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

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

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

Stories and the Art of Living by Trish Nicholson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the backcover:

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

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

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

Intro to extract from Trish:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

About Trish

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

Link to website here:

Link to Trish on Twitter: @TrishaNicholson

 

 

.

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

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

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

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

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

Anne: Yes, amazing – but well deserved too.

How do you find/choose what to review?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Joanne’s social media links

Blog address – here

Twitterhere

Instagramhere

Facebookhere

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about a typical writing day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne: Great answer!

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

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

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

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

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

Have you had feedback from readers? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anne: Indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

Anne: A magpie is a perfect description 🙂

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

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

If I may, I’m going to pick two.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Smash all the Windowsfrom the back cover

It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

‘An all-round triumph.’ John Hudspith

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

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

If only it were that simple.

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

Extract (From Chapter Two)

“Champagne?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘New shoes, sis?’

‘Clarks – but don’t tell anyone.’

‘The shame!’

‘I know.’

‘Remember how we –?’

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

(Click here for buy links for the above book)

 

About Jane:

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Also by Jane Davis

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

A Funeral for an Owl

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

 

Contact and Social Media links:

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

Press enquiries janerossdale@btinternet.com

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

 

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

Do You Judge a Book by its Cover?

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

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

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

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

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

Anne: Wow! That’s a lot of books.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do like best about your job as a designer?

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

Anne: It certainly sounds like you love your job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six of Jane’s Cover Designs

 

You can find Jane online at the links below:

Design Website  

Author Website

Facebook Design

Facebook Author

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

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