Virtual Book Festival: Event 25 – Just Imagine – an article by author Claire Baldry #VirtBookFest #books #writing

Hello everyone! This is the 25th and penultimate event in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival. And it’s my pleasure to welcome second-chance romance author Claire Baldry to the festival today. Claire is going to share her thoughts on the use of imagination in her writing.

So over to Claire:

Just Imagine….

I have always believed that imagination is the finest of all human qualities. It allows us to empathise with people in situations we have never experienced. If we let it, imagination has the power to improve our world and build new inventions. It has the potential to stop us hurting others, because we can envisage their potential pain. As writers, imagination allows us to combine pieces of our experiences together and create a whole new world.

So when people ask me ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ the only reply I can offer is:

“You never know what’s in your head, until you start pulling it out.”

Again and again, I hear authors explain that, however hard they plan their novels, the characters seem to take over and lead the storyline in all sorts of unexpected directions. And that is the same for me. Imagination is a powerful and mysterious tool.

The deeper I get into writing a book, the more likely it is that I will find myself talking to my imagined characters. So when I’m asked “Are your characters based on real people?” I always reply “Not one person, but bits of loads of people I’ve known, and some I’ve seen on TV or read about, and some who just seem to emerge.”

How does the power of imagination translate into writing? I’ve tried to unpack this a bit and take a look at some of the characters and the setting in my latest novel ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’. The bride, Charlotte, is very self-centred, inconsiderate towards her mother and partly formed by the indulgence of her father. But she is also a hard worker, a good mother, and still only twenty-four. Is she based on my own daughter? Certainly not, but there are occasional echoes of my own daughter in the most self-centred phase of her teenage years. And when Charlotte loses control of herself in an emotional and hurtful outburst, she can’t stop. That bit of Charlotte is me, admittedly not often, but it does happen.

The mother of the bride’s new man is also a mixture. His perceptions as a teacher are definitely mine, but his humour comes from my husband whose wit is always sharpest in the company of women.

The looked after child, Carly, is partly based on pupils and families I encountered as a teacher, but I also drew on a variety of second-hand experiences told to me or watched on TV to enable me to enter the head of the abuser with whom Carly has a relationship.

I hope I have been successful in creating these characters. Blogger, Linda Hill was kind enough to observe……

Claire Baldry has created a cast of people who felt real, flawed and authentic.” (Linda’s Book Bag)

And yet I have chosen to take these fictional characters and place at least some of them in my own hometown of Bexhill in East Sussex. The setting is real. It was a pleasure to weave my imagined characters into such familiar places. I hoped that asking my readers to use their imagination was a good way to promote my coastal hometown, which relies on visitors as part of its economy.

Blogger Anne Williams described the benefit of the setting.

And I must mention another element of the story I loved, its vivid sense of place. Bexhill, Hastings and their surroundings are unknown territory for me, but I felt like I’d had a rather lovely holiday – the descriptions are just wonderful, the restaurants and the markets, the geography and the attractions, the detail drawn with care but never intruding, just enhancing the backdrop for the story.” (Being Anne)

I would like to write a sequel to ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’, to develop the lives and personalities of some of the characters into a whole new story. As yet, I have no inspiration, but if I keep delving into my head, hopefully my imagination will eventually pull something out.

With grateful thanks to Anne Stormont for allowing me to share my thoughts as part of her Virtual Book Festival.

Anne: And thank you to you too, Claire for this fascinating insight into how you use a mix of imagination and reality – to excellent effect – in your writing.

And now we have an extract from Claire’s above-mentioned book :

 

My Daughter’s Wedding

From the Back Cover:

When ‘bride to be’ and single parent, Charlotte, discovers that her 61-year-old widowed mother is in a new relationship, she struggles to come to terms with it. “Why do you need to have a man, at your age?” Charlotte asks, “Can’t you just be a grandma?”

The growing tension between mother and daughter combined with preparations for the wedding impact on both family and friends. In this compelling and unashamedly romantic tale of finding love in later life, the experience of a young care-leaver who is tasked with making the wedding bouquet, is skilfully intertwined with the family’s – sometimes turbulent– preparations for a modern wedding.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Monday Lunch

Angie was fastening her jacket when the phone rang. “Mum, it’s me. I need a favour.”

“Ask quickly then. I’ve got my jacket on. I was on my way out.”

“Why on earth are you wearing a jacket? It’s boiling out there.” Angie was irritated by her daughter’s increasing habit of treating her like a child.

“It’s breezy on Bexhill seafront. What do you want, Charlotte? I’m in a hurry.”

“Can you pick Joe up from school on Wednesday? His dad’s let me down again.”

“No, I’m sorry Charlotte, I can’t. It’s Uncle Jack’s funeral on Wednesday.”

Angie could hear daughter’s annoyance. “I still don’t see why you have to go. You didn’t like him.”

“I’m the only one left now on Grandpa’s side. I’m going to represent the family.”

“Uncle Jack won’t know you’re there.”

“I’m just doing what I believe is right. Sorry about Joe, but you’ll have to find someone else. Charlotte, I have to go.” Angie put down the phone. She grabbed her bag and stepped out of her flat and onto the wide landing. She deliberately walked past the lift and descended the four flights of stairs.

“I am not yet old,” she told herself, “I have a right to my own life.” The July sun was strong. Angie began to feel hot as she hurried along the promenade. She was pleased Charlotte wasn’t watching as she removed her jacket. By the time she reached the little Thai restaurant, her friend Alison was already seated at a table. Alison waved an empty glass at Angie.

“Wine? You look flustered.”

“I am flustered, and yes please. Well done for remembering to bring the bottle.” The restaurant wasn’t licensed, so the two friends took it in turns to bring wine to their weekly lunch.

“Let me guess, it’s Charlotte.”

Angie let out an exaggerated sigh. “She talks down to me as if I’m senile. And she forgets I have a right to a life of my own. I’m her mother, not her servant.”

 

Want to read more? You can buy a copy of the book here

 

About Claire:

Former headteacher and English Advisor, Claire Baldry, lives on the East Sussex coast with her husband Chris. She has published five booklets of amusing poetry, an autobiographical novella and two novels. Claire has a very regular schedule of engagements as a speaker and light-hearted performance poet. She regularly fundraises for charity, and Claire and her husband were awarded the SE Diabetes UK fundraising Inspire Award in 2017. Claire is passionate about promoting books and poetry with protagonists and issues which appeal to readers in mid-life and beyond. She is the creator of the ‘Books for Older Readers’ website and has won two awards for her poetry from the Silver Surfers website.

You can connect online with Claire at the links below:

Website

Facebook

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 20 – Historical Novelist Anne Stenhouse @anne_stenhouse #VirtBookFest #writing #historicalfiction #books

Hello and thank you for visiting the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s my pleasure to welcome historical novelist, Anne Stenhouse. Anne is going to tell us about her route into writing novels, why she chose to write historical fiction and how this has developed.

Q. What do you write?

A. Dialogue rich Scottish Regency with a touch of humour

People will ask ‘What do you write?’ and I normally answer historical romance, although I do write contemporary stories, too. And at heart, I’m a playwright. Prose writing took me some time to master even with the assistance of the wonderful editor, Judy Roth, then at publisher MuseItUp and now freelance http://www.judy-roth.com/. What was the attraction of the historical genre in the first place?

 

QUALIFICATIONS AND INFLUENCES

Drama and the written word crafted to be spoken, remain my favourite forms of communication. I think in conversations. Any incident replays in my head with different nuances. But, and it’s a biggy, drama only exists once it is performed. Performing drama needs actors, directors, stage crew, venues…

Or, put at its bald reality, money.

After a few years of minor successes and a spell as a Playwright in Residence with Theatre Broad of Stirling, it became clear that I wasn’t going to attract the thousands of pounds needed to make a Fringe breakthrough production. So, how to use the hard-won knowledge of what makes a scene dramatic and what makes conversations sound real?

Georgette Heyer has a lot to answer for. Many historical romance writers credit Heyer with their initial interest and ongoing love of the classic Regency novel.

I’m no exception.

We do have other mentors such as Jane Austen, but Heyer’s eye for the absurd and ear for Regency cant (slang) are a potent and captivating combination. She also uses a lot of dialogue.

In addition, I began at university taking enough papers in both English and History to enable me to choose Honours in either when the time came. I opted for English and American Literature and haven’t ever regretted that choice, but it does mean I have a grounding in British and European History which is useful for the author interested in writing a historical.

So, those were my qualifications and influences. Coupled with a desire to entertain and amuse, the choice was easily made.

 

PERIOD AND THE ROMANTIC ARENA

Having settled on historicals, what would my period be and what would the focus of my romance be?

The period was an interesting conundrum as I sometimes set my work into the 1820s and, therefore, just out of the Regency period. The Western world at that time was changing rapidly in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. Rapid industrialisation was fuelling discontent of the non-establishment male. Entrenched legal idiocies fuelled discontent of all females.

I’m not an issues’ writer. My job is to entertain. But, I hope I’m not an irresponsible writer. I try very, very hard to get into what must/might have been the mindset of my heroines. I do try to show my heroines dealing with their problems in the way they would most likely have had to do in their period.

Readers who haven’t read much history may be surprised by some of the restrictions that held sway in Nineteenth century times.

No, a woman could not vote, attend university classes, keep her children after a divorce, keep her property after marriage…

If I leave my readers pondering how close to all of that we remain, then I’m happy. If they go on to reflect that in many parts of today’s world women still face such restrictions, then I’m even happier.

But, as I’m not an issues’ writer,  where do I find that holy grail of writers, the CONFLICT and its resolution, the ROMANCE?

I find it in the age-old Battle of the Sexes. We start early, if we have brothers or boy cousins, and we progress through mixed school classes. In the early nineteenth century, of course, while brothers and cousins were facts of life, mixed classes were harder to come by.

This is an opportunity for the romantic novelist because there are so many, and so patently ludicrous, stereotypes to work with. From the woman who thinks all men eat most of a sheep for breakfast to the man who thinks no woman ever eats, the material is endless.

Did I mention how I like a fair dollop of humour in my work? I do write to bring out the ridiculous and help people recognise it. My first published hero, Tobias, is taken aback to discover Miss Mariah Fox would rather teach urchin children than become his Countess. However, he’s a man and he’s got her in his sights so he tricks her into a little delicious scandal and she’s in the bag. Along the way, he buys and sends her most of the cut-flowers available in London. There is a darker seam in Mariah’s Marriage, though, and through its resolution Tobias comes to realise he does love this woman.

 

THE SCOTTISH ANGLE

Bella’s Betrothal, which is featured below, opens in Dalkeith and features a lady escaping from a scandal which is life-changing rather than delicious. I was prompted to think of the Edinburgh setting when I discovered that there were Assembly Rooms in Haddington and Glasgow as well as Edinburgh. And there’s little anywhere to rival Edinburgh’s New Town. I find I like the microcosm. I enjoy the concerns of a small society which mimic those of the larger and I’m fascinated by the rise of the architect.

So, as well as Georgette Heyer, David Bryce has much to answer for. My hero in Bella’s Betrothal is of the smaller landed gentry, but he’s a rising architect in the manner of the eighteenth and nineteenth century greats like Bryce, the Adams’ family members and William Burn.

 

WHERE NEXT?

Last year I was commissioned to write an anniversary serial for People’s Friend magazine. It was set in 1869 and marked their 150th year of continuous publication. I enjoyed moving forward in time to the later years of the century and I enjoyed the wider canvas afforded by writing a story which, while it included two young married couples, was not essentially a romance. Walking around the New Town of Edinburgh, I do experience a shiver of recognition. There are many young ladies whose stories need to be told. I also had a fruitful discussion with an editor at this year’s Romantic Novelists’ Association conference and it was about a contemporary story. Writing is an ever-changing challenge.

Anne Stormont: Thank you so much Anne. That was a fascinating read – a great insight into what’s involved in producing a period novel. And all the best with the move into contemporary.

Below we have an extract from one of Anne’s novels. I’ll let her introduce it:

BELLA’S BETROTHAL was my second historical romance for  MuseItUp and it is set in Edinburgh just post Regency. I wrote this book during the only NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) event I’ve taken part in and it is full of the energy NaNo demands to produce 50,000 words in a month. Bella and Charles are among my favourites of all the characters I’ve created over a lot of writing years and their story plays out in Edinburgh which is the city of my heart.

 

From the back cover:

While she is travelling north to find sanctuary from the malicious gossip of the Ton, Lady Isabella Wormsley’s room in a Dalkeith inn is invaded by handsome Scottish Laird, Charles Lindsay. Charles has uncovered a plot to kidnap her, but Bella wonders if he isn’t a more dangerous threat, at least to her heart, than the villainous Graham Direlton he wrests her from. Bella settles into the household of her Aunt Hatty Menzies in Edinburgh’s nineteenth century George Square where Charles is a regular visitor. She has been exiled to the north by her unfeeling mama, but feels more betrayed by her papa to whom she has been close. Bella hopes the delivery of her young cousin’s baby will eventually demonstrate her own innocence in the scandal that drove her from home. Bella’s presence disrupts the lives of everyone connected to her. Direlton makes another attempt to kidnap her and in rescuing her a second time, Charles is compromised. Only a betrothal will save his business and Bella’s reputation. Mayhem, murder and long suppressed family secrets raise confusion and seemingly endless difficulties. Will the growing but unacknowledged love between Bella and her Scottish architect survive the evil Direlton engineers?

Extract:

“Lady Isabella, my name is Charles Lindsay. I am a neighbour of your uncle, Mack Menzies. Indeed he and I are distant cousins. My country property is in Strath Menzies.” He stood back from Bella’s chair and came around. She could see him in the flickering light of her candles and the few coals still burning in the grate.

He was a man of around thirty. He wore no jacket and his linen was smeared by muck from his climb across the roof. As he drew a hand over his chin, Bella watched the long fingers leave a trail of mud across the stubble there. His grey eyes, rather deep set, gleamed with intelligence and certainty. Yet how could she believe him? Hadn’t she been so sure Aubrey Daunton was genuine and hadn’t she been so very wrong?

“You doubt me, ma’am. Mrs. Menzies, the former Miss Hatty Lennox, has the same fiery mass of red curls that you…”

“Mr. Lindsay, if that is your name, these things you offer me as proof of your bona fides are all things anyone seeking to ingratiate himself with me could learn easily. If you are a friend of my uncle and aunt, then why not wait to be presented to me in their drawing room?” Bella snapped, although like him, she kept her voice low. She had no wish to be discovered with a man in her bedchamber, particularly one as personable as her visitor.

“Why not wait to be presented? Do I wish to know you, Lady Isabella? There are some who would say acquaintance with you must tarnish my name and reputation,” Lindsay said.

Bella rose up abruptly, and catching him by surprise, tipped him off balance. She grabbed the poker and swung it round hard against the back of his knee.

“You little hell-cat!” He groaned in pain, but caught Bella’s wrist with masterful ease as she drew the poker back for another swipe. “What did you think to achieve?”

“The removal of the self-satisfied affront that denies me any defence of my reputation.” Bella squirmed as his grip tightened around the fine bones of her wrist. She would have a ring of bruises showing through her pale skin on the morrow. How would she explain them to her aunt?

“In London I have been used to sticking a hat pin into the idlers and Beaus who trap me among Hatchard’s book shelves.” The memory of several unpleasant encounters nonetheless cheered her. There were one or two men who would now think again before acting on assumptions.

“But as you do not wear a hat to bed, you attack me with a poker,” Lindsay said, and she saw him suppress the smile it almost brought to his strong boned face. “I did not say I agreed with those who have condemned you, ma’am.”

“You do not have to say it, Mr. Lindsay. Your presence in my bedchamber tells me exactly what you think of me,” Bella retorted, and desolation flooded her. Would life never return to anything like the normality she had once known?

You can buy Bella’s Betrothal here

About Anne:

Anne Stenhouse has always been a story-teller. Her favourite form is the written word crafted to be spoken and Anne enjoyed the Debating Society at school. She much enjoyed writing one-act stage plays and loves the opportunity to write dialogue presented by writing prose fiction. Anne has been a civil servant, addictions’ worker, full-time wife and mum and hands on granny. She lives in Edinburgh where she is a member of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club and of Capital Writers. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

You can find Anne online at:

Novels Now blog https://goo.gl/h4DtKv

Facebook www.facebook.com/annestenhouseauthor

Twitter @anne_stenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 19 – writing in life’s difficult times by Christine Webber @1chriswebber.com #VirtBookFest #writing #books

Welcome to event number 19 at the Virtual Book Festival.  Today I’m delighted to welcome former TV news presenter, agony aunt, psychotherapist and writer, Christine Webber, to the festival.

Christine is taking a look at how real life issues can sometimes hinder the writing process but she also acknowledges how it can help during times of great stress.

 

So, over to Christine:

 When Life Gets in the Way of Writing

We all know about displacement activities that keep us from our keyboards:

  • I need to watch this TV drama – for research purposes
  • I better do something about those windows, they’re filthy
  • Perhaps I should get dressed before switching on the laptop
  • I’ll think I’ll just rearrange my CD collection in alphabetical order…

As writers, we also know that books or articles don’t appear by magic. At some point, the distractions have to be junked and we have to put some words down – rather a lot of them – on paper or a screen. It’s hard, but we do it.

But what happens when it’s not just delaying tactics getting in the way of our masterpiece, but major life events?

I remember hearing Margaret Drabble say that when her children were small, she usually had a baby on her lap while she was writing and had to reach her arms out over the top of that infant so that she could bash away at her typewriter on the table in front of her.

Motherhood is still a big deal when it comes to writing. As is holding down a full-time job, which so many really good writers have to do in order to pay the bills.

Then there are life’s reverses – a parent has dementia, our heart is broken, a child is being bullied at school, we move house and think we’re losing our sanity… These are tough times, but one might argue that they provide some of our best material. And the strange thing is that during these periods, we may find that though we cannot concentrate well enough to read someone else’s book, we have a strange compulsion, and ability, to carry on writing our own.

My biggest challenge came when David, my husband of thirty years, became terminally ill. I wanted to continue writing as it felt like the only normal thing that was happening. But I also wanted to spend most of my time caring for him as it became apparent that he was going downhill more rapidly than any of his doctors had forecast.

During those months, I was writing my novel It’s Who We Are, which has five leading mid-life characters and three locations, including the west coast of Ireland where David and I had had so many wonderful holidays.

At the beginning of his illness, he was still managing to continue his own work as a medical columnist, so our routine was not too altered, though there were loads of hospital visits, and scans, and blood tests to fit in. But during that period, I got the bulk of my first draft written. And I found that, actually, you can be more episodic in your writing habits than usual, and still complete a manuscript.

But around late summer 2017, David had to give up his last regular writing job – a weekly column he had had for fifty years – and began to spend many more hours a day in bed.

This was when the challenges mounted up, and people who have been through this will know what I mean when I say that my brain felt overwhelmed and overloaded with arranging carers, doctors’ visits, endless medication, trying to find food that would appeal and not take too much effort to eat and – most importantly of all – spending hours just talking together and celebrating the wonderful past we had had as we jointly planned David’s remaining future and my life after that.

Somehow though, writing was a thread that held together during that time, not least because my lovely husband was as supportive as he had always been. And what I found was that when I had no capacity to produce new material, my mind was capable – and indeed really enjoyed – editing.

And of course, those of us who are indie writers have a host of other activities to tackle in order to produce a book, so when we can’t summon up our creative juices, we can perhaps sort out our marketing ideas, or start planning a blog tour, or finalise a cover.

Somehow, It’s Who We Are was finished, and it came out in mid-January 2018, by which time my husband was terribly ill. But I had dedicated it to him, as I had all my previous books, and I was able to sign his copy, and put it into his hands. It was a poignant moment.

Now, seventeen months after his death, I am writing another mid-life ensemble novel.

It will not surprise you to know that one of my three protagonists is newly widowed. And I am sure that in many ways, I’m processing my own loss by attributing it to a character. We writers are so lucky, aren’t we, to be able to do that?

 

Anne: We are indeed fortunate in that respect, Christine. Thank you so much for sharing your, at times, moving thoughts on the difficulties but also the rewards of being a writer.

And now we have and extract from Christine’s book It’s Who We Are. I’ll let Christine introduce it.

It’s Who We Are

This, without any doubt, is my absolute favourite out of all the fiction and non-fiction I’ve written over almost four decades. It’s a story about identity and change, and it reflects the turbulence so many of us experience in mid-life just when we had assumed we would feel stable and secure. The novel takes place in Norfolk, where all the main characters were born, as well as in London and the west coast of Ireland.

And the plot centres on how often the demise of parents can lead to us discovering family secrets that shock us to the core. The surprise in this book is beyond what the characters, or indeed any reader, could ever imagine. And poses the question: do you really know who you are?

This segment is from a chapter near the end of the book. Philip and Wendy didn’t know each other at the start of the novel but as it has developed, they have become very good friends and she has been a huge support to him after a bad accident. They are in a hotel after leaving a party for her, which has been hosted by the other main characters at a house in Norwich.

 The two of them are chatting in the lounge and discussing their evening, and Philip takes the opportunity to outline a new business project to her, which Wendy responds to enthusiastically.

 

His smile broadened. ‘I knew you’d understand and run with it. Is it any wonder that I really, really love you?’

‘Well, I love you too, Philip. You’re a great person and a wonderful friend.’

‘No, but I mean, I love you!’

Wendy wrinkled her nose in puzzlement.

‘Do you understand?’ He pressed her.

She continued to look bewildered for a moment, then she raised her eyebrows as she considered a new option. ‘Do you mean, like, in italics?’

His face creased into the grin that she had become so fond of. ‘Yes, exactly. Not just as in “I love this smoked salmon drizzled with lime juice”.’

‘Mmmn, but that sounds really good! So, you mean you love me more than that?’

‘I do, actually. And in a rather lustful way.’

‘Lustful! But I’m sixty in…’ she looked at her watch, ‘forty minutes. Surely not? Are you drunk?’

‘Not at all.’

‘But do you really mean what you’re saying?’

He nodded. ‘Totally.’

‘Gosh!’

‘Are you surprised?’

‘Flabbergasted. I mean, we’re the two who’re well aware we’re hopeless at sex, and even worse at relationships.’

‘Perhaps we could try to push that assumption into the past tense?’

Her eyes glinted with fun. ‘Do you mean what I think you mean?’

‘I imagine so.’

She giggled. ‘Well, I’m game to give it a go, if that doesn’t sound too impossibly romantic!’ Leaning towards him, she planted a tentative kiss on his cheek. ‘Your room or mine?’

‘You choose,’ he said.

‘OK, mine. Here’s your stick. Can you manage the stairs, or do we need the lift?’

‘Do you mind if we take the lift? Sorry, but I want to conserve my strength.’ He sighed as he rose to his feet. ‘Wendy, I’m hardly love’s young dream.’

‘I’m the one who’s about to be sixty! We’ll just do our best, shall we?’

‘I might have to experiment to find a position where my ribs or my leg don’t hurt, or my wrist doesn’t give way!’

She took his arm. ‘If you don’t shut up you’re going to talk yourself out of this, just when I’m getting keen on the idea!’

You can buy It’s Who We Are here

 

Connect with Christine online:

Christine can be found tweeting on a wide variety of subjects @1chriswebber

She is also active within various book groups on Facebook including Books for Older Readers, Book Connectors and The Alliance of Independent Authors where she is a partner member.

 About Christine: 

Christine Webber originally trained as an opera singer but had to re-think her career plans when her voice professor commented: ‘Your voice is ok, but your legs are very much better!’
Musical theatre beckoned. There was some success. But not much.
However, eventually, in 1978, she became a news presenter for Anglia TV. At last she had found something she enjoyed that other people thought she was good at. It was such a relief that she stayed for 12 very happy years.

Next, she became an agony aunt for various publications including TV Times, Best, Dare and BBC Parenting. She also wrote a column for the Scotsman and one for Woman called Sexplanations.

During her ‘problem page’ years, she trained as a psychotherapist and started a practice in Harley Street which she shared with her late husband, Dr David Delvin. That experience greatly informed much of her writing.

She has written 12 non-fiction books including How to Mend a Broken HeartGet the Happiness Habit and Too Young to Get Old, and has broadcast extensively over the decades on mental health and relationship issues.

In 2016, she embarked on a fresh career as a novelist and has now produced three titles: Who’d Have Thought It?,  It’s  Who We Are and a re-written version of her first book published in 1987, In Honour Bound.

Following the death of her husband, she’s returned to live in East Anglia because that’s where most of her good friends are. Forthcoming projects there include hosting an arts awards ceremony, judging the non-fiction section of the East Anglian Books Awards and a number of talks to women’s groups. She has also become a Trustee for a charity that provides mentors for offenders, to support them when they leave prison.

Further afield, she has become an occasional presenter and interviewer for the Royal Opera House Insights Programme and recently had the honour of interviewing Royal Ballet star Gary Avis and Britain’s best-loved baritone, Sir Bryn Terfel.

Next month, she is presenting and producing a series of video podcasts about staying as young as possible for as long as possible. And, having recorded the audio version of one of her own novels, she has now been approached to narrate a couple of others.

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 17 – an interview with romance author Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #VirtBookFest #books #reading #romanticfiction

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 17 in the Virtual Book Festival.  This is the third and final joint event with the Books For Older Readers (BFOR) Blog Blitz. You can find out more about BFOR at the website here.

Today it’s a pleasure to have romantic fiction writer, Maggie Christensen here to tell us about herself and her books.

 

Welcome, Maggie. Let’s begin with why and how you became a writer?

I’ve always been an avid reader and loved writing compositions in school. As an only child I enjoyed playing with and talking to my imaginary friends and this led to my making up stories about them, some of which I wrote down – I often pretended I had a twin brother and thought up stories of twins. I found the time set for writing in school very limiting – I clearly remember starting one story about a fishing boat disaster and being very frustrated as time was up just as I felt I was getting into the heart of the tale. I also recall submitting a short story about being lost in the snow to Girl magazine.

But it wasn’t till I was close to retirement that I began to write fiction seriously. I enrolled in a correspondence course on creative writing, which I gave up on, then an online course which I did finish and learned a lot from, the chief thing being the importance of writing something each day. One of the tasks was to start each day by writing for five minutes about whatever I was thinking.

My first attempts were two Mills and Boon type books – the first paragraph in one won an award in a competition at the Sydney Writers Centre.

But I soon realised these were not what I enjoyed reading, so switched to writing the mature women’s romantic fiction I love to read. I joined several writing groups before finding one whose members I could relate to, and encouraged by their success, I published my first novel, Band of Gold, in 2014.

Anne: I love that you didn’t start your writing career until you were close to retirement. It shows it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

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

I write what I call mature women’s romantic fiction – the sort of books I enjoy reading – books featuring women who have lived, have some experience of life and who my readers can become attached to. I feel that too often older women are either ignored or stereotyped in literature and I like to write them as real people you might have as friends. I also like to bring back characters from my earlier books so that my readers feel they are meeting old friends.

Anne: I love this too – the idea that life is as rich and varied for those over forty as it is for younger folks –and that you reflect that in your fiction. And yes the links to previous characters that you include do work well.

 

How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.

I have written 12 books – 11 already published and the 12th currently with my editor. All feature women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who have experienced some sort of challenge in their lives – end of a marriage, death of a child, redundancy, end of a relationship, domestic violence. Three – The Sand Dollar, The Dreamcatcher and Madeline House – are set in Florence on the Oregon Coast where my mother-in-law moved to in her 80’s – The Sand Dollar features a woman who leaves Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for Oregon; two are set on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where I now live – A Brahminy Sunrise and Champagne for Breakfast – and tie in with my Oregon series; three – Band of Gold, Broken Threads and A Model Wife -are set in Sydney where I lived when I first came to Australia and three – The Good Sister, Isobel’s Promise and A Single Woman – are set in my native Scotland, and tie in loosely with my Sydney books – the first of these, The Good Sister, being my only historical novel so far.

Anne: Wow! 12 books is quite an achievement – and they’re all first class reads.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

I like to start in the morning and get the bulk of my writing done, then go back to it late afternoon. While I’m writing, I take breaks when I read or do housework – and let ideas come to me. Sadly, I don’t always keep to my schedule as I also enjoy having coffee with my husband or friends. I also belong to a book club, and I deliver library books to a housebound lady, both of which take me away from my writing.

Anne: Oh, I think you’re allowed some time away from the writing desk. And how lovely that you deliver those library books.

 

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

I’m very much what’s called a pantser. I start with my main character, a situation, and a location and go from there with only a rough idea of where it will lead. I enjoy writing this way. When I’ve tried to plan, it hasn’t worked for me.

Anne: Flying by the seat of your pants. The exciting way to work!

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

I start with a character and a situation, then usually a man appears in her life and family; the characters develop and take on a life of their own. I’m never sure what‘s going to happen when I sit down to write – my characters often surprise me.

Anne: It’s funny how characters can do that – as if they’re real, breathing people who the writer isn’t in charge of.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

I take things I hear and read, then link some of them together and think ‘what if?’.

Some examples:-

Band of Gold begins with Anna’s husband placing his wedding ring on the kitchen table on Christmas morning and saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I heard of someone this happened to and started to wonder what would happen to her afterwards.

In Champagne for Breakfast, Rosa is sitting by the river drinking champagne on her birthday – by herself. One Sunday morning my husband and I were walking along the Noosa River when we saw a woman sitting alone with an empty bottle. I started to wonder what her story was and remembered Rosa, a secondary character in The Sand Dollar, who had recently finished a disastrous relationship. That woman became Rosa drinking champagne alone by the river on her fiftieth birthday.

The Good Sister is based on my aunt’s story. As a child growing up in Scotland, I had an aunt who was fond of telling us the story of her doomed love affair. I knew I had to write it one day. Her story became old Isobel’s story in this book.

Madeline House was written as the result of a trip to Florence after my mother-in-law died. During that trip, the woman who bought my mother-in-law’s house had arrived in town with only her car and her dog. At the same time, I became aware of the business of estate sales in the area. Also, I had once worked with a woman whose husband was very controlling and who had many of the same experiences of Beth in this book. These ideas all came together to produce this third book in my Oregon Coast series.

When I get stuck with a book, I often find inspiration when I’m driving or ironing – or falling asleep!

Anne: Yes, those ideas don’t always come when a writer’s at their desk. I like your magpie way of collecting small, sparkly ideas and developing them.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have or is it too hard to pick just one?

I love all my characters – my heroines all have a little bit of me in them and my heroes a little bit of my lovely husband and soul mate. I feel most akin to Jenny in my Oregon books as, like me, she travels to Oregon when facing a redundancy and meets a lovely retired university lecturer like my own dear husband. But I think perhaps I like Bel best. Like me, she emigrates from Scotland to Australia to teach in her twenties, but unlike me she returns and meets the lovely Matt choosing to set up home there with him on the banks of Loch Lomond – a spot where, if I’d remained in Scotland, I’d dearly like to have lived.

Anne: I’ve a soft spot for Bel too.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’m thrilled to have found readers who want to read my books and who enjoy reading about more mature women. Many of them mention this in their emails and reviews. They also mention that I write about real people and that my books have a good sense of place.

One of my favourite comments comes from one of Mrs B’s Book Reviews in which book blogger, Amanda, calls me ‘the queen of mature age fiction’. I also love her comment that, ‘Maggie Christensen’s writing is like a nice warm cup of tea. It is warm, nourishing, comforting and embracing.’

Another favourite review is by Anne Williams of Being Anne book blog

‘The author’s story-telling is just wonderful: she introduces you to her characters, sets the scene, and the story then unfolds around you – and her characters are always real people who you can’t fail to take to your heart as you watch them making their choices and mistakes.’

Anne: I completely agree with those reviews.

 

And now I’d like to thank you very much indeed, Maggie, for agreeing to take part in the festival today and for providing us with such a fascinating interview and insight into your writing.

But before you go, we have an extract from your novel A Single Woman below.  Tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

A Single Woman is the third book in my Scottish Collection. While it can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers of the first two will welcome to opportunity to reconnect with old friends from the earlier books.

In the words from your review in Put it in Writing, it’s ‘a second-chance, midlife romance where the last thing either protagonist is looking for is to fall in love. It’s set mainly in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and it’s the thoughtful and touching story of the developing relationship between two rather damaged people.’

From the back cover:

Isla Cameron, headmistress at an elite girl’s school in Glasgow, is determinedly single, adroitly avoiding all attempts at matchmaking by a close friend.

Widower Alasdair MacLeod is grieving for the wife he lost two years earlier, struggling as the single father of two teenagers, and frustrated by the well-meaning interference of his in-laws.

When a proposed school trip to France brings Isla and Alasdair together, they find a connection in the discovery that each is suffering the loss of a loved one, but neither is interested in forming a relationship.

As their friendship grows, Alasdair struggles with his increasing attraction to the elegant schoolmistress, while Isla harbours concerns about the complications a relationship with him would bring.

Can Alasdair overcome his natural reserve, and can Isla open her heart to love again?

 

The extract from chapter 8 takes place when Isla is attending a Christmas Eve party held by an old school friend. I chose this extract as it the first time the two protagonists meet. Christmas is a sad time for both of them.

Extract:

A Single Woman

Having imagined herself alone, Isla turned quickly to see a tall, wide-shouldered, fair-haired man standing almost hidden by the branches filled with Christmas ornaments and tinsel.

‘You escaped, too?’ he asked, with a conspiratorial grimace.

Isla nodded, hoping he didn’t see her tears.

‘Look,’ he stammered, ‘I need a breather. Why don’t you join me – get away from all that…’ He gestured in the direction of the room they’d both left where the sound of carols was beginning to drown out the chatter.

Isla hesitated. What she really wanted was to go home, but she needed to sober up a bit before she could consider driving on the icy roads. Fresh air would clear her head.

Seeing her waver, the man spoke again. ‘Get your coat and we can sneak away.’

About to do as he said, Isla looked down at her heels. They were not made for walking on icy roads.

‘You’ll be fine. The pathway around the garden has been cleared.

‘Okay.’

By the time she’d put on her coat, her companion was opening the door, and the pair slipped out, closing it silently behind them.

After the centrally-heated house, the frosty air hit them like sharp needles, their breath forming clouds in the cold air.

‘By the way, I’m Alasdair,’ Isla’s companion said.

‘Isla.’ She shook his outstretched hand before returning hers to her pocket, while wondering what on earth she was doing out here with a strange man on Christmas Eve.

‘How do you know Kirsty?’ he asked, as they walked.

‘We’re old school friends, though until a school reunion a few weeks ago, we hadn’t seen each other since. You?’ Isla didn’t really want to know, but felt obliged to ask.

‘Sister-in-law, for my sins.’

Isla almost stumbled in surprise. If Alasdair was Kirsty’s brother-in-law, then it followed he was also Fiona MacLeod’s father and, if she remembered correctly, it was around this time of year his wife had died.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes, thanks.’ Should she tell him? Tell him what? That she was his daughter’s headmistress? What would be the point of that? They were two strangers, grabbing some fresh air, escaping from a party it seemed neither of them wanted to be part of. That was all.

At the corner they turned, and without any further conversation, they walked back and stepped into the Reid home just as silently as they’d left.

In their absence, the gathering seemed to have become even more raucous, the loud beat of music and chorusing of old hit songs emanating from the living room. It was like being at one of the parties Isla remembered from her schooldays. She’d never been a social animal. She grimaced.

‘Not your scene either?’

‘No. I think I’ll make my thanks to Kirsty and leave.’

Still in her coat, Isla peeked into the room catching sight of Kirsty in the centre of a jolly group of choristers. She hesitated, unsure how to interrupt.

‘You’ll never manage it. Call her in the morning,’ Alasdair advised. ‘I’m going, too. Tomorrow…’

‘Is Christmas Day. Yes.’

Isla supposed he’d be involved in some sort of family celebration. She shivered. She would be alone. For her, it would be just another day, nothing special, no celebration. Another day when she’d try to keep the memories at bay.

 

Want to read more:

A Single Woman is available on all digital platforms just go to this link:  books2read.com/ASingleWoman

 

About Maggie:

After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her frequent visits to family in Oregon, USA, her native Scotland or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives women who have learned to live and love in later life and the heroes worthy of them. Heartwarming stories of second chances. She has recently been called ‘the queen of mature age fiction’

From her native Scotland, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of over thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!

She continues her love of books as a volunteer with Noosa library where selects and delivers books to the housebound.

You can connect with Maggie online at the links below:

http://maggiechristensenauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/maggiechristensenauthor

https://twitter.com/MaggieChriste33

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8120020.Maggie_Christensen

https://www.instagram.com/maggiechriste33/?hl=en

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/maggie-christensen?list=about

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 14 – Book Taster with @writeanne #virtbookfest #amwriting #books #romanticfiction

Book Tasting Event

Hello and welcome to event 14 in the Virtual Book Festival line up. As with event 13 this is a joint one with the Books For Older Readers Blog Blitz. You can visit the Books for Older Readers website here.

Today I’m sharing the first chapter of one of my second-chance romance novels. As I said in event 13, I write books aimed at adult readers of any age who enjoy mature, romantic, and thought-provoking fiction.

Displacement is the first of a series of three novels all set on the Scottish island of Skye. The second book is called Settlement and is also available, and the third book, Fulfilment is due to be published later this year.

Here’s what it says on the back cover:

It’s never too late to fall in love, but the past can get in the way of a happy future.

From the Scottish Hebrides to the Middle-East, Displacement is an intense, contemporary love story where romance and realism, and the personal and the political, meet head on.

Divorce, the death of her soldier son and estrangement from her daughter, leave Hebridean crofter, Rachel Campbell, grief stricken, lonely and lost.

Forced retirement due to a heart condition leaves former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter needing to take stock and find a new direction for his life.

 After the two of them meet in dramatic circumstances on a wild winter’s night on the island of Skye, a tentative friendship develops between them, despite their very different personalities. Gradually, however, their feelings for each other go beyond friendship.

 But Rachel is about to go to Israel-Palestine where she plans to explore her Jewish heritage and to learn more about this contested land. And Jack is already in what is, for him, the ideal relationship – one where no commitment or fidelity is required.

 Will they be able to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of their deepening love?

Can Rachel find a way forward and let herself love again?           

Can Jack trust himself not to hurt her?                      

 

 

 

Displacement

©Anne Stormont

 

Chapter One

 

Rachel

 

Snowmelt and recent heavy rainfall meant the normally tame burn was now a forceful and rapid river. The water was up to my waist. I was stuck, held fast by the mud, trapped in darkness. The flow pushed hard against me. I no longer had the strength to free myself.

It was January on the island of Skye and the wind-chill meant the temperature was probably below zero. I no longer shivered. I didn’t feel cold. I didn’t feel anything. The ewe had stopped struggling a while ago but I kept my arms around her neck.

I’d gone out at around seven that evening to check the sheep. Bonnie, my sheepdog, was with me. It had already been dark for hours. I’d normally have been out much earlier than this, but the last of the mourners hadn’t left until around six so I’d been delayed. There’d been a wake in the hotel immediately after the burial, but a few friends and neighbours had accepted the invitation to come back to the house afterwards.

When everyone had gone, Morag helped me clear up. She offered the services of her husband Alasdair to check the animals. But I declined the offer.

Morag shook her head as she wiped down the kitchen worktop. “It’s a pity your brother isn’t staying here tonight. You shouldn’t be on your own.”

“Jonathan offered to stay. But he’s been here every night since Mum died and this was the only chance for him and Alec to have a few beers and a catch-up before he goes back. Besides I just want a hot bath and an early night. I was happy for him to go.”

There was more head shaking from Morag. “And I suppose you’ll say no to having dinner with us as well.”

“Thanks, really.” I tried a placating smile. “But I’m not hungry, not after all that tea and sandwiches. No, you’ve been a good friend, as always, but …”

“But now you want your precious privacy back, I know.” Morag spoke kindly, but I could tell she found my need to be on my own difficult to understand. “In that case,” she continued, “I think I’ll take Alasdair up on his offer to take me to see the new Bond film. It’s on in Portree. And don’t be too long outside. You look shattered. After all it’s not just been today, you’ve been looking after your mother for a long time.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself now.”

“You could try starting to live for yourself a bit more.” Morag patted my arm. I flinched at her touch. I couldn’t help it.

She appeared not to notice my discomfort. “You’ve spent your life looking after other people and, with everything that’s happened in the last few years, you deserve a bit of happiness.” She stretched her arms out towards me. “Oh, come here. You need a damn good hug.”

I let her embrace me.

As she let me go she looked at me sadly. “The old Rachel hugged people back.”

“The old Rachel!” The force and agony of my raised voice surprised us both.

I closed my eyes, put my head in my hands, pulled at my hair and took a moment to get a grip on my temper. When I could speak again, my voice was strained but quieter. “You’ve no idea what it’s like. Nobody does. Any chance of happiness died two years ago, along with the old Rachel. She’s dead and gone to Hell.”

Morag looked distraught. I knew she hadn’t meant to hurt me. I was angry because I knew she was right.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just meant it’s time you did stuff for you, got on with your life.”

“Right, that’s it,” I said. “I’m not listening to this. I’m going to check the sheep. Thanks for your help today. You can see yourself out.” I hurried out through the doorway that led from the kitchen into the side porch. I shoved my feet into my wellingtons and whistled for Bonnie. My faithful old collie looked at me reproachfully, whether it was for rousing her, or for shouting at my best friend, I don’t know. She hauled herself out of her basket by the stove and came to me.

The dark was deep, and sleety rain swirled around us. A screaming northerly blew hard and the rain felt needle-sharp on my face. I didn’t hear the sheep’s distressed bleating until I approached the bottom of the croft. I swung the torch in the direction of the sound and had to grab the fence to steady myself. The bleating was coming from the burn.

It was one of the Jacob’s shearlings, a pregnant ewe. She was submerged to her shoulders in the swirling water and not even trying to climb out. At first I tried grabbing hold of the horns and pulling hard, but to no avail.

It didn’t occur to me to get help. I told Bonnie to stay and placed the torch on the ground pointing towards the ewe. Then I slid off the bank into the shockingly cold water. It felt like minutes before the shock passed and I could breathe again. Too late, I realised my mistake. Like the ewe, I was stuck in the mud.

All I could do was try to keep both our heads above the rising water. I knew it was pointless to shout. The wind would swallow the sound and, even if it had been a quiet night, I was too far away from any of my neighbours’ houses to be heard. Bonnie barked and darted in and out of the torch’s beam. For a while she alternated barking with whimpering. Then she went quiet and the light from the torch disappeared. I could only assume she’d run off, moving the torch as she did so.

In the complete darkness, as the last of the feeling left my body, I felt sleepy. My grip on the ewe loosened. The animal must have felt my hold slacken, and with one huge kick she leapt up the banking and scrabbled to safety.

The force of the kick toppled me over and freed my feet from the mud. I fell backwards and went under. I grabbed at a boulder to prevent myself from being swept away and then I heard a voice. Was it my own? ‘Let go. Stop fighting and just let go,’ it said. And I wasn’t afraid any more. It would all be over soon and I would find some peace. I loosened my grip and let myself sink. I saw a bright light coming towards me.

 

Jack

 

I almost fell over the stupid sheep. It appeared out of nowhere as I followed the barking collie to the water’s edge. The beam of my torch picked out the woman’s face and her outstretched arm. She let go of the rock and started to slip downstream. I slid down the bank and managed to grab the hood of her jacket. I was surprised by how light she was, even in her sodden clothes. She fought against me as I dragged her from the water.

I put her over my shoulder and half jogged, half stumbled back to the holiday cottage I was renting from Morag. The dog ran by my side and followed us indoors. I set the woman down in a chair at the fireside and threw some more coal into the grate. Then I went to the bathroom and grabbed a towel. I took off my sweater and put it and the towel on the floor in front of her. I told her to get out of her wet things while I made a hot drink.

When I returned with two mugs of tea and a blanket, she was standing, looking into the fire. She rubbed half-heartedly at her hair with the towel. Her wet clothes lay in a pile on the floor. My sweater came down almost to her knees. She turned to look at me. She was slightly built and could only have been about five-foot-three. Her face was pale, her eyes large. She was obviously in shock and she looked exhausted.

I laid down what I was carrying. “Here, let me.” I took the towel from her. At first she tensed up, but she allowed me to rub her hair. As it dried I saw that she was a redhead, just a bit of grey here and there. “That’ll do,” I said, putting down the towel. “Now, get this down you. It’s hot and sweet.” I handed her a mug. I also gave her the blanket. “And wrap yourself in this.”

She took the tea and sat on the sofa. The dog followed her and sat on the floor at her feet.

I remained standing by the fire. I glanced at the woman as I sipped my tea and wondered how she’d come to be in need of rescuing. I guessed she was in her late forties or early fifties, not bad looking, even in her exhausted state. As she drank her tea, she stared into the fire. She’d tucked her legs up under her and covered herself with the blanket. From time to time she ran a hand through her hair, and the more it dried the curlier it became.

She caught me looking at her. “Thanks for the tea,” she said. “But now Bonnie and me had better leave you in peace.”

I was slightly surprised to hear her voice. She hadn’t spoken a word so far.

“No, take your time, there’s no rush. Is there someone you’d like me to call? Someone who will be wondering where you are?”

She didn’t reply. I saw her jaw tense as she looked at me.

“Maybe I should take you to the hospital, get you checked over.”

“That won’t be necessary, really, I’m fine.” She pushed the blanket aside and laid the mug on the side table. As she stood up, she staggered and grabbed the sofa arm to steady herself.

I went over to her, put my hands on her shoulders, gently sat her back down. “Oh, yes, you’re clearly fine. Half drowned, exhausted and probably hypothermic, but apart from that right as rain.” I also wondered where she thought she was going, dressed only in my sweater. I sat beside her and, taking her wrist in my hand, felt for her pulse.

She pulled her hand away. “Are you a doctor?”

“No, I’m a policeman, was a policeman, retired Detective Inspector, Lothian and Borders. I was trained in first aid in the force. I’m Jack by the way, Jack Baxter.”

“Rachel Campbell.” She met my gaze, but only briefly, her smile a mere flicker.

The dog stood up, looked from Rachel to me, gave a little bark.

“That’s a good dog you’ve got there, protective and very persistent,” I said.

Rachel just nodded.

“It was lucky I’d gone out to get some coal,” I went on. “I heard her barking. She was down at Morag and Alasdair’s place. I thought she maybe belonged to them, but there was nobody home. I tried to get her to come in here, but she kept running up the track every time I got close, until I got the message and followed her. So I just grabbed my coat and a torch and she led me straight to you.”

“Yes, Bonnie’s a good dog. I owe her, and you, of course. I owe you both. I’d no strength left.” Her voice trembled and she looked away as she finished speaking.

“Look, why don’t I get us some more tea and you can tell me how you ended up in the water. And then I’ll take you home. I take it you live close by.”

“Yes, yes I do, Burnside Cottage. And thanks, more tea would be nice.”

“Good, might even throw in some toast.” As I stood to go, I took the box of tissues from the coffee table and handed it to her. “Use as many as you like,” I said.

 

Want to read more?                                                          

You can buy Displacement as a paperback or ebook online here:

It’s also available as a paperback at your local bookshop – and you can ask them to order it in if it’s not on their shelves.

Paperback ISBN: 978-09929303-3-2

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 13 – Age Matters in Romantic Fiction #VirtBookFest #amwriting #amreading #romanticfiction

Books for Older Readers

Today’s event is a joint one. It’s a Virtual Book Festival event and it’s also part of a Blog Blitz which has been organised by author  Claire Baldry who set up and runs the popular Books for Older Readers (BFOR)  website and Facebook group.

Claire set up the group and the website as places to highlight books which had older/mature main characters and which would therefore most likely appeal to older/mature readers. In doing so she was responding to the fact that older/mature readers often seemed to be finding it difficult to find such books – even although she – and lots of other authors she knew of – wrote them.

The initiative has proved popular and successful in matching books to readers who describe themselves as no longer young and the group and website have lots of members/followers from both the reading and writing communities – including myself.

So I thought in today’s event I’d like to explore and share with you what the concept of books for older readers – both writing and reading them – means to me.

Age appropriate reading

The Publisher Definition

Publishing is an industry and like any industry it needs to make a profit to survive and so it goes where the money is and it targets its customers. Therefore authors of commercial fiction have to follow the rules and conventions of their genre. Two genres in particular are mainly defined by the age of their intended readership – and these are: children’s fiction and its age specific sub-divisions, and Young Adult fiction. But for most of the other genres it’s not age but content that defines them. It’s taken as read (pun sort of intended) that readers will be adults.

And for the most part that works. But sometimes age, and attitudes to ageing, does seem to be an issue – especially when it comes to romantic fiction – and most especially when it comes to female characters

My Author Perspective

When I first sought publication for my debut novel – Change of Life – in 2009, I got lots of nice, but encouraging, rejections. I was told there was no doubt I could write, I could tell a good story, the characters were well drawn.

BUT, they said, the fact that my two main characters were in their forties meant it wouldn’t work as romantic fiction. I was told I could possibly get away with having the male character in his forties but definitely not the female one. She would need to be under thirty-five for readers to find it realistic.

I disagreed. And I’m now the proud author of three successful, independently published (including that first one) contemporary romantic novels with main protagonists who are in their forties or fifties. It turns out there is a market for what are now sometimes classed as second-chance romances. And I should also point out my readership spans the ages – from people in their twenties to their nineties.

Having said that, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that I might in future write novels that have younger main characters, but what I am advocating is an open mind when it comes to age and main characters in romantic fiction.

My Reader Perspective

Unsurprisingly, one of the genres I most enjoy reading is contemporary romance.

And, even although I’m more of an autumn chicken than a spring one, I’m still quite happy to read books where the protagonists are young. This year alone I’ve read several superb romantic novels where the lead characters have been in their twenties and thirties. And there will be more about them and their writers later in the festival.

However, I also like to read books where the main characters are in their forties, fifties and beyond who continue to live full lives – and who are definitely not too old to fall in love, enjoy sex, and begin new long term relationships. And these can be harder to find.

And just as a wee side note, I must say it brings out the grumpy old woman in me when women – and it does mainly seem to be women – over forty are portrayed as past it, frumpy and baffled by technology.

Things Are Changing

However, things are changing. And, as is often the way in publishing nowadays, it is the indie publishers who have made a significant contribution to satisfying demand. Authors such as Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, and the aforementioned, BFOR founder, Claire Baldry, all write successful and first-class romantic fiction with older protagonists. And the big traditional publishers are at last catching up 🙂

But I think there is still a way to go in raising the profile of books with older protagonists or ageing-related issues at their heart. And that’s where groups like BFOR come in.

I don’t believe ‘older’ readers only want to read about ‘older’ characters, just as I don’t want to restrict myself to only writing about them, but I do believe life after thirty-five can be as challenging, surprising and rewarding as it was before – if not more so. So the lives of characters in the older age groups can provide fertile ground for all sorts of fiction. And surely having the full spectrum of adulthood – especially perhaps female adulthood – represented in fiction makes sense. After all the biggest group of book buyers is women over 45.

Age is just a number and is only one factor in our personalities and interests. It shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion or enjoyment when it comes to our reading. And I’m hopeful things will continue to change for the better in that regard.

So, I’ll get down off my soapbox now and hand over to you.

What do you think about ageism in fiction? Is it something you’ve noticed or care about? And would you read/enjoy a novel where the romance happens between older characters? And, as I said, groups like the BFOR one are good for helping readers find books they’d like to read – so, where do you find your next good book?

Please do leave your comments below.

And please do come back to the festival tomorrow when, also as part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, I’ll be sharing an extract from one of my novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 12 – Where are we going? Bringing Story Locations to Life with Crime Writer JJ Marsh #VirtBookFest #writing #books

Location, location, location

 Hello and thank you for coming along to event number twelve at the Virtual Book Festival. Estate agents put a huge amount of importance on location when it comes to selling houses – and for writers, too, getting the setting right can be crucial to a book’s success. Today it’s the turn of JJ Marsh author of the fabulous Beatrice Stubbs crime novels which are set in various locations around Europe and she’s brilliant at conveying the settings. So I’m delighted she’s going to share her thoughts on the use of location when writing fiction. And we also have an extract from her latest novel Honey Trap which is set in Italy.

Welcome, Jill – and over to you.

 The Little Differences

“You know what the funniest thing about Europe is? It’s the little differences.” (Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction)

Authors such as Monique Roffey (Trinidad), Stef Penny (Canada), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana), Barbara Kingsolver (Mexico) and John Steinbeck (Monterey, California) have all transported me to places I’ve never seen but can vividly imagine, thanks to their descriptive skills.

Nothing makes me happier than when a reader tells me they’ve been transported to the location by one of my books. A sense of place is integral to my work and I consider the city, village or countryside to be a character in its own right and worthy of as much attention as any other.

Creating a sense of place requires a variety of elements: sensory detail, geographical, architectural and meteorological notes; observations on cultural habits and perhaps even upending some clichés. But the primary consideration must be perception.

 

Whose eyes?

Think about your last holiday. What did you notice, photograph and remember to tell your friends? I’ll bet it was all those little differences that aren’t the same at home.

What matters is deviation from the norm. The setting for The Beatrice Stubbs Series is Europe, varied enough to be interesting, close enough to be familiar. And that is the key word – familiar. To whom?

Let’s start with the character. For example, we’re in the city of Naples. A tourist is likely to exclaim at the chaos of traffic, the plethora of Vespas, the strength of the coffee and the constant noise of the cobbled, crowded streets.

Our local man sees all that as background. He’s much more likely to notice his usual route blocked due to a political demonstration or the looming clouds over Vesuvius suggesting a storm.

Now turn this point-of-view into a recently arrived immigrant. Some elements will delight and others dismay in comparison to what she knows. Does the volume of everyday conversation reassure or alarm? Depending on where this person is from, trying to cross the road may seem terrifying or surprisingly ordered.

 Five Senses

How do we experience a new environment? Via our senses and comparative memories. In many European languages, the question word people use to elicit subjective description is ‘How?’ – Comment, Wie, Como, Hogyan, etc. In English, we ask ‘What was it like?’ In other words, please compare it to something I understand.

Sensory detail can wield immense suggestive power, particularly in combination. Taste and smell, texture and sound can all equal the overworked first choice of descriptive passages: sight.

A walk along Porto’s River Douro is a feast for the eyes. Washing flapping from wrought-iron balconies, crumbling façades the colour of sponge cake, the retro-style wooden trams and shimmering water reflecting the masts of the distinctive black barcos.

But take a deep breath. Absorb the details. There’s a peixeira (fishwife) selling pungent salt cod while humming along to the fado from the nearby café. Hop on the tram and run your fingers over the cracked leather seats. Leave the trundling vehicle at Foz, take your shoes off and press your toes into the sand till you find a beachside bar with a free deckchair. Enjoy a glass of white port and a plate of grilled sardines while you inhale ocean spray from under a striped umbrella.

Smooth not lumpy

That chunk of description above is all very well in terms of employing all the senses, but where’s the story? Where’s the assassin with his mirrored sunglasses? Or rippling chested romantic hero bounding across the dunes? Or massive shark leaping out of the waves to consume you and your sardines?

Anyone who’s ever listened to a story or anecdote, whether round a fire, tucked up in bed or with a gang of mates in the pub, knows the formula of scene-setting. And it’s not just English. Every European language I’ve attempted to learn has at least two forms of past tense: what was happening (set the scene) and what happened (action).

SCENE SETTING: The sun was shining, the birds were singing and the breeze was ruffling Anastasia’s blonde locks as she rushed to the creek, desperate for cool water against her sunburnt skin.

ACTION: She slipped off her dress and stood on tiptoes to dive into the pool. A crashing noise startled her from the undergrowth. A Martian burst from the tree-line, tentacles akimbo, its seven eyes focused on her slight form.

Description doesn’t just belong in Scene Setting, it should play a part in Action. Weave in your perception, sensual nuances, weather, environment and atmosphere into everything, but make it matter. Use detail – not flowers but daffodils. Not birds but ravens. Plant that wobbly plank in the early chapters and bring it back to trip your axe-murderer when you change into fifth gear.

SCENE SETTING: Sun beat through the palms and parrots shrieked like cheerleaders as Anastasia ran for the creek. Sweat ran down her temples and her blonde locks dampened into honey-coloured curls, a light breeze encouraging her to sprint the last five metres. She focused on the limpid turquoise pool ahead, craving its cool green relief and the balm it offered to her rosy skin.

ACTION: On her favourite smooth stone, she peeled off her dress and stood on tiptoes. Nothing could stop her now. She bent her knees and raised her arms to the point of an arrow, preparing to dive. Just as she drew her in-breath, the foliage behind her burst into life. Both impossible and recognisable, a shape emerged. Seven matt-black eyes fixed on her slight form, its tentacles vibrating with unearthly energy and a sulphurous stench emanated from its suppurating flesh. What else could it be? The last surviving Martian.

Upending cliché

This is where working with other writers opens your eyes. Our lovely hostess, Anne, noted on an early draft of my first novel that my characters descended into a crypt, lit by wall scones. As opposed to wall sconces. Apart from such oafish examples of my clumsiness, my mentors and editors have saved me countless times if standards slip.

One element is finding new ways to circumvent the dull, bland adjectives of ‘hot’, ‘dark’, ‘tasty’, ‘disgusting’, ‘smooth’ for something less expected. My Triskele colleague Liza Perrat (Queen of Descriptive Language) told me off for lazy writing. “The sky darkened ominously? – not good enough. What colours? What did it remind you of?” The reworked line developed into ‘Grey, yellow and violet clouds – the colours of a bruise – obscured the white tip of the mountain.’ Liza’s insistence on raising basic to beautiful is a lesson I won’t forget.

It’s not easy to find new way of avoiding natural collocations such as ‘heavy rain’, ‘imposing architecture’, ‘rolling hills’ because that’s our shorthand in conversation and the fast food of journalism. Writers need to work harder, winkling out the detail which means something to the character. Raindrops on metal? An unpleasant recollection of the refuge at the border or a happy memory of that saucy weekend in a caravan?

The Little Big Things

Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue between two hit-men is superbly judged. They are who they are, they do what they do, but a glimpse of another culture holds them both in thrall. There’s another world out there and the safest observation point is from a story.

Expressive touches that transport a reader come from many sources but I’d argue the key elements are creative use of detail coupled with your character’s view of the world. Only from details do we – as readers and adventurers – form the big picture.

 

Anne: Thank you so much Jill. What a fascinating insight into location and all the nuances that go with it.

Below is an extract from Jill’s latest novel along with an online link for buying the book and some more information about Jill.

Honey Trap

From the back cover:

“Chaos or order is simply a matter of taste”

 A half truth is a whole lie

 Ecco, the world-famous Michelin-starred restaurant in Naples, has a problem. A chef is dead and there’s a spy in the kitchen, selling their secrets to competitors. What they need is a food-loving detective to go undercover. Isabella Lopez knows just the person.

 Over Holy Week in Italy, Beatrice Stubbs takes on her first paid job as a private investigator, accompanied by family and friends. Posing as a wannabe pastry chef, her job is to hook the worm out of the apple.

 Meanwhile, her men folk explore the city, the volcano and the ruins of Pompeii, followed by a man in a black beret. Who or what does he want?

 At the restaurant, kitchen staff are scared and mistrustful, the head chef is explosive and Beatrice’s culinary skills lack finesse. The pressure is on. She sets a trap for the mole before anyone else gets killed.

 The Neapolitan family network and business links grow increasingly tangled, dragging in everyone Beatrice loves. This catch is bigger than she thought and she can’t handle it alone. Has PI Stubbs bitten off more than she can chew?

 ‘I thoroughly enjoyed Jill Marsh’s presentation of a hot and flustered Beatrice Stubbs amidst Italian pots, pans and flans, who at the flick of a whisk, manages to regain her cool and resolve a tricky Neapolitan intrigue and murder.’ – Janys Hyde, owner at Creative Retreats, Italy

 A thrilling career change for Beatrice Stubbs amidst the chaos, beauty and gastronomy of historical Naples. – Liza Perrat, author of The Bone Angel Series

 

 

Extract from Honey Trap

 

 

The speedboat bounced across the waves, jolting the passengers perched on the plastic benches. Adrian found the spray and speed exhilarating, as did Luke, but Matthew’s posture remained stiff, as did his smile. The leathery boatman reached out a muscular forearm to assist them as they clambered onto the quay.

 

Adrian spotted the subtle transfer of Euros as Matthew shook their pilot’s hand. They all waved goodbye and gazed up at the colourful peak of Capri. The weather was warm enough to turn pale British skin pink, clusters of purple heather and yellow broom seemed to erupt from each corner and the cheerful chatter of the quayside lifted everyone’s spirits. Too romantic for words. Adrian was glad he’d re-watched The Talented Mr Ripley before leaving London. Now he knew exactly what to expect.

 

Luke ran ahead up the steep narrow street, pointing out ice-cream shops, souvenirs and on every other doorstep, reclining cats. Basil, oregano, thyme and marjoram grew on most windowsills, adding a herbal note to the lemon-scented air. They strolled uphill, snapping pictures of one photogenic panorama after another: small coves changing colour with each wave and cascading terraced gardens. On the winding streets, tiny one-person utility vehicles carried suitcases, their drivers hooting to clear a path between the tourists. Of those there were plenty. Adrian guessed the nationality by dress sense before he could even hear the accents. He took a decision to stop being judgemental and admire the beauty of this little island with its celebrated history.

 

Luke’s energy took him further ahead than Adrian deemed comfortable, while Matthew’s slow progress stretched the distance between them to a worrying degree. Adrian caught Matthew’s eye, indicated Luke and made the motion of a grabbing claw to indicate he’d catch the boy. The ex-professor rested against a wall and nodded his permission. Ducking groups of tourists dawdling up the congested little street and taking selfies, Adrian loped after the six-year-old, scanning both sides for a small blond head. With a surprising sense of relief, he spotted Luke watching a street vendor waving beribboned sticks to attract young eyes. Right behind him stood an older man in a black beret, equally absorbed in the display.

 

Adrian drew Luke away with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Let’s stick together. Your granddad isn’t as fast as you and we shouldn’t spilt up. Now I’m not sure what you think, but I wonder if it’s too early for an ice-cream?”

 

Want to read more? Here’s the Buy Link https://geni.us/honeytrap8

 

About JJ Marsh

Writer, journalist, teacher, actor, director and cultural trainer, Jill has lived and worked all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, Jill is the author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series, a founder member of Triskele Books, co-editor of Swiss literary hub The Woolf and reviews for Bookmuse.

 

You can connect with Jill online at the links below:

Website: www.beatrice-stubbs.com/relaunch

Facebook: www.facebook.com/jjmarshauthor

Amazon: www.amazon.com/author/b007wihq5u

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 10 – an interview with author Alison Morton @alison_morton #VirtBookFest #reading #books

 

Hello everyone and welcome to event number ten in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Alison Morton who kindly agreed to do an interview. As I’ve said at other festival events I mainly read contemporary romantic fiction and crime fiction with a bit of non-fiction thrown in from time to time. But a few months ago I stepped out of my reading comfort zone – something I would encourage all readers to do occasionally – and discovered Alison’s series of alternative history thrillers. And I LOVE them. But enough about me – let’s hear more from Alison herself.

 

Welcome Alison, and thank you for taking part in the festival. Can I start by asking you why and how  you became a writer?

I’ve always written one way or another – translation, academic theses, commercial copy, government papers, military reports, small business paperwork and marketing materials – but not fiction since I’d left school.

The trigger was a bad film in 2009; although beautifully photographed and co-starring Ewan McGregor, it was full of terrible dialogue, higgledy-piggledy continuity and implausible plotting. I whispered to my husband that even I could do better. He replied, “Why don’t you?”

For the next 90 days I bashed out 90,000 words of a story that had been bubbling in my mind for decades. That first draft was rubbish, of course; multiple revisions and strong editing followed along with much reading, courses and classes about the craft of novel writing.

Anne: Well, it’s safe to say all your readers owe your husband a debt of gratitude for challenging you 🙂

 

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

Thrillers, alternative history thrillers (pinching James Bond’s intro format).

Why? Firstly, a lifelong fascination with all things Roman from the day I stepped on my first mosaic in Spain when I wondered what a Roman society would be like today if it were run by women; secondly, after reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland discovering you could change history; and thirdly, decades of reading multiple genres especially sci-fi , thrillers, Georgette Heyer and any historical fiction I could get my hands on.

Alternative history lets you explore the ‘what ifs’ of history, small or large, personal or national. And what a fascinating journey it is…!

Anne: It certainly is fascinating. I love the whole premise – the what-if idea – what if the Roman state and society had persisted and survived to the present day. And you set it up and develop it so well.

 

Your books are written as a series. Tell us more about them and the progression through the series.

Roma Nova is a small (imaginary) country ‘somewhere in south central Europe’, founded by pagan Romans at the end of the fourth century. It’s battled its way through history to survive into the modern age but has one vital difference to the Ancient Roman Empire – although very Roman in character, it’s governed by women.  (Find out why and how here.)

Each book in the Roma Nova series is a complete story – I dislike intensely stories that end in a cliff-hanger – but they are all interconnected. I began with a trilogy set in the ‘present day’ then went back to the late 1960s/early 1980s for another three. The second trilogy grew out of my curiosity about one of the main secondary characters in the first, Aurelia. I knew she had secrets in her past and I needed to know about them! Next, I added novellas and a short story collection, so it was getting muddled. Time for restructuring and a new look!

Carina’s strand in the series includes INCEPTIO (‘the beginning’) when Karen Brown is forced to flee from a killer in New York to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland. She takes her place in her Roma Novan family and adopts her true name, Carina Mitela. But before she comes into her own as an intelligence operative, she has to deal with an arrogant, but attractive, Praetorian special forces captain…  CARINA, a novella, takes her back to North America on her first mission ‘abroad’. Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. PERFIDITAS is the story four years later of betrayal – personal, professional and political. Nobody comes out of that completely clean. SUCCESSIO (what happened next/the next generation) nine years later sees a lot of chickens coming home to roost with blackmail, family breakdown and a nemesis from the past.

Aurelia’s strand begins with AURELIA, a crime thriller set in the late 1960s where our heroine engages in a bitter rivalry with her lifelong nemesis Caius Tellus, an amoral and privileged opportunist. Twelve years later, the traumatic eruption of Roma Nova’s Great Rebellion sears Aurelia’s personal and political life in INSURRECTIO. RETALIO is a classic story of resilience and resistance.

However, in all Roma Novan books our tough heroines do find love, although it does run a rocky path for both Carina and Aurelia.

Oh, and those titles? Yes, they are Latin words, each descriptive of the theme in the book, but words that I hope make sense to readers. How I chose them (aka sweated over them until my brain burst) may intrigue you – if so you can find out more here

Anne: Yes, I like how each story is complete in itself – that definitely works for me. And of course I like that there’s a romantic thread there too :-).

 

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

Hahaha! It depends where I am in the book writing cycle. Running up to a launch and for the few weeks afterwards, I spend almost all my time marketing; social media, guest posts, blog tours, etc. When that ebbs, it’s back to the writing. But that time away can be productive as the brain is running in the background developing the next story.

When I get cracking on a new book, I aim for about 1,000 words a day and I work best in the morning and evening. However, if I need to research something, check facts, read some background, the wordcount may not be so impressive that day…

Other activities like writing posts for my own and other blogs, arranging visits, event talks, and formatting books or liaising with suppliers have to be fitted round all this.

Anne: Indeed! Being a writer isn’t only about writing a book – it involves a whole lot more.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing? Why or why not?

Early on, in 2012, I evolved a rough and ready system which I called ‘How to write a novel in 30 lines’: see more about that here. I plot the main events – inciting incident, three turning points, black moment, climax and resolution and the rest is free-flow.

It’s a 3D wire frame rather than a skeleton and provides enough structure to hang the story on without constraining it to a formal outline. In figures, I’m a 30% ‘plotter’ and 70% ‘pantser’. (note from Anne, a pantster, in case you don’t know comes from the expression ‘to fly by the seat of your pants’)

Anne: Oh, I love the idea of the 3D wire frame as a story structure!

 

What comes first for you – characters or plot? Why is that?

Characters! My plots centre on the characters, their conflicts and their challenges, both internal and external. As with any story in a historical or sci-fi genre, there must be a purpose to an alternative history story. It can’t simply be “Look at this new world I’ve invented, aren’t I clever?” As a reader of fiction, I want to be entertained by a ‘cracking yarn’, to learn something and be encouraged to think. The most important thing when writing is to be immersed in the mentality of the characters, their time and their culture. After all, characters, like people, should be products of their time and place.

Anne: I’m not surprised by your answer. Your characters are fascinating and definitely come across as at the heart of the story and engage us readers from the start.

 

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

I wish I knew!  It’s a deep pot, stirred well over many years: combine being a ‘Roman nut’ since I was eleven, ingrained but unstrident feminism, six years’ military service, an MA in history and an insatiable curiosity about what motivates people. Chuck in an urge to show a competent, strong, but all-too-human woman leading actions and making decisions as a natural right. Oh, and a provocative sense of irony especially when gender-mirroring.

My best ideas emerge when I’m in the shower, but probably best not to go into that!

Anne: Haha! Yes, ideas don’t always happen at the most convenient times.

 

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

That’s an impossible question to answer! Writing different types of characters is the joy for any writer. I love them all for different reasons. Well, probably not Caius Tellus, Aurelia’s nemesis, nor his distant relation, Nicola.

Anne: Yes, it’s an unfair question – like being asked to pick a favourite child. But as a reader I’m allowed a favourite and it’s Carina for me.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

Readers have been very kind over the past six years with their comments and reviews – as have those who endorse my books (Conn Iggulden, Kate Quinn, Elizabeth Chadwick, Helen Hollick, Adrian Magson, JJ Marsh, Ruth Downie, Douglas Jackson, Sue Cook to name a few).

The six full-length novels have all been awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion for indie literature and AURELIA was one of four finalists in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award out of a field of 400(!). Writing Magazine placed both INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS as runners-up in the 2014 Self-published Book of the Year competition and The Bookseller made SUCCESSIO its Editor’s Choice in its first indie review.

One the most succinct reader comments is ““Eve Dallas meets Lindsey Davis’s Roman detective Falco meets The Hunger Games.” (INCEPTIO)

“As always, Ms Morton delivers fast-paced adventure, very much driven by the excellent dialogue.” (RETALIO)

“INSURRECTIO – a taut, fast-paced thriller and I enjoyed it enormously. Rome, guns and rebellion. Darkly gripping stuff.” – Conn Iggulden

 

”PERFIDITAS is an alternative history adventure thriller that will delight crime fiction readers, but may also be enjoyed by Roman fans as Ms Morton has very cleverly blended into a modern tale the ‘what-might-happen’ had the Roman Empire survived to present day.” (Historical Novel Society)

 

“There are two things I love about Ms Morton’s ‘world’: one is that it is all so plausible and the other is that Roma Nova has a lot to teach us about the sheer equality of the sexes in this mythical country. The characters are well rounded and, impressively, are fallible.” (Discovering Diamonds Reviews)

Anne: Wow! What a fabulous collection. And well deserved too.

 

You have a new novella coming out on 12 September and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it. Where does it fit in the series?

NEXUS, which in Latin means a binding together or interlacing, sometimes an obligation; in English, a connection or series of connections or a central or focal point which is perfect for this story! It fits in between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO and aims to show readers what Aurelia’s been up to in the twelve interim years. And also, why Harry Carter feels under an obligation to help Aurelia in RETALIO fourteen years later…

 NEXUS

From the Back Cover

Mid 1970s. Ex-Praetorian Aurelia Mitela is serving as Roma Nova’s interim ambassador in London. Asked by a British colleague to find his missing son, Aurelia thinks it will only be a case of a young man temporarily rebelling. He’s bound to turn up only a little worse for wear.

But a spate of high-level killings pulls Aurelia away into a dangerous pan-European investigation. Badly beaten in Rome as a warning, she discovers the killers have kidnapped her life companion, Miklós, and sent an ultimatum: Back off or he’ll die.

But Aurelia is a Roma Novan and they never give up…

EXTRACT

 

Roma Nova London Legation, mid 1970s

‘I’ve lost him, Aurelia.’

Harry Carter’s voice was low, toneless, but I could hear the despair in his restrained British voice. Given the time of day, he must have been calling from his panelled office at the United Kingdom foreign ministry.

‘Are you absolutely sure?’ I said. ‘He could just be on one of his walkabouts.’

‘His tutor at Cambridge said he hasn’t been in college for six weeks.’

Hades. What could I say? I stared at my yellow office wall and tried to compose a tactful answer.

At seventeen, Tom Carter had been a classical surly teenager. Harry had invited me to dinner one evening five years ago when I’d been posted to our London legation as political officer. It was a third level posting in the Roma Novan diplomatic hierarchy, but a restful one for me after a very fraught intelligence operation in Berlin. I’d taken to Harry immediately not only for his connections as a senior spook – that was part of my job – but for his friendliness to a newcomer on the circuit and for his sense of uprightness.

Over an after-dinner brandy Harry had confided that his son Tom had been away for three days with no contact. During the evening, he’d kept looking at the hallway.

‘Do you want me to go, Harry?’ I’d said eventually.

‘No, please don’t. I’m probably fussing.’ He’d changed the subject, but fidgeted, glancing at his watch when he thought I wouldn’t notice.

‘He always comes back, usually broke. Young men, eh?’ He attempted to laugh.

Just as I stood to go ten minutes later, the sound of the front door opening echoed from the hall and Tom had shuffled in; dirty, dishevelled, eye sockets brown with exhaustion. He shrugged as his father hugged him, grunted and went upstairs with without a word.

That was five years ago. I’d been home and then taken a posting in the Eastern United States since then. Now I was filling in here in London for our UK nuncia, our ambassador, who’d been taken ill.

‘Have you informed the civil police?’ I winced as I asked such an obvious question.

‘You know I can’t do that.’

‘Harry, it’s no shame. For a government functionary like you, they would be discreet. ‘

‘Don’t bet on it. One of those bloody tabloids would get hold of it if they paid enough.’

‘That’s a bit cynical.’ But he was right. Their press here in the UK was outrageous. But then so was the Sol Populi at home in Roma Nova.

‘Can’t you use your people in your security services to get somebody to take a look?’

Silence.

‘Harry?’

‘Completely off the record, Aurelia, I had two retired officers nose around, but they found nothing.’ He coughed. ‘Not a trace, which was odd. I can’t use anybody active. Imagine the stink if the parliamentary oversight committee got wind of it.’

I smiled at his schoolboy half-pun. But I knew he was desperately trying to cover his distress. Under that gruff exterior his heart was breaking.

 

NEXUS ebook available now to pre-order on:  Amazon     Apple     Kobo    B&N Nook Paperback from 12 September 2019

 

Anne: Thank you so much, Alison for being a guest here at the festival today. I’ve enjoyed finding out more about you and your writing and I feel a pre-order coming on. And thank you too, to everyone who has attended today’s event. And you can find out a bit more about Alison and how to connect with her below.

About Alison:

Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova series – “intelligent adventure thrillers with heart.” She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service, an MA in history and an insatiable curiosity about what motivates people.

Apart from the six full-length novels CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, add to the Roma Nova story. Alison has contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down – an anthology of nine alternative outcomes to the Norman invasion – and to RUBICON, an Historical Writers’ Association collection of Roman short stories.

Now she continues to write thrillers, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband.

Connect with Alison:

Roma Nova website: here

Facebook author page: here

Twitter: here  @alison_morton

Instagram: here

Goodreads: here

Alison’s Amazon page: here

 

 

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: 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

 

 

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