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Posts from the ‘Last Word of the Week’ Category

Michelle Saftich, leaving home behind

Michelle Saftich writes engaging stories whenever she puts pen to paper – er, fingers to keyboard. Her historical novels ring very true, and the first, Port of No Return, was inspired by the experiences of her father’s family who fled northern Italy at the end of World War II, as the region was invaded by Tito’s Yugoslavian forces. The sequel, Wanderers No More, continues to follow the family’s journey, beginning with their arrival in Australia in 1950. Both these novels are highly rated.

Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

Port of No Return by Michelle Saftich

More recently, Michelle has released The Hatch, a science fiction novel which I have recently read and reviewed (here). In The Hatch, all Michelle’s trademark insights into human nature, family interactions, and political machinations are transported thrillingly into deep space.

I’m so thrilled to speak with Michelle today on Last Word of the Week.

Thanks for talking with me, Michelle. You have three books out now – what are your thoughts on novel writing?

Michelle: It’s no small undertaking. A novel takes a long time to write. I know I’ll be with the story and its characters for at least a couple of years. For me, it helps having stories and characters that are close to my heart and that I feel have something to say or show. It’s about love, creativity and discipline.

Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

Wanderers No More by Michelle Saftich

What are the challenges of being a writer?

Finding enough time. Working almost full-time in a communications job and being married and raising two boys, with an abundance of pets, there’s so little time free for writing. Every spare minute goes into it. I write in the car in carparks or sitting on the floor of foyers, waiting to pick up my boys from extracurricular activities. I edit or write next pages in my mind on the train going to work, where I scribble down notes to myself as reminders. When I finally set aside a whole Sunday afternoon to write, the joy as I lift the lid on my laptop can’t be described. It is bliss. It is coming home. It’s time to be me and to create. I can’t imagine a life without writing.

And yet, it is not easy. There are other challenges. Marketing. Reviews. Solitude, and the need for a lot of it during the writing process. Self-criticism. Doubt. Fear. Redrafts. Rewriting. Then finally the sadness when it’s done and there are characters to farewell, characters who won’t say another word. Then it’s time to put them out there, like birth. And like a parent, the writer gets to watch how they take those first steps in the hands of others. That’s the hardest for me. Releasing.

It sounds very difficult when you put it like that. I find it very sad when my characters no longer interrupt my dreams saying “And another thing I want to do or say is…”  Given all that, why write?

There are times when I wonder why I do it. Why write? Why tie up so much time in bringing to life a story? The answer is simple, I love it. I love creating with words, using my imagination, challenging myself. I first knew I wanted to write at age six. At age 15, I was starting to try my hand at novels. Always writing. Weekends mostly.

You have written in different genres, which is something I do too. What’s that like for you?

When I wrote my first two published historical fiction novels, Port of No Return and Wanderers No More, I was drawing upon family history, my heritage and the mysteries surrounding my father’s place of birth. I wanted to know more and found it enjoyable to research what happened to not only my father and his family, but to all those forced to flee their Italian cities in the north-east of the country after World War II. I was shining a light on a little-known part of history and my motivation was strong and somewhat personal.

My third published sci fi novel, The Hatch, is very different from the first two, though some themes are similar. I still have written about the prospect of having to leave all you know behind for another place, though in The Hatch readers are taken off planet and forward into an imagined future, rather than into a researched past.

The Hatch by Michelle Saftich

The Hatch by Michelle Saftich

With the historical fiction novels, I tried staying true to historical events, while bringing in fictional elements to help tie it all together and to present a flowing narrative.

With sci-fi, I was fully in my imagination, speculating on a future Earth and what human aspects we would migrate with us if we were to settle on other planets.

And you have managed that brilliantly. Thank you so much for sharing with me today.

 

Michelle’s Links:

Website: https://michellesaftich.com

Twitter: @MichelleSaftich

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14175416.Michelle_Saftich

Odyssey Books: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781925652857/

Camilla Downs, soul writer, on giving and receiving

Camilla Downs is a writer, a poet, and nature lover  on a journey full of new learning. Camilla has fresh eyes, an open heart, and a thirst for discovery , and she shares all this through her writing. A single mother of two amazing children, she and her kids are into their fourth year of living-in-a-tiny-home adventureCamilla recently published her 4th book, Words of Alchemy. In speaking with Camilla, I sense that she finds writing both a gift to others and a source of peace for herself. What a great find in these days of uncertainty.
Welcome, Camilla, and thanks for speaking with me on Last Word of the Week. Why is writing important to you?
Writing has been a sanity saving bridge, in processing life experiences, in being a single parent, in being a parent to a special needs child, in making decisions. Writing has been my way of sharing what I’m experiencing, getting it out of my head, being comforted, assured, cheered on, and, at times, receiving direction.
Author Camilla Downs and family

Author Camilla Downs and family

It’s definitely a two-way street. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
The best response is a compilation of the responses in which others share how my writings have inspired or helped them in some way. There’s nothing better than receiving a message or review that lets me know that my writing was useful to someone.
What five words would best describe your style?
Wild, unfiltered, from the heart.
Delightful! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
To date, I have always written for myself. Writing is how I process and experience life. The feedback received when sharing what I write is what encouraged me to pursue publishing the content.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Making the decision fourteen years ago to leave my marriage, becoming a single parent to two children; 1 year old and 5 years old at the time. I had no idea how I would manage, how I would survive. They are 14 years old and 18 years old now. It is through sheer grit, determination, letting go of the fear of asking for help, and not feeling shame for accepting and receiving help, that we’ve made it successfully to this point.
What a huge moment that must have been. What’s your favourite genre to read?
I have made shifts throughout my reading years. As a child and teenager I was all about fiction and horror. As an adult I shifted to mysteries, reading every book Agatha Christie had written, ending with her autobiography. Then I shifted to only business books, autobiographies and biographies of successful people. Reading then shifted to non-fiction books in the self-help, mind, body, spirituality type books. With  the latest shift being opening back up to the fiction genre, along with memoirs and books about writing.
That’s pretty comprehensive, indeed. Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?
My latest book, Words of Alchemy, was largely inspired by Nature, and the many walks I took during the time it was written.
Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs

Words of Alchemy by Camilla Downs

Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?
Yes, I believe so. My books can be found on my website or on Amazon.
If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would
you say?
This is such an interesting thought and question. When readers buy a book directly from me, I actually do include a personalized note when signing the book, in addition to a creative message hidden within the book. I have incredible fun doing this!
I would say, “May the perfect words within this book, touch your heart, at the perfect moment. Love, Camilla”
That’s lovely. Do you write in more than one genre?
My first book is a memoir of my journey to acceptance of myself, and acceptance of becoming a single parent to two children, one with special needs, one a genius (who is most likely on the spectrum).
The second book, for which I am simply a contributor, is my daughter’s book. I collected her writings, organized them, wrote the introduction, edited, proofed, and published the book. Her book was intentionally not professionally edited so as to share her unique view with the reading world. A photo I took of her was used for the cover of the book. It is in the fiction genre as it is a collection of her short stories and poetry from 5 years old to 15 years old.
The third book, I am also simply a contributor, as it is a photography book of photos my then 8 year old son took. I organized the book, wrote the introduction, and he and I chose quotes to pair with the sections of the book.
My latest book to publish is a poetry memoir of the last 6 years of my life.
What an amazing collection! Truly inspirational, Camilla.
Thank you once again, Clare, for having me be a part of your wonderful blog! All the best to you.
My pleasure! Here’s more about Camilla’s latest book of nature-inspired poems:
The poetry of nature, the poetry of healing, the poetry of appreciation, the poetry of love … in one beautiful book.
In Words of Alchemy, Camilla Downs invites you to walk with her to share her love of Nature and Life through a heartfelt free-verse poetry memoir.
During her daily strolls she is mindfully present as she delves into life in the raw and experiences her heart’s observations.
Camilla embraces what happens when she opens her heart and invites the written words to flow. The Alchemy of Love and Healing is what happens.
Praise for Words of Alchemy
“Words of Alchemy, a heartfelt new collection by Camilla Downs, lives up to its namesake in numerous ways. Downs spans the broad range of nature, healing, love, and parenting, while making sure we have a little fun along the way. And the bridge she creates from the mindfulness of how we see the world at large to the poetry of everyday life is certainly worth a stroll or two across its borders.” – Thomas Lloyd Qualls, Award-winning author of Painted Oxen
“This poetry collection offers contemplative words, soothing thoughts and peace to the reader.” – Sue Bentley, Bestselling author of Second Skin
“Camilla Downs shares truth, vulnerability and wisdom in her Words of Alchemy collection, inviting readers to be inspired, contemplate and dive into her world of self-awareness and growth.” – G. Brian Benson – Award-winning author, actor and spoken word artist
“These poems take you on a calm and loving walk through the verses of the author’s thoughts. Alchemy is a perfect word for the title as Camilla Downs understands nature; connecting with its magical, medicinal qualities and beauty which she conveys throughout her poetry.” – Ailsa Craig, Author of The Sand Between My Toes
“Words of Alchemy is a chronicle of hope. These poems are an encouragement, especially when we are feeling at our lowest, to keep seeking the light that is our way forward, and focus on the real. This collection is a walk through the positive nature of life. Camilla Downs is to be commended.” – Frank Prem, Author of free-verse memoir Small Town Kid
About Camilla:
Camilla Downs is a bestselling author, indie publisher, mentor, and mom. Nature and life experiences are a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She enjoys living a minimalist lifestyle, practicing meditation and mindfulness, reading, going for walks, and capturing nature’s essence with photographs. Camilla is the founder of MeetingtheAuthors.com and lives in Northern Nevada with her two kids.
Camilla’s Links:
Website: http://camilladowns.com/
Family Website: http://theteamtlc.com/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CamillaDownsAuthor/
twitter: https://twitter.com/camilladowns
instagram: https://www.instagram.com/CamillaDowns/
pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/camilladowns/
Where to Buy:
If you’re in the U.S. and would like a personalised, signed book – free shipping! (Camilla will ship internationally at buyer’s cost): http://camilladowns.com/books/words-of-alchemy/
Or go to
Amazon: mybook.to/WordsofAlchemy
Amazon Link to All Books:  amazon.com/author/camilladowns

Murky worlds and the business of writing with Elizabeth Ducie

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.

Her debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was published in 2014, and she then wrote a series of thrillers set in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals:  Counterfeit! (2016), Deception! (2017) and Corruption! (2018).

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.

Elizabeth Ducie, writer

Elizabeth Ducie, writer

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.

Gorgito's ice rink by Elizabeth Ducie

Gorgito’s ice rink by Elizabeth Ducie

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’.

Director of Exeter Lit Festival, congratulations! Do you have launch parties for your books?

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.

The Business of Writing by Elizabeth Ducie

The Business of Writing by Elizabeth Ducie

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

http://elizabethducieauthor.co.uk/my-books/

And Elizabeth’s social media links are

Website and blog: http://elizabethducie.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Elizabeth-Ducie-Author-312553422131146/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ElizabethDucie

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/educie/

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

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katemccormick/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiYmo3-3feid9BsD2p9eyJQ

 

Isobel Blackthorn writes for life

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. On the dark side are Twerk, The Cabin Sessions and The Legacy of Old Gran Parks. Her Canary Islands collection begins with The Drago Tree and includes A Matter of Latitude, Clarissa’s Warning, and A Prison in the Sun. Isobel’s interest in the occult is explored in The Unlikely Occultist: A biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey and the dark mystery A Perfect Square. Even her first novel,  Nine Months of Summer, contains a touch of the magical. Isobel is at work on her fifth Canary Islands’ novel, and has just published Voltaire’s Garden, which is both a tribute to and memoir of Cobargo, a small town in New South Wales recently devastated by the Australian New Year Bushfires.

Welcome, Isobel. What an impressive list of publications, which I am reading my way through (as you know, I love Clarissa’s Warning). It looks like you write in more than one genre?

I write mysteries, psychological thrillers, historical fiction, contemporary fiction and biographical fiction.

So impressive. Do you write full time?

I do. Short answer! Writing full time involves all the associated admin and promo of course. There is an awful lot of that. It is a very solitary existence, very absorbing. I am happiest when I am immersed in composing fiction with characters I am fond of, characters who make me laugh.

Yes, I think the admin takes longer than the writing – well, almost! You’re writing as a professional, then. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

This is a difficult question. Initially, I was warned away. But then again, said gainsayer mentored me for six months and showed me numerous tricks of the trade. So I did receive ample training. Also, I am a natural self-learner. I enjoy distance education. After the mentoring, I taught myself to be the writer I am by studying the works of contemporary literary fiction giants, particularly the Europeans. I chose these works as I didn’t want to risk picking up bad habits and back then, I really had no idea who I could trust, other than my beloved Iain Banks, who I also learned a lot from. Also, I love literary fiction. It has become undervalued as elitist when really, the genre that is not a genre is simply different and requires a different attitude, a different state of mind.

In my quest to turn myself into the best writer I could possibly be I regarded my selection of fictional works as text books. I filled a notebook with turns of phrase, examples of syntax, that sort of thing. I studied the architecture of a novel. I studied opening paragraphs. I pored over descriptions of characters. I worked out how to write effective dialogue.

Years later I enrolled in a free, ten-week online writing course offered by the Open University, UK. I wanted to see how they approached the delivery in terms of content and style in preparation for a ten-week writing class I was giving. The OU course was great fun and well thought through and I got to see how things were done. I still think my self-learning method is best but only because it worked for me.

You’ve devoted yourself to your craft. Why is writing important to you?

Writing is my life, both fiction and non-fiction. I communicate. I suppose I also teach. My mind bursts with thoughts, runaway ideas. I get hot under the collar about a lot of issues and writing gives me a means of expression and a platform. For me, writing, including creative writing, serves a higher purpose, at least it does when we produce works of some depth and substance, works of moral value, and not simply writing for entertainment and wish-fulfilment alone. Writing encourages reading, we hope, and reading expands the mind, we hope. Writing is for me an occupation, a distraction, a partial escape, a way of steadying my mind and forging through hard times. We live in hard times, don’t we. Anyone with any sensitivity can see that.

The first book I wrote was a memoir. Back in 2007, I started writing the story of my sustainable lifestyle project involving the building of a house with B&B and the creation of a large garden on a fifteen-acre cattle paddock on the edge of Cobargo in one of the prettiest places on earth, a place safe from the ravages of climate change, or so I thought.

The memoir was almost published and then I shelved it when my marriage failed and I moved to Melbourne.

Then, last New Year’s Eve, the unthinkable happened and I was thrust back into my old home town through the devastating bushfire. My emotions were ragged. My family had lived in the community for over forty years. We knew all the people who died. I used to sort mail at the post office and so I knew everyone by name. It was trauma at a distance and I was ragged.

Voltaire's Garden by Isobel Blackthorn

Voltaire’s Garden by Isobel Blackthorn

In the end, it occurred to me that the best thing I could do with how I felt was to resurrect that old memoir. It would be a tribute to a very special location. Finding the manuscript in pretty good shape, I polished it up and wrote an epilogue which gave the memoir the meaning I knew it needed. It is called Voltaire’s Garden, and is in many ways an homage to philosopher Voltaire, who established his own sustainable lifestyle in exile in the late 1700s.

 

That one’s a very personal story. How much research is involved in your writing?

Research forms a large component of any story. From fleshing out original ideas to embellishing the details and informing plots and characters, research is key. I research setting – environment, history, culture, society – key events and histories. I research geography, climate, weather, food, customs, all kinds of things. I am forever looking something up. Thank goodness for the Internet. I think in the past I would have needed to pitch a tent in a large reference library as I doubt I would ever have left the building.

Book 4 in my Canary Islands collection, A Prison in the Sun, had me researching newspaper reports, blog posts and a couple of doctoral theses all in Spanish. The novel concerns a little-known concentration camp for gay men that ran for twelve years in the 1950s and 60s under General Franco. I had known of the camp since the late 1980s when I lived on the islands. Back then, the story was repressed. An academic broke the story in the noughties, but only in Spanish.

Rather than set an entire novel in a labour camp, I embedded the story in a mystery featuring a millennial ghost writer grappling with his sexuality, setting up an important juxtaposition between then and now, and throwing in some mystery elements – a rucksack full of cash, a dead body – for intrigue.

I love the way you layer your stories. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I have Book 5 of my Canary Islands collection to write. I’m currently at the research stage, and actually on the islands! And I hope to finish my family history novel this year. The project stalled two-thirds in due to frustrations with the genealogy. I decided to press pause while I paid a tidy sum to a professional genealogist to see what else could be discovered. I’m still waiting for the results.

Can we get your books as audio books?

You most certainly can. The Cabin Sessions, A Matter of Latitude and Clarissa’s Warning are all available in audiobook format. A Prison in the Sun will be in audio soon too.

Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?

Ideas come to me. They land in my mind like pebbles plopping in a pond. If I don’t have the inspiration, there is no book project. Sometimes I brainstorm ideas, and to do that I need a sounding board, someone to listen as I talk things through, pacing the floor. I came up with my latest book project this way. The ideas arose little by little, like lots of small pebbles rather than one big splash. I needed to brainstorm as I felt I needed a Book 5 for my Canary Islands collection.

Is it easy for readers to find your books?

Readers need to find my books online. I am published overseas by a terrific independent publisher with a strong online focus.

Do you send out newsletters to readers?

I do. I have a pop-up sign-up form on my website and most subscribers find me that way.

That’s great. Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Isobel. Keep those stories coming!

 

Isobel’s Links

https://isobelblackthorn.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Lovesick.Isobel.Blackthorn/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5768657.Isobel_Blackthorn

https://twitter.com/IBlackthorn

https://www.instagram.com/isobelblackthorn/

 

Trevor Wood introduces The Man on the Street

Although Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for twenty-five years and considers himself an adopted Geordie, he still can’t speak the language. A successful playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council, Trevor served in the Royal Navy for sixteen years joining, presciently,  as a Writer. Trevor has an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from the University of East Anglia.

Trevor’s widely-praised first novel, The Man on the Street, is set in Newcastle, and will delight readers of mystery thrillers – if you like Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, Trevor’s Jimmy Mullen series could be your next addiction.

Let’s discover a bit more about the writer behind Jimmy.

LWOTW: Welcome, Trevor, and thanks for talking to me on last Word of the Week. What was the first book you read for yourself?

TREVOR: Like most people my age I blame Enid Blyton for everything. The Secret Seven, Famous Five and the ‘Adventure’ series were undoubtedly my gateway drugs to a lifelong love of crime fiction. It’s no coincidence that my debut crime novel The Man on the Street features a dog. He’s a direct descendant of Timmy.

Author Trevor Wood

Author Trevor Wood

Once I’d put on my big boy pants it was difficult to know where to go next for something to read – YA fiction was barely a thing back in the day. The solution came to me on a terribly dull barge holiday on the Norfolk Broads with my cousin and his family. These days I’d love that kind of holiday – a glorified pub crawl on a boat being my kind of thing – but for a 14-year-old boy it was stupefyingly boring. The solution was galloping through the shelf full of books on the barge – all written by Agatha Christie. From that moment on it was crime all the way and it’s all due to Enid and Agatha (and maybe Scooby Doo).

Enid and Agatha provide a perfect pedigree, but I see you also have an MA in Creative Writing. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

I have nothing but praise for the creative writing courses I’ve done and am certain that without them I wouldn’t now be a published author. I tried a couple of short, local courses in Newcastle first. From the first I ended up joining a small group of writers who meet up every three weeks to offer each other constructive criticism on our latest work in progress. It’s been an invaluable part of my process. My second course provided me with a great friend who also happened to be a retired senior cop, who is now not only a drinking partner but a sounding board for some of my more fanciful ideas regarding the police.

It was the third, however, that provided the major impetus to my writing career, such as it is. I was one of the guinea pigs on UEA’s inaugural Crime Writing MA, a two-year, part-time course with an end point of producing an 80,000 word crime novel. With visiting writers including Lee Child, Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham and Denise Mina, and ten other thoroughly-committed budding crime writers offering regular feedback on every 10,000 words produced, it was a total joy from start to finish. Not only did it make me a far better writer, it opened so many doors, with visits from agents, editors and several experts in their fields from pathologists to crime scene boffins, the whole thing was an inspiration. Out of the eleven students, five now have publishing deals and three more have agents with books in the pipeline.

If your ambition is to be a published crime writer then I urge you to SIGN UP NOW (I’m not on commission but maybe I should be?)

Yes, you should be! That sounds like a fabulous course.  Personal question now: are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

It’s not a secret really but a small in-joke for my own amusement that no-one has ever mentioned so this is basically a WORLD-WIDE EXCLUSIVE.  The main character in The Man on the Street, Jimmy, is a homeless veteran who is suffering from PTSD. He is particularly haunted by fire as a result of his experiences in the Falklands War. I have a cop in my book too, who may or may not be on Jimmy’s side, no plot spoilers here. The cop’s name is DS Burns. I did say it was a small in-joke.

But a world-wide exclusive small in-joke! LOL! Now, how do you feel about reviews?

Undoubtedly the best response I’ve had to The Man on the Street was from the ultra-talented writer Dominic Nolan, who I’m certain will soon be catapulted on to the A-list with his brilliant new book After Dark. All praise is, of course, deeply gratifying but when it comes from a master of his, and your own, craft it’s doubly so. I’ll leave this here:

Trevor has assembled a fine array of characters—each playing their part in the main narrative whilst remaining the heart of their own stories, and never once are they condescended to. The plotting is so deft—weaving the larger tapestry of social inequality and the wretchedly skewed priorities of collapsing instruments of state services with the more intimate darkness of personal crimes. It is the kind of thriller our times need and deserve.

Dominic Wood on The Man on the Street

cover

Of course, there will always be those who don’t like your work. I really don’t mind less-than glowing reviews as long as they are constructive and often find myself agreeing with some of the criticism. If you’re going to be a writer you really have to learn to take criticism because believe me you’re going to get it. It starts from the moment you begin submitting to agents and then, if you survive that ordeal, editors come next – and it never really stops. It’s a brutal rite of passage and you need to be resilient to get through it. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything that’s said about your work, far from it. But it does mean you have to be able to examine your work carefully and critically. I have a rule that if two people say the same thing then I need to have a good look at it but sometimes you have to go with your gut and stay strong if you’re convinced you’re right.  There will always be people who hate your work. Note it and move on quickly. I’ve co-written around a dozen plays and my favourite bad review was “the writers set the bar really low yet still manage to limbo dance under it.”  Which you have to admit is a funny line even when you’re the victim of it.

Oh dear, yes, that made me laugh out loud! Do you imagine specific actors playing your characters – which is possibly inevitable for a playwright?

I was very lucky with the audio version of The Man on the Street. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve co-written several plays (and consequently worked with a lot of great actors.) My publishers sent me a link to listen to when they thought they’d found the right actor to take the job on and I didn’t even need to open it. It was the outstanding David Nellist, who had starred in one of my co-written plays Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather but is perhaps better known for playing Mike Stamford, the character who introduces John Watson to Sherlock Holmes in the re-boot of the TV series. As always, Dave has done a fantastic job with the book, bringing a real authenticity to the characters.

That’s wonderful. And is there more Jimmy Mullen to come?

Yes there is! A second book is well underway, and there might be bigger things in store for Jimmy.

That’s so exciting! Thanks for sharing with me today, Trevor, and all the best to you and Jimmy.

You can find Trevor on Facebook at

https://www.facebook.com/Trevor-Wood-Author-104885950924368/

and he tweets too: @TrevorWoodWrite

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The Man on the Street

When Jimmy, a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, witnesses a murder, no-one believes him.

Even he hopes it’s another hallucination.

Then a newspaper headline catches his eye: GIRL IN MISSING DAD PLEA.

It’s time for Jimmy to stop hiding from the world. But telling the girl, Carrie, what he saw puts him at risk from enemies, both old and new

Jimmy has one big advantage though; when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Murder is a cosy treat with Helena Dixon

Prolific UK author Helena Dixon splits her time between the Black Country and Devon. Married to the same man for over thirty-five years she has three daughters, a cactus called Spike, a crazy cockapoo* (see below) and a tank of tropical fish. She is allergic to adhesives, apples, tinsel and housework. Her addictions of choice are coffee and reality TV. She was winner of The Romance Prize in 2007 and Love Story of the Year 2010, writing as Nell Dixon (with a fantastic list of titles on her bookshelf). Helena now writes historical cozy crime set in the 1930s.

I’m excited to speak with Helena today as we have quite a bit in common. Let’s get to the questions!

Welcome to the Last Word of the Week, Helena! Why is writing important to you?

Helena: Writing is like breathing. I can’t imagine not being able to express the stories that I have galloping around in my head if I didn’t write. I joined my first writing group when I was twelve and have belonged to a writers group for most of my life. I belong to the RNA (Romance Novelists Association), the CWA (Crime Writers Association) and my local writers group which is affiliated to the NAWG (National Association of Writers’ Groups). Writing keeps me sane and makes me a much nicer person to be around.

Author Helena (Nell) Dixon

Author Helena (Nell) Dixon

What would readers never guess about you?

I have severe dyscalculia. I see numbers backwards and jumbled up. I can’t remember or retain them. I can’t read a digital clock very well. I can’t tell left from right or follow directions. I struggle with time as a concept. I can do sums in my head but not if I’m looking at the numbers. I don’t know my phone number, I forget my post code and I don’t know my car registration. I have never used an ATM and only own a mobile phone for the camera facility. I don’t know my number or how to use it.

Goodness, I would never guess that. How amazing and interesting. It obviously has no effect on your reading and writing. How much research is involved in your writing?

Lots. Especially my Helena Dixon books as they are set in 1930s Dartmouth. I recreate journeys via steam train and ferry. I make site visits and take copious notes and pictures. I have lots of wonderful people who answer all kinds of questions to check that I’m as accurate as I can be. For the third Miss Underhay book, due out in June, I visited the golf club where I wanted to leave a body and they kindly gave me a tour in a golf buggy and answered a million and one questions.

Site visits sound like complete fun. Do you have a pet as a writing companion?

Yes, although he is more of a hindrance than a help. That’s my lovely Cockerpoo Teddy. He even has his own facebook page!

Teddy the Cockerpoo (AKA Spoodle)

Teddy the Cockerpoo (AKA Spoodle)

(Clare says: Teddy the Cockerpoo* is a spoodle to those of us in the antipodes, i.e. a cocker spaniel crossed with a poodle. Aussies tend not to put ‘poo’ and, er, ‘cock’ in the same sentence, let alone the same word, if we can help it LOL. My own writing companion is the gorgeous and sassy Aeryn Spoodle-Wolf. You might have met her in this earlier post.)

What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months, Helena?

Hmm, I’m working on book 4 of the Miss Underhay series and I also have plans for a stand alone murder mystery. We’ll have to see how that all goes. I may even find time for a novella.

That sounds wonderful. What would be a dream come true for you?

Writing wise, I would love to see the Miss Underhay series on TV. There has been some interest and if anyone is listening it’s still available. My daughter wants a film, mainly because she thinks Beyonce should play Vivian Delaware, a slightly shady OTT jazz singer who appears in the first book, Murder at The Dolphin Hotel.

Oh, i’d love to see those stories on the little – or big – screen too! Fingers crossed. Thank you so much for sharing so much interesting information! I can’t wait to read more of Miss Underhay.

Buy links

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel is available as ebook, paperback and audiobook

UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XLM3SM6?tag=bookouture-cover-reveal-21

AUS https://www.amazon.com.au/Murder-Dolphin-Hotel-gripping-historical-ebook/dp/B07XLM3SM6/

Author Links

Nell enjoys hearing from readers and you can read her news and contact her via her website at http://www.nelldixon.com 

Twitter @NellDixon

Instagram Helena Dixon author

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

Website www.nelldixon.com

 

Murder at the Dolphin Hotel

A room with a view… to murder.

June 1933. Kitty Underhay is a modern, independent woman from the top of her shingle bob to the tip of her t-strap heels. She prides herself on the reputation of her family’s ancient hotel on the blustery English coast. But then a body is found, rooms are ransacked and rumours begin to circulate that someone is on the hunt for a valuable stolen ruby – a ruby that Kitty’s mother may have possessed when she herself went missing during the Great War. Before she can do more than flick a duster, Kitty finds herself in the midst of a murder investigation.

When the local police inspector shows no signs of solving the shocking crimes plaguing the hotel, Kitty steps briskly into the breach. Together with ex-army captain Matthew Bryant, her new hotel security officer, she is determined to decipher this mystery and preserve not only the name of her hotel, but also the lives of her guests.

Could there be a cold-blooded killer under her own roof? And what connects the missing jewel to the mystery from Kitty’s own past?

 

 

Aunt Jodie’s not-so-little secret

Jordan Bell is a psychologist and educator with a passion for helping children and parents learn about science. She also has a not-so-secret super-hero identity: she is Aunt Jodie of Aunt Jodie’s Guides to (just about) Everything!

Jordan’s first book, Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution, gives kids a fun and fascinating understanding of the key concepts underlying the theory of evolution, using REAL science. It’s perfect for parents who want to inspire a love of science in children (7-11 year olds) or to start a child’s science education early. It’s especially useful for parents who would like their kids to have more female role models in science.

Definitely on board with that, I say (tucking my B App Sci into my back pocket with a happy sigh).

Author Jordan Bell

Author Jordan Bell

Welcome, Jordan, and thanks for speaking with me on this episode of Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us a bit more about you and your books?

Jordan: As a nerdy mama to a curious primary-schooler who always wants to understand the “why?” of life, I have had lots of experience in putting complicated ideas into words that little brains can understand.

So what is Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Evolution?

It’s not just another boring bedtime story! It’s a science adventure into the ancient past that makes learning about the basics of evolution fun and engaging, and uses words and concepts that are right for kids in middle and upper primary school. For anyone new to science, my Aunt Jodie’s Guides also include an easy-to-read glossary, explaining the scientific terms used in the book and how to pronounce them.

Sounds great. Now let’s find out a bit more about you. What was your favourite book as a child?

My favourite book as a child was The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. Not only is it an amazing tale about the power of stories, but also such a spell-binding title to a child who constantly begged for yet another trip to the library – a book that never ended? Sign me up! My dad bought me a really beautiful hardback edition when it was first released in English, which was printed in red and green ink with illustrated chapter initials. That exact copy was lost to the mists of time but my husband tracked down a copy for me a few years ago and I treasure it. I’ll be reading it to my daughter this year!

A book that deserves to be a lifetime favourite! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I’m most productive when I have a morning to myself and I can take my laptop to my favourite café, fuel up on french toast and tea, and write for 3-4 hours. They are used to me doing this now and top up my teapot without asking. I can write anywhere as long as I have half an hour and a computer, but that’s my preferred routine.

That sounds like the perfect writing space, and writers should always have a ready supply of French toast and tea. How do you feel about reviews?

I love them! I would really like some more! Having said that, if there’s anyone out there who hasn’t appreciated my book, they haven’t chosen to share those thoughts with me, so my experiences have all been positive at this stage. I might feel differently after some critical feedback!

What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

The greatest review I ever got was from the son of a friend:
“I thought the book was fantastic. I learnt lots, I never got bored and never wanted to stop reading it, it was very clear and it’s also a very fun way to put it. I would rate this book 5 stars and I normally pick out every single fault.”

But I’ve had lots of people excited about the idea of a book about evolution for children, it seems like a book that is needed out there in the world!

Aunt Jodies Guide_Cover Print

Yes indeed! What kind of reader would like your books?

I write Aunt Jodie’s Guides for primary-school aged kids, to help them get their heads around big scientific ideas that will have an impact on their life. I started with explaining evolution, because I think that’s the kind of idea that — if you can understand it as you are growing and learning — will change the way you view the world. We desperately need future citizens who are well-informed about the science that underpins our natural and technological worlds, and I think kids are a capable of understanding a lot more than we give them credit for, if we explain it properly.

Hear, hear! Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?

Anyone who searches Aunt Jodie’s Guide should find my online store pretty easily, and the bookshops that have stocked me so far have been very generous about displaying my book face out so hopefully a few people have stumbled across it that way!

That’s great, let’s hope for more stumbles. What would be a dream come true for you?

I’d love to have my book picked up as a series by a publisher with the scope to share these ideas worldwide and maybe even in other languages! I’m currently working on Aunt Jodie’s Guide to Climate Change, and I have strong ideas for more books in the series as Aunt Jodie explains the human body, space science, and computers!

All books that I think need to be in the world as soon as possible. Please keep writing! And thank you so much for sharing with me today.

 

Aunt Jodie’s links:

https://www.facebook.com/AuntJodiesGuides/

www.auntjodiesguide.com

Twitter:  @AuntJodiesGuide

Best online buying link: www.gumroad.com/jordanbell

 

Bringing history to life with Caroline Warfield

Discovering Diamonds (independent reviews of historical fiction) first led me to award winning author Caroline Warfield, because her book Christmas Hope seemed a perfect match for my own The Stars in the Night. (Put them together for a perfect present!) Caroline excels at family-centred romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras.

Caroline has been many things: traveller, librarian, poet, raiser of children, bird watcher, Internet and Web services manager, conference speaker, indexer, tech writer, genealogist—even a nun.

She reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Welcome, Caroline, and thank you for speaking with me on Last Word of the Week. Can you tell us about the first book you read for yourself—or bought for yourself?

Caroline: All writers are avid readers—we have to be. I don’t remember not reading so this question is hard. A more vivid memory isn’t so much the first book I bought for myself but the moment I liberated myself from the children’s section of the public library. The door to that building was in the center, and for years I turned to the right to the children’s section when I came in. One day at twelve I turned left instead of right.  No one stopped me—it was a heady and powerful feeling. The book I took out that day was Jane Eyre.

How wonderfully liberating. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

The best advice I ever got was simple. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Just sit down and do it. What is more to the point, keep doing it every day. Don’t diddle, talk, or dream about it. Do it.

Carol Roddy

Do it. Of course! Is writers block a thing for you?

Yes, although it is usually less dramatic than a complete block. I will cruise along writing 1-2000 words a day on a book, hit a speed bump and come to a screeching halt. Some of it is that I can’t envision the next steps of the plot, but I’m learning that the underlying issue is usually that I’ve failed to get well enough acquainted with the characters—their personality, life, wounds, scars, underlying goals…that sort of thing.  Once I know them well, and I’ve put them in a situation, the writing flows. When I hit a wall, it is time to go back to character charts and backstory for a while.

Character charts – why didn’t I think of that?! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

My favourite praise is “I was up all night finishing your book.” SIGH

 

That is high praise indeed. Lovely! Your focus is on historical novels – how much research is involved in your writing?

Heaps—especially when I allow some impulse to set characters down in a setting and historical situation about which I know little. The worst was the time I sent a character to India and realized I knew nothing about the East India Company, the country itself or its culture. Research, research, research.

With a fabulous reason to do more of our favourite thing – reading! Do you get feedback about your story, before it’s published?

Always. I drop little excerpts of my WIP to reader groups on Facebook as I write, and I always get it to beta readers before I do one final self-edit before sending it to the publisher.

That sounds like a good feedback system. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I’m doing something a little different this year. I have two projects in process at once. Because readers like series, and they don’t like long waits between books, I’m holding on to finished manuscripts. But I’m writing two series at once. The first is a new set of books in my British Empire series using sons and daughters of characters in my earlier books. We’re up to about 1840 in that saga. Book one is finished in rough draft. That one, The Price of Glory, takes place primarily in Egypt and Nubia.  The other series is more of a traditional Regency world, it covers two interrelated families around a coaching inn in a village in the English Midlands. The hero of book one in that series is half-brother to both families, the innkeeper’s and the earl’s, who has been called home reluctantly in 1817 after leaving for good (he thought) fifteen years before.  My goal for 2020 is to have the two books in the Empire series and one in the other finished, with two other stories well under way

That’s a big year you have in front of you, but it sounds fascinating. What’s your favourite genre to read?

I read historical books. Mysteries, romance, straight up fiction, non-fiction, biographies—if its historical it will find its way on to my to-be-read pile.

I bet we have a few overlapping favourite authors. Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?

Often, ideas come to me from travel.  I once sat in a café in Rome and asked myself whether I could set a Regency novel in Rome. Turns out I could and Dangerous Secrets has become one of my favourites. I also rely on reading, on my own previous books, and, of course, bits of historical trivia.

Do you plan your books, or do you listen to your muse?

I rely entirely on the girls in the basement. I fill them with settings, history, and characters and they give me back stories. If I do my preliminary work regarding characters and setting, and we agree on some key turning points, the girls and I, it works. Over-planning puts them to sleep.

What a delightful process! Is it easy for you to meet other writers?

Not always but it is vital. Since I moved to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania I no longer belong to a local chapter. Luckily, I have made some excellent friends online. We brainstorm, read each other’s work, and encourage one another. Every year we produce a collection of new stories with interrelated story elements. One year it was a house party overrun with kittens (Holly and Hopeful Hearts). One year it was a Valentine’s Day ball (Valentines from Bath). This year, timed for Valentine’s Day, it is Fire & Frost in which all five stories converge at the 1814 frost fair on the frozen Thames.

How marvellous! I must say, Caroline, I love your work. Thank you so much for sharing today.

You can see Caroline’s wonderful works one her bookshelf at https://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/

You can find more about the stories in Fire & Frost and links to various retailers here: https://bluestockingbelles.net/belles-joint-projects/fire-frost/

You can find all Caroline’s books here: https://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/

You can follow progress, find excerpts, and learn about her characters here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/WarfieldFellowTravelers/

 

Caroline’s other links:

Website

Amazon Page

Good Reads

Facebook

Twitter

Newsletter

BookBub

YouTube

 

 

When no one is watching … words arrive

Linathi Makanda is a young South African poet and author whose first book of brilliantly-realised love poetry was published last month. I reviewed When No One is Watching recently, full of enthusiasm for a new voice that so perfectly captures the heart of feeling, from first delight through to lonely despair. I consider that poetry is the perfect vehicle for emotion, and I haven’t felt so close to heartache-in-words since I first read Sappho’s fragments as a teenager.

Linathi Makanda

Author Linathi Makanda

I’m thrilled that Linathi has joined Odyssey Books, the wonderful publishing house that has done so much for me, and I’m very grateful that she has agreed to be first up in 2020’s Last Word of the Week series.

Welcome, Linathi! Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
Linathi: I started feeling like I was a writer when I started producing work that I felt like was authentically me, when it came naturally to me. I’ve always known that I wanted to write but struggled a lot when it came to finding my voice. So I internally identified as a “writer” when I was ultimately happy with the work I was producing.

When you writing spoke as you, that’s a good measure. What would readers never guess about you?
The fact that I’m very fearful of a lot of things. As an expressive, people often view you as bold. People would be really shocked to know how often I get anxious or nervous, especially when it comes to my writing.

You’re right, your nervousness doesn’t show. Your poetry has a beautiful, confident, authentic voice. Why is writing important to you?
Expression, in general, is important to me. I think it’s important for each generation to show how their forms of expression have evolved from the last. Books, writing and art in general have so much continuity and apart from us wanting to indulge in these crafts and enjoying them, it’s also equally important to make sure that we leave traces of ourselves for the next generations and I guess writing is my contribution to that bigger picture.

What five words would best describe your style?
Relatable – Emotive – Simple – Raw – Captivating / Gripping

I like the way you snuck in an extra word! What do you think about creative writing courses? Are they valuable?
They definitely are, especially for readers and writers of younger ages. As a young writer myself, it has become important to me that young children and writers are given the opportunity to explore themselves in creative spaces. Too often, reading and writing is boxed in in academia. It’s therefore important to show people that writing and reading can and does exist for purposes other than just for academics.

Well said. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?
Funny thing is, I think everyone I’ve encountered would and is probably surprised about my writing. I’ve never really let people in on the fact that I write. It’s been a strange transition going from people not knowing that I write, to being a published author.

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Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
My big break in writing has definitely been my book deal with Odyssey Books. As a writer, you dream of such things happening but they still seem very out of reach. Being the first South African author at an international publishing house means a lot to me as a writer and as an individual and I’m eternally grateful to my publisher, Michelle Lovi, for that opportunity.

Michelle is very special, and I find her very enabling. Congratulations on being published! What kind of reader would like your book?
I’d like to think my work is quite relatable and accessible to a range of people but more specifically, people who are highly in tune with their emotions, the lovers, the dreamers, the expressive and the people who aren’t scared to face their demons head on.

The lovers and the dreamers – I think I know a few! What would be a dream come true for you?
I’ve had a lot of my dreams come true at the end of 2019. My pictures were published on Vogue Italia and that really meant a lot for me as a self-taught photographer, I also got the book deal etc. But another one of my dreams would definitely be to see my poetry collection, When No One Is Watching, reach greater heights and to possibly venture into writing another book. Every writer definitely would like their bodies of work to gain traction and even though I didn’t necessarily write for recognition, the book itself doing well is something that I would really love to see happen.

Is it easy for readers to find your book/s?
Yes, definitely. When No One Is Watching is currently available on a wide range of platforms, namely Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Odyssey Books website as well as on Goodreads.

And it comes highly recommended by me! If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say?
Well, I’ve already snuck a little note in there for my readers (wink), but more than anything, I’d want to say “breathe in and be ready to fully experience all forms of yourself.”

That’s perfect! Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Linathi, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in words and pictures.

Three Reasons We Like the Adventurer

Last week, I promised a little more about the value of the adventure as a narrative. Adventure is an ancient genre, a story-telling style that has existed since long before pen was put to paper, or chisel to stone. Why has this type of story persisted, even through the twentieth century when traditional tales were so strongly challenged? What does adventure offer the listener or reader?

  1. First, there’s the narrative cohesion of an adventure story. In general, adventures follow the pattern of this happened, and then this, and then this…Of course, the straight sequence is interrupted frequently with danger. Typically, the adventurer went on a journey – but, oh no! the sky fell down – then the dragon put the sky back, so it was ok, and the journey continued – but oh no! the dragon decided to eat the adventurer – then a magical bird flew at the dragon, so it was ok, and the journey continued – but oh no! a hunter’s arrow struck the magical bird – then the bird turned into a dragon and rescued the adventurer from the hunter, so it was ok, and the journey continued … And so on. There are many ancient examples, and plenty of modern ones. Think of Andy Weir’s The Martian, where Mark Watney regularly evades death with wit and sass, and a sprinkling of stretched science. We all love the adventure narrative, and recognise it from many of our culturally-loved stories, from Robin Hood to  Indiana Jones to James Bond to  Harry Potter and beyond (yes, notice that the adventurer is traditionally male). The examples are truly countless. We love a story that goes: first this, then that, then this, then that… I contend that one of the interesting and maybe difficult aspects of GRR Martin’s Game of Thrones series is that, even though he uses the adventure structure, he regularly subverts the adventurer story with random deaths. Otherwise Ned Stark would still be alive in Book 2.
  2. So, we ask, its structural predictability is the only reason adventure remains so popular? No. The second, and perhaps more fundamental reason, is that adventure stories affirm life. The hero continues to expose him (or her)self to risk, and in general, overcomes the great adversary – Death – by courage or wit or skill or magical/divine assistance. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum explained that, in classical Greek literature (think those enduring adventures, The Iliad and The Odyssey), the very fact that human life is fragile makes it beautiful and beloved of the gods, whose immortality seems coarse by comparison. This is a concept that recurs in some modern fantasy stories, for example the excellent Folk of the Air series by Holly Black, where mortals live in the timeless courts of faerie.
  3. The third reason that adventure (in its many incarnations across genres) remains popular is that such stories indicate that humans can do something: they can take action which brings about a real effect in the physical world. Such reassurance is welcome in dark times, when people may feel that they are helpless against larger forces. This has always been true. Classical adventure contended that action can stave off Death many times before the inevitable end. With the rise of the novel, not only death but all manner of enemies could be defeated time and time again – fires and floods, plagues and poverty, assassins, ghouls, organised crime, unjust political systems…

Arguably, the Great War marked a turning point in our reception of the adventurer as a hero in high literature. Demonstrably, courage was seen to have no power over death (this has always been the case, but somehow centuries of readers missed this in The Iliad and its like)More introspective, thoughtful stories appeared, where the struggle involved inner demons and existential or even nihilistic considerations.  Adventure stories, once the heart of classical culture, were consigned to popular fiction – genre fiction – rather than high literature. That fits with the notion that ‘science fiction’ and its brethren are ‘lowbrow’ and of lesser value than post-modern novels of introspection.

I disagree. I think all stories have their place, their function, their readers. There is no single right way. Adventure continues as a mainstay of storytelling, its traditional male hero now, thankfully, often reinvigorated with heroes of various genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, species, and intergalactic origins.

I love it.