Ballroom BLOG TOUR


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 Novelicious Chats To...Ann O'Loughlin
Ann O'Loughlin has popped over today to tell us a little about her book, The Ballroom Café. This novel, set in a small village in Ireland, tells the story of two elderly sisters living in a crumbling mansion who haven't spoken to each other for decades and only communicate via notes on the bureau in the hall. The story is centred around the Irish baby scandal, where thousands of babies were sold to rich American couples by the Catholic church, in most cases without the knowledge or agreement of the mother.  
Ann O'LoughlinCan you tell us a little about your average writing day?
Early, early, early.
I get up at 5am. Even the dog stays curled up asleep. I like it when the house is quiet and there are no interruptions. It gives me thinking time and time to stop and stare and most of all to write. I live in the countryside with a marsh behind our house and the sea in front, so it is often the dawn chorus , a squabbling duck or a thundering sea hitting the shore that disrupts my writing, but I can live with that.
If it is a work day – I am a journalist – I usually stay at my desk which is actually a big comfy armchair beside the French doors in the kitchen until 8am, when the kids get up and get ready for school. If it is a day off work and school, then I can spend another few hours until my brain gives out or the kids give out or both. 
When you are writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as inspiration?
I believe it is the lives of us ordinary men and women that are the most interesting. What do they say; if we all threw our troubles in to the middle of the floor, you would pick up your own pretty fast. I am fascinated by the tales of bravery, hardship and courage in ordinary lives. Being a celebrity and wearing diamonds is easy compared to the hard slog of living life.
What is your favourite Women’s Fiction book of all time and why?
This is so difficult to answer, but for me it has to be Mary Lavelle by Kate O'Brien. I think Kate O'Brien was one of the foremost writers in Ireland  and for me it is always a toss up between O'Brien and Jennifer Johnston. What I particularly like about O'Brien's work is how strong the women are – I tend to gravitate towards that myself in my own writing. I have O'Brien on my bedside table and often I will just pick up Mary Lavelle and read a few pages – it is the language, the descriptive passages; the bloody good story. Above all it is beautiful writing.

Kate O'Brien died in the 1970s, but her literary career spanned fifty years – I love all her other books as well, but if you are to read any, I would recommend  Mary Lavelle. The Ballroom CafeWhat is your writing process? Do you plan first or dive in? How many drafts do you do?
I usually have an idea in my head for a very long time before I even attempt to write it down. Often I do research and just pile it up knowing when the time is right, it will all hopefully fall into place. That is what it was like for The Ballroom Cafe. There are so many threads; the village, the cafe; the recipes; the interior. Then there was the whole big issue of adoption. The fun bits were researching the crumbling old mansion the O'Callaghans live in; the china cups and the picking of those beautiful Weiss brooches. It is very daunting to stare at the blank page so I just start writing; you know you are on the right track when the characters start talking in your head. Sounds strange, but it is what works for me. Now, when they start jostling for attention and shouting at me, it is hard to keep up with them. I write and rewrite, trying to get a good first draft done which is the template for the book. Every rewrite makes the novel better. I am convinced of that and for the writer, I find it is a good process, where you see the polish put on the sentences and the whole book begin to shine.
What was your journey to being a published author?
It was a long hard journey, but who doesn't have a tale to tell about the rejections and the fish ... ooops ... book deals that got away. It wasn't so much the path to publication was difficult; it took me so long to find my own voice as a writer. Once I did that, I believed in myself, but it was still still so difficult to get an agent. The best day for my writing was when agent Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates rang me. Everything changed from that moment on. Black and White Publishing Scotland are a brilliant crew to be with and I feel very lucky that The Ballroom Cafe is in their hands.
What do you think is the biggest myth about being a novelist?
That we sit with our feet up quaffing champagne waiting for inspiration. If there are authors like that out there, I would love to hear from them. For me it is impossibly early starts, lots of tea and toast and hard graft on the sentences with once in the  blue moon inspiration setting the fingers flying across the keyboard. More often  than not, it is 500 words on an empty stomach, before I can have a cuppa, another 500 words to earn my toast and yet another hard worked 500 words before the biscuit tin is an option. 
What advice can you give to our readers who want to write a novel of their own?
Make time. Writers come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they can't sit down and write. Really, you just have to steal the time and get on with it. It doesn't matter if you don't have an up to date lap top; a desk or even a private space. All you need is a comfy seat- you are going to be in it a lot - and something to write on, laptop or longhand, and away you go. Keep the bottle of champagne for much later when you land a book deal. 
What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on my second novel – Monsoon Tears – which is based in Ireland and India. I lived in India at one time, so it is a wonderful journey back for me, but my lips are sealed on saying anything else about it.
Thanks, Ann!

Article by Ann O'Loughlin ©.
Posted in Resources ().


The Ballroom Cafe by Ann O’Loughlin – 10 Random Things Blog Tour Stop!

the ballroom
1. Did you know my favourite line comes very early in the book? In fact, it is on the second page. Ella O’Callaghan is facing down the snotty bank manager, who has threatened to repossess her treasured home Roscarbury Hall:
“In all my prayerful life, I have never felt so crucified. I will die before I move out of Roscarbury Hall.”
2. Ella, when she bakes her lemon cakes, likes to let them cool on a grid on the big kitchen table, but straight after she has turned them out on the grid she gets an old knitting needle and pricks some holes along the cake before drizzling icing sugar mixed with lemon juice across the cake, careful to push it in to the holes.
3. Bowling Green, Ohio is a real place. I visited it many years ago. It had those lovely wooden houses with verandas at the front and a huge university complex.
4. Ella used her mother’s old china tea sets to serve tea and coffee in her Ballroom Café. Every now and again, Ella worried what her mother would think with the ladies of Rathsorney turning over her china cups to check their provenance.
5. Every spring there were swathes of yellow daffodils among the grass in the extensive parkland of the convent grounds. Pregnant girls waiting to give birth, many within days of delivery, had to go on their hands and knees in October and plant all those bulbs.
6. Ella’s chocolate cake has a secret ingredient but you will have to read the novel to find it.
7. The magnificent Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, appears in one chapter of The Ballroom Café. There, Ella has tea and takes sugar from a silver bowl and milk from a silver jug.
8. Sisters Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan live separate lives; their own kettles, cookers and cupboards. They even have their own delph. Their food supplies are labelled.
9. Chuck Winters has a soft spot for Ella, admiring her cakes and baking skills, but she brushes off his advances. His eyes then settle on somebody else.
10. Ella loved the Weiss pansy brooch but the deep, dark green colour put her mother off. She could not understand why “a flower could not look like a flower.”


Baking my troubles Away by Ann O’Loughlin – Guest Post

Today’s I’m pleased to welcome Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ballroom Café, to the blog.
Ann has written a wonderful piece on the  soothing properties of baking.
Some opt for a spa treatment; others walk the dog. I like to bake a cake.
While most of my friends walk their troubles away; I bake them away.
There is something so calming when you run flour through your fingers, measure out the sugar and whip up a cake.
So it was hardly surprising that some of my favourite cakes made it in to The Ballroom Cafe.
In fact, it was baking I turned to when the plot ground to a halt and the warring sisters Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan refused to do what they were told.  Baking was my salvation when Muriel Hearty decided to have a sea change and forget to gossip and when May started to fret too much over her fruit cakes.
It was to baking I turned after writing the saddest scenes in The Ballroom Café, to clear my head and reassure myself that all was right with the world.
Ella O’Callaghan in The Ballroom Café finds the same solace in a baking session when times are tough.
Times get very tough for Ella and the bank threatens to repossess, so she set up a café in the upstairs ballroom, serving her scrumptious homemade cakes and tea in a china cup.
Ella not only loves baking, but is a natural at it. My mother loved to bake cakes too. She never seemed to have to take out a recipe book; it was all in her head. She always said if you kept key ingredients in the food cupboard, you would never be stuck.
 Flour in those days came in large white cloth sacks and it was my job to scoop it out with a big metal scoop and weigh it.
 I know now she only got me to set it on the scales to humour a young helper. She herself could throw the ingredients together and whip up a cake in no time.
We made lemon cakes, coffee cakes and the rich family chocolate cake for special occasions. The chocolate cake with ground almonds and good quality chocolate is my all time favourite. It features in The Ballroom Café. And no, I am not going to reveal the secret ingredient; you are going to have to read the novel to get to that one.
Back to baking proper, my one piece of advice which comes – you guessed it – courtesy of my mum.
 “Concentrate, block out everything else, enjoy doing it and it will all show in the cake.”
 She is right of course. Ever tried to bake when the world is wrong for you and unhappiness gurgles through you; you end up with a stodgy, flat offering. Be happy and make a nice, light, fluffy cake; it works all the time for me.

Jera's Jamboree

Blog Tour : The Ballroom Cafe by Ann O'Loughlin | Vintage jewellery and memories
JJ is delighted to be the last stop on this blog tour today with a fabulous guest post from Ann.

The Ballroom Cafe is published by Black & White Publishing and is available to purchase in paperback and Kindle.

Sisters Ella and Roberta O'Callaghan haven't spoken for decades, torn apart by a dark family secret from their past. They both still live in the family's crumbling Irish mansion, communicating only through the terse and bitter notes they leave for each other in the hallway. But when their way of life is suddenly threatened by bankruptcy, Ella tries to save their home by opening a café in the ballroom – much to Roberta's disgust.

As the café begin to thrive, the sisters are drawn into a new battle when Debbie, an American woman searching for her birth mother, starts working at the Ballroom Café. Debbie has little time left but as she sets out to discover who she really is and what happened to her mother, she is met by silence and lies at the local convent. Determined to discover the truth, she begins to uncover an adoption scandal that will rock both the community and the warring sisters.

Powerful and poignant, The Ballroom Café is a moving story of love lost and found.

Weiss vintage brooches all the way from New York city.

Ella O'Callagahan at key moments in The Ballroom Cafe unwraps a dazzling vintage brooch.

There is vintage jewellery and there is Weiss. There is something about the clarity and beauty of these pieces, just like our grandmothers used to wear.

To me, they have always been the epitome of style. I first came across Weiss when I was very young. A grandaunt in the United States, Kate, would twice a year send a big parcel full of delights to our home in the west of Ireland.

When we had pulled off the plain brown wrapping papers, we found a box of exotic treasure. It was full of fancy silk and satin clothes we were never going to wear. Wrapped in layers of tissue papers at the very centre of the parcel was always a piece of sparkling jewellery.

Sometimes it was a necklace, its deep colours glistening, or perhaps a bracelet – and more often than not, a brooch. Kate had an amazing life in the States and spent her time – or so we thought –dressing up for smart occasions. She regularly wore blue and pink satin sleeveless dresses with dinky matching coats. Fake fur coats were pulled out of the box and used for us children dressing up, along with the cutest handbags with sharp claps. Once every so often, Kate sent a jewellery box which my mother then kept on her dressing table, holding the beautiful jewellery another woman had given away.

The vintage costume jewellery was sent back to Ireland; the story was that Kate kept diamonds in her safe. Sometimes, when I thought my mother was not looking, I stole in to the jewellery boxes on her dressing table to try on these rich, fanciful pieces of jewellery, stones flashing in the light. My favourite brooches were simple circles of crystals or those shaped like a delicate flower.

The Weiss jewellery company founded by Albert Weiss traded in to the 1970s, but had its heyday some time in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Weiss sold different lines for different pockets, but there is no mistaking the quality. My favourite brooch has to be the first one that Ella puts on her left lapel of her blue wing coat.

“Nine balls of Montana blue crystals in a simple circle setting. Her mother had only worn it on special occasions. There wasn’t another one like it, she told her daughter and Ella believed it.”

All vintage jewellery brings with it the memories of times past. For me, the Weiss brooches and the posh necklaces churn up happy memories of times past.

Thank you for sharing some personal memories Ann.

The Kindle format of The Ballroom Cafe is available at an introductory price of 49p!

I'm looking forward to escaping in this world.  I was excited to receive my review copy looking like this :)  Thank you B&W.

A leading journalist in Ireland for nearly thirty years, Ann O'Loughlin has covered all major news events of the last three decades. Ann spent most of her career with independent newspapers where she was Security Correspondent at the height of The Troubles, and was a senior journalist on the Irish Independent and Evening Herald. She is currently a senior journalist with the Irish Examiner newspaper covering legal issues. Ann has also lived and worked in India. Originally from the west of Ireland she now lives on the east coast with her husband and two children. 


The cover of The Ballroom Cafe
To be published June 18, 2015.