This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.
In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.
As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.
Don’t forget me, cobber
The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.
Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Melissa Wray finds time to write stories, usually late at night, when the rest of the household is quiet. She’s a mother of two, a teacher and lover of walks along the beach. Her new young adult novel, The Ruby Locket, is a dystopian novel that unfolds through the eyes of the two main characters.
Kerina and Saxon. Two different stories. Two different lives. One connected future.
Great to speak with you, Melissa, and to find out more about what’s behind your writing. What was your favourite book as a child?
Melissa: The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I loved these characters and desperately wanted the giant plum tree in our back yard to become the Magic Faraway tree. I would sit still for as long as possible, hoping to capture a glimpse of Silky or Moonface!
That makes perfect sense! What about creative writing courses – do you think they are valuable?
Absolutely! The key is finding one that suits your needs. There are many courses, both online and in person that an emerging writer can complete. Keep an eye out through your local writer organisation e.g. Writers Victoria or Geelong Writers Inc. Or subscribe to a writing industry newsletter such as Buzz Words or Pass It On. Both are valuable sources for courses, writing advice, and submissions. Both of these are excellent value for money.
I totally agree with that. There’s always more to learn … or re-learn! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
I write whatever I feel interested in telling a story about. I have written stories suited to all age groups, from a picture story book to middle grade fiction through to a young adult audience. The genres have ranged from contemporary to historical fiction through to dystopian. I like to challenge myself in life whether it be at work or play and writing is no different.
A born story-teller, then! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Of course! Bryce Courtenay, one of my favourite Australian writers, once said “I take a fact and put a top hat on it, and a silk shirt and a bow tie, but I don’t ruin the fact.” I love this quote and try to include some secrets into my writing. It gives me a thrill that only I know what those parallels to real life are.
That’s good to know. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
I have one novel that is about 75% complete. I haven’t worked on it for some time so would like to revisit the characters and storyline to see if I can finish the story. To do this I need to keep a balance between my work, family, social and writing life. Quite a precarious balance!
Yes! Mix all that and add a pandemic…Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
My debut novel, Destiny Road, was published through Morris Publishing. I entered the first four chapters into a writing competition with them. It was shortlisted and I then had to submit the whole manuscript. From this, Destiny Road was selected for publication. This was a huge break for me! It gave me a boost in confidence that can be far between for writers, especially new ones.
I imagine it would. That’s fabulous. Now that your books are out there, how do you feel about reviews?
Mixed. It is uncomfortable knowing someone is reading your story and forming an opinion about it. Stories can take years to write and even longer to get published. The writing process takes commitment to writing and editing and hoping the characters are built well and the storyline works. Somebody can cut the story to pieces with a bad review or they can build you up with a good review. Both are equally terrifying to learn what people think.
And it’s completely out of your hands. Quite terrifying! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
One reviewer wrote the following review for Destiny Road and it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
“Wray has managed to write with absolute brutal honesty that very easily could have become too confronting- especially for those that have undergone a similar situation. The timing is perfect. You have time to catch your breath when needed without ever compromising the flow. In fact, the novel has such a polished feel I was surprised this was indeed her debut novel into the published world.”
That’s perfect. What would readers never guess about you?
My sense of adventure and the need to live a fulfilled life. I once slept in the middle of the Egyptian desert beneath the night sky after travelling all day on a camel. It sounds like a crazy thing to do now, but I love that I have this memory. I don’t want to look back one day on my life and wish I had made different choices.
I would never have pictured you on a camel, that’s for sure. What would be a dream come true for you?
That’s easy. My book gets made into a movie and I have a cameo role in it. How much fun would that be?!
LOL! That would be wonderful. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa, and all the best with the launch of The Ruby Locket
Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.
In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!
The Queen’s Almoner
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
Earlier this year I had the great good fortune to review an astonishing debut novel: People Like Us by Louise Fein. You can read my review here, where I describe this as a heartbreak of a book. It’s so much more, and I recommend you read it too.
People Like Usis being released worldwide this month, and I’m thrilled to have Louise on board in this special Something to Say post. Here she isto tell us a bit about the background of the novel and how is came to be published.
Welcome, and congratulations on your novel, Louise. It must be exciting to finally have it launched, even into a world filled with strangeness. Can you tell us a bit about the process and the story behind the story?
Louise: I’m delighted to announce the publication of my debut novel, People Like Us(in the USA, it has a different cover and the title Daughter of the Reich). Like so many authors, having a book published has been my ultimate lifelong dream. As a child, my ambition was to become an author and I spent many hours writing stories, usually based around the subject of ponies. But then I grew up, needed to earn a living and the appeal of ponies dwindled (well, only a little), so the writing took a back seat for a while.
The appeal of ponies never really dies. But you did get back to writing?
The writing bug never left me, and over the years I wrote ideas for novels, poems, diaries and stories, in and around work and family commitments. But I never fully committed to writing a novel until I finally took the plunge and began a master’s degree in creative writing at St Mary’s University, London. It was then that I began work on People Like Us. My idea, initially, was that I would have the novel finished alongside the MA in a year. How naïve I was!! The first draft took around two years to complete, after I ditched the first attempt half-way through my MA year. But it was just that. A first draft. It required a lot more work, many re-drafts, and a good deal more research, until finally I had a manuscript ready for submission to agents.
I haven’t found the agent road an easy one to travel. How did you get on with it?
It took essentially another year to find an agent. There were many rejections, but I also had interest from some and that spurred me on to keep going and keep submitting. I carefully selected agents I would really like to represent me, and I was very lucky that one of my favourite agents liked my work. Much of the agenting and publishing world works very slowly, but sometimes it moves at the speed of light. I sent my manuscript to the agent who is now my agent one Friday afternoon, and I heard back from her the very next morning that she loved my book. The same process happened when I went on submission to publishers. Within a week there was interest from a publisher in the UK and then I went on submission to the US and there was interest the same afternoon. In the end the book was pre-empted by William Morrow (imprint of Harper Collins).
That’s such a great story! Rejections to instant acceptance – definitely the stuff of dreams.
My dreams had more than come true, they had exceeded all my imagination. On top of that, I have also had some wonderful foreign translation deals (eight to date) and these really have been the icing on the cake. So what I would say to any unpublished authors out there: Keep going: keep improving your work, keep submitting. What feels like an impenetrable wall can be breached. I was hooked off the slush pile and knew nobody in the publishing or agenting world at all. It is all possible, but it’s a long game.
That’s such an affirming story, thank you, Louise. Now about the book…
So, a little bit about People Like Us. It’s a story of forbidden love, set in the tumultuous backdrop of 1930s Leipzig. The novel is told from the point of view of Hetty, a young girl who has grown up on a diet of Nazi propaganda and is hungry for a part to play in Hitler’s thousand-year Reich. Until, that is, she encounters Walter, a friend from her past, a Jew. As the thirties spiral ever deeper into anti-Semitic fervour, Hetty and Walter’s developing relationship puts her beliefs into stark conflict and danger forces them to make choices which will change their lives forever.
I believe you have a family connection to this story?
The book was inspired by the experiences of my father’s family, Leipzig Jews, most of whom fled Germany for England or America during the 1930s. Whilst the story and the characters are fictional, the setting is authentic, and it is based around real events. My father died when I was only seventeen and he never spoke of his experiences of living in Nazi Germany.
Instinctively, I knew the book should be fictional, but its form and content were shadowy. I read Mein Kampf and learned about the experience of growing up under Nazi rule; I travelled to Leipzig and met with experts; devoured family papers and listened to the memories of survivors. The characters of Hetty and Walter came to me, and with them their story. The more I read, the more interested I became in trying to understand how a democratic, civilised nation could, in just a few short years, overthrow democracy, demonise the Jews (and others), and descend into a violent, fear-filled fascist state who aimed to exterminate the Jewish race. I felt my story would be powerful if told from the point of view of a young, innocent girl, brought up to fear and hate perceived difference. What could possibly change her beliefs?
It’s a story of the fragility of freedom, and the ease with which one group can de-humanise another to the extent of un-imaginable horror. But it is also the story of friendship, hope, and above all, the power of love.
It’s a very important book, I think, and I’m so glad that you wrote it. Thank you for telling us about the release, and I look forward to speaking with you again soon about how it’s going. Stay safe, Louise!
Christine Bell’s historical novel No Small Shame has just been released, making hers the first fully online book launch of my experience. Christine has 35 short fiction books published for children including picture story, chapter book and YA titles. Her short stories have won national writing competitions and been published in various anthologies. No Small Shame tells the story of immigrant Mary O’Donnell who arrives in Australia on the brink of WWI. Meticulously researched though it is, the story’s strongest points are its engaging and relatable characters.
Welcome, Christine, and congratulations on the excellent reception of No Small Shame. Thank you for sharing some words with me today. Let’s see what set you off on your writing journey. What was your favourite book as a child?
Christine: When I was in grade four, our teacher Miss Yule possessed the most beautiful illustrated story book I’d ever seen. It was a large, full colour book called Best Scandinavian Fairy Tales. Every couple of days she would read from our current story and hold up the divine full-page illustrations. Once a week, a child was allowed the very special privilege of taking the precious book home overnight to read. It seemed an interminable wait until it was my turn. I could barely breathe for excitement that evening while I turned the pages and read as much as I could. Later, I read surreptitiously by torchlight, carefully turning the pages under the sheet. It broke my heart when at the end of the term, Miss Yule left our class to get married, taking her beautiful story book with her and depriving me of a second overnight read. I’ve never forgotten that book.
And never forgiven Miss Yule, no doubt. Or those conventions that made marriage and teaching incompatible! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
There are no secrets as such, but there are always guns on the wall. Small moments that may not mean much at the time of writing, but must inevitably have a purpose. I have a scene in No Small Shame, aboard ship, where Mary is forced to have her hair cut off due to a plague of nits. The scene shows the conflict with her mother, but Mary’s hair also comes to have a deep symbolism throughout the novel. When I first wrote the scene, it was more to show shipboard life and I was concerned in the early drafts if it was earning its place. But as the novel progressed, Mary’s hair became a metaphor that echoes right to the final scene.
Guns on the wall! Eek! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
Just before No Small Shamewas officially released, a writer friend emailed me from the bookshop carpark after getting caught up reading it. She emailed again, a day later, half-way through, to say how much she was loving it, and that I’d painted such a picture with words and drawn the characters so well that she felt she knew them. The next day she contacted me to say that she’d cried through the final five chapters, loved the book, and how could we get it made into a movie. It’s an author’s dream to have a reader connect so emotionally to your story and to have it come alive in their mind.
That’s wonderful feedback. Do you write full time?
I write virtually full time. My children have all grown up and left home, and I’m most fortunate to have the financial support of a partner. Royalties from my many children’s short fiction titles, together with my annual PLR and ELR payments* help financially too, even all these years after the titles were published. I work in our business part-time too, but the majority of days I can be found at my writing desk.
*Note: public and electronic lending rights, from when books are borrowed from libraries. Note 2: Support authors! Borrow books from libraries!
Excellent! Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
I’ve had lots of opportunities to meet many fellow writers through writing groups, events, conferences, masterclasses and workshops. I’ve also completed two tertiary qualifications, including a Master of Creative Writing, where I met writers who’ve become good friends. I also served as the Assistant Co-ordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Vic (SCBWI) for five years where I made a lot of friends and connections in the kid-lit community. I’ve connected with lots of writers through Facebook and Twitter. My social media is predominantly all about writing, publishing, books, and related topics, and I’ve always found the online writing community incredibly supportive and friendly.
I agree, the #WritingCommunity is great. Where do you write?
My office looks over our rather lovely, tranquil back garden where I can hear the birds, see them playing in the bird bath, and watch the change of seasons. A couple of years ago, after a spinal surgery, I purchased an electric standing desk and combined with another long desk, it forms a fabulous L-shaped workspace. One full wall is floor-to-ceiling white bookshelves, and, adding a red filing cabinet and splashes of red on the bookshelves and desk, I have a bit of a colour theme going. The wall opposite features a huge framed map of the Somme, the setting of my current work-in-progress; plus a large original illustration from my children’s book, Snozza; a messy corkboard of memorabilia and treasured mementoes; as well as various artefacts related to my current work . It’s a lovely space that I had such fun decorating to truly inspire and reflect what I’m writing.
Do you have launch parties for your books?
I never had a launch party for my children’s books, so I was very excited to plan an instore event at Readings Hawthorn to release No Small Shame. It was rather a large shame that the event was cancelled due to Covid-19, but I quickly became aware of the possibility of launching the book online, via Facebook. I was still very keen for acclaimed author and writing buddy Alison Goodman to launch the book. This was a little problematic since we were to be in separate houses due to this time of isolation. We decided that a pre-recorded launch was probably the only way to go. I really wanted a live, spontaneous component though. But even as I advertised it, I wondered if the live stream would work. Short story, with a little tech advice and after a practice mock event, it worked very well and No Small Shame was launched on the 2nd April. I was really thrilled that I was able to see so many friends, family and fellows present in the event comments, questions and congratulations. For anyone who’d like to view the launch, I’ll include the Youtube links: Book launch https://youtu.be/LHXC4OJvKTI. Live stream https://youtu.be/c4sJ9vamIzI.
Ooh, and readers can have a little look at your writing office on the YouTube link! Thanks, Christine; I’m very much looking forward to reading No Small Shame, and to your next book, which is also set around the time of the First World War.
Elizabeth Ducie is a full-time writer from Devon. Although she wrote prize-winning fiction at school, she went on to study science and have a career as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal during that time.
Elizabeth also writes and lectures on The Business of Writing, teaching business skills for writers running their own small business, and has published a set of books under that name.
Welcome, Elizabeth. You have a fascinating background for a novelist. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Elizabeth: When I wrote Counterfeit!, my sister Sheila challenged me to bring some of the characters from my previous novel into the story. And there are occasionally references to real incidents from my travelling days, although usually heavily fictionalised.
Your secrets are safe with me! How do you feel about reviews?
There are many beliefs about the impact reviews have on the algorithms of Amazon and other platforms, but I’m not convinced. There are too many exceptions out there to allow me to believe in a magic number, a threshold above which exciting things start to happen.
But, as a way of hearing what readers think, they are invaluable. I only wish more people would consider posting them. Even a negative review is better than dead silence.
Yes, the silent echo chamber is unnerving. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?
There was a biology teacher who took me to one side at the start of the upper fifth year (equivalent to year 11) and told me there were girls in the year who were going to do well, but I wasn’t one of them, so I wasn’t to get my hopes up! It still rankles, more than fifty years on. I would love to send her a signed copy of each of my books to make her eat her words.
Yikes! Oh, I hope that was her way of motivating you and not her true opinion! How much research is involved in your writing?
So far, most of my fiction has been set in places I used to work (Former Soviet Union countries, Latin America, Africa) so a lot of the research was done on the hoof. However, my novels tend to have historical flashbacks, for which I do quite a bit of research. But only when I’m editing. I don’t let lack of knowledge interrupt the flow during the first draft.
Ironically, my latest book is set in South Devon where I’ve lived for the past thirteen years. I’m doing far more research for that than any of the internationally-based ones.
That’s ironic, but good to know. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
Covers are critical, especially for fiction, where they are a major signpost to the reader on what they can expect from the book. I am independently-published and therefore have absolute say over my covers. When I’m teaching, I always empasise that an indie book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published one in terms of appearance and quality of the finished product. This means having a professionally-designed cover. I use Berni Stevens for all my novels. I developed my own covers for The Business of Writing, but I used a Canvatemplate, which still means the original design is professionally produced.
I completely agree about covers – I believe most readers DO judge a book by its cover. I’m interested in your books aimed at writers, too. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
They say that writing is a solitary occupation, but I find it’s all too easy to meet other writers. There’s a huge writing community here in the South West of England, plus there are any number of online groups.
I am a member of two great writing groups: Chudleigh Writers’ Circle and Exeter Writers. They are very different in approach and I find my membership of each one invaluable. Plus I still meet up with a small group of writers from the MA we completed in 2012. I have a writing buddy with whom I work on each novel at the developmental editing stage. And this year, I’m Director of the Exeter Literary Festival. And that’s before I even think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which are stuffed full of writers.
To be honest, it’s tempting to spend far more time ‘networking’ with other writers than I do writing. But it’s all great fun; and that’s one of the reasons I gave up the day job to write ‘full-time’.
Always. I have an event in our local parish church, the largest space in our small town, with readings, music, cake and fizz. I usually sell quite a few copies on the night, but it’s also about celebrating with my friends and family.
I’ve also been holding online launch parties since 2011. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different formats; and sometimes I don’t have one at all. Lessons I learned along the way included: don’t try running a party for 12 hours; and don’t try running an online party on the same day as the main party. Both occasions were exhausting!
But they do sound like fun. You have an MA, I see. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?
It depends on the individual, their experience and their ambitions, but I’m not convinced creative writing is an academic subject. So I’m slightly skeptical about formal university courses, even though I completed one myself. I do, however, think it’s important to attend classes, webinars, conferences, anything that helps train us in our craft, keep us fresh, and build inspiration. I attend the Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick every August; I go to occasional classes or workshops such as those run by Literature Works in Exeter; and I am a real sucker for a free webinar or online conference. The ones run by ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) are particularly good.
Great to know. I love the way you approach writing as a craft that can always be honed. Lovely! Thank you for talking with me in this episode of Last Word of the Week.
You can find Elizabeth’s novels and her Business of Writing books here
‘I’d always imagined attending a book launch would be something you’d only do if an opportunity to stick rusty nails into your cornea wasn’t available,” writes author Katy Colins in her blog #notwedordead
Luckily I read Katy’s fabulous piece about book launches before I prepared my speech for the unveiling of The Ruined Land, and laughed myself out of all my nerves. Book launches can be fun, and I have enjoyed every one that I’ve attended. Talking to booksy people about books? What could be better?!
I’m so grateful when people come to my launches. And kind of surprised. They must have run out of rusty nails…
How long should a launch speech be?
I aim for under four minutes, which for me is maximum 400 words.
Then I add a five minute extract (about 600 words), so under ten minutes in all.
Add 4-5 minutes for the lovely person who introduces me, and the official stuff is wrapped up in under 15 minutes. That’s my aim.
Here’s my latest, at 369 words, in case you’re interested.
Launch Speech for The Ruined Land
First up, some words of gratitude.
Thanks so much to Nat for those thoughtful words. I’m very appreciative of the love and support I have from my dear friends. I’m actually very grateful to have worked at UniMelb, because I met some of the world’s best people there.
My friends and family have been endlessly supportive, and I’m so glad many of you can celebrate with me tonight. My publisher, the cover designer, the editor – they’ve all been fab. As has Readings which has now hosted all four of my book launches.
A couple of special mentions – to my niece Kate, who along with Aveline my friend in London, is a fabulous beta reader if anyone wants a recommendation.
And my brother in law Bernard is responsible for the very cool maps which you now find inside all three books of the Chronicles of the Pale. He comes highly recommended too!
So. The book.
Having a book published is definitely a Dream Come True – something I imagined in primary school. But there’s a bit more to the dream than that. The Chronicles began with an actual dream in 2013, a dream of abandoned babies and refugees, people I couldn’t reach to rescue. In the dream, my German shepherd dog Dinny, long since departed, saved the day. The character Mashtuk is based on Dinny
This was back when PM Scott Morrison was the minister for immigration. I feel that now the world is much the same, or maybe even darker.
My dream became a short story, which became a novel, which became a series, which became some sort of fully populated, fully imagined world parallel to the real world. There are now even more stories there because this mirror world we live in hasn’t changed enough.
Dreams can come true, but I’d like some happier dreams.
OK, I’m going to read from the very beginning of Book 3. This is Mashtuk, the canini scout, recovering from the wounds he suffered when the ravine was attacked.