Tuesday 6 August 2013

Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor

Beneath An Irish Sky by Isabella Connor is the latest release from Choc Lit, and will be published in paperback here in the UK tomorrow - 7 August 2013

Choc Lit are a publishing house that consistently deliver the goods.  Their books are well-written and intelligent stories, often with a touch of humour and magic, and always beautifully presented.

Beneath An Irish Sky is the debut novel from Isabella Connor who is not one, but two new authors.  Liv Thomas and Val Olteanu co-wrote this story, taking over five years to complete it.  I dearly hope that this is the first of many novels from them.

I became caught up in the story within the first two paragraphs.  The writing is engaging and draws the reader in straight away as we are introduced to Jack Stewart, in Ireland to identify the body of his estranged wife. Annie left Jack twenty years ago, he thought that they were deeply in love, he thought that they were happy, but she left suddenly, with no notice and Jack has not seen her since.  Hearing that Annie has been killed in a car accident aged just 40 is a shock, discovering that he has a son that he knew nothing about is an even bigger one!

Annie came from an Irish Traveller family, Jack comes from a wealthy, successful and very snobbish family.  His parents never approved of Annie, and made it clear that they thought Jack was better off without her.  Jack tried to forget, but really Annie was his true love.  

Annie brought up Luke as a single mother.  As far as he is concerned Jack Stewart didn't want him and banished his mother from the family.  Luke's life has been tough, although adored by his mother, he's suffered at the hands of his violent uncles.   Luke hates Jack.

Slowly and carefully the story unfolds.  Why did Annie tell Luke that his father did not want him?  Why did Annie never tell Jack that he was a father?   Two men, both suspicious, both grieving - how will they ever repair the damage that has been done?

This really is an excellent story. Combining the world and tradition of the Travelling people with the upper-class snobbery of the English Stewart family and adding in a mix of supporting characters.  The plot gathers pace, starting slowly, introducing the characters and building to an ending that I really didn't predict.

I was intrigued to learn that Isabella Connor is in fact two new authors and am delighted to welcome Liv and Val here today to my blog.  They've agreed to answer a few questions about their writing and reading habits:

Hi Anne, thank you for inviting us to be on your blog.  As we say in the interview, 'Beneath An Irish Sky' has been part of our lives for over five years, but it's very surreal to now see it in print, dissected and analysed by people everywhere!    Liv and Val

Liv Thomas lives in England, Val Olteanu in Canada.  They met on a Tolkein fan forum and decided to write a novel together.  Despite living some 4700 miles apart (and with an 8 hour time difference), they succeeded in producing their debut novel. 'Beneath An Irish Sky' which is now available as eBook and paperback. They write under the pen-name of Isabella Connor and are already deep into co-authoring their second novel.

What are you reading at the moment?   

Val: “The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn. It’s a memoir. When she lost her job, Kathleen used her savings to go to Paris to study at the Cordon Bleu cooking school. I love people who take such huge risks like that. I also adore Paris, and the city permeates the book. Hopefully I’ll pick up some culinary tips since cooking is not my forte. I’ve just reached this part, which resonates with me:

I put together several little vols-au-vent. They look as if a kindergartener put them together with Play-Doh.

Liv: I’m working my way through Choc Lit’s vast library, and am currently reading “The Elephant Girl” by Henriette Gyland. I’m also re-reading “Strangers,” one of my favourite Dean Koontz books. I want to see if the ending affects me the same way it did when I first read it. It was quite surreal, because it gave me an uplifting sensation, quite unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It’s so long since I’ve read it, I can’t actually remember what the ending was – just the feeling it invoked.

Do you read reviews of your novels?    

Val: “Beneath an Irish Sky” has been recently released as eBook and paperback, so the reviews are just starting to appear, and we are reading them. Liv and I are very curious about the response to our story. How could we not be after spending five years writing it? We write to be read – to tell a story that we hope people will enjoy. Our readers are important to us.

Liv: I’d love to be able to be blasé about reviews, and just take a look now and then. Maybe in time that will happen, but right now it’s so new, and I’m so anxious, looking for reviews is almost an obsession. I appreciate what people have to say as long as it’s constructive – we can learn so much from a good reviewer. I do get rattled if someone makes what I consider an invalid criticism, but have to be strong enough not to respond. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but it would be good sometimes to ask a question – like “did you miss that bit?” ;)

Do you take them seriously?  

: If someone has taken the time to write a serious, thoughtful review, then I will certainly take it seriously. As writers, we are always open to developing our craft.

Liv: Definitely. Especially if a particular point has been raised more than once. Good reviewers are helpful for our learning curve.

How long does it take to write a novel? 

: Liv and I took five years to write “Beneath an Irish Sky” but that included a substantial rewrite and cutting the book from its original 240,000 words to 110,000! We’ve almost finished writing our second novel, and that took less than two years. If I didn’t have to work full-time, I could probably write a novel of twenty chapters in six months (with the equivalent time beforehand for planning and research).

Liv: It would be interesting to answer this question in five years’ time, when we’ll hopefully have at least three more novels in the bag. It’s hard to know how long it would take if writing was my full time occupation, but I work four days a week, so can’t write nearly as long as I’d like. I don’t think it would ever take us five years again, though – we’ve learned so much in that time.

Do you have any writing rituals? 

Val: I prefer to write longhand, so I always have a ready supply of notebooks (nothing special, just ordinary lined A4) and 2H pencils with eraser tips. I usually type up what I’ve written the next day – it’s a great form of editing. I also prefer to write outdoors although the rainy months in Vancouver make that a challenge!

Liv:  I always used to write longhand, and could not go straight to Word. Now I find it really difficult to physically write. Laziness might have something to do with it, but I find using my PC so much quicker. I like to be alone, but that doesn’t happen often.

What was your favourite childhood book?  

Val: ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ And I regularly re-read it as an adult. I just love those alarmingly vivid characters like the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. I also think Alice was my first role model – always asking questions and speaking her mind.

Liv: I was always reading as a child. I loved Enid Blyton, and of course, would write my own adventure stories, just like her. I was probably a child plagiarist, come to think of it. I had favourite books which I’d read over and over, some of which are quite obscure but I still remember so well – ‘Death Mask,’ by Ellis Peters, ‘Don’t Knock the Corners Off’ by Caroline Glyn, ‘Exile for Annis’ by Josephine Elder. And the classic children’s stories – ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘The Water Babies,’ etc.

Name one book that made you laugh?  

: I remember laughing out loud on a London Tube train at something in Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and a woman scowled at me like I’d cursed in a church. Other people craned their heads to see the title of my book. I do that a lot, too – I’m always nosy about what other people are reading.

Liv: I also laughed aloud on a train at one of Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ books. I don’t know if anyone noticed. I just kept reading. And laughing.

Name one book that made you cry?  

Val: ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy. It’s about a father and son in a post-Apocalyptic world. The subject-matter was heavy-going yet I couldn’t put the book down because the main characters were very real and I cared desperately about what happened to them. The ending broke my heart so much that I couldn’t bear to watch the movie, even though I love Viggo Mortensen, who played the role of the father.

Liv: I tend to avoid books which I know are about sad things, but I can still get caught – the last book I actually cried at was Sue Moorcroft’s ‘Starting Over,’ the last few pages of which were such a roller-coaster of emotion I had tears running down my face.

Which fictional character would you like to meet?   

Val: I’ve just finished reading Jane Lovering’s ‘Star Struck’ and I fell in love with her cool and intense hero, Jack Whitaker. A talented and mysterious writer of a famous fictional sci-fi show, Jack smokes, wears rumpled clothes, and often walks around in his bare feet. If I met him, we’d have margaritas by the hotel pool, then I’d persuade him to come away with me in a Mustang convertible on a crazy road trip across America.

Liv: Probably Gandalf, because I’d try to talk him into weaving a few spells for me. One of my favourite heroes is Jim Ironheart from Dean Koontz’s ‘Cold Fire.’ Dean Koontz is actually very good at writing the kind of hero who is attractive to women. Some male writers create heroes who are very Boys Own, action-men type, who might appeal more to a male reader. Oh, and Barrons from Karen Moning’s ‘Fever’ series. Christian Grey, eat your heart out…

Which book would you give to your best friend as a present? 

Val: Any book with a Scottish theme because her homeland is her passion.

Liv: ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett. (Questions which ask you to choose one of something are really hard!)

Are you inspired by any particular author or book? 

Val: Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” which I first read in my early teens. I loved her descriptions of Manderley, the mystery at the heart of the story, and the fact that her narrator (the Girl) was gauche and uncertain. I don’t like romance characters to be too perfect.

Liv: Enid Blyton inspired me as a child. Maeve Binchy has also inspired me – such a natural story-teller. I’d have to include Tolkien – after reading ‘Lord of the Rings,’ it was two years until I read another book. I was bereft! The mark of a good book is surely one you can’t put down but don’t want to end.

What is your guilty pleasure read?   

Val: Twitter is my guilty pleasure read. Guilty because it means time spent away from my own writing, but there’s so much creativity and wit to be found on Twitter. I love Joanne Harris, Louise Brealey, Ian Rankin, Jennifer Saunders, A L Kennedy, Sam Neill, Alan Cumming …

Liv:  Fan fiction maybe? I actually wrote some ‘Lord of the Rings’ fanfic. I just regret that I never had Faramir as a dominant, into S&M. I could be a millionaire now…

Who are your favourite authors?  

Val: There are so many! Impossible to choose. A friend and I used to assign a favourite author for each letter of the alphabet so here goes: Austen, the Brontes, Peter Carey, Daphne Du Maurier, George Eliot, Fitzgerald, Gaskell, Joanne Harris, Ishiguro, James Joyce, James Kelman, Penelope Lively, Hilary Mantel, Naipaul, Terry Pratchett, Rushdie, Zadie Smith, Tolkien, Barry Unsworth, Virginia Woolf. But that’s only a fraction of the many writers I love.

Liv: I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never read many classic authors, so my taste is pretty mainstream, but I think there’s some great stuff out there. Through Choc Lit I’ve discovered writers whose work I really like. Also Patricia Scanlan, Lesley Pearse, Dean Koontz, Tolkien – and a wonderful Irish writer called Walter Macken, whose trilogy ‘Seek the Fair Land’ is one of my favourite reads of all time. Maybe I’d give that to my best friend instead.  

My thanks to Choc Lit who sent my copy of Beneath An Irish Sky for review and to Liv and Val for their interesting and honest answers.   I loved the book and wish you lots of success x


  1. What a fab interview. I'm a fan of Enid Blyton and Joanne Harris - excellent choices :-)

  2. Liv had great taste there in liking Walter Macken! Glad to see you enjoyed the book as much as I did. I'm becoming more of a romantic in my old age...still some cynicism there though. ;-)

  3. Laura - going to put loads of Enid Blyton on my Kindle. Treez - Seek the Far Land is up there with the very best imo. Deserves more recognition.

    Liv x