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Posts tagged ‘genre’

‘First, I make tea’: the craft of writing with 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/

19 and a half spells disguised by Josh Donellan

Today I’m talking with the lively Josh Donellan, author of 19½ Spells Disguised as Poems, the outrageous mystery novel Killing Adonis, and more.

Josh is an author, poet, musician, music journalist, teacher, voice actor and event manager, and a very entertaining interviewee. His CV includes being almost devoured by a tiger in the jungles of Malaysia, nearly dying of a collapsed lung in the Nepalese Himalayas, and once fending off a pack of rabid dogs with a guitar in the mountains of India. He has an unnatural fondness for scrabble and an irrational dislike of frangipanis.

Naturally enough, Josh’s answers to my questions are particularly amazing, and this interview reflects his clever sense of the absurd and the precious. Josh is a wordsmith worth noting, because you will never look at the printed page in quite the same way. 

You probably won’t be able to, because there’s every chance it will self-detonate before your very eyes. Either that or turn into a not-very-helpful imp.

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

Great to meet you, Josh, and congratulations on the publication of 19½ Spells. And thanks for reading some of them on your website here – that’s great! Can you tell me why is writing important to you?

Josh: Ani DiFranco once said “I was a terrible waitress, so I started to write songs.” I think I feel the same way, except I write stories instead of songs and instead of being bad at hospitality I was bad at (insert many different jobs here).

Ah, that means you really are a writer. Great. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Voynich manuscript.

 

In a language that only you can speak, no doubt. That one had me reaching for Wikipedia: ‘an illustrated codex written in an unknown writing system’! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Yes, if you read everything I’ve ever written you’ll find I’ve encoded the secret to eternal life using a secret cypher that can only be understood once you’ve posted really nice reviews on goodreads and recommended my books to all your friends.

 

That sounds like a good plan! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

 

 

“This is the best book I’ve ever read, but it should have had Dr Who in it.”

That’s the way I feel about most books, truly. Why are you the perfect person to write your books?

Because everyone else who has tried has descended into madness and now spends their days rocking back and forth, murmuring about eldritch horrors and the heinous price of printer refill cartridges.

 Or the scarcity of flour and toilet rolls, possibly. What would be a dream come true for you?

Having Taikia Waititi direct an adaptation of one of my novels, with the soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky.

That’s a movie I would definitely see. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Josh – more power to your marvellous way with words.

 

Josh’s Social Links

https://twitter.com/jmdonellan (@jmdonellan)

https://www.instagram.com/jmdonellan/ (@jmdonellan)

https://www.facebook.com/jmdonellanauthor/

Josh’s Book Links

https://www.jmdonellan.com/

http://sixcoldfeet.com/

Odyssey Books

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan

Meg Mundell and ‘the whole strange, confusing, wondrous and mysterious mess of existence’

I first met Meg Mundell during last summer’s Australian bushfire crisis – a virtual meeting as we looked around at the devastation of the land, livelihoods, homes, habitat and wildlife, and the deaths. We engaged in a group called Writing for the Environment. Now I’m speaking with Meg again, in the early stages of another unprecedented, life-changing event, this one the global Covid19 pandemic, now so close to everyone’s home.

Author Meg Mundell - Joanne Manariti Photography

Author Meg Mundell (Joanne Manariti Photography)

Meg Mundell is a writer and academic. Born and raised in New Zealand, she lives in Melbourne with her partner and young son. Her second novel, The Trespassers  was named Readings ‘Fiction Book of the Month’ for July 2019, and has been optioned for a TV series. Her first novel is the  critically acclaimed Black Glass (2011), and Things I Did for Money (2013) is her debut short story collection.

Meg also runs the project ‘We Are Here’, using creative writing to explore understandings of place with people who have experienced homelessness (www.homelesswriting.org). She’s the editor of We Are Here: Stories of Home, Place & Belonging (Affirm Press, Nov 2019), a world-first collection of writings by people who have known homelessness.

A fascinating guest!

Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Meg. Can you tell me why writing is important to you?

MEG: Writing helps me to make sense of the world – the whole strange, confusing, wondrous and mysterious mess of existence. I also enjoy the craft of knocking out words, with all its frustrations and small satisfactions: the feeling of making something. Putting letters on the page, wrangling with a line, breathing life into a character, hacking out a parallel universe using the beautiful tool of language…it makes me feel alive.

How wonderful – great writing images there. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

It wasn’t a conscious decision, more something I just knew from very early on. There’s one vivid memory. When I was a preschooler my parents would sometimes take me to work with them, and at my dad’s workplace there was this room full of typewriters. I’d sit there for ages banging out misspelled words, just enjoying the sight of the letters slamming onto the page. One day my dad’s workmate poked his head in. “You’re very busy,” he said. “Are you going to be a secretary when you grow up?” I remember the question annoyed me. “No,” I said. “I’m going to be a writer.”

A secretary, LOL. How much research is involved in your writing?

A lot! I love research. But it’s easy to get sucked down wormholes. Sooner or later you have to stop researching, just dive in and write the damn thing. Working on my latest novel, The Trespassers (UQP 2019), I spent hours researching sailor’s tattoos, sea monster myths, marine pollution, Irish and Scottish slang, future fuel scenarios, pandemic containment strategies, bioterrorism, the psychology of germophobia… My browser history looked so dodgy: how long does a body take to rot at sea? What drug stops hallucinations? How do you kill someone with a crowbar?

Early on in the research process, I also visited the Point Nepean Quarantine Station, on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria. It’s an amazing site – beautiful, idyllic, but with this undercurrent of trauma, grief and sadness. Echoes of all the suffering this place has seen, especially in the immediate aftermath of its creation back in 1852. Visiting that site was a key moment that inspired me to write the novel.

Port Nepean Quarantine Station (Meg Mundell)

Port Nepean Quarantine Station (Meg Mundell)

Perfect preparation for the world we live in, too. I love your search history. What five words would best describe your style?

Vivid, pacey, voice-driven, multi-layered, empathic.

Great words. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Crewed a boat from New Zealand to Australia in my 20s, with zero sailing experience and a sleazy cowboy of a captain who refused to let us wear life jackets. Two friends invited me along. For the whole nine days I was seasick, and so heavily dosed up on Scopolamine that I started hallucinating: I heard mermaids singing and had long conversations with flying fish.

Each of us did an 8-hour watch, steering over these huge ocean swells, 8 or 9 metres high at times, with only a thin wire clip-line connecting us to the boat. Out on the open sea, you’re nothing. Steering up and down those waves, trying to keep the boat upright, was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Sheer terror, but hugely exhilarating. That trip planted the first seeds of The Trespassers.

The Trespassers by Meg Mundell

The Trespassers by Meg Mundell

That sounds absolutely terrifying, but what a fantastic basis for a story. Congratulations on the TV option for The Trespassers, too. A thrilling achievement  What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

Figure out a plan for my next book – non-fiction, I think. Publish some academic articles, a couple of essays, maybe some long-form journalism. And like always, write some dubious poetry nobody will ever lay eyes on.

It’s great that you have something just for you. I believe writers have private voices too. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?

Covers matter a lot to me: my brain really latches on to images. So far I’ve been extremely lucky to have been allowed a lot of input on this front. I love the cover we ended up with for The Trespassers: that jellyfish is so eerily gorgeous, almost otherworldly. Menacing, but delicate too. It suggests so much.

Yes, it’s absolutely perfect. Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?

Places: their different moods and atmospheres, the things they’ve witnessed. Human beings: their words and actions, their hidden selves, the things they come up against and how they cope. Love and compassion: the way they’re thrown into stark relief during dark times. Injustice: things that make me angry. Dreams, memories, poems, photographs, paintings. Exploring old abandoned buildings. Glimpsing other lives through a train window. Words and phrases, mysterious patterns. A certain slant of light, a strange doorway, a word carved into a tree. A funny incident. It all goes into a big compost heap in my brain. It’s a mess in there, but there’s always material if you dig around.

That’s a beautiful piece of writing in itself – a prose poem about inspiration. Thank you! Do you write in more than one genre?

Always. In my fiction I like to plunder elements from different genres – literary fiction, thriller, crime, spec fic, even historical fiction. I tend to resist rigid categories, and enjoy playing with genre conventions – using those tools to create something slightly off-kilter, something fresh and hopefully surprising.

And succeeding. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Meg, and more power to your pen.

 

Meg’s Links:

Website: megmundell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/megmundell.writer/

Twitter: @MegMundell

Buy links for Meg’s books:

Readings bookshops (free local delivery during pandemic: Carlton, Doncaster, Hawthorn, Malvern and St Kilda, VIC): https://www.readings.com.au/products/27274538/the-trespassers

Sun Bookshop (free local delivery during pandemic: Yarraville, VIC): https://shop.sunbookshop.com/details.cgi?ITEMNO=9780702262555

UQP: https://www.uqp.com.au/books/the-trespassers

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-trespassers-meg-mundell/book/9780702262555.html

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?

 

 

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

 

 

Gillian Polack: fruitcake that sparkles

Gillian Polack is passionate about people, about books, about history. An Australian writer and editor, Gillian works mainly in the field of speculative fiction. She has published four novels, numerous short stories and nonfiction articles, and is the creator of the New Ceres universe. I first encountered Gillian’s work when I reviewed her novel The Year of the Fruitcake for Aurealis magazine. I started my review by saying that the book ‘fizzes with smart, sparkling prose and razor wit’, and finished it with this: ‘one of the most innovative, droll and appealing voices you’re likely to encounter in modern speculative fiction. To read a page of Polack is to enter a world both astute and delightful.’

As you can imagine, I’m enchanted to host Gillian today.

Welcome, Gillian, and thank you for joining me. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Gillian: My novels are not about me. So many readers read one of my contemporary novels and say “Autobiography!”

This became so common that I started playing a guessing game with readers.

“Which bits of the novel are from my life?” I asked, and now I often intentionally put something in my fiction, to keep the guessing game going. In July I said, “I should stop doing this,” but I haven’t quite decided if I should stop, or if I should still add small and unpredictable bits of my life to my fiction and see if readers will ever work out what is borrowed from reality and what is invented.

Very, very few readers guess right. The most common (and entertaining) incorrect guess is about the character who swims naked in the Murrumbidgee River. I do not know how to swim and I’m exactly the wrong person to take off clothes in a public place.

Now I’ll be looking for clues! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I am stumped every time someone asks me my favourite book, because I’m not good at choosing just one. I’m like that with most things. Favourite food. Favourite season. All difficult. My favourite scenes, plural (for each and every novel) they’re the scenes that take me into the book, every time. In my perfect world, every single word of fiction I wrote would do this to me. I’m working on that.

It’s very hard to pick favourites, I agree. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Polack-JewishWomen-200x300I wanted to give you the response of my very political character in The Wizardry of Jewish Women for she would argue gloriously and precisely and with much passion to prove her existence. Then I thought of giving you the answer Melusine would give from The Time of the Ghosts. “You’re not from this universe, are you, dear? Let me make you some coffee. If you’ve the time, I’d like to ask you if you’ve seen someone who might have travelled your way.”

These are not the most interesting answers, however. My mindwiped alien (in a perimenopausal human body) in The Year of the Fruit Cake would on some days be very distressed that she’s considered fictional, on others she’d discuss it rationally and at least once a week she’d hurt so much that she didn’t understand what you were trying to say. On her best days, she’d look at the evidence, work out the mathematics behind it, and agree with you. Most of this doesn’t show in the novel, but she’s an exceptionally courageous alien and every day she doubts her reality, she handles that doubt with style.

Fruitcake

As you handled that question with style! Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

 So very many books…

I’ve known I was going to be a writer since I was eight. Since before then, actually, because I was eight when I made my big decision. I wasn’t taught to read until I was five, so every book I encountered before I was eight was critical. I read Enid Blyton and I read Edith Nesbit. I read Mary Grant Bruce and Elyne Mitchell. I read the complete series of lives of famous scientists my family owned, and I read history books about the Holocaust. No book I was able to read was banned, and I went from John and Betty (the first book I ever read – I remember learning to read with it, and then I remember helping my younger sister when she learned to read) to reading everything within reach in no time at all.

My biggest shock in between eight and thirteen was The Constant Nymph  by Margaret Kennedy (which was shelved in the children’s section until I asked a librarian to explain some critical plot points), and it was one of the books that taught me I didn’t want to write like another writer.

By the time I was thirteen I was reading Tolkien and Tolstoy and Dickens and every single science fiction and historical fiction and fantasy writer I could get my hands on. I had run out of books in the children’s section of the library, you see, and was given permission to borrow books from the adult section.

I can’t imagine life without books. What I knew when I was eight was that this was my playground and my life. That it was all the writers (except a certain few) who inspired me, not any single one. They still do. I have six piles of books to read and when I finish answering these questions, I’m going to start one of them. Today I want to read a book by Meg Keneally and one by Nick Larter. Yesterday, my reading was Kyla Ward and Jeanette Winterson. Tomorrow’s reading is Jo Zebedee and I want to re-visit Ruth Frances Long and maybe, if there’s time, read another Meg Keneally, for a friend just pointed out I hadn’t read her favourite Keneally novel yet.

There are a lot of books by Irish writers on my reading piles this week because of my research – I use my research as an excuse to find new writers. I never want to lose that spark that made me need to write, nor my love of the books of others. Each and every one of them inspires my own writing. 

What a fantastic list and a great approach to reading. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I’ve had a scary-bad ten years. So much near-death. So much being physically incapable of doing things. I’ve found a way of surviving, and so I’d like to please tell me back then:

Life is going to throw shit at you. It will be foul and smelly and will never stop. Turn it into fertiliser and grow flowers. The earlier you start doing this the less you will hurt. The shit won’t stop, so you will have plenty of fertiliser. You’re going to grow an amazing garden.

My garden is flourishing. Like all gardens, this takes hard and constant work. This week I’m growing roses. 

Polack-Time of Ghosts1400x2100_preview

Resilience and determination combined with creativity – perfect for gardens and life. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Three things. I always have a novel happening, and I’ll talk about that in a moment (my summer novel).

The real writing world contains problems for writers like me: I’m a niche writer (many readers love my work, but have trouble finding it, because big publishers do not often take on voices like mine) and I am physically not capable of pushing my barrow much in public (disability sucks, and living in Australia also has its limitations). Next for me, therefore, is trying to find ways of getting my books to the people who want them. I want people to enjoy my books and that means being visible. That’s the hard work bit of what comes next for me. Trying to be visible. Several publishers are helping me with this and I have novels coming out in at least two countries.

The novel I’ll be working on this summer is not going to be angry. It’s going to give some of my characters some happiness. Also, I’m going to try to not kill anyone off.

How am I going to achieve these things? I’ve noticed a lovely theme that goes through some types of teen fiction and through some Korean drama, where people find happiness with each other, as a group. I would like to give this happiness to adults who travel, each of them alone, to another world. I want them to come back changed, but with each other.

This is quite different from my third activity for the next little while. Poison and Light will be released very soon, and I need to help it on its way. It’s about the last artist from Lost Earth, it’s about the way we hide in the past when we can’t face the present, and it’s about life on a distant planet. Life with highwaymen and swordfights and amazing publishers. My favourite part of it right now is the cover art: Lewis Morley didn’t just design a street scene: he built it and photographed it. My world lives.

9781743340455_Ms Cellophane_coverThat sounds awesome, Gillian. Finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be someone else’s fictional character. I don’t know whose, but I know precisely what. I’d have all the things I’ve missed out in this life: beauty, health, perfect eyesight, fabulous romance, awesome clothes and strange magic that changes the world. I suspect I’d be the somewhat sarcastic heroine of a steampunk Regency novel.

 

I can see it! And I want to read it! Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Gillian, and more power to you.

Gillian’s links:

Website: http://www.gillianpolack.com

Blog: http://www.gillianpolack.com/blog/

Twitter: @GillianPolack

Dominic Brownlow: red wine, coffee, music, and horses

Dominic Brownlow lives near Peterborough with his children. He worked in the music industry as a manager before setting up his own independent label. Today I’m speaking with him about his  debut novel The Naseby Horses will be published in December 2019. I was fortunate enough to read and review an advance copy earlier this year, and was enthralled by this eloquent, atmospheric novel.

Dominic Brownlow

Dominic Brownlow

Hey, Dominic, welcome to Last Word of the Week. It’s great to meet you.

Dominic: And thank you for inviting me, Clare.

My pleasure! Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book really ought to know?

Firstly, before any unbridled confessions are revealed, is that I live now, once again, in the Fens, on the edge of them at least, where the story of The Naseby Horses is set. It is a truly beautiful part of England that on the whole is seen by others mostly as a forgotten, undeveloped stretch of land designed and constructed purely for the purpose of farming, as though it were nothing more than an enormous jetty pushing into the North Sea from places like Cambridge and Peterborough. This is only partly true. It is wide, open and empty, and in places bleak; a landscape containing both thriving towns and villages and tiny, self-sufficient communities content with their own ways of life. Simon’s village is one of these.

Secondly, as a young boy growing up there, I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club and would occasionally go on bus trips to places like Crowland and Gedney and Whittlesey, accompanied only with a pair of binoculars and a pack-up.

The Naseby Horses

The Naseby Horses

I’ve visited the Fens a few times – they are a very long way from Australia both literally and atmospherically – and I was excited to read your novel set in the Fens. I love the birds too – the ways you describe flocks in flight especially. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why? 

This is a hard one as there aren’t really that many scenes, as such, but what I enjoyed writing the most, and which I hope I have got somewhere nearly right, are the moments when Simon is effected by the aura, when he is detained within the unsteady world of a potential seizure. I researched this a good deal and what I found the most interesting, and what in many ways steered the narrative to what it is now, is that those suffering with epilepsy see and feel and smell different things in the aura. With the greatest respect to those who have this at times debilitating disorder, there was to me, as a wannabe writer, unquestionably something intriguing and mysterious about this phenomenon, and from that came the idea, fictitiously, that maybe this was more than simply electrical surcharges in the brain. It doesn’t compare to the life changing circumstances that epilepsy, sadly, can at times inflict on a sufferer, but as a child and young boy I experienced quite dramatic focus shifts. These, although harmless, I discovered through my research are similar, in part, to what is experienced in the aura and so, as best I could, I tried to bring these experiences back when writing these passages. I even, at times, would purposefully make myself dizzy before typing. This is not a book about epilepsy but, as I said before, if I have in any way captured that moment of fear and uncertainty and the loss of control of one’s own world, then all those days and nights spinning my head around in the office to the point of nausea were possibly worth it.

Those moments are very effective, I think. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Well, I suppose it would have to be Simon although I would hate for you to do this to him, for he would believe you. His world is already eidetic. He lives his memories and dreams in real time and to tell him he wasn’t real would be like telling him he was. No, sorry, I love him too much for you to do that. Maybe Mum and Dad, then. No one should have to go through that in real life. 

Excellent! I like the way you’re thinking. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I don’t think any writers inspired me directly. Whilst always being a reader I was never fanatical about it or particularly bookish. My life until five or six years ago was absorbed in music and bands. The Wasp Factory was the first ‘grown up’ book I read beyond school books and I went on to read pretty much everything Iain Banks wrote after that. He had the most extraordinary imagination and I imagine was a pretty good guy. I think I would like to have met him. Jon McGregor over the last few years has taken over that mantle. I would love to be able to write like that. If asked, I often say my favourite novel is Climbers by M John Harrison and the book I have bought the most, without question, as gifts for kids, is The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. If any book can get the world reading again it surely has to be this one.

Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

In hindsight, although ten years ago I would have most likely told myself to get lost, or words of that nature, I would have unquestionably concentrated on writing more and not filling every spare moment of my life trying to harbour success for others, although I have no regrets there. I enjoyed it greatly despite the lack of a regular wage. As all wannabe writers will know, finding time is a huge issue. I’d been writing essays and screenplays and short stories all my life, purely for the benefit of my computer or some old notebook. Words themselves, either writing them or reading them, were, to me, always more important than the stories they told, and it wasn’t until I moved back to the Fens that I at last found that time to put these ramblings into some semblance of a plot.

What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I am in the throes of a new novel as we speak although to be honest I need to find a routine again. I’m making excuses not to write as opposed to writing, which is awful, really, seeing as I’ve been waiting so long. I need to get back into red wine and coffee, my ever-trusty companions for The Naseby Horses.

I hope you find the writing groove again soon! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

In many ways, I’d like to be Simon, despite the card he was dealt. I think I’d like to tell him that, actually, everything’s alright. There is something enticing about the messed-up teenager in fiction. I don’t know if that’s because we want to be them or steer them away from the dangers they are readily putting themselves in, but just for a few moments, and with a massive red eject button at my side, I’d like to be either Frank from The Wasp Factory or Vernon from Vernon God Little or Holden Caulfield or Hallam Foe. And Karrion from the Wilde Investigations series. He’s just cool and a bit of a goth. Yes, Karrion it is: Motion passed.

Karrion it shall be! Thank you so much for sharing with me today on Last Word of the Week.

Dominic’s links:

Dominic tweets @DominicBrownlow

Find Dominic’s profile at Louise Walters Books: https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/dominic-brownlow

Melissa Ferguson, a new and shining writer

Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wall was released earlier this year. Melissa is a medical research scientist with a graduate certificate in human nutrition. She likes to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in lots of places that pay very little money.

When I reviewed her astonishing speculative fiction for Aurealis magazine a couple of months ago, I used words like grounded and observant,  accessible and engaging. I was utterly transfixed by the premises in the storyline, so frighteningly futuristic and so devastatingly apt for today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading more from this Australian writer and very pleased to have her on board for today’s Last Word of the Week.

Welcome, Melissa, it’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Melissa: Access to affordable healthcare (as well as accurate health and nutrition information) are very important to me. I worked in medical research for many years (cancers and infectious diseases) and also completed a graduate certificate in human nutrition. I’ve also been a patient in the public system myself (two babies and Hodgkin’s lymphoma). And I have two children, one with allergies and asthma. The possibility of Australian healthcare being eroded until it resembles that of the United States terrifies me. I see people on social media crowd-funding for their treatment and paying ridiculous prices for medications such as insulin and epipens. I can think of nothing worse. There are many themes in my novel The Shining Wall, but access to affordable healthcare is the most important one to me. 

The Shining Wall_COVEROh, interesting, because there are so many fascinating themes in your book. I’m a huge fan of the Neo Neandertal/Sapien contrast that you explore, reflecting so many historic instances of some people being seen, and treated, as lesser than others. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s one scene in The Shining Wall where the stories of all three point-of-view characters converge briefly at one of the city gates. The repercussions of that chance meeting have profound impacts on each of their stories. Angling the different threads of the story towards this convergence and then playing it out was a lot of fun and very satisfying.

And it’s really well done, IMHO. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think all the characters in The Shining Wall would be quite relieved. They’d probably also wonder why I hadn’t created a kinder imaginary world for them. There’s a lot of weird consciousness stuff going on in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment. Those characters would probably be resigned to the nature of reality being an illusion.

Alida & Graycie by Brad O'Gorman

Alida & Graycie by Brad O’Gorman

Relieved! That’s an excellent response ! Now, can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I was always writing as a child. I was very into fantasy stories and fairy tales. I stopped writing to pursue science in my late teens and I didn’t take up writing again until I was in my thirties and had had my first child. The first things I wrote were short misery and motherhood memoir/realistic fiction pieces. Then I found Margo Lanagan’s books (Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels) and I wrote a fantasy novel with witches, selkies, dragons, man-eating trees, fighting bears and all sorts of fun fantastical stuff. While I was writing that I discovered Octavia E Butler and decided science fiction was for me.

Some other books that have influenced my writing include The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, The Power by Naomi Alderman, and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, The Road to Nowhere series by Meg Elison, and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

The character of Alida in The Shining Wall was influenced by some of my favourite female characters in fiction including, Mirii from Marlee Jane Ward’s Orphancorp books, Devi Morris from Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and Temple from The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

Oooh, thank you, there are a couple of new ones there for me. I love to hear about undiscovered treasures to chase. They sound excellent. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I’d just moved from Melbourne to Geelong, had left a job that saw me crying in the toilets on many occasions, was very pregnant with my second child, and very worried about my future career opportunities. If I could talk to that woman now I would say: ‘Your science career is going to fall flat on its face. Enjoy the time with your children and concentrate on your writing because that’s where most of your joy will come from.’ I would also maybe say: ‘No spoilers, but someday someone might even publish one of your books.’

Ooh, now I’m scared that I would adversely affect the future if I told past me too much!

Lucky you don’t write time travel then, eh? LOL. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

By the time I’d finished The Shining Wall I’d written three full-length novels in the space of five years. As a result, I felt the need to take on a more wieldy project. So during 2018 I wrote a novella, set in the world of The Shining Wall. The novella is out on submission at the moment (fingers crossed). I’m currently working on another story set on both a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth and a distant planet colonized by a cult of humans. My plan is to keep exploring ideas that interest me with the hope that other people find them interesting too.

TSW front and back coverLovely to hear that there’s more where The Shining Wall came from! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I don’t think I could take the adrenaline of being a fictional character in the kinds of books I like to read. I like a quiet life. I would have to read some slow-paced realistic/literary fiction to find a suitable answer for this one (it’s not going to happen!).

Follow Melissa here:

Website/Blog:  http://melissajaneferguson.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/melissa.ferguson.50309

Twitter:  @melissajferg

Instagram: @melissa_ferguson

Buy The Shining Wall here:

https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/the-shining-wall/

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-shining-wall-by-melissa-ferguson-9781925760187

https://www.readings.com.au/products/26956184/the-shining-wall