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Book review and author interview: The continued times of Isabella M Smugge by Ruth Leigh 

This post consists of a book review, an interview with Ruth Leigh, links to other posts about this new book and stockists of The continued times of Isabella M Smugge.

Book review

The third book in the highly entertaining series about the dreadful (but gradually improving) Isabella M Smugge, who refers to herself as Issy, is available now. 

My reviews of the first two books are The Diary of Isabella M Smugge and The Trials of Isabella M Smugge

Cover of The continued times of Isabella M Smugge showing a pink silhouette of a woman taking a selfie. Inside her head is a woman's profile and a hashtag. Text: 'If austen was writing in the 21st century, she might have created Issy Smugge.' S J Lewis.
Title and author's name. Background is light-coloured with sprays of flowers and a bird

The continued times of Isabella M Smugge resumes the story like the earlier books in the form of a diary. I received a digital ARC, which I read on my phone. That was hard work, but I was keen to find out what had been going on in the lives of Issy, her friends and extended family. I have since enjoyed it far more in the paperback edition. (Yes, it is a book worth reading and re-reading.)

There are lots of amusing or cringe-worthy incidents. The brand names and band names are a hoot (a surprisingly old-fashioned word Issy used). Much of her improved character is a result of her new friends and her focus on forgiveness. Footnotes including passages of, or references to, scripture are included where they add to the reader’s understanding of the story.

Author interview

I have interacted with Ruth Leigh in conversations on Zoom with other members of the Association of Christian Writers. The interview below gives you, my readers, a chance to learn more about her (as I did). 

Q. Issy uses social media platforms which I don’t think you are on – yet. How did you research these, and do you intend to branch out onto new platforms yourself? 

A. I joined TikTok quite recently and wasn’t at all sure that I belonged there. My natural home is Instagram and Facebook, although I am getting the hang of Twitter. I did some research on the terms used on that platform and watched what Wendy H Jones did as she is a very successful TikToker. I spent a lot of time looking at people who had millions of followers and learned new terms (stitching, anyone?) as well as taking advice from the 13-year-old daughter of a friend who has really cracked it. I mention Pinterest in Continued Times and while I am on there, technically, I have no idea what it’s all about and how to use it! I think taking the leap into TikTok is enough for me – maintaining four social media platforms, even with the help of Lovely Jason, is jolly hard work! I don’t know how Issy does it. 

Q. Bringing up your own family has obviously given you some insight into child development. Issy had a very different experience at boarding school from her children at the local schools. What sort of schools did you attend? Did you choose something similar for your own children? 

A. I went to the local community primary school in our village. I was in the baby boom year (1966) and our class was huge. We had massive grounds and always hosted all the other primaries for District Sports Days which was fun. My future husband used to come and play our team at football, strangely enough. I loved playing on the field and in the hedge at the back and on the extremely dangerous play equipment. No TAs [Teaching Assistants] and no health and safety back then! I passed the Eleven Plus and went to the local girls’ grammar where I was very unhappy. It may be (and I hadn’t thought about this before I read your question) that some of Issy’s memories of school in Continued Times spring from that. My children went to our village primary and then on to the local high school – no posh boarding schools or Latin mottos for us! 

Q. What about your faith? You portray Issy as someone who finds church life unfamiliar. Were you brought up in a church-going family or were you more like Issy? 

A. I was taken to church from the egg. It was a huge part of my life. Mum was a Scottish Presbyterian and Dad a Methodist, but in our village we only had the Baptist Church on one side of the village green and the CofE on the other. So Dad went to the Anglican church and we went to the Baptist with Mum and Nana. I was familiar with all the denominations from an early age as Dad was a church organist and as the only other member of the family who could read music, I often accompanied him to weddings on Saturdays to turn over his music in the organ loft. I loved seeing all the different kinds of churches. The Catholics were my favourites – lots of mysterious smells and statues. 

Q. Issy has improved her writing efficiency with practice. Is that something from your own experience as a freelance writer? 

A. Yes! Exactly that. Issy’s proficiency at knocking out a blog in twenty minutes is me to a T! When I got my first freelance writing job in 2008, I agonised over every word for hours. Fourteen years on, while I still spend time researching and polishing, I work much more quickly and efficiently; that experience has stood me in good stead for fiction writing. 

Q. Do you find fiction writing easier or more difficult than writing factual articles? 

A. Great question. And quite a difficult one. I would say it depends on the subject and the client. I’ve had some of my freelance clients for years and slot back into the right voice and tone immediately, so don’t find writing their articles difficult. But when I get a new one, it can be tricky to get it right straight away. Until I wrote Continued Times, I’d have said I found fiction easier to write, but I had terrible writer’s block with it and struggled to get it finished. I think both writing forms have their challenges and each their joys.  

Q. And finally which character in your books is most like you? 

No one has ever asked me that before! I’m really having to dig deep to find the answer. I think there are elements of me in Issy (the Protestant Work Ethic, the ability to wear a mask, the desire to do everything perfectly) and lots of my friends have said they see me in Claire. I don’t think any of my characteristics appear in Mummy, Lavinia or Mimi (at least I hope not!) Maybe my loyalty to friends informs Lauren and the girls. Mainly though, I made everyone up and if there any aspects of my own character in them, it was entirely unconscious. 

Thank you, Ruth.

Links to other posts

The other posts in this blog tour may be found from the links below. 

Issy Rides again by Ruth Leigh

Maressa Mortimer’s review

Andrew Chamberlain’s podcast interview with Ruth Leigh

Martin Horton’s review and interview

Issy Smugge and The Velveteen Rabbit – Book Review by Liz Manning

Joy Margetts’ review

Rob Seabrook’s review

Penelope Swithinbank’s review

Natasha Woodcraft’s review

Sheila Johnson’s review

Claire Wong’s review

Claire Musters’ review

Wendy H Jones’ review

Stockists

Photo of Ruth Leigh
Ruth Leigh

Signed copies complete with merch can be ordered via Ruth Leigh’s website and from good bookshops, Eden, Waterstones and Amazon from 22nd October 2022. In Suffolk, Issy Smugge is stocked by Woodbridge Books, Dial Lane Books in Ipswich and The Halesworth Bookshop. 

Book review: The Trials of Isabella M Smugge

Introduction

I was invited to prepare this post as part of the blog tour for Ruth Leigh’s eagerly anticipated sequel to The Diary of Isabella M Smugge, which ended with a cliff-hanger. (My review of the Diary is here.) This post includes my review, the blurb, Ruth Leigh’s author bio and details of the blog tour. More information about these books about Isabella M Smugge, which are published by Instant Apostle, may be found on Ruth Leigh’s website. It is available from Waterstones and all the usual places books are sold. #ChooseBookshops

My review

Cover of The trials of Isabella M Smugge showing the silhouette of an expectant mother,

I received an advance reader copy (ARC) as a .pdf file on the understanding that I would post an honest review of The Trials of Isabella M Smugge. As I read it on my phone it took me longer than it would have taken to read a paperback copy. I finished it on the third day. Unusually I read one passage out loud to hubby – it was such a funny situation following some worrying news on Issy’s birthday.

The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is a continuation of her diary. Influenced by her new friends and having to work harder at home, she is aware that she is becoming a #betterperson. It is not a straightforward journey with a saintly Isabella emerging overnight. The events of a year or so include the arrival of two babies (hers and another in the extended family), school-gate interactions, dealing with difficult family members (and some pleasant ones), and other ongoing themes from the Diary. Do read that first if possible! However there are sufficient unobtrusive reminders about who everyone is and what has happened previously for The Trials to stand alone.

There is a generous scattering of hashtags as Isabella broadcasts her edited life on social media. Some hashtags are very long, #didntcomedownwiththelastshower, for example. I hope that in Book 3 she will have reached the point on her journey of transformation to a #BetterPerson, that she capitalises the words in her hashtags for the benefit of anyone using a screen-reader. (If her main platform is instagram, there may not be many visually impaired people, but some readers of the Kindle edition of the book might benefit from this.)

Ruth Leigh writes extremely well. She finds humour in absurd situations and deals with some serious topics. While the end of this second book does not leave the reader dangling in quite the same way as the first book, I am sure that Issy’s readers will be looking forward to more of her adventures in Book 3. I certainly am!

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Blurb

Blurb for the Trials of Isabella M Smugge

Life in the country isn’t going as Issy Smugge planned it. However, the woman Gorgeous Home magazine once called ‘Britain’s Most Relatable Mum Designer’ is nothing if not resilient!

With an unexpected baby on the way, a good-for-nothing husband and a mother who never seemed to care but now needs caring for, her hands are full. Her venal agent and creative socials guru keep work fizzing, but how will she cope with the mysterious village snitch and poisonous gossip columnist Lavinia Harcourt?

Discovering others’ problems can be far worse than her own, she confronts bizarre church sub-culture and braces herself to use the NHS, rethinking all she thought she wanted. Could true happiness be just a few hashtags away?

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Bio

Ruth Leigh

Author bio

Ruth Leigh is a freelance writer, novelist and book reviewer. Married with three children, she is a recovering over-achiever.

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The blog tour

The blog tour is running from 11th October 2021 to 23rd October. The publication date is 21st October and the official launch is on 22nd October.

Dates and contributors’ names are listed below. Twitter usernames are provided where applicable. Links to the blog posts will be added as the blog tour proceeds.

Monday 11th October Wendy H Jones @WendyHJones
Tuesday 12th October Joy Margetts @JAMarge
Wednesday 13th October SC Skillman @scskillman
Thursday 14th October Susan Sanderson @suesconsideredt
Friday 15th October Maressa Mortimer
Saturday 16th October Julia Wilson
Sunday 17th October Penelope Swithinbank @minstriesbydsgn
Monday 18th October Martin Horton @Hortonious101
Tuesday 19th October Sheila Johnson @journojohnson
Wednesday 20th October Claire Wong @ClaireRWong
Thursday 21st October Ruth Leigh @Ruthleighwrites
Friday 22nd October Liz Manning @lifemadestuff
Saturday 23rd October Claire Musters @CMusters

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World Book Day, blogging and lockdown

Today 4th March 2021 is World Book Day. I was alerted to this fact by two emails. A rather unlikely source of this information was the one from the National Trust. The National Trust website has some literary podcasts about famous British writers.

It was not at all surprising that Penguin Books also mentioned it. There are books available for just £1. If your local bookshop is able to supply books in the lockdown, please try to support it.

Blogging in lockdown has kept me motivated. I know some people have been finding it difficult to write or to be motivated in other ways. (I have to admit that some of my household tasks tend to be neglected in favour of reading and spending time online.)

It seems to me that reading blogs has also become more popular as people have more time indoors. I find blogging challenges help me to stay motivated and also provide communities of supportive bloggers. Cee Neuner, who has Midweek Madness Challenges (CMMC) for which I have been posting entries for on Sue’s words and pictures, has a list of blogging challenges for writing, music and photography.

On this blog I have been using Linda Kruschke’s paint chip poetry prompts. I am learning a lot about poetic forms this year. If you have enjoyed my occasional photos accompanying my poems, do pop across to Sue’s words and pictures to see more.

I am looking forward to the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge, which begins later this month with the theme reveal sign up from March 8-11. My theme reveal will appear on March 11.

Some good books have been published during lockdown. S.L. Russell, whose book The Healing Knife came out in the first lockdown, has written another; I hope to read The Thorn of Truth soon after its publication date of 21 May 2021 . Joan E. Histon’s book, The Senator’s Darkest Days is likely to have a sequel. Tracy Williamson and Marilyn Baker told their story in A Beautiful Tapestry. Ruth Leigh’s debut novel, the diary of Isabella M.Smugge is being followed up with other books about this star of Instagram. Another debut novelist, Joy Margetts is going to be featured here on Sue’s Trifles in two weeks time. Her historical novel, The Healing, is already available from her website and will be in bookshops from 19 March. A new children’s book, My diary, is being launched today by Emily Owen.

Which books published in 2020 and 2021 have you read and enjoyed?