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The Lost Queen by Carol McGrath #Review

  We travel back to the 12th Century for this gorgeous historical novel, The Lost Queen by Carol McGrath . It was published by Headline Accent on 18th July. 1191 and the Third Crusade is underway . .  It is 1191 and King Richard the Lionheart is on crusade to pitch battle against Saladin and liberate the city of Jerusalem and her lands. His mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine and his promised bride, Princess Berengaria of Navarre, make a perilous journey over the Alps in midwinter. They are to rendezvous with Richard in the Sicilian port of Messina. There are hazards along the way - vicious assassins, marauding pirates, violent storms and a shipwreck. Berengaria is as feisty as her foes and, surviving it all, she and Richard marry in Cyprus. England needs an heir. But first, Richard and his Queen must return home . . . The Lost Queen is a thrilling medieval story of high adventure, survival, friendship and the enduring love of a Queen for her King.   My Thoughts

Meet the Author: Maxine Sylvester **Author Interview**

 It is my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Maxine Sylvester who has written and illustrated the excellent children's series featuring Ronaldo the Flying Reindeer

Welcome to Books, Life and Everything, Maxine. 

Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?

It’s a long story but I’ll do my best! I loved drawing when I was younger, but abandoned a career in art to work in Greece as a travel representative. I then sailed the ocean waves onboard cruise ships, working in the gift shop and casino. I loved the exotic destinations but found my work uninspiring. I met my partner, Mark, and after 10 years on ships we decided to try our luck on land and accepted positions at a casino in Jericho, Palestine. It was a fascinating project but after two years the casino had to close due to political unrest.

Mark accepted a job in Moscow so we left the desert heat and relocated to minus 20 degree winters. By this time I had become very disillusioned with work so took time out and went back to my roots – art. I enrolled in The College of Cartoon Art, and was mentored by Bristish cartoonist/caricaturist, Steve Chadburn. I then did an additional course in children’s book illustration. My passion for art was still there just like when I was a child and I was drawing round the clock and loving every minute.

Mark eventually decided to quit casinos and bought in to a scuba diving business in Bali. This is where we are now and it’s where I wrote my first book.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

I wanted a reason to illustrate; so I created a character; a young reindeer called Ronaldo, and decided to write a short story about him going to flying school. Only thing was, once I started writing, I couldn’t stop! It turned out I had quite an imagination (courtesy of a lifetime of watching Disney movies). I now love writing as much as illustrating and enjoy flitting between the two. I feel my strengths are illustration and imagination, not grammar, so I use a professional editor on all my books. A good one is worth their weight in carrots.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

Something arty. I would probably be a full time illustrator.

What are you interests apart from writing?

I go to the cinema nearly every week. We have a V.I.P. cinema in Bali, so I usually grab some sweets, order a pot of tea, recline my seat and snuggle under the blanket. I usually go with my partner, Mark. The cinema is close to the beach so we sit on the sand afterwards and watch the sunset. I also enjoy scuba diving and Pilates. When I am back in London, I love to go to the theatre or see a football match.

 What is your favorite childhood book?

I can’t think of just one. I loved The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Railway Children by E. Nesbitt, and Paddington by Michael Bond. I recently saw the film Paddington; the cinema was full of elderly ladies so I presume they loved reading Paddington as children as much as I did.

Where were you when you heard your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

I am still waiting for that honour! I was pretty proud when I self published my first book, Ronaldo: The Reindeer Flying Academy. There was so much work that went in to writing and illustrating, and designing the front cover. It was a huge relief once I clicked the ‘publish’ button on Amazon. I treated myself to a Pandora charm for my bracelet (I have the Disney collection).

 Tell us three surprising things about yourself.

I love football and was a season ticket holder at Arsenal when I was younger. Men still think football is a man’s game but there are a surprising number of women that follow football nowadays.

I had to have six stitches in my head after getting bitten by a titan trigger fish while scuba diving in Bali.

I am a total Disney geek. I love the theme parks and have been to Orlando, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Paris. I went on a Disney cruise last year which was fabulous. I loved being surrounded by fellow Disney geeks!

 Tell us about your latest book without giving the plot away.

I self published the first book in the Ronaldo series, The Reindeer Flying Academy, three years ago on Amazon. Reviewers loved it but a couple of them did mention they would have preferred colour illustrations. I took the advice onboard (important to listen to your readers!) and have just published The Reindeer Flying Academy in glorious colour, ready for Christmas. I think children are going to love the colour illustrations. I had such fun bringing the characters to life.

The story tells of Ronaldo, the top flying cadet at the prestigious Reindeer Flying Academy. He dreams of getting his flying license and becoming one of Santa’s reindeer, just like his hero, Vixen. At flying school the second year flying cadets face their toughest ever flying test – the endurance challenge. Conditions are grueling for the two-snowflake cadets, but Ronaldo remembers his grandad’s inspiring words:

“See it, feel it, believe it! You can do anything if you truly believe in yourself.”

The Reindeer Flying Academy is about courage and self-belief. Ronaldo is a good role model for children; he’s conscientious and kind, but never boring. Reviewers say the story is funny and heartwarming, with plenty of laughs for both the young and young at heart.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I usually have an idea in my head and write notes each day as if I don’t write them down I forget. I tend to think of funny incidents that have happened to me or my friends over the years, and weave them in to the story.  I then sit at my computer and write. Once I get in to writing mode ideas keep flooding in to my head. I fine-tune the manuscript until I am happy with it, wait a couple of weeks, check it again, and then forward the finished draft to my editor. All three books have taken three edits.

I remember with The Reindeer Flying Academy, my editor pointed out that there were no strong female characters in the story, something publishers are very hot on at the moment. I am not a very girly female; I love football and rock music, so I naturally put male characters in to the story. After careful consideration I changed Wing Commander Blitsen in to a female and it totally changed the dynamic of the book. Now I can’t imagine her any other way.

I do all of my writing in the living room. There are windows down one side of the villa so I can look out at the garden. I think I write better when it rains as I don’t feel that I need to go outside.

 How many hours a day do you write?

I go through phases. When I am in writing mode I usually write for eight hours a day, seven days a week. It doesn’t feel like work because I enjoy it so much and the time flies. Once the book is nearly finished though, I do get to a point where I can’t look at it any more. I then leave it for a couple of weeks, go back to it and check it again before sending to my editor. By this time I can’t wait to start illustrating it.

Were there any scenes which you had to edit out of your book which you still hanker after?

I had to cut out the whole ending on my second book. The Phantom Carrot Snatcher. I thought it was hilarious but my editor said she didn’t think it fitted with the rest of the book. I sat on it for a week, then deleted it and re-wrote it. I don’t hanker after it as in hindsight I do think my editor was right. Whenever the book gets a good review, I feel particularly pleased and feel all the extra work was worthwhile.

 How do you select the names of your characters? Are they based on anyone you know?

I usually pick names that I think are quirky. In the second book, The Phantom Carrot Snatcher, the wolf cub is called Ernie. When I was small my dad used to like a British comedian called Benny Hill. Benny released a single called Ernie, and the song used to make me laugh. Although Ernie is usually a man’s name, I thought it would be quite cute for the feisty wolf cub.

How long on average does it take you to write your first draft?

The last two books took about one month. They both needed three edits, so the manuscripts went back and forth to my editor for another couple of months. There are usually some parts of the story that I know are good to go so I start illustrating those chapters while the book is being edited.

Are there any secret references hidden in your books?

Only one. Ronaldo lives in the village of Beresford and I grew up on Beresford Gardens. I slipped it in the book for my family, I knew it would make them chuckle.

 Do you have any guilty pleasures which stop/ help you write? 

Disney films are a pleasure to me. I get as excited as a five year old every time a new Disney or Pixar film comes out. I love the values, the humour and the animation. I think I subconsciously pick up ideas, so in a way they help me write.

 Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Both! Once I start getting in to my writing groove, my head explodes with ideas. I sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night and write things down. Other times I can’t get to sleep because my brain is buzzing. So it’s energizing in a way but also exhausting.

 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years from Dr. Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay. I love their books. I tend to be self-critical so I now use an affirmation. “I do the best I can, and that is all I can ask of myself.” It really helps, so I would definitely pass that on to my younger self. I would also tell my younger self to be grateful. A few years ago I started to write down three things I was grateful for before going to sleep at night. Now, my list is endless! I seem to be far more aware and appreciate people more. My third thing would be to trust in God. Whenever I am wracked with anxiety I pick up a Dr. Wayne Dyer book. He had such faith that he never doubted his books would be published and that the right people would present themselves when the time came. 

 Do you believe in writer’s block? What do you do to break its spell?

I think people get writers block when their body isn’t functioning one hundred percent, maybe through stress or anxiety? I have acupuncture whenever I’m not feeling my best, it releases any blocks so the body can heal naturally. I also find a few days’ away works, to swim and relax. I find I am so much more focused and invigorated when I come back and ready to write.

Can you give any hints about any upcoming books you have planned? (alternatively, is there anything else you'd like to tell the readers)

I will start work this month on the fourth book in the Ronaldo series, The Vixen Pederson Workshop. Ronaldo and Rudi go to The North Pole! I’ve got lots of notes that I have scribbled down over the last few months so I’m looking forward to finally putting them all together. I find once I start writing the story starts going in a different direction, so I’m excited to find out what’s going to happen.

Do you have any unfinished or unpublished books hidden away?

No. I’ve got a thing about finishing things. I don’t think I’m capable of leaving anything unfinished; it would irritate me too much.

Thank you so much, Maxine!

 Book links to the series:  

Amazon US

|  Amazon UK

Maxine has just updated all the illustrations for The Reindeer Flying Academy - they are now all in glorious colour.

About the Author
Maxine Sylvester was born in London, England. She grew up with a passion for Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear. She also loved anything Disney and enjoyed drawing the characters.
Maxine's love of 'fun' art grew and she had the privilege of being mentored by cartoonist and caricaturist, Steve Chadburn. She completed further studies in children's book illustration with talented artist and illustrator, Jan Nesbitt. 

You can follow Maxine here: Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter 

                                             |  Pinterest   |  Instagram 


  1. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, I did enjoy this and found it very interesting and fun.

    Thanks again


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