NK Chats To….

Our Author Interviews and Guest Posts.

NK Chats To… Beth O’ Leary

Hi Beth, thank you so much for joining me today. Can you tell me about your book, The Flatshare and what inspired it? 

Thank you so much for having me! The Flatshare is a story about two people who share a one-bed flat but don’t meet: one works nights, the other works regular hours. It was inspired by my own experiences of moving in with my boyfriend when he’d just started work as a junior doctor and was working lots of night shifts. We would go days on end without seeing one another – he’d get home from work just after I’d leave in the morning and vice versa, so we passed like ships in the night. It got me wondering what might happen if two strangers lived that way…

 

What’s your writing process like from idea to final draft? 

For me, the basic concept is often what comes into my head first: in this case, two people sharing a bed but not meeting. The main characters come next, growing out of that: so here, I asked, why might two people be willing to do that? What sorts of people would they be?

 

I generally do a rough plan after that point, which features some key moments I want to happen in the novel, but then I rarely look at that plan again once I get writing. For me, first drafts tend to snowball – I write very quickly, almost with the sense that I’m trying to keep up with the story, and then when I hit the end of the book I go back and do a lot of work from that point onwards. The first draft gets the raw, emotional stuff down, the clay of the story – the second draft is all about shaping that into something.

 

Do you have any writing rituals and somewhere special you like to write? 

Well, I wrote The Flatshare on my commute to and from work, so after a while that became my writing ritual – it took me ages to get used to writing full-time at a desk at home after that! I often listen to music while I write, and tend to create playlists for stories. These playlists are especially useful when I’m editing, because they get me back into the character’s heads even when I’m looking at the book more analytically.

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A Moment with… Tony Lee Moral

Welcome to Tony Lee Moral who is here to talk about his new novel, The Haunting of Alice May, released on 12th March. 

Alice May Parker moves with her family to the sleepy town of Pacific Grove after her Mom dies, but little does she know the strange and terrifying events to come.When she falls into the bay during a kayaking trip, she is rescued from drowning by the mysterious Henry Raphael.

Handsome, old-fashioned and cordial, he is unlike any other boy she has known before. Intelligent and romantic, he sees straight into her soul.

Soon Alice and Henry are swept up in a passionate and decidedly unorthodox romance until she finds out that Henry is not all what he seems.

 

Tony is here to talk about the inspiration and process behind The Haunting of Alice May.

In my new novel The Haunting of Alice May, I blend mystery, with suspense and the supernatural. The central character, Alice Parker, moves to Pacific Grove, California, with her father and little sister after her mother dies. Whilst kayaking in the bay, she paddles towards a mysterious island, but capsizes and is drowning when a young man, Henry Raphael, magically appears, delivering her safely to the beach. Against all rules, they begin seeing each other.

The novel is partly inspired by J.M. Barrie’s supernatural 1920 play Mary Rose, about a woman who disappears on a Scottish island and reappears many years later in a ghostly form, while all her loved ones and those around her have grown old. Barrie is best known for writing Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in 1904, about a boy who has an overwhelming desire to remain young forever.

I first read Mary Rose when I was researching my books on Alfred Hitchcock, as it was the Master of Suspense’s favourite and he wanted to make it into a film. He thought about the challenges of creating Mary Rose as a ghost with neon lights, but unfortunately was never able to realize his passion project. So Henry, in my novel is a version of Mary Rose — someone who never grows old, doesn’t become an adult, is from a different era, and is tied to a mysterious island.

Taking this premise, I thought, wouldn’t it be fascinating and sad if the ghost never grew old, while those around him had died? When Henry falls in love with a human, the dilemma is that they are not only from two different times, but also from two different worlds. While Alice is a contemporary teenage girl with a romantic nostalgia for past literature, Henry’s values are from the turn of the 20th Century, and he is bound by a sense of old-fashioned duty.

When writing for it is important to distinguish between mystery and suspense. Many readers become confused by the two terms. Having written three books on Alfred Hitchcock, I learned that they are actually two very different processes. Mystery is an intellectual process like a riddle or a whodunit. The mystery of Henry, who saves Alice from drowning, is who is he really? Is he a ghost? Where does he come from? What secrets does this island hold on which he inhabits? These are all mysteries that run through the book.

Each of the main characters has their own personal mystery to unravel, whether it be Alice, Henry, Emily, or Heather. Mystery is a central part of being a teenager. Teens are faced with such questions as: What will happen to me when I grow up? Will I find a partner? Will I fulfil my ambitions? Will I do well at school? When Henry asks Alice, “What are you afraid of then?”, she doesn’t immediately answer. Yet inside, she knows she is afraid of many things: concerns for her family, their future, and growing up without a mother. For me, this is the crux of the novel. Part of the fear of growing older is not having fulfilled your life’s ambitions.

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NK Chats To: Eleanor Anstruther

Hello Eleanor, welcome to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me a little about your book, A Perfect Explanation and what inspired it?

A Perfect Explanation is based on the true story of Enid Campbell, granddaughter to the 8th Duke of Argyll, who sold her son to her sister for £500.

She was my grandmother, and the son she sold, my father. I’d always known the basic fact of this story, but no more than that. Thirteen years ago, I asked my father to tell me about his mother, and his response inspired the novel.

 

How much of a challenge was it to write a fictional story around historical events?

It was a huge challenge, not least because the characters in the book, who behave so badly and make such terrible mistakes, are my relations, and the urge to take sides was almost overwhelming. Added to that was the difficulty of first making sense of a complicated story, and then picking a narrative out of that complex weave of real life events.

A narrative must have a beginning and an end, whereas in reality, the scenes of our lives trail endlessly into one another. I had to choose where to start and stop, which of the many points of view to take, and essentially, what story to tell. Everybody wanted to have their say, but having spent a decade listening to them all, and writing many versions, I stood back and wrote the story as I wanted it told. It became as much my perfect explanation as it is theirs.

 

What is your typical writing day like? Do you write in silence? Have a specific place to write?

It depends where I am with a piece of work. I have a studio in the garden, and I’ll be up there every morning for two or three hours while working on a first draft. Often once I’m in the editing process, I’ll start at four or five in the morning, and work much longer days. It’s gruelling and relentless, but nothing else gets a book written.

I write in silence, although another vital part of my writing day is thinking about the work in the evening, my notepad beside me. I have playlists for everything I write, and listening to the music which goes with the novel I’m thinking about, often produces new ideas or solves that day’s problem.

I also do some sort of exercise most days, either running, walking or swimming. As with listening to playlists, I often solve problems when away from my desk, either out in the fresh air, or ploughing up and down a pool.

 

What’s your writing process like (from idea to final draft?)

Ideas come and niggle at me until I pick up my pen and write them down, and then it’s too late to do anything but think of how they might grow. It’s a trick really, of stories, to get themselves written. They pretend they’re just an itch, but as soon as you scratch them, they turn into a full blown illness that can only be cured by completion. So I write down ideas, and then at some point I take an idea up to my studio where the whole thing becomes more serious and I start to think about what it is and how it can be.

Salt, 15th March 2019

Julie Cohen gives the best advice for writing; it is simply to “finish the damn book” which is easier than it sounds. Knowing how tough first drafts are, when I’ve decided to take the plunge, I just hold my breath and get on with it until I have what Graham Linehan calls “the screaming skinless babe” that is a completed first draft.

After that it’s months and months of editing, reading it back aloud – this is crucial, by the way, to hearing flow, tone and rhythms – and leaving it to rest for weeks at a time too, so that I can go back to it with fresh eyes. When I feel I can do more, I’ll send it a trusted freelance editor I’ve been using for years, to get his take on it, and only after that, and more editing, does it go to my agent. I also usually run it past a couple of beta-readers, chosen specifically for that material.

Having now been through the process to completion, I know that it isn’t truly finished until I’m holding the printed book in my hands.

 

What inspired you to be a writer?

I come from a family of writers; it’s in my blood. I’ve always written and can’t imagine life without it. I did, however, take a long time to recognise it as a career. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I thought, why not do this as a profession?

 

Which author/book has influenced you the most?

That’s a very tough question – can I have two?! Henry James and George Eliot.

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NK Chats To: Roxie Cooper

Hi Roxie, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called The Day We Met (released today. Yay.) What’s it about and what inspired it?

Hi, thanks for having me! The Day We Met is novel about meeting the right person at the wrong time and it asks the question; what happens if you meet your soulmate when you’re just about to marry someone else? Stephanie and Jamie are both happy with other people when they meet each other, but they can’t ignore the strong connection and chemistry between them. Unwilling to slip into a typical affair, they decide to meet on the same weekend every year, as friends. The novel spans a ten-year period and we see how the relationship affects them, their marriages, and careers.

I wanted to write a different kind of love story, one which reflected modern times and attitudes. I’ve always been intrigued by people’s varying opinions on physical and emotional infidelity; is one worse than the other? How do emotional affairs start and just how damaging are they? It’s a huge grey area which sparks monumental discussion and, as a former lawyer, they’re something I love exploring. But it was when I heard Paloma Faith’s Only Love Can Hurt Like This one day that the novel became fully alive in my mind. I knew this had to be an epic love story about two people who couldn’t be together but couldn’t be apart either. That was also the moment I decided that the novel would have to be set to music.

 

What’s your typical writing day like, where do you like to write, do you prefer silence and is there something you need to do/have before you begin writing (coffee for example?)

Sorry to be really awkward, but I have different routines for different stages of the writing process! When I’m writing the actual book, I adopt a fairly strict routine but it’s carried out in a nice environment. So, I’ll drop both my kids at school then dash to a coffee shop on my local high street. Both of my previous books were written there. I don’t stop until I’ve written at least 1000 words and I need my iPod on with people walking around. I like being in the middle of the hustle of it all and I stay there until it’s time to pick the kids up again. Once I move onto edits, however, everything changes. I lock myself in the house and have the TV on at a barely audible volume – I need a tiny amount of white noise. I have to drink coffee in the morning, switching to tea in the afternoon. I turn into a complete recluse in this period, I don’t see my friends for months. It’s very extreme but it works for me!

 

Which author or book has most influenced you?

I’ve read so many books by authors I’ve admired, but in terms of ones who have influenced my career, I’d have to say Adele Parks. I read her novel, Playing Away, in my 20s and thought it was such a standout, brave debut. I researched the author and discovered that she, too, was from Teesside – I couldn’t believe it! That was the moment I thought ‘Wow – if someone from Boro can become an author, there’s hope for any of us.’ It was around this time I started to have ideas about a novel of my own but hadn’t started writing it yet (that book turned out to be my debut The Law of Attraction), but each time I read another of Adele’s books, it cemented my ambition.

 

What made you first realise that you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved reading, but I was never one of those kids who wanted to write – or an adult, for that matter. The idea came to me after I became disillusioned with my former career as a criminal barrister. I come from a very working class background and would tell all my friends about the outrageously silly traditions and rituals I had to participate in at the Bar. Coming from Teesside, I’d tell the stories through a very unimpressed ‘Boro lens’ and they’d all say to me “You need to write a book about this!” I also got so fed up with people saying to me “You really don’t look like a barrister!” so in 2009 I started writing my debut novel The Law of Attraction – a book about a blonde, working class, intelligent, sassy girl from Teesside who is propelled into the posh world of barristers. I hadn’t even considered writing a book before I was 31 years old.

 

What’s your route to publication?

I did a lot of research before I submitted my debut novel to agents. My first novel was the only book I’d ever written and took me about 16 months to write. When I felt it was polished enough to allow an agent to read, I sent it off to three I had my eye on (which was terrifying!). Sarah Hornsley from The Bent Agency requested a full manuscript within 24 hours. I was a nervous wreck! Sarah called me and we had the most amazing chat. I knew then that she was the right agent for me. She made suggestions on how I could improve the manuscript (which I did) and six weeks later she offered representation. The next step was submitting the novel to publishers. I had offers from two publishing houses and The Law of Attraction was eventually published in June 2017 with the Harper Collins imprint, HQ Digital.

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NK Chats To: N. Lombardi Jr

Hello Nicholas. It’s great to welcome you to the blog today. Please tell me a little about your new book, Justice Gone and what inspired it?

Justice Gone was inspired by a true event, the fatal beating of a homeless man in a small Californian town. This was such an extreme case, and one which did not include any racial elements, that it exposed the utter abuse of authority in which an outraged public reaction was inevitable. The town was Fullerton, the man’s name was Kelly Thomas, and the year was 2011. Although the police officers were indicted by a grand jury, they were acquitted in their trial. So I asked myself a question: if someone felt that justice was denied the deceased, would they take it in their own hands? This became the seed for the story.

 

What elements do you feel need to be present in a thriller novel? What are the challenges?

Suspense, that is, the anticipation of what is going to come next, and this is usually accompanied by actions to some degree, although if you have enough skill, words alone can create this tension. Whichever way you accomplish this, the challenge is to persuade the reader to invest their interest in what is going on, and this includes sympathy for the protagonists.

 

This is the first part of a series featuring Dr Tessa Thorpe. What advice do you have for someone trying to develop a series and a strong character that will keep them coming back to read their story?

You need to become friends, or even love the character, knowing their faults as well as their admirable traits. In this way you know what they will say and can predict what they’ll do in any situation.

Actually Tessa first appeared in Journey Towards a Falling Sun, a story I wrote over 30 years ago, but eventually got published in 2014. It was a minor role, but one in which she was born, so to speak.

 

What’s your typical writing day like, where do you like to write and do you prefer silence?

I can write in the early mornings when I’m fresh, or in the evenings when I’m relaxed. usually the time between is non-productive. Silence is mandatory.

 

What’s your favourite word and why?

I don’t have a favourite word. I have a favourite colour, blue. Can I then say that “blue” is my favourite word?

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NK Chats To… Susan Lewis

Hello Susan. Thank you for joining me today. What inspired One Minute Later?

It was meeting twenty-one-year-old Jim Lynskey who is waiting for a new heart.

 

How has your approach to the writing process changed since your first novel? 

I think it’s more or less the same. I explore ideas, let my gut instinct decide which is the right one to go with and then I devise the characters I think will be best to tell the story.

 

Is there a particular place you like to write? Do you need coffee to write? Music? 

I always write in my study at home – I can’t seem to do it anywhere else – I tend to drink tea more than coffee, and I work in silence apart from the comforting snores of my little dogs. I also have a lovely view of the countryside through the French windows which can be very nourishing.

 

Which three characters from fiction would you invite to dinner and why? 

I’d invite Thorfinn from King Hereafter because he could tell us the true story of Macbeth. Any hero from Georgette Heyer because they’re so dashing and romantic and probably Elizabeth Bennett because she’s so sharp and witty.

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NK Chats To… Amanda Brooke

Hi Amanda, thank you so much for joining me today. I am very happy to be part of the blog tour for your book,  Don’t Turn Around. Can you tell me about it?

My latest book is set ten years after the death of seventeen year-old Megan McCoy and is told from the perspectives of Meg’s mum, Ruth and her cousin, Jen who was also her best friend. Meg died from suicide and her parents have established a helpline in her memory to reach out to young people in crisis who need someone to talk to.

The family are trying to rebuild their lives but there are questions that haunt them. What hold did her boyfriend have over her and why did she protect him to the very end? Was the brief note she left meant to be a cryptic message or did someone destroy part of the note before her father found her body?

The family think they have accepted there will be no answers until a young woman phones the helpline and reveals things that only Meg could know. Is she suffering as Meg had suffered and can they save her?

 

What’s your writing day like, where do you like to write, do you prefer silence and what keeps you motivated throughout your writing time?

I gave up a career in local government two years ago to become a fulltime writer and it’s so much easier having a set routine rather than fitting writing in around the day job.

My writing room was my son’s bedroom but working from home can be quite sedentary and I adapted my treadmill so I could walk and type on my laptop for the first hour or two each day. It was a great plan but as you know, it was a very hot summer last year, and my treadmill started billowing smoke! Unsurprisingly, I haven’t used it since but I have a dog now and we go out for long walks once I’ve met my daily word count. She’s the incentive I need to keep the words flowing so that we can escape together.

 

What elements do you believe make a good suspense novel? What are the common mistakes made if you’re writing one for the first time?

The best compliment you can give a writer is that their book was a page turner and that’s particularly important when it comes to suspense novels. Making the reader want to read on is an art and to get it right you have to consider the pace and structure of your story.

Each chapter should give the reader something but also leave them wanting to know more.

The characters are also key as the reader has to be invested in them. Protagonists should be relatable and that means giving them flaws as well as strengths, whilst the reverse is true of antagonists who can benefit from having something about them that makes them human.

 

What is your favourite word and why?

Having a favourite word can be problematic if it sticks in your mind and you find it appearing in one page after another. Hopefully, the repetitions are picked up during editing but often it’s a surprise to see how many times your copyeditor has to flag up overused words.

One word that I fell in love with at the start of my writing journey was ‘unfettered.’ It described perfectly the decision one of my characters had to make in my first novel, Yesterday’s Sun. She was to sacrifice her life for that of her child and her decision needed to be unfettered by other influences, such as the love for her husband or the dreams she had beyond becoming a mother.

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NK Chats To… Steven J. Gill

Hi Steven. Welcome to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me about your novel, The Rock ‘N’ The Roll ‘N’ That and what inspired it?

The novel in very simple terms is about a band.

A middle-aged man stumbles across said band as they prop up the bill in a subterranean haunt in Manchester.

He offers to manage them, and their journeys begin.

The backdrop is essentially to highlight love and friendship and the insecurities/successes/predicaments that middle-age can bring.

In terms of what inspired the novel, I’d previously read a book that used the music industry as a backdrop but felt it could be done better. I then attended the inaugural Festival Number 6. In North Wales and after an enjoyable afternoon at the literary stage, had somewhat of an epiphany and decided I would set to and get my book written.

The coupling of the music industry and this ‘new-breed’ of middle-aged felt like it had a lot mileage. Forty-something is now such a different beast in comparison to previous generations. And that opens a wealth of possibilities and jacking your job in to mange a band is well within the realms of possibility this day and age.

 

What’s your typical writing day like, where do you like to write and do you prefer silence? What keeps you motivated when writing?

It tends to fit in around work and I work in a room with a table, a huge bookcase and a stereo. I like to write for a couple of hours at a time. And I do very little in silence!

A perfect writing day involves no work. Get up and do a couple of hours. Go to the gym. Come back and eat couple more hours writing. Go for a walk for an hour mid afternoon and then a couple more hours writing. Breaking the creative process up allows for thinking time.

Motivation is progress in simple terms – be it writing or editing etc.

 

What’s your route to publication?

I ran a social media crowdfund campaign to gauge interest and to ‘out’ myself as a writer. The response was great, and I used the monies to get the book professionally edited and launched via Clink Street.

 

Do you have a favourite word?

Tough question and it can easily change from day-to-day – much like my favourite Beatles track – but let’s say preternaturally today.

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NK Chats To… Hanna Jameson

Hanna Jameson is the author of The Last, published by Viking, 31st January.

Hi Hanna, thank you so much for joining me today. Your book is called The Last and it’s been released today. Can you tell me a little about it and what inspired it?

The Last is a murder mystery narrated by an American academic, stranded in a remote hotel in Switzerland following the outbreak of nuclear war. It was inspired by me needing to write something else before I ran out of money, and also our political landscape. I started writing it almost immediately after the 2016 US presidential election, an event that I think many still haven’t recovered from. I tried to channel that sadness and anger, and also the ever-looming dread and grief about the impending climate apocalypse, into something constructive. Otherwise I’d just be yelling on Twitter.

 

Which author has inspired you the most and why?

This is a tough one, but taking someone’s work as a whole, probably J.G. Ballard. His work affected me profoundly when I was a teenager and it dictated a lot of my future taste. People describe The Last by referencing Agatha Christie but I’ve never read Agatha Christie. The influence I was drawing from was actually Ballardian; novels like Concrete Island and High-Rise, which create this atmosphere of extreme claustrophobia in an intimidating – almost devastating – amount of abandoned space. I was obsessed with his particular brand of near-future dystopia and I think he is still unparalleled.

 

What’s your typical writing day like, where do you like to write and do you prefer to write in silence?

I either write at home with headphones on, or at a coffee shop with headphones on. The latter gets expensive so I only do it when I need to get words out quickly, or when I’ve been struggling to focus. I like coffee shops because, even though I put my headphones on to lock down my emotional space with my own playlists or even a TV show in the background, I can still see and hear activity, which is very motivating and distracts the part of my brain that likes the distract me. I only work in silence when reading my work out-loud, which I always do when editing.

 

What is your route to publication?

Same as everyone else’s. A lot of hard work and perseverance, deluded levels of self-belief, that only amounted to anything due to luck.

 

What elements do you feel make a good novel?

Character, character, character. I could not give less of a shit about your plot or how good it is if I don’t care about your characters. If I realise I don’t care, I shut the book. In terms of creating good characters, there are many ways to do that. It mostly involves being honest, aware of how your limited perspective could cause you to rely on harmful stereotypes instead of empathy and genuine attempts at research and emotional interpretation.

 

What is your favourite word and why?

It changes all the time according to mood, but I love the word ‘epicaricacy,’ which is the English word for ‘schadenfreude.’

 

Are you able to tell me a little about your current work in progress?

I’m working on two projects currently. One is a TV show, a historical drama. The other is my fifth novel, which – like The Last – is also a near-future dystopian thriller.

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NK Chats To: Jenni Keer

Hi Jenni, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?

You are very welcome – it’s lovely to be here. Your virtual sofa is very comfy!

Hmm… how to sum up my book. I guess The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker is a heart-warming story with a variety of themes. I set out to write a romance but the book became so much more and, in a way, is two love stories; Lucy and George, but also Lucy and Brenda. It was the powerful intergenerational friendship between these two women and how they deal very differently with Brenda’s dementia diagnosis, that became the central theme. For the romance, I was initially inspired by a locket of my mother’s and my working title was Lucy’s Locket until it was picked up by the publisher. This mysterious piece of jewellery leads to lots of mishaps and comedy moments for Lucy but also makes her reassess her romantic options in life. It was a fun book to write.

 

What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence?

I weave my writing around part-time work, care for my mum and the hectic taxi service I appear to be running for my four teenage sons. My most productive times are during the school day – when the house is silent, and evenings – when it is not. I also work at the weekends when I can. I’ve developed a cunning strategy that involves wearing enormous headphones as a signal that I’m writing. If there is a lot of noise, I play music (I have a playlist of familiar songs so I’m not distracted by them) but I also cheat and pretend I’ve got music on so the boys leave me alone. It’s coffee during the day, and wine or tonic water at night – although the wine is only for weekends. Interestingly, some of the best comedy scenes have been wine-fuelled.

The other thing I do, to combat the isolation and to spur me on, is to meet up with my writing buddy, Clare Marchant, in our “virtual” office. It means we check in throughout the day with wordcounts and this accountability helps us both to focus. I do hate it when she leaves the virtual biscuit tin empty though…

 

Do you have a certain place you like to write?

I have an office – which is actually a desk in the corridor between the living room and the downstairs loo. I’m lucky to have this permanent space as a lot of writers work on the kitchen table or on their laps. It’s a total mess, like Lucy’s desk, but it’s mine. I have two screens set up (invaluable for editing) so it’s tricky for me to move. Research and planning I can do anywhere.

 

What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?

Planning – ha ha ha. You are funny. I am such a pantser and every time I begin a new novel I’m determined to plan. My second book for Avon (out next summer) was the first time I’d had to write a synopsis before writing the book and boy was that hard – but I did it. I’d like to get better at planning, but my brain doesn’t work that way and I’m what I like to call “an onion writer” – I write in layers. I get a rough first draft down and then I go over and over and over it, perfecting, editing, adding description etc. until I’m happy. Luckily, I love editing and always see it as an opportunity to make the story even better. Some of my best ideas come right at the end of the process and then I have to go back and weave it all in. I honestly don’t know how people plan.

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NK Chats To… Rachel Burge

Hello Rachel. Thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little about your debut novel, The Twisted Tree?

Hi, thank you so much for having me.

The story is about a girl called Martha who can tell things about people just by touching their clothes, as if their thoughts and emotions have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin in Norway. The day she became blind in one eye.

Determined to find out why she has this strange ability, Martha returns to Norway, hoping that her grandma can give her answers. But when she gets there, she finds her grandma is dead and a peculiar boy is hiding out in her cabin. From then on, things start to get spooky!

 

What inspired you to write it?

The book is based on Norse mythology, in particular the story of Odin hanging from the world tree, Yggdrasil, and finding the runes in the well.

As I began to research the myths, I came across the Norns, three mythical women who dwell in Yggdrasil and weave fate. In Viking culture, magic was the preserve of women and associated with their work, predominantly spinning and weaving. Odin’s wife Frigg was a practitioner of magic and a weaver (of clouds), and is often depicted at a spinning wheel.

Putting the two ideas together – weaving cloth and magical ability, I came up with the idea of being able to tell things about people by touching their clothes. It was then a journey of discovery for me to figure out why my main character had this gift.

 

Which came first: character, theme, setting, etc?

I started out with the genre I wanted to write (a ghost story) and a theme that interested me (darkness) and brainstormed ideas from there. This led to me wanting to write about a blind/partially sighted character – which later happened to work beautifully with Norse mythology.

The story takes place in winter in the Lofoten Islands, when there is near-permanent darkness. The theme also influenced Martha’s character arc. She refuses to ‘see’ the truth about her mother and grandmother’s relationship, and her journey is about finding the courage to accept the darkness within her / the parts of herself that she doesn’t like.

The theme came first, but the story only clicked into place once I decided to use Norse myth.

 

What was your writing process like?

Once I was confident I had a ‘high concept’ idea and a strong character arc, I worked out a rough outline. That makes it sound like the process was straightforward, but I took numerous wrong turns and introduced and abandoned many story elements along the way.

 

How do you work: music or silence?

I prefer to write to music, or if there’s a really great storm outside, the howl of the wind.

There were a few pieces of music I listened to on a loop while writing The Twisted Tree, most of them by the Norwegian band Wardruna. If I’m working on a particularly scary scene, I will listen to a horror movie soundtrack and also light candles and burn incense – which has the added advantage of warning everyone in the house not to disturb me!

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NK Chats To… Peter James

Hi Peter, thank you for joining me on Novel Kicks. When did you start writing?

I have been writing since I was seven years old – my original ambition was to be a scriptwriter. I find the world we live in very interesting and I enjoy observing human behaviour, and that’s really my approach. I’m constantly taking note of what’s happening around me as you never know where you might find inspiration for a character or piece of plot.

 

How did you get your big break?

My first ‘break’ was at age seventeen, when I won a national short story competition run by the BBC and got to read my story out on air. It was hugely exciting! However, my first professional writing job came along a few years later whilst I was living in Toronto and working on a children’s television series called Polka Dot Door. I was a gopher – it was my job to basically run errands. One day we were due to film an episode, but the writer hadn’t turned in the script. The producer asked if I could write one there and then, and I said ‘okay!’

 

How much research do you do for each novel?

My novels tend to be very research-driven. I first had the seed of an idea for Absolute Proof when I received a mysterious call from someone claiming to have proof of the existence of god – just like Ross does – thirty years ago. In the decades that followed I did a great deal of research, ranging from speaking to religious leaders about the consequences absolute proof would have for believers, to living as a monk for five days in the extraordinary monastic commune of Mount Athos. It’s been an extraordinary journey!

 

Who inspires you?

When I was 14, I read Graeme Greene’s Brighton Rock, and it totally changed my life. It’s the book that made me realise I wanted to be a writer, and also the reason that my Roy Grace series is based in Brighton. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, which makes you feel you know them inside out, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable. Brighton Rock is for me an almost perfect novel. It has one of the most gripping opening lines ever written too – ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to kill him.’

 

What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

Reading extensively and intelligently is the most important thing – read books that have done well in the genre you want to write in and analyse what you like about the author’s style. Once you’ve started writing, make time to write every single day. Find a comfortable number of words to do each day and stick to that number. I am comfortable with 1,000 words. For some it might be 500, 200 or even 2,000 – as long as you are consistent, the number doesn’t matter.
And you must love your characters – or no one else will!

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NK Chats To… Gila Green

Hi Gila, thank you for joining me today. Your novel is called Passport Control. Can you tell me about it and what inspired the story?

Passport Control is a coming of age novel about a twenty year old Canadian girl who feels forced to leave the home she shares with her father and, in her desire for revenge, goes to the one place he’s kept a secret all of his life, his home country Israel. Other than odds and ends, she doesn’t know anything about his past life there.

She finds herself in a dormitory with a range of Israelis from Jewish to Arab and struggles to navigate her way through the politics and culture around her. Along the road she falls in love, encounters murder, and discovers a shocking family secret.

The story was originally a short story written in a creative writing class with author Steve Stern. It was inspired by my own experience coming to Haifa University around the same age as my heroine, Miriam Gil and similarly struggling to navigate my various roommates, who all came from different cultures and backgrounds. At least that was the initial kernel behind my twelve-page short story. It evolved over time into a father-daughter story, and a family betrayal story with a side order of romance.

 

What’s your typical writing day like? Do you need coffee? Silence? Do you have a certain place you like to write?

I have five children between the ages of 11 and 20. So my writing day has evolved over time with the ages of my children.

In the early days, I used to type a lot one-handed while nursing and later had to be done by 1 p.m. when nursery school closed.

Now, I have a lot more quiet during the day–which is vital for me to write–and yes, rivers of coffee. I write in my converted bomb shelter adjacent to the front door, so my writing is punctuated all day with, “Mom, is there any food?” as the kids come and go and the snoring of my dog.

 

What’s your writing process like from planning to editing?

My writing process has changed a lot over the years. I am much more of a planner these days.

I try to write at least two sentences for each chapter that explain the point of each one. At a certain point, I just write and usually the first three or four chapters are the first to go later on as I “write myself into the story.” But not always. Each novel is its own journey.

I don’t wait for perfection if that’s what you mean. You just have to dive in.

 

What’s your favourite word and why?

My favorite word is balagan. That’s a Hebrew word with no single English translation.
It means mess, disorder, confusion but also problem and difficulty.

So, you could say, “today was a balagan,” or “my thoughts are a balagan” or “your room is a balagan!”
Try it! It’s a fun word to say.

 

Which song best describes you?

“Shout” by Tears for Fears.

 

What elements do you think make up a good novel?

Great novels are written by authors who excel at location in time and space.
If you feel as if you are really in Elizabethan England or in South Africa during Apartheid, or in downtown Toronto…you’ve got the elements of a great novel. I can’t think of a time when someone told me they loved a short story or novel and couldn’t tell me exactly where and when it was taking place.

Full disclosure: I teach an online Setting & Description course and I can’t believe how many new writers send me first drafts that take place Anywhere / Anytime. It’s not as intuitive as you might think.

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NK Chats To… Emily Harvale

Hi Emily. Thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little about your novel, Bells and Bows on Mistletoe Row (I love this title) and what inspired it?

It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

I’m so pleased you love the title. The wonderful members of my Facebook group helped me choose it. There were three options and this was the most popular.

The idea of Bells and Bows came to me as I was staring at one of the churches I can see from my office. The bells were ringing because it was a Sunday morning. I love listening to church bells, so my mind was drifting as it so often does. Juliet Bell and Harrison Bow popped up in front of me and introduced themselves. I loved the fact that their names had a Christmas ring to them (excuse the pun) and because they both had siblings, Bells and Bows was born.

I firmly believe in love at first sight. I also believe a person can love another their whole life, even if they’re not actually together. I can tell you many true stories relating to both!

Anyway, because I adore Christmas, and because of their names, I decided to put all those things together and see where it went. Both main families in this book need to learn to discuss issues and to open up about their feelings.

They believe in ‘a stiff upper lip’ and tend not to talk to one another about anything meaningful. This Christmas, that’s all about to change.

One of the secondary characters is based on a dear friend of mine who is no longer with us, and he is the cause of a few misunderstandings in the novel.

 

From planning to edit, what’s your writing process like and how has it changed since the first book?

I don’t plan. I never have. I get an idea and I sit down and write whatever comes into my head, or whatever appears in front of me.

I often say that the story unfolds before my eyes and I simply type what I’m seeing. I write a very quick first draft and make notes about the characters, settings etc. along the way.

Then I leave it for a few days or so, do any research that’s necessary, and then write the second draft. I write as many drafts as it takes before I feel happy with the book. After that, it goes to my editor.

Any changes or suggestions she has, are discussed and if I need to rewrite anything, I do.

 

Which Christmas tradition is your favourite?

That’s a difficult question because I love them all. Preparing the Christmas cake and all having a stir of the mixture and making a wish is one I’ve loved all my life. Opening one present on Christmas Eve, is another.

Finding a Yule log, bringing it home and burning it is one I can’t do at the moment because I no longer have a real fire. I miss that.

I need to move home before next year. I want a real fire again. Buying about two hundred more Christmas cards than I’ll ever need – and then doing exactly the same every year. (I’ve got boxes and boxes of cards…but I’ve already bought more this year!) Hanging wreaths on the doors, front and back.

Putting up the Christmas decorations in November. Going to a carol concert. Christmas crackers. Making mulled wine and eggnog.

Not together in the same pot, obviously. Hohoho! Setting the Christmas pud alight. Baking mince pies. Playing Christmas songs from October onwards. Yes, honestly. Ask my friends. It drives them nuts.

Ooh nuts! Spending hours trying to crack a brazil nut open and nearly losing an eye, or breaking several ornaments in the process. That’s a tradition not to be missed! Sorry. You only wanted one thing, didn’t you?

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NK Chats To… Julie Houston

Hi Julie. Thank you so much for joining me today. Your new novel is called A Village Affair. Can you tell me about it and what inspired it? 

Hi, and thank you so much for having me on your blog today. It’s much appreciated.

As writers, we’re always advised to write about what we know and “AVillage Affair”began its life under the guise of ‘Not in My backyard’ influenced, very much, by a real-life fight in my village where acres of fields and greenbelt land were in danger of having hundreds, if not thousands, of houses built upon them. As the main focus of the plot moved and centred upon the village school, the novel took on the handle “Little Acorns” and many of the school incidents are based on real happenings in the primary schools I have taught in over the years. Eventually Aria came up with the title “A Village Affair”which I love and which, I think, encompasses the different strands of the book.

What’s your writing process like (idea, research etc.) How do you approach editing? 

At the start of a new idea/novel I sit at my desk with a brand-new exercise book. I like my novels to be very much character-based and so I come up with characters’ names, write what they look like and actually give them a family tree. This is important as I’m mainly writing about the characters in one town and one village and so I have to make sure they’re not too related to each other, especially if they’re going to end up together!! With “Holly Close Farm”,as nearly half of it is set during WW2, I did a huge amount of research about the WAAFs and Bomber Command. I really enjoyed this bit and it was quite hard work leaving the reading to actually write. I love editing. I must be the only writer who enjoys this bit. I love going back over what I’ve written, tweaking and adding and crossing out. In my early days as a writer I would write one chapter and then edit it to death the next day because I was so proud that I’d actually written another chapter.  Now, with deadlines, I tend to just write and edit at the end. Editing means I’ve finished, which is always wonderful.

What’s your typical writing day like? Do you have a place to write? Cup of coffee? Write in silence?

I’m a lark: I’m much better writing at 6am than later in the day. I had the most beautiful writing room at one end of the house but my husband is now working from home and has commandeered it for his office. I’m in a cupboard – not literally, but it feels like it after the lovely office with views down the valley. I actually quite like my cupboard: it’s jampacked with books, piles of papers, computer and, usually, the dog. I write, plan for school if I’m teaching a couple of days and do some private tuition in there. It does tend to get a bit cosy. One day, I’ll have my office back!

I need silence, tons of coffee (morning) and Earl Grey tea (afternoon).

So, basically, if it’s a writing day, I’ll get up early, have a mug of hot water and lemon (my mum always did and I’ve done this for the past 30 years) answer emails, decide whether it’s a swim or a run, shower, have breakfast and read the paper about eleven and then really get stuck in. If I can write 2-3000 words a day I’m more than happy.

What’s the most challenging thing with writing a novel?

The start of any new novel. By the end of a novel I love my characters so much I can’t bear to leave them and start again. I feel very disloyal to my old friends and it takes a while to love the new ones.

 

How do you pick names for your characters?

Probably with names I wanted to call my own children but for which my husband didn’t share the same enthusiasm. So India, Clementine, Kit, Theadora and Fin were born! My daughter, Georgia, is really cross I didn’t stick to my guns and call her Theadora – shortened to Teddy – that Harriet names one of her twins.

In my “Work in Progress“(Book 7 and desperate for inspiration for an actual title) it’s been easy to come up with names because I have Patrick, the father – a bit of a lothario – who is a Cambridge educated Classics professor and gives all his four daughters names from Greek literature. I’ve ended up with Isolde, Pandora, Juno and Lexia.

 

What elements make up a good novel?

When I read, I want a thumping good story. I want to know what happens next. I want to want to go to bed read to know what’s going to happen. I do like humour in a novel. It doesn’t have to be overtly laugh out loud. I think Liane Moriarty and Kate Atkinson are both superb writers, not only at weaving good stories but at having the ability to include some quite subtle humour. I aspire to both these wonderful novelists!!

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

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