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Inspirations for 2021: Malve von Hassell and the trobairitz

Another inspiring extract for you: meet Malve von Hassell!

About Malve

Malve was born in Italy and spent part of her childhood in Belgium and Germany before moving to the United States. She is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator, with a Ph.D. in anthropology .

Malve’s first historical fiction novel, The Falconer’s Apprentice , is for young adults. She has also published Alina: A Song for the Telling , set in Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades.

Author Malve von Hassell

Author Malve von Hassell

Malve’s forthcoming book, The Amber Crane (to be published by the fabulous Odyssey Books this year),  is set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. Currently, she is working on a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany.

Today she is sharing an extract from her novel Alina, and explaining how history inspired the story.

Malve’s Inspiration: the trobairitz

Malve: When writing my historical fiction novel, I wanted to incorporate and give voice to the trobairitz, the women singer-songwriters of the 12th century. My protagonist Alina is a young woman who aspires to become a trobairitz.

Who were the trobairitz?

Trobairitz are female troubadors. In the early 12th century, the troubadour school or tradition originated in a region of southern France as well as parts of Italy and Spain known as Occitania. The art of the troubadours declined and eventually died out by the middle of the 13th century. Trobairitz came from that same tradition.

Why did most of the known trobairitz emerge from the Provence and other areas in southern France?

The social-economic factors defining the lives of ordinary women in that part of the world reduced their choices. Other than marriage and childbearing, few alternative paths were available to women in the 12th century. Women from the upper classes had the same restrictions, unless they chose the church. In rare instances, women made names for themselves as writers or healers, or managed to carve out positions of political power at various courts.

In southern France, compared to other regions in Europe, women had more control over land ownership. That meant women had access to sources of power. This was perhaps reinforced by the fact that during the Crusades, many men were away, leaving their wives to administer their estates.

The trobairitz moved far beyond the traditions of the troubadours. Like the troubadours, they often sang about courtly love. However, trobairitz had a much sharper, more grounded, and even mocking tone. Their lyrics were often more sincere, direct, and passionate than that of troubadours. They wrote about political and social inequality and questioned the prevailing mores of the times that silenced women and relegated them to the realms of motherhood.

For the first time in European history, women could claim authorship of their lyrics and compositions. All known female composers who preceded them wrote sacred music, with their works published under the names of men for their music to have any chance of being distributed and played.

Alina: a Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Alina: a Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

 

Excerpt from

Alina: a Song for the Telling

Chapter 8 Wind in the Desert

Sand had gotten into everything I owned. I gave up trying to shake it out and resigned myself to being covered with a layer of dust until we arrived in Jerusalem. My hair was even more disheveled than usual, and I could taste the salty sweat on my cracked lips. My eyes burned from the hot glare of the day. I was tired.

And I was happy.

It was as if I was drunk on the colors of the desert, the silence, the vastness, and the impersonal harshness, drunk on traveling and on being far away from home. With one ear I tried to catch the sounds of the men talking. Occasionally I could make out Count Stephen’s voice.

“Let’s play some music.”

Startled out of my reverie, I glanced around. Milos had walked over and crouched on the sand next to me. He helped himself to a date. “How about it?”

I hesitated. During the journey from France, it had seemed a natural thing to do in the evenings, but now with Count Raymond, Count Stephen, and other older knights, I felt uncomfortable. I hardly needed to draw more attention to myself.

“Come on, Alina. This might be the last chance we’ll have for a while.”

Reluctantly I took my lute out of its wrappings. “What would you like to sing?”

“How about Can vei la lauzeta?” Milos asked.

For a moment I yearned for home. Right now the hills would be covered with wild thyme.

I began to play a few chords, and then Milos began to sing, softly at first. Heads turned, and a few of the knights wandered over to listen to us.

Behold the lark

Dancing

In the sun’s rays and

Swooping into the depths, borne down by the delight in its heart.

It makes me yearn to be one with all who have tasted happiness.

After the first few lines, I forgot my discomfort. Milos and I had done together this so often that we didn’t even need to look at each other for cues about when to increase or lower the volume or when to slow down or to pause. For Milos, it was just one of many facets of his being. He liked to perform, but he had never hounded our father to teach him new songs.

For me, it was so much more—not just a joy, but something vital in a way I couldn’t explain. Maybe in part it was because I could control it when I couldn’t control anything else. Perhaps it had been like that for our father as well. Of course he was a man, and nobody could force him into a marriage or tell him how to act. So maybe it wasn’t the same. Anyway, for me it was more than that.

When Milos finished, the last drawn-out note echoing through the still evening air, I made a sign to him and whispered, “Now it’s my turn. I’ll sing Ar em al freg temps vengut.

Milos shook his head. “But that’s about winter, and it’s too long,” he whispered.

“We’ll do just a few verses,” I said stubbornly. All afternoon I had watched the shifting light transform the desert into a glowing purple void, the silvery green leaves of the scrubby desert brush the only signposts reminding us of the ground beneath our feet. I had kept thinking of the right music to convey all this splendor. Finally, I remembered the song my father taught me by the trobairitz Azalais de Porcairagues. Gently I strummed the strings and began.

Winter is upon us, and time stands still,

Trapped in ice and snow and mud.

All birds have fallen silent

(for none wants to raise her voice in song).

Milos picked up his flute and followed my voice. The melody was sparse and severe, a song of immeasurable sorrow, glorying in desolation. It was as if one could hear the high-pitched whistling and groaning sounds from a frozen lake, echoing across the ice.

Now, with the heat of the day drifting away into the darkness, the flute’s plaintive notes evoked the wind sweeping over the sands. I kept my eyes on Milos as I sang. A hint of sadness in his eyes reminded me of our father and his lost, hungry expression at the end.

When we drew to a close, Milos lowered his flute, but I didn’t want to stop yet.

I concluded with one of my father’s pieces. Eerily, he had composed it a year before my mother died. It was about a dreamer who walks through a misty valley, blind to the flowers at his feet, in search of his love. He walks and weeps and does not hear the birds all around him. Faster and faster he rushes through the woods. His steps lead him to the brink of a ravine. He never falters as he steps into the void. I didn’t sing the lyrics, instead just picked out the chords of the simple melody.

A last dark note and I placed my fingers on the strings to still them. When I raised my head, I looked directly into the face of Count Stephen. He had moved quietly to join the others listening to us. The fire lit up his features—plain, with a jutting nose and a wide mouth slightly off-center, a broad forehead, and grey eyes under thick brows. Courteously he inclined his head toward me and smiled. It transformed his face.

I realized that I was staring at him, and felt myself go red, hoping he could not see this in the dark.

“Thank you, Mistress Alina. I hope we will hear you perform again.” Then he turned and walked away.

The next day we arrived in Jerusalem.

***

Goodness! Now I want to read on. I hope you do too. Here are some useful links to help you do that. Many thanks to Malve for sharing this with us. Until next week!

 

Malve’s LINKS

https://www.malvevonhassell.com

https://www.amazon.com/Alina-Telling-Malve-von-Hassell/dp/1643971042

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alina-malve-von-hassell/1137197559?ean=9781643971049

 

Running out of time on a fragile planet: Rod Taylor

The fragile state of our planet prompted author Rod Taylor to collect stories about the impact of climate change in his book Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet. I asked Rod what inspired him to start writing.

Rod Taylor – inspired by nature

Rod: In late 2016 I was an IT consultant, not a bad job, paid well. By night I was a science columnist for Fairfax and doing radio, occasionally for the ABC.


So while things were pretty good for me personally, I was becoming increasingly concerned about the future of humanity. My scientist friends were telling me ever more alarming news about the state of the planet. Things are looking really grim and we’re running out of time.

Author Rod Taylor

Author Rod Taylor


Then Trump got elected, which is a pretty clear message that a lot of people have no idea of how serious our situation is, often viewing it as a green-left socialist conspiracy to attack our freedom.
What to do? I am by nature a problem solver and it was clear to me that the only way forward is people. People are the solution.


While I am by nature optimistic, this is profoundly gloomy. I can’t live with that, so I decided to write a book.

This book would tell the stories of people who inspire me and, I hope, the reader.

We have a maggot farmer, a politician, a physicist and a guitar-playing part Maori. According to the title, the book charts ten journeys, but really it’s eleven because it’s partly mine too, as I navigated this path.

Thanks Rod.

Rod’s book features contributions from:

The Activist: Simon Sheikh
The Solar Pioneer: Professor Andrew Blakers
The Maggot Farmer: Olympia Yarger
The Accidental Activist: Charlie Prell
The Thoughtful Salesman: Leonard Cohen
The Politician: Susan Jeanes
The Climate Game Changer: Inez Harker-Schuch
The Advocate: Professor Kate Auty
The Lady with a Laser: Monica Oliphant
A Question of Hope: Dr Siwan Lovett

 

Here’s an extract from the book. Thank you so much Rod for sharing this with us.

 

The Activist: Simon Sheikh

Extract from Ten Journeys on a Fragile Planet by Rod Taylor

 

Outside it was beautiful and sunny, but it was a bleak day. Donald

Trump had just delivered his inauguration address and already

he was attacking climate science. The world had just broken

temperature records for the third year running, while then Prime

Minister Turnbull was blaming renewable energy for blackouts in

South Australia. All this was just as the nation was about to record

mean temperatures for the month (0.77°C above average) and

eastern Australia would be hit by a run of heatwaves.

 

After reading all this grim news I met Simon Sheikh, but he

was cheerful, friendly and upbeat. We were about to record a live

interview, but it was he who started asking me questions. How long

had I done radio? How did I start writing for the newspaper? What

were my plans for Fragile Planet? I could see he’s a good operator

because of his genuine interest in other people and it was hard not

to be carried along by his enthusiasm. It gave me a glimpse of how

he’s been able to stir people out of their complacency to get them

active with groups such as GetUp.

 

Like anyone I don’t mind talking about myself, but we were

about to go on-air and I needed to get ready, so after a few minutes

I had to cut in, “Hey, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.”

Transcribing the interview later, I was struck by his use of

language, which was peppered with words like “passionate” and

“enthusiastic”. I made a note to learn about how a person could stay

hopeful in the face of relentless bad news.

Simon’s father was born in India and spent time in Pakistan.

 

Somewhere in his heritage is Saudi Arabian, which is where he gets

his surname. On arriving in Australia, his father quickly detached

himself from his ethnic background and assimilated. He’s even

largely forgotten his native Urdu. Sheikh, who was born in Sydney,

says he doesn’t think too much about this, but sometimes wishes

he knew more about his mixed background. He thinks of himself

as Australian and was surprised one day when his wife Anna Rose

told him most people don’t think of him as a “white Australian”.

 

Simon is tallish with soft features and breaks into an easy smile.

His Indian heritage is visible but not dominant. If you meet him on

the street, you’ll see he’s obviously not “full blood white”, but with

the ethnic mix in Australia, it’s hardly noticeable. What stands out

more is his surname, which, with his public profile, has made him

a target for online racist attacks. Even in a multicultural, relatively

progressive nation, some of these forces are just below the surface.

Still, he’s prosaic and shrugs it off. “That’s the nature of modern-day

engagement on things like social media.”

 

His sister Belinda died before he was born and his mother had a

bout of encephalitis when she was much younger. Later she suffered

mental health issues, which left Simon’s father the job of looking

after him. Sheikh describes those times in a Sydney Morning Herald

article. His mother’s mental health worsened during her pregnancy,

and by the time he was born, Simon’s parents were living apart.

His mother was becoming increasingly delusional with psychotic

episodes.

 

Simon had to deal with his mother’s instability such as the

day she set fire to the kitchen while cooking chips. It wasn’t made

easier living in the inner-Sydney neighbourhood. Enmore was a

rough neighbourhood back then and drug and alcohol abuse was

common. It was an unsettling start to life as he recalls, “I’d often hear

huge fights as I lay awake at night. I remember being scared a lot.”

“I slept with an axe next to my bed after being threatened for

not paying enough protection money to a local gang.”

 

When Simon was 10 or 11, his father had a major heart attack

leading to a quintuple bypass. Now the young Sheikh found himself

caring for his father as well as his mother. He says his father “really

didn’t recover full strength for quite some time” and at various

times both parents were dependent on welfare.

For Simon, it was a formative moment that could have gone

either way. In an ABC interview, he told Richard Aedy:

 

[His father] would come back from work, in those years that

he was working, cook dinner, ensure that I was studying, and

then go back home again. Every single day. And that put in

place for me a regimen that was very helpful in keeping me

grounded and particularly in keeping me away from a lot of

the troublemakers that I grew up around.

I had a year or two there where things could have gone

wrong.

 

By Year 7, Simon was showing glimpses of his future life and the

energy that would propel him into national prominence. Already

he had an emerging political awareness and a sense of social justice.

His first rally was against the rise of Pauline Hanson. It was, he says,

something he did with encouragement. “I was lucky in high school

to have teachers help propel that along.”

 

Simon’s impressions from the “fairly poor” community of his

childhood have stayed with him. “I got to see a few challenges faced

by the people around me.” There were sole-parent families and most

parents didn’t manage the finances very well. There were high levels

of drug and gambling addiction. His parents had other problems,

but he’s grateful for the strong grounding they gave him. “I owe a

lot to my dad,” he says.

 

After a day at school, he would go off to private tuition, which

was something few other parents could manage. Today he can

see that it was the commitment of his parents and their focus on

education that got him into university. “They were always putting

every dollar they could into education,” he recalls. “Growing up

the way I did meant I learned to be self-sufficient and to navigate

systems to achieve the best outcomes.”

 

LINKS:

Website: https://tenjourneys.blogspot.com/2020/04/ten-journeys-on-fragile-planetcoming.html

A Circus Load of Inspiration

The Last Circus on Earth leapt out of my reading pile last year and filled me with that rarest commodity of 2020: delight. You can see my review here.

Today author Ben Marshall is treating us to his take on inspiration, and a Fabulous Extract from the novel.

I know you’re going to enjoy this!

Welcome to the blog, Ben. Can you tell us what most inspires you?:

Ben: Connections inspire me. Between people, nature and ideas.

Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania

Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania

Science, art and gardening are three great ways to connect.

Also pubs.

I guess pubs are actually places of connection, so I see a theme.

Now for our special treat: an extract from The Last Circus on Earth. The story is told by Blanco, a surprisingly likeable killer … Yes, I know! But I truly do love him 🙂

 

In Blanco’s Words:

Strombo smiled at the Gaffer; a nasty smile what promised nothing but bad stuff for Sparrow. ‘I’ll give her a test run, eh?’
Which is when I lost it.

Later on, Madam Tracey explained to me I got what the head doctors call ‘impulse control problems’. But when she said it, there was a hint of a smile in her voice, like she approved but couldn’t let herself show it. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I done was stupid, but that’s what comes of no sleep, no food, murdering people, dealing with psychopaths, and having the girl you like kiss you.

Strombo didn’t know what hit him. Me—with a punch that had my heart and soul in it. For a big bloke he stayed upright what seemed like a long time. But his eyes were glazed over and all of us could see he wasn’t with us no more. Like a big tree chopped at the base, he slowly toppled, and everyone jumped out of the way because Strombo’s big enough to kill you even when he’s unconscious. Time sped up again as the Gaffer turned, knuckle-duster in place, and threw a feint with his right before launching the metal with his left. Normally, I’d let him graze me, then roll myself up for the beating. But this time I was angry in a way I never been before, and I let my reflexes do their thing. I sidestepped, drove a fist into his solar plexus, brought me shoulder up into his chin and finished him off with a Glasgow kiss.

Madam Tracey’s jaw dropped, the Professoré’s eyebrows went up and stayed up, and Mala and Milosh looked impressed—and like they were ready to finish me off if it came to it.

As the Gaffer hit the deck, I dropped my fists, opened up my stance and looked into Milosh’s eyes. ‘If anyone ever looked the wrong way at Mala, would you do any different?’
In the split second it would’ve taken him to bury a blade in me, he didn’t. Milosh don’t hesitate when there’s trouble—he’s in there and it’s all over. This time he just shook his head. ‘You just make bad trouble.’
I shrugged and walked away. ‘Trouble’s me middle bleedin’ name.’

I finished my prep and sat with the rest of the freaks, waiting for the axe to fall. We all agreed I’d basically given myself two choices—do a runner, or stay and be killed. If I stayed, the Gaffer would put me in the circle with Strombo for a straight-up bare-knuckle fight. Then it’d be on until someone—me—got beaten into a coma.
There’s a code, see. You do a colleague an injury like what I did to Strombo and the Gaffer, and there’s consequences. It’s like an old-fashioned duel except you’re tied together, and instead of a neat bullet hole I’d have Strombo’s ham-like fists tenderising my skinny body into sausage meat.
I cuddled Daisy, letting her lick the cold sweat off my face, and considered my fate. Baba Yaga brought me a concoction she said would clear my mind, which it didn’t, but Moineau—Sparrow—come in all done up for her Nightingale act looking right serious.
‘Madam Tracey tells me what you just done.’
I shrugged, brain jammed with misery and fear—not for me but her. ‘You need to run, Sparrow. Tonight. Now.’
‘Madam Tracey said otherwise.’
‘You’re not safe here.’
‘Nor you, you big pillock. Always looking after other geezers, you are. Which proves you is a diamond geezer and worth likin’. A lot.’
I kept looking away, stroking Daisy, who was cheerfully chewing my thumb. I couldn’t answer Sparrow because she made my head spin.
She kneeled and looked up into my dial. ‘You been protecting me. Now it’s time I helped you.’
‘You can’t, Sparrow. I’m done for. If not this time, the next.’
‘Listen—I been stuck inside this head of mine watching and listening. And what I don’t know about the people in this circus in’t worth knowing. I also know you in’t just strong in here.’ She thumped my chest. ‘You is smart up here.’ She tapped the side of my head. ‘And people likes you—even if you is a misery sometimes—because you care. It’s inside of you to look after other people. You can’t help it. So maybe it’s time to see Splinter again—get him to sort things for you, so we can start working on a new Steering Committee.’
I looked up, startled, and the freaks, all listening intently, looked to each other. They were shocked by what she said, but not so shocked they were shutting her down. Baba, Erik and Methuselah nodded first, then Elasto, Lobby and Dislocato followed suit.
‘You’re all madder than me,’ I said. ‘You’d be cutting your own throats going against them lot.’
Methuselah cleared his throat. ‘Splinter is mortal and will, or so you tell us, die sooner rather than later. The Gaffer will then become a power greater than he already is, but without Splinter to check his excesses.’
Baba Yaga nodded. ‘The Gaffer rules by fear. I don’t like.’
‘He’s already in the top job, if you ask me,’ I argued. ‘He does Splinter’s evil will, so he might be a better Gaffer when Splinter’s dead.’
Sparrow snorted. ‘Either way, you won’t be around to see it if you don’t sort this beef you got with him and Strombo. You need to talk to Mister Splinter.’
I shook my head. ‘Nothing short of a gun in me back could make me go in there and face him again.’

A minute later, there I am, standing on the steps of Splinter’s caravan, Sparrow prodding me in the back. ‘Go on, Blanco. What’s the worst thing what can happen?’

***

Isn’t that marvellous? Whatever is happening, the wry, sassy voice of Blanco makes me smile.

Thank you so much Ben for sharing.

The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall

The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall

Now here are some links that you’ll love to follow up

benmarshallwriter.com
http://briobooks.com.au/booklist/lastcircus
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54584809-the-last-circus-on-earth

Patricia Leslie

Patricia Leslie blends history, magic, and fantasy in novels that explore hidden and untold stories. Today she gives us some insight into her sources of inspiration.

THEN enjoy an extract from Patricia’s Novel Keeper of the Way, Book #1 of the Crossing the Line series.

Inspirations

Tell us what you find inspiring!

Patricia: Art and poetry are the touchstones of my general inspiration especially the creators of those artworks and poems that resonate deep within. They inspire me to learn and understand more about the wellspring of creativity in a person’s soul.

The outpourings from these springs often seem at odds with the nature or the behaviour of the people that contain them. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh, a man seen as misunderstood, is often quoted as a source of personal wisdom. He was a deeply troubled man with mental and physical health issues that coloured his interaction with the world, and the people, around him.

How do we reconcile Van Gogh’s work with his illnesses and his consequent behaviour? He was not a particularly nice person to be around and his health probably exacerbated that. But would we now have the art he gave us, if not for the troubles that plagued him?

The interplay between the within and without of personality is a bottomless pool of eddies and currents that play beneath the surface. Whether the surface is pleasant or unpleasant, what lurks beneath is the inspiration of many a story.

I use this sort of inspiration for the character of Clement Benedict in my series Crossing the Line and have been delving into the paradox of evil and good, and how we recognise and respond to ever-changing shifts in the people that influence our journey through life.

Patricia Leslie Author

Patricia Leslie Author

Interpretation of history is also a constant source of inspiration and one I use as the base theme in Crossing the Line in regard to those early cultures and practices often labelled as witchcraft by opposing forces through ignorance or deliberate manipulation and oppression. It seems that any practice (in any culture) not within the realm of their understanding and belief is labelled observed by outsiders as “witchcraft”. Is there actually any such thing as “witches” – especially those women vilified and murdered as such?

The magic, spells and symbols throughout the Crossing the Line series is influenced by early Scottish and Irish traditions. While set in Australia, it’s during a time when emigration from Scotland and Ireland was high and the ties to home countries and family were strong. I’ve explored the strength of those ties and the tradition of wise women and healers that came out of centuries old belief systems, and looked at them through a more female-centric lens.

 

Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

Keeper of the Way by Patricia Leslie

Extract from

Keeper of the Way

Patricia says:

I’ve chosen this extract as an early indication of the quixotic nature of Clement Benedict’s. Externally, he appears urbane and something of a dandy (when not in disguise) while internally he is a ball of conflicting thoughts and feelings. His relationship with his father is at the centre of his changing emotions and always carefully hidden behind the mask he presents to the world.

***

Lord Algernon Benedict’s word was both law and compulsion, the binding that kept his son close and, for the most part, biddable. Clement wasn’t sure whether he hated the old man or loved him. He knew though that he, and only he, had the man’s trust and that behind the stiff collars and trimmed moustache, the permanently frowned forehead and florid cheeks, his father was proud of him.

And so, Clement perched in a low branch of a tree. With his coarse woollen trousers and heavy cotton shirt and vest, worn boots and ex-navy cap, he had the appearance of one of the street cleaners, and should any curious soul wonder at his lurking presence in the garden, they would assume he was shirking his duties. A crew of cleaners were hard at work not far off, scrubbing shit and mud and dust from the wooden road. What was one more, albeit not quite as hardworking as the others?

Music stuttered out from the exhibition building behind him. He thought he might attend the evening concert if all went well. He’d miss the first half, of course, but the program was to be repeated and he was sure to fit it in before more nocturnal chores later in the week. The colonial band of musicians warming up for the night’s festivities struck a nice balance between the higher style he was used to and the working class jigs he’d taken a liking to on board the ship out here. A carriage rolled past, a couple of soused men fell out of the hotel across the road, and a straggle of people walked down the path. He ignored the distraction of the music and concentrated on the hotel and the people. He’d sipped a rather fine whisky in the main bar earlier in the evening; his father’s interest in the hotel proprietor had necessitated a reconnoitre of the premises. The woman in charge watched over her customers something like a mother hen, or hawk, he hadn’t decided which. She didn’t appear to be much of an adversary, but the effect she had on the crowd of drinkers couldn’t be mistaken. Raised voices softened when her gaze raked that section of the room; rough bantering edged toward gentlemanly conversation as she walked by. No, she didn’t look much of an adversary at all. They were the most dangerous kind.

Clement’s task tonight, simply to watch and remember, was already growing tedious, but it was one he was particularly good at. He had never forgotten a face, a voice, or a name.

He pulled his pipe and tobacco from his vest pocket, tucked the bit on the end of the aged wooden shank between his lips, and held it in place with his teeth so he had two hands free to pull out a small wad of leaf from the pouch and drop it in to the bowl. He pulled the strings of the pouch tight to close it and replaced it in his pocket. Hands free again he took the pipe, tapped down the tobacco with the tip of his finger, retrieved a packet of safety matches from another pocket, and prepared to light up. The process helped his concentration, and as the match flamed he paused before waving it gently in a circular motion over the tobacco. He breathed in the acrid smoke and let his focus go to the people walking down the incline toward him. They would pass by within feet of his position in the tree, but they were too full of themselves and the night ahead to notice him. Their chatter drowned out the soft draw and gurgle of the pipe as he coaxed it into warmth. He judged time by the life of the pipe. Each life took approximately twenty minutes. He allowed a similar length of time between lightings. By the end of the night, his mouth would be dry and bitter, and his lungs would ache. The next morning his chest would be thick with the need to cough out the poisoned air of the night before. But right here, at the start of the first pipe, he relaxed and enjoyed the taste and smell of the tobacco.

The chattering group passed by. Dusk was fast becoming true night. Lights in the hotel blazed like beacons as men going in to drink and out to wobble home ebbed and flowed like the tide. Clement narrowed his eyes and avoided the bright light to direct his gaze on the dull streetlights dotting the footpath. A lanky teen and young woman had rounded the corner on the opposite side of the street. They were ordinary in the extreme, nearly as chatty as everyone else out and about, until they drew level to the tree where Clement hid, and then silence fell over them. They darted fearful glances into the gardens; the woman appeared to look straight at him, and quickened their step as if they sensed danger.

The woman couldn’t have been much older than the teen and it was clear that she must be his sister, though her hair was a dark frame around her pale face while the boy’s hair was a sandy untidy mess beneath his cloth cap. The light was too dim to see the colour of their eyes, but the intensity with which they searched the trees was unmistakable. Clement held his breath and cupped one hand over the bowl of his pipe to hide the tell-tale glow of the burning tobacco. The smell would hardly be discernible over the stinging aroma that trailed behind the street cleaners. The boy put an arm around his sister and they hurried past the hotel, ignoring the drinkers and the noise, and sending furtive looks in his direction until they reached the corner of a dark lane. They turned in and disappeared between the buildings.

The buzz of excitement washed over Clement as he drew a deep breath and felt the warmth of the burning tobacco on his face. He’d seen who he needed to see.

***

Wow! Now that’s wonderful. Need to read the rest now?

Patricia’s Links:

Website: https://www.patricialeslie.net

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

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

 

Let’s start with Murder on the Menu: Fiona Leitch

We all need a bit of a lift for 2021. Times are tricky. This year, my weekly blog foregrounds INSPIRATION. Every author also gives you a FREE sample of their work!

Inspirational words plus free reading: get it here every Friday.

That’s my plan for you in 2021.

Author Fiona Leitch

Author Fiona Leitch

First up is the wonderful Fiona Leitch  , novelist and screenwriter. Fiona’s new novel, the cosy mystery Murder on the Menu, has just been released in ebook and will be available in paperback in April. See all Fiona’s books here.

I asked Fiona about her inspiration. 

Fiona says: I love a good murder mystery, but I’m a bit of a wuss; I don’t like anything too graphic. On the other hand, I don’t like anything too twee either. I enjoy TV programmes like ‘Midsummer Murders’ and ‘Death in Paradise’, and they inspired me to create something similar with my new cozy mystery series, the Nosey Parker Mysteries.

I’m also inspired by location. My previous books have been set in Venice (my favourite place in the entire world), Paris and Berlin, so I thought I would set this series in my OTHER favourite place, Cornwall. I lived in St Ives for a couple of years, and my mum and sister still live in the West Country, so it’s a place I know and love well. Although my protagonist Jodie lives in a made-up town, Penstowan, it’s based on two real life places: Holsworthy, right on the Devon/Cornwall border, and Bude, a seaside town on the North Cornwall coast. It’s a beautiful part of the world, loved by holidaymakers, but it’s not always an easy place to live. There’s not much work out of the summer season, and it’s very cut off from the rest of the country, with just one road in and out. I have sat on the A303 for more hours of my life than I care to count!

Crooklets Beach Cornwall

Crooklets Beach near Bude in Cornwall

I’m inspired by strong women, too. There are so many women out there, juggling careers and businesses with childcare (and increasingly, caring for elderly parents), while still managing to have a social life and maybe even a bit of romance. Jodie (the protagonist of the Nosey Parker mysteries) is a single mum, an ex-copper turned caterer; so not only is she a dab hand at solving murders, she can whip up a smashing Victoria sponge while helping her daughter with her maths homework AND encouraging/fending off attractive men all at the same time. Jodie is warm, funny, flawed and ultimately loveable, like so many of the amazing women I know.

Thanks Fiona!

Now here’s your gift sample of Fiona’s writing. Enjoy!        

 

EXCERPT FROM MURDER ON THE MENU :

Tony stood by the top table, where yesterday he should have been toasting his new wife and being embarrassed by his best man’s speech. Instead, he was holding the middle tier of the beautifully iced wedding cake. I didn’t need to ask where the top tiers were; they were on the floor, dropped and then trampled on, absolutely destroyed. His face was flushed with anger as he raised the cake above his head.

            “Tony!” I cried. He stopped for a moment and looked at me, but it was as if he didn’t recognise me. “Tony, calm down. Don’t take it out on the cake! Or the hotel carpet.” It was a right bugger getting fondant icing and marzipan out of a deep pile carpet – I’d learnt that the hard way after one of Daisy’s early birthday parties. Half a mermaid had ended up ground into the Axminster when a game of Pass The Parcel had turned bad.

            “What’s the point?” he said. He shifted the cake – which was a big hefty fruit cake, going by what was on the carpet – and looked at the delicate purple sugar paste flowers that decorated it. “Do you know how much this cake cost? Two grand. Two grand on a bloody cake.” He lifted it over his head and threw it as hard as he could across the room, where it hit a sideboard covered in glasses. I heard something smash.

            “Tony, mate – ” Callum held his hands out in a placatory gesture, but Tony just glared at him.

            “Callum, mate, did you know? I bet everybody knew.” He reached out and pulled a chunk of cake off the next layer, and I couldn’t help but look at it, rich with mixed fruit, and think, damn that looks like a good cake.

            “Know what?” Callum genuinely didn’t seem to know what Tony was talking about.

            “I bet everyone knew but me,” said Tony, smearing the cake between his fingers and then studying them. He was losing the plot. “I bet even Nosey knew about it.”

            “Tony – ” I started, watching as he began to pick lumps of cake up and throw them at the glasses stacked up on the sideboard, like a petulant child at a coconut shy.

            “You knew she was a wrong ‘un, didn’t you?” He threw a lump, but his aim was off. “You didn’t like her. No one liked her except me.” He threw another, hard. It hit a glass, knocking it on the floor where it shattered into tiny pieces. He did a mini fist pump and picked up another piece of cake.

            Bloom trotted into the room and stopped, aghast at the devastation before him.

            “Mr Penhaligon!” he spluttered, as Tony turned to him holding the baked projectile. I stood in front of him, my arms spread out wide to protect the hotel manager.    

            “Tony, stop it now!” I said.

            “Or what? You’ll arrest me?” he said sarcastically.

            “She won’t but I will,” said a voice behind me. DCI Withers. Damn.

            Tony shrugged and lobbed the fruit cake in his direction, but I darted forward and caught it, staggering slightly under the force behind it. Two uniformed officers appeared from behind Withers and ran at Tony before he had a chance to reload with cake, so he just picked up what remained of the tier, smashing it onto the carpet before they grabbed his arms and pinned him down on the table. I ran over to them, closely followed by Withers who reached out to pull me out of the way.

            “Oh come on, there’s no need for that,” I said, as one of them began to cuff him. Tony struggled and swore and somehow managed to wriggle one hand free before the cuff went on, flinging his arm out and accidentally smacking Withers in the perfectly formed nose. Despite the fact that the situation was rapidly going pear-shaped I felt dangerous laughter rising. The whole scene must look so ludicrous, and Withers getting slapped was the icing – I nearly choked – on the cake.

            “Anthony Penhaligon, I’m arresting you for breach of the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer,” began Withers, although what with him holding onto his wounded nose it sounded more like ‘Andony Pendalion’. If the situation hadn’t been so serious I really would have laughed.

            “Come on – it was an accident!” I said, getting in Withers’ face. “Caused by you sending the boys in when we could’ve talked him down.”

            “Get out of my way, Ms Parker, before I arrest you as well for obstruction.” Withers did not look like a happy bunny; I think he felt a bit daft clutching his nose, which had just started bleeding.

            Tony had finally calmed down, only now of course it was too late.

            “I’m sorry,” he said, looking like he was going to cry again, “I didn’t mean to – I just don’t know what’s going on – ” He looked lost, and I felt my heart break for him. “Jodie – I’m sorry, don’t let them – ”

            But I couldn’t stop them. With one last glare at me, Withers and his two officers marched Tony out of the room, out of the hotel, and into a waiting police car.

***

Wow! I can’t wait to read more. What fun!

Thanks to Fiona Leitch for being first cab of the rank in Last Word of the Week 2021.

 

Fiona’s LINKS:

mybook.to/MurderMenu

https://www.fionaleitch.com

https://www.instagram.com/leitchfiona/

 

Inspire me in 2021

After the roller coaster that was 2020, it’s time for a change.

Welcome back to Last Word of the Week. In the 2021 series, I’m looking for inspiration.

Each week, a different author will tell us  what inspires them. Then they will share an extract from one of their books!

I’m looking forward to their encouraging words and their stories.

I’m going to launch the series

My inspiration for stories comes from family, from culture, and from nature. Our precarious planet provides us a flimsy shield from the vastness of the universe. I love to look out and in, to our own species and the precious flora and fauna around us, for insights into what it means to be alive.

Inspired by a puppy

Inspiration comes in many shapes

The worldwide refugee crisis and Australia’s punitive response is the inspiration behind my sci-fi fantasy series, The Chronicles of the Pale. Writing these three books helped me work through my despair to find a way to hope for the future.

 

 

Here’s an extract from Book 3: The Ruined Land. In this scene, Feather of the Storm tribe arrives at the den of the canini (yep, taking wolf-dogs) of the Ravine. Oh, you can see a list of characters here if you wish.

 

The Ruined Land cover

The Ruined Land

The Ruined Land

‘I never thought to belong to such a pack,’ said Callan, one paw scratching busily behind his ear.

‘Nor I,’ commented Feather, cross-legged on the hard floor of the pack’s main den. He shifted a little as Callan leant back against him. On his other side, the half-grown canini cubs Niccolò and Rhosyn were tangled in slumber, their paws occasionally flapping against his leg in a dream run. Feather watched as Callan rose to all four feet, shook himself vigorously, and then settled again by his side with a long, soft exhalation. In the hours since they had rediscovered each other, the big white canine and the tribal envoy had been almost inseparable.

Freeing one hand to stroke a bit of comfort over Callan’s back, Feather looked around the den. From where they sat against the far wall, they had an excellent view of the astonishing company they shared. By the entrance, Hippolyta the leader of the ravine canini was engaged in serious conversation with Marin, huntmaster of the Storm tribe, and his partner Willow. Beside Willow, Jarli sat quiet and frowning, listening much more than he spoke. From the way that he leant close every time Willow spoke, Feather guessed that the Storm’s foremost couple had recognised the outclansman as the father of the twins, a man whose claim to raise them was greater than Marin and Willow’s plan to adopt. The older pair were probably trying to convince Jarli to stay with the tribe rather than taking his infants back to the less safe life of the outclan Owl. Feather was glad to be out of that conversation. The decision was Jarli’s, and it would not be easy.

For himself, his only thought was to return as quickly as possible to the new settlement of Newkeep Port, where Jana, and little Rasti, would be waiting. His father Helm, too. The easy, joyful reunion he had with his own daughter Freya, here in the ravine, had made him think again that he should make more of an effort to connect with his father. He was uncomfortably aware that he had not only failed to mention Helm’s return to Freya or to anyone else in the tribe, but also that he had avoided serious discussion with Helm during the weeks that they had laboured at the Newkeep site. He swallowed his worries. Problems for another day. It was enough to enjoy the nearness of Callan and the sense of happy community that pervaded the ravine.

In the space between the elders and the den, a handful of tribal children slept among the rest of the canini, human and canini young mingled in attitudes of casual trust while their parents guarded the ravine. He had not seen such a thing since the days when the packs of Callan and Waleen had shared their lives with the Storm. It was a pleasant sight. Lifting his gaze, Feather could see the shadows of equii – Pinto and Violeta, whom he had met within minutes of reaching the ravine. He had been told that the senior equii liked to visit the canini every few days, taking it into their round of the territory as they led the rest of the herd from pasture to pasture. It had given him much joy to find that quite a large herd of equii had found shelter here in the ravine. On their journey, he and Jarli had seem more bones than they cared to study, but Feather was sure that some of them were equii. He had feared that all of them, all who had run from their confined life in the Settlement, had perished on the unforgiving stretches of Broad Plain. That many had found safety, and that some at least of them had once more opened their minds to speech, was an unexpected but joyful discovery.

‘That was a good thought of yours, Callan,’ he commented, indicating the visitors.

Callan looked away, hiding some emotion. ‘For them, I daresay. There was no future for them out on Broad Plain. I don’t know that they’ve added much to our comfort, though.’

Feather smiled at the back of Callan’s head. ‘They have rediscovered their language, and they are safe. Knowing that must be counted as a benefit to all of us as well. Their lives are precious, and worth saving.’

‘Hmm.’ Callan sent a look back over his shoulder, his face creased in the semblance of a grin. ‘Trust you to find some good in that. As long as they don’t completely strip the ravine, I suppose there will still be food for all.’

‘Undoubtedly.’

They stayed silent for a while, enjoying the contentment of their reunion. The afternoon was fading, and Feather noticed a ripple of movement as the next detail of lookouts left to take up position at the pinch point of the trail. A good sentry post, but also a death trap, by everything Callan had told him. He returned Freya’s wave as she returned from her turn on guard, glad that he had seen no sign of the ravening horde of giant vulpini as he and Jarli had crossed Broad Plain. They had encountered only carcasses. In fact, it looked as if the vulpini had grown to excessive size and then suddenly died, all their life force sucked out of them by the freakish growth spurt. Interesting.

Just as the thought stuck him, he saw the humachine Hector join the group by Hippolyta. The big silvery creature sat at the leader’s feet, accepting a bowl of stew which one of the Storm youngsters handed him. Feather stilled his hand on Callan’s back. ‘And that one,’ he said softly. ‘What is he? Who is he? Can we trust him, Callan?’

‘Ah!’ answered Callan. ‘That is Hector of the Ravine. Mashtuk adopted him. He is to be trusted, yes.’

‘He’s from the Pale,’ murmured Feather, frowning, although he heard the faith and affection in his friend’s voice.

‘Let me tell you his story,’ offered Callan.

 

Thanks for reading! See you next week.

Clare and Aeryn

Clare and her distracting writing companion

 

 

The Ruined Land Links

Who’s Who in The Ruined Land

Amazon buy link

The Chronicles of the Pale box set

 

*PS: If you are an author who would like to be featured here this year, please contact me via this form. Cheers!

Love Books? Keep them coming!

It’s no secret that I love books.

This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.

I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.

We all have different amounts of power.

Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.

I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.

But buying books costs money

Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!

Books to Buy

There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/newsletters-and-e-news

Here you will find the archive of their newsletters with reviews of 2020 publications in all genres and age groups.

Independent BookSellers Australia: http://indies.com.au/catalogues/

Listings of 2020 books in every genre, with extra attention to Australian authors and presses

Small Press Network Book of the Year: https://smallpressnetwork.com.au/book-of-the-year-award/book-of-the-year-2020/

Supporting small independent presses in Australia, the Indie awards are highly regarded

My 2020 Reviews on Goodreads: Clare’s Books

You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!

Buying Books:

You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.

My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.

 

Free bookish gifts for authors

Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.

  1. Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
  2. Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
  3. Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers.  If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
  4. Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
  5. Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
  6. Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
  7. Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
  8. Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
  9. Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.

Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Until then, love your books to life.

 

An editor, or not yet? How to Know When You’re Ready to Hire an Editor

The self-publishing revolution

Here at the end of 2020, we’ve all know that nothing can be taken for granted.  Remember when self-publishing was a last resort for the would-be writer? These days, self-publishing is thriving industry that brings more books to life.

The best self-published books sit happily alongside those that arrived on the shelf, or in the online store, via a more traditional pathway.

However, the best books from all sources are well-written, well-edited, and well-presented. We all know when we find such a book, and we all know the disappointment of starting to read something that doesn’t quite make the grade.

Whether you want to self-publish or you are preparing to submit your manuscript to a traditional or an independent publisher, you need great editing. True, you can do your own editing. But no amount of hard work on your part can replace the fresh eyes of an outside editor.

Today’s post features some guidelines from Desiree Villena from Reedsy, an author support service for self-publishing – check out their website for loads of free resources as well as opportunities to purchase professional services for your writing.

Thank you Desiree for sharing these tips!

 

Are you ready for an editor?

Desiree: In all the excitement of putting the final full stop on the page, the temptation to send the first finished draft of your manuscript to an editor can be all too real. Resist the urge! Yes, working with an editor will take your book from an excellent piece of writing to a professional body of work that you and your readers will be happy with. But getting the most out of your editor means hiring them at the right time, when you and your work are ready for it.

So how do you know when that time arrives? In this blog post, we’ll discuss three questions you should ask yourself to determine if you’re ready to hire an editor and take the leap forward on your publishing journey. Let’s dive right in with question #1.

1. Did I do my research?

Determining what kind of editor to hire requires careful research into what various editors offer and how they work. Editing is an umbrella term for the multiple processes that take place at different stages and address different things in your manuscript. These are roughly split into three categories:

  • Developmental editing, the first stage, takes a wide-zoom look at your story, focusing on broad issues such as overall narrative, plot, and characters.
  • Copy editing comes after the larger issues have been ironed out and looks at your work line by line, checking for coherence, consistency, and grammatical correctness.
  • Proofreading is the final big step before your book goes to print, or if it’s an ebook, before it’s formatted and put online. A proofreader looks for minor spelling and grammar errors and any formatting issues that might have slipped through the cracks.

Knowing the differences between each of these means you will a) hire the right sort of editor in the first place and b) have your manuscript sufficiently polished before you pass it along!

Genre and market

Besides what stage of editing your book is in, it’s also important to consider its genre and other niche requirements. Each editor will have expertise in a specific area, e.g. non-fiction or children’s books. It’s important that you hire someone whose knowledge applies specifically to the genre or form of your work.

What’s your vision?

You also want to make sure that the editor you choose understands your vision for your work and meshes with your creative style. It can be incredibly draining and frustrating to battle someone who is trying to take your work in a completely different direction than you’d intended. So if your gut says no, don’t force it! You’re sure to find a better match in someone else.

2. Have I fixed all the problems I can?

Rereading a manuscript you’ve already spent weeks, months, or even years poring over probably isn’t your idea of fun. But working with an editor is a costly process, especially if you’re starting with a full-fledged developmental edit! Therefore your editor’s time (and your money) should be put toward addressing problems where their expertise will be most valuable. That means you need to fix the base-level problems yourself.

Start with the obvious, making sure your spelling and grammar are all accurate. Also look out for things such as inconsistent descriptions and any of your “bad habits”, such as the overuse of a particular word or phrase.

Of course, having spent so long buried in your work, many issues will be invisible to you as an author, at least at first. How can you spot the issues to address before you hire an editor?

Here are three quick tips :

  • Step away from your work. Putting your work away for a while after you finish allows you to approach it with a fresher set of critical eyes when you return to edit.
  • Listen to your book read aloud, or read it aloud yourself. When you read in your head, your mind may “autocorrect” things. So you end up missing errors. When you read aloud, you are much more aware of whether what you have written actually makes sense and how it all flows.
  • Make use of alpha and beta readers. Alpha readers, who read your rough draft, and beta readers, who read your revised draft, can give you some great, useful notes. If you don’t trust your own eyes or simply feel you could use some third-party feedback, reach out to your friends, family, and writer friends to spot any initial problems.

Self-editing may feel tedious, but if you haven’t at least given it your best go, you probably aren’t ready to hire an editor. And don’t worry! If you give yourself a decent break first, you’ll find it’s more fun than you’d think!

3. Can I handle the constructive criticism?

The first time you open up your work, your heart and soul, to a fresh set of eyes may be one of the scariest moments of the writing process. Though you are probably your own worst critic, the idea of someone else voicing that criticism is likely to make your stomach turn.

The last thing you want is for a comment to knock your confidence down so far that you lose faith in your work. If this is a struggle for you, remind yourself that you are hiring an editor because you believe in your work. You want it to be the best version of itself, and an editor’s suggestions will only make it better! Any critical comments they make aren’t personal digs, but genuine efforts to help your work reach its full potential.

Finally

When it comes down to it, it’s going to be easiest to publish and promote a book that you are truly proud of, a book you know is the best it can possibly be. A well-chosen editor joining you at the right moment will help you achieve this. Once you can answer a confident yes to the three main questions in this post, you are ready to hire an editor and bring your book a little bit closer to that all-exciting book launch!

History meets Fiction: Frances Quinn and the Smallest Man

My guest today tells us about the complications of writing historical fiction. Meet Frances Quinn and The Smallest Man.

Frances Quinn

Frances Quinn is the author of The Smallest Man. Her novel tells the story of Nat Davy. Nat becomes court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, just as England heads into the civil war. The war that will end in the execution of the king.

Author Frances Quinn

Author Frances Quinn

 

Who’s behind the Smallest Man?

I came across the real life character that inspired The Smallest Man quite by accident. I was working on a historical murder mystery, and I wanted to feature a character with a disability who, as a result of attitudes at the time, would be a bit on the edge of society.

I’d vaguely heard about ‘court dwarfs’, so I Googled ‘17th century dwarf’, and up popped the Wikipedia entry for Jeffrey Hudson.  Jeffrey was a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, and he became a sort of human pet at the court.

Hudson went on to kill a man in a duel and survive an attack on the Queen during the Civil War. He was later captured by pirates and taken to be a slave in Morocco. He then came home and went to prison as a traitor – quite a life!

 

Real life v fiction

I instantly wanted to abandon the murder mystery and write a story about Hudson instead. It seemed to be a gift to a novelist.

Little did I know!

As I tried to plan the novel, I discovered that turning a real life into a novel isn’t as easy as it sounds. A novel needs a shape, and a direction. Real life meanders around, goes off at tangents and has no respect for the need to tie all the ends together in the last chapter.

If the interesting part about the person’s story focuses around one event, or even a shortish period, you can zoom in on that. But Jeffrey’s story had almost too much going on, with the key events stretching over 50 years. Long, boring bits occur in between the action and a vast cast of characters appear who were relevant historically but not necessarily very interesting. His life also had a sad ending – it’s thought Jeffrey died alone and in poverty. Not a very satisfying conclusion to a novel.

I was at the point of giving up on the story, when I re-read Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon . Maupin’s main character also has dwarfism and I wanted to remind myself how he’d treated her disability in the story.

I’d forgotten that the heroine, Cadence Roth, was inspired by the actress Tamara de Treaux, who played ET in the film. Maupin’s novel isn’t Tamara’s story, but it’s the story of an actress with dwarfism who played an iconic character in a children’s movie.

That gave me the idea of creating a fictional character, Nat Davy. Nat becomes a court dwarf and has some of the same adventures as Jeffrey did, and some of his own.

 

What to put in, what to leave out

Once I’d made that decision, the novel took shape.

However I still had to wrestle with real life events. The middle part of the story happens against the background of the build-up to the English Civil War and the war itself. That meant a lot of well-documented events that potentially needed to be woven in.

Fortunately, my early choice to write in first person meant that Nat only needed to talk about the events that touched him personally. I concentrated on the things that the real life Jeffrey Hudson might mention if you bumped into him in a tavern and he told you his life story.

That got me out of writing about a lot of very tedious political and religious stuff from the build-up to the war. I also made sure Nat was well away from the fighting, because there was no way I wanted to write battle scenes!

 

A final twist

It took me four years to research and write the book, going through six full drafts. But the real life aspect still had another curveball to throw me, even after the book was sold to a publisher.

From early on, I’d had my doubts about having Nat kidnapped by pirates and taken to Morocco, as Jeffrey was. That would have meant moving the action not just to a completely new setting but a new cast of characters.

Also, because it was first person, some familiar characters would disappear for many chapters, because Nat wouldn’t know what they were doing.

Everyone I spoke said no, it’s exciting, leave it in. So I did. As it turned out, my editor saw the same problem that I had, and asked me to ditch the pirate section.

That meant not only writing a new third section of 30,000 words, but also tons more research into the last years of the Civil War.  I hadn’t thought I’d need to do that because Nat would be in Morocco and know nothing about it! It felt like a mountain to climb at the time, but the book is, I think, much better for it.

So building a novel on Jeffrey Hudson’s story turned out to be much more difficult than I thought when I read that Wikipedia entry. But I’m very glad now that I didn’t give up on him.

 

The Smallest Man

When should my story begin? Not when I was born, a butcher’s son, in a tiny cottage just like all the other tiny cottages in Oakham. Who’d have thought then that I’d ever have much of a story to tell?

Perhaps it starts when people began to nudge each other and stare as I walked with my mother to market, or the first time someone whispered that we were cursed. But I didn’t know then.

No, I think my story begins on the day of the Oakham Fair, in the year of 1625. When I was ten years old and I found out what I was.

Nat Davy is a dwarf. He is 10 years old, and all he wants is to be normal. After narrowly escaping being sold to the circus by his father, Nat is presented to Queen Henrietta Maria – in a pie. She’s 15, trapped in a loveless marriage to King Charles I, and desperately homesick. 

Loosely based on a true story, this epic tale spans 20 years; during which the war begins, Nat and the queen go on the run, Nat saves the queen’s life, falls in love with the most beautiful girl at court, kills a man, is left in exile. Told from his unique perspective as the smallest man in England, with the clever and engaging voice of a boy turned man yearning for acceptance, this story takes us on an unforgettable journey.

He’s England’s smallest man, but his story is anything but small.

 

All Your Little Lies, and confessions

All Your Little Lies is the latest thriller by Marianne Holmes.

It’s Marianne’s second book and I very much hope that there are more on the way.

Today we’re reconnecting to find out more about the book and how the strange year of 2020 is affecting writers…

Hello again Marianne!

Thank you so much for having me back on your blog, Clare, it’s great to be chatting with you again.

Author Marianne Holmes

Great to have you. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author, especially in this changing world?

Marianne: Just keep going, keep reading and keep seeking feedback. Writing, editing, submitting and then editing again take a long time and every writer faces set-backs and disappointments along the way. You can always improve your plot or your writing but resilience is the stuff you need to make it happen.

All Your Little Lies cover detail

All Your Little Lies cover

Resilience is essential to a writer, and perhaps the secret behind many a success. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Yes, but I can’t tell you what they are! Actually, I heard a discussion a while ago about writers having themes that run through all their books and I remember thinking that didn’t apply to me; I was just writing stories.

What I realise now is that I do have some sub-conscious themes going on – around how adults are affected by childhood experiences and how they are able to work through them (or not) – and that’s actually been quite interesting. I did amuse myself by placing similar meaningful ‘keepsakes’ in both books.

Oh, interesting. Is writers block a thing for you?

Yes and no. There are days when, for whatever reason, I just can’t get into the writing. This is when the only thing that works is doing something completely different. The block then usually works itself out in my subconscious.

Of course, there are also days when the block is just me not feeling like grappling with a tricky scene. I try to make myself get something, however terrible, down on those days because editing poor writing is much easier than filling a blank page.

 

Labrador puppy in the garden

Marianne’s new puppy Molly fights with a flower pot

I completely agree: words on the page gather momentum. What about plot holes – how do you deal with them – if you ever have any!

Bizarrely, I love a good plot hole. Once I’ve got over the first stage where I think I’ll never find a solution, I treat it like solving a puzzle. I quite enjoy thinking up lots of different scenarios and then working through them all one by one. After all, making things up to get out of a hole is one of the biggest benefits of writing fiction.

 

True! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I don’t set out to write with any particular audience in mind, I always just start with the story. My first book, A Little Bird Told Me, turned out to be a mystery but the story line of the second, All Your Little Lies, is definitely more psych suspense. I approach reading in pretty much the same way. I find I’m always attracted first to the story line or the character so I read across all genres, finding some suit me better at different times.

During the lockdown, I was drawn to books that had settings that were unfamiliar to me, whether fantasy worlds or communities or locations I’d never experienced. I love using books as an escape from reality!

 

Lockdown has changed many a relationship with books! What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?

There are so many stunning book covers around at the moment, aren’t there? I can absolutely be enticed to buy a book that I might not have otherwise chosen because it’s got an appealing cover. I don’t always read the blurb on books, sometimes they give away too much, and I find an image can convey a lot. My publishers, Agora Books, use brilliant designers and their covers are amazing. I’m able to input to the process, which is fantastic, but I trust Agora to make the final decision. I see that as more their area of expertise and I find that stage quite freeing after all the many intensive hours of editing.

Puppy with dirty paws

I may have dug up the garden says Molly

Where do you write?

Before the pandemic, I wrote in the box room at home where I could leave random bits of paper and notes scattered on the desk. This meant I could use every moment of the school day (apart from the procrastinating ones). I find I need peace and quiet when I’m thinking about what to write and then getting the words down on paper. After that stage, I can read through and edit in local cafes or other public spaces and I enjoy meeting up with writing friends. It’s a relatively solitary occupation so the chance to get out and see other humans is wonderful.

When lockdown started, however, my husband and two children were also in the house and everything changed. After walking into one of my husband’s Zoom meetings in my pyjamas, he’s now been assigned the box room and I sit in his place in the kitchen. Unfortunately, this is far more distracting and a lot worse for my waistline!

 

So funny! Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?

I tend to start with a scenario or a character and then start wondering how they’d got there or what might happen next.

After my eldest child became emotionally invested in a local missing person case, I started thinking about how well-publicised missing children’s cases – and not all are well-publicised – often attract many calls from members of the public, including sightings from around the world. I wondered what sort of person might make a call to an investigation team in good faith but without any really useful information? The character of Annie in All Your Little Lies started to take shape in my mind.

Puppy wants to get on the sofa

Molly is a perfect distraction

Do you have a pet as a writing companion?

We have just got a Labrador puppy, Molly. She’s three months old now and I’m not sure she qualifies so much as a writing companion as a writing distraction. She spends most of her time trying to eat things – so far 1 book, 2 laptop cables, untold snails, the roses, an ethernet cable, her own lead, chair legs… The 10-year-old & I have very grave concerns for the goldfish! When she’s curled up asleep on the floor beside me though it’s magically soothing. And I’m looking forward to when she’s old enough to go for long walks so I actually leave my screen for a while to do the thinking!

 

Thank you Marianne for sharing your news, and especially your puppy pictures, with us.

 

Marianne’s links:

Twitter @MarianneHAuthor

Instagram @MarianneHAuthor

Website www.marianne.holmes@talk21.com

A Little Bird Told Me: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Bird-Told-Me-ourselves-ebook/dp/B07FB4D86F

All Your Little Lies: https://www.amazon.co.uk/All-Your-Little-Lies-forgotten-ebook/dp/B08DNZZJVG/