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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

Cindy Davies, with Middle Eastern mystery

Cindy Davies is the author of The Afghan Wife, published by Odyssey Books in 2017 and its sequel The Revolutionary’s Cousin, released on September 12CindyDaviesth 2019.

 

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

Cindy: I’ve had a lifelong interest in the countries of the Middle East, particularly Turkey and Iran. I lived in Turkey several years ago and have returned regularly ever since.  While there I learned to speak Turkish.  The idea for my first novel came from talking to the migrants and refugees who came from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. I also think that a novel about Iran’s recent history is relevant at the moment.

I taught English language for most of my life and the main character in the novel is an amalgamation of the many students I met. It took me five years to research and write The Afghan Wife.  I’ve been in demand this year to give talks about Iran because it is such a topical subject.

However, as a writer I cut my teeth on writing travel articles and had several published in airline magazines for Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and one was translated into Arabic for Emirates. I also wrote short articles for the Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend magazine. So by the time I came to write the novel, I’d had plenty of practise as a wordsmith.

That sounds rather exotic and completely fabulous. You lived in Turkey and speak Turkish: that’s amazing.

Esfahan, Iran. Photo by Cindy Davies.

Esfahan, Iran. Photo by Cindy Davies.

What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

Am I allowed to have two?  (haha of course!)

The first is when Karim and Zahra meet for the first time before the Iranian Revolution.  She’s a teenager from a small town in Afghanistan and he’s a sophisticated Iranian in his twenties. This is pre-revolutionary Iran and the Shah is still on the throne.  Zahra makes some terrible social gaffes—thinking that a house in Martha’s Vineyard in the USA is actually in a vineyard.  When he says ‘your tiny hand is frozen’ she doesn’t get the reference. Her social innocence endears her to him immediately.

The other scene is when Karim is trying to get back to his house after taking part in a raid on the American embassy. It’s midnight and pitch black. Four young hooligans, armed with sub-machine guns, are in a jeep which comes tearing down the deserted lane Karim is running along. He’s terrified that if they spot him they’ll open fire.

Ooh, very exciting! I’ve noticed that your characters  seem very real. How do you make them believable?

I know everything about them—I write a biography of them in point form even down to what their favourite colour is. The author has to know how a character will think and feel in any given situation.  Very occasionally, though, a character will surprise me.

One of my reviewers obviously found Karim so real that she wrote that if she ever met him any time, any place, he would be her man. I didn’t have the heart to say that he really only existed in the novel and even then he wasn’t perfect.

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? 

Leo Tolstoy the 19th century author was a master at writing love scenes.  Think of the scene between Anna and Count Veronsky at a deserted railway station: she’s already attracted to him, but she’s married.  She steps off a train at a deserted station, the steam from the train clears… and he’s standing there!

Although by modern standards seem wordy, the nineteenth century novelists like the Brontë sisters understood the human condition. People want to read good stories. 

I love Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Margaret Atwood, Joan London (WA writer). Australians Liane Moriarty and Jane Harper are excellent story-tellers.

I read a lot, always with a critical eye as I ask myself how the author is keeping me interested.

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

Don’t procrastinate—get started on that book!

Great advice. Whats next for you in the world of writing?

I have at least four synopses already written but no novel planned out as yet.  I have a ‘snippets’ folder for ideas. I’m currently collecting malapropisms. Recently someone said to me ‘I believe you collect small vinegrets about people.’  She meant vignettes of course—I added that to the file, I’ve got a character in my who makes these kinds of mistakes all the time.

That’s an interesting project! (Mrs Malaprop returns *I’d better be careful*)

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character one of yours, or someone else’s?

I identify with Zahra, my character in The Afghan Wife. She had no choice but to escape from Afghanistan with her husband, cousin and young son. As a migrant to Australia myself, I arrived with three young children and had to make a new life here.  Zahra’s situation was worse because she had a violent husband and a manipulative cousin. Zahra was strong for the sake of her child and eventually she made the best of what life had thrown at her. 

TheAfghanWife

 A great choice. What’s been your best achievement since the publication of your novel?

I was placed third in the Kathryn Hayes competition,’When Sparks Fly’ operated by the New York chapter of Romance Writers of America.   I was thrilled, especially as my novel is not strictly a romance but is in the Women’s Fiction category.  I’ve also been the keynote speaker at one of the biggest book groups in Sydney, as well as at the NSW Society of Women Writers.

Congratulations! Here’s wishing for more success, and more books arising from your ideas. Thanks for speaking with me today, Cindy.

 

Cindy’s links:

Website: cindydavies.com.au

Facebook: Cindy Davies Author at https://www.facebook.com/cindydavies.author.18

Nicola Pryce sails to Cornwall in 1773

Nicola Pryce writes romances featuring Cornwall, adventure, drama, handsome heroes,  and foregrounding remarkable women – an irresistible combination. If you’re a bit keen on Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, or Jane Austen’s Captain Wentworth, or any well-written historical fiction, then you need to meet Nicola asap. Not in 1773. Now!

*Plus read on for a bonus scene!*

Welcome, Nicola. It’s great to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Nicola: If I have to reveal secrets, then it’s that I sail, certainly, but not across vast oceans. I’m more of a harbour hopper, sailing in and out of the towns and secret coves in Cornwall that I describe in my books. My characters inhabit my world, only 226 years before me. I follow their footsteps – every mile they walk, I walk; I have been to every harbour they anchor in, every river they row up, and every inn they dine in. Every mad dash they make across Bodmin Moor, I’m racing behind them. The houses they live in are all there, the streets they walk, the moonlit rose gardens and clifftops where they meet. And I wake to the same hammering in the shipyard, the same bleating of the sheep, the same crowing of the cockerel.

That’s great to know! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

My favourite scene is in The Captain’s Girl. My aristocratic heroine, Celia Cavendish, finds herself on a fast cutter in the charge of the rather secretive Captain Arnaud Lefèvre. It is two in the morning, the wind is gentle, the stars bright above them. Captain Lefèvre serves freshly caught seabass, grilled on a bed of herbs; they drink Chablis, watch a shooting star, and all the while the south coast of Cornwall is drawing closer. As she breathes the salt air, relishing the wind in her hair, Celia feels free for the first time in her life. At daybreak, she must return to rigid protocol and social niceties, but more importantly, she must explain her sudden absence.

Oooh, how intriguing! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Badly!  I could see it hadn’t gone well when I saw Madame Merrick staring down at me from the first floor of her dressmaking establishment above Pengelly’s Shipyard. The sun was glinting on her lorgnettes and knew that as soon as I opened the door, her hawk-like eyes would pin me into submission.

And I was right. Her silk petticoats rustled as she swung to face me. Elowyn and Mrs Pengelly took refuge in the storeroom, but I knew I must stand my ground.

‘A figment of your imagination? Her French accent is always more noticeable when she’s cross. ‘I think not!’

I had to be brave. Most would turn and run, but I had to explain.

‘You’re a character in my stories, Madame Merrick. You don’t exist off the pages of my books.’

A rise in her perfectly arched eyebrows, a slight ruffle in the feathers of her headdress, and then a smile – and it’s always worrying when Madam Merrick smiles.

‘Well, perhaps it is not such  a bad thing. Maybe it is better they think you have fabricated my existence. Yes, let them think that – let them believe, I do not exist. It might well work in my favour. Will you take a glass of punch with me?’

I had to say I would, but only a small glass as I know only too well what goes into Madam Merrick’s punch.

Oh, that’s marvellous, Nicki, thank you so much! An extra scene. Yippee!

4

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 a dreamy child, a boarder from the age of eight in a school with limited television and a large library and I spent rather more time reading than I should  – even finishing Gone with The Wind by Margaret Mitchell in orchestra practice with tears rolling down my cheeks!

I read everything I could, from Agatha Christie detective novels to John Wyndham’s science fiction, but mainly I read historical fiction. I loved Jean Plaidy, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Goudge, Georgette Heyer, Huge Walpole, R F Delderfield, as well as all the Angelique books which we had to cover in brown paper! I did English A level and I enjoyed discovering the Classics.

At 42, I completed an Open University degree and found myself drawn to the eighteenth century and that has certainly influenced the books I write. My favourite author is Jane Austen, but it was Daphne du Maurier and Winston Graham who introduced me to Cornwall through their books.

The Rebecca and Poldark effect, eh? Perfect. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

I left school at 18 telling everyone I was going to write a historical novel, but my nursing career and my three children took up all of my time.

Ten years ago, at 52, I decided my children needed to know the real me. They knew me as their mother, and a nurse, but they didn’t know the stories that were always in my mind. I had never written anything down, but I decided to return to the child I was, to the incurable romantic who had read her way through school. So I began writing my first novel – Pengelly’s DaughterIt took me three years. I had never written anything before, but it was picked up by an agent, and then Corvus Books wanted a second book, and a third and a fourth.

What would I say to my myself ten years ago? I’d say, ‘Sit down, take a deep breath because you’re NEVER going to believe this …!’

Indeed, what a fabulous story. Good for you! What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I’m currently writing the fifth book in my series. Each book is written through the eyes of a different heroine. You get to know the new heroine in the previous books and so Book 5 follows The Cornish Lady. It’s now 1799 and Amelia Carew is facing a terrible dilemma.

boat photo 2

You can follow the order on my website http://nicolapryce.co.uk/  but all my stories can be read as stand-alone books. I put photos to illustrate the history behind my stories on my website, so there’s background information as well.

Uh-oh, that’s a few more for my TBR pile – but thank you so much, these sound wonderful. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

This is such a difficult question because, let’s face it, the trouble with books is that you get to fall in love with so many heroines as well as heroes. I would, of course, love to be Elizabeth Bennet, but – and I might regret this – I think I’m going to go for the daring-do, the energy and romance, and the sheer glamour of Marguerite St Just.

I’d like to be beautiful, graceful, witty, highly intelligent and I’d get to go to fabulous balls and wear stunning silk gowns. I’d have the whole of London falling at my feet, and I’d speak fluent French. I’d also have the very good fortune of discovering that the man I loved, and who had disappointed me so very terribly, is none other than the divine Scarlet Pimpernel.

I’d be just as cross with Sir Percy, just as hurt and disappointed; just as petrified of Citizen Chauvelin, and just as desperate to save my brother. But I’d be her, so I’d have her courage – her extraordinary bravery as she sets off across the channel to save her husband.  Yes, can I be her, please? The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.

Thank you so much Clare for inviting me to share your Last Word of the Week. I’ve had a lovely time answering your questions.

Thank you Nicola, you’ve been a great guest and I’d love to talk again – how about when Cornish Saga 5 appears?! In the meantime, of course Baroness Orczy would love to host you in her novel :-).

Nicola’s Links

Website     http://nicolapryce.co.uk/

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

Twitter      https://twitter.com/npryce_author

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

Amazon      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cornish-Lady-Saga/dp/1786493853

Kobo             https://www.kobo.com/at/en/ebook/pengelly-s-daughter

Barnes and Noble    https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-cornish- dressmaker-nicola-pryce/1126737521

Marianne Holmes and family secrets

Marianne Holmes’ debut novel A Little Bird Told Me is a great read that pulls you in and keeps you guessing – see my review from earlier in the year. I’m rapt to have Marianne answer some ticklish questions on this edition of Last Word of the Week.

Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Marianne!

 Marianne: Thanks so much for having me, Clare, and congratulations on the publication of The Ruined Land.

Thank you! It’s very exciting, but let’s talk about you today (or this post will be VERY long!). Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book really ought to know?

Ooh, that’s a hard one, I’m not sure readers need to know anything about me at all! However, part of A Little Bird Told Me is set during the British heatwave of 1976 when I was the same age as my main character, Robyn. I have a particularly strong memory of that summer because my family moved back to the UK after a couple of years in Germany. We found huge cracks had appeared in our lawn, the tarmac on the roads melted and there were ladybirds everywhere. The hot weather was wonderful for us kids but did make everyday life harder for the adults.

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We also owned a TV for the first time and I remember suddenly being exposed to pop music, kids’ programmes and lots of American shows and films. It was quite a revelation!

That probably explains the great sense of setting in your novel – you were almost there! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s a scene early in A Little Bird Told Me that happens after the nine-year-old Robyn is given a gift by a stranger.  She’s too tired to tell her mother about it that night and instead asks for her favourite bedtime story about how the family came to live in their home. The story is so familiar to Robyn that she joins in with the telling of it.

I love the way families create these little narratives about who they are and how soothing children find this kind of repetition. In the story, it’s a nice little moment before Robyn starts learning the truth behind her mother’s tale.

A Little BirdYes, that’s a great family insight. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think the child Robyn would be fascinated but adult Robyn would be a mix of furious and resentful. At the beginning of the story, she’s trapped by the events of her past and if she discovered that none of that was real I can see a fair bit of foot stomping.

Oh yes, I can see that! 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?

This is such a difficult one and changes every day. I love The Secret History by Donna Tartt, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and anything by Iain Banks, Umberto Eco, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood… I could go on for pages!

My favourite reads over the summer have been Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker. I have always had a soft spot for myths and legends but these new retellings from a female perspective combine fantastic writing and innovation and that’s inspirational. 

I agree entirely. Some great tips there, thank you! Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago, I had a super active toddler and was coming to terms with a second miscarriage and the death of my Dad. I was pretty exhausted, feeling guilty that I wasn’t like those other mums that set up new businesses in the evening after the baby’s in bed. The thought of writing a book was a very distant dream indeed.

So, I’d tell myself, and anyone else in similar circumstances, to try and worry a little less, be kind to yourself when you need it and enjoy the small moments. A year later I was pregnant with my second child, which was wonderful and unexpected, and my oldest was starting at playgroup. It was that extra time at home with the baby that allowed me the space to think about writing. 

So much can change in ten years, can’t it? Kindness is essential, especially to yourself at such times. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I’m editing another novel at the moment or will be just as soon as the kids are back at school this week. It’s about a young woman who, partly out of loneliness and partly because of her own history, is drawn into the public outpouring of concern and grief surrounding the case of a missing child. Her involvement leads to a series of deceptions that carry her deeper and deeper into trouble. 

Oooh, that sounds interesting! Do let us know when it gets to print. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

Hmm, I’m not sure whether I should be answering with a character that I think is most like me or a character that I would most like to be. That would make quite a big difference!

Reading Circe right in the middle of school summer holidays this year, I found a passage where she discovers that the island she’s been exiled to is quite beautiful, has all the wildlife she needs to pursue her sorcery and, to top it off, her home is self-cleaning and her food replenished fresh every day. I had a very strong urge to be Circe in that moment!

Excellent answer! Thanks so much, Marianne, for sharing with me on Last Word of the Week.

Marianne’s links:

Twitter @MarianneHAuthor

Instagram @MarianneHAuthor

Website www.marianne.holmes@talk21.com

A Little Bird Told Me: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Bird-Told-Me-ourselves-ebook/dp/B07FB4D86F