Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 9 – an interview with novelist Linda Gillard #VirtBookFest #books #writing

Hello and welcome to event number nine of the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s my pleasure to welcome novelist Linda Gillard who is going to tell us a bit about herself and her writing. Linda is a lovely lady who I first met at a Scottish Association of Writers conference in Glasgow in 2005 when we were amazed to discover that, at the time, we both lived on the Isle of Skye. And I owe her a huge debt as it was she who first encouraged me to have a go at writing a novel and generously shared lots of good advice with me. And I know she’s a role model for lots of other authors too.

Linda, welcome! I really am delighted to have you here at the festival. So, first, can you tell us why and how you became a writer?

I was a journalist for some years, but I started writing fiction in 1999. I was 47 and recovering from a nervous breakdown. I’d been a teacher in a very challenging school and I’d cracked up. Recuperating at home, I couldn’t find the sort of book I wanted to read. Bookshops then were full of chick lit. Women over 40 just didn’t feature unless they were somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife. So I started writing a thinking woman’s romance about a cracked-up 47-year old woman who finds love and salvation on a Hebridean island. I called the book EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY.

I had no thought of publishing it. I knew it wasn’t in the least commercial. I just wrote it for me, as therapy and entertainment, but my online writing group said, “You should try to publish this.” So I did.

I found an agent, then a publisher and EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY became my first novel. It’s the favourite of many readers.

Anne: Oh, I like that – ‘a thinking woman’s romance’. And I must say Emotional Geology is my favourite too.

 

What genre do you write in and why did that hold a particular appeal for you?

All my books are different, so I’m a marketing nightmare! Some are literary fiction, some are ghost stories, some have a large historical component and all of them have at least one love story. I’m impossible to classify. I once asked my editor what genre I wrote in and she said, “Linda Gillard genre”.

I write fiction that will appeal mainly to women and it’s thought-provoking, sometimes challenging. Definitely not a “beach read”. But at the same time, I aim to entertain. Humour plays a big part in my stories. I want to make readers laugh and cry.

Anne: Your own genre – that is so cool 🙂 And I think you definitely fulfil those writing aims.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

No, though I plan more now than I used to. I began most of my novels not having any idea how they would end. With HOUSE OF SILENCE, I didn’t even know which man the heroine would end up with until quite late on in the book.

I prefer to have just a rough idea of the plot and a clearer idea of the characters, then I wait and see what happens. I prefer not to plan too much because if I do, I fear I’ll just go for the obvious. There are many surprising twists in my books that weren’t planned, they just happened on the page. I think that’s why they work.  Readers don’t see them coming because I didn’t see them coming!

If you let it, your subconscious will write a much better book than your conscious mind, but it takes courage to trust the process. You have to believe your characters will somehow find their way out of the dire and complex situations you’ve put them in.

But when things are going well, I don’t feel as if I’m writing the story, I feel as if I’m taking dictation. The characters are telling me what to write – and sometimes what they tell me isn’t what I would have expected or wanted. But if you feel as if you’re hanging on to your character’s coat tails, you know your book has really taken off. It’s scary, but exhilarating.

Anne: Yes! There’s something magical about the characters taking the lead.

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

Characters. A good plot should arise out of character. Although my plots are complex and have some big surprises, they’re all character-driven.

I probably focus on character because I was an actress in my youth and I always tell my stories using a lot of dialogue. When I’m writing, I usually have actors in mind who could play my characters. I’m really a failed screenwriter!

Anne: I like the idea of having actors in mind. I can see how that would bring the characters to life for you – and then it’s over to them.

 

Where do you get your ideas? How/when do they come to you?

People. Not people I know, but people I read about or imaginary people I think about. (UNTYING THE KNOT grew out of wondering what kind of boy grows up to be a man who works in bomb disposal.) Sometimes it’s a voice I can hear, a character who insists on “talking” to me. It can be a bit like being buttonholed by someone at a party!

The characters come first, then a sense of place. That’s important. But I don’t need a story to get started, just a situation that gets me thinking, “What if…?”

Anne: Hmm, yes these characters can be very persistent, can’t they?

 

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

I admit I’ve fallen in love with several heroes – and one was a ghost! I also have a soft spot for a subsidiary character, Garth the Goth in STAR GAZING. I’m embarrassed to admit he actually used to make me laugh out loud when I was writing the book.  I’m very fond of scatty Hattie in HOUSE OF SILENCE – one of my many vulnerable characters, emotionally and mentally.

But the characters who continue to haunt me are two of my earliest creations (though to me they’ve always seemed like real people): the twins, Rory and Flora Dunbar, from A LIFETIME BURNING. They really got under my skin.

Anne: How wonderful that they take on this life of their own and they influence you.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers and/or any awards your books have received?

STAR GAZING and EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY have both been shortlisted for or won various awards, but I’m actually prouder of some of the reviews readers have written over the years. I’ve been known to sit at my PC, quietly weeping as I read something a kind reader has posted. Sometimes these reviews turn up on a bad day when you’ve looked at your sales figures and you’re thinking, “What is the point?” Then a reader posts a review or gets in touch and you realise this is why you do it: you want to tell stories that will move people, even change their lives.

A troubled teenager contacted me to say, since she’d read EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, she’d managed to stop self-harming and had taken up writing poetry instead. I’ll never get a better review than that.

Anne: That’s pretty amazing that you had such a positive effect on that young person. And, yes a good review is so encouraging and uplifting.

 

Well, thank you so much Linda for agreeing to take part in this virtual book festival. It’s fascinating to get your responses to my questions and, before you go, you’ve kindly agreed to share an extract from the aforementioned Emotional Geology. Can you tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY is a book about memory, madness and mountaineering, but mostly it’s a love story in which two fragile people find a way to trust and support each other. It’s also a book about landscape: the sometimes bleak, always beautiful island of North Uist.

It was my first novel, published in 2005, but I’m excited about it again because I sold the screen rights and most of the funding is now in place to make the film. With luck they’ll start shooting next spring, on location in North Uist. I’ve read the script and was thrilled to find it was very close to my novel. Almost all the dialogue was mine.

Anne: A film! Wow! How exciting!

BOOK EXTRACT

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY by Linda Gillard

Back cover blurb

Rose Leonard is on the run from her life.

Haunted by her turbulent past, she takes refuge in a remote Hebridean island community where she cocoons herself in work, silence and solitude in a house by the sea. Life and new love are offered by friends, her estranged daughter and most of all by Calum, a fragile younger man who has his own demons to exorcise.

But does Rose, with her tenuous hold on sanity, have the courage to say “Yes” to life and put her past behind her?

 PROLOGUE

I talk to the island. I don’t speak, but my thoughts are directed towards it. Sometimes it replies. Never in words of course.

I miss trees. You don’t notice at first that there are hardly any trees here, just that the landscape is very flat, as if God had taken away all the hills and mountains and dumped them on neighbouring Skye. But eventually you realise it’s trees that you miss.

Trees talk back.

In the hospital grounds there was a special place where I used to stand, where I went to feel safe. It was my magic circle, my fairy ring. There were three slender pine trees in a triangular formation, only a few feet apart. I used to stand within that space, sheltered, flanked by my trees, like a small child peering out at the world from behind grown-up legs.

Once, when the air was very still and a brilliant blue sky mocked my misery, I stood between my trees, head bowed, not even able to weep. I placed my palms round two of the tree trunks, grasping the rough bark. I begged for strength, support, a sign. Anything.

My trees moved in answer. Quite distinctly, I felt them move.  As my palms gripped them they shifted, as the muscles in a man’s thigh might shift before he actually moved. The movement was so slight it was almost imperceptible, as if their trunks were flexing from within.

I knew then that the doctors were right, I was indeed mad. I threw up my head and cried out. Above me a light breeze played in the treetops, a breeze I had been unaware of on the ground. It tugged at the branches with a sudden gust and I felt the trunks flex again, bending to the will of the wind.

I wasn’t mad.

At least, not then.

 

If you want to read more you can buy the book at the links below:

Buy the ebook here

Buy the paperback (Amazon UK) here

and (Amazon US) here

About Linda:

Linda Gillard lives in North Lanarkshire. She’s the author of eight novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. STAR GAZING was also voted Favourite Romantic Novel 1960 – 2010 by Woman’s Weekly readers.

Linda’s fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE became a Kindle bestseller and was selected by Amazon as one of their Top Ten “Best of 2011” in the Indie Author category.

Follow Linda on Facebook

Linda’s website is here.

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 8 – an interview with book blogger Linda Hill @Lindahill50Hill #VirtBookFest #books#reading

Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy event number eight in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome Linda Hill who is taking part in an interview about her role as a book blogger. Book bloggers are amazing people who, motivated by their love of reading and their desire to share what they’ve been reading, post book reviews and reading recommendations on their book blogs. Linda is a prolific blogger and, like Joanne another book blogger who did event number six in this festival, she too is responsible for a large part of my reading list. So, welcome to you, Linda, and let’s get started.

Interview with Linda Hill:

Can you begin by telling us what got you into book blogging and how long have you been doing it?

I began blogging in February of 2015 as reading has been an integral part of my life. I was actually late reading as I couldn’t see properly and when I first got glasses aged 8 it was as if a whole new world had opened up. I read Enid Blyton as a child and that’s where my love of reading started.

I was an English teacher and later worked in education as an inspector and consultant so I really believe a love of reading is the gateway to all kinds of opportunities. One of the roles I used to have was to write resources for classroom readers for Hodder and as part of that I read and reviewed KS3 books. This gave me the bug to write reviews and eventually I became a  www.lovereading.co.uk panel member where I received books for review.

I belong to a U3A (university of the Third Age) reading group where we enjoy discussing books, so I thought I’d share my views in a blog too.

Anne: Yes, as a former teacher myself I definitely agree about the importance of reading in helping children to develop and learn. And I can see how one thing inevitably lead to another for you getting into book blogging.

How do you find/choose what to review?

These days books just turn up so I often find brilliant books to read have simply dropped through my letter box. I follow lots of publishers, authors and bloggers on social media and find out all about books that way. Many authors get in touch personally too and I get updates from various newsletters such as those from literary festivals, authors, publishers and book sellers.

Anne: I love that idea of ‘books just turning up’ 🙂

What’s the best thing about doing a book blog?

There are so many brilliant aspects to blogging. It’s an absolute privilege to read a wide range of glorious books. It’s a pleasure to have made some very good real life friends through blogging and I love being able to spread the word about books and reading.

Anne: Yes, there’s a real feeling of community there, isn’t there? And it’s lovely how it can lead to real world friendships too.

What is your favourite type of read and do you stick mainly to reviewing that type of book?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, erotica or horror as they tend to appeal less to my reader taste, but having said that I usually find I’ve enjoyed them when I do read these genres. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to visceral violence too.  I think I most enjoy literary fiction, historical fiction and women’s fiction but equally I have derived enormous pleasure from books that defy being placed into categories. I love psychological thrillers, crime, children’s books, sagas and chick-lit as well as gothic narratives and poetry too, so really I enjoy most genres and I certainly like to mix up my reading otherwise it feels like eating the same meal every day.

Anne: Wow, that’s a pretty eclectic mix! And yes, it’s good to have some variety in the book diet.

And, finally, apart from posting book reviews on your blog, what other types of post do you like to include?

I tend to stick to posts linked to books such as reviews, author interviews, features, extracts, book events I’ve attended and giveaways, although there are occasionally more tenuous posts such as one about a large garden bean bag (where I can sit and read books) and book related clothing. I’ve been mulling over beginning a travel blog as I love travel, but I’m not sure there really are enough hours in the day!

Anne: I think it’s a great idea to have variety in the type of posts – just as in the type of books reviewed. I’ve no idea how you’d fit in a travel blog too – but if anyone can … 🙂

Well, it just remains for me to thank you, Linda, for agreeing to take part. It’s been lovely to get an insight into what motivates you to blog about books. 

 

About Linda:

I live in South Lincolnshire on the border with Cambridgeshire. I’m rapidly approaching 60, have terrible sight and I’m a bookaholic. There are genuinely well over 900 around the house awaiting review aside from over 1000 on my kindle. As well as books,  I love cats, travel, Bryan Ferry, anything sweet like fudge, walking and my husband though not necessarily in that order. I’m also very fond of gardening and have an allotment but it is books that occupy most of my time. I am a member of a reading group and I lead a gardening group in my local U3A.

I’ve been really lucky with my blog and have had a couple of awards including Bloggers Blast Best Book Review Blog in 2016, The Romantic Novelists Association Media Star Award in 2017 and the Bloggers Blast Best Overall Blog in 2018.

Online Links:

Linda has a Facebook page for her reviews here

but she prefers Twitter where you can find her here (@Lindahill50Hill)

and her website is here

Virtual Book Festival: Event 7 – a feature on storytelling by writer Trish Nicholson @TrishaNicholson #VirtBookFest #books #stories

Hello and welcome to the seventh event in the Virtual Book Festival. Today’s guest is writer Trish Nicholson. Trish has travelled the world for work and pleasure and as well as working as a social anthropologist she also writes narrative non-fiction and short stories. For her event here today she has written a fascinating article on the importance of stories to all of us as human beings – on where they come from and why they are important for our survival. Much of what she says is particularly topical today. So without further ado, I’d like to welcome Trish to the festival and hand over to her.

Stories and the Art of Living by Trish Nicholson

Where do stories come from? Why have some stories stayed with us for thousands of years?

We’ve been asking questions since we possessed language to speak. From how to fulfil basic needs for food and safety, to a deeper curiosity: the ‘why’ of all things. And the question beloved equally by scientists and storytellers: What if? Both search for meaning in better stories.

Each of us in our own way longs for meaning, for resolution to our inner conflicts and those that surround us, for a pathway to the art of living, and for hope. We strive to achieve these through our inner narrative fed by the stories of others: “Each of us … constructs and lives a ‘narrative’ and is defined by this narrative.” (Oliver Sacks) We are all storytellers.

Sharing stories is what defines us as human beings. In the first light of their humanity, our ancient forebears created names for things and for each other, so they could think and talk about them.  Objects, places and persons once named acquire a relationship to us, a character, a past, a present and a possible future – they begin to inhabit their own story. Storytelling shared this knowledge in ways that it would be remembered and passed on through generations.

Vital to the survival of early humans was recognition of their dependence on the natural environment: the elements that offered succour even as they threatened; the challenging landscapes through which they travelled; the plants and animals they foraged and hunted. In ancient tales of Indigenous peoples, animals play important roles: the Sanema-Yanomami peoples of Venezuela were given fire by the humming bird, who darted into the mouth of the fearsome caiman to capture burning embers and place them in the sacred Puloi tree – whose twigs the Sanema-Yanomami rub together to make a fire spark.

Storytellers passed on accumulated knowledge that encouraged early hunters and gatherers to co-operate with each other; those who did flourished despite the hardships and trials of raw nature. These stories contained the wisdom for survival – an understanding that most of us have lost along with the words but now desperately need.

Accounts of great floods are among the oldest stories and they may be universal. This would not be surprising since the geological record supports widespread flooding in earth’s recent history from receding ice sheets, or from massive volcanic action that disrupted the landscape of an entire continent. Australian Aboriginal stories of inundations have been traced back to rising sea levels 10,000 years ago. In Indonesia, the Moken, the Sea People of Aceh, held on to their myth of the ‘seventh wave’; the wisdom it held saved their lives and enabled them to rescue others during the terrible tsunami on Christmas Day in 2004.

But stories, myths, epics, fairytales and legends have multiple roles. A seemingly simple tale is multi-layered, multi-dimensional. Stories define our identity; establish a past and the hope of a future; provide models of behaviour through the actions of their heroes, heroines and villains; reassure us of our humanity; inform and expand our inner lives, our emotions and empathy; and, of course, they must enthral and entertain to ensure their own survival.

In other ancient Indigenous stories the characteristics of specific animals – brave, skittish, cunning, clever, dangerous – are related to human behaviour, encouraged or cautioned against as the plots unfold. Our inheritance is the ‘beast fable’ found in most cultures. We are, perhaps, more familiar with Aesop’s fables, but his inspiration marked a high point in a tradition reaching back millennia and still existing in various forms throughout the world. As a source of essential truths, their appeal touched all levels of society: Socrates enlivened his time in confinement by creating verse forms of the fables he remembered.

And practically every culture tells a migration story. It may be expressed in the movement of heavenly bodies; the arrival of strangers who brought some precious benefit; the wanderings of adventurous individuals; or in a tribe’s search for new lands. In a Celtic myth describing the peopling of Ireland (in Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Book of Conquests), families of Nemeds landed on the western shore after migrating from Scythia – around the Caspian Sea in the centre of Eurasia – a history that genome research has since proven to have taken place around 3,000 BCE.

 Norse mythology recalls the long journey of Odin and his family, also from the Caspian, sailing north up the Volga River – the same route along which Vikings later traded and raided in the opposite direction. Māori culture, too, is rich in tales of exploration in their peopling of the Pacific. We are a migratory species. A moment’s reflection will reveal how often journeys, real and metaphorical, flow in and out of our favourite stories,

Interwoven through all of these ancient tales are stories of coming of age, of opportunity, bravery and cowardice, of risks and riches, of growing old, of battles won and lost, and of love. Oral storytellers still enrich our tales with their unique voices and gestures, enchanting each audience anew.

But whether stories in all their immense variety are told orally, in texts, on stage, or on screen, and however old or new they are, they all have a common core: conflict. Challenges faced or failed, and the transformations that result. Struggle is the human condition.

Apart from the struggle for survival between the bounties and threats of our natural environment, the greatest source of conflict has always been that between ourselves and others because we are social beings: conflict between the needs of the individual and the group; competition between and within generations, not only for resources but for recognition, power, love; opposing forces of different groups; and the inner conflicts of each of us balancing sometimes incompatible desires. Through stories we live many lives, inhabit new places. Such is the power of story.

Beginning writers are often advised that ‘where there is no conflict there is no story.’ Tension must be felt and ultimately resolved. Of all the multiple roles that stories perform, the recognition and resolution of conflict is arguably the most significant to us and to the nourishment of our inner narrative.

Although the implications of conflict may have been different for our ancient ancestors – expulsion of a person from their foraging group, for example, was virtually a death sentence – we still face those same sources of conflict. The same act of ‘naming’ allows us to think and speak of our darkest fears, to address the unknown and the unknowable.

As humans, our needs are complex, our desires even more so. We still need stories to provide meaning, resolution and hope. That is why elements of so many ancient tales are still with us in some form after thousands of years. Today’s stories bear the ‘genes’ of all our stories past. Chinua Achebe understood this, “The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.”

It may not be true that ‘everyone has a book in them’, but each of us has our own story to tell, to share, to add to the pool of human wisdom upon which we draw to learn the art of living. Our future survival depends on it.

Anne: Wow! Thank you, Trish. I certainly learned things I didn’t know before from reading your article. It’s clear from what you say above that stories are about so much more than just our entertainment. They pass on not only our history, but also important warnings and advice and they get us to see how vital the connections that stories highlight and share things that remain are vital for our survival as a species. And I loved that practically every culture has a migration story – something we should all be aware of in these sometimes difficult times.

Trish has written several books ( see below) but the one that relates particularly to her article is the wonderful A Biography of Story – A Brief History of Humanity which is available here in paperback and hardback from The Book Depository (free freight worldwide) and we have an extract from it below:

From the backcover:

A Biography of Story, a Brief History of Humanity  is our own human epic, thoroughly researched and referenced and told with the imaginative flair of an accomplished storyteller.

In this highly original take on the power of stories past and present, Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured may be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia, South America and the Pacific may be fresh discoveries.

Beginning with oral tales of our foraging ancestors, the emergence of writing, the great migrations, the age of exploration and the invention of printing through to the industrial revolution and the digital age, Nicholson brings us voices from all over the world to reveals their story-power in the comedy and tragedy of human affairs. And what of Story’s future…?

Intro to extract from Trish:

When we discover the ancient storytelling heritage that gave rise to these tales, we better appreciate their enormous popularity in the East and later in the West, which still continues. Though not intended as children’s stories, for many, Christmas is incomplete without Sinbad the Sailor, Aladdin’s magic lamp, or Ali Baba with his gang of forty thieves transported, as if by a mischievous jinni, from the medieval caravans and caravels of Arabia onto the stage of the local Palladium. Our journey is a long one, starting with those caravans raising dust along the Silk Road.

The extract is from Chapter Six – 1001 Days and as Many Knights –

The power of Scheherazade’s storytelling saves her life. The characters, too, often gain redemption through telling their own stories. Even Schahriar, the sultan who holds Scheherazade’s life in the balance each day, is freed from his self-defeating obsession against women by listening to her stories.

On the ‘one hundred and twenty third night’, Scheherazade begins the humorous tale of little Hunchback, the favourite buffoon or court-jester and storyteller of the sultan of Casgar.

Hunchback’s sudden and mysterious death implicates the tailor, a Jewish doctor, a Mussulman (Muslim), and a Christian merchant, each of whom believes he inadvertently caused the death, and secretly offloads the corpse to the unsuspecting other. The sultan, fond of his little jester and eager to whip off the head of his murderer, is so enthralled by the extraordinary account from each of the ‘accused’ that he exonerates them. But the story is extended for sixty-two nights by frames within frames, as a barber and each of his six brothers take up aspects of the event and continue convoluted tales of their own. This is all deemed to take place around the corpse of the unfortunate Hunchback. Eventually, the ancient barber rubs vigorously at Hunchback’s neck with a special balm and he is revived, coughing up a fish bone that had lodged in his throat as a consequence of arriving at the tailor’s house drunk and accepting the hospitality of a fish dinner – Arabian audiences of the Middle Ages preferred happy endings to their tales of uncertain fortune and rolling heads.

And so, Scheherazade’s life is saved for another day, but in the outer frame of the stories we learn that her storytelling arises from a far more heroic motive than self-preservation in a tight spot. We are told in the prologue that she was renowned not only for her beauty and virtue, but also as a scholar of philosophy and literature and one of the best poets of her day. Being the eldest daughter of the sultan’s grand vizier and chief administrator, Scheherazade was aware of the disaster that had befallen the kingdom, leading its citizens to despair.

 

About Trish

Trish Nicholson, narrative non-fiction and short-story author, former columnist and features writer and a social anthropologist, has travelled and worked worldwide. Born in the Isle of Man, she describes herself as half Celt, half Viking and blames both for her passionate love of stories. Her recent books include: Passionate Travellers:Around the World on 21 Incredible Journeys in HistoryA Biography of Story, a Brief History of Humanity; Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea JournalsJourney in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon; and Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the complete guide to becoming an author. Trish lives in New Zealand.

Link to website here:

Link to Trish on Twitter: @TrishaNicholson

 

 

.

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 6 – An interview with book blogger Joanne Baird @portybelle #VirtBookFest #reading #writing

Hello, and welcome to event number six in the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a huge pleasure to welcome Joanne Baird to the festival. Joanne is a book blogger. She blogs about all things book related over at Portobello Book Blog which you can find here.

Book bloggers are the most amazing people. They give up their free time to write book reviews, to interview authors, to do cover reveals and book giveaways, and generally support writers and writing. And they do all this for love not money. Book bloggers rock! And Joanne is one of the best book bloggers out there. So I’m very excited to have her here today to do an festival event.

Hello, Joanne, I’d like to start by asking you, what got you into book blogging and how long have you been doing it?

I started blogging in April 2015. I have always read a lot and been a fast reader! Blogging was a way for me to chat about the books I’d been enjoying and to share recommendations with other book lovers. It was around that time that I really became aware of book blogs through some bookish Facebook groups I was in and I thought ‘I could do that!’. I didn’t really think that many people would read it and it started slowly with just a few views each time I posted. I was delighted! As I became more part of the blogging community and started reading and sharing other people’s posts, as well as making contacts within the publishing industry, more people started following the blog and visiting each day. I now have around 7500 followers over all the social media platforms and I find that just amazing!

Anne: Yes, amazing – but well deserved too.

How do you find/choose what to review?

As I am now lucky enough to be on lots of publishers’ mailing lists, I often get emails about forthcoming books asking if I’d be interested in reviewing them. Sometimes books arrive unexpectedly in the post which is always a delight. Sometimes an author will contact me directly to ask if I would like to read their book. I also get ideas from reading other bloggers’ reviews, from social media publishers’ posts, from newspaper book columns,  from whatever my book group is about to read and from friends. There’s never enough time in the day to read all the books I know that I would enjoy so I have to be strict with myself and sometimes say no. That’s not always easy when the books are so tempting! If I can’t manage to fit a book in but like the look of it, I can often offer the author or publisher a guest slot. So that might be an interview or an excerpt or a giveaway. It’s not a review, of course, but can help raise the profile of a book or author when the post is shared on social media.

Anne: There are only so many hours in the day. I don’t know how you don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books that come your way! I can see that sometimes you will have to say no – but I do like your alternative offer of posts that are interviews or extracts.

 What’s the best thing about doing a book blog?

Definitely the book community. I have met so many lovely people both online and in the real world (including yourself Anne) who I would never have met otherwise. I have found the bookish community to be so friendly and supportive. I’ve had the chance to meet up with bloggers and authors at book events in book shops, at festivals, at publishers’ events and at lunches, some of which I have organised. Some of these people I now consider good friends. Sometimes I have been a bit starstruck when meeting authors whose work I have loved but that quickly wears off when you get chatting and realise that authors are really just the same as everyone else!  And of course, getting the chance to read so many books ahead of publication is a huge privilege.

Anne: Haha! Yes, authors are just about human 🙂 And I totally agree the author/blogger community is awesome.

 What is your favourite type of read and do you stick mainly to reviewing that type of book?

I usually read mostly contemporary fiction, often with a romantic element or family based drama. I like books that make me smile and sometimes cry, with characters I feel I can understand or would like if I met in real life. I do enjoy some historical fiction too though it depends on the time periods. I also like some police procedural or thriller books but I don’t like my fiction too gritty or gory. The only kinds of books I don’t tend to read are fantasy, horror or sci-fi. Other than that, I’ll give most things a try.

Anne: Yes, I sort of knew what your answer would be to that one. I know we share the same taste – to my cost – or rather to my book-buying budget’s cost. I can never resist the book recommendations you make – I just know I’ll love them 🙂

 Apart from posting book reviews on your blog, what other types of post do you like to include?

My favourite type of guest post is probably my author in the spotlight feature. It’s basically a chance to be nosy and find out more about authors and their reading habits. My favourite question is the last one where I ask what fictional character an author would like to be and why. There’s been a huge variety of responses and reasons why!

Anne: Yes, the spotlight feature is great. I’ve enjoyed reading many of them. And I’ve enjoyed having you here at the festival too, Joanne. Thank you so much for agreeing to take part and for being in the spotlight yourself.

 

Joanne’s social media links

Blog address – here

Twitterhere

Instagramhere

Facebookhere

 

Joanne’s Bio: I can’t remember not being a reader and always have at least one book on the go. I started my blog, Portobello Book Blog, in April 2015 to share my love of the books I was reading and it’s been great fun. I’m a busy wife and mum to two lovely girls, an avid book reader of course, a nature watcher, a keen cook and baker, always on the go and I love living by the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 5 – an interview with author Jane Davis @janedavisauthor # VirtBookFest #books #writing

Welcome to this, the fifth event in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival! Today it’s my pleasure to welcome award-winning author Jane Davis to the festival and I’d like to thank her for taking part. Jane has written several novels – all of them wonderful, humane and thought-provoking stories. So let’s find out a bit more about this talented writer…

Hello,Jane, and welcome to the festival. Please can you start by telling us why and how you became a writer?

The truth of it is that I’m not a writer, but a failed artist. I was interested in story-telling as a child but, instead of words, I used pictures. Right up to my O-Level year, I spent all my spare time drawing and painting. I assumed I’d make a career in art. It was the one thing I was really good at. And then came a hard lesson. The O-Level examiners simply didn’t like my work. There had never been a plan B.

My reaction was to leave school and take the first job that came along, which happened to be in insurance, and there I stayed for the next twenty-five years. There were compensations. I bought a house, had three double wardrobes full of clothes, I dabbled in amateur dramatics, led a Venture Scout Group, climbed mountains, travelled. But gradually I became more and more aware that I was missing a creative outlet and, when something happened that I needed to make sense of, I began to write.

You can apply what you know about art to writing a novel. Both processes require vision and the creation of something out of nothing. If you ask me how I began, I simply sat down and wrote. My first novel took me four years, but earned me the services of a literary agent. My second novel (only a year, that one) had been sitting in my agent’s in-tray for six months and so I entered it in the Daily Mail First Novel Award. I signed up for a creative writing MA when I was four novels in (the first creative writing class I had taken as an adult) and I’m afraid to say it gave me total writers’ block.

Anne: Yes, I can see the parallels between the processes of art and writing. And I guess most of us can relate to that ‘need to earn a living with a proper job’ thing – but we’d also recognise that need for a creative outlet of some sort too. And what’s really encouraging for others reading this is that you’ve proved perseverance can pay off.

So, what sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?

I write about big subjects and give my characters almost impossible moral dilemmas. I don’t allow them a shred of privacy. I know what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, the lies they tell, their secret fears. But I only meet them at a particular point on their journeys, usually in a highly volatile or unstable situation, and then I throw them to the lions. How people behave under pressure reveals so much about them.

Fiction provides the unique opportunity to explore one or two points of view. It is never going to provide the whole answer, but it forces writer and reader to walk in another person’s shoes. And, in many ways, it is the exploration and not the answer that’s important.

As my collection of novels grows, I’m beginning to see them as my legacy. As someone who doesn’t have children, they are the mark I will leave on the world. So another reason for writing – one that I didn’t think about in my mid-thirties when I started to write – is to create a legacy that I can be proud of.

Anne: You’ve certainly done that! But sorry for interrupting – please go on …

My first published novel was Half-truths and White Lies. It tells the story of someone who loses her parents only to discover that they weren’t her biological parents.

A Funeral for an Owl was next in the order of writing. I could change the focus of the novel: what kind of boy would it take to make two teachers put their jobs on the line? And it gave the plot a new momentum.

My angle was the suggestion that some of the rules that have been put in place with the best of intentions – to protect – actually deprive the most vulnerable children of confidential counsel from someone they trust. Not everyone will agree with that view but, when I was growing up, we had a wonderful teacher who operated an open-house and provided a safe place for those who were struggling at home, no questions asked. It was surprising who would turn up at her door. Today, in an environment when any relationship between teachers and pupils outside the classroom is taboo, she would be sacked. I think that’s terribly sad.

Anne: People who know me won’t be surprised to learn that this is probably my favourite one of your books. As a  teacher for 36 years , mostly teaching children with emotional and behavioural issues, I could very much relate to the story. Sorry! I interrupted again. Please continue and tell us about the rest of your books.

I Stopped Time is my tribute to my grandmother who lived to the age of 99, and to the pioneers of photography.

These Fragile Things puts a family under the microscope when daughter Judy survives a horrific accident only to find herself caught up in a tug-of-war between her parents. While her father proclaims it a miracle, her mother insists that the medics saved her daughter.

An Unchoreographed Life is about the sacrifices that a mother will make for her daughter. But it’s a story with a ticking time bomb. The mother in my story is a sex worker and is desperate to change her life before her daughter is old enough to understand what she does for a living.

An Unknown Woman begins with a woman standing in the street watching her house burn to the ground. In the aftermath, all aspects of her life are laid bare. As her life begins to unravel, Anita questions who she really is, and how defined we are by the things we own. When cracks begin to surface in what had seemed like a perfect relationship, she bolts to the sanctity of her hometown, only to discover the secret that her mother has been keeping from her all these years, something so taboo it can’t be spoken about.

My Counterfeit Self is about the life of a rebel with a cause, poet activist, Lucy Forrester. We begin on the day of the funeral of her on/off lover of 50 years, when she receives notification that she is to be awarded a New Year’s Honour.

Smash all the Windows is all about the on-going impact of a large-scale disaster on a group of family member, how when ‘justice’ is finally served it achieves little, and how they find the hope to carry on.

Anne: Wow! That’s a list to be proud of. Awesome books all of them.

Tell us about a typical writing day?

Ring-fencing time for writing is something I have never been very good at. If you’re an indie author (as I am), the moment your first book is out there, pure ‘writing days’ are luxuries. When I’m not working at the day job (I still work part-time and also help care for my father who has dementia) I prioritise whatever is the most urgent. That might be marketing, giving an interview or filing a tax return. It might be replying to emails from readers. It might be project managing a publication schedule, signing off proofs or working on a cover design. I’m afraid that writing tends to happen in stolen moments.

Anne: Oh, I do like that notion of ‘writing tending to happen in the stolen moments’.Yes, being a writer is not all about being inspired by the muse and sitting , uninterrupted, at your desk writing instantly stunning prose 🙂  Real life and the demands of the business side of book publishing do tend to get in the way.

And so to the writing process – do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing? 

As terrible as this might sound, I don’t plot at all. I want to be Mary Anning scouring the beaches at Lyme Regis for dinosaur fossils, or Howard Carter discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun, or metal detectorist Terry Herbert digging up the Staffordshire Hoard. What I don’t want to be is a parent deciding on my child’s future, telling my son which subjects he will study, arranging my daughter’s marriage.

My process is slow and organic. I start with a single idea and follow it through to its natural conclusion. Most of my books have changed substantially during the writing. The pivotal moment of a novel may not actually reveal itself until several edits in, or until an editor comments, ‘I see the point that you were trying to make.’ I might realise that whatever I thought I was writing about, this is the one sentence the whole plot hangs on. Sometimes it’s a subtle change of mind-set, but equally it can be a Eureka moment.

I’m afraid that anyone who imagines that words show up in the order they appear on the page of any novel is, in the majority of cases, mistaken. In many ways, the novel in its final form is an illusion, the rabbit pulled out of the hat.

Anne: Yes! I can certainly relate to all of that.

And what, for you, is the best part of being a writer?

It sounds so much more glamorous than ‘I’m an insurance broker’. (The reality, I can assure you, is that it is not.)

Anne: Great answer!

Tell us a bit about your most recent novel Smash All The Windows. I know it won the Selfies 2019 award – a new award that celebrates the quality of indie-published books.

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second *Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

*For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

I didn’t want to be the one to add to the pain I saw on their faces, so I created a fictional disaster. I think you always have to make it personal. To create my fictional disaster, I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators. Last year, I suffered a fall on my way to a book-reading in Covent Garden. I was overloaded, having just finished a day’s work in the city. I was carrying my laptop bag, my briefcase, plus a suitcase full of books. The escalator I normally use was out of order. Instead we were diverted to one that was obviously much steeper, but I was completely unprepared for how fast it was. The suitcase, which was only one step in front of my feet, literally dragged me off-balance. Fortunately, there was no one directly in front of me. A few bruises and a pair of laddered tights aside, I escaped unscathed. But I can still blink and see the moment I knew I was about to fall and the recognition that there wasn’t a damned thing I could do about it.

Anne: we have an extract from the book at the end of this interview.

Have you had feedback from readers? 

Yes, thankfully. Diana Athill wrote in her wonderful memoir Stet:

‘The person with whom the writer wants to be in touch is his reader: if he could speak to him directly, without a middleman, that is what he would do.’

Technology has made that possible. Readers get in contact in all sorts of ways. Those who don’t know me from social media often use the contact form on my website. What arrives at my end is an email. My favourite email of late was from a reader who had bought one of my novels on special offer at 99p but who loved it and wanted to send me what she thought the offer was worth. I was extremely touched by that.

Readers often tell me how my books affected them, share intensely personal information. I feel immensely privileged that they trust me with their stories.

Readers also ask for sequels. They often suggest that I focus on a secondary characters. With These Fragile Things, they fell in love with Miranda, my main character’s school-friend who is expelled for challenging her head mistress. With An Unchoreographed Life, it’s Jean-Francois, one of Alison’s former dance partners. The temptation to revisit old friends is always there but by the end of a novel, I will have taken the story as far as it can go. And I have to be honest, I don’t like fiction with tidy endings. My aim is always to leave readers with a few questions.

Anne: Yes, technology has been a game-changer for writers and their readers and how lovely that you get such wonderful feedback

When you start writing a new book, what comes first for you, characters or plot? 

Character before plot. Always. We’ve already established that I’m not a plotter. Plus, get inside the head of the character and they will do most of the leg work for you.

Anne: Indeed!

Where do you get your ideas? How/when do they come to you?

Anywhere and everywhere. As a writer you have to be a magpie, collecting snippets of information here and there.

These Fragile Things is the book I felt I had to write. It’s about something that is very much a part of my DNA – a man’s conversion to Catholicism and how it impacts on his family. It’s also about the hypocrisies I felt being on the receiving end of a Catholic education – that the people who would have us believe in miracles would be the last people to believe in a miracle were it to happen today. So I set a miracle in 1980s Streatham. I used it as a vehicle to explore all viewpoints and I hope that what I’ve written is respectful. I remain a confused lapsed Catholic, increasingly grateful that my parents have their faith and wishing I had something to believe in.

Smash all the Windows isn’t my only novel to have been taken its lead from a court case. An Unchoreographed Life was inspired by a 2008 case that challenged the public’s perception of the type of women who might be working as a sex worker. I wrote it at a time when the number of sex workers in London (measured by percentage when compared to the adult population) exceeded the number in the 1700s.

My Counterfeit Self is about the life of a poet activist and came about simply because the reader reviews for my previous release described my prose as poetry. I had no idea if I could actually write poetry, but this gave me confidence that I might be able to convince readers that I could see the world as a poet does. I then watched a documentary about Jim Marshall (of Jim Marshall amps), which showed a direct path from a childhood illness he suffered from to his invention of the amp, via tap-dancing and drumming.

Anne: A magpie is a perfect description 🙂

And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

That’s a really tough question. I live with my characters for so long that I know them far better than some of my friends. When the time comes to move on to my next writing project, it almost feels as if I’m cheating on them.

If I may, I’m going to pick two.

My first choice is Bins, a seemingly minor player in A Funeral for an Owl. He comes across as a bit of an oddball, but has a peculiar wisdom of his own. (Many readers have assumed that he suffers from learning difficulties.) All of his life people have assumed that Bins was stupid because he suffers from Prosopagnosia (face blindness), a condition that prevents sufferers from recognising even the most familiar faces, sometimes even their own. I don’t know if you can imagine going to school each day and being unable to recognise your teacher or classmates? I particularly loved being able to give him a heroic role.

My second is Lucy Forrester, the poet of My Counterfeit Self. Lucy a radical poet and political activist who’s a cross between two great British eccentrics, Edith Sitwell and Vivienne Westwood. Having been anti-establishment all of her life, she’s horrified to find that she’s been featured on the New Year’s Honours list.

During the book we find out what has shaped Lucy. At the age of nine, she contracted childhood polio. Staring death in the face defines a person. It alters their perception of life, whatever age they happen to be. Lucy has that same stubborn determined streak that Roosevelt displayed when he refused to accept the limitations of his disease. The refusal to wear leg braces, to face the world sitting down. She also resents overhearing her father say that not much is expected of her, and it makes her want to defy him. She becomes totally driven.

And then her parents behave so shockingly that it releases her from feeling under any obligation to live up to their expectations, and so she adopts a bohemian lifestyle. And into this new life walks the man who became her literary critique and on/off lover for the next 50 years.

Lucy became so real to me that it was really difficult to let her go.

Anne: Oh, I think we can allow two – in view of just how brilliant these characters are! Thank you so much, Jane, for giving us such a detailed insight into your writing – the inspiration and methods behind it and what it all means to you.

And now, as promised, here is an extract from Jane’s most recent novel:

 

 

Smash all the Windowsfrom the back cover

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

‘An all-round triumph.’ John Hudspith

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Tapping into the issues of the day, Davis delivers a highly charged work of fiction, a compelling testament to the human condition and the healing power of art. Written with immediacy, style and an overwhelming sense of empathy, Smash all the Windows will be enjoyed by readers of How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall and How to be Both by Ali Smith.

Extract (From Chapter Two)

“Champagne?”

Already, a scattering of people are clutching the stems of champagne flutes. God knows, Tamsin could murder a drink. She imagines knocking back the first one and holding out her glass for a refill. But she won’t accept a thing from the bastards who printed those lies. She has other plans.

As she waits in line, a television reporter close by speaks into a microphone: “The families and survivors were systematically bullied, intimidated, manipulated or used for personal and political gain.”

Impatience clogs Tamsin’s throat. You’ve changed your tune. Bloody hypocrites, the lot of you.

“Here we are,” the waitress says, sounding a little too pleased with herself.

Mum constantly tries to impress on Tamsin how much she adored Ollie, dismissing their teenage spats as a phase that would have quickly resolved itself. But it’s as if the data has been wiped from Tamsin’s hard drive, and each reminder of this failing produces fresh agony. Not today. Today, she has the opportunity to make up for it.

A final glance at the camera crew, Tamsin stages herself as she would a prop. Her chin is high as she takes the delicate stem of the glass. (It’s a good weight; the waitress hasn’t skimped.) She turns and, as she knew she would, finds several lenses trained on her. The same camera crew who, if the families had lost today, would have recorded that arrogant bastard saying, ‘There comes a time when you have to accept that, no matter how many different ways you find to ask the same question, the answer will still be no.’ Well, he’s just had a few of his assumptions turned inside out. Tamsin smiles directly into a camera lens and raises her glass. What she’s about to do requires no script. She won’t give the fuckers words.

Fill your boots, Ollie, this is for you. She tips her champagne flute. The balance shifts. From behind Tamsin comes a collective intake of breath. Conversations halt. The sound of champagne hitting tarmac is deeply satisfying. ‘Like someone having a wazz,’ she imagines Ollie saying and, for the briefest of moments, he’s here with her. They aren’t at each other’s throats, Mum isn’t having to say, ‘I don’t care who started it, I’ll finish it!’ They are simply sharing the moment.

Liquid pools near her high-heeled patent-leather shoes.

‘New shoes, sis?’

‘Clarks – but don’t tell anyone.’

‘The shame!’

‘I know.’

‘Remember how we –?’

The reduced weight, the twist of her wrist, tells Tamsin her glass is empty. When she staged this moment in her mind, others joined her in one united gesture. Dangling the upside down champagne flute in one hand, Tamsin watches the last few drips with a kind of fascination, hoping that a camera will capture them, glistening and jewel-like. Ollie is gone. They are back to not talking to each other. Headphones on. The Keep Out sign on his bedroom door. And she is back in the real world.

(Click here for buy links for the above book)

 

About Jane:

Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

 

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.

 

Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, and star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

 

Also by Jane Davis

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

A Funeral for an Owl

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

 

Contact and Social Media links:

Website: here
Facebook page: here
Twitter: here
Pinterest:  here

Press enquiries janerossdale@btinternet.com

High resolution photos available from https://jane-davis.co.uk/media-kit/

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 4 – an interview with book cover designer JD Smith #VirtBookFest #books #writing

Do You Judge a Book by its Cover?

Book covers are so important to both authors and readers. They’re often the first impression a potential reader will get of an author’s work. But have you ever wondered how a book cover comes into being? If so read on …

Hello everyone and thank you for coming to event number four in the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s lovely to welcome book designer JD Smith to share with us what is involved in her work as a book cover designer. (full disclosure Jane has designed all the covers of my books – and I may be biased but I think they’re fab)

So hello, Jane. Can you begin by telling us how long have you been designing book covers and how many have you done so far – and how did you get into doing it in the first place?

I’ve been designing book covers as a specialist since 2012, and before that I’d worked at a graphic design agency for over twelve years. In all honesty, I’ve lost count of the quantity of covers I’ve designed over the years. Over a thousand? Much more? It’s certainly somewhere in that region; I have a folder sat on my desk with many of the covers I’ve designed awaiting upload to my website and that contains 800+.

I first became a specialist after being made redundant after the agency I worked for closed. I am a writer myself, so it was a natural progression to move into the field of book cover design, particularly as the market was booming with the release of the Kindle.

Anne: Wow! That’s a lot of books.

Describe the process of working with an author to come up with the perfect cover for their book.

First and foremost I always ask for a selection of covers in their genre that they like, which represents their target audience, plus the title, strapline, blurb information etc, any scenes from the book they feel could represent the story on  the cover, elements and descriptions and so on. From there I research possible imagery we could incorporate and then based on that imagery mock up a series of ideas which we then develop into a finished product.

Anne: I find the process amazing as an author – going from vague and hazy idea of what I think I want to your wonderful finished article is magical.

You also design the interiors of books – doing the layout and the formatting – what does that involve?

‘Hopefully’ a proofread manuscript to start with, although you’d be amazed at how many people proofread after, which is both timely and costly for everyone involved … Ebook and print layout are completely different in that ebooks are reflowable, whereas print books aren’t. Ebooks are designed with this in mind, so we tend to keep the formatting simplistic so everything works across multiple devices and the various functions that come with ebooks perform as they should, such as table of contents links.

With paperbacks we have much more flexibility and control over things like margins, font sizes, fonts, and the general flow, so we can eliminate widows and orphans and so on.

Anne: I’m nodding as if I know what all that means. And that’s why we need talented book designers like you!

What do like best about your job as a designer?

The flexibility of my working day, the appreciation authors have for the process and product as well as their enthusiasm, plus the fact every day is a creative day. It couldn’t be better.

Anne: It certainly sounds like you love your job.

As well as your design work, you’re also an author yourself. Tell us a bit about the books you’ve written so far.

I’ve written one non-fiction book on the topic of cover design and formatting, which I hope is a useful guide for authors looking for book cover designers. And I have written so far five historical fiction novels. The first, Tristan and Iseult, was a finalist for the HNS Indie Book of the Year Award a few years ago. Then there are four books in the Overlord series, which chronicles the life of Zenobia, third century queen of Roman Palmyra, Syria. There’s another two planned but I have been busy climbing mountains of late so they’re a little slow coming to publication, but one day …

Anne: oh yes, it’s important to climb those mountains and I know you’ve been doing a lot of that lately, but your reading public – including me – awaits … 🙂

Do you design your own book covers? If so is that easier or harder than designing for other people?

Yes, absolutely, it’s so much easier as well than designing for other people because I don’t have to go through so many iterations, I know what I want, so I can just produce the finished design straight away without going back and forth for feedback and making tweaks that I personally wouldn’t necessarily choose to make because they’re the authors preference and not my own.

Anne: Yes, us authors can be an opinionated bunch. As long as you don’t end up in an argument with yourself 🙂

Are you currently working on a new book or is it all about the design for now?

Book 5 in the Overlord series sits patiently waiting on my desktop and every now and then I open it up and do a little. I really enjoy designing covers, so it’s not so much of an escape for me, because I love my ‘day job’ and sometimes I feel I need to get away from the computer screen and be a little more active, but it’s always there to come back to.

Anne: Well thank you so much, Jane. It’s been great to get an insight into how book covers come about. And all the best too with your book writing and mountain climbing.

And below are just 6 examples of the different kinds of covers Jane has designed. (You can also see my book covers – also designed by Jane in the sidebar here if you’re reading this on a desktop, laptop or tablet – and if you’re on your phone you can scroll down to see them below this post).

Six of Jane’s Cover Designs

 

You can find Jane online at the links below:

Design Website  

Author Website

Facebook Design

Facebook Author

JD Smith is an award-winning book cover designer and author of historical fiction novels Tristan and Iseult (HNS Indie Book of the Year Finalist) and the Overlord series, as well as The Importance of Book Cover Design and Formatting.

She lives in the English Lake District with her husband and three children, renovating houses and climbing mountains in her spare time so she can eat cake in the rest of her spare time. She has also been known to drive steam trains, once upon a time …

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 3- Writing Serials for Magazines with Kate Blackadder @k_blackadder #VirtBookFest #writing

Hello everyone and welcome to the third event in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome writer Kate Blackadder. Kate writes serial fiction for a woman’s magazine as well as being a novelist. And here in a fascinating feature she explains how she got into serial writing and how it has developed for her since. So over to Kate …

 

One serial writer – 400,000 readers

by Kate Blackadder

 

I’d had a few short stories published in The People’s Friend and elsewhere when I entered the First Instalment of a Serial competition that the magazine sponsored in 2008. As a member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club www.edinburghwritersclub.org.uk

I was automatically a member of the Scottish Association of Writers and this competition was part of their annual conference that year.

I’d never written ‘long’ before but nothing ventured … I remembered something I’d written when having a writing session with friends. We were handed paperbacks at random, asked to turn to a particular page and a particular line number and to start our own story from there.

The book assigned to me was in the horror genre and the line involved a stone which had some supernatural significance, seen through torrential rain. I wrote a page or so but knew I wouldn’t continue because I’d stuck with the genre and it’s not one I like.

But something of the atmosphere of the piece came back to me as I pondered the serial. Cathryn, recently dumped by her boyfriend, could be driving through the rain on her way north to spend the summer on an archaeological dig. Staying in the same lodgings is Magnus, a Canadian film-maker, investigating Viking history and sites – and also researching a mystery in his family tree.

I looked at current PF serials with a writer’s eye. I read the guidelines www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/guidelines/ to find out about instalments and chapters and word counts. I had fun bringing in more characters and placing them in a part of the world I used to live, the north-west coast of Sutherland (although I made up place names, and the local big house I transplanted from somewhere else entirely – the superpower of a writer!).

And of course I ended the instalment with a cliffhanger!

Then came the conference and the judging …

The adjudicator, one of The People’s Friend fiction team, began to describe the first-placed entry. My heart raced … Was that mine?

Competition entrants choose a pseudonym and mine was ‘Belle’, the name of a late great-aunt, in whose house I first encountered The People’s Friend although my interest then was only in the children’s pages.

I hope she was listening as her name was read out as the winner.

One of the points the adjudicator made was not about the story itself but the fact that apparently I was the only entrant who had adhered to all the rules, so my homework was worth it, the difference perhaps between winning and not winning.

The prize (of which more anon) was a year’s subscription to the magazine, and the chance to have the serial published – which was a problem. I’d never expected to win so after I’d posted my entry I forgot about it. Now, because I hadn’t written a serial before, they wanted a full synopsis before giving me the go-ahead. Full as in full … what would happen in each and every chapter?

Reader, I hadn’t a clue. Obviously the archaeologist and the film-maker were going to get together but that couldn’t happen until the last instalment. What was the puzzle in Magnus’ background? Why was Sara going to Inverness every week? What caused JD’s accident? I’d set up these and a dozen other questions in the first instalment and now I had to answer them.

It was agony! I had to give myself many a severe talking to when I felt like giving up. I asked a well-published novelist friend for advice and one thing in particular was really helpful – include scenes involving different permutations of your characters so that you don’t forget about any of them.

Eventually – eventually – I wrote a paragraph for each chapter, all thirty-seven of them, and submitted it. Green light! And then it was, almost, like joining the dots.

The serial was published as The Family at Farrshore and it was a real thrill to see it in print over seven weeks with a lovely illustration at the head of each instalment.

The People’s Friend celebrates its 150th birthday this year; a copy is sold somewhere in the world every 3.44 seconds. The readers are not all elderly ladies as is the perception … and, besides, the ‘elderly’ today are not like those of a generation ago as regards fitness and outlook. Sadly, The PF is almost the last (wo)man standing in terms of magazines that take stories. It seems strange in an era when we’re all supposed to be so short of time/concentration that magazines have dispensed with bite-sized fiction.

Back in the day The People’s Friend weekly sales headed for a million (220,000 sales today, 400,000 readers) and their payment to writers reflected that. In the 1880s they ran a serial competition with a first prize of £100, around £8500 in today’s money. Ah well …

Since The Family at Farrshore I’ve had two more serials published, The Ferryboat and A Time to Reap. I had to send long synopses for these but not with the detail required the first time. I’m halfway through a fourth.

The way it works is that you send an instalment and wait for feedback before continuing. You are paid as each instalment is accepted. As the main events in the synopsis have been approved you can’t veer from them and (unless you’ve discovered a glaring error) you can’t go back and change earlier instalments. Unlike those of Charles Dickens or Alexander McCall Smith, who produced instalments every day after the previous ones were already in print (now that would be scary!), PF serials are not published until they’re finished.

As copyright remains with me I’ve sold the serials to a large-print-for-libraries publisher plus I have put them on Kindle myself.

Knowing that I could plot and finish longer stories gave me the confidence to tackle a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish available here (published by Black & White). So it’s true: something ventured, something gained.

Anne: Thank you, Kate, for this interesting insight into how writing magazine fiction works and it’s good that copyright remains with you and you’ve been able to produce your stories for Kindle and paperback. I’ve read them all on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed them. 

Kate Blackadder was born in the Scottish Highlands but now lives in Edinburgh. If you don’t count adolescent poetry (and best not to) she came late to writing but is trying to catch up. She’s had over sixty short stories published in magazines and has been successful in various competitions, winning the Muriel Spark Short Story Award (judged by Maggie O’Farrell) and being shortlisted for the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award and long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award. She has also written three magazine serials and a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish, published by Black & White.

 Kate can be found in various places online:

Facebook

Twitter

Her Blog

Capital Writers website

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 2 – An interview with John Hudspith Book Editor

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The Alchemist of Prose

Hello and welcome to the second event of the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival.

I know that before I was a novelist, I never gave a great deal of thought – as a reader – as to how a book comes to be ready for publication – other than the author writing it and the publisher publishing it. But now of course I know better. Many authors will tell you that writing the first draft of a novel is the easy part, and that having done so, that’s when the hard work begins. First of all there will be several redrafts and then when you think it’s perfect the manuscript goes off to the editor. And that’s when you discover your masterpiece is far from perfect.

Editors do an amazing job – spotting plot holes, inconsistencies, waffle and a whole lot more

So, today I’m pleased to welcome book editor, John Hudspith, to the festival to tell us a bit more about what the job involves.

John is the editor of all my novels and of hundreds more by other authors. And to me is the alchemist of prose. He’s a highly talented and skilled wrangler of messy manuscripts and I know that not only have I learned a lot from working with him over the last decade, but also that my books are infinitely better than they would have been without his unforgiving eye.

So, John, welcome! And let’s get started:

How did you get into editing in the first place and do you edit across all genres or stick to specific ones?

A request from a friend to ‘help’ with a novel over a decade ago saw me hooked on the editing process and from there my love for the creative storytelling mind soon had me changing my day job. And yes, I enjoy editing across all genres.

 

What does the editing process involve when you’re working on a client’s manuscript?

This depends on the individual writer. Some writers come to me after having spent a great deal of time and effort ensuring that, diligent research, multiple drafts, input from beta readers and so on, has brought them a wonderfully shiny product and thus my contribution will be minimal.

At the other end of the scale, a writer will come to me with just an idea, an outline, and so my input increases, helping with plot and character development etc.

 

How many books do you reckon you’ve edited so far and do you find it gets easier as time goes on especially when you work with clients you’ve worked with previously?

Novels, novellas, anthologies – I’ve edited close to 700 books and, like any craft, the more one works at it the ‘easier’ it becomes. Especially, as you said, when working with clients on an ongoing basis.

Anne: Yes, I must admit as an author it’s good to work with someone you ‘know’.

 

What are the best and the trickiest parts of the job? Is it a job you love?

In the beginning, I used to find blurbs tricky, although tricky is probably too kind a word. These days, though, blurbs are a perverse pleasure for me, picking the bones out of them and making them sing.

One truly great thing about the editing process, for me, is seeing the writer grow. Seeing the writer’s skills improving brings immense satisfaction. But the best thing of all, the very best thing, has to be the words. Working with words every hour of the day, words from myriad writers, words, words, words, day after day, week after week, year after year, is akin to sitting in the woods – do it for long enough and the woods will consume you, an unseen osmosis perpetually honing your learned perceptions. And not only that, but seeing our language evolve via the Indie author avalanche, Americanisms being the main influencers. Another decade into the Indie revolution and y’all might be speaking real purty.

Anne: I’ll get practising for y’all then 🙂

 

Not only are you an editor, you’re an author too. Tell us a bit about what you’ve published so far.

I’ve published two books – Kimi’s Secret and a sequel Kimi’s Fear – fantasy adventures for kids aged 10 to 100.

Kimi’s story was developed with some incredible help from a talented teacher and her class of enthusiastic twelve-year-olds. (Thanks, Anne and those crazy kids!)

(Anne is blushing and there’s a post about that collaboration here)

 

Are you currently working on a new book or is it all about the editing for now?

It’s all about the editing for me. I simply can’t get enough of the words.

Anne: All I can say is your readers’ loss is us authors’ gain 🙂

 

Thank you so much John for taking part in the festival today and for sharing a bit of what it’s like to be an editor. 

 

John’s professional bio

John Hudspith edits novels and short stories from his cave in the UK. John has a keen mind for story and the understanding that every single word matters. John can help shape your work into the page-turning crystal-clear entertainment it deserves to be. Simply send him a sample and he’ll show you what he can do. John can be contacted via his website here

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 1 – Author Q and A with Helen Forbes #crimefiction #books

Hello and welcome to the first item in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival programme which is scheduled to run throughout July and August bringing you interviews with authors, book bloggers and publishing professionals as well as book extracts and, writing related features. You can read more about the thinking behind this festival here.

Thanks for coming along to today’s event. Enjoy!

Today, I’m delighted to welcome crime fiction author Helen Forbes to the festival.

Hello, Helen. So, let’s get started with me asking you how and why you became a writer?

An interest in Highland and Island culture, and particularly the islands of St Kilda, led me to do some research while I was studying law as a mature student in Edinburgh. I was struck by the derogatory way in which the islanders were portrayed by historical authors that had visited St Kilda, and I decided I wanted to write a novel written from the perspective of the islanders, to try and portray the people and their life in a more balanced way. I had begun to spend more time in the Outer Hebrides, where I have family connections, and I decided to write a novel with two parts, the first set in modern day North Uist and the second set in 18th century St Kilda. I started writing, using it as a welcome break from studying. I eventually moved to North Uist, and continued writing the novel on my old Amstrad, with no word count, until I had a novel of enormous proportions. I didn’t have any success in getting it published. One publisher asked to read it, and it was so long, I had to send it in two parcels. I never heard back from him. He’s probably still reading it now.

Anne: So you might hear from him soon 🙂

What sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?

After leaving North Uist, I started to write short stories while attending writers’ groups in Edinburgh and Fife. Someone commented that one of my stories would make a good novel. I started to develop the idea, and decided to write a crime novel with the short story as the prologue. It’s a police procedural called In the Shadow of the Hill’, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. It’s set in Inverness and Harris. I then wrote a sequel called Madness Lies, which is set in Inverness and North Uist. Both of those novels are published. I then wrote a third crime novel, a standalone psychological thriller called Deception, which is currently with my agent.

Anne: Having enjoyed your first two novels so much, I do hope it’s not too long before Deception is published.

Tell us about a typical writing day? (Do you have a writing routine, is it planned in advance, is it strictly adhered to).

I don’t have a particular routine; I write whenever I can get the spare time, which is usually in the evening. If I have a free day, my preference is to write in the morning and the evening, having a break in the afternoon. I really enjoy writing, so it never seems like a chore, and I would love to have more time to do it. Of course there are times when the writing doesn’t flow, but I use that time to edit, and that seems to work for me.

Anne: Yes, it can be tricky juggling a day job and writing. But that’s great that you don’t find writing to be chore.

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing? 

My first two novels were pretty much unplanned. I just started writing and kept on going, plotting in my head as I went along, and spending a lot of time tinkering and changing things. This approach didn’t really work with Madness Lies, as I found myself going down dead-ends and having to delete sub-plots and big chunks of writing. I decided there must be a better way, so I tried plotting Deception before I started writing. It didn’t work. I found I couldn’t plot unless I was writing, so I tried to be very strict with myself at the start of each day, going over what I’d written the day before, to avoid dead-ends. This worked better for me. I would love to be able to plot in detail in advance, but I don’t think it’s for me.

Anne: I’m not much of a planner either I must admit and you’re right it can lead to pitfalls. But you have to do what works for you.

What are you working on currently?

Well, that enormous first novel of mine has gone through various incarnations, but it is now two standalone, vaguely linked, novels. I updated and completed the North Uist novel some months ago and it is now with my agent. I am working on the St Kilda novel just now, and hope to have completed it in the next few weeks.

Oh, interesting, can you tell us a bit more?

It’s called From the Edge, and is based on fact and set in the early 18th century, a time of great change for the St Kildan people. The population was decimated by a smallpox outbreak, and people were brought in from other islands to try and build a community. A few years later, just as the community was settling down again, a prisoner arrived on St Kilda. She was Lady Grange, the wife of an Edinburgh judge and politician. Her husband arranged her removal from Edinburgh and she was kept on St Kilda for seven years. The story begins with Lady Grange’s arrival, but the main character is Mairi, the daughter of the island officer, and one of the few youngsters to survive the smallpox. When Mairi fears for the safety of her new-born child, at a time when island infants are dying of tetanus, she takes off to a lonely glen where she is forced to remember and confront the island’s troubled past and her own mistakes.

Anne: Sounds intriguing

And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

That’s a difficult question. I like most of my main characters, but I do have a soft spot for DS Joe Galbraith. He’s a bit of an introvert and probably suffers from imposter syndrome, despite being a fine detective. I can identify with both those traits. I really enjoyed developing his character in both novels. I’m also rather fond of Sam Murray, a homeless beggar with a sad past and a very difficult life in Deception. I won’t say too much about him, but hopefully he’ll be introduced to readers one of these days.

Anne: Yes, I can understand why you’d have a soft spot for DS Galbraith. And, thank you Helen for taking part in the festival and for sharing some fascinating information about your books and your writing life.

And below we have an extract from the first of the Galbraith novels

 

Extract from In the Shadow of the Hill

Job.  A wee word, but such a big deal.  His pals thought he was nuts.  Half five in the morning?  What sort of time was that to start work?  Didn’t bother him; he’d always been an early riser.  And he was finished at one o’clock.  Could do whatever he liked then.  Could even go back to sleep.  Not that he would; not on a day like this.  Mountain bike in the back of the van, and he’d head across the bridge, try the black trail at Learnie.  His mother’s frown would follow him all the way, and her muttering.  That biking nonsense would be the death of him.  Look at Chrissie Martin’s brother’s wife’s cousin.  Broke his neck falling off a bike.  Time he was giving that nonsense up, now that he had a job and a uniform.

       A job.  A uniform.  The pride on his mother’s face.  A massive fry-up this morning and a gallon of sweet tea.  How come she didn’t know that he didn’t take sugar in his tea?  Didn’t even like tea that much, and he could still taste the bacon grease coating his tongue.  Ach, she’d not be getting up every morning before five o’clock; that was a certainty.  But she’d be waiting for him at one o’clock today; waiting at the window with that smile, and more tea.

       Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what round he’d been given.  He’d never hear the end of it.  Her wee boy delivering mail Down The Ferry?  What about Chrissie Martin’s son’s girlfriend’s neighbour?  Mugged in broad daylight.  And he wasn’t even properly Down The Ferry; he was three streets away.  Talking to his mother on his fancy new mobile telephone when two of those neddy boys came and took it off him.  Best to stay away from that side of the town.

       Aye, Mum.  He’d tell her he’d got one of those new schemes that kept appearing on the outskirts of the City of Inverness.  City?  Whenever his mother read that, usually on every front page of every local paper, it made her laugh.  They could build as many new housing schemes as they liked, she would say, but Inverness would never be more than a big village.

       Ach, it was fine Down The Ferry.  Not that different from anywhere else, really.  Just people getting on with their lives; three mothers pushing pushchairs, a boy and his staffie, an old lady with shopping bags, and a mobile mechanic bashing a car wheel with a hammer.  Must be too early for riots and muggings.

       These stairs were tiring, though.  Three blocks of flats; twenty-four flats in each block; one block down, two to go.  A row of birds were singing on the roof of the derelict building opposite the middle block.  Their melody made him smile as he pushed the door open, and turned.

       No.  This couldn’t be.  No way.  Backing towards the door, shaking his head as the hot sweet tea, the greasy bacon, the half-cooked sausages, the soft fried eggs rushed back up his gullet and splattered across the floor.

(extract copyright Helen Forbes)

From the back cover:

An elderly woman is found battered to death in the common stairwell of an Inverness block of flats.

Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith starts what seems like one more depressing investigation of the untimely death of a poor unfortunate who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

As the investigation spreads across Scotland it reaches into a past that Joe has tried to forget, and takes him back to the Hebridean island of Harris, where he spent his childhood.

Among the mountains and the stunning landscape of religiously conservative Harris, in the shadow of Ceapabhal, long buried events and a tragic story are slowly uncovered, and the investigation takes on an altogether more sinister aspect.

In The Shadow Of The Hill skilfully captures the intricacies and malevolence of the underbelly of Highland and Island life, bringing tragedy and vengeance to the magical beauty of the Outer Hebrides.

In the Shadow of the Hill is published by ThunderPoint and is available in paperback and kindle format. You can find Helen’s books on Amazon here

Author Bio

Helen Forbes is an author and a solicitor based in Inverness.  She began her writing life with contemporary and historical fiction, but soon turned to crime. She is the author of two crime fiction novels set in Inverness and the Outer Hebrides, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. In the Shadow of the Hill was published in 2014, with book two in the series, Madness Lies. Helen has written a third crime novel, Deception, which is set in Edinburgh and is, as yet, unpublished. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in 18th century St Kilda.

And you can find out more at Helen’s website: www.hforbes.co.uk

 

 

 

Put It In Writing: Virtual Book Festival 1st July -31st August 2019 – Introduction & Programme

No tickets, transport or travel time needed …

Just subscribe to this blog by email and your inbox is the only venue you need go to.

Introduction:

When I first had the idea of a virtual book festival it was in response to my frustration with some real world book festivals which no longer seem to be about books, authors and readers. One festival in particular which I’ve attended in the past, and where I’ve enjoyed events given by lots of different authors had nothing on this year’s programme that appealed to me.

The 2019 list was made up mainly of celebrities, television presenters and politicians, not all of whom had even written a book – and the few actual writers who were included didn’t include any who write genre fiction.

So I found myself thinking about who I would include if I was organising a festival. I reckoned I’d like authors from several genres, I’d like some people from the wonderfully supportive book-blogging community, and perhaps a couple of publishing professionals too.

And that then developed into the idea of using my blog to host a virtual festival.

Although I knew who I’d like to invite, I wasn’t at all sure they’d want to take part. So I was pleasantly surprised and very grateful that so many of those I invited have agreed to take part – and not only agreed but seemed very enthusiastic about it too.

The participants will be doing a variety of interviews and features and there will be novel extracts, a couple of book giveaways (UK only) and lots of insights into how a book comes together.

So here, without further ado, is the programme of events and the dates each virtual event will be posted for you to read, comment on and share.

Programme

July 1st Helen Forbes – Crime Author

July 3rd John Hudspith – Book Editor

July 8th Kate Blackadder – Magazine Serial Writer

July 10th Jane Dixon Smith – Book and Cover Designer

July 15th Jane Davis – Literary Fiction Author

July 17th Joanne Baird – Book Blogger

July 22nd Trish Nicholson – Non-Fiction Author

July 24th Linda Hill – Book Blogger

July 29th Linda Gillard – Literary Romance Author

August 2nd Alison Morton – Alternative History Author

August 5th Darlene Foster – Children’s Author

August 7th JJ Marsh – Crime Author

August 9th  Anne Stormont – Contemporary Romance Author

August 12th Anne Williams – Book Blogger

August 18th Maggie Christensen – Contemporary Romance Author

August 19th Kate Noble – Book Blogger

August 21st Anne Stenhouse – Historical Romance Author

August 23rd Kelly Lacey – Book Blogger & Blog Tour Organiser

August 26th Heidi Swain – Contemporary Romance Author

August 27th Kathryn Freeman – Contemporary Romance Author

August 28th Kate Field – Contemporary Romance Author

August 29th Sue McDonagh – Contemporary Romance Author

August 30th Claire Baldry – Contemporary Romance Author

August 31st End of Festival Look Back & Celebration