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 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

 

 

 

Author Interview: Christine Webber @1chriswebber #amreading #MondayBlogs

I’m delighted to welcome author Christine Webber to the blog today to talk about her new contemporary novel It’s Who We Are, and about her writing in general. I read and very much enjoyed her previous novel Who’d Have Thought It? and I reviewed it here. And I will be posting a review of the new book here very soon.

Welcome Christine!

 

I was intrigued to see that there was a thirty year gap between your first novel In Honour Bound and your second one Who’d Have Thought it? What were you doing in between?

Christine: As those of us of a certain age know all too well, thirty years can disappear in a flash! I wrote my first novel when I was working as a news presenter for Anglia TV. I always meant to carry on writing fiction, but shortly afterwards, I left the company to pursue a new career in medical and social journalism – and somehow fell into becoming an agony aunt. I wrote columns for Best magazine, TV Times, The Scotsman, BBC Parenting, Woman, Dare, Full House and several others – not all at the same time though! Then I started getting work as a ‘relationships expert’ on TV programmes such as Trisha and The Good Sex Guide… Late. While this was happening, I decided to train as a psychotherapist – and I started my own practice. Meanwhile, Hodder commissioned my husband and me to write a book about orgasms (The Big O). This did quite well and led to my staying with Hodder and writing a whole range of self-help books.  Later, I penned titles for Piatkus and Bloomsbury. I knew I longed to write more novels. It just took a while to get on with it!

 

Why was fiction writing something you wanted to come back to – especially after such a long gap?

Christine: I kept having ideas for fiction, but life was so busy, and I felt I had to focus on work that actually paid me. In some ways I regret that now. On the other hand, my years of writing about relationships, and being a therapist, gave me great insight into how our minds function – which is useful when it comes to portraying characters realistically. And the decades of juggling broadcasting, health writing, newspaper columns, and therapy did provide me with a financial cushion which has enabled me to do what I do now. I know many other indie authors, who have had long-term careers before writing, feel the same.

 

 You write what could broadly be described as contemporary romantic fiction, but it’s definitely not chick-lit. Why do you go for older protagonists who are in their fifties and sixties?

Christine: I suppose it’s all about wanting to read material that mirrors our own experiences. And – like many other writers and readers of my vintage – I feel there is a lack of good stuff about the people we really are. I first tried to change publishers’ attitudes to the over 50s in 2009, when I was planning a guide for female baby boomers. I wanted to write about finance, locations, housing, beauty, friendship, romance and health – basically everything that needs to be considered if we are to age more vibrantly than people of past generations.

I had to change agents and publishers to get this book accepted. I was told constantly, ‘no one wants to read about older people!’ Anyway, I did get Too Young to Get Old published and now I have transferred my zeal for writing about the individuals we are – as opposed to out-dated stereotypes – into fiction. But I had to venture into indie publishing in order to do it.

 

Do you detect a growing popularity for this kind of multi-generational novel where middle-aged and older characters are at the centre of the action?

Christine: I really do. And I would urge interested writers and readers in mid-life to investigate the excellent new organisation – launched recently by Claire Baldry – called Books for Older Readers. We are a growing band. One might even say that we are creating a ‘genre’!  Check out the website:  www.booksforolderreaders.co.uk. The group is also active on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Describe for us your typical writing day.

Christine: I’d love to describe something scheduled and organised. But I’d be lying if I did. Like lots of people, I have constraints on my time, for family reasons. I also think it’s absolutely vital to get exercise, so that has to be worked into every day too. And, as every indie writer knows, the marketing and social media aspect of one’s ‘operation’ also has to be managed. In practice then, I tend to do correspondence and marketing in the morning. And try to leave two or three hours to write mid-afternoon. I also have a new resolution, which is to find half an hour after lunch for reading other authors’ novels. I need an expandable day, really! The other component that forms an essential part of my writing day is that I always play music while I work. And I invariably start each day with Mozart, who feeds my soul and sanity. There’s nothing like tapping into creative genius for getting your own grey cells into shape!

 

And finally, please do tell us a bit about your new book, It’s Who We Are.

Christine: It’s Who We Are is a contemporary novel. It’s very different from Who’d Have Thought It? which is essentially a romantic comedy. People do fall in love in the new book, and there are plenty of comedic moments too, but it’s a far more serious work than the last one. But then life is more serious than it was just a few years ago. Think back to the London Olympics – we don’t feel like the same country now, do we? And writing contemporary fiction seems to me to have to reflect that.

I have five main characters in this book, and they are all facing tremendous upheaval in mid-life. One of the women has decided to divorce her perpetually unfaithful husband. Another is coming to terms with widowhood and contemplating a change of career. Then there are three men – a rich business man who hates running the family firm and is trapped in a loveless marriage, a priest who is so intensely lonely that he feels people must be able to ‘smell it’ on him, and a larger than life freelance singer who’s in a panic about his ageing voice and the fact that he has no savings whatsoever.

Like many of us in our fifties, these individuals are amazed at how unsettled they feel just at a time when they had expected to be living a calm and stable existence. Thrown into the mix there are family secrets, which become uncovered as elderly parents die or become ill – and these cause all five characters to question who they really are.

Thank you, Christine. An interesting and thought-provoking interview. And I agree that, as in your books, life goes on in all its richness and complexity for all of us –  regardless of age.

 

It’s Who We Are is published on January 16th and will be available in bookshops throughout the country and on Amazon 

You can follow Christine on Twitter at @1chriswebber

Her website is www.christinewebber.com

 

And, as always, it’s over to you, the readers of this blog: Do you like reading multi-generation fiction and/or fiction where the main characters are middle-aged or older?