Of the 80 or so books I read every year, some stand out. As I’ve mentioned previously (see my post on book choices), I’m pretty good at judging what books will suit my readerly needs. I should be, after reading so many!
If your reading preferences are anything like mine, you might like to check out this selection from my 5-star reads this year.
The first of a new series by Juliet Marillier, whose evocative writing immerses the reader in ancient Ireland. Myth, romance, adventure and tragedy combine in this wonderful story.
Watch out for in 2022
As a reviewer, I’m privileged to read quite a few books prior to their release, in the form of ARCs (advanced reader copies). I love being considered an advanced reader LOL! Here’s one I adored for its teeming, lush fantasy world.
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 also recently finished a collaboration with bestselling author V.E. Patton on a new adventure series ‘Beneath A Burning Heart’.
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
Godless–The Hallucigenia Project Book 2)
Let’s dive in!
The Hallucigenia Project
Book Two: Godless
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!
Mark Newman is an award-winning writer from the UK, who is a master of the intense and difficult art of the short story. In this interview, Mark shares his perspective on reading and writing and how he tested his writing through entering – and succeeding in – writing competitions.
Welcome, Mark, it’s great to talk with you. I first heard about you because we share a publisher, but I now know that you have a substantial CV as a writer of awesome short stories, and that you’ve been winning accolades for a while now. Let’s talk about how you got to be the writer you are.
What was your favourite book as a child?
Mark:The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis. I loved the whole Narnia series, and still go back to them every two or three years just for that hit of nostalgia. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is, of course, a classic, but I always loved The Magician’s Nephew for that first glimpse of the White Witch in Charn, the rings and the pools between worlds and the attics that ran between the houses. All kids ever want to do is find secret places. I don’t really think that feeling ever leaves you.
And that sense of possibilities in hidden spaces – I agree. You seem to be quite productive – do you have a go-to routine for writing?
I wish I did. Wouldn’t that be nice? I’m not really a routine person, though I see the sense in them. I just wait for sentences and ideas to drop through the ether, write them down until there is enough there to make a story out of, spread them out in the right order and fill in the gaps. It’s a wonder I ever write anything, to be honest.
Ah, the magical ether. Stories are a kind of wonder, even to the writer. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
Getting shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award was pretty amazing. Seeing your face on a TV screen and blurb about your story scrolling through alongside other amazing writers was surreal. The Costa Book Awards was a weird experience – I don’t really belong in the same room as Dame Diana Rigg! It’s nice to get shortlisted for a competition that is judged by other writers as the Costa is, and the Retreat West competitions that I did so well in at the start of my writing, it really makes you feel you are doing something right.
Yes, winning is so affirming. I hope you took selfies at that awards night! Is writers block a thing for you?
Absolutely. I’m paralysed by the blank page and the blank gaps between the good ideas and good sentences. I wish writing felt like a good thing but it often feels like pulling teeth. The satisfaction comes when you read back something that works, but it’s often a long road getting there. But, it’s writing, isn’t it. It’s not brain surgery, I can’t really complain, I don’t have to do it.
It is often difficult, and we don’t have to do it, but then again we don’t seem able to stop! Those ideas still fall out of the ether, I find. On another tack, what do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
We all have favourite books that have awful covers but it doesn’t really affect how we feel about the book. It’s the words inside that really matter, but a cover for a new author is super important. We’ve all picked up books because we like the covers and passed by covers we don’t like. I was asked for my opinions about the cover for My Fence is Electricbut, unlike some novel ideas I have where I have quite strong ideas for covers, I didn’t really have any thoughts about what I wanted. My publisher, Michelle Lovi, designed it and sent it to me and I was so scared opening up the file, but I absolutely loved it. Simple and beautiful – hearts and barbed wire, sums it all up perfectly!
Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
I went to see Alison Moore speak at Loughborough Library in Leicestershire (UK). I had wanted to be an author for nearly 20 years and had written numerous starts to novels and then been unable to progress. She detailed her route to publication and spoke about the importance of writing short stories and entering competitions for her to find out if she was heading in the right direction. She got an agent early on from doing this as well and it all spread out for her from there. She andSusan Hill are my all-time favourite authors so I listen to anything they have to say! The first short story I wrote was highly commended in a competition and I was approached by an agent from one of the biggest literary agencies in London. Nothing came of that (apart from some great advice) but it gave me the confidence to keep going.
That’s a great story, thank you. What kind of reader would like your book?
Short story fans. People who love Susan Hill and Alison Moore. As I said, I’m a big fan of theirs and I think it shows! Same kind of mood.
Is it easy for readers to find your book?
Not at the moment. The global pandemic situation has resulted in my launch event and follow-up events being cancelled and distribution problems mean it’s been hard to get a paperback copy of my book in the UK. It can’t be helped, it is what it is. My book hardly matters against what is going on. The eBook version is easy to get and The Book Depository have copies in stock at the moment. And I have a box full in my front room so if you live in the UK contact me on Twitter if you want to pay through PayPal and I’ll send you one!
Tricky times indeed – I hope things improve for all of us soon. Is your local bookstore thriving?
My nearest local bookstore is Kibworth Books in Leicestershire (UK) and it’s nine miles away. I’d be there all the time if I lived in Kibworth or drove. It certainly seems to be thriving though and long may it continue.
More power to bookshops! Thanks so much for speaking to me today, Mark. Congratulations on My Fence is Electric, and all the best with your writing.
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.
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?
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?
This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.
Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.
My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.
The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!
Elizabeth Ducie is a full-time writer from Devon. Although she wrote prize-winning fiction at school, she went on to study science and have a career as a manufacturing consultant, technical writer and small business owner, publishing pharmaceutical text books and editing a technical journal during that time.
Elizabeth also writes and lectures on The Business of Writing, teaching business skills for writers running their own small business, and has published a set of books under that name.
Welcome, Elizabeth. You have a fascinating background for a novelist. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Elizabeth: When I wrote Counterfeit!, my sister Sheila challenged me to bring some of the characters from my previous novel into the story. And there are occasionally references to real incidents from my travelling days, although usually heavily fictionalised.
Your secrets are safe with me! How do you feel about reviews?
There are many beliefs about the impact reviews have on the algorithms of Amazon and other platforms, but I’m not convinced. There are too many exceptions out there to allow me to believe in a magic number, a threshold above which exciting things start to happen.
But, as a way of hearing what readers think, they are invaluable. I only wish more people would consider posting them. Even a negative review is better than dead silence.
Yes, the silent echo chamber is unnerving. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?
There was a biology teacher who took me to one side at the start of the upper fifth year (equivalent to year 11) and told me there were girls in the year who were going to do well, but I wasn’t one of them, so I wasn’t to get my hopes up! It still rankles, more than fifty years on. I would love to send her a signed copy of each of my books to make her eat her words.
Yikes! Oh, I hope that was her way of motivating you and not her true opinion! How much research is involved in your writing?
So far, most of my fiction has been set in places I used to work (Former Soviet Union countries, Latin America, Africa) so a lot of the research was done on the hoof. However, my novels tend to have historical flashbacks, for which I do quite a bit of research. But only when I’m editing. I don’t let lack of knowledge interrupt the flow during the first draft.
Ironically, my latest book is set in South Devon where I’ve lived for the past thirteen years. I’m doing far more research for that than any of the internationally-based ones.
That’s ironic, but good to know. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
Covers are critical, especially for fiction, where they are a major signpost to the reader on what they can expect from the book. I am independently-published and therefore have absolute say over my covers. When I’m teaching, I always empasise that an indie book should be indistinguishable from a traditionally-published one in terms of appearance and quality of the finished product. This means having a professionally-designed cover. I use Berni Stevens for all my novels. I developed my own covers for The Business of Writing, but I used a Canvatemplate, which still means the original design is professionally produced.
I completely agree about covers – I believe most readers DO judge a book by its cover. I’m interested in your books aimed at writers, too. Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
They say that writing is a solitary occupation, but I find it’s all too easy to meet other writers. There’s a huge writing community here in the South West of England, plus there are any number of online groups.
I am a member of two great writing groups: Chudleigh Writers’ Circle and Exeter Writers. They are very different in approach and I find my membership of each one invaluable. Plus I still meet up with a small group of writers from the MA we completed in 2012. I have a writing buddy with whom I work on each novel at the developmental editing stage. And this year, I’m Director of the Exeter Literary Festival. And that’s before I even think about Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, all of which are stuffed full of writers.
To be honest, it’s tempting to spend far more time ‘networking’ with other writers than I do writing. But it’s all great fun; and that’s one of the reasons I gave up the day job to write ‘full-time’.
Always. I have an event in our local parish church, the largest space in our small town, with readings, music, cake and fizz. I usually sell quite a few copies on the night, but it’s also about celebrating with my friends and family.
I’ve also been holding online launch parties since 2011. Over the years, I’ve experimented with different formats; and sometimes I don’t have one at all. Lessons I learned along the way included: don’t try running a party for 12 hours; and don’t try running an online party on the same day as the main party. Both occasions were exhausting!
But they do sound like fun. You have an MA, I see. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?
It depends on the individual, their experience and their ambitions, but I’m not convinced creative writing is an academic subject. So I’m slightly skeptical about formal university courses, even though I completed one myself. I do, however, think it’s important to attend classes, webinars, conferences, anything that helps train us in our craft, keep us fresh, and build inspiration. I attend the Writers’ Summer School at Swanwick every August; I go to occasional classes or workshops such as those run by Literature Works in Exeter; and I am a real sucker for a free webinar or online conference. The ones run by ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) are particularly good.
Great to know. I love the way you approach writing as a craft that can always be honed. Lovely! Thank you for talking with me in this episode of Last Word of the Week.
You can find Elizabeth’s novels and her Business of Writing books here
Linathi Makanda is a young South African poet and author whose first book of brilliantly-realised love poetry was published last month. I reviewed When No One is Watching recently, full of enthusiasm for a new voice that so perfectly captures the heart of feeling, from first delight through to lonely despair. I consider that poetry is the perfect vehicle for emotion, and I haven’t felt so close to heartache-in-words since I first read Sappho’s fragments as a teenager.
I’m thrilled that Linathi has joined Odyssey Books, the wonderful publishing house that has done so much for me, and I’m very grateful that she has agreed to be first up in 2020’s Last Word of the Week series.
Welcome, Linathi! Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer? Linathi: I started feeling like I was a writer when I started producing work that I felt like was authentically me, when it came naturally to me. I’ve always known that I wanted to write but struggled a lot when it came to finding my voice. So I internally identified as a “writer” when I was ultimately happy with the work I was producing.
When you writing spoke as you, that’s a good measure. What would readers never guess about you? The fact that I’m very fearful of a lot of things. As an expressive, people often view you as bold. People would be really shocked to know how often I get anxious or nervous, especially when it comes to my writing.
You’re right, your nervousness doesn’t show. Your poetry has a beautiful, confident, authentic voice. Why is writing important to you?
Expression, in general, is important to me. I think it’s important for each generation to show how their forms of expression have evolved from the last. Books, writing and art in general have so much continuity and apart from us wanting to indulge in these crafts and enjoying them, it’s also equally important to make sure that we leave traces of ourselves for the next generations and I guess writing is my contribution to that bigger picture.
What five words would best describe your style?
Relatable – Emotive – Simple – Raw – Captivating / Gripping
I like the way you snuck in an extra word! What do you think about creative writing courses? Are they valuable?
They definitely are, especially for readers and writers of younger ages. As a young writer myself, it has become important to me that young children and writers are given the opportunity to explore themselves in creative spaces. Too often, reading and writing is boxed in in academia. It’s therefore important to show people that writing and reading can and does exist for purposes other than just for academics.
Well said. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing? Funny thing is, I think everyone I’ve encountered would and is probably surprised about my writing. I’ve never really let people in on the fact that I write. It’s been a strange transition going from people not knowing that I write, to being a published author.
Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?
My big break in writing has definitely been my book deal with Odyssey Books. As a writer, you dream of such things happening but they still seem very out of reach. Being the first South African author at an international publishing house means a lot to me as a writer and as an individual and I’m eternally grateful to my publisher, Michelle Lovi, for that opportunity.
Michelle is very special, and I find her very enabling. Congratulations on being published! What kind of reader would like your book?
I’d like to think my work is quite relatable and accessible to a range of people but more specifically, people who are highly in tune with their emotions, the lovers, the dreamers, the expressive and the people who aren’t scared to face their demons head on.
The lovers and the dreamers – I think I know a few! What would be a dream come true for you? I’ve had a lot of my dreams come true at the end of 2019. My pictures were published on Vogue Italia and that really meant a lot for me as a self-taught photographer, I also got the book deal etc. But another one of my dreams would definitely be to see my poetry collection, When No One Is Watching, reach greater heights and to possibly venture into writing another book. Every writer definitely would like their bodies of work to gain traction and even though I didn’t necessarily write for recognition, the book itself doing well is something that I would really love to see happen.
Is it easy for readers to find your book/s? Yes, definitely. When No One Is Watching is currently available on a wide range of platforms, namely Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Odyssey Books website as well as on Goodreads.
And it comes highly recommended by me! If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say? Well, I’ve already snuck a little note in there for my readers (wink), but more than anything, I’d want to say “breathe in and be ready to fully experience all forms of yourself.”
That’s perfect! Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Linathi, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in words and pictures.
The apocalypse is here, in the form of more fires, floods, and storms. Meanwhile, belief that democratic processes can find a solution is fading.
In difficult times like these, an outpouring of stories occurs. Witness the millions (literally) of books inspired by, based on, and discussing the Great War. A terrible experience gave birth to a never-ending strand of stories.
Now there is an explosion of science fiction: dystopian, cli-fi, and post-apocalyptic. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, among many other examples. Australian Mark Smith’s fabulous Wintertrilogy is right on topic.
Alongside the enthusiasm for such stories, there is a strain of dismissal. Dystopian science fiction is criticised for glorifying hardship, or for giving unrealistically happy endings, or for giving depressingly horrific unhappy endings, and especially for not providing answers. A recent article on the dystopian sub-genre called hopepunk (where continuing to fight for good is an affirmation of humanity) commented that such stories, validating the struggle rather than providing a solution, were simply telling the downtrodden that it’s their place to suffer.
Many of you know that my academic area of interest is Great War literature. War stories, too, have been criticised as glorifying war, revelling in misery, continuing the cultural expectation that life is harder for some than others, and worst – not preventing future war.
I have to ask whether that is the role of war fiction. Isn’t it rather like expecting murder mysteries to solve crimes? Romances to enable real-life happy endings? Fantasies to provide tangible proof of faeries?
I could go on about the role of literature (and I have elsewhere), and I could enter the discussion about the bourgeois nature of fiction (which, after all, is written by the literate for the literate). And I probably will go on a bit more soon. For now, though, let me say:
Don’t blame science fiction for the world’s ills. Science fiction can sound a warning, or point out current issues, or provide role models. Dystopian stories are like the traditional adventurer genre described by the poet Paul Zweig, too*. Such narratives imply action and purpose, and to my mind this is just as valid as feelings of hopelessness. Adventure stories show how to keep living in the face of peril.
This is not a new role for stories. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the original tasks of the storyteller, handed down from the first oral stories and continuing through the earliest written narratives of about 4000 years ago. Ancient stories such as The Odyssey and Gilgamesh reassuringly confirm ‘the possibility that mere [hu]man can survive the storms of the demonic world’ (Zweig 1974, vii); a powerful affirmation for readers in apocalyptic times.
I’ll no doubt write more about this. I see ample opportunities in the difficult future, sadly.
The very talented Kate Murdoch exhibited widely as a painter both in Australia and internationally before turning her hand to writing. Her short-form fiction has been published in various literary journals in Australia, UK, US and Canada.
Kate’s second novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, was published by Regal House Publishing in October 2019. I absolutely love the cover! Isn’t it gorgeous?
Kate was awarded a Katherine Susannah Pritchard Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre in 2019 to develop her third novel, The Glasshouse.
Welcome, Kate, and thanks for speaking with me today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?
Kate: I’m an artist turned writer so I write visually. I’m also fascinated by human motivation, the complex relationship between peoples’ past and present circumstances/traumas, and their actions.
An artist! That explains a great deal. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?
Hard to say but I wrote a black mass scene in The Orange Groveand that was fun both in terms of imagery and in creating a menacing atmosphere.
It must be! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?
Duchesse Charlotte: What a heinous thing to say. I am most certainly real, and if you don’t believe me I’ll throw a vase at your head and set one of my Bichons on you!
Brilliant! Well done, Duchesse! 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?
Kate Grenville has been an inspiration for the way in which she can, with few words, create vivid imagery and layered emotional nuance.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez has also been an influence and inspiration for my writing. His lyrical style, detailed description and romantic themes made an impact as did his ability to move me.
A couple of iconic writers there; great inspiration. Now take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?
Relax a little. You can direct things more than you realise. Appreciate all the positives and more of them will arrive.
Relax. Of course. What’s next for you in the world of writing?
I’m on the second draft of my third novel, The Glasshouse, about a girl orphaned in the Messina earthquake of 1908 and adopted by a wealthy Palermo family. I’ve also started work on a dual-timeline novel set in World War Two Croatia and 1960’s Melbourne, told from the perspective of three generations of women.
I’m doing a number of events for The Orange Groveand am looking forward to talking with readers.
And The Orange Grove is garnering some very enthusiastic reviews. Congratulations! I have it on my summer reading list. Now finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?
I’d quite enjoy being Romain de Villiers, the tarot reader in The Orange Grove. Aside from his money problems, he does what he likes, has numerous love interests and moves between the château at Blois and Versailles, mixing with lots of interesting people across the classes.
He sounds very interesting indeed. Thanks so much Kate for speaking with me today. Meet you in the Grove!
The Orange Grove:
When status is survival, everychoice hasits consequence.
Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue.
Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.
The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.
In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.
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.
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 Horsesis 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.
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 Factorywas 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.