Goodreads giveaway Visiting Lilly

Imagine yourself sitting there with a lovely cup of your favourite brew reading a copy of Visiting Lilly. From now, right through to October the 15th, there’s a copy up for grabs in my Goodreads Giveaway. The Giveaway is open to US and UK residents. The restriction is purely to keep costs down as it’s a paperback I’ll be sending out.

But, I have an idea. If you live outside the US and UK and would like the opportunity to win a copy of Visiting Lilly, the first novel in the Jake Talbot Investigates series, then say hello in the comment box and on Oct 15th I’ll put everyones names in a hat and draw out one lucky winner. If you win I’ll contact you and send out a Kindle version.

Visiting Lilly introduces Detective Inspector Jake Talbot, a man with a deep sense of justice and a personal tragedy that haunts him, especially at Christmas. Talbot can’t understand why a man at a Surrey police station should go ballistic because someone tries to visit Lilly, his elderly grandmother. He’s intrigued, and this little puzzle might serve to distract him from sorrows of a Christmas past.

Soon he’s entangled with Frankie, an odd young man who claims to have met Lilly in her youth. Talbot dismisses the notion of time travel, but then discovers the Ministry of Defence has been monitoring Frankie since his childhood friend disappeared ten years previously. Forced to work with the MOD, Talbot unearths family secrets and betrayals. The families act ruthlessly to prevent him from discovering the facts, colluding to ruin him.

If Frankie is innocent, Talbot won’t let him be victimised. An uneasy understanding grows between them as they follow the evidence, for only the truth will allow Frankie to visit Lilly.

Visiting Lilly is a story of mystery, murder and a question of time travel.

Why not enter the Goodread Giveaway right now.

Book 2 in the Jake Talbot Investigates series, Saving Anna, is due for release this October.

Detective Inspector Jake Talbot hates working undercover. Yet, when ordered to Dorset to observe a sinister cult for the Ministry of Defence, he accepts, because the group’s beliefs pose a direct threat to his sister Anna. How far will Jake go to save his sister?

If you missed me talking live on Radio Woking about all things astrology you can now listen to a recording of the show.

I was in coversation with the fabulous presenter Sharon Galliford on her Sunday morning show The View From Here.

Visiting Lilly by Toni AllenAs a novelist, everything I write is a mixture of fact and fiction, even when describing well-known local locations. Hence, if you ever visit Farnham, Surrey, UK, the setting for Visiting Lilly, Book 1 in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, you might notice that some of the places aren’t described exactly as they are in real life. My intention isn’t to deceive the unsuspecting tourist, after all I’m not writing a tour guide, but a work of fiction. If, by making something a little taller, bigger or shinier it enhances a dramatic scene, then my imagination will stretch reality for the sake of my art and my reader’s involvement with the story.

Maltings Riverside Cafe Bar

The Riverside Cafe Bar at Farnham Maltings, where Talbot and Frankie have lunch together in Visiting Lilly

Several scenes in Visiting Lilly take place at Farnham Maltings. The historic building started life prior to 1750, when it was used as a tannery. Later, in 1845, it was taken over by a brewery for malting their grain, and remained in use by various breweries until brewing methods changed and the building was abandoned in 1956. Eventually Courage sold the building to the town and work began on transforming it into an arts and community centre. The first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970.

I’ve been going to the Maltings for years. It’s a fabulous venue for exhibitions, and I know an artist who rents studio space within the building. You can also listen to concerts, from classical to rock. The most memorable perfomance I’ve ever attended being by the incredible Dame Emma Kirkby when she sang at the Maltings back in the 80’s.

These days I regularly lunch in the Riverside Cafe Bar with fellow writers, and we sit in the sunshine discussing plot dilemmas over a cappuccino, the table covered in manuscripts and note books. We envisage ourselves as bohemian and creative, and what better place to do it than Farnham Maltings.

Maltings Great Hall flea market

Maltings Great Hall flea market showing the stage where Talbot sees Kate selling her paintings in a scene from Visiting Lilly

It’s the Maltings Market which interests Detective Inspector Jake Talbot, he’s an avid collector of antiques and has a keen eye for a bargain.

In the excerpt below you’ll see that I’ve made the rather rickety looking railing on the stage sound a little grander when Kate leans over it to look at Talbot. I took this photo at the end of the day, when the market was winding down, but you still gain a feel for the bartering and excitement of hunting for treasure.


I’ve also created a Pinterest board to show how I imagine Kate’s painting of the Bluebell Wood might look.


Excerpt from Visiting Lilly: Talbot bumps into Frankie at Farnham Maltings Market, then discovers Kate is there as well.

Bright winter sunshine dazzled as it bounced off puddles. Using his space at the station saved on parking. Talbot smiled. The Maltings was only a spit away and sunshine meant there would be more stalls outside and rich pickings. Unfortunately it also meant there would be more punters, but that was okay, he knew what he was looking for and most of them were casual browsers. Only sometimes the idiots beat him to a gem, so he’d learnt to perfect that disinterested look, and that sneer, and that knack of putting rivals off the scent of a bargain. Mostly he collected nothing in particular, just anything that took his fancy, from china, to Bakelite, to definitely not silver—all those hallmarks and tarnish putting him off. Junk, Claire had called it, but if it fascinated him, who cared? These days the halls were peppered with modern stuff, too: silk paintings, arty photographs, and occasionally the work of some new local artist.

There was one today, up on the stage at the back of the hall, the canvases large and inviting, the semi-abstract landscapes of woodland scenes done with daubs of bright colours. A fresh vista of bluebells with sunshine filtering down through a lime-green leafy wood caught his attention. It was tempting. Yes, he quite liked that; it definitely had a certain something. People kept getting in his way as he tried to stand back and get a feel for what it might look like in his hallway. They were browsing, only half interested, standing too close to truly appreciate the design. Damn, would the same happen in his hall?

Moving on, he went upstairs to visit a man he knew sold mirrors. Well, he was never one to buy something without judging the competition, yet anxiety riddled him with impatience in case someone beat him to that painting. Perhaps he should go back and buy it before it went. Halfway down the stairs he collided with Hayward going in the opposite direction.

‘Wouldn’t expect to see you here,’ Hayward said, instinctively holding out his hand for Talbot to shake.

Talbot shook it, as gentlemen did when they met. ‘On a mission to buy a painting before someone snaps it up.’

‘Mind if I have a look?’

‘Not at all. What brings you here?’

Hayward about-turned, fell into step beside him, and together they pushed through the crowd.

‘Someone told me there’s a dealer here who’s an expert on Capo Di Monte figurines. I need to arrange a valuation for the insurers.’

‘They were worth at least two grand.’ Talbot halted by the steps that went up to the stage. ‘I can let you have copies of all the photos we took.’

‘That would be useful, thank you.’ Hayward stepped back and let people through as they barged past. ‘You know about antiques, don’t you, Mr Talbot?’

‘A little.’ Starting with a vibration in his pocket Talbot’s mobile burst into ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr Mister, giving him the clue it was a victim of crime. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to Hayward, read the name, and hurried to answer it before every head turned to locate the outburst of rock music. ‘Kate, thanks for calling me back.’

‘Are you stalking me?’

Taken aback, he hesitated. ‘No, I was wanting to speak with you.’

‘So, just because I didn’t get back to you immediately, you decided to track me down and upset my work.’ She made an infuriated grunting noise down the phone. ‘Well, I can’t talk to you now. I don’t want to discuss details of my private life in public.’

‘Kate, Kate, I’m off duty, at Farnham Maltings …’

‘I know where you bloody well are! I can see you from here.’

You can? Looking up the length of the great hall, Talbot tried to recognise her amidst the clamour of stalls and punters. What would she be wearing? She’d look different without her coat and hat. Nope. Slowly he pivoted round three hundred and … ah, that would be her, standing up on the stage, in front of the painting he wanted to buy. Yep, that was her alright, glaring down at him, not even bothering to wave.

‘What are you selling?’ he asked, and smiled up at her, his heart sinking before he’d even heard the answer.

‘My paintings.’

‘Then I’ll leave you to it.’ He was going to hang up and walk away, but she rushed towards the railings at the edge of the stage and peered down at him, saying, ‘Were you really just walking around?’
He nodded. She was almost loud enough not to need to the phone, her words carrying down across the babble of voices bartering below. Frankie was following his gaze, tracking it up to where she stood, the painting a glorious backdrop to her shock of dark hair. It really was not a good idea for the two of them to meet, for them to get stuck in awkward conversation, until one of them eventually blurted out the name Charteris or Lilly.

Visiting Lilly free on Kindle Unlimited


This coming Sunday, 27th September 2015 at 11am, I’ll be a guest speaker for Radio Woking’s presenter Sharon Galiford on her fabulous show The View From Here

I’ll be appearing live at 11am BST, but don’t worry if you’re overseas as once the show’s been broadcast I’ll be posting a link for you to sit back and listen after we’ve been on air.

Toni Allen Radio Woking

Sharon and I will be talking all things astrology, so do tune in to The View From Here, this Sunday.

As an author I’m advised to participate in social media and project myself out onto the world as a human being. Promote the person, not the book. The consensus of opinion is that if I appear to be a caring, thought-provoking, fascinating…insert adjective of choice…person, that this will help me grow my fan base, and build interest in my writing.

This is all well and good in theory, but I happen to be an intrinsically shy person. I don’t like talking about myself. I don’t feel comfortable posting images of my friends, family and the plate of food I ate for dinner. So, what am I supposed to do? What are other introverted writers blogging, Facebooking and generally yapping about in order to build their audience? Or, are they too shy to come out and play?

My Book Manager at Booktrope has encouraged me to be myself, find the platforms that I feel comfortable with, and concentrate on them. Apparently there’s no need to venture into danger zones that make me cringe and fear being spotted in the crowd. Phew! The next question is, which platforms do I feel comfortable with? And what is my theme? A theme, I’m told, is important; it helps to identify my brand.


As a lifelong photographer, social media sites that are image rich would appear to be my best bet. Pinterest is ideal. I can spend all day pressing the heart button and pinning to a variety of boards. Job done. Not quite. I’m supposed to be letting people know who I am. Maybe my art board says enough. Maybe my choice of paintings lets you know that we share the same aesthetic taste and therefore, if we ever met in person, might find something to sit down and talk about.

I’m getting there, we’re now connecting, relating at a more personal level. You won’t know what to feed me for dinner, but you will know which art exhibition to invite me to.

Then, a few months ago, I revolutionised my ability to stay on top of social media. I knew I had to become more spontaneous with my postings, so went out and bought a smartphone! Yeah, yeah, prior to this I was a Blackberry girl, a much faster, more efficient system, but, quite frankly, rubbish for the likes of Facebook and Pinterest. This new phone was going to transform everything, make it easier. Once I got my head around the darn thing!

It came ready loaded with loads of groovy apps, one of which was Instagram.
Now, I’d heard of Instagram, but never used it, or understood its value within the social media network. Like all enthusiastic self-promoters, I scurried around reading as much information as possible. Okay, the literature says that all I have to do on Instagram is upload a photo, choose whether to add a fun filter or not, write loads of hashtags and post. Easy peasy. Apparently Instagram will make more impact if I stick to a theme. Theme, theme, what is my theme? Everyone says I must have a theme. But, what do I post? We’re back to the three f’s, friends, family and food. To hell with that!

This is my platform and I can post whatever I darn well like. I take photos. I take photos of anything and everything that interests me. So that is what I will post. Insects, reflections, wildlife… “People don’t like scary bugs,” my partner says. “Post cute stuff, people like cute.” I don’t do cute, cute isn’t always available. I do life. This is my life, this is me. Colourful, observant, creative. To post anything else would not be true to myself. At last, I have found my theme…being myself!

Come and join me on Instagram.

Autumn splash #abstract #photography #amwriting #autumn #reflection

A photo posted by Toni Allen Author (@listansus) on

Editing - Fun or Fire?Building a reputation as an author who’s worth reading doesn’t happen overnight. I continuously work at it, but there’s little point in going to all of that effort if I don’t have a quality product. I like to think that I can spin a good yarn, captivate my audience and create interesting, credible characters, but that’s as far as it goes.

I goof and make errors when writing. My spelling isn’t atrocious, but at times it can be most peculiar. You mean that isn’t how you spell it? Hmm, very odd. Then there’s punctuation and grammar: as hard as I try to get it right first time, second time, or even third time, there’ll always be something I’ve missed, or simply don’t know how it’s supposed to be professionally laid out. Of course, we also have those places in the manuscript where I’ve decided to swap a couple of paragraphs around, only to later discover that I didn’t cut and paste, I copied and pasted, resulting in two identical paragraphs creating a sandwich around another paragraph. It happens!

Do I notice these things? Of course not. I’m a writer. A wordsmith: my imagination alight with the creative process. That’s why I have an editor.

I’m very fortunate to have the most wonderful, brilliant and patient editor: Cindy Wyckoff. My publisher for the Jake Talbot Investigates series is Booktrope who are based in Seattle, and yes, my editor is American. When editing my first novel in the series, Visiting Lilly, we had to decide whether to maintain its Britishness, or change certain words for an American audience. After much discussion we decided to keep my very British Detective, Jake Talbot, in character, and only compromise on a few words or phrases which would have been confusing, and therefore interrupted a reader’s understanding and enjoyment of the story.

One example of Br English versus US English is that we call the end of a spent cigarette a dog-end, while Americans call it a butt. I was allowed to use dog-end, because in context it was easy enough for an American readership to work out what I was talking about.

To read the excerpts properly, right click and select open in new tab.

Sa editing  UK US exampleTo the British a pot plant is an innocent flower in a pot on the windowsill; to an American it’s growing an illegal substance. Oops! Any self-respecting police officer should definitely not have one of those in his home. We opted for house plant. As you can see, this change in no way inhibits my creativity, but what it does do is avoid an American reader stopping short and questioning what the hell is going on.

Editing isn’t all about comma, comma, full-stop, semi-colon, question mark. To show you all of that part of the process would be tedious and turn this into an article on grammar and punctuation. The nudges, niggles and hiccups are what we smooth over – ironing we call it. We want the reader to have a silky ride, with no little bumps along the way.

Here’s an example of where I’d used the words procession and proceed very close to each other. It’s all become a bit poetic, so needed to be changed.

Funeral processionThis is an example of repetition needing to be changed.

RepetitionAn even worse example of repetition!

Even more repetitionThen we have sentence structure and the conundrum of who, or what, is making the action. Yes, I often have the wrong object doing something. I know what’s happening, but will the reader?

Shaking handsOn rare occasions I slip out of genre, and the description I use doesn’t fit with the concept of a mystery novel.

Out of genreAnd lastly, we have a laugh, peppering comments with smiley faces and lots of LOLs!

SA Ducati editing sampleBelieve it or not, editing is fun. Love your editor, love the process, and enjoy the ride. The more you put into it, the more pleasure your readers will gain when reading your book. Never forget that happy readers help build your fan-base.

Cindy Wyckoff is Freelance Seattle based Technical Editor and Writer, Fiction Editor and Proofreader.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs

Yesterday it was yet another dreary overcast day, threatening rain, but I was determined to take my camera for a walk. I needed time to mull over what to do with a particular chapter in the novel I’m currently working on. Once again things weren’t going as planned, and my super dramatic scene was turning out as dynamic as a milk-float with a flat battery. Hey ho, time to switch off and think about something completely different.

So I set out with my camera and macro lens, thinking I might see a grasshopper or cricket at my favourite meadow not far from home. I started by taking a few snaps of a spider, and believe me, the light quality was rubbish. Cranking the ISO up to 1600 was achieving a shutter speed of 125th of a second: not at all adequate for macro photography.

Conehead bush-cricket with egg sacConehead bush-cricket with egg sac

Seeing a few grasshoppers jumping around cheered me up. At least I had a subject. Earlier in the year, to one side of the meadow, I’d come across a colony of long-winged conehead bush-crickets, so this is where I decided to focus my efforts. Indeed, focus would have been a lot easier in brighter light and without sudden gusts of wind beating the long grass against my lens.

After a while I found the coneheads, several of them determined to circulate on one particular clump of grass. My best option was to sit down, so that I could be on eye level with them, and ensure I made as few sudden movements as possible. Then I saw her, a mature female with what appeared to be a dew drop clinging to her body near her ovipositor. I thought this very odd, as although there was moisture in the air, the grass was quite dry.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-1Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-2

I watched and took a few more photos, trying to keep track of the same female. This wasn’t easy as the wind was swaying the grass, she was moving swiftly from one blade of grass to the next, and each time she relocated I had to adjust camera settings to correct exposure and focus. Half way up one tall stem she suddenly started arching her back, curling round and producing another dew drop from her abdomen. Not water at all, but what appeared to be an egg sac. As luck would have it, of course she’d moved and the light was against me and the wind was blowing grass directly between my lens and my subject. It’s called sod’s law. All I could do was keep clicking the shutter and hoping for the best: absolutely no time to make any adjustments or the action would be over.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-3Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-5

Once her main dance had abated, I risked changing a few setting and repositioning myself to gain a better angle. By now she’d curled right round into a ball, more resembling a nautilus than a cricket. The dew drop was still clinging to her abdomen, but what she did next surprised me. She was putting it in her mouth. From this point on she proceeded to carry it around, adding something to the clear dew drop and making it slightly opaque. Several times she pressed it hard up against a blade of grass, and I assumed she was deliberately depositing it, or some of it, onto the stem of grass.

Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-7Conehead bush-cricket laying eggs-8

To my mind she was laying eggs, coating them with something, and then setting them down to over-winter, ready to hatch next year.

I was pretty certain this was the case, until I came home and started researching conehead bush-crickets online. The consensus of opinion from experts online says that, ‘the females lay between their eggs in the stems of grasses in the late summer. They do this by first biting a whole into the stems of grasses or reeds and then insert their eggs using their ovipositors.’

This, of course, threw me, because my female did not directly lay her eggs using her ovipositor, but carried them around in her mouth first. I still believe that she was laying eggs: after all, this is the same meadow that I discovered a pink grasshopper in, so anything is possible!

If I have my facts wrong, please never forget that I’m a writer and photographer, not an entomologist.

The long-winged conehead’s technical name is Conocephalus discolour.


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