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
Beth Underdown’s debut novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister was released by Viking in March 2017.
Beth is with me today to talk about her approach to the research process and how important it is to find your own system. Over to you, Beth….
When I started my first novel, I didn’t have a clue what I was up to. I floundered about, making a start on this scene or that subplot, interspersing writing with what began as a fairly scatter-gun approach to research – one week a book of sermons, the next an illustrated herbal, the next a broad political survey of the whole century in which my story was set. As the book progressed, my approach to research changed, and became about looking for answers to specific questions the story had raised. But to start with, my research strategy might best have been described as random.
I like to think that now, starting my second novel, some of what I learned with the first one will save me a bit of time and heartache. I’m hoping, for instance, that I’ve sharpened my instinct for which scenes and which subplots will be needed in this next book – which should be developed, and which should be allowed to die quietly before they embarrass me any further.
But what hasn’t changed, I’m realising, is that scatter-gun approach to the first weeks of research. As it turns out, scatter-gun is what I need.
Last year, after finishing my first novel, I breathed a sigh of relief. Having made it through months of active writing, during which I’d been afraid to read other people’s fiction in case I lost a grip on the voice of my own narrator, suddenly I was free. I started to read some of the great fiction that was coming out at the time: The Essex Serpent. The North Water. His Bloody Project. I also got a teaching job, so I started to read and reread a bunch of classics, to help prepare my seminars: Madame Bovary. The Hound of the Baskervilles. The Talented Mr Ripley. But despite these literary riches, I felt a bit bereft, and I didn’t know why. I was reading everything (or as much of everything as I had hours in the day to accommodate). So why did it feel like something was missing?
What I wasn’t reading, I see now, were my scatter-gun books. My weird books. Books published in the sixties and since forgotten. Books consigned to the dustiest end of the library or the forsaken corner of a second-hand bookshop.by
A big welcome to Charlie Laidlaw. His book, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead was released by Accent Press on 30th June 2017.
About The Things We Learn When We’re Dead…
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy meets The Lovely Bones in this surrealist, sci-fi comedy.
When Lorna is run over, she wakes in a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions.
It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain.
She seems to be there by accident …Or does God have a higher purpose after all?
He joins me today to talk about the inspiration behind his new novel. Over to you, Charlie…
All books start with a beginning.
For the reader, that beginning is page one.
For the author, the beginning comes much earlier.
For me, that came on a train from Edinburgh to London. For no reason whatsoever, the idea for the book came into my head.
It was an apt place to have that beginning because, being a civilised place, Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book.
Part of the inspiration was a quote from the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius Antoninus who wrote that “our life is what our thoughts make it.”
I’d always thought that life is what happens to you – all things good or bad: the people you meet, the things you do.
But, from a different perspective, everything about life is also about memory. We can’t do our jobs if we can’t remember how to do them; we can’t love people if we’ve forgotten who they are. It is our thoughts that shape us.
It’s the only train journey I’ve ever been on where I hoped for signal failure, or for spontaneous industrial action. I could have sat on that train for another five hours.
When I got home, I wrote the first chapter and the last chapter. The first chapter has changed out of all recognition, but the last chapter is still pretty much the same.
The story I’d come up was the story of Lorna Love, and the book follows her as she grows up. She’s feisty and funny, but also damaged and conflicted. More than anything, she’s someone fairly ordinary who you could meet on any street.
The story is about the small decisions that she makes, and of their unintended consequences. It’s also how, apparently killed in a road accident on her way back from a dinner party, she comes to look back at her life and rearrange her memories in a different pattern.
By the end of the book, when her memorises have come back to her, she can see herself in a new light. Her old memories, rearranged in a new way, make her a different person. (She’s not dead, by the way…and hence the book’s title).
It’s about being given a second chance and that is, perhaps, one of the most universal and recurring theme in literature.by
I’m saying a big hello today to Audrey Davis. Her debut novel, A Clean Sweep has just recently been released via eBook.
Love comes around when you least expect it. Fifty-something widow Emily isn’t expecting romance. Nor is she expecting a hunky twenty-something chimney sweep on her doorstep.
Daughter Tabitha knows something isn’t quite right with her relationship, while her boss – Abba-loving Meryl – thinks she’s found the real deal. Are they both right, or pursuing Mr Wrong?
Emily’s sister, Celeste, has the perfect marriage … or does she? Can a fitness tracker lead her down the path to happiness or heartbreak?
Susan is single, overweight and resigned to a life of loneliness. There was the one who got away but you don’t get another try, do you?
Sharing her route to publication, it’s over to you, Audrey.
It’s been five weeks since my first novel – A Clean Sweep – was published on Amazon but I am still giddy with excitement. I am an author! An actual, people-are-buying-my book author (or otter, as my lovely Dutch friend pronounces it). OK, I’m a very long way from topping the best seller list but that’s probably because I’m clueless about the marketing side. More of that in a little while …
My writing journey began several decades ago – yes, I am old – when I trained as a journalist and worked for many years in provincial newspapers and various magazines. My relationship with my now-husband Bill took me to Singapore, Australia and the south of England before we moved to Switzerland in 2002. Along the way we raised two boys, now all grown up and living in the UK, but we remained in the land of cheese and chocolate. Any dreams of writing were put aside as I focused on never-ending house renovations which still challenge my French-speaking abilities but at least I provide entertainment for the local workers.
It was in February 2016 that I signed up for a Start Writing Fiction course run by Future Learn, an offshoot of Open University. Within a few weeks I was totally hooked, exchanging ideas and reviews with fellow students from all over the world. It was one short exercise that gave me the idea for a longer story which then grew … and grew. With no firm plot in mind I found characters popping into my head, along with vague notions of what might happen to them. Five thousand words became twenty thousand and on it went. I ran sample chapters by friends who were effusive in their praise (probably because they are very nice and polite people.)by
Hello Meg, it’s so lovely to welcome you to Novel Kicks today. Your book is called The Wanderers (released yesterday and has, in my opinion one of the prettiest book covers.) Can you tell me about the novel and how the idea originated?
Thank you! (And I love that cover too.)
“The Wanderers” imagines that a private space company is four years away from sending the first crew of humans to Mars. Three astronauts have been selected, and as part of their training they are asked to undergo a seventeen-month simulation of the mission. The story is told from the point of view of the crewmembers, and also from some of the people they’ll be leaving behind: a wife, a daughter, and a son. We also hear from of one of the people tasked with observing and evaluating the astronauts. It’s a story about ambition, isolation, inner space, the problem of knowing what is “real” or even what “real” means, and the different kinds of personal simulations human beings find themselves in. (I hope it’s also a little bit funnier than my description!)
The idea for the book was inspired by a newspaper article I read concerning a simulated Mars mission: six volunteers spent 520 days in a module, being tested for the kind of psychological and physiological stresses a crew might experience in a long-duration space expedition. I thought it sounded like an incredibly cool setting for a novel.
What was your approach to the writing process with this novel – did you plan a lot, wait until you had a whole draft before editing?
I spent over a year researching before I wrote anything at all. The research continued for the length of writing: about four years. I don’t outline, but I spent months writing the first chapter and thinking through the general shape of the book. I revise CONSTANTLY.
Once you’d written your first novel, could you tell me a bit about the route you had to publication and how the process was different with this novel?
The first novel I wrote didn’t sell—just got very lovely rejection letters. So I put it away and tried again. The second book sold, and the editor who acquired it was interested in that first book, and told me to take it out and work on it a bit. I did, and it became my second published novel. (Lesson: you never know.) I don’t usually show anyone what I’m working on until it’s finished, so with “The Wanderers” my literary agent only knew that I was working on “something with astronauts in it.” It’s my first book to be published in the U.K, which is tremendously exciting for me.
Do you have any writing rituals – coffee before you start? No noise etc.
I avoid all rituals or rules involving writing other than Work Hard and Care About Everything.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be suffering from writers block?
Well, I’m reluctant to give advice but I can say what I think it true. It’s this: writing isn’t about word count or how many hours a day you spend typing. (It’s also not about publishing.) Writing is a way of confronting the world. When I’m stuck, it’s because I’m not confronting the world, I’m confronting the “idea of being a writer.” That’s a closed-loop system. So, I go to museums, art galleries, concerts, plays, and read poetry and non-fiction. I stop being “person who is trying to write” and let myself be a reader, an audience member, a student. At a certain point, it becomes clear that being a writer MEANS being a reader, an audience member, a student. I get excited about what I’m observing, learning, confronting, and I want to talk about it, figure it out, and make something of my own.by
Big lovely hellos to Bella Osborne who is back on Novel Kicks with her blog tour for the third instalment of her Willow Cottage series. It’s called A Spring Affair and was released by Avon on 23rd March 2017.
Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a warm, caring and safe place for little Leo.
When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage
Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…
Willow Cottage is part of a serialized novel told in four parts, following the journey of Beth and her new life in the Cotswolds. The full book will be out next this August, but for now, enjoy Willow Cottage seasonally.
With her top five spring inspired movies, it’s over to you Bella.
Hi Novel Kicks, Thank you for having me on your blog today.
Part 3 of Willow Cottage is set in springtime so that got me thinking about films that are set in the spring and there really aren’t many that spring to mind (apologies – no pun intended).
When it comes to seasonally focused films winter and Christmas seem to have the monopoly. However, after dusting off my DVDs I came up with a list of five films I love that even if they aren’t specifically set in spring they certainly make me think of that time of year.
Ferris Buellers Day Off (1986)
This is of course a modern classic – charming and hilarious. It’s what we all hoped we would do with an unplanned day off school. Ferris has some good advice for us all – ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ Ferris Bueller
Saving Grace (2000)
I love this film. It stars Brenda Blethyn as recently widowed Grace who suddenly discovers that her husband was on the brink of financial ruin and she is about to lose her home. Fear not, this is most definitely a comedy and a very sweet one at that as Grace puts her green fingered skills to great use with some interesting plants!
10 Things I hate About You (1999)
Heath Ledger at his most gorgeous but watching him always leaves a tinge of sadness. A modern day version of Taming of the Shrew based in an American High School – what’s not to love?
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
My favourite Nora Ephron film staring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and based around the cutest bookshop in New York. Romantic comedies don’t get much better than this!by
Award winning author Liz Fenwick’s latest novel, The Returning Tide is released today by Orion.
Two sisters and one betrayal that will carry across generations . . .
In wartime Cornwall, 1943, a story between two sisters begins – the story of Adele and Amelia, and the heart-breaking betrayal that will divide them forever. Decades later, the effects of one reckless act still echo – but how long will it be until their past returns?
A big, lovely welcome to Liz who joins me today with her advice on staying motivated when writing. Over to you, Liz…
The beginning of writing a novel is a wonderful thing. I am in love. The book in my head is perfect in every way from flawless sentences, twists galore and characters to die for…it’s all there unsullied by actually putting a single word on the page.
This love affair normally lasts for about 20,000 or maybe to 40,000 words if I’m lucky…then the doubts creep in. What was I thinking? It’s awful. These thoughts I refer to as the crows of doubt and they really begin to circle. This is when I turn to research and writing craft books. I’m always scared that I won’t find the inspiration to complete the story but digging into research fills my head with more ideas. Writing craft books make me look at things from a different angle.
Both of these exercises are essential to finding the will and the inspiration to keep going until I type the end.
I also remind myself that the first draft of the book is for me…for me alone. It’s fine that it is so far from perfect, from the book in my head. I tell myself that once the first draft is done I can fix it but I can’t fix an empty page.by
Huge hellos today to Julia Chapman and the blog tour for her new novel, Date with Death which is part of the Dales Detective Series, released by Pan on 9th March. Here’s a bit about it….
Murder’s no cup of tea.
Samson O’Brien has been dismissed from the police force, and returns to his hometown of Bruncliffe in the Yorkshire Dales to set up the Dales Detective Agency while he fights to clear his name. However, the people of Bruncliffe aren’t that welcoming to a man they see as trouble.
Delilah Metcalfe, meanwhile, is struggling to keep her business, the Dales Dating Agency, afloat – as well as trying to control her wayward Weimaraner dog, Tolpuddle. Then when Samson gets his first case, investigating the supposed suicide of a local man, things take an unexpected turn, and soon he discovers a trail of deaths that lead back to the door of Delilah’s agency.
With suspicion hanging over someone they both care for, the two feuding neighbours soon realize that they need to work together to solve the mystery of the dating deaths. But working together is easier said than done . . .
To celebrate the release of her new novel, Julia asks, what’s in a name.
My novels are full of characters. But when you are creating a brand new person, where do you start? Usually, the physical characteristics come first for me. On the odd occasion, a character has emerged on the page complete with name from the very beginning. But that’s unusual.
On the whole, I create the people who populate my books from scratch. But sometimes the traits I give them come from real life. For example, I have a gorgeous Weimaraner called Tolpuddle in my new Dales Detective Series, a large grey dog who has a habit of leaning against people. I took that detail from a New Zealand Huntaway I once knew who was just like that. He would come up and lean into you, his weight heavy on your leg. But it wasn’t threatening. It was reassuring. As though he was letting you know he was there – in case you were in trouble.
I stole that characteristic and gave it to Tolpuddle. The rest of him is pure fiction. Especially his penchant for beer!
But perhaps the most essential part of any character, for me, is the name. It can tell you as much as any detailed physical description. More sometimes! We all know a Susie is different to a Susan. A Bill is going to be possibly less formal than a William. We can even deduce a person’s age simply from what they are called. Edith and Lucy – both live in Bruncliffe, the setting for the Dales Detective Series. Want to take a bet which one lives in Fellside Court retirement complex and which one runs the local cafe?
(Having said that, I do have a character called Titch who is massive. But then, if a bit of name inversion was good enough for Little John in Robin Hood then I’m happy to follow suit!)
How to choose this fundamental aspect of the people who will populate my books, then? By the time I reach the stage of assigning a label, the personality is usually fully formed. So I need the name to be right – it has to fit the person emerging from under my words like a glove. Consequently, it can take me a lot longer to christen my characters than to create them.
Take the landlord of the Fleece in Bruncliffe, the setting for the Dales Detective Series. He’s morose. A misanthropist.
He’s a reluctant host and suffers his customers only because they make him money.by
Starting a new novel is always so exciting. Everything feels shiny and fresh, and you just know it will be the best book you’ve ever written.
I love that moment, before the inevitable self-doubt sets in. I don’t have any particular rituals when I sit down to write a new book, but I always sketch out the obstacles my characters will face and how I want them to change and grow by the end of the book.
I also think about their backgrounds and their internal conflicts, either as a result of their history or character traits. I often don’t have a picture of my protagonist in my mind, but I do need to ‘know’ them: their fears, their likes and dislikes, and what they want out of life.
I’ve tried both exhaustive planning and ‘pantsing’, and I usually fall somewhere in the middle.by
Today, I am welcoming Amanda Brooke and the blog tour for her latest novel, The Affair which was released by Harper on 10th November in electronic form with the paperback release due for 12th January.
A shocking story about a fifteen-year-old girl and the man who took advantage of her
“You might as well know from the start, I’m not going to tell on him and I don’t care how much trouble I get in. It’s not like it could get any worse than it already is.
I can’t. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t.”
When Nina finds out that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlett, is pregnant, her world falls apart. Because Scarlet won’t tell anyone who the father is. And Nina is scared that the answer will destroy everything.
As the suspects mount – from Scarlett’s teacher to Nina’s new husband of less than a year – Nina searches for the truth: no matter what the cost.
Hello Amanda. Thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your new book is called The Affair. Can you tell me a little about it and how the idea originated?
Thank you for inviting me on to Novel Kicks, it’s lovely to be here again! The Affair begins with the news that fifteen year old Scarlett is pregnant to a married man. She won’t say who it is, but the two likely candidates are her stepfather and her teacher. The story is told from the point of view of the men’s wives; Scarlett’s mum, Nina and teacher’s wife, Vikki. I also introduce Scarlett’s voice as a narrator, and she describes the early days of her relationship and how she feels when the accusations start to fly. I’m not sure how much I can say about how the idea originated without giving too much away. I had a scene in my head of a schoolgirl watching from the periphery while other people’s lives fell apart. She wasn’t meant to be the focal point of the book, other than perhaps a final reveal, but after long chats with my editor, the premise of the story morphed into something quite different, and it was both a pleasure and a challenge to write.
Can you describe what your typical writing day is like? Any rituals like needing tea or writing in silence?
You’ve asked that question at a very exciting time, because I gave up work this month to write full-time. I’ve spent thirty-one years in local government and for the last five I’ve been juggling two careers, fitting in my writing around the day job. I can tell you what I plan to do, which is to concentrate on my writing in the morning, which allows me to spend the rest of the day thinking about what I’ve written and where I need to take the story next. I’m conscious that working from home will be quite sedentary, so I’ve had my treadmill adapted, with a small desk that fits on top of the handlebars. My first hour of writing will be spent walking and typing so I can wake up my body and brain at the same time. As I’ve said, that’s only the plan so you might need to ask me again in a year’s time to see if I’ve kept to it.
How do you approach writing your novels? Are you much of a planner and need to know your characters well and plot inside out? Do you edit as you go?
When I have an idea for a story, I like to mull it over in my head for a while before I commit to paper. The starting point is a two page synopsis, which doesn’t necessarily cover sub-plots or minor characters but should be enough to capture the essence of the story. My next task is to cut up the synopsis into about twelve sections, which in theory will be the chapters and, if nothing else, it gives me some reassurance that I have enough of a story for a full length manuscript. When I’m ready to start writing, I tend to have a very clear idea of the opening and final scenes, but the rest of the book remains relatively fluid. I enjoy getting to know my characters and they’re the ones who fuel my imagination as I go along, creating situations and conflict I never could have imagined from the start. In terms of editing, I see that first draft almost as a test run, it’s only during the subsequent rewrites that I really get to know the story.by
Playing FTSE by Penelope Jacobs was released by Ipso Books in digital format yesterday (24th November)
When Melanie Collins joins an investment bank as a young graduate, she quickly discovers that femininity is an invaluable asset. But it must not be abused.
She witnesses other women falling victim to office affairs and is determined to be taken seriously. In an industry where abilities are rewarded handsomely, she rises rapidly through the ranks. But her increased profile attracts the attention of a senior colleague and she is ill-equipped to handle his advances.
Balancing a demanding job with a confusing personal life proves difficult and soon their relationship threatens to jeopardise her career. As events move beyond control, her glamorous world becomes tainted by betrayal and bitterness.
One of the themes in the book explores the issues the main character Melanie has with balancing her personal life with her professional one.
The author of Playing FTSE, Penelope Jacobs is joining me today to talk about her thoughts on balancing work and family and why we can’t have it all. Over to you, Penelope.
Achieving a work-life balance is not always possible and certainly requires sacrifices.
Marriage and, more specifically, babies seem to be the tipping point, when life can sometimes spiral out of control. As noted by the National Health Interview Survey, 30-44 year olds report the largest “work-lifestyle imbalance”. During this period, many high-powered career women have simply piled far too much onto their plates. On top of a highly pressurised job, they suddenly have to cope with the demands of small children, a husband and running a household. Not to mention find a little time for themselves.
The Mental Health Foundation states that “the pressure of an increasingly demanding work culture in the UK is perhaps the biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population.” In addition, “many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men), which is probably a consequence of competing life roles and more pressure to ‘juggle’.”
Why are we accepting this burden from society? In my opinion, it is not possible to “have it all” and at the same time seamlessly achieve a wonderful work-life balance.
Every woman I know has made some type of sacrifice which, by definition, means they do not have it all. At one extreme, some high-powered women consciously choose not to have children and, at the other, an enormous number leave their brilliant careers permanently to raise a family. In both cases, the costs are high.
A big welcome today to Lesley Downer and the blog tour for her latest novel, The Shogun’s Queen which was released by Bantam Press on 3rd November.
Japan, and the year is 1853. Growing up among the samurai of the Satsuma Clan, in Japan’s deep south, the fiery, beautiful and headstrong Okatsu has – like all the clan’s women – been encouraged to be bold, taught to wield the halberd, and to ride a horse.
But when she is just seventeen, four black ships appear. Bristling with cannon and manned by strangers who to the Japanese eyes are barbarians, their appearance threatens Japan’s very existence. And turns Okatsu’s world upside down.
Today, on the last day of the tour, Lesley has joined me to talk about writing The Shogun’s Queen. Over to you, Lesley…
Hello, Laura. Thank you for allowing me to post on your blog today! I greatly appreciate it.
I’ve had a love affair with Japan all my life, and when I decided to move from non-fiction to fiction ten years ago, it was obvious that was where my stories would be set. I’m also mad about research. I love any excuse to go to Japan and I also love scouring old books written by Victorian travellers who were there in the nineteenth century. If I could live my life again it would be in old Japan, the Japan of the great woodblock print artists Hokusai and Hiroshige – and a reasonable second best is reading about it and being there in my mind and taking my readers there as I write about it.
Somehow – I forget how – I came across the Women’s Palace, a sort of harem where three thousand women lived and only one man, the shogun (the military ruler of Japan), could enter. To me the most surprising thing was that I’d spent so long in Japan and read so much about it yet in all those years hadn’t come across the Women’s Palace before. I decided to set my first novel there and so The Last Concubine was born. There was literally nothing in English about the palace. I had to struggle through a book written in Victorian-era Japanese with the help of a Japanese friend. My story took place at the very end of the era of the shoguns and my heroine fled the palace early on in the book.
I went on to write two more novels following on in time after the events of The Last Concubine.
Somewhere along the way I heard of Atsu’s heart-rending story and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It haunted me. Telling her story would mean going back to the Women’s Palace and I’d been feeling for a long time that I hadn’t finished with it – or rather it hadn’t finished with me.
Guy Mankowski wrote his first novel, The Intimates when he was 21. His other novels include the fantastic Letters From Yelena and How I Left The National Grid. His new novel, An Honest Deceit was released by Urbane Publications on 20th October.
When Ben and Juliette’s young daughter dies in a tragic accident on a school trip, they begin searching for answers. But will they ever know the truth? What was the role of the teacher on the trip – and are the rumours about his past true? As Ben and Juliette search for the truth and the pressure rises, their own secrets and motivations are revealed…. An Honest Deceit is an intelligent and gripping contemporary psychological thriller that questions not just the motives of others, but the real reasons for discovering the truth.
Hi Guy, welcome back to Novel Kicks. Can you tell me a bit about your new novel, An Honest Deceit? What inspired you to write it?
Hi Laura, thanks for having me. An Honest Deceit is inspired in the main by an anger at the way our institutions often treat individuals who ask them uncomfortable questions. There are hundreds of people in this country who are sitting pretty in extremely well-paid jobs that they’ve only kept hold of because they’ve used the power institutions offer them to manipulate the truth. They use this power to hurt others and look after themselves. This book looks at the impact of that through the plot of a man investigating how his daughter was killed on a school trip.
What’s your typical writing day like? How has your writing approach changed since writing your first novel?
For my first novel, The Intimates, I edited the manuscript about three times. For my second novel, about eight times. For my third about 35 times and I couldn’t begin to count how many times I edited An Honest Deceit. Every word has been changed at least once so is it even the same novel? If someone looked at a draft I had of a novel called ‘Marine’, in 2011, I think they would barely recognise that it would become ‘An Honest Deceit.’ So my typical writing day has changed in that it is much more about editing and rarely about just writing.
What are the challenges of writing a psychological thriller?
It’s hard to know how deep you should go into a characters psyche because you don’t want to lose the narrative too much. The way I ended up handling it was to go very deep into their darkest thoughts and feelings and then in later drafts ensure that there were questions the reader had at every point to keep them going. It is hard to resolving everything, within your made-up world, so it doesn’t all seem too pat.by
I’m happy to be welcoming a fellow Laura to Novel Kicks today. Author, Laura Briggs talks about Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing and the pros and cons of each. Over to you, Laura.
First of all, thanks to Laura for inviting me to appear on Novel Kicks with a post on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. I’ve learned a little about both in recent years and hope my experiences may prove useful to some of you reading this.
Let me start by saying that my publisher, Pelican Book Group, is nothing less than excellent. I love working with them and plan to submit more manuscripts to their company in the future. I also love self-publishing and am grateful to have the opportunity for both.
Now—let’s get to some pros and cons on publishing!
The Pros of Traditional Publishing:
•Professional Editing: This is an obvious one, but I can’t stress it enough. Freelance editors cost a few hundred on average, so yes, professional editing gives traditional publishing an edge.
•Professional Cover Design: Another obvious one, I know, but important. Not everyone has the software, or the know-how to make a good cover, even with so many high quality images available via sites like Dreamstime. The cover often serves as your book’s first impression, so it needs to be good.
•Professional Marketing: Let’s face it—marketing is tough. And hugely competitive. Book review bloggers are swamped with requests and even buying ad space from a popular service like Bookbub is difficult to achieve. Some publishing companies have better methods of getting your book out there. Some don’t. It depends on the publisher, and of course, even authors with a traditional publisher must still do some of their own marketing.
•It Has More Options Than Before: There are many small and up-and-coming publishers who will take unagented submissions from writers these days. There are even divisions of bigger publishing houses, like HarperCollins, I believe, that welcome unagented submissions. They may not pay author advances like big companies do, but some are quite generous on the royalties.by
I’m pleased to be welcoming Vicki Wakefield to Novel Kicks today. Vicki is the author of the YA novel, Inbetween Days which was released by Text Publishing on 26th August.
Jacklin Bates has life figured out – dropped out of school, moved in with her runaway sister, in love with an older boy. But why does she have a sinking feeling that she still needs her mum? Perhaps because she’s stuck in Mobius – a dying town with the macabre suicide forest its only attraction – stuck working in the roadhouse and babysitting her boss’s demented father.
Vicki, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me about your typical writing day?
There are no typical days. I write when I feel like it, or when a deadline forces me knuckle down. It’s not that I don’t love writing, it’s just that I focus best when my slate is clean. I tend to deal with family, housework, bills, pets and life first, and then I breathe out. I can be epically productive or utterly paralysed. There’s no middle ground.
Do you have any writing rituals (coffee, silence?)
I’m terribly provincial. I can’t do cities, hotel rooms, libraries or cafes (I wish I could, but I either get distracted or lonely). I like to be outside; I like my dog under my feet. I prefer to write at night when everyone else is asleep, and I need tea, wine, chocolate or biscuits (not necessarily at the same time, but I’ve been known to go on a bender). I keep only one working file, so any changes are lost forever (I’m told this is the equivalent of base-jumping, but to me it’s a superstition, like wearing your lucky stinky socks for every game).
Do you edit as you go and plan much prior to beginning a book?
I’m always thinking about a new book long before I finish working on my current one, so the planning can take place years before I write a single word. I keep notebooks filled with random ideas and drawings to help me get to know the world and the characters, and I’ll usually have my opening paragraph perfected before I open a new document (the blank page scares me). Planning in advance helps me to decide whether a story has legs, and drawing helps me to refine my characters before I begin. That said, I’m not a plotter. I trust that the story will take me where it needs to go. I do edit as I write the first draft (against most advice on writing first drafts). It’s my way of feeling out the story. My ideas change so often and so unexpectedly that I worry the novel would be unfixable if I ignored my instincts and tried to write through.by