Virtual Book Festival: Event 16 – a feature by book blogger Mary Picken @bethsy #VirtBookFest #books #bookreviews #bookblogs

Hello and welcome to event number 16 in the Virtual Book Festival. Today’s event is a guest post by  book blogger Mary Picken of Live and Deadly Book Blog which you can find at  liveanddeadly.net On her hugely popular blog, Mary writes insightful and intriguing reviews of (mainly) crime fiction. And she’s her to tell us more about her book blogging life.

So welcome, Mary – and over to you.

  

Book Blogging  – What is it, why do we do it and who cares?

 

Gentle reader, let me take you back 5 years to December 2014. My memory these days stretches back just about that far. I had taken six months off from my job due to clinical depression. Those days had passed in a blur of pretty much staring into nothingness. I did some reading, always my chosen leisure activity, but otherwise had done very little.

After the 6 months was up, it became clear to me that I no longer had the resilience to cope with the daily pressures and stresses of my job. My brain was working, but my heart wasn’t in it and my head wouldn’t let me get immersed in the mire again.

So I effectively took early retirement. That left me in something of a quandary. I didn’t feel able to work full time and I really did not want my little grey cells to go without a work out. So, I decided that I’d start to record my thoughts on the books I was reading.

At the time, I didn’t really know anything about blogging, far less book blogging, I just needed something that would stimulate my brain and keep it working.

Fast forward 5 years and my blog is still going. That first, tentative post, a glowing review of Sarah Hilary’s first book, Someone Else’s Skin, (if you haven’t read her Marnie Rome series please do, it is fantastic) has grown into a blog with more than 3,300 followers and a reach over continents (mainly though UK and US) that stretches to around a quarter of a million viewers. Many of my colleagues have blogs that are substantially bigger, and more power to them for it. Few of us are driven by our statistics; I’m certainly not.

I have discovered an activity that plays to my need for deadline driven activity without much of the stress that used to accompany my deadlines and I have been fortunate to have been sent books to review.

Not only that, but book blogging has given me my tribe. I have found like-minded friends online and in real life; have been to numerous book festivals at home and even one abroad and now have a life that I love.

So, all good for me, then. But what does it do for book sales and publishers?  I often find that authors have no sense of what bloggers can do for book sales, but there is no doubt at all that publishers know and understand the value.

In a crowded marketplace, word of mouth is a very important marketing tool. Creating a buzz in advance of a book’s publication is a great way to heighten anticipation and create advance sales.

Social media is now a key component of organisations’ marketing strategies and for good reason. 74% of shoppers make buying decisions based on social media, according to the social media marketing company, Sprout Social.

The term ‘social influencers’, which I hate, has been coined to represent individuals who have a significant following on social media. With a large audience seeing these blogger’s posts each day, they’re often targeted by publishers to promote books. Their content has a significant effect on purchasing decisions. Essentially, they contribute to the “bandwagon” effect.

80% of consumers, we are told, are likely to purchase a book based on a friend’s suggestion. If you were on the fence about buying a book, who would you turn to for an unbiased opinion?

This sometimes leads, wrongly, to suggestions that bloggers are the pawns of publishers, overwhelmingly positive about every book in order to feed their free book piles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most book bloggers I know have a voracious book buying habit; some even buy several editions of the same book!

Most of us choose not to post reviews of books we have disliked on our blogs. If you are, like me, about sharing the book love, there seems little point in publishing on my blog a review of a book that just wasn’t for me. I will post those reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, with as constructive a review as I can achieve.

But I’m often critical in my reviews, pointing out my perceptions of flaws as well as good things, because otherwise how can I expect my reviews to be trusted by those who read them? If there’s no honesty, what on earth is the point of a review?

I believe that bloggers can be a real boon to smaller, independent publishers too. Those who are publishing important books but just don’t have the marketing budgets to make them stand out in a crowd. Investing in a blog tour, where the tour organiser receives a small payment for organising and bloggers remain, rightly, unpaid can achieve real results for a book that might otherwise struggle to find a place amidst the bigger publishers’ noise.

Publishers like Fahrenheit, Tramp Press, Orenda Books, Unbound and Urbane all make a decent sales impact through their use of social media and that can only be a good thing at a time when we need more than ever to broaden the diversity of ideas.

I blog for my own satisfaction and to keep my brain functioning. But I have to admit; there is no better feeling than knowing that someone has bought a book based on my review. It is, for me, the pinnacle of success. If I can help contribute to book sales in however small a way, I will feel that I have made a beneficial impact on the world. And that’s more than enough for me.

Anne: Thank you so much for that fascinating insight into what book blogging means to you – and to authors and readers too. And thank you for being part of the festival.

 

More about Mary and her blog:

Mary Picken reviews mainly crime novels on her blog, though she also enjoys contemporary and literary fiction with the occasional dose of historical and urban fantasy thrown in. She has been blogging at Live and Deadly for 5 years and loves to visit book festivals. Particular favourites include Bute Noir, Iceland Noir and, of course, Bloody Scotland and this month’s Edinburgh Book Festival.

How to connect with Mary online: 

Live and Deadly book blog is here

You can also find her on Facebook at Live and Deadly : (https://www.facebook.com/liveanddeadly/)

On Instagram as @bethsy :  (https://www.instagram.com/bethsy/)

On Twitter as @bethsy : (https://twitter.com/bethsy)

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 15 – an interview with book blogger Anne Williams @Williams13Anne #VirtBookFest #books #reading #bookreviews

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 15 in the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s my pleasure to welcome book blogger Anne Williams to the VBF marquee. Anne is an awesome and prolific reader and reviewer of books. She shares her reviews on her book blog Being Anne and like the other wonderful guest book bloggers at this festival she is significantly responsible for my reading list.

So, welcome, Anne. It’s lovely to have you here.

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

I’ve been blogging about books for over six years now: I’d been sharing my reviews on-line for as long as I’ve had a computer, and I just thought it’d be good to keep all the reviews in one place. I was flabbergasted to find that people seemed to like reading it, so when I retired the following year I decided to build it up a little and add other features. By 2016, my little blog had over 220,000 views – so I decided to move it to WordPress and give it a more professional look. I did the migration myself, and learned a whole new skill set (and swore rather a lot!), but I’m delighted with the way it now looks.

The blog now has over 9,500 followers, the post views are in the hundreds, and I’m really humbled by the fact that my posts are shared so many times on Twitter that I just can’t keep up with saying “thank you”. Life changes have meant that I don’t post daily any more, but I’m still enjoying it as much as I ever did.

Anne S: Blimey, that’s an amazing following! But well –deserved – you’ve certainly earned it. Book bloggers like you do so much for writers and for readers and all for the love of it. Brilliant!

 

How do you find/choose what to review?

I read three or four books a week – I watch very little television! – and these days books have a tendency to find me. I’ve built relationships with publishers and authors, find e-copies of forthcoming books on Netgalley, and take part in blog tours – but I do still buy far more books than I’m sent to review. I choose to read books that I know I’m likely to enjoy: I’ve now developed a bit of a sixth sense that rarely lets me down.

Anne S: Yes, it would be easy to get overwhelmed, wouldn’t it? And using your reliable radar to pinpoint what you’ll most likely enjoy – and sticking to that is the best way to go.

 

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

Without question, being part of this wonderful bookish world. I’ve made so many friends over the years – authors, publishers and bloggers – and the whole community is immensely supportive and lovely to be part of. Books have become a large part of my social life too: I love attending the parties and launches, the book readings and signings, the festivals and book fairs, and the more informal get togethers too (particularly since I qualified for my senior railcard!). I was particularly delighted to win the Best Pal award at the Annual Bloggers’ Bash three years running – I think it meant more to me than any award for the quality of my reviews, because for me it’s what blogging is all about.

Anne S: Well deserved awards –congratulations! I agree the book community is wonderful.

 

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

Although I’ve rather outgrown the chick lit I used to enjoy, most of my reading is still romance or that often misunderstood genre of “women’s fiction”. And I do particularly look for books featuring older characters and experiences I can identify with, which give me particular pleasure. But I do like to read widely, and quite often equally enjoy a good thriller or something more at the literary end of the spectrum. More than anything, I enjoy reading authors yet to make their mark (and how they’re published really doesn’t matter) and help bring them to the attention of other readers.

Anne S: Yes I’m with you there on romance and life beyond chick-lit. And, like you, I enjoy other genres too.

 

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

These days, it’s mostly reviews: telling people about the books I’ve loved is what I enjoy the most, particularly when others tell me they’ve bought the book and added it to their reading list (as I know you often have, Anne!). I sometimes include guest posts, interviews or other features, but do make it my rule that I only include books I’d have been happy to read if only I had some space on my reading list.

Anne S: Yes, indeed as regards your responsibility for so many of the books I read! I must say I like your compromise for including books you don’t have time to read. And, thank you so much, Anne, for taking part in the festival and for doing such an interesting interview.

 

About Anne Williams:

I was born in North Wales and will always be a Welsh girl at heart, but have happily made my home in the beautiful Yorkshire market town of Wetherby for the last 20 years. Having spent my working life as a civil servant, I’m now 63 and retired, able to spend my time doing all the things I enjoy most. My first passion will always been reading – and I enjoy spending much of my time doing just that, sharing my love of books on my blog Being Anne. My second passion is travel, usually long haul, and to places where other people might not have been – although that has been more difficult recently when I became primary carer for my 93 year old mum, who has dementia. I enjoy the theatre and cinema, love to attend concerts (mainly classical), and also run a real-life book group for my local U3A.

You can connect with Anne online at the places below:

Blog:  http://beinganne.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beinganne

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Williams13Anne

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: Event 11 – An Interview with Children’s Author Darlene Foster @supermegawoman #VirtBookFest #books #childrensbooks

Hello and welcome to event number eleven in the Virtual Book Festival. Today’s guest is author of children’s books, Darlene Foster, and she’s here to talk to us about her writing and to tell us about  the wonderful novels she writes for eight to twelve year olds.

Welcome Darlene, it’s lovely to have you here today. Let’s start with you telling us why and how  you became a writer.

No one is born a writer. But you can be born a storyteller. I come from a long line of storytellers and have been telling stories out loud or in my head for as long as I can remember. We were encouraged to tell stories as I was growing up on the farm, as we didn’t have a television until I was almost a teenager. My grade three teacher encouraged me to write my stories down and when I was twelve I had a short story published in a local paper. It was called Stretch Your Food Dollar and was about an amusing experience two young girls have while shopping in a department store. Little did I know, all these years later, I would publish books about two girls having adventures and amusing experiences in various countries.

Storytelling is easy for me, getting it down on paper is a lot harder. Even though I have had several books published, I still feel like I am a writer in training. There is always more to learn.

Anne: Indeed – the writing it down is the hard part –and I know what you mean about always learning.

 

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

I write travel adventure books for tweens, ages 8 to 12. I chose this genre as I dreamt of travelling as a child and enjoyed reading about adventures children had like The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. I particularly enjoy writing for this, my favourite age group, as they are bright, inquisitive, eager to learn and fun. They are in the middle, no longer little children but not yet teenagers. There is still that sweet innocence but they are starting to question things and think for themselves. That sense of adventure kicks in at this age and they crave more independence, at the same time they like to feel safe in the familiar. This all changes when they become teenagers.

Anne: Yes, an ideal age group for all the reasons you say.

 

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

I have written and had published seven books in the Amanda Travels series and one bi-lingual book, Cerdito a juicio (English/Spanish)

The Amanda Travels series feature spunky Amanda Ross, a 12-year-old Canadian girl who decides that the only way out of her boring existence is to travel. In Amanda in Arabia – The Perfume Flask, she makes a wish on her birthday for travel and gets an airline ticket to the United Arab Emirates to visit her Aunt the next day. She doesn’t even know where that is and has to look it up on the internet. Once there she meets Leah, an English girl, and before she knows it they are in the middle of an adventure that involves a runaway princess, bounty hunters, camels and a sand storm. She often finds herself wishing she were back home in her boring but safe life once again.

Amanda travels to Spain to join Leah in Amanda in Spain – The Girl in The Painting, where they help a young girl, who looks like a girl in a famous painting, escape the clutches of a mean horse thief. She also visits Leah in Amanda in England – The Missing Novel, where they get lost in a maze, hide in an underground tunnel and ride the London Eye in search of a missing vintage novel. When Leah visits Amanda in Amanda in Alberta – The Writing on the Stone, they take in all the sights while trying to decipher the mysterious writing on a stone and keep it from getting into the wrong hands. No matter where Amanda travels, even in her home province, she can’t seem to stay away from danger. In Amanda on the Danube – The Sounds of Music, Amanda is given a precious violin to look after as she enjoys a cruise down the Danube with Leah. Things aren’t always what they seem and Amanda is not sure who she can trust. Even Leah is acting strange. She goes on a school trip in Amanda in New Mexico-Ghosts in the Wind where some weird things happen that make her wonder if she believes in ghosts or not. Amanda plans to do a lot more travelling.

Anne: Go Amanda! How wonderful that she and your readers get to travel to all these different places. I’d have loved these as a child and I think my granddaughter who will be eight this year would enjoy them too.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

I no longer have a typical writing day. When I was working full-time I would write for two hours every day, in the evening after dinner. I wrote my first four books sticking to this routine. Now that I am retired, I write when I get a chance. Often late at night but sometimes in the morning or mid-afternoon. The only rule I stick to is that I have to write every day. Which I do.

Anne: Yes, I think that’s the key – keep at it – and fit it in whenever you can.

 

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

I am a true panster and create the story as I write. I tried to plot one of my books and it slowed me down and took away the spontaneity I require. I create a mind map with locations but that is about it. The mind map gets changed a lot and becomes very messy. I find this weird, as I am a fastidious planner in other parts of my life, just not in the writing part. I tend to allow my characters to take over. Then I polish the story later.

Anne: Your answer made me smile. I’m exactly the same – I plan the rest of my life assiduously – but when it comes to writing – no way.

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

What comes first for me always is setting. However, my stories are character driven so the characters would come before plot. The plot happens as the characters react to certain things, people, places and events.

Anne: Yes, I can see why that would be the case with Amanda’s adventures. It’s the setting that kickstarts the rest.

 

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

I get my initial ideas when I’m travelling. I will often say to my husband or travelling companions, “I could use that in a story.” Or “Amanda would love that.” I take a lot of notes and pictures. I also get ideas listening to tweens talk. I overheard two twelve-year-olds discussing potential boyfriends and used that idea in Amanda in Holland. I love to hang around young people as they inspire me.

Anne: Again, it’s not surprising that you’re inspired by your travels.

 

Have you got a favourite character – apart from your lead one Amanda who I’m guessing comes top of the list – out of the all the ones you’ve created?

When I wrote Amanda in New Mexico I created a character called Caleb who I just fell in love with. He is a typical Alberta boy from Calgary. I grew up with three brothers (no sisters), have a son and two grandsons who I adore. Caleb is a combination of all of them. He is funny, tries to be brave, cool, smart and polite. He says things you wouldn’t expect him to say. He has a soft spot for Amanda but doesn’t really let on. He was only going to be in one book, but I have given him a big part in book number 8, Amanda in Malta – The Sleeping Lady.

Anne: Caleb sounds lovely.

 

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

I have had some great reviews and feedback but the ones I like best are from the young readers themselves.

Here is a review of Amanda on The Danube from an articulate ten-year-old who lives in Wales.

“I think this book every bit as good as the last – if not better! I think the sense of intrepidation in this book is amazing. I read a lot myself and this was such good quality I am astounded. This is one of my favourite books of all time and that’s saying something!! My favourite scene is on page 5 because that’s where the mystery starts where they find the foot in the storage cupboard and are just about to find out more when a young cruise director called Michael spots them and asks why they are there. My favourite character is either Klaus because his personality changes so quickly from jolly and friendly to dark and sinister. Or it could be Sebastian because his personality changes quickly too. My favourite word in the book was ‘cobblestones’ because it sounds weird when I say it. All in all, this book was a great read and one of the best things about it is that children of all ages would enjoy it, because of its twists and turns and gripping narrative. I really enjoyed this book and I wish I could read more of the series.” Catrin

Here’s one from Quill & Quire

“Foster’s writing is conversational and easy to read, and young readers will likely find the pages flying by.”

And one from Alex Lyttle, author of From Ant to Eagle

“As always, I love the way these books teach kids about new places. Darlene does a great job combining history, cuisine, architecture and in this case, botany, from new countries in a way that children will enjoy. Looking forward to the next of Amanda and Leah’s adventures!”

Anne: Wow! Great feedback and especially lovely to hear from child readers too.

 

Your latest book in the Amanda series came out very recently and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.

It’s called Amanda in Holland-Missing in Action and here’s what it says on the back cover:

Amanda is in Holland to see the tulips with her best friend, Leah. They travel the canals of Amsterdam, visit Anne Frank House, check out windmills, tour a wooden shoe factory, and take many pictures of the amazing flowers of Keukenhof Gardens. But many things are missing in Holland – rare tulip bulbs, a gardener, a home for an abandoned puppy and Amanda’s great-uncle who never returned from World War II. Is Amanda capable of finding these missing things without putting herself in danger? For kids and grown-up kids who enjoy a mystery and adventure set in a delightful country, Amanda’s adventures will make you want to visit Holland.

EXCERPT from Amanda in Holland – Missing in Action

They all piled into the car, Leah in the front, Amanda and Jan in the back with Joey between them.

Amanda enjoyed the scenery as they drove along the highway. “It’s so flat and very green.”

Jan explained how Holland is actually below sea level in many places and dykes were built to keep the water out. “No doubt you have heard the story of the little boy and the dyke?”

“No, I haven’t.” Amanda shook her head. “Tell us.”

“Well,” Jan began, “a long time ago a small boy was on his way to school when he noticed a leak in the dyke. He saw the sea water trickle through the opening and knew that even a small hole could eventually become bigger. If too much water flowed through, the village could be flooded. So, he poked his finger in the hole to stop the water, even though it meant he would be late for school and get into trouble. He stood there with his finger in the hole for a long time until eventually someone saw him and got help. The hole was repaired and the boy became a hero for saving his village.”

“That is such a cool story. Is it true?” asked Amanda.

“It is more like a legend. The story is told to children to show them that even a small child can prevent a disaster if they use their wits. Actually an American author, Mary Mapes Dodge, first wrote about it a hundred and fifty years ago in her book, Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates.”

“That’s so interesting, don’t you think, Leah?”

“Ya, sure.” Leah turned the page of her fashion magazine. “I heard that story when I was a little girl. What do you think of this outfit?” She turned around and held up the page.

Amanda smiled. “That’s very nice. It would look good on you.”

Everyone kept quiet as they passed more farm buildings and neatly tilled fields.

“Turn left,” said the GPS woman.

Mr. Anderson turned the corner and slammed on the brakes. A large angry goose stood in the middle of the road with its wings flapping and neck stretched forward as it honked.

Amanda laughed. “What a silly goose!”

“That’s my grandfather’s goose. He likes to think he is protecting the property,” said Jan.

“You mean he’s like a guard goose.” Amanda grinned.

Jan got out of the car and spoke to the goose in Dutch. The irate bird finally left the road and waddled into the field, his eye still on them.

Leah’s dad rolled down the window. “Thanks, mate. I wasn’t sure how we would get past him. Get back in and we’ll take you to where you need to be.”

Jan climbed back into the car. “You can drop me off over there.” He pointed to a farmyard in the distance.

As they neared the farm, Amanda noticed the rustic house with a sloping roof that looked like a face with a large slouched hat pulled over its eyes. “Is this where your grandparents live?”

“Yes, they have always lived here and so has my great-grandmother. It is her family home,” answered Jan.

The place looked inviting and cozy. Someone pulled aside a lace curtain and peered out the window. Grey eyes met Amanda’s. The curtain dropped.

Darlene: Thanks so much for organizing this virtual book fair and including my Amanda Travels stories.

Anne: It was a pleasure to have you here, Darlene. Thank you so much for taking part.

 

About Darlene Foster:

Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, travelling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places.  Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not travelling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining dog, Dot.

 

You can connect with Darlene at the places below:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DarleneFosterWriter/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/supermegawoman

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/darlene6490/

Website: http://www.darlenefoster.ca/

Blog: https://darlenefoster.wordpress.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3156908.Darlene_Foster

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/DarleneFoster/e/B003XGQPHA/

 

Buy links for Darlene’s books below:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Amanda-Holland-Missing-Action-Travels/dp/1771681713/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amanda-Holland-Missing-Action-Travels/dp/1771681713/

 

https://www.waterstones.com/author/darlene-foster/515148

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/contributor/author/darlene-foster/

https://www.bookdepository.com/author/Darlene-Foster

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/amanda-in-holland-darlene-foster/1130013153?ean=9781771681711

 

 

 

 

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: Spreading the Word and Giving Voice: The Power of a Good Book Festival #VirtBookFest @NayrouzQarmout @valmcdermid @iamkp @edbookfest

The integrity and courage of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I reckoned it might be a good idea for me to do an event of my own here at the Virtual Book Festival. And I also reckoned it would be good to base my post on why I was inspired to organise this festival in the first place. But over and above that I also wanted to highlight a real world book festival that continues to get it right and achieve great book-related things.

Book festivals should be about books

I was prompted to run my own virtual book festival here at Put it in Writing after being very disappointed by the line up at a local book festival this year – a festival that has in the past had an appealing line up of authors, but that now seems to have lost sight of what I see as a book festival’s purpose i.e. to be about books. This local festival had no authors of genre fiction (apart from a couple of children’s authors) on the programme which was made up primarily of television stars, presenters and other celebrities, several of whom hadn’t even written a book.

So I must say I had a bit of trouble getting my head round a book festival that wasn’t mainly about books and didn’t seem to want to attract book readers to attend. Hence my attempt to do better on the blog.

However, I’m happy to say my faith in the book festivals of the real world was restored when I saw the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which will be taking place as usual in August. Yes, it has its fair share of famous names and and literary big-hitters and that’s understandable, but it also (despite some criticism) has genre fiction writers too. It offers writing masterclasses for aspiring writers, and it has smaller events with lesser-known authors too. It even has some events where those attending are asked to pay what they can afford rather than a set ticket price.

In other words it’s about BOOKS, WRITERS and READERS coming together, and it hasn’t lost sight of the fact that books and the power of the written word should be at its heart.

And by way of illustrating this fact I thought I’d recap on an event I attended last year especially as one of the authors from that event is back again this year and I have my ticket for her event already.

2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival Event

Nayrouz Qarmout is a young Palestinian writer from *Gaza. Her original event at last year’s festival had to be cancelled after the UK Home Office refused her the visa she needed in order to attend. After the ensuing outcry a visa was eventually granted and a new event was hastily organised.

It speaks volumes that the new event, although announced only two days before it was due to happen, was a sell out. The aim of the event was to give often otherwise unheard writers a voice and it was chaired by writer, Kamila Shamsie.

Besides Nayrouz Qarmout there were two other female writers taking part.

One was Brazilian philosopher and writer, Djamila Ribereiro, who said that one of her aims as a writer was to normalise not exoticise ‘the other’ and she shared with us how at the airport in Brazil on her way to Edinburgh she was spoken to in English – as it was assumed a black Brazilian woman couldn’t possibly be travelling abroad.

And the other was Hsaio Hung Pai a Taiwanese journalist who works on the Guardian newspaper and has written about the difficulties faced by migrant workers to the UK.

Both of the other writers were impressive but it was Nayrouz who left a lasting impression on me. She told us she was a writer had so far had only one short story about life in the Gaza strip published in a 2014 anthology called the Book of Gaza and that she was working on a book of short stories – The Sea Cloak & Other Stories due to be published in 2019. Yet here she was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

She told us she’d been born in a Syria to Palestinian refugee parents, but then as part of the Oslo Israeli-Palestine Peace Agreement in 1994 her family were sent ‘back’ to Gaza. She hadn’t been allowed to leave since. She spoke of her battle to get to Edinburgh, of the weeks it took to get a passport, then permission to travel, then eventually setting off, crossing into Egypt where she spent a horrendous night before getting to Cairo for her flight to the UK.

Nayrouz spoke with grace, humility and humour. She said she had no intention of seeking asylum – she has had enough of being a refugee. She said she was in Edinburgh to share her story – although this didn’t prove enough of a reason to meet the terms of a UK visitor’s visa. She spoke realistically about Gaza but described it as home. She didn’t get into the challenges posed by Gaza’s fractious and sometimes deadly relationship with Israel other than to highlight the practical difficulties that result for daily life.  She acknowledged the peace movement in Palestine is conflicted with the two religious/political sides of Hamas and Fatah. But she made a point of adding that most people there are, as elsewhere, ordinary people. They’re neither peace activists nor terrorists as they’re so often portrayed in the media. Most people just want to live their lives in a place they call home – as we all do.

It was both a humbling and impressive experience to listen to this writer. I also regard it as a privilege to have been able to there.

2019 Event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

So, I was happy to see that this year Nayrouz Qarmout will be back to speak at a book festival event on 12th August this year. She will be taking part along with fellow writers in a discussion of personal stories relating to the experiences of migrants and refugees – something she also writes about in her new book.

Not only that but the other writers at the event are two  of my favourite authors – Val McDermid and Ali Smith – and they’ll be joined by one of my favourite musicians, Karine Polwart as well. Safe to say, I wasted no time in getting my ticket.

Here’s what it says in the festival programme about the event:

HOME FOR MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES?

‘Hordes’, ‘swarms’ and ‘invasion’ – words used in recent headlines to dehumanise migrants. Guest Selector Val McDermid explores stories of individuals and families who’ve faced the decision to leave their homeland. Nayrouz Qarmout talks of her birth in a Damascus refugee camp and her subsequent move to Gaza; Ali Smith discusses those she encountered in her work on the Refugee Tales project; and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart shares some of her powerful, deeply-felt music and ideas about the migrant experience.

 (Click here to go to the event page on Edinburgh Book Festival website).

THANK YOU!

So, thank you Edinburgh International Book Festival – for having the integrity and the courage to go for an event like this, for keeping the power of the written word and of books at the heart of what you do and for bringing writers like Nayrouz Qarmout to the attention of your book-loving audience.

 

More about Nayrouz and her writing from her publisher, Comma Press’s, website:

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian writer and activist. Born in Damascus in 1984, as a Palestinian refugee, she returned to the Gaza Strip, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, where she now lives. She graduated from al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in Economics. She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising awareness of gender issues and promoting the political and economic role of women in policy and law, as well as the defence of women from abuse, and highlighting the role of women’s issues in the media. Her political, social and literary articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and online. She has also written screenplays for several short films dealing with women’s rights. She is a social activist and a member of several youth initiatives, campaigning for social change in Palestine.

PUBLICATIONS BY NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Sea Cloak – To be published on 22 August 2019 

A collection of stories from an exciting female Palestinian writer, translated from Arabic into English for the first time. The Sea Cloak is a collection of 14 stories by the author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner, Nayrouz Qarmout. Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today.

Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East. Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

 

ANTHOLOGY FEATURING NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Book of Gaza

This anthology brings together some of the pioneers of the Gazan short story from that era, as well as younger exponents of the form, with ten stories that offer glimpses of life in the Strip that go beyond the global media headlines.

 

*Gaza is a self-governing territory of the Palestinian state. It is bordered by Egypt and Israel and life there is far from easy and has many restrictions. To find out more see Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Strip

 

And Finally:

Do you agree that book festivals should be about books, readers and writers? Which book festivals do you enjoy and why? Please feel free to leave comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Anne: A film! Wow! How exciting!

BOOK EXTRACT

EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY by Linda Gillard

Back cover blurb

Rose Leonard is on the run from her life.

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

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

 PROLOGUE

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

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

Trees talk back.

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t mad.

At least, not then.

 

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

Buy the ebook here

Buy the paperback (Amazon UK) here

and (Amazon US) here

About Linda:

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

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

Follow Linda on Facebook

Linda’s website is here.

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

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

Interview with Linda Hill:

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

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

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

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

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

How do you find/choose what to review?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About Linda:

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

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

Online Links:

Linda has a Facebook page for her reviews here

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

and her website is here