NK Chats To….
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.
I’d like to welcome Charles Harris to the blog today. Hello Charles. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your first fiction novel is called The Breaking of Liam Glass. Tell me a bit about it and what inspired the idea?
Hi Laura, thank you for having me.
The Breaking of Liam Glass is a crime-satire – not so much a Whodunnit as a What-They-Did-After-It! It follows the twenty-four hours after a teenage footballer, Liam Glass, is stabbed and in hospital in a coma, and the piranhas – the journalists, politicians and police – who all want to use him to build their careers.
The idea came from both seeing the rise in knife crime in our cities that seems unstoppable and also looking at the way newspapers play such a crucial part in our lives, and yet are almost unaccountable. Even the good ones. And to some extent they all can be good at times. It’s easy nowadays to attack the tabloids, but they have mounted important campaigns in the past and it would be a poorer world without them.
In Liam Glass, the central character, Jason Crowthorne, is a young wannabe journalistic piranha who first discovers Liam Glass’ case and realizes this could be his ticket to tabloid heaven. Yet at the same time he is honestly shocked at seeing kids being stabbed and wants to do something that will stop it.
As the story develops, Jason is torn between his better instincts and promoting his own career. In the process, he gets sucked into a dark yet comic spiral of lies and deceit, each step trying to escape the consequences of the one before. And soon discovers that there are bigger and nastier piranhas than him in the sea.
What do you think makes a good main character? Which elements are most important?
There’s no formula – I wish there were, it would make my life a lot easier. It’s like finding a partner – you can specify all the traits you want on Tinder but ultimately it comes down to a certain magic: you just want to spend more time with this person.
Some characters in the novel just arrived, fully formed, and were a joy to write: a nice but dim gym instructor; a local politician who is desperate to get re-elected but has no idea of her own; a put-upon detective constable who makes a single bad mistake and is urgently looking for someone to pin it on.
Whereas Jason hid himself from me and had to be slowly teased out.
Having said that, there are some rough guidelines – you want characters who are full of energy and contradictions, facing big dilemmas yet capable of taking action.
Jason finally revealed himself to be a great person to spend time with, which is a good thing as I lived with him for many years.
His heart is in the right place and yet he keeps doing the wrong things. You fear for him and yet in some ways you long for his comeuppance. In all, he turned out to be a wonderful comic hero to write.
What is your writing process like? Are you much of a planner? Edit as you go?
In theory, I try to plan, but not too much, and then not edit until I have a full draft. But each book tells you what it needs. It’s like sailing single-handed across the Atlantic – you start off with the best of intentions and by the end you’re clinging onto a spar, soaked to the skin and searching the horizon for dry land.
Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell us about?
I’ve just sent my editor a zillionth draft of a more serious psychological crime story.
Which three books could you not live without and why?
More like three hundred, but currently my top three would be Scoop, Catch 22 and Bonfire of the Vanities.
• Scoop for Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant depiction of the values and contradictions of the newspaper business;
• Catch 22 because every line that Joseph Heller writes both makes you laugh and pins some human hypocrisy like a butterfly on a pin;
• and Bonfire for Tom Wolfe’s ageless and constantly funny depiction of the hubris that led to the social and economic car crash we’re living through today.
Hi Georgia. Thank you for joining me today to talk about your book, We Were The Lucky Ones. What was the writing experience like for you considering this book was based on family history? Did you feel a certain responsibility toward the story?
I felt a huge sense of responsibility! It was important to me to do everything I could to capture my family’s experience in a way that did them—along with the time period—justice. I tried not to leave any stone unturned in my research, and I thought long and hard once the research was complete about how best to bring the story to life. I was nervous, to be honest, to share the finished product with my relatives, as there was no audience whose feedback mattered more to me! Luckily, the family has been incredibly supportive, and has responded to the book with nothing but love and appreciation.
What is your writing process like – are you a planner and how do you approach the editing of your novel?
With a story of such broad scope (the Kurcs’ paths spanned seven years and five continents), I knew I’d need to take a methodical approach to my writing process. I began by dropping my research findings into a timeline, which I color-coded by relative so I could track who was where/when. From there I created an outline for the book, then chapter summaries, then finally began the process of putting the story to paper. I kept the manuscript close for years as I edited and polished before finally gathering up the courage to pass it along to a few close acquaintances, then to a freelance editor, and finally to an agent.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I love to write in the mornings, once my son is off to school. I also enjoy wearing headphones while I work. Even when I’m alone in my office I’ll slip on a pair, as I find the extra bit of quiet puts me in the proper headspace to write, and helps to drown out the annoying little voice in the back of my mind that likes to remind of the (non-writing) to-do’s I’ve chosen to ignore. If I’m in a writing rut, I’ll try working at a coffee shop, or on my sofa (if I have the house to myself), or in the library—often a change of scenery is just what I need to boost my creativity.
If you were only allowed to own three novels, which three would you pick and why?
That’s a tough one! If I had to pick, I suppose I’d choose City of Thieves by David Benioff—a fast-paced and brilliantly-told story of the author’s Holocaust-era family history that inspired me years ago to tackle my own book. I’d also pick Wonder, a Y/A novel (although I’d argue one equally suited for adults) about a young 5th grade boy with a facial deformity, struggling to fit in. And finally, at the risk of sounding self-centered, I suppose I’d pick my book, so I could share it someday with my children (and their kids, and so on). I’ve read We Were the Lucky Ones more times than I can count, but I find with each pass, my own everyday “problems” seem a whole lot less daunting, and I’m reminded of just how lucky I am to be here. I hope someday my children (and future generations) will take away a similar perspective and sense of gratitude.by
My next stop on the 12 days of Clink Street Christmas has arrived. Author Daisy Mae_224, the author of Dating Daisy shares her traditional Christmas. Over to you, Daisy Mae_224…
I’ve decided honesty is the best policy. If you are reading a Christmas blog, you probably expect to read how much I love Christmas. How I can’t wait for it to come round – again. How I love the preparations and the traditions etc… Well – you may just be disappointed.
I really dislike Christmas! And I am not Mrs Scrooge either!
– So now, I’ll try and explain why –
For starters, I’m not religious. I do actually like that part of Christmas however, as that is about story-telling, kindness, and involves the Nativity, children, and singing beautiful Christmas carols. It is rather magical to light candles in a church and sing Hark the Herald at the top of your voice on a cold winter’s evening.
It’s the commercial side of things which are so abhorrent. Somehow we are all caught in a trap of “finding something someone might like.” Also, even those little stocking fillers cost a fortune. And the vast majority, beautifully packaged they may be, will just end up in land fill sites. Having cleared out and downsized from my 6 bedroom house a few years ago, I am in fear of clutter. Never again will I be doing all that!
Let me say up front it’s not so much the cost. I’m a generous person and I love giving things to people and spreading a little happiness. It’s just that when the world is full of starving, poverty-stricken people, how can we the rich of the Western world, be quite so greedy. It makes me feel so uncomfortable. I don’t like opening my presents as I feel so guilty about that. I sit with a pile next to me and watch everyone else open theirs, and I just don’t want to do it.
The sad fact now is that as I am divorced and my parents have died, I can’t think of Christmas as the family occasion it used to be. I miss my parents, especially at Christmas. My children divide themselves up for a day each between myself and Voldemort. There is always a big row about which day is for who, and I dread it.
Then there’s the food. It isn’t a great Christmas to be sweating in the kitchen over an enormous and gastronomically fashionable Christmas dinner. How often have I downed a few gin and tonics one by one, stuck in the kitchen, while everyone else is laughing in the lounge. Because it’s supposed to be such an amazing dinner, it’s very stressful. Mostly they can’t all decide on one meal, so I’m trying to cook a turkey, a ham and a salmon for example, all at the same time. It just doesn’t work! And I’ve never been very good at gravy!
I have to say I like to plan the day so we don’t just “sit around looking at the tea cups!” Last year, soon after the children arrived on Christmas Eve, we went out for lunch at a New Forest pub, following a dog walk on Canada Common. When we got home, we all jumped in Edward’s amazingly hot, clean, sparklingly fresh, hot tub with a few mugs of tea.by
Hi Isabella, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me about what your typical writing day is like?
Thank you for having me on your blog! My typical writing day consists of waking up to my children’s chatting and playing, getting them dressed, preparing breakfast and taking them to school. Then, when I get back home, I sit in my office and start writing. I am most productive in the morning, when I have a clear mind, and feel the most motivation. After my children come back from nursery and school, I have to find any moment I can to continue writing; after putting them to bed, when they are at activities, and any other moment I can find – which isn’t always easy.
What’s the best and most challenging thing about writing your first novel?
The best part of writing The Beta Mum, Adventures in Alpha Land, was when I felt like I had written a really good passage, and thought people would enjoy it. I once laughed at what I wrote, which is usually a good sign. They say that if you are bored writing then your reader will be bored. You have to keep the writing alive and fun if you want your reader to continue reading. If I can move someone to feel something when they read my novel, that is success to me.
The most challenging? The entire process is challenging! Writing the book, word after word, until you finish typing the last word. Then the editing. And more editing. Then sending it off to agents and publishers. Then, once it has been published, promoting your book and trying to get sales. It is like an intense obstacle course over years.
What’s your favourite word and why?
That’s difficult for me to answer! I don’t have a favourite, I like all words, whether simple or complicated. To me, each word has a purpose, a meaning and a place, so all of them are important in their own way.
What was your writing process like from your idea to final draft? Did you plan? How did you approach the first sentence?
When I first started writing my novel, The Beta Mum, the story line was completely different than this one and it also had a completely different title. I had a general idea of what subject I wanted to write about – the Alpha mums in a nursery setting in west London – but the plot changed completely after I started the Faber Academy novel writing course. There, I received a lot of input, both positive and negative, and I found a new story to tell. I also learned about writing an outline and now in the future, I will always work with a basic outline. We also learned about writing our first line and our last line and how to make them count. It was an invaluable experience and I learned so much.
What advice do you have to keep motivated?
Sit on that chair and write. Word after word. Even if it is ‘bad’ writing, it can be edited in the future, but it gets the creative juices flowing and helps you re-enter your world. The worst you can do is not write at all. Even if on some days you don’t feel like writing, you have to push yourself to write. And your first draft is meant to be bad! So don’t worry about writing ‘badly.’
Which three fictional characters would you want round for dinner and why?
Daimyo Toranaga and John Blackthorne from the novel Shogun. It was one of my favourite novels growing up and is an encyclopedia of knowledge about Japan. It is exotic and beautiful and so foreign, I would have loved to be a part of it. I tried to learn Japanese from that book! And one final character on a completely different note, Carrie Bradshaw (from the book Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell), because I think we would be good friends!by
Mira Tudor, the author of Poets, Artists, Lovers is joining me today to chat about her book, her writing process and the advice she has for new writers.
PAL is a fast-paced yet poignant character-driven novel riding waves of romanticism, drama, and wit in a manner reminiscent in parts of David Nicholls’s books (One Day)—and set in the exciting world of several vibrant Romanian artists and musicians.
Henriette, an accomplished sculptor, seems to find more joy in her feminist-inspired work and her piano playing than in the people who care about her. Ela, a piano teacher turned book reviewer, hopes to discover the key to happiness and a more meaningful life through studying the workings of the mind and crafting poems about emotions she trusts will lead her to a better place. Joining them in beauty and blindness is Pamfil, a violinist who dabbles as a singer and lives mostly for the moment and his monthly parties. As they follow their passions, they find themselves on treacherous journeys to love and happiness, and are slow to figure out how to best tackle their predicaments. Fortunately, their lovers and friends are there to help . . . but then a newcomer complicates things.
Hi Mira. It’s great to have you on Novel Kicks today.
Thank you, Laura! It’s great to be on your blog with you.
Your novel is called Poets, Artists, Lovers. Can you tell me about it and what inspired it?
I’d been trying to write a novel for years, but it just wouldn’t come together. I was working too much from memories and simply couldn’t find the novel’s raison d’être. And then after putting it aside for a while, I realized in a matter of days that I had the whole story of Poets, Artists, Lovers. I couldn’t write it fast enough.
It’s a nostalgic piece, in a sense, harking back to a time when I was friends with a group of artists who used to hold parties every now and then at their office over the weekend. These parties have inspired Pamfil’s in the novel, but my characters are all imaginary. They grew out of real-life observations, of course, but I surprised myself how much they grew out of my own writing process as well. I say that because when I started writing I already had all the characters pinned down.
What’s your typical writing day like and do you have any writing rituals before and whilst you write?
I write an average of five or six hours a day (seven days a week), which includes research. I don’t have any rituals apart from drinking all sorts of coffee and tea, but I do need to take walks in order to get some distance from my writing and figure out various things that need to be changed, taken out, or added.
If you could spend time with your characters for a day, what would you do?
I can’t decide. I would like to go to San Francisco and Lake Tahoe; but also hiking through Ireland or driving along the Rhine Valley in Germany; visiting small towns and vineyards in France or Spain; exploring Paris or London; the list goes on.
Which fictional character are you most like?
I’m not much like any of these characters. Only the poetry is deeply mine.by
As we reach the final few days of National Novel Writing Month 2017, Louise Dean, author and founder of online writing course Kritikme.com joins me to share her insights into why using short sentences is a powerful tool when writing a novel. Thank you for joining me today Louise. Over to you.
Short Sentences. (BANG!)
We can’t always be poetic. We cannot always find a new way of saying things. But if we offer visual images in short sentences, we can create an effect on our readers that is an assault on their senses. Think Bob Dylan.
One short sentence hard on the heels of the last is a highly engaging way to write. It forces the reader into a world that is unfolding with immediacy, speed, possibly danger. Wham. Slam. Bang. Things are happening fast as in an emergency. The story is unfolding. The reader is alert.
Short & Sweet
The most economical short story writer of all time is probably Raymond Carver. With his precise, punchy prose, he conveys in a few words what many novelists take several pages to elucidate. In stories such as ‘Fat’ and ‘Are You a Doctor?’ he writes with understatement about suburban disenchantment in mid-century America.
I’d like to share with you the two things that made his short stories works of art.
These themes can be served, should be served, in staccato sentences for great power.
Make it shorter.
‘Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.’ Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut employs a choral technique from the songbook of modern music too, with repetition of an almost biblical phrase ‘So it goes’ throughout Slaughterhouse-5.
When Kurt Vonnegut uses that sentence again and again throughout Slaughterhouse-5, setting it against the backdrop of one of the worst tragedies of WWII — the firebombing of Dresden — the fatalistic attitude of that short sentence provides a hard contrast to the horrific details of Dresden.by
I’m happy to be welcoming Emily Harvale to Novel Kicks today and the blog tour for her new Christmas themed novel, Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove.
Christmas is a time for family and friends, miracles and magic, falling snow and roaring fires, fun, laughter and festive feasts. In Snowflake Cove, it’s also a time for secrets to be revealed…
Evie Starr is hoping for more than a sprinkling of magic this Christmas. The family-run Snowflake Inn is virtually empty and the Starr’s financial future isn’t looking bright. But Evie’s gran, Jessie has a secret that might help.
Enigmatic, Zachary Thorn is every woman’s dream. He’s also ex-SAS, so his secrets are classified. The Christmas Special of his feel-good, TV show is set in Michaelmas Bay – until a phone call means he’s spending Christmas in nearby Snowflake Cove.
Evie’s best friend, Juniper thinks boyfriend Darren has a secret. Evie knows he does. And Evie’s niece, Raven is hiding feelings for Juniper’s brother – who has a secret crush of his own.
But the biggest secret in Snowflake Cove is the identity of Raven’s dad.
With snow falling thick and fast and secrets being revealed one after another, will everyone be snuggling up by the fire on Christmas Eve, or are some secrets best kept hidden…?
Hello Emily, it’s lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story.
Hello Laura, it’s great to be here. Yes, my new book, Christmas Secrets in Snowflake Cove is about 34-year-old Evie Starr and her family. Evie is single and lives in the family-run, Snowflake Inn with her parents and her gran. The book is set during the week leading up to Christmas Day and Evie’s 15-year-old niece, Raven is also staying for the holidays. The Starrs are struggling financially and Evie is hoping to persuade TV show host, Zachary Thorn to give the inn a plug during his live, Christmas Special. His show is being filmed nearby, but what Evie doesn’t know is that her gran, Jessie has a secret and when Jessie makes a phone call, it changes everyone’s plans. There are also several others with secrets in the tiny village of Snowflake Cove and one of the biggest secrets is the identity of Raven’s dad. With snow blanketing the village and secrets being revealed, it’s not going to be the quiet, family Christmas the Starrs were expecting, but it’s going to be one that changes people’s lives. And Evie may just get what she was hoping for this Christmas.
As to what inspired the story, I’m not really sure. I write a Christmas book each year and when it came time to write, Evie appeared and told me her story.
Did you plan much before writing this novel? How much planning do you feel is needed?
I never plan my novels. Lots of people do, I know, but that simply doesn’t work for me. I firmly believe there is no right or wrong way to write a novel. I do what feels right for me. A character pops up with an idea and I sit and type it. By the end of the first draft I know my characters well, and I do make notes about them along the way. Then I write a second draft. Sometimes I ‘plan’ an event or the ending – but that doesn’t always work out as I expect.
What elements do you feel make up good characters?
Characters need to be believable. No one is perfect, so, like us, characters can have foibles. They should have a ‘strong voice’ – but that doesn’t mean they need to be strong. Sometimes the character with the biggest weakness is the most memorable. They need to be true to themselves. Doing something completely out of character should be as much of a shock to them, as it is to the reader.
When you came to edit, did you wait to have a full draft. How did you approach the editing (a chapter at a time?)
I always edit as I write. I’ll finish a few chapters then the following day I’ll read them through and edit them before continuing. I like doing that because it gets me back into the flow of the story. Once I’ve finished the first draft, half my edits are done. I then read it through. Leave it. Read it again and edit it however many times I need to before it goes off to my editor. Then together, we may do more. I edited this book in the same way I edit all my books.
Do you believe plot or character is more important when writing a novel?
I believe they are equally important – but it depends on the novel. Some stories are plot driven, some are character driven.
Are you working on anything at the moment that you can tell me about?
I’m working on book two in this Michaelmas Bay series. It introduces new characters but we still get to spend some time with Evie and her family. All of my books can be read as standalones even if they are part of a series.by
A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle is the new novel from Kiltie Jackson and was released by WickedKilt Publishing in September 2017.
I am pleased to welcome her to Novel Kicks today to chat about her writing routine, her favourite word and what Christmas song is essential.
Hi Kiltie, it’s lovely to have you in the blog today. Can you tell me about your debut novel, A Rock n’ Roll Lovestyle and what inspired it.
Thank you so much for having me here today. My novel is focused on the issues of trust, friendship and how difficult it can be to live a life in the public eye. I was inspired on this topic through a life-long love of music coupled with the knowledge of how society puts superstars and celebrities on pedestals only to derive great enjoyment from watching them fall off. I am aware this has been the case for many decades but, in the 21st century, it seems to have escalated to ridiculous levels and I’m not convinced that it is good for society as a whole.
What’s your normal writing day like? Do you have rituals when writing?
I still have a 40hr a week day job so my writing days are not as tightly structured as I would like them to be. I currently do ‘writing stuff’ – that can be anything from writing my next novel to working on my blog or doing guest posts for fellow bloggers – on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, nearly all day Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Sometimes, if my husband is working overtime, or away on a trip, I have a treat of writing all day Sunday. The only hard-set ritual is that I will only drink my coffee from a little mug I bought in Salzburg. At the time of purchase it was full of mulled wine. As much as I would like that to still be the case, I suspect my writing may not fully benefit from it.
Are you much of a planner?
I believe I am what is referred to as ‘a basher and fixer’ when it comes to writing. I have a pretty good idea in my head of how my storyline will unfold. I will know exactly how it starts, what is in the middle and how it will end. I then ‘bash’ away at the keyboard putting in the filling between these three points. Once I finish the first draft, I go back to ‘fix’ which entails editing, re-arranging, reading, re-arranging again and polishing up before sending off to my editor for him to sort out my appalling grammar and spelling.
In the rest of my day-to-day life, however, I am a total planner and everything is usually very organised.by
A big lovely welcome to author Andreas Pflüger and the blog tour for his latest novel In The Dark which was released by Head of Zeus on 2nd November.
She lost her sight, but she can still see the truth…
Jenny Aaron was once part of an elite police unit tracking Germany’s most dangerous criminals. She was the best. Until it all went wrong. A disastrous mission saw her abandon a wounded colleague and then lose her sight forever.
Now, five years later, she has learnt to navigate a darkened world. But she’s still haunted by her betrayal. Why did she run?
Then she receives a call from the unit. They need her back. A prison psychologist has been brutally murdered. And the killer will only speak to one person…
Thanks to Andreas and Head of Zeus, we have an extract from In The Dark. Enjoy.
‘How old was Dr Breuer?’
The murder victim’s colleague has been crying a lot. Her voice is hoarse, dull, empty. ‘Thirty-three. Her birthday was in December. She invited all her colleagues to go to the cinema.’
‘How long had she been working in the correctional facility?’
‘Three years. We knew each other from university. Then I started here, for a bit of security. Melly always wanted her own practice. But it didn’t work. She waitressed part-time, it wasn’t a life. When the job here came up I was on at her until she applied.’
Tears start to come, but get stuck in her throat.
‘Did she like the job?’by
I’m happy to welcome children’s author Patricia Furstenberg to Novel Kicks. Her new book, Puppy: 12 Months of Rhymes and Smiles has been released today. Patricia joins me to chat about which characters she’d like to have around to dinner. Over to you, Patricia.
I love having a festive dinner with my family and friends! Be it Thanksgiving, Christmas or a Birthday, there is always something special about good food, in a relaxed environment, shared with the ones you love.
But what would it be like if I would invite to dinner my favorite book characters? And since Puppy will be celebrating his Grande Release in the book world today, I thought that, to celebrate him, I’ll invite six of my favorite children’s book characters to dinner.
Right next to Puppy I’ll seat Winnie-the-Pooh. I think the “silly, old bear” will be a good table companion since he is friendly and very appreciative of food, especially “hunny!” and, although forgetful, he makes a gentle pack leader. Puppy would like this, as he is used to following and sharing his meals with his “human pup”. And if Pooh happens to forget… his table manners, Puppy won’t mind at all. A.A. Milne has instilled so much love and optimist into his Winnie-the-Pooh stories and, just like Christopher Robin, so many girls and boys around the world grew up to love and rely on this bear “of very little brain”, but with a big heart.
Just to put my mind at ease I think that near Pooh I’ll be seating one of the best and most clever nannies that ever walked the pages of a book, Mary Poppins. Perhaps that P.L. Traver’s book is not that well-known, talented Julie Andrews being the one to rather instill everlasting life into this book character, but this nanny surely made many parents smile and wish they could summon her, at the drop of a hat. Besides, her typical British humor and rigor would keep any dinner plans running smoothly. Because: “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.”
That’s why near Mary Poppins I’ll be seating Astrid Lindgren’s most beloved, yet strong-minded Pippi Longstocking. I do admire this independent little girl so very much! Her contagious optimism and passion for true values are highly commendable, as are her many talents, from cooking to fixing the house – although using unorthodox methods at times. With her freckled, contagious smile and her unusual, red plaits, Pippi has shared her passion for animals and her idealistic visions on life with so many generations of children from around the world.
I think that Pippi, although outgoing, will be a good companion to quiet but intelligent Matilda Wormwood. I’m sure that the two girls will share the same passion for travel and for stories. Roald Dahl has also given Matilda a playful side and this is what helped her overcome some of the biggest challenges headmistress Miss Trunchbull had set out for her. And just like Pippi, Matilda’s determination and optimism as well as her imagination have helped her save the day.by
J. 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.”by
Jane 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:
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.by
Orphan 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!by
Hi 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.by
Claire 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.
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.by