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Posts tagged ‘writers on writing’

Safe and Sound: Philippa East and the psychology of suspense

Philippa East is a fiction writer with HQ/HarperCollins and she also works as a clinical psychologist, which I guess can come in pretty handy for writing thrillers.

Author Philippa East

Author Philippa East

Philippa grew up in Scotland before moving to Oxford and then London to complete her clinical training. A few years ago, she left the NHS to set up her own part-time practice and dedicate more hours to writing. The result was her debut novel LITTLE WHITE LIES, which was long-listed for The Guardian’s Not-The-Booker Prize and shortlisted for the CWA “New Blood” Award 2020.

Little White Lies by Philippa East

Little White Lies by Philippa East

Philippa’s next book SAFE AND SOUND is another twisty and compelling tale. For a fun preview, check out the video trailer on Philippa’s Amazon Author page (best with sound on!).

Philippa now lives in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. She loves reading (of course!) and long country walks, and she also performs in a local folk duo called The Miracle Cure. Alongside her writing, Philippa continues to work as a psychologist and therapist.

I’m excited to have Philippa as my guest today, as she tells us about what inspires her. Philippa also shares an extract from SAFE AND SOUND, which you’ll find below.

 

Inspirations

Phillippa: It’s a funny question, isn’t it? ‘Where do your ideas come from?’

For me, a book often comes alive when two (or even better, three) different ideas come together in my head. That’s generally how I know I might have enough material for a whole 90,000-word novel!

I write in the psychological suspense genre, and actually get a lot of my ideas – full disclosure! – from watching true-crime documentaries on TV. At heart, I’m fascinated by what people are capable of and why they do the things they do. This also overlaps with my day job as a clinical psychologist.

More specifically, individual plot ideas, character motivations or story twists can get sparked for me in various ways: reading other books in the genre can help get my brain in ‘thriller’ mode; I also often go for long walks around the Lincolnshire countryside to get the brain wheels turning, plus sometimes I just have to pin down a friend and brainstorm relentlessly with (at!) them until the pieces finally fall into place.

The inspiration for my latest book, SAFE AND SOUND, was actually the true-life story of Joyce Vincent, a woman in her thirties who died at home in North London in late 2003. Her body was only discovered in 2006. Around 2013, I found myself watching ‘Dreams of a Life’, the incredibly moving docu-drama produced by filmmaker Carol Morley about Joyce’s life and death. The film stayed with me for years, itching away at my brain, until I was compelled to write my own version of this heart-breaking story.

***

Thank you so much Philippa for sharing that with us, and especially for the (rather scary) extract. All the best for your work and your writing.

***

Extract from SAFE AND SOUND

Chapter One

Before I started in this job, I used to picture bailiffs bashing in people’s doors and dragging furniture out into the street.

Of course, it isn’t like that really. We’ve sent this tenant a letter to let her know we’re coming, all correct protocol with the London Housing Association that I work for. I have two bailiffs with me but, really, all we want to do today is to ensure that this tenant, Ms Jones, knows about her debts, and hopefully sort out a means for her to pay them. That’s why I’m here: as her Housing Manager. Hopefully, I can agree a payment plan with her, something to help her out of this mess.

The bailiff with the kind face takes a deep breath and knocks hard on the door. ‘Ms Jones? Ms Jones, we are here about your unpaid rent.’

Safe and Sound by Philippa East

Safe and Sound by Philippa East

I think I can make out voices coming from inside the flat, but as I lean closer I hear someone saying Capital FM!, and I realise it’s just the radio playing. If the radio is on though, I can be pretty sure she’s in there.

The bailiff knocks again, thump thump.

A song comes on a moment later: ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac. We’ll keep knocking and hope that eventually she will come to the door, even if she doesn’t open it. She has a right not to open it to us, but I really hope we can speak to her today. That way I have a chance to help. We can let things go for a while – the longest I can remember was four months – but we can’t just let it go on forever. Ms Jones is already three months behind. We’ve sent half a dozen letters already, but she didn’t reply to any of them, so now it’s come to this. If we can’t arrange some kind of payment schedule today, the next step is an eviction notice and I would really hate for it to come to that.

‘Ms Jones?’ the bailiff calls again.

There are footsteps on the stairs above. I step back and look up to see who’s coming. A neighbour from upstairs, nobody that I recognise, a black woman, smartly dressed, probably on her way out to work. There are dozens of people living in this block but now I wonder how many of them speak to each other or even know their neighbours’ names. But she must pass this way at least, most days. ‘Excuse me,’ I call out to her. ‘Do you know the tenant in this flat? Is she usually home at this time?’

The woman comes down the last few stairs.

‘She’s got the radio on,’ I say. ‘We’re assuming she’s in.’

The woman pauses next to us and shrugs. ‘Her radio is always on,’ she says. ‘I hear it every time I go by.’

She loiters for another moment between the staircase and the doors to the outside, sizing us up. But she is busy, she has her own life to be getting on with, and no doubt she’s learnt that it’s best in a big city like this not to get involved. ‘Sorry,’ she offers as she hitches her handbag more securely onto her shoulder and makes her way through the heavy door to the lobby.

We turn back to the flat and the other bailiff knocks this time, his fist bigger, his knock that bit louder. I look down at the file of papers I am still holding against my chest. I’ve been in this flat before; I checked the last tenant out. I can still picture it: the tiny apartment is only a bedsit really, tucked away on the ground floor, hidden under the stairs so you could quite easily miss it. The living room and bedroom are one and the same, the sofa tucked behind the front door doubling as a bed, and there is a kitchen, but only an archway divides the two, so you could hardly even call them separate rooms. There’s a tiny toilet, with a shower attachment that hangs, a little bit crooked, above a plastic bath. And that’s it.

The last tenant, I remember, only stayed a few months. They complained about the commercial waste bins that always somehow ended up against the rear wall of this block, even though they belonged to the restaurant twenty yards away. Then the flat was empty for a good while, until this tenant moved in a year ago. Into this flat, now allocated to me.

The song has flipped over and it’s another tune that’s playing now. I recognise this one too: ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2. Out of nowhere I get a sort of roiling feeling in my stomach and a prickling up the base of my spine. I hand my file of papers to the bailiff with the plain, kind face and walk right up to the door. I bend my knees so that my eyes are level with the letterbox and lift up the flap. With my cheek against the flaky wood of the door I look through the slat of a gap that has opened up.

I see all the post, a slithering pile of it silting up the floor on the other side of the door. No doubt the letters we sent are among it. The strangest smell reaches me in thin wisps from inside, and suddenly I find myself thinking back to last year and the annual inspection I was supposed to carry out. I let the flap of the letterbox fall and straighten back up. My chest has gone tight. I can’t seem to speak.

Now both bailiffs are looking at me, but I can’t find a way to tell them what’s wrong. The older one leans down, copying what I have just done and sees for himself what’s through that narrow space.

He puts a palm on the door, as though to steady himself.

He manages to say something and he says: ‘Holy shit.

***

Oh my goodness! What a great beginning. Thank you Philippa for sharing.

Philippa’s Links

Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Philippa-East/e/B07S3JQDGK
Safe and Sound book link (via Bookshop.org who support independent bookshops): https://uk.bookshop.org/books/safe-and-sound-9780008344047/9780008344047
Twitter profile: https://twitter.com/philippa_east

The Alps are alive and inspiring strangers: Louise Mangos

Louise Mangos, originally from Hertfordshire, now lives in central Switzerland with her Kiwi husband and two sons. She enjoys a very active life in the Alps, and she takes inspiration and energy from the stunning beauty of nature around her home.

Louise has just completed her Master in Crime Writing at the University of East Anglia in the UK and is working on her third psychological suspense novel.

Author Louise Mangos

Author Louise Mangos

Today Louise is sharing her ideas on inspiration for writing, plus the MUST READ opening scene from her debut suspense novel Strangers on a Bridge.

Inspiration for Writing

Louise: If you want to be a writer, the first thing on the list of ‘must-do’ is to read, read and read. Reading novels in one’s own genre not only provides inspiration, but gives a good idea of the market trends. While I don’t advocate writing to trends, if a writer is having difficulties discovering their niche and wants to attract the attention of an agent or publisher, this might help.

Books aren’t the only places I find inspiration. I live on the edge of a lake in central Switzerland surrounded by the foothills leading to the high Alps. My first two novels and part of my third are set here. I only have to walk out of my door to be bombarded with inspiration.

The setting in a story can be as important as character. It takes on a life of its own, especially in psychological thrillers and suspense where the darkness of human character can be enhanced by the location of the story. In this genre, setting requires an atmosphere and environment that marries the tension and menace of the narrative.

Snowy inspiration

Snowy inspiration

You might think the pristine snowy peaks of the Alps surrounded by wild-flowered meadows in spring hardly conjures a threatening atmosphere. But in the deep winter or in an approaching summer storm, those peaks become dark and foreboding. They change as quickly as an unstable character.

While writing, inspiration doesn’t always come easily to writer sitting at their desk (or the dining-room table in my case). Once the seed of a story idea has germinated in my mind, I need to distance myself from the words from time to time to allow them to flourish.

Getting outside and exercising in nature is an essential aid to my creativity. Our brains, not just our bodies, thrive on exercise. In summer I go kayaking or wild swimming in the lake that lies on my doorstep. In winter I skate-ski on the trails within a few minutes’ drive from my home.

If I’m stuck on a plot point or need inspiration for the next chapter, being outside doing an activity helps to fix those issues in my imagination. I have to be able to write them down as quickly as possible after my outing before my befuddled mind forgets it all. Voice notes on the phone and a pencil and notepad in a backpack helps, but in general I let the writing flow once I’m back at my computer, looking out of my window at the view of the places that nurtured the seeds of my story.

Louise kayaks on the Swiss lake near her home

Louise kayaks on the Swiss lake near her home

Thanks Louise.

I see it all! The Heidi-esque flower slopes under the looming avalanche!

Louise has chosen the opening chapter of her debut novel Strangers on a Bridge which shows the (inspirational) Alpine setting.

 

CHAPTER ONE

APRIL

I wouldn’t normally exercise on the weekend, but several days of spring rain had hampered my attempts to run by the Aegerisee near our home during the week. The lake had brimmed over onto my regular running paths. The sun came out that morning, accompanied by a cloudless blue sky. Simon knew I was chomping at the bit. He let me go, encouraging me to run for everyone’s peace of mind.

I chose a woodland track from the lowlands near the town of Baar, and planned to run up through the Lorze Gorge. A local bus dropped me at the turn-off to the narrow limestone canyon, and I broke into a loping jog along the gravel lane, dwindling to a packed earthen trail. Sunlight winked through trees fluorescent with new leaf shoots. The forest canopy shaded much of the track and the swollen river gushed at my side. I lengthened my stride, and breathed in the metallic aroma of sprouting wild garlic. The mundane troubles of juggling family time dissipated, and as I settled into my metronome rhythm, a feeling of peacefulness ensued.

The sun warmed my shoulders as I ran out from the shade of the forest. I focused on a small pine tree growing comically out of the mossy roof shingles of the old Tobel Bridge. Above me, two more bridges connected the widening funnel of the Lorze Gorge at increasingly higher levels, resembling an Escher painting.

Before I entered the dim tunnel of the wooden bridge, I glanced upwards. A flash of movement caught my eye. My glance slid away, and darted back.

A figure stood on the edge of the upper bridge.

In a split second my brain registered the person’s stance. I sucked in my breath, squinting to be sure I had seen correctly at such a distance.

Oh, no. Please, don’t.

The figure stood midway between two of the immense concrete pillars, his fists clutching the handrail. His body swayed as he looked out across the expanse to the other side of the gorge, the river roaring its white noise hundreds of feet below him. Birdsong trilled near me on the trail, strangely out of place in this alarming situation.

Ridiculous to think this person was going to jump. But that body language, a certain hollowed stiffness to his shoulders and chest, even from a distance, radiated doom. Unsure how to react, but sure I didn’t want to observe the worst, I slowed my pace to a walk.

Haallo!’ I yelled over the noise of the river.

My voice took some time to reach him. Seconds later his head jolted, awoken from his reverie.

‘Hey! Hallo!’ I called again, holding my arm out straight, palm raised like a marshal ordering traffic to halt at an intersection.

I backtracked a few metres on the trail, away from the shadow of the covered bridge, so he could see me more clearly. A path wove up through the woods, connecting the valley to the route higher up. I abandoned my initial course and ran up the steep slope, losing sight of the man somewhere above me. At the top I turned onto the pavement and hurried towards the road onto the bridge, gulping painful breaths of chilly air, heart pounding.

The man had been out of my sight for a few minutes. I dreaded what I might find on my arrival, scenarios crowding in my mind, along with thoughts of how I might help this person. As I strode onto the bridge, I saw with relief he was still there on the pavement. Fear kept my eyes connected to the lone figure. If I looked away for even a second, he might leap stealthily over the edge. Holding my gaze on him would hopefully secure him to the bridge.

‘Hallo…’ I called more softly, my voice drowned by the sound of the rushing water in the Lorze below. I walked steadily along the pavement towards him. He didn’t seem to have heard me.

Grüezi, hallo,’ I said again.

With a flick of his head, he leaned back, bent his knees, and looked ahead.

‘No!’ The gunshot abruptness of my shout broke his concentration. My voice ricocheted off the concrete wall of the bridge. He stopped mid-sway, eyes wide.

My stomach clenched involuntarily as I glanced down into the gorge, when moments before I had been staring up out of it. I felt foolish, not knowing what to say. It seemed like a different world up here. As I approached within talking distance, I greeted him in my broken German, still breathing heavily.

‘Um, good morning… Beautiful, hey?’ I swept my arm about me.

What a stupid thing to say. My voice sounded different without the echo of space between us. The words sounded so absurd, and a nervous laugh escaped before I could stop it.

He looked at me angrily, but remained silent, perhaps vaguely surprised that someone had addressed him in a foreign language. Or surprised anyone had talked to him at all in this country where complete strangers rarely struck up a conversation beyond a cursory passing greeting. I reeled at the wave of visual resentment. Then his eyes settled on my face, and his features softened.

‘Do you speak English?’ I asked. The man nodded. He was still leaning backwards, hands gripping the railing. Please. Don’t. Jump.

He was a little taller than me. His steel-grey hair was raked back on his head as though he had been running his fingers through it repeatedly. His coat flapped open to reveal a smart navy suit, Hugo Boss maybe. I looked down to the pavement expecting to see a briefcase at his feet. He looked away. I desperately needed him to turn back, keep eye contact.

‘I… I’m sorry, but I had this strange feeling you were considering jumping off the bridge.’ I desperately hoped my assessment had been false.

‘I am,’ he said.

***

O my stars! What a grand opening. Thank you so much, Louise, for sharing. I see my chocolate box view of Switzerland may need some tweaking 🙂

Those Swiss Alps are rather fab. See you next week for more inspirations.

 

Louise’s Links:

 

Author website: https://louisemangos.com/

Strangers on a Bridge: https://mybook.to/StrangersOnABridge

Her Husband’s Secrets (formerly The Art of Deception): https://mybook.to/HerHusbandsSecrets

 

Inspirations for 2021: Malve von Hassell and the trobairitz

Another inspiring extract for you: meet Malve von Hassell!

About Malve

Malve was born in Italy and spent part of her childhood in Belgium and Germany before moving to the United States. She is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator, with a Ph.D. in anthropology .

Malve’s first historical fiction novel, The Falconer’s Apprentice , is for young adults. She has also published Alina: A Song for the Telling , set in Jerusalem in the time of the Crusades.

Author Malve von Hassell

Author Malve von Hassell

Malve’s forthcoming book, The Amber Crane (to be published by the fabulous Odyssey Books this year),  is set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. Currently, she is working on a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany.

Today she is sharing an extract from her novel Alina, and explaining how history inspired the story.

Malve’s Inspiration: the trobairitz

Malve: When writing my historical fiction novel, I wanted to incorporate and give voice to the trobairitz, the women singer-songwriters of the 12th century. My protagonist Alina is a young woman who aspires to become a trobairitz.

Who were the trobairitz?

Trobairitz are female troubadors. In the early 12th century, the troubadour school or tradition originated in a region of southern France as well as parts of Italy and Spain known as Occitania. The art of the troubadours declined and eventually died out by the middle of the 13th century. Trobairitz came from that same tradition.

Why did most of the known trobairitz emerge from the Provence and other areas in southern France?

The social-economic factors defining the lives of ordinary women in that part of the world reduced their choices. Other than marriage and childbearing, few alternative paths were available to women in the 12th century. Women from the upper classes had the same restrictions, unless they chose the church. In rare instances, women made names for themselves as writers or healers, or managed to carve out positions of political power at various courts.

In southern France, compared to other regions in Europe, women had more control over land ownership. That meant women had access to sources of power. This was perhaps reinforced by the fact that during the Crusades, many men were away, leaving their wives to administer their estates.

The trobairitz moved far beyond the traditions of the troubadours. Like the troubadours, they often sang about courtly love. However, trobairitz had a much sharper, more grounded, and even mocking tone. Their lyrics were often more sincere, direct, and passionate than that of troubadours. They wrote about political and social inequality and questioned the prevailing mores of the times that silenced women and relegated them to the realms of motherhood.

For the first time in European history, women could claim authorship of their lyrics and compositions. All known female composers who preceded them wrote sacred music, with their works published under the names of men for their music to have any chance of being distributed and played.

Alina: a Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

Alina: a Song for the Telling by Malve von Hassell

 

Excerpt from

Alina: a Song for the Telling

Chapter 8 Wind in the Desert

Sand had gotten into everything I owned. I gave up trying to shake it out and resigned myself to being covered with a layer of dust until we arrived in Jerusalem. My hair was even more disheveled than usual, and I could taste the salty sweat on my cracked lips. My eyes burned from the hot glare of the day. I was tired.

And I was happy.

It was as if I was drunk on the colors of the desert, the silence, the vastness, and the impersonal harshness, drunk on traveling and on being far away from home. With one ear I tried to catch the sounds of the men talking. Occasionally I could make out Count Stephen’s voice.

“Let’s play some music.”

Startled out of my reverie, I glanced around. Milos had walked over and crouched on the sand next to me. He helped himself to a date. “How about it?”

I hesitated. During the journey from France, it had seemed a natural thing to do in the evenings, but now with Count Raymond, Count Stephen, and other older knights, I felt uncomfortable. I hardly needed to draw more attention to myself.

“Come on, Alina. This might be the last chance we’ll have for a while.”

Reluctantly I took my lute out of its wrappings. “What would you like to sing?”

“How about Can vei la lauzeta?” Milos asked.

For a moment I yearned for home. Right now the hills would be covered with wild thyme.

I began to play a few chords, and then Milos began to sing, softly at first. Heads turned, and a few of the knights wandered over to listen to us.

Behold the lark

Dancing

In the sun’s rays and

Swooping into the depths, borne down by the delight in its heart.

It makes me yearn to be one with all who have tasted happiness.

After the first few lines, I forgot my discomfort. Milos and I had done together this so often that we didn’t even need to look at each other for cues about when to increase or lower the volume or when to slow down or to pause. For Milos, it was just one of many facets of his being. He liked to perform, but he had never hounded our father to teach him new songs.

For me, it was so much more—not just a joy, but something vital in a way I couldn’t explain. Maybe in part it was because I could control it when I couldn’t control anything else. Perhaps it had been like that for our father as well. Of course he was a man, and nobody could force him into a marriage or tell him how to act. So maybe it wasn’t the same. Anyway, for me it was more than that.

When Milos finished, the last drawn-out note echoing through the still evening air, I made a sign to him and whispered, “Now it’s my turn. I’ll sing Ar em al freg temps vengut.

Milos shook his head. “But that’s about winter, and it’s too long,” he whispered.

“We’ll do just a few verses,” I said stubbornly. All afternoon I had watched the shifting light transform the desert into a glowing purple void, the silvery green leaves of the scrubby desert brush the only signposts reminding us of the ground beneath our feet. I had kept thinking of the right music to convey all this splendor. Finally, I remembered the song my father taught me by the trobairitz Azalais de Porcairagues. Gently I strummed the strings and began.

Winter is upon us, and time stands still,

Trapped in ice and snow and mud.

All birds have fallen silent

(for none wants to raise her voice in song).

Milos picked up his flute and followed my voice. The melody was sparse and severe, a song of immeasurable sorrow, glorying in desolation. It was as if one could hear the high-pitched whistling and groaning sounds from a frozen lake, echoing across the ice.

Now, with the heat of the day drifting away into the darkness, the flute’s plaintive notes evoked the wind sweeping over the sands. I kept my eyes on Milos as I sang. A hint of sadness in his eyes reminded me of our father and his lost, hungry expression at the end.

When we drew to a close, Milos lowered his flute, but I didn’t want to stop yet.

I concluded with one of my father’s pieces. Eerily, he had composed it a year before my mother died. It was about a dreamer who walks through a misty valley, blind to the flowers at his feet, in search of his love. He walks and weeps and does not hear the birds all around him. Faster and faster he rushes through the woods. His steps lead him to the brink of a ravine. He never falters as he steps into the void. I didn’t sing the lyrics, instead just picked out the chords of the simple melody.

A last dark note and I placed my fingers on the strings to still them. When I raised my head, I looked directly into the face of Count Stephen. He had moved quietly to join the others listening to us. The fire lit up his features—plain, with a jutting nose and a wide mouth slightly off-center, a broad forehead, and grey eyes under thick brows. Courteously he inclined his head toward me and smiled. It transformed his face.

I realized that I was staring at him, and felt myself go red, hoping he could not see this in the dark.

“Thank you, Mistress Alina. I hope we will hear you perform again.” Then he turned and walked away.

The next day we arrived in Jerusalem.

***

Goodness! Now I want to read on. I hope you do too. Here are some useful links to help you do that. Many thanks to Malve for sharing this with us. Until next week!

 

Malve’s LINKS

https://www.malvevonhassell.com

https://www.amazon.com/Alina-Telling-Malve-von-Hassell/dp/1643971042

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alina-malve-von-hassell/1137197559?ean=9781643971049

 

The Snow Fox Diaries: gripping eco-fiction from Jan Mazzoni

Climate fiction (cli-fi) and eco-fiction are having a moment. Quite a long moment. Our concerns about the natural world, our impact on it and its impact on us, are thrown into stark relief by extreme weather, immense wild fires, and the global pandemic.

Only recently Jan Mazzoni discovered that – surprise, surprise – there IS a genre where her writing fits perfectly. It’s eco-fiction. Writing fiction that combines her passion for the natural world with a gripping tale for many years, Jan’s delighted to find a place where the stories she so loves to tell are completely at home.

Not that eco-fiction is new. In many ways, eco-fiction is much like any other genre – historical, thrillers, even romances – because every story needs the protagonist to go through some kind of hellish situation before reaching the (hopefully) happy ending.

As Jan says, eco-fiction just tends to have all this happen in prettier locations.

A yearning for wilderness encouraged Jan to move to a little house hidden in a large, rambling garden on the edge of Exmoor, a windy, bleak but beautiful part of the UK. Here, with husband George and four Romanian rescue dogs, she leads the simple life she’s always craved. She calls herself a recluse-in-training. As an only child she long ago grew up living inside the stories in her own head, and is quite happy there. She can control that world. And when the ideas that come seem like they’re worth putting down on paper, she retreats to the shed at the top of the garden and taps away at the PC. Sadly the dogs don’t usually go with her. It’s too cold up there.

Welcome, Jan, I’m so pleased to speak with you about The Snow Fox Diaries, and about your writing in general. Can you tell me when you decided that you ARE a writer?

JAN: I can’t remember when I haven’t wanted to write. As a toddler I cuddled books instead of toys. I made up stories – usually about animals, I started my animal rights campaigning early! –  and made everyone borrow them. Then I became a real librarian. But that didn’t involve writing of course so I went on to become an advertising copywriter which I loved. It was a real learning experience. But I’m easily bored. So next I tried my hand at cookbooks (vegetarian), dabbled in journalism, wrote magazine fiction, a book of short stories. And finally two novels – one of which was The Snow Fox Diaries, which I’ve revised and am relaunching right now.

The Snow Fox Diaries by Jan Mazzoni

The Snow Fox Diaries by Jan Mazzoni

Is writers’ block a thing for you?

No.  I’m lucky, that’s something I’ve never experienced. I love sitting down at my desk – feel a buzz of excitement as I switch on my laptop, I mean a real buzz, like I’ve just flicked a swich inside my head too. Probably goes back to the days when I was a copywriter. If you got writers’ block you got fired.

That’s a bit extreme! You and I first met through a discussion about covers. Could you tell me your thoughts about book covers.

Again, this may go back to my advertising days. For me the cover is like the box that a product goes into. Would you want to buy it if the box was plain brown cardboard? Or if it didn’t at least hint at what’s inside?  Same with a book – I can’t imagine having to choose books if they had blank covers.  I couldn’t do it. It’s my one problem with using a kindle.

It follows I’ve been very much involved with the covers of all my books. The Snow Fox Diaries originally had a stunning cover that was, in fact, a blue fox as we couldn’t get a picture of an albino (yes, they really are that rare). I wanted to change the balance with this revision, emphasising the moors on which the story is set as a character, while the the fox becomes more mysterious, elusive. We found a moody, misty shot that captures this unique environment perfectly. And then – a miracle – I found a photo of a real albino fox. Tucked on one side, she’s tiny, so you can’t see that she has pink eyes. But I assure she has.

I actually love both covers. I completely agree that the cover is the first thing that grabs me when choosing a book to read. What’s your favourite genre to read in?

I don’t have a favourite. I like to try new things – something that’s had a good review or has an intriguing title. I’ll read a book just because I love the cover!  I do have phases though. Right now I’m into translations. What better way to travel without leaving home? Just visited Poland (Olga Tokarczuk) . Next I’m off to Japan (Takashi Hiraide).

Reading is one way to travel these days! Now, you say that The Snow Fox Diaries is eco-fiction. What is your definition of eco-fiction?

Eco-fiction (also called eco-lit) has been around forever but it’s only just becoming popular. Put simply, it’s fiction that has a strong environmental theme woven through it. It can be any kind of story – horror, love, family saga, YA.  My niche is examining the link between humans and animals, the effect one can have on the other, both good and bad.  But – as you’ll know from your own growing following – dystopian fiction is all the rage right now, which isn’t surprising with the way the world is being trashed. I love reading it but couldn’t write it. I’d find it too frightening.

I think dystopia and eco-lit both have a lot to say in the twenty-first century, and both link strongly to fact. How much research is involved in your writing?

I was probably researching for The Snow Fox Diaries before I even thought of the book! I helped at a small wildlife hospital, which meant taking in casualties and then nursing them in my own home. It’s one of those experiences that sounds more fun than it is.  Baby birds have a terrible tendency to be doing OK, and then to just out of the blue drop down dead. Squirrels bite. They’re through to the bone instantly – and it hurts! Hedgehogs were a favourite, such weird little snuffly creatures. Even so, I recall one summer evening out on the patio with a sickly hedgehog on my lap, picking off maggots one by one, and wondering what on earth I was doing.

I’ve never actually worked with foxes though I’ve spent a lot of time around them. But when I heard the true story that inspired me to write this novel, I already had a lot of background info about caring for wildlife. And I live on Exmoor, so where else would I set it?

I think you’re a perfect match for the story! If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?

It would have to be Kevin. In the book he hangs around the edge of the story, keeps himself to himself, at least until he’s reluctantly drawn into the action. Even then he doesn’t say much, and never lets on what he’s thinking or feeling. Could be very little of course. Or he could one of those complex characters who are full of surprises. I’d love you to interview him because then you could tell me what makes him tick.

Ah! A character keeping secrets from his creator. I love it. What’s your writing goal over the next twelve months?

I like to keep a number of projects going at once. I’m working on three right now. A book of short stories (yes, that link between people and animals again).  A novel combining fact with fiction, based on the life of (English etcher) Eileen Soper who was a brilliant wildlife writer and illustrator, a recluse, eccentric of course. She deserves some recognition.  And I’ve been approached about making The Snow Fox Diaries into a radio play/podcast, which could work brilliantly. Capturing the moors in sound would be a wonderful challenge. I’ve already found the perfect music for the opening scene. It’s by Sting, called Cold Song, (from Purcell’s opera King Arthur) and it really makes you tingle. Now all I have to do is get Sting’s permission.

Maybe another version! Sounds a perfect choice, though – very English and snowy. Thanks for chatting today, Jan, and good luck with all those projects.

You can read my review of The Snow Fox Diaries here.

 

Jan’s LINKS

Website: https://janmazzoniwriter.com

All Jan’s books: https://janmazzoniwriter.com/books/

 

THE SNOW FOX DIARIES: A novel by Jan Mazzoni

Revised and with Author Notes August 2020

Available from Amazon

 

When passion becomes obsession, anything can happen…

Chic, intelligent, highly motivated and unexpectedly unemployed. AND soon to be forty. Not a situation Katie Tremain finds easy to cope with, especially as it gives her time to notice that she and husband Ben seem to get on better together when they’re apart. So when the opportunity to escape the city and work on a dilapidated house on Exmoor comes her way, how can she refuse?

Then, one misty morning, she comes across something so bizarre that she can’t believe her eyes. A fox with fur so white it sparkles, like snow. A very rare albino vixen.

From that moment Katie’s days – and her life – change completely. And as the fate of her faltering marriage becomes entwined with that of the fox, Katie must decide just what she’s prepared to risk to save this beautiful but vulnerable creature.

Her sanity? Her marriage? Even her life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roxi Harms and the accidental novel that helps out

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

Roxi Harms, Author. Photo by Janice Filipiak Photography

Roxi Harms, Author. Photo by Janice Filipiak Photography

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

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

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

What made you want to write this story?

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

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

a thank you card

A card of thanks from an Upside of Hunger bursary recipient

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Girl reading group top 5

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

Is writers block a thing for you?

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

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

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

Book cover, The Upside of Hunger

The Upside of Hunger

What kind of reader would like your book/s?

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

 

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

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

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

Roxi’s LINKS:

Website: https://roxiharms.com

 

Clare Urbanski loves villains … just a bit too much…

Clare Urbanski is a fantasy author and Twitter-certified villain fangirl. She’s managed to confuse and alienate many a friend who can’t understand why she always falls for the brooding villains instead of the courageous heroes, or why she always wants to play villains even though no director ever casts her as one. On top of that, she can’t find any fictional villains who will date her. As such, she’s had to settle for creating fictional villains of her own, ignoring the temptation to give them all happy endings.

Author Clare Urbanski

Author Clare Urbanski

Hello, it’s so nice to meet another Clare! We should form a club…No, onto more important things. What was your favourite book as a child?

Clare: The Truth Cookie by Fiona Dunbar. I still love that book. A little bit of magic and a whole lot of emotional family struggles—which the main character does use magic to solve, but very much through her own initiative.

It’s really well-written, I agree, and a great premise. What about creative writing courses – do you think they are valuable?

Totally depends on the instructor and what you need. If it’s all about craft and doesn’t involve practical feedback at all, that can be helpful to extreme beginners. Instructors who impose their own preferences on you and give you bad grades for not being Ernest Hemingway shouldn’t be allowed to teach creative writing, but they can help you develop a thick skin if nothing else. The kind of course I recommend is the kind that’s basically a workshop guided by the instructor’s expertise. I’d argue those are useful for everyone.

Workshopping is a wonderful resource for any writer, I think. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

Someone once told me Sixth in Line was like “Crime and Punishment times seven.” (Dostoyevski’s) Crime and Punishment happens to be one of my favourite books, and I definitely wasn’t purposely trying to imitate it, but I was absolutely delighted by both the compliment and the realisation that Sixth in Line actually does take a bit of a jab at the übermensch philosophy. I guess Dostoyevsky and I both hate it. No one is special enough to be above consequences!

I’m all in favour of undermining the übermensch! What’s your favourite writing food and drink?

I actually have this nasty habit of not eating or drinking at all when I get on a good writing streak. I remember texting my writer friend once saying “HELP I’VE BEEN WRITING FOR THREE HOURS STRAIGHT AND I JUST WROTE A REALLY DISTURBING SCENE AND IT’S ALMOST 9 PM AND I HAVEN’T EATEN SINCE NOON PLEASE TELL ME I’M NOT INSANE.” Not sure how she puts up with me.

Sixth in Line by Clare Urbanski

Sixth in Line by Clare Urbanski

Ah, you do like olive dangerously! Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?

I was in fifth grade. I used to be super into those Bailey School Kids books, and I remember being very disappointed to discover that not every type of fantastical creature I liked was featured in the series. Then, suddenly, one day I thought, “What if I wrote a book about the ones they missed?” And as soon as I realized nothing was stopping me, that’s exactly what I did. (I still have that one. My mom printed out all 150 pages for me and everything. Not a bad achievement for an eleven-year-old… which is the only thing that’s kept me from burning it. It is exceptionally, prodigiously terrible.)

Ha! Lucky for me, my early efforts are long-lost. Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?

Anyone who knew me as a child: Oh, are you still writing?

Me: Yeah!

Anyone: [Remembering cute story about plucky middle school detective girls and the evil fairies’ labyrinth of doom] So what have you been working on?

Me: Well, I just finished a novel narrated by a serial killer…

Anyone: Uh.

Me: And I’m editing one about a teenage prince having a mental breakdown over all the deaths in his family…

Anyone: [Runs away]

That’s hilarious! Where do you write?

Actually, for me it helps to move around. For some reason I focus better if I don’t write in the same place twice. I’ve gotten a surprising amount of writing done in very non-romantic places, like while riding the city bus or trapped in the lobby of a Russian hotel (long story).

Ooh, perhaps another book about the Russian hotel…Where do you get inspiration or ideas from?

The most random places you could imagine. I did some excellent character development once by walking into a Walgreen’s to get out of the cold while I was waiting for the bus. The only money I had on me was a dollar in quarters, and since I was bored waiting I decided to search the store for anything I could buy with that. Unfortunately I was extremely hungry, and it was torture looking at all the candy when I could only afford an eraser. My mind immediately jumped to one of my main characters from a work in progress, an ex-criminal. I pictured him walking through his local market as a twelve-year-old, doing the same thing I was, but knowing full well he and his mom would go hungry that night if he couldn’t find anything cheap enough. Suddenly I understood exactly how his thieving habit started.

That’s very clever, and a kind of method-acting way of getting inside your character. I like it. If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?

It might be funnier to tell you who I wouldn’t suggest. I think the absolute worst candidates would probably be 1. the Jack of Spades, the villain’s sidekick from Queen of Spades, and 2. Crystal, the main character’s twin sister from Hero of the Hinterland. They’re both an incredibly dangerous combination of powerful (in combat and magic, respectively) and spectacularly socially inept. You don’t want to be the one to accidentally make them feel threatened.

The Witch's Apprentice by Clare Urbanski

The Witch’s Apprentice by Clare Urbanski

I will keep that in mind! Eek. *looks over shoulder in case a magic villain has materialised* Who helped you most when you were starting out?

My parents had this one friend who used to read my works in progress when I was in high school. Every time he came over I would print out a chapter or two for him, and he read every single one of them. Considering how terrible I think those high school projects are now, I actually get a little teary thinking about how kindly and generously he encouraged and supported me by being my first “fan.”

That’s a lovely memory. Early constructive support is very important, I think, more so than early criticism or corrections. Thanks for speaking with me Clare – and adding yet more to my long ‘want to read’ list.

Clare’s LINKS:

Twitter: @ClareUrbanski, @VillainFangirl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clareurbanski.author

 

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

*******

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.

Kate Murdoch in the Grove, where status is survival

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.

Her debut novel, Stone Circle, a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy, was released by Fireship Press in December 2017. Stone Circle was a First in Category winner in the Chaucer Awards 2018 for pre-1750’s historical fiction. You can see my review of Stone Circle here.

Kate’s second novel, The Orange Groveabout 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?

9781947548220-Frontcover kern

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 Grove and 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.

profile 2 large

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 Grove and 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, every choice has its 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.

 

Kate’s Links:

Website:  https://katemurdochauthor.com/

Blog: https://kabiba.wordpress.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KateMurdoch3

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com.au/katemurdoch73/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/katemurdoch2/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/47583097-the-orange-grove

And The Orange Grove buy links:       

Regal House Publishing: https://regalhousepublishing.com/product/the-orange-grove/

Booktopia: https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-orange-grove-kate-murdoch/book/9781947548220.html

Angus & Robertson: http://bit.ly/2LmLy2U

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/products/30372648/the-orange-grove

Boomerang Books: https://www.boomerangbooks.com.au/the-orange-grove/kate-murdoch/book_9781947548220.htm

Amazon: mybook.to/TheOrangeGrove

Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Orange-Grove-Kate-Murdoch/9781947548220

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/nz/en/ebook/the-orange-grove-5

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-orange-grove-kate-murdoch/1132202645?ean=9781947548220

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-orange-grove/kate-murdoch//9781947548220

Foyles: https://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-orange-grove,kate-murdoch-9781947548220

Blackwells: https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Orange-Grove-by-Kate-Murdoch-author/9781947548220

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

Rebecca Bowyer, story addict

Rebecca Bowyer, author and book reviewer, is a self-confessed, card-carrying story addict. On her Story Addict website, she offers range of new release recommendations, particularly historical, contemporary, literary and speculative fiction. You won’t find romance or horror books, but you will find a wealth of inspired and engaging reads in her carefully curated collection. Her debut novel Maternal Instinct, a speculative fiction that explores the humanity of love, has just been released to fab reviews.

Welcome, Rebecca, and thank you so much for chatting with me today.

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

Rebecca: I’m a mum who also works in the paid workforce, living in Melbourne, with two gorgeous kids aged 7 and 9 and a lovely husband. I love coffee, pancakes and comfy armchairs and I don’t like brightly coloured Lego-style apartment blocks.

The relevance of all this will be clear to anyone who has read Maternal Instinct!

Of course! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

That award goes to the scene from my novel, Maternal Instinct, where 39-year-old Alice is trying to teach her teen-aged daughter, Monica, how to hand-express breast milk in the back room of a hair salon.

The scene is wedged into other, quite serious, conversations about whether Monica will be required to give up her 6-month-old baby to be raised by the state (she will be) and what would happen if she refused to (they would take him anyway). Australia in 2040 is primarily centred around the needs of children and all children must be raised by professional parents called ‘Maters’ and ‘Paters’.

But a new mother’s body doesn’t respect serious conversations about social structures – the milk needs to come when the milk needs to come.

Dealing with the messy, physical realities of new motherhood is a real bonding moment for Alice and Monica, who have always had a fairly formal relationship. It also provides some comic relief when Monica gets the hand-expressing horribly wrong!

That’s wonderful. If I told one of your characters that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Oliver, Alice’s partner, has the most ‘maternal instinct’ of any character in Maternal Instinct. He’s a professional father – a ‘Pater’ – and picture-book author who has his head in the clouds most of the time.

Oliver has to face some heart-wrenching decisions about his kids throughout the novel. I think if you told him he was imaginary, he’d probably pause and consider it for a moment. Then, quite calmly, he’d nod and say to you, “That’s okay. As long as the kids and Alice are imaginary too so I can stay with them.” Then he’d probably stand up and call out, “Ellie, stop jumping on your brother!”

That’s quite touching, thank you. 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?

My earliest memory of meeting an author was at the schools component of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival back in the mid-90s. I was obsessed with the Obernewtyn Chronicles and was absolutely thrilled to hear Isobelle Carmody speak. She’s an inspiring speaker and a magical storyteller with an incredible imagination. Her advice has stuck with me ever since – start with the ‘What if?’ and follow the story. 

Of course, 25 years later it seems like obvious advice, but it was a revelation to teenaged-me, and I certainly used her advice when writing my first novel.

Maternal Instinct starts from the premise of ‘What if parenting was a high-prestige, highly paid profession?’ What would that mean for the rest of society? What would that look like?

I built a whole world around that single ‘What if?’. It was a whole lot of fun.  

That’s such a great premise! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I was trying to fall pregnant with my first child. I was still convinced that I was never going to be a writer and had given up altogether.

I’d like to tell myself:

“In the next few years your world will be entirely shattered and pieced back together. When you come out the other side of the pregnancy/baby/toddler labyrinth you’ll find the creative drive you lost somewhere around the end of university.

“Your children will help you rediscover your creativity. Your husband and extended family will help you nurture it. And your online parenting, writing and reading community – which you haven’t yet started to build – will help you bring the end product to life.

“In ten years, you’ll be a published author.”

Oh, that’s such good advice … all we need is a time machine … What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I have at least 3 writing roles at the moment. First, my day job is as a technical web content writer. Second, I run a book blog called Story Addict where I publish reviews. And third is my fiction writing.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I ‘quit’ fiction writing at least every 6 months or so. I’ve recently un-quit (again) and have finished off the first draft of my next novel, Time Thief. This one is based on the premise of, ‘What if, as a parent, you could buy time?’ What would that world look like? What would that drive you to do as a parent?

As you can tell, my books are basically written around every parent’s fantasies! Being valued, having more time…  

More time! Now that’s something I really might be tempted to steal. And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The ability to drop in and out whenever I felt like it, make witty comments and then observe the fallout from the safety of invisibility sounds like fun.

Aha! I see the gem of another story: parent can become invisible and actually does have eyes in the back of her head…LOL. Thank you so much for chatting with me, rebecca, I’m very excited to read more from you asap.

Rebecca’s Links:

Website: Story Addict

Twitter: @RebeccaBowyerAU

Instagram: @RebeccaBowyerWriter

Facebook: Rebecca Bowyer – author

Maternal Instinct, by Rebecca Bowyer, is now available at online bookstores around the world. For a full list head to: Maternal Instinct | Story Addict