Rufus Purdy has joined me today and I am happy to welcome him to Novel Kicks.
Rufus is the founder of the Write Here… writing school, which offers high-quality, affordable creative writing courses in cities throughout the UK. Here, he shares the five books that have shaped his life.
Over to you, Rufus…
Finn Family Moomintroll – Tove Jansson
I suppose my parents must have introduced me to the Moomins – but by the time I was seven, I was reading Finnish author Tove Jansson’s tales of these hippo-like trolls and their dark and unsettling adventures all by myself.
What gripped me then was a cast of brilliantly drawn characters, from the resourceful yet self-conscious Moomintroll to the boy-tramp Snufkin, who drifts in and out of the stories with the seasons, and the beautiful language Jansson uses to evoke Moomin Valley – for which read rural Scandinavia. But, for me as a child, what set the Moomins apart was the unapologetic strangeness that runs throughout all the stories, and just how fine is the line between happiness and sadness.
In Finn Family Moomintroll, the first novel in the series, a genuinely scary, creeping sense of menace is offset by the closeness of the Moomin family unit and a reassuring feeling that nothing can go too badly wrong so long as family and friends stick together.
Utterly unlike any other children’s books I’d read at that time, the Moomin novels (first published in the 1940s) will never date – as they’ll always exist outside everyone’s experience.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes at seven years old by a 1982 BBC adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and within one episode I was hooked on its potent mix of mystery and the supernatural.
Of course, when I read the book a couple of years later, I found there was no room for anything but the application of pure reason in Holmes’s world and I was amazed by how all the spookiness of the previous 200 or so pages was convincingly explained away by the end.
So this short novel hooked me on the idea that no matter how otherworldly a set-up, an author can always come up with a rational explanation. I was spoilt. It’s a trope often copied by other writers (and in most episodes of Scooby Doo), but rarely matched.
I remain a huge fan of ghost stories, but have accepted the joy of reading them usually comes from the creepy atmosphere the author creates as they build towards an inevitably disappointing conclusion.
And though I’ve spent my life eagerly pouncing on any book that promises similar ingredients to The Hound of the Baskervilles, I’ve yet to read anything as perfect – and as fun.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë’s novel fitted the 17-year-old me every bit as well as the yak-hair jacket and indie-band T-shirts I spent my late teenage years in. It was our A-Level English set text, so my friends and I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading it (and listening to the Kate Bush song), but the novel became far more than just a passage to a good grade.
We grew up in Sheffield on the edge of Pennines, and drank our first cider-cans looking out onto the moors of the Peak District, so Wuthering Heights seemed to be written for us. It was, after all, about people in floaty dresses or long coats falling passionately in love and being driven to acts of violence, all while striding through heather with brooding looks on their faces. And in our most pretentious moments – and at this time there were many – we imagined ourselves as Heathcliff or Cathy as we smoked Silk Cuts perched on drystone walls and stared out gloomily at misty moors.
Wuthering Heights affirmed our Northern-ness and told us that, in the adult world, it was OK to have extremes of emotion so strong you might hang someone’s pet spaniel. Something that, as teenagers, we identified with all too well.by
HellCorp is the new novel by Jonathan Whitelaw and was released by Urbane Publications on 5thJuly 2018. It’s great to welcome him and the blog tour to Novel Kicks today.
Sometimes even the Devil deserves a break!
Life is hard for The Devil and he desperately wants to take a holiday. Growing weary from playing the cosmic bad guy, he resolves to set up a company that will do his job for him so the sins of the world will tick over while he takes a vacation. God tells him he can have his vacation just as soon as he solves an ancient crime.
But nothing is ever easy and before long he is up to his pitchfork in solving murders, desperate to crack the case so he can finally take the holiday he so badly needs…
Jonathan has joined me today to chat about research when writing a novel. Over to you, Jonathan.
Research is a vital part of any writer’s work. It’s so vital in fact that it seeps beyond the writing and becomes a part of your life. Like living with a new pet – a dog that constantly needs walked or a cat that’s all over your keyboard, you can’t shake it off.
And it’s just as well really. Accuracy and attention to detail can be the difference between stories being believable for readers and being dismissed as total hocum. So it’s vital for writers to take into account research and how important a role it plays in the overall production of writing and novels.
For HellCorp I was incredibly lucky. The story itself involves a lot of history, mythology and culture from all across society. From traditional Christian tropes to Jewish philosophy, Buddhist culture and even a little Norse folklore, I was totally immersed in something that can potentially be endless.
Just as well that I really, really love research!
As the old saying goes – knowledge is power. That phrase has never really sat well with me. I’ve always found it to be a little on the sinister side of things. It implies that be knowing all you can, educating yourself and being in a position to learn means that you can wield that against others. In actual fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.by
The brilliant Jon Rance is back with his new novel, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide (perfectly timed for the approaching summer holidays.)
Two parents. Three children. One senile grandad. Six weeks. How bad could it possibly be?
For teacher, Ben Robinson, the school summer holidays mean one thing – spending six weeks with his kids. This year, however, he also has his father and one very angry wife to contend with. The name of the game is simple: survive.
Ben embarks on a summer of self-discovery that includes, amongst other things, becoming besotted by a beautiful Australian backpacker, an accidental Brexit march and a road rage attack. There’s also the matter of saving his marriage, which is proving harder than he imagined, mainly due to an unfortunate pyramid scheme and one quite large bottom.
But when Ben learns his father has a secret, it takes the whole family on a trip to Scotland that will make or break their summer – and perhaps Ben’s life.
On the last day of his blog tour, Jon has joined me today to talk about his evolution as a writer. Welcome Jon. Over to you.
Hello! A huge thank you to Novel Kicks for having me on their blog. It’s exciting to be here! So, my new book, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is out and just 99p for a limited time! Today, the last stop on my blog tour, I’m going to be talking about my evolution as a writer. Let’s get started!
For those of you who don’t know me, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is my seventh novel. It all started way back in the heady days of 2011! We had our daughter in 2009 and our son was on the way, and I was a stay-at-home dad. I chose to be a stay-at-home father so I could write. I’d written a couple of unpublished novels, but then I suddenly got my big break. My self-published novel, The Thirtysomething Life, unexpectedly shot up the charts and broke into the Kindle top ten. I was as shocked as anyone. On the back of that success, I got a two-book publishing deal with Hodder and Stoughton and then an agent. My novels are usually comedies that deal with issues like marriage, family, parenting, falling in love, growing up or as it says on my website – author of contemporary novels about life, love, and all the icky bits in-between. I think, to be fair, it’s usually the icky bits in-between I’m most interested in.
So, now you know a bit about me, let’s talk evolution. My first novel, This Thirtysomething Life, was a diary about one man, Harry Spencer, early thirties, trying to get through the pregnancy and birth of his first child. My latest book, The Summer Holidays Survival Guide, is the diary of one man, Ben Robinson, 44, trying to get through the summer holidays with his family. Evolution? Well, yes. I wrote my new book because I realised last summer, as I was on a six-week holiday with my own family through England and Scotland, how far we’ve all come and how much has changed. I wrote, The Summer Holiday Survival Guide, as an update on my first book. It’s what happens down the line when the kids are older, the parents are older, and all the complications that come with that. It was as much a reflection on my own life as anything else.by
Elliott Light, author of the Shep Harrington Small Town Mystery Series joins me today to talk about what he’s learned about writing a series and what he wished he’d known before writing one. Over to you, Elliott…
I have recently read several interesting articles about writing a series. The articles provided a lot of insight into the concept and structure behind a literary series. My timing, of course, is a bit off, kind of like reading “Ten Mistakes Do-It-Yourself Submarine Makers Make and How to Avoid Them” after launching my first sub. The good news is that I survived to write another day.
The gist of the guidance offered online is to plan the series before you start writing it. Okay, so I didn’t do that, probably because I didn’t know that I was going to write a series. And to be fair, planning is more important when writing a series that has a single story arc (e.g., The Hobbit, Harry Potter) than it is when writing a series in which the books are episodes that can stand alone (e.g., Sherlock Holmes). But even in an episodic series, the consequences of not planning enough can be catastrophic and are hard to fix.
The Shep Harrington SmallTown® Mystery Series is currently three books: Lonesome Song, Chain Thinking, and The Gene Police (to be released in January 2018). In Lonesome Song, the main character, Shep Harrington, arrives in a small Virginia town (Lyle) and becomes embroiled in the death of Reilly Heartwood. Shep knows most of the people he encounters because his mother is from Lyle and he visited the town as a child. Shep immediately confronts two problems: Reilly’s death has been ruled a suicide and the Reverend Billy will not bury Reilly in the town cemetery. Shep has his own issues; he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and served three years in prison as a consequence.by
A big lovely hug and a warm hello to Bella Osborne who is back on Novel Kicks today with the blog tour for her latest instalment of the Ottercombe Bay series, Raising the Bar.
Escape to the Devon coast, with Part Three of a brand-new four-part serial from the author of Willow Cottage.
Daisy Wickens has returned to Ottercombe Bay, the picturesque Devon town where her mother died when she was a girl. She plans to leave as soon as her great uncle’s funeral is over, but Great Uncle Reg had other ideas. He’s left Daisy a significant inheritance – an old building in a state of disrepair, which could offer exciting possibilities, but to get it she must stay in Ottercombe Bay for twelve whole months.
With the help of a cast of quirky locals, a few gin cocktails and a black pug with plenty of attitude, Daisy might just turn this into something special. But can she ever hope to be happy among the ghosts of her past?
Bella is chatting today about using Pinterest for research when starting a novel. Over to you, Bella.
Thanks for having me on the blog today. I’m a project manager by profession so I’m a big planner when it comes to pretty much everything I do, so it’s no surprise that I plan my writing. I love the planning stage when a new idea pops up and characters start to form in my mind. I spend quite a long time with them working out who they are, their life history, what their drivers are and what makes them tick. While I’m in the early stages (before I get out the post it notes) I set up a board on Pinterest and start pinning things on it. Not everything will stay but as a visual person it really helps to see pictures of things to help bring them to life.
While I was planning Ottercombe Bay I set up a board on Pinterest, here’s the link – https://www.pinterest.co.uk/bellaosborne9/ottercombe-bay/
I like to picture my main characters and Marlon Teixeira is a model that captures the look of Max perfectly. I struggled more with Daisy. There are a few pictures of Shakira because her hair is similar to Daisy’s but otherwise she’s quite different to Shakira. I am a Rufus Sewell fan so it was no surprise that an image of him popped up when I conjured up the character of Pasco, Max’s dad. But it was very much the rough around the edges, lovable rogue look that Rufus does rather than the neat and well turned out version. I love looking at the pictures of Marlon and Rufus next to each other – I can definitely see a similarity or perhaps I see the Max and Pasco connection that I want to be there?by
Clink Street Spring Reads 2018 has arrived at Novel Kicks and I am pleased to be welcoming the author of Devil’s Demise, Lee Cockburn to the blog. Lee, how do you create a sinister villain?
In everyone’s mind, there are ideas of what a villain should be, so it is a very individual thing, each to their own, as to what would make a realistic and frightening bad guy so to speak, they come in all shapes and sizes, many blending in unnoticed in society, living along side us.
My villain in Devil’s Demise is truly evil, filled with hate and anger with a genuine belief that these feelings truly lie at the feet of the women he now hates, which of course is absolutely not the case, and his failings and attitudes in life are his own doing and no-one else can be blamed.
What makes a villain sinister and frightening, is what he or she is capable of, the fear they install in others, the victim’s inability to defend themselves against them, or to get escape from them and all of these factors put together, set the scene for a terrifying situation, the one of desperation and helplessness, and true fear of the baddie!.
Eyes are very important, soulless eyes, eyes that show no emotion, no hint of remorse or willingness to listen or understanding the pleas of their victims, evil emotions fixed on their prey and totally focussed on what they intend on doing, leaving no chance for a change of heart, no human caring emotions, no conscience or remorse, just a broken mind, filled with hate and intent.
Throughout the novel I play on the readers fear too, they put themselves in the situation of futility, helplessness, and terror , one of sheer desperation and in their minds they too become truly frightened of the monster, the shape or vision they have created by themselves of villain’s appearance and genuinely fear this person.by
The blog tour train is here. Today, Claudia Carroll joins me to talk about her process when writing a new book. Her latest novel, Our Little Secret was released by Avon on 8th February.
Over to you, Claudia.
Before starting any new book, I’d write out a pitch for it first, just a page or so, nice and short. Then I send it to my agent and editor and see what they think. If I get the thumbs up from them, one of my little tips is to write it out as a short story first, nothing that’ll ever see the light of day, it’s just an exercise for me really, to see if the story idea has legs. Sometimes, I’ll start the short story and the fizz will run out of it, in which case I know that it’s back to the drawing board for me. But if the short story leaves me feeling there’s so much more I want to write, but don’t have room for, then I know I’m onto something.
When it comes to plot, I’m a planner and I think every author is, really. I always think that starting off a novel without a plan is like getting into a car without knowing where you’re going…you’ll just end up driving round in circles.
Once my editor, agent and I have agreed on a pitch, then I do a skeleton outline of any new story before I’d even sit down to write a line. It makes life so much easier later on, on the days when I find I’m a bit stuck. It takes me quite a long time to get to really know my characters, so I’d begin by writing out a rough biography for everyone of them, to try to make them as three dimensional as possible, it helps me hugely.
A reader will quickly lose interest if they just don’t like the hero or heroine. You really have to try to layer them carefully so that they really jump off the page. Remember at the start of a new book, you’re asking a reader to go on a 400 page journey with your characters, and particularly your leading lady, so it’s vital to get character right early on.by
A big welcome to John R. Bell who is here to talk about his book, The Circumstantial Enemy. Over to you, John.
The Circumstance behind The Circumstantial Enemy.
The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. It’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.
The novel was released in October 2017. There is a twist to the title; The Circumstantial Enemy was written by a circumstantial author. Why do I categorize myself as such? For starters, I’d never felt a burning desire to write a book. But that all changed with one potent statement from my daughter. Seventeen years ago she said, “If you don’t write it, Grandad’s story will be lost forever.” I’ll never forget the yearning in her eyes. Though in good health, Grandad was 80 years old at the time and he wasn’t about to be the first human being to live forever. The family had heard his tales over and over again – trials and tribulations of a young Croatian pilot coerced onto the wrong side of WWII.
My daughter wasn’t requesting a book; a stapled record of the events would suffice. I reasoned that I was not a writer; the defense was feeble, partly because I had the time to write. My career as a CEO of a large company had ended and I’d embarked on consulting work that required a heap of travel and plenty of lonely nights in hotels. I also had to admit that preserving Grandad’s captivating story for his decedents was incredibly compelling. So began my journey as an author.
Thrilled by the opportunity, Grandad agreed to a host of interviews. I was no longer a passive listener. I treated our exchanges as might a journalist – probing for details and questioning events that seemed overstated. The most interesting revelation was his frankness. He soon forgot the recorder was on, revealing more than ever before – some of it both shocking and disturbing. Between the sessions I checked his facts to validate timelines and ensure life in POW camps on US soil were as described. Simultaneously, I read relevant non-fiction books to better understand time, place and prisoner predicament.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
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 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
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