Calling Australian Book Lovers

Logo of Australian Book Lovers website

Calling Australian Book Lovers

Cooee!

Today I’m excited to host Veronica Strachan and Darren Kasenkow as they tell us all about their inspiring project. Veronica and Darren are the co-founders of Australian Book Lovers and the co-hosts of the popular podcast of the same name.  They’ve created a site that’s brilliant for readers and writers.

Love Australian books? Go straight to their site, sign up for the newsletter, subscribe to the fabulous chatty, engaging, informative podcast. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

What is Australian Book Lovers?

Australian Book Lovers is a platform for Australian and Indigenous authors to list their books, and for readers from across the globe to find them.

About the ABL team:

In between listing books, promoting authors, and recording podcasts, Veronica and Darren are editing their collaborative novel Family Secrets. Book 1 of a new series, ‘Beneath a Burning Heart’, Family Secrets features adventure, romance, and a supernatural twist.

Veronica spent most of her life in the health industry as a nurse, midwife, project manager, CEO, coach, and facilitator. Once she switched her attention to creative writing, she published six books in five years. A memoir, a workbook/journal, and two books in a children’s picture book series, illustrated by her daughter, Cassi. As V.E. Patton, she’s written Book 1 of a fantasy series and a novelette. Soul Staff: Book 2 of her ‘Opal Dreaming Chronicles’, and Chickabella Shapes Up: Book 3 of The Adventures of Chickabella are due for release later in 2021.

Darren appeared on Last Word of the Week earlier this month. He’s an author whose work dances across the boundaries of literary fiction, with thematic elements from dystopian horror, apocalyptic science fiction and existential suspense. His books include The Apocalypse Show, Dust and Devils, See the City Red and The Hallucigenia Project Book One. He’s currently working on the highly anticipated sequel titled Godless, with an expected release date of late 2021.

I’m very excited to talk to Veronica and Darren today about their work and their mission to promote Australian books.

Welcome to 2021 Inspirations

Veronica: Thank you for the chance to post our inspirations to your blog.

Veronica is also a life coach and motivator
Veronica is also a life coach and motivator

What inspired me to get Australian Book Lovers going? Well, if you chat with Darren Kasenkow for more than a few minutes, you are guaranteed to be inspired by his enthusiasm and imagination. We’re co-authoring a book and have chatted regularly over Zoom over the last couple of years. I was getting to know lots of Aussie writers through the Twitter #AusWrites hashtag started by Rebecca Langham (and now assisted by Kevin Klehr) and the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge (Reading more works by Australian women writers).

Both DK and I were doing everything we could as Indie authors to promote our books in the crowded marketplace, and in the midst of COVID-19!!! I can’t help coaching – looking for potential and nurturing it forth, it’s in the blood – and wanting to support other people in reaching for their dreams, in this case Aussie authors! The conversation got around to … wouldn’t it be good if all the Australian authors were in one place… and easy to find and promote. I’m pretty sure it was DK who said,

“We should start a website”

and he came up with the name Australian Book Lovers. As a serial small business entrepreneur, it was the green light to get started.

The continuing inspiration comes from the authors themselves. The podcast is my favourite. It is an absolute honour to chat with so many creative imaginative people and to hear about what inspires them. And then to spend time chatting with my friend Darren about anything and everything writing and reading that takes our fancy. If one of us is feeling a bit flat, it only takes a minute or two to be uplifted by the other person’s energy and enthusiasm.

COVER Dust and Devils
Dust and Devils by Darren Kasenkow

Darren: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of your amazing blog!! And an extra huge thank you for shining a light on great people and artists of all passions – in a world that’s continuously turning upside down it’s a beautiful thing to know beautiful conversations are happening 🙂

As for inspirations behind the Australian Book Lovers website and podcast, my writing, and of course my insatiable appetite for all things that ignite the imagination, I guess I have to say it probably has to do with those truly magical moments of discovery as a kid that held a recipe for transcending time.

The promise of wonder in a new book

is just the same today as it was when my bedtime was out of my hands and a new tale to read was a whole new world to discover and learn from. I love all art and forms of expression, yet books continue to be portals that I just don’t think other mediums can beat (and I say that as someone who loves to explore the technology of virtual reality!).

I write with the hope my story might inspire the same love of literary portals that I’ve been lucky enough to carry with me throughout life’s trials and tribulations, and I love working on Australian Book Lovers with Veronica because it represents the chance of sharing great works with readers who also hold the soul of an inner child filled with wonder and the desire to push their imaginations to the limit! Oh, and I love to peek behind the curtains in life, so interviewing authors and industry specialists is an absolute blast!!!!!

Tell us more about Australian Book Lovers, please!

Australian Book Lovers is a website where Australian authors can list their books for free.

Logo for the Historical genre
Logo for the Historical genre

Each listing allows a cover, blurb, bio, and author pic as well as a buy link of the author’s choice. We have hundreds of books from hundreds of authors listed under 12 separate genres/ages. Each page has its mascot – an Australian animal or bird, usually wearing a quirky piece of clothing or a prop instantly recognisable to lovers of those books. You can see two of our favourites in this blog. We’ve just commenced competitions to name all the mascots. The hundreds of people who subscribe to our newsletter get updates on the latest additions to the website, special features and access to author giveaways. Authors get their books shared with our subscribers and all the website visitors. The website changes almost daily, both in terms of books added and functionality. Very soon we’ll have to add multiple pages for our most popular genres. We’ll be offering listings for short fiction in the near future.

We also co-host a podcast

which currently has seventeen episodes and over 25 hours of writing news, reading news, author interviews, cameos, book readings, chats with industry experts and expert panels.

Logo for Middle Grade books
ABL logo for Middle Grade books

It is so inspiring to chat with authors and industry people about their love for writing and publishing. We were blown away by the support of authors for the podcast and amazed at having 1000+ downloads by our listeners in only three months.

There are times when it’s hard to keep up with demand, as we both have our own creative work and careers, but it is a gift to be connecting Australian and Indigenous authors to new readers, and we love it.

Thank you so much to Veronica and Darren for bringing together Australian Book Lovers through their energy and passion for reading, writing, readers and writers. If you are an Australian author yet to take advantage of the free listing service for your book, do it now! If you love reading books by Australian authors, wherever you happen to be in the world, go straight to ABL for a feast of books!

Those Important LINKS

Australian Book Lovers Website https://www.australianbooklovers.com

Follow ABL on Twitter https://twitter.com/AustralianBooks

Find ABL on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AustralianBookLovers

Dancing in the Dark with Darren Kasenkow

Darren Kasenkow is an Australian author whose work dances across the boundaries of literary fiction to bring together thematic elements ranging from dystopian horror, apocalyptic science fiction and existential suspense.

Darren’s books include The Apocalypse Show , Dust and Devils , See the City Red and The Hallucigenia Project Book One. He’s currently working on the highly anticipated sequel titled ‘Godless’, with an expected release date late in 2021.

Darren’s also recently finished a collaboration with bestselling author V.E. Patton on a new adventure series ‘Beneath A Burning Heart’.

Dust and Devils by Darren Kasenkow

I’m excited to host Darren on my blog today. Welcome!

Tell us a bit about what inspires you.

Darren: Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of your amazing blog!! (You’re welcome and flattery will get you everywhere.)

Ever since I can remember, books have been important tools that have helped me to explore my place in this strange, mystifying universe. When I started writing, I instantly found it to be a magical way of feeling a greater connection with both my imagination and the world around me, and I haven’t looked back since!

I love exploring themes that are centred around the eternal battle between good and evil, whether that battle exists deep in our own heart or across the four corners of the Earth, and I really do believe that with every page I write (as dark as those pages might be!) I learn a little more about who I am.

Ah, the everlasting contest between good and evil – a never-ending inspiration for stories. That’s what makes your books so good!

We are very fortunate – Darren is sharing a sneak preview of

GodlessThe Hallucigenia Project Book 2)

Let’s dive in!

 

The Hallucigenia Project

Book Two: Godless

 

Prologue

The crystal walls of the cave beckoned with an electric blue promise of eternity just beyond the glistening frozen surface. A single floodlight was the only pitiful source of warmth beneath the machine carved dome, while beyond the shadows there came from the ice soft symphonies of gentle crazing and cracking.

It wasn’t a big cave. About the size of large bedroom, it held a small wooden desk with a rusted bar stool for a chair, a large chest locked tight with two padlocks, and a scattering of makeshift weightlifting equipment slapped together with wood, various discarded engine parts and buckets of frozen water. With an endless night and harrowing, heart breaking Antarctic winds howling back on the surface, it was a treasured place of retreat. At least, it was for Leon Bzovsky.

The Quantum Physicist wasn’t interested in working out for the moment though. No, for amid the dark and crushing events that had descended upon the remote South Pole it was time for the little ritual that kept his haunting urges at bay. They would rise eventually, but to do so now would be unwise.

“Come now friend,” he whispered softly with his rolling accent, “this is much fresher than the last.”

The Emperor penguin wobbled a little closer to the floodlight where Leon was perched on his knees with a small piece of meat resting in his open hand. It pecked at a corner of the offering and then stared up at the host through tiny black eyes.

“What’s the matter?” Leon asked with a hint of frustration. “It’s only a little ink. Nothing there that can hurt you, but beneath the colours there awaits life.”

The penguin pecked one last time but seemed decided on skipping this particular meal. To assure his friend no disrespect was intended it nestled against Leon’s thigh and gently closed its eyes, content for now in the knowledge there would come another offering in the near future. So, with a shrug of his solid shoulders and a soft tsk tsk tsk, Leon brought the flesh to his mouth and bit down hard. Certainly this was a little fresher than the last, but as the tissue and fat warmed against his tongue there was a distinct bitterness that bordered on being unpleasant.

“Yes,” he mumbled while stroking the penguin’s head, “I see what you mean.”

The silent, vacuum-like ambience of the cavern was suddenly violated by three loud thumps against the makeshift entrance door. Leon quickly swallowed the barely chewed lump and turned his head in frustration. His moment of treasured solitude, it seemed, had come to an end.

With a sharp scraping sound accompanied with falling chunks of ice, the door pushed open and in an instant the harrowing screams of the winds rushed the cave walls. A tall, hulking figure stepped through and then pulled back his hood with thick, snow covered gloves. Leon wasn’t surprised to see that it was Salvador, one half of the remaining security division and a seasoned survivalist from Finland. He was, however, suddenly curious at expression the towering man brought with him, for it was one he hadn’t seen before.

It was an expression of fear.

Leon patted his special friend one last time and rose tall. Already the winds were turning the conditions in his retreat dangerous, and yet the door remained open.

“It seems even at a time like this I cannot enjoy a little time alone,” he remarked while zipping up his jacket.

“We come to the remote edge of the world and still you want more?” Salvador asked with a hint of pity. “Walk one mile in any direction and you’ll have your peace soon enough.”

“Perhaps, but it’s not peace I seek.”

Salvador studied the physicist for a moment, then pushed back thick blonde hair when a wind gust threw it across his eyes.

“You’re wanted back inside,” he announced. “There’s something you need to see.”

Leon nodded his understanding then slipped the thermal hood over his head, lifted cold wool across his face until only his eyes were visible, and mounted a headlamp that was fastened tight around his ears. Behind him the penguin scurried to the nest that had been chipped into the far wall as if performing a ballet for the visitor, and then Leon pushed on thick gloves, reached down, and returned the cave to a state of darkness.

Together they stepped into the endless night. By the glow of the headlamps the relentless hurricane winds seemed truly alive, with glittering tendrils forming shapes like flecked serpent tails that whipped and thrashed in the pursuit of pure destruction. It felt like a barrage of hammers punching hard into their bodies and pressing tight against their bones, making each step in the thick snow a battle of physical tenacity and determination.

In the distance the lights of the station were barely visible, but it was all that was needed to guide them through the frozen nightmare and promise enough that their flesh would be warmed again soon. They would need to move quickly though. With conditions as bad as they could get, it wouldn’t take long for their eyes to become glass marbles ready to shatter at the slightest stumble.

A vague shape emerged from the darkness on the left, and with it the distinct sound of hard clanging metal that joined the symphony of screams and wails of the unseen and unknowable. Instinctively they both pierced through the night with headlamps to illuminate the rusted outline of two large shipping containers that had been welded together. Leon cursed beneath his thermal protection at the shadowed sight of one of the doors lashing to and fro as if it were a metal wing of a broken beast determined to fly, the groaning hinges shaking and rattling in preparation of defeat, and diverted a heavy step towards it.

Leave it!” Salvador shouted against the wind. “The dead are immune to the cold and besides, there’s no time.

***

Oh my goodness! Penguins, blizzard conditions and something (someone?) dead in a shipping container?! Please hurry with the rest of the story, Darren!

Thanks so much for sharing today on my blog.

See the Red City by Darren Kasenkow

Darren’s LINKS

Website https://www.darrenkasenkow.com/

Purchase options for ‘The Hallucigenia Project Book 1’ https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B07HF71H8T/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/darren.kasenkow

The multi-dimensional Alice McVeigh is inspiring

Alice McVeigh uses the pen name Spaulding Taylor when she writes science fiction. She may have two names, but she has many more roles than that. She’s a ghostwriter, an editor, a performer , and a musician.

Alice is with me today to talk about what inspires her creative output. She is also sharing an extract from her book Last Star Standing (I love that title!) which is a dystopian sci-fi thriller!

Welcome, Alice.

Author Alice McVeigh who also writes as Spaulding Taylor

What Inspires Alice

ALICE: I’ve been very open about my triumphs and disasters, perhaps particularly here:

https://selfpublishingadvice.org/author-interview-alice-mcveigh/

Basically, I was lucky enough to get a Booker-prize-winning agent when I was still pretty young, along with a two-book contract with Orion (now part of Hachette). These novels sold very well, but not well enough for Orion, who rejected my third.

I then entered a period of real depression, retreating into ghost writing and cello-playing (my only degree is in cello performance, oddly enough!)…  But fiction, eventually, pulled me back, and Unbound released my Kirkus-starred speculative thriller only a couple of months ago.

What inspired me? A meditation, which I mention in the interview. It was a crazy experience, having a character come and tap me on the shoulder! – But I’m very grateful all the same…

***

Thanks Alice, that’s so interesting. It’s not often a character accosts a writer, but it’s worth following up when it does happen.

Now Alice is going to share an extract from Last Star Standing

***

 Background to the scene:

Ravene, the alien King’s heir, was Aiden’s lover a decade earlier.

Aiden, along with Bully and the gromeline, is in the King’s encampment, on the mission to assassinate the King. Aiden is telling the story.

But Aiden is currently in the body of a hideous Tester, a bull-like humanoid alien. He’s taken aback when Ravene notices him in this guise and insists that he accompany her, alone, to her quarters.

Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor
Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Excerpt from Last Star Standing

Ravene shifted into a sitting position and flinched. She spoke almost to herself, as if I was too stupid to understand. ‘You’re ugly, of course, but then, you’re all ugly. But there’s something different about you. You remind me of someone I first knew years ago.’

Might not have been me, of course. Always sought-after, Ravene. The legs, mostly. She turned her head, reminding me that her profile was tops, as well.

She continued, ‘He was human. Good-looking – not stunningly good-looking, but still handsome – well-built, clever, amusing. Tenten was his name, you might have heard of him? He was only recently executed.’

So the King had lied even to Ravene, his favourite child and acknowledged heir.

As some answer seemed expected, I rasped, ‘A known rebel. A known traitor, lady.’

‘A traitor to us, perhaps, but utterly true to his own people. You must realise, hircht, that I am part-human? My siblings constantly remind creatures of this, in hopes that I might be discounted in the succession.’

I knew all this, of course. Whether most testers would have, I hadn’t a clue. I stood in the approved tester pose: staunch, wooden, dull.

Ugly too, I bet.

‘Perhaps that’s why I remember him so warmly. Of course, he was impulsive, stubborn, in some ways difficult, but his humanness somehow spoke to me. I’ve never since—’ She lapsed back into thoughtfulness, while I kept wondering why the hell she was telling me this.

‘He had such feeling! Everything with Aiden was always so wonderfully in the moment! There was a time, I remember, we were on a balcony—’

Oh God, I remembered that too. Almost fell off the bloody thing.

 I shifted uneasily as she said, almost dreamily, ‘And then, and then, another time – we were on a picnic with other students. It was autumn in the overland and somehow one could still sense it, even deep below – perhaps some movement in the air, some atmosphere, some sense of leaves being trodden, decaying, into the dark earth… The picnic was in one of those kycnm fields with false-rainbowed skies and grass that never smells right. Aiden and I drifted away from the others. We had been dancing – did I mention the music? – but why on earth am I telling you this?’

Search me.

 But beneath both my hammering hearts I was still bewitched. That rainbow-textured sky, that music, that day… Sternly, I attempted to think of Bully, of Pavlina, of any bloody thing, just to break the spell.

This didn’t work. Instead, I was also caught up in remembering.

Ravene, casting her gaze backwards in the Academy corridor. Ravene waiting in the disabled loo, hair already rapturously dishevelled. Ravene winning the badminton tournament, with that perfected eye. Ravene sliding her palm into my pocket in the refectory… I tried to remember Petra, but she lacked vitality, in comparison. It was as if Ravene had tossed diaphanous silks over everything that wasn’t ourselves – young and handsome, young and full of hope, young and full of glory, the way the young are.

She sighed, stirred, and continued. ‘We left the others, just the two of us. We – oh, I don’t suppose you understand for one single second what I’m talking about! – but luckily, you’re far too stupid to understand. At any rate, we left the others under that great canopy of false sky. And above it there was a crack, and through it – like a gift – a slice of real sky. And he took me, just there, under that—’

She had been gazing into the distance. She glanced over at me and wriggled discontentedly. ‘What an apish expression you all have!’

As for me, I was still trying to look like the dimmest tester going. As much as I was feeling glad about anything, I was glad that I had shoved Bully out with the gromeline.

‘Lady, just tell me what to do,’ I growled, as politely as I was able. ‘Command me. A drink, a pundling, an attendant—’

She half-rose on her elbow, staring at me. Both of my hearts stopped.

***

BOTH MY HEARTS STOPPED!

What a place to finish. If you’d like to read more, you can find Alice’s work at the following links. Thank you so much Alice for speaking with me today on Last Word of the Week: 2021 Inspirations Edition.

Alice’s Links:

Alice on Facebook

Alice’s Website

Alice on Instagram: @mcveigh.alice

Alice on Twitter: @astmcveigh1

Midnight swims and the omnipresence of story ideas

jumping into water!

Swimming at midnight – could it possibly help? Today we’ll ask author Faith Hogan about her latest book and her inspirations.

Faith lives in the west of Ireland with her husband, four children and a very busy chocolate Labrador called Penny.

She’s also going to share an excerpt from her novel The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club.

Author Faith Hogan
Author Faith Hogan

Inspiration – The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club

FAITH SAYS: Inspiration for a book is a funny thing. As a writer, it’s probably the question you’re asked the most – where do you get your ideas? The truth is, the ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to grasp them.

Sometimes, an idea comes from little more than a few off-hand words, a comment in a voice that you know would work great in a character. It’s not necessarily, even a real voice, just one that seems to enter my head from nowhere.

At other times, inspiration can be as simple as the beauty of my surroundings. Quite a number of my books are based on a fictional village called Ballycove. It’s a place that doesn’t exist, and yet it very much does. It’s a mish-mash of all the best of the rugged coastline that runs from west County Sligo to the far reaches of County Mayo, here in the west of Ireland. Local readers will often tell me they recognise various landmarks. At the same time, many locals could pick up my books and not have the foggiest that they are actually living in some part of the story.

I think that’s the magic of inspiration – it’s very personal. Where you and I see beauty or the nugget of a story can be poles apart. It’s also why there are so many books and all so different.

They say that there are only ten different plots. Fewer depending on who you believe. But the same plot in different hands becomes a completely different book and none the less satisfying for that, if the writer is worth their salt.

In The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, I was spoiled for inspiration. It came from all around me – literally.

It is set in Ballycove, a windswept corner of the west of Ireland.

The Wild Atlantic Way stretches along the west coast of Ireland, from Cork at its tip to Donegal at its head. It’s a symphony of small villages, unspoilt beaches, crashing waves and green fields. It’s truly breath taking, no less in winter when we’re blown away by gales than it is in summer when the sun shines and it feels as if the heavens have opened up before you.

And then there are the people. My books are all character driven. In The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, it is Lucy, Jo and Elizabeth who are steering the story. We meet each of them in their own moment of need. Each of them faces their own personal crises, some of which can be resolved. Others are out of their hands. But in life, it’s not always about how you fix things – it’s about how you cope with them.

What we’ve all learned, if we’re lucky enough to have a solid network around us, is that there is no problem that can’t be made to feel smaller if you can laugh at it. And there is no-one better to help you put things in perspective than another woman.

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club is a story about friendship. It’s about reaching out not because you have to, but because you can. It’s about the therapeutic benefits of laughter and kindness and the fact that every problem is halved once it’s shared.

After the year we’ve all put in, I think it’s exactly the sort of book I would like to pick up and read this weekend. It’s been described as ‘joyful, life-affirming and inspirational‘ and isn’t that exactly what we need right now?

 

Excerpt from The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club

Diary of a Sea Swimmer

The cold burns against my skin, numbing it instantly. I wade out, warily knowing that the icy water stabbing against my legs is an inevitable part of this. A bitter blanket weaving about my body welcoming me, a dear friend; I plunge violently in, gasping, salt water teasing my lips. I feel the small jagged stones beneath my feet. And then, I’m in. My arms and legs cut automatically through the water, until the cold has eaten from the outside in and there is nothing to do but surrender to the vastness and in it know that I am somehow suspended safe and all is well. I turn on my back for delicious blissful moments before I must go back to the shore and take up my life where I left off before … From Jo’s Journa

Prologue

Mid May and to Elizabeth, the night felt almost balmy. The cove was just half a mile along the beach. Elizabeth knew she’d come here again, even if she wouldn’t have admitted it to herself. When she did, she stood for a few moments. This was where Jo came to swim every single night. Like her window washing every Thursday afternoon, Jo was a woman of routine, albeit to the beat of her own drum. Each evening when all the other women in Ballycove settled down to fall asleep before the television, Jo pulled out an old shopping bag with a threadbare towel and a comb that once belonged to her mother. She walked along this beach until she came to just this spot and then she stripped down to her faded swimsuit and swam energetically for at least ten minutes in the biting waves.

Elizabeth stood for a long while, a little transfixed with the recollections and ghosts that played along in her memory. She had come down here often when they were children, but she hadn’t swum for years.

‘I thought it was you,’ Jo’s familiar voice called out from behind her. ‘What brings you down here tonight?’ She dropped her bag on the ground.

‘Oh, just out for a bit of a ramble,’ Elizabeth said easily, regretting now that she’d come here to impose on what was Jo’s own form of meditation.

‘Maybe you’ll join me?’ Jo laughed.

‘Oh, I don’t think so. For one thing, I’m not sure I have your constitution for the cold.’ She laughed at this for a moment, and then she remembered as Jo shed layer after layer of clothes that she was nowhere near as strong and robust as Elizabeth had always assumed. Rather, beneath the layers, she had shrunk into a sparrow of a woman with stick-like arms and legs, and not very much more in between.

‘You’re missing out – that’s all I’ll say.’ And then she was picking her way down towards the waves and Elizabeth was left to think about the fact that she had spent her life sitting on the sidelines. It wasn’t where she wanted to finish out the rest of her days.

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club
The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan

There was something about today. Something Elizabeth couldn’t quite put her finger on, as if it was the start of a new chapter. The water ahead seemed suddenly so inviting. She really wasn’t sure that she was in full command of her actions or her senses as she began to throw off her clothes, but soon, she was running with the energy of an excited child, shrieking with an abandon she’d never known before, naked as the day she was born, she ran into the water.

It was exhilarating, a baptism of biting cold that felt as if it might chew her up in no time. It rattled her nerve endings, sending an extravagant swell of emotion through her. It was initiation, as if she was being culled of her old staid life, and suddenly, this unbearable cold became part of her, a wholly new sensation, freeing her from the life she’d lived until now. This was liberating. It was overwhelming. A cascading of emotion welled within her, the salty cold now insulating her from any pain, rather, for the first time, it felt as if all of those fears and secrets could reside as one within her and the biting sea was powerful enough to hold her in equilibrium. Finally she was free.

This moment was her whole life, all rolled up – past, present, future – but mainly, she was here and now and she’d never felt so alive. She dived beneath the water feeling the freedom of it while shocked with the cold, but she filled with immeasurable warmth. It was madness, passionate, wonderful living perfection. She lay on her back, squinting off towards where she knew the horizon sat. She swam out further, far beyond her own depth to where Jo was lying on her back, gazing up at the fading light.

‘You did it,’ Jo murmured as they treaded the freezing water together.

‘It’s bloody cold here,’ Elizabeth said unnecessarily.

‘It is that, but don’t you feel alive? I feel the same thing every day I come here. It anchors me in a place that’s mine within the vastness.’

‘Okay.’ Elizabeth wasn’t sure what she meant. She just knew that here, in the sable saltiness of the ocean, she felt as if she could do anything – nothing could faze her at this moment.

‘I wonder what Eric would say now?’ Jo smiled and suddenly they were both laughing their heads off like lunatics. For once, he’d have been completely lost for words. The notion that his respectable wife would be out swimming in the altogether in the moonlight; it might very well have been enough to shock him into sobriety.

The beach was completely empty, apart from a few circling gulls who probably thought they were wholly mad. Elizabeth laughed again; perhaps they were right – maybe she had finally tipped over into a state of happy lunacy, but she didn’t care. For the first time in far too long, she felt what it was to be truly blissful.

***

 

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Faith. More power to you!

 

IMPORTANT LINKS

Faith’s website

Other Titles by Faith Hogan

My Husband’s Wives

Secrets We Keep

The Girl I Used to Know

What Happened to Us?

The Place We Call Home

 

 

A Circus Load of Inspiration

Author BP Marshall

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

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

I know you’re going to enjoy this!

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

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

Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania
Lichen photographed by Ben near Loongana in Tasmania

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

Also pubs.

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

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

 

In Blanco’s Words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Thank you so much Ben for sharing.

The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall
The Last Circus on Earth by BP Marshall

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

Pondering the Business of Writing: a schema by Nat Dowling

Natalie Dowling

The lovely Natalie Dowling is the bespoke writer behind Words on a Page (WOAP).

I’ve asked Nat to help me in the past, and loved her input. Nat introduced me at my latest book launch (back in 2019, when we had actual book launches!)

Nat introduces me at my last book launch
Nat introduces me at my last book launch

Today I’m asking Natalie to share some advice for creative people about the business of their creativity.

It’s not enough, as we know, to write a book. For example, the book needs a pitch and its author needs a bio. There is a business attached to storytelling.

In today’s blog, Nat is going to take us through some exercises to help us discover who we are – what values stand behind our creativity. Nat also shares some activities to help writers define  who they are and what they have to share.

 

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING

Writing for business is not the same as writing for creativity or self-expression.

As an author or writer you’re probably well versed in the latter. But if you want to get those words out into the world, at some point, you might need to think of yourself as a creative business.

That means developing a profile and talking about yourself with a brand story. Which might feel like sticking pins in your eyes. So, here’s a few tips for when you get stuck developing your bio or preparing the perfect pitch.

Accept the challenge

Talking about yourself to sell your work is difficult. Possibly unnatural. If you’re struggling to write about you, understand that that this block is not a reflection of your writing capabilities. It’s the tricky human dance between hubris and humility. Many people feel challenged by this task, so acknowledge the difficulty and give yourself time and space to have a go.

Brain dump words

Let your ego off the leash. Without overthinking it jot down an intuitive list of words that describe your work, or how you’d like to be thought of by others. Come back to the list. Feel into the words and whittle them down. Circle the most important 30. Then cull it to your top 20. Be the ruthless editor of your own story. Repeat, to get it down to three words. Use these as themes for your bio.

Draft multiple bios

If it starts to feel like you’re pigeon-holing yourself, try writing in different styles. Write a free range playful version. Then go for bureaucratic and perfunctory (a few games of buzzword bingo will introduce you to the industry lingo). You can also give yourself word length exercises. Write 50, 150 and 300 word versions. Deposit them in your bio bank, then access the appropriate version to fit the context.

Nail your narrative

Distil your work into 30 words. Nail your narrative in the most succinct way. Another option is to pitch it to a room full of ten year olds (real or pretend). Get over any idea that this is ‘dumbing down’. Conveying your work simply does not detract from the complexity of the ideas. This exercise can help you to step back out of your mind forest to see the wood for the trees.

Stage an interview

Sometimes we need prompts or an outsider to help us see what’s buried below the surface. Call in a friend or colleague to ‘interview’ you about your writing style, background or project. The ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions are useful starting points. But it’s often the follow-up questions or conversation that strips away the layers to uncover a gold nugget of wisdom or insight.

Create the momentum

You know how to plot a narrative arc or chart character development. So you’ve got directional skills. You can map possibilities and assess which routes to take. See what happens when your writing career becomes the subject and you put those transferrable skills to work. Make decisions about what you want to achieve and determine what’s needed to get there. Give yourself goals and deadlines.

Some folks don’t want to consider themselves business people, because it’s at odds with the noble artist motif. But if you want to find an audience or make a living as a writer, you might want to get over that. You don’t need to compromise your integrity to tout your wares. It’s just a different type of writing that requires a shift in mindset, a commitment to your work, and a little bit of practice.

Thank you so much, Nat, for these pointers on business writing for creatives. That was – and will be – really useful! More power to you.

Web:      www.wordsonapage.com.au                                         Socials: @wordsonapageau

Roxi Harms and the accidental novel that helps out

Adam and Family 1948

Roxi Harms didn’t set out to write historical fiction, but some stories are irresistible. A chance meeting, a true story, and much research later, her book The Upside of Hunger is helping to finance high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’m eager to learn more.

Roxi Harms, Author. Photo by Janice Filipiak Photography
Roxi Harms, Author. Photo by Janice Filipiak Photography

Hi Roxi, great to talk with you. How did you break into writing? What happened?

Roxi: I don’t know if I would call it a break, but there was definitely an inciting event. LOL. It was January 2012. I was in Costa Rica on vacation. As I stood on the patio looking out over the ocean and enjoying the sunset, I heard the clink of ice in a glass and looked down to see an gentleman in the yard below, also gazing out over the water. I called out hello, and he got up and came over. Next thing you know he and his wife, and my hubby and I were headed out for dinner together. What happened in the next couple of hours changed my life.

As we chatted and got to know a bit about each other, I realized I was sitting across the table from someone who had experienced and survived monumental historical events. Adam was raised in eastern Hungary in the 1930’s and ended up on the Eastern Front at 15 years of age – on the “wrong” side. I was fascinated not only to learn of his involvement in WW2 and how he was affected by Hitler’s rise and reign, but also by his family of origin and probably most of all by the life he built as a result of his indomitable spirit and unquenchable hunger for living. It took me two years to get up the courage, and when I finally did, I asked Adam if he would be interested in sharing his life story as a basis for my debut novel. Five long, but precious and irreplaceable years later, The Upside of Hunger was published.

What made you want to write this story?

I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to write Adam’s story. I just had this pull, deep in my gut, to record it before it was lost (Adam was 82 when we met). I didn’t really think too deeply about why, it was more of a strong, instinctual desire. Since publishing it, I’ve learned so much from my readers about why Adam’s story is important. I’m so deeply touched when I read reviews that talk about how The Upside of Hunger illustrates our common humanity, regardless of which “side” of a conflict a country is on or which faction society judges to be right or wrong.

As I was saying, I had no idea what I was getting into when I committed to writing a book. And it was hard! Harder than anything I’d ever tackled in my business or personal life to that point. I just kind of made it up as I went (until I finally found an amazing coach later in the journey). About half way through my second or third draft, I woke up one morning and thought, “what if this book is successful, and makes a profit?” I hadn’t even considered that possibility, and I was perplexed… I didn’t want to profit from Adam’s story. That just wasn’t at all why I was writing it. We talked it over, Adam and I, and decided to establish a fund that is distributed to high school graduates from financially strapped families each year, to assist with first year college or university tuition. In 2020 we awarded our first two Upside of Hunger Bursaries. A few weeks later, I received this thank you card in the mail. Nothing could be more rewarding.

a thank you card
A card of thanks from an Upside of Hunger bursary recipient

I crossed out the young man’s name as I haven’t had a chance, with COVID, etc. to meet with him and confirm he’s okay with sharing his story about receiving one of our bursaries.

So now, bottom line is that every reader who purchases The Upside of Hunger is helping our youth access an education.

Oh, and another amazing thing that has happened with The Upside of Hunger is that high schools have begun picking it up to use in History 12 and English 11 & 12. I’ve just completed a 35 minute film of Adam discussing events in the book, as supplemental material for classroom use. I just love so much that kids (well, young adults really) are reading and discussing the life lessons in Adam’s story! It’s like a way that the terrifying events that Adam lived through and his response to difficulties throughout his life can serve a purpose and add value to the world for generations to come. I’ve posted a little video of commentary by some teachers and students: https://roxiharms.com/2020/01/13/upside-used-in-bc-schools/

 

Now that you are a writer, what’s your favourite writing food and drink?

Depends. Early morning writing is generally very productive as long as the first strong, black coffee lasts, then it peters out as I wake up and my mind starts to wander. Afternoon writing is rarely productive for me, perhaps because I can’t keep my hand out of the Hawkins Cheezies bag long enough to type anything.

Late night no food or drink is needed. The creative wheels just seem to turn and the words flow freely late at night.

Sometimes night lets our minds go free, I agree. Has your work been compared to other writers?

I can’t recall any direct comparisons to other writers, but I did have a girl put down the copy of The Testaments (Margaret Atwood) that she’d been clutching as she headed to the checkout, in favour of a signed copy of The Upside of Hunger, at a book signing event just before COVID started. I took that as a HUGE compliment! Oh, and last New Year’s I was tagged in this book club Instagram post. That was pretty amazing too!

Hey Girl reading group top 5
Number one in the Hey Girl reading group top 5, New Year 2020

Is writers block a thing for you?

Isn’t writer’s block a think for every author?

Partway through my first novel, I figured out that when I have writer’s block, I have to stop trying. Just stop. There is just no point in staying at the keyboard because whatever I write when I’m in that mode is garbage anyway. The best solution, which also happens to be pure bliss, is to pick a book from my shelf – often something by Michener or Ken Follett or Diana Gabaldon, an author whose prose I admire – get comfy on the sofa in my writing room (acquired for just this purpose), and read for an hour or two.

I don’t usually pick up whatever book I’m actually reading at the time or I might not get back to writing that day. Instead, I pick any one of a number of favourites on my shelf, and just read for a while. Somehow it gets my brain firing again. Resets the rhythm and opens the locked doors.

Book cover, The Upside of Hunger
The Upside of Hunger

What kind of reader would like your book/s?

My knee-jerk reaction to that question is readers who love true stories and readers who gravitate to historical reads. BUT, then I look at a list like the Hey Girl Book Club Top 5 from 2019 (I still kind of blush with pride and disbelief when I think of that list) and I wonder if my mindset about who my target readers are is too narrow. Apparently readers who enjoy coming of age stories, dystopian fiction, LGBT romance, and crime thrillers also love The Upside of Hunger!

 

If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?

Definitely Adam, the protagonist. He’s 91 now and loves nothing better than a good chat. But then again, readers also love Jean, the quiet heroine of The Upside of Hunger. Adam and Jean are wonderful people – both highly intelligent and great conversationalists. And given they’ve lived almost a century, there’s never a shortage of things to talk about.

I’m sure there isn’t! Thank you so much for sharing your story with me today. All the best for the future of the bursary too.

Roxi’s LINKS:

Website: https://roxiharms.com

 

Remarkable Women with Carrie Hayes*: free love and votes for women

Author Carrie Hayes

Carrie Hayes’ debut novel Naked Truth tells the story of real life sisters, Tennessee Claflin and Victoria Woodhull, American suffragettes and advocates of Free Love, who came to New York in 1868 and challenged the status quo.

*Author photo by Pamela Forbes
Tennessee Claflin, stockbroker
Stock broker Tennessee Claflin with investors, from The Days’ Doings, February 26, 1870.

Unusually and rather shockingly for women of the time, they opened a Wall Street stock brokerage and published a newspaper. In 1870, Victoria made history when she became the first woman to run for President of the United States.

Victoria Woodhull attempts to vote
Suffragettes Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin attempt to vote, from Harper’s Weekly, November, 25th 1871

Welcome, Carrie, and thanks for speaking with me. Can you tell us why writing is important to you?

Carrie: Writing is important to me because words and language are the most basic and spontaneous way for us (ie people) to convey our thoughts, feelings, dreams and everything else that goes along with being a human being. I love, love, love all forms of art- music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts, but writing is something almost everyone can do- at least to one degree or another. So that pushes its significance to the top of the list.

What’s your take on creative writing courses?

I think creative writing courses are incredibly valuable. They help tease out whatever natural flair you might have as a writer, at the same time as (hopefully) drilling in a little bit of discipline when approaching one’s work.

What would you like to tell aspiring authors?

My words of advice to any aspiring author would be to read as much as you can, particularly those writers you admire and would like to emulate. The books that you read are like free lessons and can only help you grow as a writer.

Can you give us some insight into your writing routine?

My go-to routine for writing involves as much procrastination as possible! But sitting at my desk is very heaven. It’s in a smallish room at the top of the landing at the house where I live. There’s a wall of books on one side and a small bed across from that where my dog snoozes while I work. The desk was a gift from a friend and had been her mother’s. It’s an elegant burled oak lady’s desk with a patina full of good vibes. It’s centered on the window and looks out onto the street. I can peer around my computer screen and watch the comings and goings outside. I don’t allow myself to quit for the day until some writing happens….Writer’s block is not really a thing for me, because a very brilliant writing teacher I had said, “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, you just have to work through it. Just get to work!” She also pointed out that 300 words a day come out to a novel a year, so there isn’t any excuse. My favorite writing food and drink is preferably something that isn’t sticky. I’m a pretty messy person, but a gooey keyboard is the worst. I tend toward salty savoury things whilst working, but then again it’s a rare sweet that I’d turn away from too..

Procrastination staved off by snacks sounds like a good plan! What kind of responses to your writing have you had?

“I didn’t want it to end….” was the best response I’ve had to my novel. However, reviews are tricky. Because whoever is reviewing the book might really, sincerely not have enjoyed it at all! And that puts the reviewer in an awkward position, I think… so one shouldn’t take these things too much to heart, but getting a negative review never feels good. Alas, it’s part of the deal of putting one’s work out there! An agent who wrote me a really nice rejection letter said my novel made him think of Annie Proulx‘s writing…. But I haven’t read much of her work, and the agent also rejected me, so I don’t know what to think about that. I guess I realised that I am a writer when it just became the default setting of how I spend my quality alone time. I wrote something in medium about that: this is a friend link so anyone can click on it and see it  in medium. https://medium.com/@carriehayz/for-dad-in-time-for-fathers-day-2f3368f78455?source=friends_link&sk=f730af86b5cafa8217227457ce1f1425.

It ‘s about my dad, who was involved in the New Journalism movement of the 1960’s. He would constantly say that I would be a writer. Of course, if one’s parent says something, it almost becomes a challenge not to do the opposite thing….  It wasn’t until he’d been dead 30 years that the writing thing really took hold and I just stopped fighting it.

That’s very interesting, if a little sad, but your dad was right. If writing is your go-to quality activity, then it’s definitely your way of life. Do you like reading too?

My favorite genre is historical fiction, which not coincidentally, is my genre. I love doing the research. It’s everything to me. In fact, I wish I were better at it. And to be honest, my favorite reader would be someone who just likes to read what I like to read! Something challenging but not too difficult! Something with lots of nuanced, even feminine perspective that doesn’t necessarily end the way that I want but something that leaves me feeling a little bit breathless and amazed by the narrative journey I’ve taken whilst reading the story, you know?

Naked Truth, or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit by Carrie Hayes
Naked Truth, or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit by Carrie Hayes

Your writing style is quite different to a lot of historical fiction. How have readers responded?

So far, my book has yet to gain much traction. It may be because it isn’t very straightforward. Also, some readers have really disliked the way I used news clippings and letters from the period to frame the action. Then there are those who find the jump cut style of the narrative rather jarring. I am a huge Baz Luhrmann fan, and the way he incorporates the jump cut in Romeo and Juliet left a very powerful impression upon me in terms of storytelling and structure, even now, years later. So, the way I wrote the book was an attempt to emulate that sort of perspective. I think that were I to write it again, I would stick with my guns, too. I just like a jarring, staccato style narrative. I do. So, if I could write a  note to a reader, I think it would say,

Dear Reader, 
THANK YOU for reading this! If you don’t know who Victoria and Tennessee were, now you will. They were real women who did incredible things, but were largely lost to history. 
I wrote this book with the hope of inspiring you, if only just a teeny tiny bit to take chances and to do incredible things. 
Also, Reader, please rest assured that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your efforts go unheralded, 
incredible things are still worth doing. What matters is that you did them. 
With every best wish, Carrie

Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Carrie. Your Naked Truth book is on my TBR list for this year, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Carrie’s LINKS

Website: www.carriehayes.net

The Book: Naked Truth or Equality: the Forbidden Fruit

On Amazon: Naked Truth or Equality: the Forbidden Fruit

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/carriehayes1964/

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

Blog: https://medium.com/@carriehayz

 

Dashing adventure and writing at lunchtime with Alec Marsh

English writer Alec Marsh writes dramatic thrillers set in the 1930s. He’s the author of the new soon-to-be-classic Drabble & Harris adventure series. Ernest Drabble is a mountaineering Cambridge historian and his partner Harris is an old school friend and press reporter. These two have all the dash and wit they need to solve mysteries and throws spanners into the works of bad folks.

Alec started his writing career on the Western Morning News in Cornwall, and then went on to write for titles including the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, The Times and London Evening Standard. In 2008 he was named an editor of the year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. He is now the editor of Spear’s Magazine, a title focused on luxury lifestyle. He is married and lives with his family in west London.

Alec’s debut novel RULE BRITANNIA was released in 2019 and the second novel in the series, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, will be published this September.

Author Alec Marsh, photo credit David Harrison
Author Alec Marsh, photo credit David Harrison

Welcome to last Word of the Week, Alec, and thank you for coming along to chat about your books and your writing. Looking at your bio, I can see that you have  been writing all your life. Why is writing important to you?

Alec: I can only imagine that it’s the same for a lot of writers and most people on some level. But since the earliest time I can remember I’ve been telling stories – either to myself or others, but mostly I would think to myself. And it becomes a habit that drives an urge that leads decades later to hard-drives being filled with words. So I think for me it’s pretty hard-wired.

A born storyteller! That usually goes with voracious reading. What was your favourite book as a child?  

I adored Hornblower; CS Forester’s nautical series set during the Napoleonic war; I also loved – perhaps more and in very much the same vein – the Richard Bolitho series written by Douglas Reeman, under his ‘other’ name of Alexander Kent. Years later I had the pleasure of interviewing Reeman. He was exceptionally generous with his time, clearly spotted me as a fan, too, and was quietly inspirational: he told me how he would get into his car during his lunchbreaks as a young man and write with his typewriter on his knees. I’ve often thought of him since, when I’ve been sitting in Pret-a-Manger with my laptop, eating a sandwich…

Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (cover detail)
Rule Britannia by Alec Marsh (cover detail)

 

Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

Absolutely. I did a one day screen-writing course in Newcastle when I was a student there and learnt a huge amount in just a few hours. I still remember being terrified. Later on I was tempted by the Creative Writing MA at East Anglia university but in the end I decided I would keep working and writing around work. With my first published novel, RULE BRITANNIA, I got some advice from a literary consultancy. Books like EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel offer important advice and insight for writers. Arguably just reading the best that’s out there is the most important thing.

What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

I asked Martin Amis for his advice once at a literary festival. ‘Just keep writing,’ he said. It didn’t seem very profound in the moment he said it, or repeated it. But it was – and it worked for me. I once asked Sir John Mortimer, creator of the Rumpole of Bailey series, what the secret to a great comic novel was. ‘Making people laugh!’ he roared, laughing. Then he added an important point – words to the effect of: ‘If you can make yourself laugh while you’re doing it then you’ve got half a chance.’ And that’s true for any emotion you’re trying to generate, really.

I love your anecdotes of such great writers! Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

Not really. I work fulltime and have a young family so a great deal of my second novel, ENEMY OF THE RAJ, was actually written on the London Underground on my commute to and from work. A crowded Tube carriage is not ideal, but fortunately the book was not harmed. I’ve written in lunchbreaks, or after the kids have gone to bed. Quite often, on a Saturday morning I’ll get up early and head to a local café when it opens at 8am, and get in two hours then. That’s the best time.

ENEMY OF THE RAJ (Drabble & Harris #2) by Alec Marsh
ENEMY OF THE RAJ (Drabble & Harris #2) by Alec Marsh

How do you feel about reviews?

Be grateful for good ones and listen to the bad ones. Sometimes people go too far and make it personal. That can be upsetting. As a journalist it has made me think harder about the impact of what I write upon my subjects.

Yes, it does have that effect, which I think is a good thing. Whatever we write, we can think about the effect on readers. Has your work been compared to other writers?

The author most referenced by reviewers of RULE BRITANNIA is John Buchan. Stanley Johnson remarked that with the Drabble and Harris series Buchan ‘must be stirring uneasily in his grave’. It’s without doubt true that Buchan was something of an influence – The 39 Steps, Greenmantle; these are tales of personal hazard and adventure that generate an excitement for the reader that I very much wanted to ape.

Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

When I was  17 or18 I went on a school theatre trip to see Arcadia, Tom Stoppard’s then new play. I had no idea how much of a big deal it was to see it (the first run with a star cast) but I came away thinking that I would very much like to do that. I also loved Oscar Wilde’s plays as a kid – anything really that demonstrated such verbal dexterity and wit. I was also fascinated by plays like Look Back in Anger, which are really very different. As a result my first efforts as a writer when I was at university were plays. One of these won a student competition which made me think there might be something in it. I switched to fiction after reading Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall. I realised that you could bring the essential freshness of dialogue to life without the need of a theatre, and perhaps therefore have a more direct relationship with the reader.

Did you always plan to write historic fiction?

No, never. In fact I set out write the next great English novel. Eventually, after several failures, I listened to an old friend of mine who had been advising me for years to write historic fiction. ‘Alec,’ he would say, ‘you’re obsessed with the past, you should write about it.’ He was absolutely right. When I began writing what would become RULE BRITANNIA I knew immediately that I was on to something.

Is writer’s block a thing for you?

Absolutely. Knowing what comes next can be difficult. Quite often you run out of track and I often find my mind needs time to catch up. When this happens I go for a run, or more likely read around the topic or setting – tangential research – is the answer. Before you know it you’re raring to go again. The secret, if there is one, is to keep thinking ahead as you are writing, but that’s easier said than done. 

True! Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Alec. Congratulations in the publication of Rule Britannia, and good fortune to you for Eneemy of the Raj!

 

Alec’s Links

Twitter: @AlecMarsh

Facebook: @AuthorAlecMarsh

Instagram: marsh_alec

 

To by paperback or ebook from Amazon:

 

‘First, I make tea’: the craft of writing with Yoon Ha Lee

Author Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer of science fiction and science fantasy. YHL has a B.A. in math (maths to those of us in Australia) from Cornell University and an M.A. in math (yes, maths) education from Stanford University. Yoon loves to explore mathematics for story ideas. His fiction has appeared in several revered sci-fi & fantasy (SFF) publications such as F&SFTor.com, and Clarkesworld Magazine, and his stories have been chosen several times for  “The Year’s Best…” anthologies.

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to review Yoon’s fabulous book, Hexarchate Stories, an instalment in his much-loved Machineries of Empire series. I introduced my review with this sentence:

Prepare to be amazed and captivated by this collection of science fiction delights…

Imagine my pleasure when Yoon agreed to be interviewed for the Last Word of the Week!

Welcome, Yoon, and thank you for speaking with me today. You’ve been widely published and have quite a name in SFF circles. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

YOON: There is a lot of writing advice out there.  Realize that every writer is different, and that advice that works for one person may not work for another.  There’s often no harm in trying something to see if it works for you, but if the advice doesn’t work, there’s likely nothing wrong with you.  It’s intended for a different kind of writer, that’s all.  Take what works and discard what doesn’t.

That’s very reassuring. Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

First I make tea.  Then I sit down to write, except my tortoiseshell cat, Cloud, jumps up and blocks the keyboard.  I pet her until she decides that she’s had enough worship and wanders off.  Only then do I get started.  Really, worshipping a cat is one of the most pleasant ways to brainstorm anyway.  She interrupts me at intervals for more petting, which is a great way for me to take typing breaks!

I think I need another blog series called ‘authors and their feline muses’! How much research is involved in your writing?

It depends on the story!  In a sense I’m constantly researching, because I keep an eye out for ideas and interesting facts as I read or browse the internet or listen to conversations.  Some stories are mostly invention, so they don’t require me to research anything specific.  On the other hand, my forthcoming novel Phoenix Extravagant is set in a fantasy version of Korea during the Japanese occupation, and its protagonist is a painter, so I spent six months reading everything I could get my hands on about Korean archaeology and art history.  Spoiler: it’s hard to find much on those topics in English; I am indebted to my mom for helping me find books!

Ah, a secret research assistant. Excellent! How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

First, I go to my husband and whine at him, usually with the words, “Joe, my novel is brokedy.”  Then I make him take me to a cafe, where I explain why my story isn’t working (and probably the other patrons are giving us weird looks because we’re talking about nanomachines or undead generals or whatever).  He brainstorms with me and comes up with a solution.  I ask him to type it up and email it to me.  I read the email.  Then I ignore his suggestions and do something completely different.  Strange as this method sounds, it works!

I must try it! I can’t get my husband to read my books until they arrive in paperback form. How you get feedback about your story before it’s published?

I have a trusted group of friends whom I ask to beta read for me.  There’s usually a few people willing to volunteer at any given point in time.  Some of them are writers, some of them aren’t.  Every beta reader has different strengths and weaknesses, so I try to get a few different viewpoints.  For example, my husband is a physicist, so he’s great at finding logic holes.  Character arcs, not so much.

The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee
The Candlevine Gardener & Other Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

Good plan. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

Right now I’m working on a science fantasy short story for the Silk & Steel anthology.  I’m a novice fencer attending the Red Stick School of Fencing in Baton Rouge, so there will be dueling!  My duelist character is going to be much more competent than I am–what else is wish-fulfillment for?

I’m currently under contract for a sequel to my kids’ Korean mythology space opera, Dragon Pearl, so I’m excited to be working on that after the short story’s done.  I love space opera so it’s going to be fun returning to that genre.  That’s due in October.  And after that, who knows?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire #1)

That’s quite a program! And you’re the third SFF author I’ve met who also fences… What’s your favourite genre to read?

I have two right now–nonfiction and tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs).  The world is full of weird and fascinating facts; my shelves have books on linguistics, military history, music theory, and other delights.  As for the RPGs, I’m a gamer with an interest in game design, so I love looking both at older settings like TSR’s Planescape (a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting) as well as indie RPGs like Monsterhearts 2 or Tiny Frontiers.

Are you planning to write any graphic novels?

I’d love to give it a go; I’ve experimented with one- and three-panel gag strips in the past.  My current project, sort of in the nature of a warm-up, is a 22-page comic adaptation of my short story “The Battle of Candle Arc,” originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/lee_10_12/).  I have a script, thumbnails, and color test, so the next step will be to do the pencils.  Trying to make a story work in a visual format is extremely interesting.  I’m personally looking forward to drawing exploding starships because, please, don’t we all?

What would be a dream come true for you?

This is a very long shot, but I would be thrilled if someone made an animated TV adaptation of Ninefox Gambit or even all of Machineries of Empire.  I suspect that doing it as live-action would be cost-prohibitive because of all the “magical” special effects and space battles, but maybe animation would ameliorate that?  It’s nice to dream, anyway!

A wonderful dream – I’d love to see that! Thank you so much for the chat. You’re an inspiration.

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

 

LINKS

website: http://yoonhalee.com

Twitter: @deuceofgears

Instagram: @deuceofgears

BOOK LINKS

Phoenix Extravagant (preorder):

https://www.amazon.com/Phoenix-Extravagant-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/1781087946/

Dragon Pearl

https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Pearl-Yoon-Ha-Lee/dp/136801335X/

Ninefox Gambit

https://www.amazon.com/Ninefox-Gambit-Machineries-Empire-Yoon/dp/1781084491/