Fire grew out of that idea.

JF: Haha. OMG What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Watch sport, either live or on the telly. (You have no idea how much I miss that at present.) I also like theatre, music and historic locations. In fact, I have an interest in lots of things – variety is the spice of life as they say. 

JF: Yes, your famous love of sport has made it into a lot of your work and I, for one have learned a lot! Another thing I enjoy is “visiting” scenic locations across the UK through your books. Are there any particular places that give you inspiration?

The island of Jersey, where we go on holiday every other year. For a small island – roughly nine miles by five – it’s got a wide variety of scenery, beaches, wildlife, thousands of years of history, great places to shop and even better places to eat.

I’ve only set one story there but the grandeur of the scenery and the amazing sense of history always fires my imagination and I come home with fresh story ideas. If I haven’t already succumbed to writing a new tale while we’re still there.

JF: As a writer, I’m always curious about other writers’ processes. Can you describe yours?

I’m an absolute pantser. It feels like I’m discovering the story as I write it – almost as if I’m listening to it as a weekly serial on the radio or watching it on the telly and recording what I see of hear. I’m always amazed at how many relevant clues my sub-conscious has sneaked into the first draft that I don’t discover until I go back over to make sure all is in line with whatever the denouement has turned out to be.

JF: Well, it certainly seems to be working, if your fan base is anything to go by! But speaking of, do you read your reviews? And, in the unlikely case that you get one that isn’t so great, how do you handle it?

Usually I read only the good ones. The bad ones would only wind me up and if the reader didn’t like the story, they’re perfectly entitled to that opinion. I agree with EM Forster, who said, “Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.”

JF: What is the one thing you wish you’d known about writing before you started doing it seriously?

Honest answer? How much bitchiness and hypocrisy there is in some quarters. I find it so depressing and wearing – often I simply stay off social media when it’s all kicking off. Having said that, there are lots of lovely, supportive people as well. To almost flip the question on its head, the real bonus I’ve found in writing is the truly nice friends I’ve made. 

JF: That is for sure. Our writing community has some of the kindest and most supportive folk! But now on to what a lot of people have been waiting for. You have a new book out! Tell us about it!

Lessons in Following a Poisonous Trail is a romantic mystery, set in Cambridge in 1911, released on April 6th 2020. It’s the latest Cambridge Fellows mystery, featuring Jonty and Orlando who are lovers, dons and amateur sleuths.

Central premise is simple – take Jonty, confine him to bed with a rugby injury and see what ensues when there’s a series of apparent poisonings to investigate. Add an eccentric colleague who has to take the injured man’s place conducting witness interviews, a frustrated Orlando who just wants life to return to normal and a villain who might be lacing dinners with laxative…

JF: Poor Jonty! Where did you get the idea to torture him like that? (Although I must say I liked seeing the emergence of another character’s detecting abilities, and I would love to see a spinoff series, hint hint.)

I genuinely have no idea. This may sound potty but I sometimes feel like I’m the official biographer for Jonty and Orlando and am simply relating their adventures as they tell them to me.

JF: That does sound familiar. Now, as regards this story, is there any central idea you’d like readers to take away?

That they might want to read the rest of the series? Actually, what I’d really like them to take away is wondering what the eccentric colleague mentioned above got up to when he was involved with the secret services. Which is often implied but never detailed. 

JF: I’d like to re-read the series now! But you’re so prolific, I don’t think there will be time before another book comes out! (*jealous*). So, what is next for Charlie Cochrane?

Writing wise, I’ve got a first draft to finish, a second draft to complete and some submissions to make. Like many authors, once project is put to bed, another starts. 

Life wise, I have to devise some more puzzles (word, number, etc) to send out to my family while we socially isolate. They love their daily challenge.

JF: Charlie, thank you so much for joining me today!

Readers, if you want to learn more about Charlie and her books, check out her website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you want to get straight to the books, you can find them here.

COVID-19: Good News (Updated Regularly)

This pandemic is terrifying, let’s face it. Tragedy is all around, and I’m not making light of that.

But if we want to move through it, we can’t lose hope. And hopeful events are all around us, as well.

I’m collecting them here.

Please feel free to add more hopeful happenings in the comments.

Testing

April 4, 2020: (Sacramento Bee) Stanford’s immunity test is ready to go.

March 27, 2020: Abbot Laboratories launches a 5-minute test for Coronavirus. Production begins April 1 (Bloomberg).

March 27, 2020: In the UK, medical detection dogs are being trained to detect Coronavirus (The Telegraph).

March 26, 2020: UK poised to distribute antibody tests on a large scale through drug stores (The Independent).

March 23, 2020: The University of Arizona is pumping out testing kits for local use (Tucson.com)

March 22, 2020: The U.S. has just developed a serological test for immunity against COVID-19 (Leapsmag)

March 21, 2020: The FDA has approved a new test that gives results in 45 minutes (CNN)

March 19, 2020: Israeli scientists announce the development of a test that can test up to 60 people at once.

March 12, 2020: CBS Los Angeles reports that the University of California has developed a test that will show results in 24 hours.

Vaccines

April 7, 2020 (Science Daily) A vaccine technology that shows promise against MERS is being explored for use against COVID-19.

April 6, 2020: (Irish Times) A study shows that a vaccine for tuberculosis may protect against COVID-19.

April 3, 2020: Bill Gates to set up seven factories to research and scale up production of seven potential vaccines (Business Insider)

April 2, 2020: Pittsburgh University develops a potential vaccine (Pittsburgh Business News)

March 31, 2020: (Algemeiner) Israel is making progress toward a vaccine.

March 25, 2020: According to scientists, the virus is not mutating very quickly, which gives hope that a vaccine could provide long-term immunity.

March 30, 2020: Johnson & Johnson to begin human vaccine testing in September (CNBC)

March 18, 2020: A Canadian vaccine is showing great promise (CBC news).

March 13, 2020: The Montreal Gazette announces that Canadian researchers have isolated the virus. Also, a Canadian company announces that it has produced a virus-like particle that could form the basis of a vaccine.

March 15, 2020: Marketwatch reports that an American company has begun human clinical trials for a Coronavirus vaccine.

February 28, 2020: ABC News reports on an all-female team of scientists in Maryland who are working on a vaccine. The team has three vaccine candidates, one of which is currently in animal trials.

Treatments

April 6, 2020: Plasma treatments show promise against COVID-19 (CNN).

April 2, 2020: NHS Glasgow and Greater Clyde convert 100 anaesthetic machines to ventilators (Talking Up Scotland)

March 30, 2020: University of Arizona seeks to fast-track a breathing assistance device (Tucson.com)

March 30, 2020: University College London researchers partner with clinicians and Mercedes to produce an apparatus that assists breathing without a ventilator (BBC).

March 28, 2020: MIT will post plans for building a $100 emergency ventilator. But don’t try this at home. (SciTech Daily)

March 27, 2020: Check out Scotland’s innovative approach to diagnosis and triage of COVID-19 cases (video, NHS Scotland).

March 25, 2020: A new ventilator design gets FDA approval (Greenville News).

March 25, 2020: Italian engineers hack SCUBA gear into ventilator masks (Upworthy).

March 25, 2020: The Dyson Company has produced 15,000 ventilators for UK and international use. The ventilators are of a new, innovative bed-mounted design that’s also appropriate for field use. Currently pending testing (Reuters).

March 24, 2020: Despite U.S. sanctions, Cuba has mobilized to fight COVID-19 around the world with Interferon Alpha-2B Recombinant (Newsweek). The treatment has already proven effective in treating dengue fever, HIV, human papillomavirus, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and more.

March 24, 2020: Mt. Sinai reports that it will begin treating critically-ill COVID-19 patients with antibodies from recovered patients.

March 24, 2020: The FDA approves antibody therapy for critically ill COVID-19 patients (NBC News).

March 23, 2020: First UK patients to begin clinical trials of potential treatments (The Guardian).

March 23, 2020: Mt. Sinai Hospital developing an innovative wraparound program for testing, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. (Mt. Sinai News)

March 23, 2020: New York is trialing an old treatment for a new illness (NBC).

March 21, 2020: Read about the Slovenian respirator, possibly the most important treatment tool for COVID-19 cases. It can be 3D printed, and even crowdsourced (Okolje i Energija)

March 20, 2020: Korea finds a substance that inhibits Coronavirus (Korea Biomed).

March 20, 2020: Canadian anaesthetist MacGyvers one ventilator to treat nine patients at the same time.

March 18, 2020: The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have set up joint operations to combat the virus.

March 18, 2020: Medscape reports that a French researcher has posted a successful trial of curing COVID-19 using the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. The study is controversial, as it was small-scale, non-blinded, and not randomized.

March 18, 2020: The Guardian reports that patient testing in the UK is about to begin for a possible Coronavirus treatment using SNG001, an experimental lung drug that is currently in development as a treatment for COPD.

March 17, 2020: Business Korea reports on research into the use of two existing drugs, Kaletra (used to treat AIDS) and Levovir, which is used to treat Hepatitis B.

March 16, 2020: Newsweek reports that Australian doctors have found two existing drugs to be effective against the Coronavirus. One is an HIV drug, and one is an antimalarial.

March 18, 2020: The Guardian reported that a Japanese flu drug has been shown effective for treating mild to moderate cases.

Recovery

April 7, 2020: A 90-year-old Glaswegian man recovers (Glasgow Times)

March 31, 2020: 94-year-old survives, is released from hospital (BBC)

March 30, 2020: Despite limited resources, Viet Nam has NO COVID-19 deaths, and few confirmed cases (World Economic Forum).

March 30, 2020: The epidemic is slowing in the UK (Reuters).

March 30, 2020: Flattening the curve is working in San Francisco, and New Zealand is crushing it.

March 28, 2020: A 101-year-old man who lived through the Spanish Flu and WWII has beaten COVID-19 as well (The Science Times).

March 27, 2020: An 87-year-old grandfather had recovered from COVID-19 (Sky News).

March 27, 2020: A 102-year-old Italian woman has recovered from COVID-19, and is going home (CNN).

March 23, 2020: Nearly 4,000 doctors return from service in Wuhan.

March 23, 2020: Italy’s new cases drop for the second day in a row (The Hill).

March 21, 2020: China declares victory over COVID-19, returns to business. (The Times)

March 19, 2020: In the final analysis, the death rate from COVID-19 in Wuhan was determined to be 1.4% rather than 3.4% (Newsweek).

March 19, 2020: Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture has ended its state of emergency, says Reuters.

March 18, 2020: Xinhua news reports that due to a drastically reduced number of new infections, and the recovery of many infected people, the country has closed all 16 of its temporary Coronavirus hospitals.

March 18, 2020: According to ABC News, China has reported only two new cases in two days. In addition, some 65,000 of 80,894 cases in China have recovered.

March 13, 2020: Newsweek reports that for the first time since the outbreak, recoveries in South Korea outnumber new cases.

Nature

April 7, 2020: For the first time in 30 years, the Himalayas are visible from 200Km away (SBS)

April 6, 2020: L.A. now has some of the cleanest air on Earth (KALB news).

March 28, 2020: With India on lockdown, endangered sea turtles are expected to lay some sixty million eggs (The Mind Unleashed)

March 28, 2020: The cancellation of country foot races in west Yorkshire is bad for runners, but “a great leap forward” for toads (The Guardian).

March 27, 2020: Air pollution is way down in Europe due to lockdowns (BBC).

March 26, 2020: Los Angeles reports its third straight week of super-clean air due to fewer cars on the road (Curbed magazine).

March 26, 2020: Pollution levels in Brighton and Hove have been halved due to reduced human activity, reports Brighton and Hove News.

March 23, 2020: The Guardian reports a significant drop in air pollution due to COVID-19 measures worldwide.

March 19, 2020: The BBC reports that air pollution and C02 emissions have dropped significantly around the world due to the curtailment of human activity due to anti-COVID-19 measures.

March 16, 2020: CNN reports that the lack of tourist activity in Venice, Italy has resulted in swans, fish, and dolphins returning to the canals. Also, for the first time in recent memory, the canal water has become clear. The air quality has also improved.

March 4, 2020: NPR reports a dramatic drop of air pollution over China, following a decrease in economic activity due to the Coronavirus. China’s carbon emissions have also dropped by 25%.

Society

April 7, 2020: (New York Times) Number of Britons stepping up to help the vulnerable reaches 750,000.

April 7, 2020: Locked-down folk in Naples share food and solidarity with the homeless (NPR).

April 6, 2020: Lady Gaga raises $35M in 7 days for the WHO’s Coronavirus effort (Business Insider)

April 5, 2020: Ireland’s Prime Minister returns to service as a doctor to help with the outbreak (Reuters).

April 4, 2020: The Nets owner Joe Tsai donates 2,000 ventilators to New York. The NBA added a shipment of medical masks, too.

April 2, 2020: Oprah donates $10M to Coronavirus relief (TMZ).

March 31, 2020: Designer Christian Siriano turns his shop into a mask factory (The New Yorker).

March 30, 2020: Harvard medical students graduate early to help with the fight (Harvard Gazette).

March 30, 2020: California’s Governor Newsom launches a Health Corps to fight the virus (CNBC).

March 29, 2020: Busch is giving a three-month beer supply to anyone who fosters a dog from this one shelter (Yahoo News).

March 29, 2020: An airlift of medical supplies from China arrives in New York. The U.S. had previously sent supplies to China when the crisis began there (Reuters).

March 28, 2020: Nordstroms tailors have turned their talents to sewing masks (KOMO News).

March 28, 2020: Do you owe money on Federal student loans? If so, you don’t have to pay until September 30 (Forbes)

March 27, 2020: Over 9,000 retired Army medical personnel answer the call.

March 27, 2020: Like Girl Scout Cookies? At long last, you can buy them online (Girl Scouts of America).

March 27, 2020: Designer Ralph Lauren has donated $10M to the world Coronavirus response. He and his staff are also making protective masks and gowns (BBC).

March 26, 2020: Teen starts a free grocery delivery service for the vulnerable (Upworthy).

March 26, 2020: Every night at 8pm, people in Atlanta open their windows to cheer for the healthcare workers fighting to save them.

March 26, 2020: Crocs is donating shoes to healthcare workers (CNN).

March 26, 2020: Brooklyn Navy Yard switches to making face masks (Gothamist).

March 25, 2020: Vancouver Men in Kilts delivering groceries to the vulnerable (MyCoxValleyNowNews)

March 25, 2020: The German government has rolled out a €50B aid package for small business that includes artists and galleries (Artnet).

March 25, 2020: The Four Seasons hotel provides free rooms to medical personnel fighting COVID-19 in New York City (Bloomberg).

March 25, 2020: The U.S. House and Senate have agreed on a financial stimulus & relief package that helps both individuals and business (The New York Times).

March 25, 2020: Shelter animals are finding homes at an unprecedented rate as people seek companionship during lockdown (Good News Network)

March 25, 2020: More than half a million volunteers answer the UK’s call to relieve pressure on the NHS during the Coronavirus crisis (BBC)

March 25, 2020: The U.S. Government to stop collections on defaulted student loan debt (Forbes).

March 24, 2020: China has banned wild animal markets (CNN).

March 24, 2020: Lowes is donating $10M of protective gear to first responders (KNIX Radio).

March 24, 2020: The JoAnn’s fabric store chain is distributing “mask-making” kits, including fabric.

March 24, 2020: Freelancers and self-employed in the UK will receive government grants to help them survive their loss of income.

March 24, 2020: Starbucks to provide free coffee for first responders. Starbucks will also provide 30 days pay to all employees, whether they come in to work or not.

March 24, 2020: Freelancers and self-employed in the UK will receive government grants to help them survive their loss of income.

March 24, 2020: Elon Musk fulfils ventilator promise, delivers 1,000, and works with Medtronic to make more (Bloomberg).

March 23, 2020: Tom Hanks and his wife are feeling better (The Sun).

March 23, 2020: A West Bank mask factory is making thousands of masks a day (+972 Magazine)

March 23, 2020: A Nobel Laureate presents a hopeful case for an optimistic outcome (L.A. Times)

March 23, 2020: Cuban medical personnel head to Italy to help the fight (Postive Outlooks Blog)

March 22, 2020: North Carolina textile mill switches to making medical masks (Charlotte Observer)

March 22, 2020: Factory switches from making couches to making protective masks for hospitals.

March 22, 2020: The Hanes company to start making protective masks for healthcare professionals (ABC News).

March 22, 2020: GM to begin producing ventilators (Nasdaq.com).

March 21, 2020: Jews delivering meals to elderly Poles who helped during the Holocaust (Times of Israel).

March 21, 2020: Another distiller steps up to the plate making free hand sanitizer for hospitals (Tucson.com)

March 21, 2020: Clothing designer Christian Siriano and his people are making surgical masks for New York hospitals, reports Pink News. Are you interested in making masks? First, ask around to see who needs/wants them. Second, get a pattern. Finally, make sure you use the right materials. A poorly made mask is a waste of time and effort, and won’t help anyone.

March 21, 2020: In Melbourne, the same group of Sikhs who fed first responders to the Australian bush fires has set up a free home meal delivery service for people who are self-isolating due to Coronavirus (Sikhnet).

March 21, 2020: Busch Gardens amusement park, now closed, donates nearly 6,000 pounds of food to food banks (Tampa Bay Times).

March 20, 2020: Liverpool man pledges £1m per week to help the city’s poor during the crisis (Liverpool Echo).

March 20, 2020: The UK government to pay 80% of workers’ salaries, up to £2,500/month, provided companies keep them on the payroll.

March 19, 2020: U.S. homeowners can now get (up to) a 12-month mortgage pause during the pandemic (NPR).

March 19, 2020: Seattle restaurants are providing free meals for hospital staff, while keeping their workers employed (Crosscut).

March 19, 2020: The New York Times reports that animal shelters around the USA have reported an increase in people applying to foster shelter animals as companions during shelter-at-home periods.

March 19, 2020: CNN reports that, in an act of solidarity, Brazil has lit up their Christ the Redeemer statue with flags of the countries where COVID-19 has been reported. The flags alternate with projected messages of hope and solidarity, and the hashtag #rezemosjuntos (let us pray together).

March 18, 2020: UK government enacts eviction moratorium and additional protection for renters during the CV crisis (UK Government home page). Scotland does the same.

March 18, 2020: USA Today reports that the Senate just passed a bipartisan bill that provides for paid sick time for workers affected by Coronavirus, paid time off for parents to care for children whose schools have closed, free testing, and more. The bill will next go to the President to sign. The real miracle here, many might agree, is that Democrats and Republicans worked together to get this done.

March 17, 2020: Brits will get a 3-month mortgage holiday (Metro)

March 13, 2020: President Trump announced that the Federal Government will waive interest on Federal student loans.

March 17, 2020: Forbes reports that New York State has halted collections of outstanding medical debt and student loan debt owed to the state. Governor Cuomo has also suspended the accrual of interest on this debt.

March 16, 2020: Good Samaritans are 3D printing new respirator valves for Italian hospitals (Fast Company).

March 10, 2020: Business Insider reports that Italy has suspended mortgage payments during the lockdown. The British bank RBS will also do the same for its mortgage customers.

More Good News Roundups

March 22, 2020: Good news about testing, equipment manufacture, and more from California (Times of San Diego).

March 17, 2020 Vaccines, cures, good deeds, and more.

March 12, 2020: The New European lists 10 common-sense reasons not to panic about the novel Coronavirus.

Freebies!

A lot of generous authors, artists, and educators are stepping up to fill our entertainment needs with free books, performances, and education.

Who are these angels, what’s offer, and where can we find it?

Check out these links below! Also, if I’m missing any, or if you’d like to add your own book to the list, let me know in the comments!

But for now, on to the goodies!

(NB: some of these may be free for a limited time only)

To Read

Join Tor.com’s Ebook of the month club and get a free copy of Redshirts by John Scalzi.

Author and podcaster R.B. Wood has lots of freebies on their website.

Neil Gaiman has scads of free reads on his website. He also has free reads for kids here.

KJ Charles has put up the first book in her wonderful Magpie Lord series for free here. Full disclosure: this is the series that made her an autobuy for me.

Download over 300,000 books from the New York Public Library.

James Scott Bell, I See Things Deeply, a short story collection.

Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins – the first book in a much-loved Lovecraftian m/m series. This was the book that introduced me to Jordan’s work, and it’s wonderful.

Marie Sexton, Release Dystopian m/m

Brad Shreve, A Body in a Bathhouse – a gay murder mystery. This one is fun, also.

To Watch

Love ballet and opera? The Paris Opera is streaming both for free.

Want to visit some lovely gardens without leaving your living room? Check these out.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore is livestreaming fishies on its website.

Do you love documentaries? Take a trip to Documentary Heaven!

Like Broadway shows? Try a free seven day trial of Broadway HD.

To Do

How about some free fantasy-based video games?

Disney and the Kennedy Space Center are teaming up to present a cool selection of online activities for kids.

Fan of the Unexplained? The Winchester Mystery House is offering free virtual tours.

Want to go for a Safari? Do it virtually with the Cincinnati Zoo.

Are you in Scotland? The National Trust for Scotland has also scrapped entrance fees for visitors.

The U.S. National Parks have waived admissions fees to all national parks during the crisis.

How about some free online art classes from major universities?

Try some free streaming baking tutorials from London bakery Bread Ahead.

Bestselling children’s author Mo Willems is teaching drawing for kids.

Give it a Listen

Do you like Audiobooks? Audible has made hundreds of them free, including a large number of beloved childrens’ stories.

The New York Metropolitan Opera will livestream shows nightly at 7:30 PM on their website. You can also access 700 operas on demand using their app. (This costs money, but there is a free trial period.)

Download John McLaughlin’s album Is that So? Right here.

Feed Your Mind

Interested in marine biology? Oceans Initiative is hosting a virtual marine biology camp.

Another wonderful roundup of all sorts of free entertainment and learning.

Did you know you can visit 12 of the world’s great museums online, right now?

A roundup of all sorts of free stuff right here.

Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura is offering a free virtual cooking class on Instagram.

Ivy league schools are giving 450 free courses right here.

Learn just about anything, at any level, for free at Khan Academy.

An Interview With Olivier Bosman

Happy Saturday!

Today I’m thrilled to have the chance to sit down with one of my favorite authors of historical mysteries, Olivier Bosman. Bosman is the author of the DS Billings mysteries, among others, and if you haven’t read them yet, you should!

We’ll talk more about the books in a mo, but before that, let’s get to know the author a bit first, shall we?

JF: Right, so five quick facts about you. Go!

1. I am tri-lingual

2. My impossible wish is to have a time machine and travel back in time. Not to change anything. Just to see what things were like.

3. Last great film I watched: Hereditary (so creepy)

4. Last great book I read: The Public Image by Muriel Spark (such economy with words!)

5. I’ve been at my current home now for nearly 5 years. In 47 years of life, that is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place.

JF: Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? What other jobs have you held? Have they influenced your writing?

 I teach a little English online to help make ends meet. It’s only this last year and a half, that I’ve been able to devote most of my time to writing. Prior to that I spent many years working in call-centres, which I hated, but it has taught me to persevere. It was that desperate desire to do something else with my life which egged me on to keep on writing in my free hours, and now I am finally able to enjoy the fruits of my efforts. 

JF: What experiences in particular have inspired your writing?

I think growing up in Colombia has inspired a lot of my Victorian mysteries. Colombia is a country where the very rich and very poor live side by side. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood and had live-in servants, but had to pass slums and begging children on my way to school. The social structure, the rigid class system, the entrepreneurial spirit of a developing nation are things which Colombia has in common with Victorian Britain, and this has really informed my writing. 

JF: Wow, that’s fascinating! What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Taking the dog for a walk, watch old films and Netflix series, and of course reading. But most of all, I enjoy sitting on the window sill, looking out into the distance and daydreaming.

JF: Now, a bit about your writing, if you please. Describe your process. Are you a plotter or a pantser, or something different altogether?

I do plot the whole story before I start writing, but the act of writing usually inspires new ideas, or exposes plot holes. Also, characters have an annoying habit of behaving in unexpected manners, which means that I always end up having to re-plot everything half way through the first draft.  

JF: I can definitely identify with that. What about reviews? Do you read yours? How do you handle ones that are not so great? 

Yes. People don’t relise how valuable reviews are to writers. Writing is a lonely profession and reviews are the only way for me to know how readers are reacting to my stories. Bad reviews don’t tend to bother me much. When I do get a bad review, it’s usually because the reader had different expectations of what the book would be. That’s why it is important for me to make sure that the book’s cover and blurb accurately convey the feeling and genre of the book. 

JF: Are you traditionally published, self-published, both or neither? Why did you choose that path? What are some of the good things and bad things about doing it that way?

I’m self-published. Prior to writing my first novel, I spent years trying to be a screenwriter, and sending unsolicited scripts to production companies and agencies without result, until I reached a point where I just wanted people to enjoy my work, and I didn’t have the patience for the whole waiting game that comes with going the traditional route.

JF: What is the one thing you wish you’d known about writing before you started doing it seriously?

I have learned a lot since I started publishing; how Amazon works, how to find good cover designers and editors, how to look for your audience, how to market your book, how to do promotions efficiently – and I’m still learning. It would’ve been great if I’d known all of this beforehand, but learning is part of the fun of doing something new. And the industry is constantly changing anyway, so the learning never ends.

Available now at Amazon.

JF: Now let’s hear a bit about your work. Tell us about your latest book.

The DS Billings Victorian Mysteries are a series of detective novels set in late Victorian England. The protagonist, Detective Sergeant John Billings, is an honest and hard working man who has risen swiftly through the ranks to become one of Scotland Yard’s youngest detectives. But in his private life he struggles with the demons of homosexuality, loneliness and morphine addiction.  He is a complex man who always tries to do the right thing, but often makes reckless and impulsive decisions which land him in deep trouble.

JF: Where did you get the idea for this story?

I was inspired to write a Victorian Gothic story after reading “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. There is something irrepressibly appealing about dark gas-lit alleys, and sinister men in top hats, and shifty looking maids lurking in corridors, and enigmatic damsels with long dresses and hidden pasts.

JF: What idea would you like your readers to take away from this story?

Two things: One that the late Victorian era wasn’t really that different to modern times. 

Two: that having a gay detective as a protagonist does not make this a gay novel. I see no reason why straight people cannot relate to a gay character the way gay people have been able to relate to straight characters for so many years. I really hope that in the near future we can have more gay protagonists in mainstream fiction.

JF: Me too! So, what’s next for you? 

I am currently writing the fifth Billings mystery. 

I also have a light-hearted romantic novel coming out on April 7 (see below).

You or No One. 

Is the world ready for an openly gay king and his prince consort?

Joel is happy, confident and working class. 

Eric is shy, insecure and a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families in Europe.

When they meet in university sparks fly. 

They say opposites attract, but when Joel discovers that Eric is the crown prince and future king of Doggerland, he starts having doubts.

They want to get married. They think their greatest battle will be convincing the King and the Prime Minister to give their consent. But estranged relatives coming out of the woodwork, intrusive tabloid press, and the traditional, stifling lifestyle of the aristocracy conspire against them. 

Are Joel and Eric secure enough in themselves and each other to overcome a world which is not as tolerant as they thought?

JF: Now that is one that I’m definitely going to check out!

Readers, be on the lookout for You or No One by Olivier Bosman, coming on April 7!