NK Chats To….

Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.

A Moment With…Three of my Favourite Scenes by J. Paul Henderson

larry and the dog peopleJ. Paul Henderson’s latest book, Larry and The Dog People was recently released by No Exit Press.

Larry MaCabe is a man who needs people more than most… The problem for Larry is that most people have little need for him.

Larry MacCabe is a retired academic, a widower, and until a chance meeting with the administrator of a care home, also friendless. At her suggestion, he adopts a Basset Hound and joins her one Saturday at the local park. He becomes a regular visitor, and for the first time in his life the member of a gang.

While his new companions prepare for the annual Blessing of the Animals service on the Feast Day of St Francis, Larry puts the finishing touches to a conference paper he’s due to present in Jerusalem and arranges a house-sitter.

Neither the service nor his visit to Israel go to plan, and on his return Larry is charged with conspiring to blow up a church and complicity in the deaths of four people. All that stands between him and conviction is a personal injury lawyer and things for Larry aren’t looking good…

 

Today, J Paul Henderson shares his three favourite scenes from his latest novel.

 

It would be good to say that I enjoyed writing all the scenes in Larry and the Dog People, but I didn’t.  It’s the same with all books:  there are some scenes you have to write in a story – and these you work on the hardest – and there are scenes you want to write.  Fortunately, the former are far fewer in number than the latter, and it would have been easier to pinpoint three of these than choose from the ones I enjoyed writing.  That said, these are three of my favourites.

 

Laura’s relationship with her Aunt Elizabeth (Chapter 2)

Laura Parker grows up on a small dairy farm in Vermont, where life is uncomplicated: people milk cows and that’s about it.  When she’s fifteen, the family is informed that a distant relative, Elizabeth Longtoe, has been taken into care and placed in a nursing home in nearby Brattleboro.

Elizabeth is the first cousin of Laura’s deceased grandmother, an invalid and alone in the world. To all but Laura, she remains a distant and therefore unimportant relative.  Although her parents do visit occasionally – more out of duty than love – it’s Laura who heads to the nursing home on a regular basis, and a bond develops between the two women.  The experience of visiting her great-aunt is also the impetus for her future career in care administration.

Elizabeth Longtoe is a kindly soul and stoical. She’s had a hard life, complicated by the fact that she married outside her race, but is accepting of its hardships and has no regrets.  She’s a person who counts her blessings, no matter how few they’ve been, and she appreciates that there are others in the world worse off than her.  (I’d like to think that I was Elizabeth Longtoe, but needless to say I’m not.)

The conversations between Laura and her great-aunt happen over time, but are structured as a continuous monologue. Below is an excerpt.

“Children? No, we weren’t blessed that way, dear.  It wasn’t meant to be.  And maybe that was a good thing, because there were times when we couldn’t even afford to put food in our own mouths.  I know what you’re thinking, though.  You’re thinking that if we’d had children I wouldn’t be living here now, aren’t you?  You’re thinking that I’d be living with them.  No, I wouldn’t have wanted that, dear.  You don’t give life to a person just so you can suck it out of them when you get old.  They’d have lives of their own to live, children of their own to look after and there’s no way I’d have wanted to burden them.  I’m an invalid, Laura.  It wouldn’t have been fair.”

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NK Chats To… Jane Sanderson

jane-sanderson-300x450Jane Sanderson is the author of This Much is True which was released in June 2017. 

After decades in a deeply unhappy marriage, Annie Doyle can barely bring herself to care that her husband Vince is finally about to die.

But as the family gathers to see out his final days, Vince utters a single word that will change everyone’s lives completely:

‘Martha.’

Who is Martha? And why is Annie so quick to dismiss the mention of her name?

As Annie’s long-held secrets start to emerge, the lives of everyone she holds dear will be changed forever…

 

Hello Jane, thank you so much for joining me today and congratulations on the release of your book, This Much is True. What was your typical writing day like when writing this book?

Ah, if only there was any such thing. Every day seems to be different, depending on what other demands there are on my time. I work at a desk in my bedroom at home, and am easily distracted by almost everything that happens around me: dogs barking downstairs, postman knocking at the door, phone ringing, washing to be done, drying to be folded, dogs to be walked, dinner to cook … do you get the picture?! I write between all those other activities – half an hour here, an hour there – until the book gets more than halfway finished, and then I always make a priority of it, find the discipline to turn a blind eye to other things, and forge ahead to the end. On the whole, I’m probably most productive either very early in the morning, or late in the evening.

 

Can you tell me a little about This Much is True and what inspired the novel?

It was actually inspired by walking my dogs, here where I live, in Herefordshire. But that really was just a starting point for a story about secrets, lies, and the redemptive powers of friendship. Annie Doyle is a deceptively complex woman, whose ordinary existence hides some extraordinary truths, and who can only deal with the miseries of her past by ignoring them. I wanted Annie’s fledgling friendship with Josie and Sandra to be a catalyst for change; through their example she begins to see another way of being. Of course, I also wanted to explore the idea of secrecy in friendships too – the lines we don’t cross, the things we never tell. Annie has more to hide than most of us, but I believe we all protect our secret selves, to one extent or another.

 

Do you have many pages of planning and research for this book or did you just see where it took you?

I have a notebook with random memos to myself about things I mustn’t forget, but that’s all. I research as I go, and I don’t really plan at all. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it works.

 

What’s the editing process like for you – how do you approach it?

It’s a fluid process, and I edit (that is, rewrite, correct, add material) as I write, rather than at the end. I don’t do drafts – my first draft tends to be my only draft, but it will have undergone an awful lot of tweaking as it took shape. Then, of course, the manuscript goes to the editor for their input, and the copyediting stage is equally crucial to weed out the continuity errors and grammatical blunders, but on the whole I try to be as efficient as possible during the actual writing of the story. It’s my journalist’s training, I reckon – it dinned into me the importance of producing ‘clean copy’.

 

What elements do you feel make a good novel?

Great characters and believable dialogue. If those elements are in place, I’m happy. Plot matters – of course it does – but sometimes a great novel can actually be about very little; if the reader cares about the characters, and can hear them when they speak, then that’s the basis of a truly good read, in my view.

 

Do you have any writing rituals – coffee, music, silence, a specific place you need to write?

Silence, generally, and I always write at a small desk at my bedroom window, which has a beautiful view of the Brecon Beacons in the distance, but I have to keep the shutters closed because the light bleaches out my screen! Coffee and tea are essential to my day, whether I’m writing or not.

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NK Chats To… Lola Jaye About Her New Novel, Orphan Sisters

Lola JayeOrphan Sisters is the new novel from the fabulous, Lola Jaye and I am excited to be a part of her blog tour to celebrate the paperback release. 

Their Nigerian parents have emigrated to England in search of a better life for their family. Nineteen Fifties London is a great adventure to the girls but not always welcoming. There are signs in windows of lodging houses warning: ‘no blacks, no dogs, no Irish’.

When tragedy strikes and the girls lose their father, their mother is unable to cope. When she fails to recover from the surprise birth of another child all three girls are sent to an orphanage. Lana is determined to keep her sisters together but when baby Tina gets adopted, she must admit their family is about to be torn apart – perhaps for ever…

 

Hi Lola. It’s so lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your new novel is called Orphan Sisters. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired you to tell this story?

Orphan Sisters is a saga spanning thirty years but primarily set in 1960’s London where three little girls were supposed to be living the dream of their immigrant parents. However, they end up living a nightmare many migrants, even today, often face. I have always been so inspired by my parents, aunties, uncles and all those who came to the UK from the former colonies in the hopes of a better life. They faced racism, hardship and were basically told to ‘go back to where you came from!‘ constantly. Having not read much on migration when it came to Nigerians, I wanted to tell their story.

 

What’s your typical writing day like and do you have any rituals whilst writing (silence, coffee, a specific place to write etc.)

When I’m not being distracted by endless cat pictures on the Internet, I settle down with a glass of water by my side and just write. After a couple of hours I will break and make a smoothie, watch a TV program perhaps and then start writing again. My needs are subject to change though. For example, in the UK I generally sit at my desk in my living room with the television out of sight and in silence. But in Atlanta (where I lived for two and a half years until recently) I sat in a lovely little bubble tea shop and wrote whilst the hustle and bustle didn’t seem to disturb me at all!

 

What challenges did you face when writing a book in a historical setting?

I tended to get deeply involved with the research. There was so much I didn’t know about the history of race in the United Kingdom. Having lived in America, I’d become immersed in the American experience, but there’s so much to learn about regarding the UK. I found myself reading and over reading my research, having to remind myself that I actually had a book to write!

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NK Chats To…Martine McDonagh

Martine McDonagh SQUARE ©CHRIS ISON_WEST DEAN COLLEGEHi Martine. I am so pleased to be welcoming you to Novel Kicks today. Would you tell us a little about your book, Narcissism for Beginners and how the idea originated?

Hi Laura. Some years ago I became fascinated by extremely narcissistic characters and their modus operandi, particularly those who set themselves up as gurus and ‘spiritual’ leaders, and wanted to explore the effect they have on those people closest to them.

 

What’s your favourite word and why? 

Ubiquitous. Hard to say why, it’s just a really satisfying word to say. There are very few words with that qu sound in the middle preceded and followed by the i sound, so maybe that’s it. Also, it makes you sound clever.

 

What’s your typical writing day like – do you have any writing rituals etc?

Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a typical writing day as my job takes up most of my time and I rarely stay in one place for longer than a week, so at the moment writing has to be done whenever and wherever I can fit it in. There’s always tea though, that’s a given, and sometimes coffee made with cream.

 

Did you plan much prior to writing your novel? Do you think it’s better to wait for a complete first draft before editing?

This novel has seven different narrative voices so I needed to do some planning to make sure I didn’t get into a complete muddle. I know not everyone does, but I always write a first draft in longhand from start to finish before I do any rewriting. I think it takes at least one draft to work out which story I actually want to tell.

 

What’s the best and most challenging thing about being a writer? 

Well, the best and the most challenging are definitely not one and the same. The worst is trying to balance being a writer with earning a living; writing always seems to lose that particular fight in my experience.

But the best aspects of writing are almost endless. Writing presents an opportunity to always be learning something new, in terms of skill and technique of course, but also when it comes to researching new ideas and subjects you never even knew you were interested in. I love the start of a new project when you’re like a kitten chasing after balls of wool rolling off in all directions.

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A Moment With: Claire North Talks About Her Favourite Fictional Characters

Claire North photo TEOTDClaire North is the author of The End of The Day which was released by Orbit in Paperback on 24th August.

Claire is with me today to chat about her five favourite fictional characters. Over to you, Claire.

Sam Vimes, from The Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett

Sam Vimes starts in the gutter, and ends up more or less a superhero. By the time he’s a diplomat for the city of Ankh Morpork, he can swagger into any bar on the Disc, flick ash from his cigar, tip his helmet to the troll at the door and with a casual ‘easy, boys’ seize control of a situation by his sheer grim will and excellence.

He doesn’t have magic powers. But he is a copper. No – a copper’s copper. A policeman down to the soles of his worn-down boots, a loather of paperwork, a duke despite himself, a terrible politician and a seeker-after-of-truth/justice, no matter what gets in his way. And in Vimes, Terry Pratchett came to craft a character who’s superpower is exactly that – policeman as a magic unto itself.

Vimes is also blessed by being married to Lady Sybil Ramkin, a dragon-breeder and lady of an ancient house. It is a union that gave his character even more space to bloom, as his desire to pursue the truth of increasingly tangled and dangerous cases was pulled back from the edge of darkness by Lady Ramkin’s inevitable and necessary cry – “Don’t be ridiculous, Sam!” Separately, they were already cool characters; together they are incredible.

 

Lessa , from the Dragons of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

There is a great deal about Lessa that’s annoying. Arguably this is in response to provocation – having your family killed, your ancestral Hold stolen from you, hiding yourself in the kitchens of your conqueror for years while planning revenge would certainly help mould you into the headstrong bundle of rage, manipulation and exasperation that Lessa absolutely is.

Corgi, June 2012

Corgi, June 2012

She’s also the rider of a golden queen dragon, a great leader in the fight against the deadly Thread that rains down from Pern’s sky, and the first female character I ever read who was kick-ass excellent, and fully human, and totally indispensable. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a teenage girl who up to that time was still only really encountering books about heroic men doing heroic things while women need rescuing. Try now to imagine how your world explodes when finally – finally – you find a book where not only is the woman a flawed and brilliant character who evolves with the passage of time into someone even more awesome, but who is the irrefutable saviour of Pern despite herself and her flaws.

Lessa is far from the greatest character I’ve ever read; but as a teenage girl learning to love fantasy, her existence rocked my world.

 

Corwin, from the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Corwin is arguably a far less pleasant character to spend time with than his sprog, Merlin. However, the ambition, vengeance and self-obsession that drives Corwin in book one to do some… really rather unwise things… gives way over time to one of the most interesting and evolved mostly-heroes of fantasy. With the ability to walk through reality – all realities, all that you can ever imagine – and over time acquiring responsibility for maintaining the balance between the universe’s two conflicting poles, Order and and Chaos, Corwin is a character who defies easy description, shares his feelings minimally with the reader, while providing gently humorous narrative on all he sees.

However, like all of Zelazny’s characters, responsibility doesn’t make Corwin pompous, or bad company. Like Sam in Lord of Light – a character who essentially becomes the Buddha in his quest to tear the technology of incarnation out of elitist hands – it’s excellent, go read – Corwin will spend a great deal of time enjoying whiskey and a cigarette while musing over the nature of existence, before wrapping up debate with a merry ‘that didn’t solve anything, but it was better than being impaled by a mad unicorn’. Huge ideas are gently caressed beneath the surface of Corwin’s dry wit, and Zelazny’s casually brilliant imagination.

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A Moment With… Beth Underdown

Beth Underdown credit Justine Stoddart The Witchfinder's Sister jacketBeth Underdown’s debut novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister was released by Viking in March 2017.

Beth is with me today to talk about her approach to the research process and how important it is to find your own system. Over to you, Beth….

When I started my first novel, I didn’t have a clue what I was up to. I floundered about, making a start on this scene or that subplot, interspersing writing with what began as a fairly scatter-gun approach to research – one week a book of sermons, the next an illustrated herbal, the next a broad political survey of the whole century in which my story was set. As the book progressed, my approach to research changed, and became about looking for answers to specific questions the story had raised. But to start with, my research strategy might best have been described as random.

I like to think that now, starting my second novel, some of what I learned with the first one will save me a bit of time and heartache. I’m hoping, for instance, that I’ve sharpened my instinct for which scenes and which subplots will be needed in this next book – which should be developed, and which should be allowed to die quietly before they embarrass me any further.

But what hasn’t changed, I’m realising, is that scatter-gun approach to the first weeks of research. As it turns out, scatter-gun is what I need.

Last year, after finishing my first novel, I breathed a sigh of relief. Having made it through months of active writing, during which I’d been afraid to read other people’s fiction in case I lost a grip on the voice of my own narrator, suddenly I was free. I started to read some of the great fiction that was coming out at the time: The Essex Serpent. The North Water. His Bloody Project. I also got a teaching job, so I started to read and reread a bunch of classics, to help prepare my seminars: Madame Bovary. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Talented Mr Ripley. But despite these literary riches, I felt a bit bereft, and I didn’t know why. I was reading everything (or as much of everything as I had hours in the day to accommodate). So why did it feel like something was missing?

What I wasn’t reading, I see now, were my scatter-gun books. My weird books. Books published in the sixties and since forgotten. Books consigned to the dustiest end of the library or the forsaken corner of a second-hand bookshop.

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NK Chats To… e. lockhart

E Lockhart copy 2A huge massive hello to e. lockhart (Emily) who is joining me today. Her new novel, Genuine Fraud was released by Hot Key Books on 5th September.

About Genuine Fraud:

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.

Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.

An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.

A bad romance, or maybe three.

Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream,

superheroes, spies, and villains.

A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.

A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

 

Welcome to Novel Kicks. I am so excited to have you as our guest today. What is your typical writing day like?

Thanks for having me! I sit down to work around 8:30 in my home office. The cat sits with me. Then I fret and bleed and feel sick and feel impressed with myself and despair and have flashes of inspiration.

 

Your new book is called Genuine Fraud. What is the premise and what inspired it?

It’s about two young women who look enough alike to share a passport. It was inspired by various superhero origin stories, the Patricia Highsmith novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, Victorian orphan stories including Vanity Fair and Great Expectations, action hero movies and my desire to write a feminist antiheroine story. Its a story that’s in conversation with all of those. And it’s a tale told backwards.

 

GENUINE FRAUD CoverWhat are the challenges of writing a young adult novel?

YA readers love their books passionately, and tolerate neither bulls—t nor boredom. That’s an exacting and super-responsive audience to have.

 

What elements do you feel are important?

I try to get the inside of my head onto the page in the shape of a story that will be entertaining and emotional to read. I try to offer my brain up to the reader.

 

How do you approach the editing process?

The editor pushes me to be my best self. She pushes really hard and I can’t say I enjoy it. I revise my books about twenty times. Maybe more.

 

What is your process like when starting a novel (from idea to final draft,) and has it changed since writing your first book?

With Genuine Fraud, because it is told backwards, I had to lay the plot out ahead of time. Then I wrote the book from the last chapter to the first — in reverse order to how people will experience it. But after that came the twenty revisions.

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NK Chats To… Jon Rance

Jon RanceI am very happy to be welcoming Jon Rance to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for his new novel, About Us.

Rosie Willis isn’t happy. Her once perfect marriage to husband, Pete, is falling apart, her mother is dying, and her three children are starting to feel like strangers.

At forty she feels like she’s stuck, but then she meets handsome widower, Mark Hornby, at the school gates and he makes her feel alive again. As she drifts further from Pete, she gets closer to Mark, but approaching Christmas she realises she needs to try to save her marriage and keep her family together.

Despite her feelings, she can’t have an affair. Unfortunately, Pete has news of his own that throws everything into doubt. Rosie must choose a new life.

There’s Pete, Mark, or going it alone. It isn’t easy when you’re forty, when you have three kids, when you feel past it, when your mother is dying, but life isn’t meant to be easy.

 

Hi Jon, thank you very much for joining me today. Congratulations on your new book, About Us. Can you tell me a little about it and how the idea originated?

Hello! It’s a pleasure to be here and yes, of course, I’d love to tell you all about my new novel, About Us. About Us, is the story of Rosie Willis and her husband, Pete. It’s the story of they meet, fall in love, get married, have children, and then how it all falls apart. It’s set over twenty years from university until their early forties. It’s a dramatic romantic comedy.

The idea evolved over time – as they tend to do. After my last novel, Dan And Nat Got Married, I knew I wanted to write something a big different and I had this idea for a novel. Originally it was going to be a story of a marriage from both sides, but then I decided to write the whole thing from Rosie’s perspective and that’s when it really took off.

 

About UsWhat’s your writing routine like (where do you like to write, do you need silence etc.) How has your routine changed since writing your first book?

Well now I have both children in school full-time I actually have a routine! When I wrote, This Thirtysomething Life, I was a stay at home dad so writing was done around that. I squeezed it in when I could. Now I sit at my desk at around 8:30-9am and work in silence until about 1-2pm and just write. Sometimes I listen to music and sometimes I don’t. I drink tea, coffee, try and eat healthy snacks and always have a break for lunch!

 

How do you approach writing a novel? Planner or a Panster?

I was thinking about this the other day. I always thought of myself as a bad planner, but I realised that I do plan, but generally over long periods of time. I usually start the ideas process maybe a year before I start writing a novel. I jot down ideas, characters, plotlines etc. so usually by the time I start writing, I have a decent idea what I’m doing. I don’t write extensive notes, but I do have whole pages on characters, storylines etc.

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A Moment With…Charlie Laidlaw

The things we learn COVER FINALA big welcome to Charlie Laidlaw. His book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead was released by Accent Press on 30th June 2017. 

About The Things We Learn When We’re Dead… 

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets The Lovely Bones in this surrealist, sci-fi comedy.

When Lorna is run over, she wakes in a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.

It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain.

She seems to be there by accident …Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

 

He joins me today to talk about the inspiration behind his new novel. Over to you, Charlie… 

All books start with a beginning.

For the reader, that beginning is page one.

For the author, the beginning comes much earlier.

For me, that came on a train from Edinburgh to London. For no reason whatsoever, the idea for the book came into my head.

It was an apt place to have that beginning because, being a civilised place, Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book.

Part of the inspiration was a quote from the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius Antoninus who wrote that “our life is what our thoughts make it.”

I’d always thought that life is what happens to you – all things good or bad: the people you meet, the things you do.

But, from a different perspective, everything about life is also about memory. We can’t do our jobs if we can’t remember how to do them; we can’t love people if we’ve forgotten who they are. It is our thoughts that shape us.

It’s the only train journey I’ve ever been on where I hoped for signal failure, or for spontaneous industrial action. I could have sat on that train for another five hours.

When I got home, I wrote the first chapter and the last chapter. The first chapter has changed out of all recognition, but the last chapter is still pretty much the same.

The story I’d come up was the story of Lorna Love, and the book follows her as she grows up. She’s feisty and funny, but also damaged and conflicted. More than anything, she’s someone fairly ordinary who you could meet on any street.

The story is about the small decisions that she makes, and of their unintended consequences. It’s also how, apparently killed in a road accident on her way back from a dinner party, she comes to look back at her life and rearrange her memories in a different pattern.

By the end of the book, when her memorises have come back to her, she can see herself in a new light. Her old memories, rearranged in a new way, make her a different person. (She’s not dead, by the way…and hence the book’s title).

It’s about being given a second chance and that is, perhaps, one of the most universal and recurring theme in literature.

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Novel Kicks Chats to …Caroline Beecham

Caroline Beecham Maggie’s Kitchen is the latest novel from Caroline Beecham (which is due to be released by Ebury Press on 27th July 2017)  and I am happy to be welcoming her to Novel Kicks today. 

When the British Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during WWII, aspiring cook Maggie Johnson seems close to realising a long-held dream. After overcoming a tangle of red tape, Maggie’s Kitchen finally opens its doors to the public and Maggie finds that she has an unexpected problem – her restaurant is too popular, and there’s not enough food to go round.

Then Maggie takes twelve-year-old street urchin Robbie under her wing and, through him, is introduced to a dashing Polish refugee, digging for victory on London’s allotments. Between them they will have to break the rules in order to put food on the table, and, perhaps, find love into the bargain…

 

Thank you for joining me today, Caroline. Can you tell me a little about your book, Maggie’s Kitchen and what inspired it?

‘Maggie’s Kitchen’ is a novel that follows the fortunes of Maggie Johnson as she sets up and runs a British Restaurant in London during the Second World War. The story focuses on the relationships that she develops with the community and in particular with Robbie, a twelve-year-old runaway, and Janek, a Polish refugee. Together they struggle through government red-tape to open the restaurant and then battle food shortages and community crisis to keep their doors open.

The novel is inspired by real events and I was intrigued by the fact these restaurants were created to help with the food shortages during the war. It seemed timely to write a story about them given the renewed interest in ‘paddock-to-plate’ and ‘nose-to-tail’ eating and our obsession with food.

The novel includes excerpts from the original Ministry of Food’s War Cookery Leaflets together with recipes that have been updated to suit contemporary tastes. The story is ultimately about hope and finding courage in the most unlikely of places.

 

What are the challenges of writing historical fiction?

Being inspired to write fiction based on real events and/or people and their achievements feels like a real privilege but there is also the danger of becoming too obsessed with your research and wanting to include everything in your book.

The key is to recognise how much detail to use to create the setting and as signposts to make the era authentic, but also remember you are creating a fictional work that needs to be real for your characters.

I’ve learnt that the first step is to recognise when to stop researching and start writing. The next is to know when to leave the research behind and just write freely, knowing that you can go back and check facts and details later; the most important thing is story and character.

That said, I was surprised at how strict the editors were in their fact checking with places, street names, and bus routes from the time for instance, but I suppose that’s good news for readers!

 

What is the best and hardest thing about being a writer?

The best thing about writing is being able to immerse yourself in fascinating subjects and people and different and interesting worlds; and your imagination of course. Initially I had wanted to write non-fiction because of my background working in television as well as to carry on storytelling in a different way after stopping fulltime work when I had children, but then I found myself drawn to fiction because it seemed to offer up more opportunities.

That’s what happened with ‘Maggie’s Kitchen’; I could have developed a documentary about these British Restaurants that few people had heard about but the characters of Maggie, Janek and Robbie emerged quite quickly, and the rest they say is history!

The hardest thing about being a writer is having the space and time to write. Everyone is very busy these days and juggling a family with other work commitments can be challenging.

When people asked what I did before I was published, I used to apologetically explain that I was writing a novel and they either rolled their eyes or were genuinely interested, but I didn’t feel as if I could legitimately say that was my work, even though I was totally committed to it and quite disciplined about spending time writing because I knew the novel wouldn’t write itself and that was what I had to do.

Now I realise that I need space around writing, not just the physical sitting down at the desk or doing research space but real headspace and that’s not always easy to get. I understand now why there are so many writers’ retreats and I think I need to apply for one!

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Novel Kicks Chats To: Kevin Dickson

DSC_0268-1

Kevin Dickson

Hello Kevin, thank you for joining me t0day on Novel Kicks. Your novel (which you’ve co-written with Jack Ketsoyan) is called Blind Item. Can you tell me about it?

Sure! The idea for Blind Item came out of conversations that Jack Ketsoyan and I had when I was a tabloid editor and he was a publicist with chaotic clients that I needed to do stories on.

After he came to trust me, we would share the darkest things we’d seen in our jobs, and we swore one day that we’d fold them all into a novel.

With Blind Item, we set out to write a dark romance that was set in the real Hollywood, the city were fame is just another job, and being famous is the worst job of all. We wanted to tell a funny, touching and truthful story that used our experiences as a springboard, and we threw in a generous sprinkling of the scandals that we’d seen over the years.

 

You’ve been an entertainment journalist for over twenty five years. How did this help with writing the novel? How much in the book is based on true events? (If you’re allowed to say… obviously.)

For a lot of entertainment journalists, their job entails showing up to interviews and spending very formal time around celebrities. I used to do that job. Once I entered the tabloid world, things became lot more informal.

I’ve always believed in journalistic integrity and if someone says something is off record, it’s off record. I think this surprised a lot of celebrities, but as they came to trust me, I began to get invited to private parties at their houses, and I never sold them out.

For many years, I was able to see a side of Hollywood that doesn’t get reported on. It was fun for a while but like anything that you have to do for work, it got old. But the behavior and the ridiculous excess that I saw definitely informed Blind Item.

The book is a fiction, it’s the story of a group of friends who live a life that’s very similar to both Jack’s and my own, when we were starting out in this town. We then saddled our poor characters with a lot of the lurid things that we saw happen, but I’d imagine that this is something that most writers do, go with what you know, write from your experience, but transform it into something more.

 

Blind Item Cover Final

Imprint, July 2017

What was your typical writing day like when writing Blind Item? Do you have any rituals before sitting down to write (needing coffee, music, silence, etc?)

It’s all about ritual for me. On the days that I was writing Blind Item, I would get up and check my phone exhaustively, literally exhaust the news, email, social media and whatnot, so that it would not distract me (and ultimately, as we entered the home stretch, I deactivated Facebook because of its capacity to enable procrastination.)

Then I would pile my two dogs into my car and go get a ridiculously strong coffee at Starbucks.

I would come home and think about the playlist for the day. I can only write to very few albums. I have to know them inside out. But it changes, and I think the material dictates what music I’m able to write to. For most of Blind Item, I only listened to Nocturne by Siouxsie, Last Splash by the Breeders and Golem by Wand. Just three albums on repeat.

I think they soothe my brain. I don’t hear them while I’m writing but they give my subconscious free reign to go live in that made up world. Once I had exhausted myself for the day, I’d go for a hike to clear out and return to myself.

 

What’s your favourite word and why?

It changes all the time. I like animal words, like panda and pangolin. I like palindromes, like kayak. I like onomatopoeia, and I love invented words. I’ve always loved a word I heard in France, I don’t know how to spell it, but it was something like les roploplos, which an old lady told me was a plural noun for really big boobs.

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A Moment With… Audrey Davis

FBprofilepicI’m saying a big hello today to Audrey Davis. Her debut novel, A Clean Sweep has just recently been released via eBook.

Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?

Sharing her route to publication, it’s over to you, Audrey.

It’s been five weeks since my first novel – A Clean Sweep – was published on Amazon but I am still giddy with excitement. I am an author! An actual, people-are-buying-my book author (or otter, as my lovely Dutch friend pronounces it). OK, I’m a very long way from topping the best seller list but that’s probably because I’m clueless about the marketing side. More of that in a little while …

My writing journey began several decades ago – yes, I am old – when I trained as a journalist and worked for many years in provincial newspapers and various magazines. My relationship with my now-husband Bill took me to Singapore, Australia and the south of England before we moved to Switzerland in 2002. Along the way we raised two boys, now all grown up and living in the UK, but we remained in the land of cheese and chocolate. Any dreams of writing were put aside as I focused on never-ending house renovations which still challenge my French-speaking abilities but at least I provide entertainment for the local workers.

It was in February 2016 that I signed up for a Start Writing Fiction course run by Future Learn, an offshoot of Open University. Within a few weeks I was totally hooked, exchanging ideas and reviews with fellow students from all over the world. It was one short exercise that gave me the idea for a longer story which then grew … and grew. With no firm plot in mind I found characters popping into my head, along with vague notions of what might happen to them. Five thousand words became twenty thousand and on it went. I ran sample chapters by friends who were effusive in their praise (probably because they are very nice and polite people.)

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NK Chats to… Penny Parkes

Penny Parkes has joined me today to talk about her new book, Practice Makes Perfect (released by Simon & Schuster on 29th June 2017.) Thank you for joining me today and congratulations for your new book. Can you tell me a little about Practice Makes Perfect?51b9ZXV0PiL

Well, Practice Makes Perfect takes us to the fictional Cotswold market town of Larkford, where we sneak behind the scenes of the medical centre there – The Larkford Practice. There’s a whole new management structure in place. In fact, the four senior doctors are not only entwined professionally, but also personally: 4 partners, 2 couples. So, I’m sure you can imagine how the boundaries between personal and professional become ever more blurry.

On the surface it might seem like the perfect situation and the powers-that-be certainly think so, because they’ve nominated Larkford as a Model Practice. But, as is often the case, if you shine a spotlight on things, it does rather tend to emphasise the flaws…

And, as always in Larkford, we get to see the doctors as a crucial part of their community – in good times and in bad. For Dr Holly Graham, in particular, that relationship works in both directions, as resident celebrity Elsie Townsend makes it her mission to help Holly find balance and fulfilment.

I’m hoping it will be like visiting old friends for those returning to the series after Out Of Practice and also stand alone as a wonderfully rural escapade for those new to the Larkford Valley.

 

What’s your writing day and routine like? Any rituals? 

I have to be fairly flexible, to be honest, to fit around family life, but that doesn’t stop me having an ‘ideal day’ that I try to work towards.  I normally see the kids off to school and then have my breakfast – an excellent excuse to muck about on social media while I top up my caffeine levels. Then, The Ginger Ninja and I like to have a little stroll, and this mainly serves not only to wear her out, but also to give me time to think about what I want to write that day. I have found (to my cost) that I am much more efficient if I sit down to type with an idea of where I want the story to go… Even if my characters don’t always behave themselves accordingly once I get started!

 

What type of writer are you in terms of planning and editing? 

I’d have to say that I’m a little of both – I like to sketch out a loose framework and then just let the plotlines develop on their own with a first draft. Only then will I start looking at the balance of points of view and more specific character arcs etc. and of course that’s where my incredibly insightful and lovely Editor, Jo, comes in with some much needed objectivity!

 

Do you have any advice for anyone experiencing writer’s block? 

I think the only thing to be aware of is that, creatively, you can’t drink from an empty cup – if you’re exhausted or ill or hammering out the words simply to up the word count, I think it shows in the quality of those words. Half the time, the days when I’ve pushed through writing with the flu, for example, all those pages have ended up on the cutting room floor anyway! Sometimes better to step away – rest, recover, see a friend – and then suddenly a chance comment in the queue at the supermarket will set my enquiring mind off on a roll… Inspiration is everywhere really, except possibly staring at a blank screen!

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NK Chats To Marilyn Bennett About Her Book, Granny With Benefits

marilynHello Marilyn. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called Granny with Benefits. What is it about and how did the idea originate?

Hi Laura, thank you very much for inviting me.

The book is about a 39 year old single woman called Grace. Her grandmother passes away and Grace volunteers to clear out her belongings from the Sheltered Accommodation, but really it’s an opportunity to get her sticky paws on some beautiful coats and jewels that her grandmother owned. Grace is dressed head to toe in her grandmothers clothing when a handsome man, who is looking for accommodation for his father, comes to view the room. They strike up a meaningful conversation about life and love, a discussion Grace believes would not have happened had he not thought she was an old woman. Grace decides that she will use her Granny alto ego to engineer a date for herself with the man, but things do not go according to plan.

The idea originated from two separate conversations that I had with friends of mine. The first conversation was with one of my best friends, who at the time was single and very reluctant to join Match.com. It made her feel exposed and she felt that it was a digital meat market. We had a long conversation about dating. We came to the conclusion that the men we were meeting wanted someone to look after them. They were basically looking for their mothers. This sparked the idea of men looking for their mothers when dating in my head.

The second conversation was with male best friend. I suggested to him that as we both had single friends we should set them up on blind dates. He agreed to speak to his friend and I was horrified when he advised that his friend had given him right of veto to vet my friends via photographs to decide if they were suitable for a blind date. He thought it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion. I thought the pair of them had a bloody cheek!

But it got me thinking. I made me think about the fact that some of us have a checklist that we can’t deviate from when looking for a partner. We aren’t open to surprises. It also made me think about the fact that when you meet someone are you really meeting the real them? Aren’t we all on our best behaviour when first dating?

The two conversations made me want to explore the idea of getting to know someone in a dating scenario without them realising it. What would they reveal about themselves? I also loved the idea of being able to look at the process of dating and aging. Grace gets the opportunity to become her ghost of Christmas Future through her Granny alter ego and it impacts on her present life.

 

If you were suddenly given the courage to do the one thing you’ve always wanted to do but have not yet done, what would you do?

I would walk a tight rope. I suffer from vertigo and only discovered this in my late twenties. Even the thought of a great height makes me dizzy! I can change a light bulb and put up curtains, basically anything three rungs up a step ladder, but any higher than that and you’re on your own!

 

What’s your writing process like? When writing this book, did you plan much and did you edit as you wrote or once you’d completed the first draft?

I discovered my writing process and the fact that I could write a novel by accident! I had planned to write a short film and whilst plotting it turned into the novel.

I wrote the entire novel by hand in notebooks, so there was no editing. I have a computer, so I have no idea why I did it this way. I think it was my subconscious not quite convinced that I could write a novel, so didn’t want to commit to it fully. When I typed up the novel that served as my first edit. Then when I read it back, that was the second edit.

I then came across an organisation called Spread the Word and they offered one to one Fiction Surgeries, so I booked one. It was invaluable. Based on the Writer Development Manager reading a 3000 word extract from the novel, I was given some top tips on where it wasn’t quite working. One of the books recommended at the session was Stephen King’s On Writing. It is an absolutely fantastic book for any writer, but particularly a new one like me. Once I read that I knew what I needed to do with the novel. I didn’t touch it for four months then I gave it a complete restructure and further edit.

At this point I knew I had got it in the best possible shape I could on my own, so I then found an Editor. We did one edit and a final read through and the book was done!

I was quite a long journey, but I now have it down pat, which made writing my second book a much more refined process. Plotting is the key for me. I plot from beginning to end before I write a single word on the manuscript.

 

Which authors do you admire and why?

I was a prolific reader as a child, but then I discovered film and so most of the authors I admire are from my childhood.

I loved Roald Dahl books. His imagination seemed boundless. He seemed to have a knack/genius for creating fantasy worlds that were comfortably inhabited by real children. Nothing seemed impossible, but simply magical.

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A Moment With: Kate Hughes; ‘My Self-Publishing Adventure.’

kateI’m pleased to be welcoming author, Kate Hughes to the blog today.

She chats to us about her self-publishing journey and what it was like for her. Over to you, Kate.

So I’d written a book. Now what?

All the advice I read said ‘Get an agent’. It all sounded so straightforward. So I diligently ordered the Writer’s Handbook and began to contact the relevant agents listed within its many pages. Email after email was sent but gradually after reading what felt like the millionth rejection message, it finally dawned on me that it was pretty unlikely that I was going to get any interest. I was unpublished, unknown and unimportant.

What to do? I’d invested so many hours in writing my precious book that I wanted at least a few people to read it. A friend of mine had just self-published his first novel and was having a lot of success, so he convinced me to give it a go. After sorting out all the formatting issues, which for a technophobe like me was extremely demanding, Amazon were pretty good at taking me through the self-publishing process. I had to upload the correct format of my book (finally it looked like a proper book with chapters and everything) then I had to design the cover. Again, Amazon have a handy cover creator which allows you to use pictures and text on their program. I know many authors pay to have their own covers designed and they look amazing, however as I had no idea whether I was actually going to sell any copies yet I was loathe to spend money I didn’t have! I have to say I was pretty pleased with the finished cover anyway. Just a few more boxes to fill in then…

I self-published my debut novel Mr Brown’s Suitcase in 2014. BUT and this is a big ‘but’ (hence the capitals) now the real work began.

The book is out there but, in order to sell any copies, people have to know. If you go through a traditional publisher they’ll sort all that out for you, but down the self-publishing route it’s all your responsibility. That for me has been the hardest part. The huge problem is that there are so many self-published authors out there. The competition to get your book noticed in a crowded marketplace is a challenge. I also work in a profession (teaching) which isn’t known for its expertise in self-promotion so it didn’t come easily! I had to advertise on all my social media accounts and encourage friends and family to share the news and a link to my book, use word of mouth (i.e. drop into the conversation at an appropriate time, “Did you know I’ve written a book?”), ask book bloggers to review my book (and hope it’s positive!) and contact relevant websites who I thought might be interested. Phew!

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Novel Kicks is a blog for story tellers and book lovers.

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