Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘writers on writing’

Dark and edgy inspirations: Caroline England

Author of Beneath the SkinMy Husband’s LiesBetray Her and Truth Games as Caroline England, and The House of Hidden Secrets as CE Rose, today’s guest Caroline England likes to write multi-layered, dark and edgy ‘domestic suspense’ stories that delve into complicated relationships, secrets, lies, loves and the moral grey area. 

Author Caroline England

Author Caroline England

Drawing on her days as a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer, Caroline creates ordinary, relatable characters caught up in extraordinary situations, pressures, dilemmas or crime. She admits to a slight obsession with the human psyche, what goes on behind closed doors and beneath people’s façades. She also enjoys performing a literary sleight of hand in her novels and hopefully surprising her readers!

Caroline has also written Convictions and Confessions, a legal drama under the pen name Caro Land.

Let’s find out what inspires Caroline’s work

Caroline: My Secret Inspiration!

Everybody has a secret.

Yes you do! A study revealed that the average person keeps thirteen secrets, five of which he or she has never shared with anyone. Go on, count them. They can range from the little things that some people don’t feel are too bad, such as not mentioning too much change at the supermarket or exaggerating mileage at work. Or they might be major crimes such as a hit and run, robbery or even murder! Then there are affairs, betrayals and hidden relationships which can have devastating consequences, to easy small lies to cover looking for another job or concealing the early weeks of pregnancy. Or perhaps a person’s secret is simply unhappiness. Don’t we all do it at times? Put on our bright facade for the Facebook posts and Instagram photos to hide the the sorrow inside?

What about family secrets? Ones which only come out when Grandma has a few too many sherries on Christmas Eve: your great uncle was a bigamist; your parents married when you were two; your aunty was arrested for shoplifting a Rampant Rabbit.

The House of Hidden Secrets by C E Rose

The House of Hidden Secrets by C E Rose

Then there are the deadly secrets in my domestic suspense novels… Those which are so dark and deeply hidden that they’ve almost been forgotten. Almost…

My fourth psychological thriller, TRUTH GAMES, revolves around Ellie Wilson. Outwardly her life seems good – she has friends, her partner Cam and three boys. But when Sean Walsh, Cam’s old university friend, comes back into their lives, she becomes tormented by fragments of the past, and deep shame, which come back to haunt her. It’s time for Ellie to confront the layers of secrets and lies to reveal the devastating and destructive truth… 

OK, I admit it; I’m a tad obsessed with secrets and lies and the human condition. Indeed, one reviewer described me as a ‘specialist in stories of secrets, lies and revelations.’ So I guess I am an amateur psychologist who drives my family bonkers with my interpretations of people’s behaviour, what they tell us and what they don’t. But isn’t it fascinating to find out what goes on behind closed doors – or indeed, inside the pages of a gripping crime suspense novel? Do secrets burrow into our psyche and poison us? Or are they sexy, powerful and make us strong?

I probably have thirteen secrets; maybe there are five I haven’t told anyone. Come on, spill the beans – what are yours?

***

Well, there’s a challenge for us all. Now here’s an intriguing extract from Caroline’s novel for you.

Truth Games

Truth Games by Caroline England

An extract from Truth Games 

Prologue

‘It has to be the truth, the honest truth. Everyone agree?’

‘But what is truth?’

‘It’s only a game, man. Besides, another slug and we’ll know.’

Six young adults in the high-ceilinged room, two cuddled on the sofa and four on the floor. A girl and two guys sit around a candlelit coffee table. Though late, it’s still balmy, the leaded windows ajar. They’re drinking Jack Daniel’s from shot glasses. 

The girl snaps open the second bottle and pours. Her nails are bitten, her nose pierced, her short hair dyed black. Her attention is focused on the man stretched out on the floor. 

Lifting his dark head, he glances at her. ‘Isn’t there anything other than that American shit?’ he asks, his accent distinct. He goes back to his spliff and takes a deep drag. ‘OK. Then we’ll use the correspondence theory of truth,’ he says. ‘A belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity – a fact – to which it corresponds. If there’s no such entity, the belief is false.’ 

The fair-haired boy laughs. ‘OK, genius, I’ll start.’  Blue-eyed and neat featured, he looks younger than his twenty-years. ‘A secret. A true secret . . . ’ He knocks back the whiskey. ‘I’m in love with somebody in this room.’ 

The girl whips up her head, her stark make-up barely hiding her shock. 

‘Tell us something we don’t already know!’ This man is huge, his voice booms Home Counties. ‘Come on, old chap. What did you say? The honest truth. Something you haven’t told anyone before.’ 

‘Right; here’s one. My mum tried to snog me once,’ he says. 

Everyone but the girl laughs. 

‘No, it’s true, I’m not joking. Dad had buggered off, so she spent all the time drinking and crying—’ 

‘And snogging you?’ 

‘Yes, Your Honour.’ He guffaws. ‘The truth and the whole fucking truth, eh? Only the once, thank God, when she got close enough. I can’t do needy. Fucking disgusting.’ 

A silence of drunk embarrassment, then the eloquent voice again: ‘Are you two lovebirds playing?’ 

They turn to the couple on the sofa. The young woman is asleep. ‘We’re living our secret,’ her boyfriend says. ‘But one you don’t know . . . Let me think. My brother and me, we used to spit in the take-outs. Special treat for the racists we knew from school.’ 

‘Nice.’

‘Nah. Good try, but it won’t put me off your delicious—’

‘I saw my father beat up my mum.’ The man on the floor looks fixedly at the ceiling. ‘Badly. Watched the blood spurt from her nose. Did nothing to stop him.’ 

The Goth girl stares, but doesn’t speak.

The blond boy leans over. ‘Fuck,’ he says. ‘How old were you?’ 

‘Still a kid. But I blamed her. Probably still do.’ He sits up and throws back his shot. Then he squints through the smoke at the girl, still sitting cross-legged and silent. ‘What about you, nice middle-class miss? You’re not saying much. What’s your secret?’ 

Everyone is watching, all eyes are on her. ‘A secret truth?’ she asks, turning to him. ‘With an actual fact to which it corresponds?’ 

The man snorts. ‘Yeah. Come on, then; try me.’ 

She opens her inky lips— 

***

What a place to finish! Thank you so much Caroline for sharing your inspirations, and especially for the enthralling extract!

Caroline’s Links

Truth Games: https://amzn.to/2TidJro

Website: www.carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazengland1/

The multi-dimensional Alice McVeigh is inspiring

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

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

Welcome, Alice.

Author Alice McVeigh who also writes as Spaulding Taylor

What Inspires Alice

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

 Background to the scene:

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

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

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

Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Last Star Standing by Spaulding Taylor

Excerpt from Last Star Standing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ugly too, I bet.

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

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

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

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

Search me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

BOTH MY HEARTS STOPPED!

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

Alice’s Links:

Alice on Facebook

Alice’s Website

Alice on Instagram: @mcveigh.alice

Alice on Twitter: @astmcveigh1

Lost in Books with Veronica Strachan

Veronica Strachan spent most of her childhood lost in a good book. She spent most of her adult life lost in a good job as a nurse, midwife, CEO, coach, and facilitator (amongst other things).

After years of encouraging others to follow their dreams, she remembered what she wanted to be when she grew up. Five years later she has six published books: a memoir, a workbook/journal, and a children’s picture book series illustrated by her daughter, Cassi.

Cassi & Veronica Strachan

As V.E. Patton, Veronica has written a fantasy and a novelette. She is co-founder of Australian Book Lovers and co-hosts their podcast.

In keeping with my theme of 2021, I asked Veronica about her inspirations.

Veronica: Thank you for the lovely opportunity to contribute to your blog.

What inspires me?

Such succulent bait to my chronically overactive curiosity and imagination. Reel me in!

‘Learning’ in all its forms inspires me. But, let’s keep it to what inspires my writing life…

Age attenuated the urgency of making a living and bringing up children. So, having given myself permission to make writing my next best thing – as it had been my first thing during childhood – inspiration began coming from all points of the compass, the clock, and life.

Nature can inspire

Small things can inspire stories

I see a person frowning into their phone – what’s their backstory? A cat staring superciliously at its human slave – character for a villain. Autumn leaves skittering across chilled black dirt – setting. An anecdote from a friend – plot twist. Heated exchange in a shop queue – dialogue. Flick of a fringe or straightening of a cap – character trait. A quiet walk: still air and sunshine are the soil, imagination is the seed, inspiration bursts forth – a new stand-alone science fiction story about genetic engineering.

No, perhaps a trilogy with a second trilogy to follow!

I jog home to scribble down some notes. Most of all, I’m inspired by people: my husband, children, friends, and clients. Whether I’m coaching an individual, facilitating a room full of clinicians or chatting with a friend over a cuppa, I see potential in everyone, hope for a better future, be it this minute, this month, or this life. All food for putting words on a page.

Breathing While Drowning was inspired by my daughter, Jacqueline Bree, who died at four years old. Twenty-years later as I wanted to creatively write, I had her voice in my head encouraging me to write our story. I transcribed journals I wrote to Jacqui in the short years she was alive and for several years after as I struggled through grief. And I was inspired by myself. Perhaps an odd thing to say, but reading back over what that younger me had done, lived and felt, I was so grateful for how she’d held our life together – not always well, but hold it together she did. And ever so slowly, she opened herself to healing from the life and love around her.

Six book covers

Six books by Veronica, as VE Patton and as Veronica Strachan

Ochre Dragon was inspired by every science fiction and fantasy book I’d ever read, every utopian or dystopian world I’d ever escaped to and the absolute dearth of female protagonists over fifty! So, inspired by every clever and courageous woman I’d met, I wrote the book I wanted to read. Middle-aged woman battles her own demons, all the villains, and saves the universe – or does she?

My oldest sister, Mary inspired my picture book series: The Adventures of Chickabella. Mary died two years ago from breast cancer, a dearly loved and respected kindergarten teacher, leaving five young grandchildren to miss her reading stories to them. Mary was the oral story-teller in our family, every moment was history, and every moment a memory. She taught as easily and effortlessly as breathing. My eldest daughter Cassi created the beautiful illustrations for her Aunty.

Book Extract!

Veronica has very kindly given us a free extract from her writing. This is from Ochre Dragon: The Opal Dreaming Chronicles Book 1, Chapter 2.

VE Patton The Ochre Dragon cover

VE Patton The Ochre Dragon cover detail

Here we meet middle-aged project manager Ali just after she’s been attacked in her office!

***

If the assassin stops to kill her, then I can escape. Ali felt sick at being so gutless. Indecision kept her frozen to the spot, expecting a scream at any moment. With her eyes glued to the door, rainbow sparkles began to crowd her vision.

A trilling female voice hooted with laughter in Ali’s head. She clutched her temples. You should SO run. Impossibly, the voice sliced through her brain like a hot knife.

She’s not who you think she is. She’d definitely run if the shoe was on the other foot.

‘Who’s there?’ Ali rasped, fear drying her mouth.

Come on. Did you see what I did there? Shoe on the other foot. You’re only wearing one shoe. SHOE-ON-THE-OTHER-FOOT. Surely that’s worth a groan at least.

‘Who is it? Come out now. This is not funny. We’re in a Code Black,’ Ali couldn’t imagine how the voice was in her head.

You know who I am Ali Morrow. That is who you’re calling yourself in this incarnation, isn’t it Alinta? Invisible, anonymous Proji and Cataloguer Extraordinaire.

The voice continued in a huffy tone. And that was very funny by the way. I’ve been practising my comedy routines while I waited for you to come to your senses.

Ali swivelled, searching the foyer for the owner of the voice.

We don’t have time for theatrics. We’re close to the century congruence. It’s me. Jiemba. I’m through. I’m back. We needed a life-threatening event so I could break through this ridiculous nightmare you call existence.

Ali’s gift flashed a picture of a cranky red dragon in her mind. Dragon. Mammoth body, sinuous neck, enormous frilled head, covered in scales, dragon. Dark red threads charged around her gift like lit fuses, blasting holes and breaking connections in her mind’s tapestry.

The dragon sat on its massive haunches in the chaos and bared a set of sharp, glistening fangs. It tilted and lowered its head so that Ali got a glimpse of one enormous eye peering at her – from inside her head. Apart from the vertical obsidian pupil, the dragon’s eye was like a gigantic opal. The eye drank in light, leaving the smattering of sparkling rainbow flecks a brilliant counterpoint.

Hello breakfast.

Ali shook her head, her heart hammering a ragged tattoo. She must be going mad. The old woman had told her to remember Jiemba. Something about her shadow seemed out of sync and Ali glanced down to see that it had transformed into the shape of an enormous dragon, its head crowned with curled horns.

She dragged her gaze past outstretched wings, taloned forelimbs, and a lashing spiked tail. Its hind legs and enormous feet joined at her very real single shod pair. Her mind threatened to explode.

‘No. Absolutely not. There are no such things as dragons.’ She barely realised she’d spoken aloud and closed her eyes as an offended huff sounded in her head.

There certainly are such things. And you and I are one. So let’s get outta here. The voice turned a little plaintive. I wanna go Home.

Ali squeezed her eyes tighter.

Aren’t you even a little bit glad to see me? I was only kidding about the breakfast thing. I haven’t eaten a human in ages. At least a couple of hours. Kidding. I’m just kidding. I only eat the bad ones. Kidding again, Well, no actually. That bit is true.

Ali put her hands over her ears. ‘Not real. Not real. Not real,’ she chanted.

Jiemba sulked in the background, mumbling about humour and bad gigs. All of which only upped Ali’s panic level. A noise had her whirling as her office door opened and Sophie strolled out, the epitome of composure.

She looks more like a bloody manager than me, all cool and graceful. Ali did not qualify for cool or graceful just now.

‘Nothing there but shadows and an over-active imagination. Come on, come and see.’ Sophie beckoned her closer.

How can she be braver than me? I’ve got at least a quarter-century on her, and she’s just an addi.

I could’ve helped you with that. I have enough courage for both of us. And then some.

Sophie’s not hearing the voice.

Well, she wouldn’t, would she. I’m only in your head.

Ali gulped, swallowing the bile that fear had driven to her throat.

Ugh, that burns. I am so heading to that stress session tonight.

Sophie beckoned again, her lifted eyebrow questioning Ali’s hesitation.

Ali approached, limping in her single high heel, and peeked past Sophie’s smile. Nothing. No one. She stepped into the small room, getting a whiff of Sophie’s citrus perfume and nothing else. She edged past the upended chair, bent and looked under the desk and then over to the floor beside the window.

Nope, no ninja assassin. No silver thingies.

Her body sagged. She ran her fingers through her hair, gathering the soft escapees and tucking them behind her ears.

‘What about the conference room? Did you check in there?’ Ali asked.

Sophie nodded. ‘Nothing.’

‘Jeez, I must look like an idiot.’

Sophie patted her shoulder sympathetically.

Can’t disagree with you there, Jiemba chuckled.

‘Ali, you’ve been working like a fiend to get this report out. You’re exhausted. And you don’t eat well. Is it any wonder you’re jumping at shadows? Go and save your work and I’ll make you a cuppa for the trip home. Time we both left anyway. Federation won’t love us if we file for burn out.’

Sophie marched off and Ali listened to her confident clip, clip, clip across the tiles to the kitchen. The sound of the boiling kettle seemed so prosaic to her overwrought senses.

She realised she was standing forlornly in the middle of her office, adrenaline still churning her gut. She took a long, slow, deep breath, remembering her stress relief classes and glanced around.

‘Right, nothing to see. You’re ridiculously busy, so stressed that even in the daytime you’re imagining wandering wild women and nefarious ninja assassins.’

Seriously, why the hell would ninja assassins want to kill me? It’s not like I’m anyone important. I’m nothing. I know I’m good at my job, but jeez.

You forgot a dragon talking in your head. Jiemba sounded snarky. Ali ignored her.

***

Wow! All that and DRAGONS! Thank you so much Veronica, for being my guest tioday.

Check out the links below for more 🙂

Veronica’s Links

Website https://www.veronicastrachan.com.au/
Breathing While Drowning: One Woman’s Quest for Wholeness https://books2read.com/BWD
Ochre Dragon: The Opal Dreaming Chronicles Book 1 https://books2read.com/OchreDragon

Ocean Currents: inspiration by Rebecca Fraser

The lure of the ocean and a love of speculative fiction combine in the works of Australian author Rebecca Fraser. But these are not this writer’s only strengths. I recently read and reviewed Rebecca’s book of short stories Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract for Aurealis magazine, using words like:

“Fraser’s insight and eye for detail imbue every story, and her imaginative scope encompasses a prodigious variety of settings and characters. Keep this little book of horrors close.”

Going forward with the idea of an inspiring 2021, I recently asked Rebecca to contribute to my blog with a reflection about what inspires her writing, and – you guessed it – a bonus FREE EXTRACT! Read on…

Inspired by Life

REBECCA: Thanks so much for having me on you blog, Clare. I always love reading answers to this question! For me, inspiration is usually drawn from multiple sources. Sometimes it’s a snatch of overhead conversation (I’m a dreadful eavesdropper, but aren’t all writers?), that inspires the kernel of a story. An article or news item might trigger inspiration, or sometimes a random sequence of words strike me as an intriguing story title. I often glean glimpses and glimmers of inciting incidents or thought-provoking situations from random sources, and little building blocks of plot and setting start to form a framework.  The characters always seem to come later.

Rebecca Fraser, Australian author, lives on Victoria's beautiful Mornington Peninsula

Rebecca Fraser, Australian author, lives on Victoria’s beautiful Mornington Peninsula

I walk a lot too—for physical and mental exercise. There are some lovely walks that surround my home on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, and when it’s just me alone with my thoughts, immersed in nature, this is usually when the threads of a story come together, or when I get resolution to a plot point that might have been proving problematic.

As far as what I find inspiring on a personal level, it’s often drawn from deep wells where people have thrown off the cloak of repression or revolted against the abuse of power and privilege and marginalisation, sometimes at enormous sacrifice and cost. It’s people at their best versus people at their worst—the human condition is a perennial source of fascination to me. Courage, retribution, and comeuppance often find a place within my stories.

 

The gift of an extract

REBECCA: This is the first chapter of my middle grade fantasy adventure Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean (IFWG Publishing Australia, 2018).

Front Cover_Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean

Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean

I chose this piece as the events, characters, and setting are a fusion of my love for the ocean and my love of speculative fiction. Much of my work carries a nautical theme or features a coastal setting, so it was a pleasure to write in familiar territory.

I also wanted to tackle issues and themes that are relevant to today’s youth, and thirteen-year-old Curtis Creed proved a worthy vehicle to use for this. The book highlights several themes: the acceptance of great loss, the differing effect grief can have on family members, courage in the face of adversity, self-worth, self-belief, self-acceptance, and respect for our environment.

On a lighter note, Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean is predominantly a fun, fast-paced fantasy adventure story, filled with characters I hoped many readers would be able to relate to.

It’s set in Queensland,  in the fictional coastal township of Midnight Cove. I’m a former Queensland girl, so I feel like I’ve walked the shoreline of Midnight Cove many times, and delved deep into the hidden world of rockpools. Perhaps, like Curtis, I should have delved deeper … who knows what I might have found? 😊

 

EXTRACT from Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean

Curtis Creed stood at the water’s edge. Come back to me, the ocean sighed. Come back to me. But he couldn’t. Not today. Not ever.

He squinted against the afternoon sun and focused on the line-up of surfers gathered out past the second break. Even though they were far offshore, Curtis’ trained eye was able to pick out their various techniques—weight transfers, body positions, timing. It was second nature. If you weren’t in the surf yourself then you were watching other surfers; scrutinising their moves, checking out their styles.

He’d stood at the shoreline for so long his feet had become anchored, buried ankle-deep in the sand with the ebb and pull of the tide. Out among the breakers, a surfer powered down the face of a beautifully formed wave before disappearing into the pipeline. Remember that feeling? the ocean breathed. Remember? Of course he remembered, but he couldn’t return to the surf. He just couldn’t.

Instead the school holidays dragged along—lonesome days spent wandering the shoreline of Midnight Cove or sitting high up on The Bluff, watching others chase waves. Sometimes, when the surf was really pumping, his sense of loss and failure was so suffocating it was easier to avoid the beach altogether.

Thwack. A wad of wet sand hit Curtis hard in the back, right between his shoulders. His buried feet caused him to lose balance and he pitched forward. He flung his arms out to steady himself too late, and landed in the water on all fours.

“Whatcha doing, Shark Crumb? Looking out for sharks?” The hated nickname. Loud guffaws. It was Dylan and his moronic mates. Why couldn’t his brother just leave him alone?

“Yeah, Shark Crumb. Seen any sharks lately?”

“Better get out of the water, Shark Crumb. They’ll smell your fear.”

Curtis stood up. His board shorts and the front of his singlet were soaked. He turned to face his tormentors. Dylan was flanked by Blake and Jordo, two of his mates from high school. They were fresh from the surf with wetsuits pulled down around their waists. Water dripped from their hair and trickled down their torsos. The boys had pressed their surfboards into the wet sand, where they stood upright like silent sentinels.

Then Curtis noticed Dylan was using their father’s surfboard and anger boiled inside him like lava in a volcano. The thruster stood between Blake and Jordo’s boards, a falcon between two pigeons. It was handcrafted for speed and could cut down the face of a wave like no other. Dimples of wax glinted from its surface, wax that remained from another time, applied in dawn’s first light by their father’s hand. The image sliced Curtis’ heart as cleanly as the board’s fin cut through water.

“Why have you got Dad’s board?” He was screaming now. He couldn’t help it. Didn’t care.

“What’s it to you? You never use it.” Dylan folded his arms across his chest.

“That’s not the point.” Curtis took a step closer to Dylan. “Dad left it to me. To me.” His voice was shaking now. Blake and Jordo circled like a pair of seagulls, cawing out the familiar taunt Shark Crumb, but Curtis barely heard them.

A tendon in Dylan’s neck began to pulse. He shaped up to Curtis so closely he could see the peppering of blackheads across Dylan’s nose. “Dad never would’ve left it to you if he knew you were going to turn into such a pussy.”

Before he’d even thought about what he was doing, Curtis punched Dylan in the face as hard as he could. The swing harnessed every ounce of his rage and the punch landed with a clap. Dylan fell backwards. His eyes widened with surprise then quickly clouded with danger. A droplet of blood fell from his nose and made a coin-sized stain on the wet sand.

It was time to go. Curtis turned and pelted off down the beach. Behind him he could hear Blake and Jordo give chase, but he knew he could outrun them. The stupid nickname rang out behind him, but as the distance grew the voices became fainter until they were eventually torn away by the ocean breeze.

He ran without looking back. His breath hitched in his chest. A ball of embers burned the back of his throat, but still he ran. Tears stung his eyes, but he also felt a thrill of exhilaration. He’d hit Dylan before, of course, and received his fair share back. Heck, they were brothers. They’d grown up with horse bites, birthday punches, Chinese burns, and the dreaded typewriter. But he’d never all out hauled off and decked him. It had felt good, but the brief rush of exhilaration was quickly replaced by terror at the thought what awaited him when he returned home. Especially as he’d managed to floor Dylan in front of his mates. His brother would no doubt have all kinds of retribution in store.

He decided to delay for as long as he could. As he rounded the southernmost end of Midnight Cove he slowed to a jog. Here the long stretch of beach gave way to a rocky shoreline heavily strewn with ancient lava boulders and rock pools. The rock shelf—a labyrinth of stones and shallows—skirted the great cliffs that rose to form Midnight Bluff, the town’s highest point.

The ocean’s teeth had gnashed the cliffs for thousands of years carving an alien landscape of rock face and rivulets. The rock pools closest to the sandy beach made safe watery playgrounds for children to explore with buckets and spades. Further round the headland, however, access was difficult and discouraged. The gentle waves that undulated through the bay had nowhere to go when they met land here, and they boomed and crashed over the rocks. The boulders were larger and denser, filled with ankle-breaking crevices and rock pools that were deceptively deeper than their beach-hugging counterparts. They filled and drained with the tide’s highs and lows.

Curtis knew Dylan wouldn’t follow him here. It wasn’t just the difficulty of access that would stop him, there were too many memories.

Curtis ignored his aching fist as he jumped gazelle-like from boulder to boulder. The ocean’s salt-tinged air whipped and whistled and he ventured deeper into the network of rock pools until the beach was completely out of sight.

***

Oh my goodness, that’s an exciting extract! Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing it with us today.

You can find Rebecca’s work at the links below. Enjoy 😉

 

Front Cover_Coralesque

Coralesque and other tales to disturb and distract, by Rebecca Fraser

REBECCA’S LINKS


Website:
  https://writingandmoonlighting.com/

Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Oceanhttps://www.amazon.com.au/Curtis-Creed-Ocean-Rebecca-Fraser/dp/1925759032

Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distracthttps://www.amazon.com.au/Coralesque-Other-Tales-Disturb-Distract/dp/1925956709

Midnight swims and the omnipresence of story ideas

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

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

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

Author Faith Hogan

Author Faith Hogan

Inspiration – The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Excerpt from The Ladies’ Midnight Swimming Club

Diary of a Sea Swimmer

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

Prologue

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

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

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

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

‘Maybe you’ll join me?’ Jo laughed.

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

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

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club

The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club by Faith Hogan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

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

 

IMPORTANT LINKS

Faith’s website

Other Titles by Faith Hogan

My Husband’s Wives

Secrets We Keep

The Girl I Used to Know

What Happened to Us?

The Place We Call Home

 

 

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