Read All About It: Writing News

writing desk
Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.

Bring on the rewrites

My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.

However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.

I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).

Sequel challenges

Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.

Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.

Next up

And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.

Writing conference

However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.

I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?

 

Staying in with Anne Stormont

I was delighted to be invited to spend a virtual evening in with Linda over at her Linda’s Book Bag blog. We chatted about my novel Displacement and a bit about its sequel Settlement due out later this year. We also enjoyed a wee dram and some tasty snacks – appropriate to the setting of the book. You can read all about it in Linda’s post which I’ve reblogged here.

Linda's Book Bag

Displacement Cover MEDIUM WEB

I’m so thrilled to be staying in with Anne Stormont today because I feel as if I’ve ‘known’ Anne forever. She has been such a wonderful supporter of Linda’s Book Bag that I’m delighted to welcome her here today.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Anne Stormont

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Anne. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me as I feel I’ve known you for ever.

Which of your books have you brought along to share with me and why have you chosen it?

I’ve chosen Displacement. I chose it as I still feel very close to it and its characters. This could be because I’m currently writing its sequel, Settlement. And I’d like to introduce readers of this blog to…

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Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas @OlgaWojtas #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Entertaining, eventful, erudite

This debut novel by Olga Wojtas is impossible to confine within one genre as it both kicks against and embraces quite a few of them. It is part crime, part comedy, but there are also elements of thriller, fantasy and sci-fi along with historical and romantic. All I can suggest is a new genre of olga-fic.

Back Cover Summary: “Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name. Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins. But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?”

My Review: This book is brilliantly written, completely original and as far as my reading goes it’s unique. The main character, Shona, is well-educated and knowledgeable on many topics, she’s eccentric, kind-hearted, morally upright, brave and stoical – but she’s also utterly lacking in perception when it comes to understanding her fellow human beings and is completely bonkers.

I don’t know if the timing of the release of this novel is a coincidence or not, as this year is the centenary of the birth of author Muriel Spark, and there are currently many events going on in her home city of Edinburgh to celebrate her life and writing. And probably Spark’s most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is set in the fictional Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls in Edinburgh.

Coincidence or not, I love d how Olga Wojtas has taken this fictional school and made it Shona’s alma mater –  and that’s she also made Shona fiercely proud and protective of her former school’s reputation and extremely resentful of what Spark did, as she sees it, to trash that reputation.

The plot centres on the time-travelling mission given to Shona by her school’s founder and is a mad and clever mix of fact and fiction. The supporting cast are hilarious. I especially loved Old Vatrushkin, a most endearing serf. And Shona’s complete lack of understanding of what’s actually going is also very amusing.

I enjoyed, too, Shona’s attempts to introduce elements of Scottish culture to her Russian friends, the Burns supper and square sausage being just two examples.

I would however advise against reading this book on public transport. I read part of it while on the train and did get some funny looks from fellow travellers as I smiled and nearly choked on stifled laughter.

This novel really is the crème de la crème or rather, as Shona would prefer, cremor cremoris

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar is available as a paperback and as an ebook and is published by Contraband.

Memory and Straw by Angus Peter Campbell @ aonghasphadraig #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Insightful, magical, truthful writing

Memory and Straw is yet another wonderful book from Angus Peter Campbell. It’s magical and it’s beguiling and it’s a book to be savoured as you read.

 

Back Cover Description: A face is nothing without its history. Gavin and Emma live in Manhattan. She’s a musician. He works in Artificial Intelligence. He’s good at his job. Scarily good. He’s researching human features to make more realistic mask-bots non-human carers for elderly people. When his enquiry turns personal he’s forced to ask whether his own life is an artificial mask. Delving into family stories and his roots in the Highlands of Scotland, he embarks on a quest to discover his own true face, uniquely sprung from all the faces that had been. He returns to England to look after his Grampa. Travels. Reads old documents. Visits ruins. Borrows, plagiarises and invents. But when Emma tells him his proper work is to make a story out of glass and steel, not memory and straw, which path will he choose? What s the best story he can give her? A novel about the struggle for freedom and personal identity; what it means to be human. It fuses the glass and steel of our increasingly controlled algorithmic world with the memory and straw of our forebears world controlled by traditions and taboos, the seasons and the elements.

 

My Review: Gavin, the narrator, is a scientist working in the very precise world of nanotechnology. His work and his twenty-first century lifestyle means that, like many people nowadays, he inhabits both the virtual online world and the real world.

As he undertakes his latest work project, he finds himself increasingly making comparisons and links to how, in the past, there was a different sort of virtual world, a world of magic and fairies. He concludes that whereas now the internet offers insights and solutions into how we should live our lives, in the past it was the supernatural world that did so offering as it did visions, spells and rituals.

As work and home pressures build to intolerable levels for Gavin, he decides to take some time out and to delve into his ancestry and heritage. He hopes by doing so that he’ll find a clearer idea of who he is and of his place in the world. As he carries out his quest, he finds the lines between past, present and future becoming increasingly blurred but he also comes to terms with where and how he fits in.

There’s a dreamlike quality to Campbell’s writing. His use of language to describe setting and people is exquisite. The plot is fragile. It has to be, but it’s like a spider’s web in its flimsiness. It has coherence and purpose and, for the reader, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and just go with it.

This is a book to transport you, to fully immerse yourself in and to take your time with. It’s an insightful and rewarding read.

 

Memory and Straw is available as a hardcover print book and as an ebook. It is published by Luath Press.

 

Bad Apples by JJ Marsh @JJMarsh1 #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

Bad Apples

A satisfying, delightful, engaging read

Regular readers of my book reviews will know I’m a big fan of crime writer JJ Marsh. So my expectations were high when I came to read Bad Apples, the sixth and final book in the DI Beatrice Stubbs series. My high expectations were more than met but I was also gutted that this was to be Beatrice’s last case. However this meant I savoured it all the more.

 

Back Cover Blurb: Acting DCI Beatrice Stubbs is representing Scotland Yard at a police conference in Portugal. Her task is to investigate a rumour – a ghostwritten exposé of European intelligence agencies – and discover who is behind such a book.

Hardly a dangerous assignment, so she invites family and friends for a holiday. Days at the conference and evenings at the villa should be the perfect work-life balance.

Until one of her colleagues is murdered.

An eclectic alliance of international detectives forms to find the assassin. But are they really on the same side?

Meanwhile, tensions rise at the holiday villa. A clash of egos sours the atmosphere and when a five-year-old child disappears, their idyll turns hellish.

From Lisbon streets to the quays of Porto, Parisian cafés to the green mountains of Gerês, Beatrice realises trust can be a fatal mistake.

 

My Review: As in the previous books, Bad Apples has Scotland Yard detective, Beatrice Stubbs, working alongside police colleagues in Europe. This time the setting is Portugal and as always, JJ Marsh’s writing style ensures the reader really feels they’re there. The cities of Porto and Lisbon along with the Portugal’s mountains are all vividly brought to life with small details capturing so much.

There are two plotlines – one domestic and personal, and one criminal. The supporting cast are wonderful as always including old and loved characters as well as some new ones. And Beatrice is at her lovable and quirky best and still uttering those mixed metaphors of hers such as ‘ears to the grindstone’, ‘long in the hoof’, and ‘a dustman’s holiday’.

The action begins quietly enough with Beatrice, close to retirement and having been promoted to Acting Chief Inspector, preparing to attend a European police conference in Portugal. And for this final working trip, she has decided to combine work with pleasure. So whenever she’s free she intends to join her partner, the wonderful Matthew, and other family and friends at a villa they’ve rented in the Portuguese hills. But it’s not long before there’s a murder and some other sinister events which not only require Beatrice and her colleagues to investigate crime rather than attend seminars, but also threaten the safety of Beatrice and those close to her. Yes, all the usual ingredients of a DI Stubbs plot are there and the story is told with all JJ Marsh’s usual flair. The writing is clever, original, witty and warm and the twists and turns are far from obvious. And the end if both fitting and satisfying.

And so it’s farewell to Beatrice, and here’s hoping she enjoys a long and happy retirement. I’ll miss her. *

 

All the books in this series including Bad Apples are available in paperback and ebook formats and are published by Prewett Publishing. They are also available as two e-book box sets of three.

*PS: adding this to original post. JJ Marsh has been in touch and assured me that although Beatrice has retired, her adventures will continue and three more books are planned. Hurrah!

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity by Trish Nicholson @TrishaNicholson #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

This is a beautiful book, both in its words and in its presentation. The cover is gorgeous in look and feel and the text more than lives up to the promise of the cover.

Back Cover Summary:  An entertaining cultural history and a highly original take on the power of stories in societies past and present. Trish Nicholson brings us a unique interweaving of literature and history seen through the eyes of storytellers, making a fascinating journey for general readers and students alike. From tales of the Bedouin, to Homer, Aesop and Valmiki, and from Celtic bards and Icelandic skalds to Chaucer, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Scott and Chekhov, some of the many storytellers featured will be familiar to you; others from Africa, Asia 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 corners of the world. Combining this extraordinary breadth with telling myths, epics, fables, fairy tales and legends, she reveals their story-power in the comedy and tragedy of human affairs. And what of Story’s future..? 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. This is a book-lover’s book, illustrated and handsomely presented in hardback and paperback volumes designed ‘to have and to hold’.

My Review: To be human is to tell stories. It’s in our human nature to make sense of our lives through the stories we tell ourselves and others. And it’s the development and variety of humanity’s stories that Trish Nicholson explores in her book. She travels from the earliest oral traditions to the crossroads that the digital age has now brought us to. A crossroads where our stories can be spread across the globe and where they can be used either as tools for freedom or for oppression.

It’s a big ask for a book to live up to such a title but it most certainly does. Because of the nature of its contents, this is a book for dipping into rather than reading from cover to cover. Each chapter is a delight and there is no stuffy academic prose. The index of storytellers is comprehensive going from Aesop to Zola, as is the roll call of cultures visited which ranges from Aboriginal to Zulu.

Every chapter has something to commend it but one of my favourites is the one on Sir Walter Scott. Yes, because this is a storyteller whose roots are close to home for me, but also because it’s so absorbing and interesting. And it’s a great example of one superb storyteller telling a great story about another.

I highly recommend this book to oral storytellers, to writers and to readers.

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is published by Matador and is available as a hardback and as a paperback.

 

 

It’s Who We Are by Christine Webber @1chriswebber #bookreview #MondayBlogs #amreading

ItsWhoWeAre_3Dcov (002)

An entertaining, interesting and satisfying read

As promised in my previous post where I interviewed author, Christine Webber, here is my review of her new novel It’s Who We Are.

From the back cover: Five friends in their fifties find themselves dealing with unforeseen upheaval as they uncover long-hidden and devastating family secrets. Meanwhile, the world around them seems to be spinning out of control. This is a novel about friendship, kindness and identity – and about how vital it is to reach for what enhances rather than depletes you.

My Review: As in her previous novel, Who’d Have Thought It, Christine Webber has produced a perfectly judged contemporary tale. The protagonists are in their fifties and linked to one another through friendship. All five of them are facing challenges some of which are age-related and some of which are simply related to what it means to be human regardless of age or stage.

The various challenges which drive the plot include supporting adult children, coping with ageing parents, facing up to divorce, beginning new relationships, managing the demands of work and facing up to getting older. Bu the overriding theme is the one of relationships, of the ties that bind – familial, romantic and friendship and how they inform a person’s identity.

The five main characters are a great mix. They are realistically drawn and they’re a diverse group but the reader cares about all of them.

This is a story that deals with all of life – its joys, sorrows and imperfections.

All in all it’s a lovely satisfying read.

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

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

Welcome Christine!

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Describe for us your typical writing day.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

You can follow Christine on Twitter at @1chriswebber

Her website is www.christinewebber.com

 

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

No Resolutions but Good Intentions: Writing, Reading and Reflecting in 2018

In spite of the time of year this is not a post about resolutions. I think the other 3Rs that this blog is based on ­- Writing, Reading and Reflecting are quite sufficient.

However, I do want to share with you some of my ongoing plans and intentions for the blog and my writing in general during 2018.

Writing:

The manuscript of my new novel Settlement is almost ready to go off to the editor and is planned for release in the first half of the year.

Settlement is the sequel to Displacement and, as I’ve never written a sequel before, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite a balancing act judging just how much of the back story to include from the original book. I don’t want the new book to seem repetitive to those who’ve read the first one, but neither do I want it to be necessary to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second.

And, as far as writing about my writing here on the blog goes, I plan to continue doing occasional posts on the process of writing, on my works-in-progress, and on my wider writing life.

 

Reading:

I certainly intend to keep reading throughout 2018. I believe it’s vital for writers to be readers too, but even if I gave up writing tomorrow – can’t imagine that happening – I’ll still be reading on my deathbed.

I will also continue to post reviews of books I’ve particularly enjoyed as, apart from wanting to share the love of good books, I also like to do my bit to help my writing colleagues get their work in front of readers. And I find that putting together a review – figuring out what worked in a book and why – helps me improve my own writing skills.

 

Reflecting:

And finally, I also intend to continue to do the occasional reflective post on topics I find myself thinking about and want to explore with readers of the blog. These topics may or may not be directly related to books – but will of course involve writing.

 

Question Time:

I also plan in 2018 to do a bit of a content/function audit of this blog and of my two author websites. As part of that I’d like to seek your much valued and appreciated opinions on various writing/blog related things.

And, as there’s no time like the present I’ll get started on that right away –

Question: I’d be interested to know your opinion on author newsletters. Do you sign up to them and if you do, do you read them? Are you prompted to buy an author’s latest book when you read about it in their newsletter or to respond to offers – such as free short story?

And finally I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.

Twelve Best Books 2017 #bestbooks2017 #amreading #books

It’s that time of year. As 2017 comes to an end it’s time for reflection. And one thing I find myself thinking about is all the great books I’ve read this year. I love reading and, although as a writer myself, I consider reading to be vital in helping my own writing to develop, I’d read whether or not it helped me as an author.

I’ve read around thirty books in the last twelve months and I’ve reviewed many of them here on the blog.

My 2017 reads have come from a mixture of genres and have been both fiction and non-fiction. I’ve enjoyed some more than others. That’s to be expected.

But even with the ones I didn’t enjoy or gave up on, I felt I’d achieved something – even it was simply that I learned I didn’t like a particular author’s style and why it didn’t appeal to me.

On a more positive note I enjoyed the majority of what I read very much indeed and picking just twelve has been difficult. The list is presented in the order I read them from January to December and among my main criteria for choosing them were the following:

  • Did I keep reading the book way past my usual go-to-sleep-time?
  • Did I find myself thinking about the book between bouts of reading it and after I’d finished it?
  • Did I not want to get to the end but simultaneously was desperate to see how it would play out?

If I answered yes to all three the book made it to the cut.

And here they are:

  1. Mary’s the Name by Ross Sayers
  2. Blast Radius by RL McKinney
  3. The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd
  4. Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
  5. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
  6. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  7. Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech
  8. Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin
  9. The Angel in the Stone by RL McKinney
  10. The Good Sister by Maggie Christensen
  11. Madness Lies by Helen Forbes
  12. A Biography of Story by Trish Nicholson

Have you read any of the above? Did you enjoy them? What would be your top choice(s) from your own 2017 reading list?

And before I go, I’d like to thank everyone who has followed the blog over the last twelve months, and everyone who has taken the time to read the posts and to comment on them. I appreciate it.

I’m taking a short blog break over the festive season and will be back on the 8th January 2018.