Review of “A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” by Zara Thorne

Cloud Cottage final cover

Romona lives with her grandmother, Tilly Donnelly, in a cottage on the South Downs. Tilly has brought her up from a baby and in spite of the generation gap, the pair are very close. Then Tilly collapses in the local shop and is taken to hospital. She can remember nothing of what has happened, nor of her recent past, which leaves Romona to cope as best as she can.

Unwilling to confide in anyone, in case she is taken into care, Romona must find a way of staying at Number One The Pastures, until her grandmother is fit enough to come home.

“A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” is the first Charnley Acre book that I have read and it is a total delight.

Romona and Tilly are vividly depicted characters and I feel a real sympathy for them both. I love Romona’s courage and determination and her slightly old fashioned view of life. The author gives a convincing picture of a twelve year old struggling with the day to day problems of living on her own in a remote cottage and at the same time trying to find out what has happened to her grandmother.

The other characters are well drawn too, in particular, Kinsey, Romona’s friend and her large noisy family who are a direct contrast to Romona’s isolated life with her grandmother.

And there is Emily, a journalist, who takes an interest in Romona and welcomes the quirky intelligent girl into Cloud Cottage, giving her a place to do her homework, a refuge from the crowded home, Romona has invented as a cover story.

When the truth emerges about Tilly Emily willingly takes on a greater role in Romona’s life. But Emily too has problems. Can she trust her boyfriend Ethan and why is he so set against Romona?

Although the novel deals with loss, ageing and coming to terms with a painful and life changing reality, the writer does it all with a light touch, so that “A Welcome at Cloud Cottage” is an warming and uplifting read.

I can thoroughly recommend the novel and look forward to reading more about Charnley Acres.

Zara Thorne is the pen name of Deirdre Palmer:

DP author picDeirdre lives in Brighton, on the south coast.  She has written four full-length novels under her own name, all originally published by Crooked Cat Books, and four shorter women’s fiction novels as Zara Thorne through Fabrian Books, a self-publishing collective.  She has also published a book of short stories, most of which were previously published in The People’s Friend magazine. Deirdre is a member of the ten-strong writers’ group, The Write Romantics, and is a full member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – although she doesn’t confine herself to writing romance. Much of her inspiration for the Zara Thorne books is drawn from the countryside and villages around her home count of Sussex.  ‘A Welcome at Cloud Cottage’ is the third book in the Charnley Acre series, although the story stands equally well alone.

The novel is available on Amazon:




Finding the Right Cover

Finding the right cover for your book, is one of the hardest things to do as an Indie author.   There is so much to bear in mind. The cover must convey genre, it must stand out and yet fit in so that anyone picking it up will know that it is a book for children, or women’s fiction, or a thriller. And, of course, you want it to be unique and special just as your book is unique and special.

For “City of Secrets” this was particularly hard as right from the start I had a vivid picture of Letty Parker, a twelve year old pie seller, sitting on the wharf side as the sun set into the river. Great image, but it didn’t say enough, Letty might be the main character, but her friends Jeb, Mango and Gabriel play crucial roles and I wanted something that would suggest the sinister, dark magic that runs through the book.

The next step was a quick trawl through the internet, where I found this picture by Arthur Rackham


The atmosphere was right, but there were no gargoyles or dragons.

Luckily, my sister, Anuk Naumann, is an artist, so I rang her and asked if she could do me a gargoyle. Living near Oxford, the breed of stone creatures was a familiar one, and she responded almost immediately with the picture that became the cover for “City of Secrets”.


To her many thanks. And also to Peter Coleborn who made the painting into a cover. As for the original – it will be framed and have a place of honour in my office, where the gargoyle on the bridge will supervise the writing of the next book in “The Adventures of Letty Parker.”

If you would like to read the first in the series, “City of Secrets” is now out on — eBook – book





Ghosts at the Gladstone


On Saturday we held our annual reading café at the Gladstone, when local writers from a variety of writing groups come together share their stories, or extracts from their books. This year’s theme was “Ghosts at the Gladstone” and we had a great selection of chilling tales of spine tingling horror. Or in some cases amusing stories of Glaswegian ghosts, or Brummie ghost hunters, or Flo who accidentally spreads death wherever she goes.

Gladstone 3

On a grey, October day, the Gladstone was the perfect location for dimming the lights, drawing the blinds and letting yourself face the primal fears of darkness and death. Outside the windows, the solid bulk of the bottle kilns rose into a pewter sky; the wind beat and howled and sirens screeched.

Bring on Halloween!


Our readers, June Palmer, Debbi Voisey, Jan Edwards, Peter Coleborn, Nic Hale, Mick Walters, Margaret Moxon and Dawn Weeks. Front row, me, Jem Shaw, Sue Eaton, Pauline Woodhouse and Bev Adams.

And last, but not least, many thanks to the staff at the Gladstone for hosting our event.

Butterflies in Hobnail Boots


There are “butterflies in hobnail boots stamping about in my insides” as Letty Parker would say. Letty, the main character in “City of Secrets” has a way with words and I like this analogy because it sums up both the flutter of excitement and the twist of nerves go with launching a book.

On the one hand, I can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hand. The cover is beautiful. The picture painted by my sister, Anuk Naumann, is just right and Peter Coleborn has done a brilliant job in turning it into a book cover.

Book CoverThe The insides, in the proof, look pretty good too and the story, according to my beta-readers, really grips and carries you along.

All good, so far, but in the depths of three o’clock in the morning, the nerves, like the Barbary eels that lurk in the shadows of my “City of Secrets”, start to stir. Have I done enough marketing? Will anyone buy/read/like my book? Should I give up the whole idea and retire to bed with the duvet pulled firmly over my head?

In the broad light of day it’s comforting to know that I am not the only writer who has been plagued by doubt.

At the launch of her new thriller “Hush Hush” best-selling author Mel Sherrratt said the scariest thing she’s ever done was to press the button to self-publish her first novel. “City of Secrets” is not my first book; it’s not even my first book for children but every time one of my novels makes it out into the world, this is something I have to go through. It’s a little like stage fright: that moment in the wings before you step out into the limelight and all I can do at this point is to wish Letty and friends “good luck”.


Not Harry Potter

Book CoverAt the age of twelve, Letty Parker runs her own business, selling pies on the streets of Bristol. A city which is similar to but not quite like, the one that exists today; where dragons and gargoyle congregate on the roofs to chatter and spread gossip about the dark deeds the humans below them are planning.

Since there will be four books, beginning with “City of Secrets” the perfect title for the series is -“The Adventures of Letty Parker.” Which throws up an interesting point. Since Letty is a girl, will mentioning her name make a difference to sales?

Do boys read books where the main character is a girl and if not why not? After all girls read the Harry Potter books.

Now, in my opinion, the most interesting character in those is Hermione. As a muggle she has to find her place in the world of wizards; as a girl she has to come to terms with the fact that she is brighter than the boys and, of course girls are not supposed to be clever. Not only is she outspoken she is also plain.

A heroine so many girls can identify with. A little like the resourceful, intelligent Letty Parker, with her sharp white face and straggly red hair.

Big question though- would the Harry Potter books have been so successful if Hermione had taken her rightful place centre stage? If it had been her story we followed, not Harry’s?

Whatever the answer, Letty stays as the heroine of her adventures, which would never have happened without the help of her friends, Jeb, the leader of the pickpocket gang, Mango his sidekick both of whom have vital roles to play.

Talking about my book

On Thursday night I went to a book group meeting. Not to take part as a reader, but to talk about and answer questions about “Shadows on the Grass.”

The first thing I had to do, before the event, was to do a quick skim read of the novel. This might sound strange, but I find with everything I write, that once it has achieved its final form, being published in the case of a novel, or performed if it is a play, then I’ve let it go and in that letting go I can forget salient points of the plot, or themes of the book. So, in case anyone asked me a question I wouldn’t be able to answer, I spent the afternoon reading.

Because it was important to arrive on time and I had a forty minute drive, I left early. It was a lovely sunny evening. The sun was low and I didn’t hurry, even though at some point a strange icon appeared on the screen and our new Toyota Rav seemed to be telling me that I was in need of a cup of tea.

Having just had a coffee before I set out, I was not convinced by this piece of information, although I was slightly worried by accompanying message that said simply “Sway Warning.” Since I had no idea what this might mean, I had to pull up and leaf hurriedly through the handbook, in which it did not appear. Since it obviously could not be serious, I continued my journey, but taking care not to sway in any discernible way.

The meeting was hosted by an old friend and there was time for the cup of tea, which my Rav had kindly suggested that I might need, and a chat before the rest of the group arrived.

It’s difficult to describe what it felt like seeing people taking out my novel and preparing to discuss it as they would any other book. I was excited, warmed and also validated by being seen as not only a friend, but also a writer, because although I knew some of the group from way back when, that evening I was there in my role as the author of “Shadows on the Grass.”

I gave a brief introduction about how the novel came to be written. Initially, it was a way of finding out about the history of the country my parents had come from, but as my researches continued I drew more and more on my family history and there are incidents in the book that are directly drawn from what happened to my mother, grandmother and uncle during WW2.

None of it, however, is pure memoir. Everything I have written has been fictionalised. My characters are not based on real people and I most certainly am not the teenage Kate living through the shifting cultural era that was the 1960s. I was there, but I wasn’t her.

Names and the power of your own name, is one of the themes of the book that was discussed.  Having had mine changed by the nuns at school, because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t cope with a pupil called Malgorzata Chmielinska, it is something that has always resonated with me and I find a book doesn’t flow until I have the right names for my characters.

I was also asked where I write, how often, do I mind when my editor tells me I should make changes and a host of other questions that the group had prepared. It was their preparation that made the evening work so well.

What also made it, was their warm welcome and the fact that the group knew each other they meet to talk about books.

By ten thirty it was time to wrap up the evening. I’d thoroughly enjoyed myself and set off home, still driving more slowly than usual, just in case.

I’d had a great time. The Rav and I arrived without incident and I sent everyone a complimentary copy of “The Making of a Revolutionary”, the prequel to “Shadows on the Grass” as a thank you.

The makin of a Revolutionary Cover