After returning home from her service as a United States Army Signal Corps operator in the Great War, Arabella Stewart’s goal, to save her family’s resort, seems within reach as the summer season progresses. She and her business partner, Mac MacLendon, look forward to re-establishing a successful championship golf tournament, once the signature event of the resort’s year. Problems arise when one of the contestants, an overbearing snob who has created problems at other competitions, clashes with more than one person. When he is found dead, the victim of a suspicious automobile crash, Bella once again helps Jax Hastings, the town constable and her childhood friend, investigate. As they pursue answers, Bella and Jax find several suspects who might have wanted to make the victim suffer for his lethal arrogance.
Today, D.S. Lang tells us about the inspiration and research behind her book series. Over to you, D.S. Lang.
My Arabella Stewart Historical Mystery series takes place shortly after the Great War (World War I). Bella, the main character, was a United States Army Signal Corps operator in France during the conflict. Originally, I planned for Bella to be a nurse. While doing research, I discovered that American nurses needed to be at least twenty-five years old. Since I wanted her to be younger when she volunteered, I searched for other roles available to young women and found that they were accepted into the Signal Corps.
The U.S. entered the war in April 1917. By the end of the year, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, decided that women were needed to replace male operators, freeing those men for combat duty. About 10,000 ladies applied, and some 200 were chosen. The main requirement was fluency in both English and French. The training, primarily learning to operate complicated switchboards, took place before they sailed for France. The women proved to be highly competent, connecting six calls in the time it took male operators to handle one.by
You have an imagination, so use it! My second novel, The Darlings, is written mainly from the point of view of a thirty-something male comedian. I’m not in my thirties, I’m not a man, and I’d be stretching it to claim to be a comedian, but I did my research. One of our jobs as writers is to head down research rabbit holes to find out why people have affairs, sail around the world, change their religion, leave their partners, change careers, kill people. If you find yourself losing track of time as you research your subject area, it’s a good sign you’ll enjoy writing about the subject. If I’d have stuck to writing solely what I know about, I’d have submitted 70,000 words on the merits of a good cup of tea.
I once spent a whole academic year silencing my voice. After a buoyant start to an MSc in Creative Writing, once I was ‘put in my place’ by a particular tutor a couple of times, I sat in classes cowed and uncharacteristically silent. Even though I won a prestigious writing award during the same year, I didn’t trust myself to write another good sentence. I started to believe the ridiculous idea that commercial fiction, which is what I write, wasn’t good enough. If you find yourself thinking along these lines: STOP! You don’t need to be a ‘heavyweight’. You don’t need to produce a classic. I look at material I wrote during that wretched year, and it feels utterly forced and lifeless. That’s because I was trying to be someone else. I was trying to be a ‘serious’ writer. It didn’t work. You don’t need to write what you know, but you DO need to allow your own writing voice to emerge.by
Toby could… and Toby would.
‘Enjoy yourself as you rot, old man. And you’re not my dad – you never were.’ Southern England, September 1957
When thirteen-year-old Toby Mitcher’s mum collapses, never to wake up, Toby’s alcoholic stepfather becomes his legal guardian. He thought life couldn’t get much worse, but was he wrong.
Time passes, and an orderly direction comes into his life. That is until problems start and the disappearances begin.
No more being put upon or allowing bad situations to happen.
From now on, Toby is in control. Or is he?
To celebrate the release of his novel, Dave has joined me today to talk about his favourite things about being an author. Over to you, Dave.
Up until eight years ago, I never imagined being an author. To me, the most significant challenge and excitement came when I sat in front of my computer with an idea. It could be a drabble of 100 words, a short story for a competition or something else. As to the completed novel, straight away, I can say, seeing my book out there and knowing I wrote it has to be a Wow factor! When I first entered into the writing world at my local writers’ group, I was surprised how individuals, authors and people who enjoyed turning up relished advising others, encouraging them to go for what they wanted to write about. Within six months of joining that group and never before having done anything like it. I knew I wanted to write a book. My second novel is underway, and I have more stories that require attention that I have shelved.
Favourite things about being an author are still unknown to me at this stage, other than what I have said. But the feeling I got when I won a short story prize was at my first attempt was amazing. At the award ceremony, listening to those people clapping for me was something I have never experienced before. Members of my writing group and others who were authors I had never seen before congratulated me that evening. Having your photo taken, and giving a speech was brilliant if not unreal for me. I still have the large cheque presented to me under my bed from that time, something I will keep knowing I can accomplish a written work.by
About The Man in Room 423…
In a heady cocktail of passion and poison, who can you really trust?
When Lizzie Aspinall and her sister meet for cocktails in a high-rise bar, the last thing she’s expecting is to spend the night in the arms of the nameless man in room 423. As a one-night stand with a stranger turns into a steamy affair with a dedicated detective, Lizzie finds herself in the sights of a stalker.
Ben Finneran has spent ten years pursuing a ruthless serial killer who poisons victims at random before disappearing into the shadows. He wants to believe that the attraction he and Lizzie share is just physical, but when they find themselves falling for each other, is Ben unwittingly leading a murderer straight to her door?
Pursued by the past and threatened by the present, who can Lizzie and Ben really trust?
Catherine and Eleanor have joined me to talk about what it’s like to co-write a book, the highs, challenges and how the work is divided. Over to you, ladies.
Catherine and I first crossed each others’ paths about three years ago when we were writing historical non-fiction for the same publisher, Pen and Sword. We got into a conversation one day about joint fiction writing, and after some hilarious conversations about Georgian gentlemen, we started to write a sandbox.
It started off with a plot but as we wrote it, it became huge and sprawling, written with the sort of freedom that isn’t possible with something that’s aimed for publication, and to be honest, written entirely to entertain ourselves. We’d written a huge amount in only a few weeks, by which point Catherine said maybe we should aim for publication.
Catherine had had a couple of titles out with Pride, who publish LGBT+ fiction, and we realised that the sandbox had some wonderful moments that could be developed into fully-fledged novels. The first novel to emerge was The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, a romance about First World War soldiers, which was published in April 2018. Since then, Pride have published five more Captivating Captains novels, and five short stories. Our first title for their Totally Bound imprint was The Ghost Garden. It was published early in 2019, and we were very excited when it was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards 2020. This year, we have two romantic suspense novels out from Totally Bound – The Colour of Mermaids and The Man in Room 423.
As to the how of our writing… we talk about ideas for stories in Messenger, then before we get writing, we’ll often have a Skype first. Then we write in Google Docs, which gives us a great deal of freedom because you can access the same document on a computer or a mobile device. I end up writing on my phone in all sorts of places – on the bus, in the tearoom at work, in the waiting room at the doctor’s, in the chair at the hairdresser’s waiting for my dye to finish!by
Nia Rose and Octavia J. Riley are co-authors of Spellbound and Hellhounds and Secrets of the Sanctuary, the first two novels in the Coven Chronicles.
About Spellbound and Hellhounds, book one in the Coven Chronicles.
Enter the world of Raen, turn left at the land of dragons, and you’ll find yourself in the country of Aeristria. A place overflowing with magic and creatures that were once only heard of in fairy-tales. In the heart of Aeristria is the capital city, Tolvade. Here you will find shops and taverns, laughter and fun, runesmiths looking for their next job and sneaky pickpocketing imps. Steer clear of the galloping gang of centaurs and you will see the headquarters of the prestigious Coven.
Within the Coven’s lower ranks, you’ll find Vanessa, a third-year Hunter itching to become a Spellweaver. Her and her trusted demon partner, Botobolbilian, must investigate an explosion at the academy and bring the culprit responsible in. Easy job, right?
Vanessa and her partner find that this investigation runs deep in black magic and sprinkled with feral demon summonings. With countless lives on the line, Vanessa struggles with self-doubt and following her heart (and laws) as she tries to right the wrongs of these heinous criminals and bring them to justice before they do any more harm.
But, with an oncoming yearly blizzard just days away, is it too late? Even with all the magic, spells, and power on Raen, this job might be the last that this duo ever faces…
About Secrets of the Sanctuary, book two in the Coven Chronicles.
Thea Bauer has earned her way to being a highly skilled member of the Coven. Ranked as a Spellweaver, she’s assigned the more dangerous missions. Corralling a herd of wild unicorns? No problem. Taking down a witch riding the high of black magic? Piece of cake. Finding out why magic-based creatures are suddenly flooding the local sanctuary, protected by a powerful sorceress with a hatred for the Coven? Thea might need more than her tethered demonic partner to see this mission through.
She calls upon Summoner Rafe MacBain, a trusted colleague she’s known for years whose dreamy eyes might keep her up at night—but she’s not admitting that to anyone. He’s got his own demonic companion, and altogether they’re a force to be reckoned with. But, even with their combined strength, it might not be enough against feral demons escaping some of the farthest reaches of Hell.
As if that weren’t bad enough, Thea must conquer her own demons residing within herself that conjure up a painful past. Will she be able to overcome herself, or will the memories she’s tried to stray from keep her from fighting enemies in the physical realm? Thea is starting to wonder if the sorceress may be one of those enemies too. What secret is she hiding at the bottom of the sanctuary, and how will it affect everything Thea has come to know?
Octavia has joined me today to talk about duel writing and the challenges both she and Nia face. Thank you for joining me. Over to you.
Nia and I get asked quite frequently how we go about writing a dual-trilogy of the same world in the same timeline. We always look at each other and agree: challenging. Not in the “Oh, this is so hard“ or “You can’t do that, it doesn’t work with MY story” sort of way (not to say we haven’t said that once or twice…). It’s challenging in a way that forces us to think, adapt, grow, and roll with what we’re given. It challenges us as authors and puts our imaginations to the test, which is invaluable when delving into fantasy.
There’s definitely flaws and loopholes when writing in a world shared by another author, but the beauty of that is that there’s two set of eyes to catch these loopholes. I remember we were so engrossed in our stories that we kind of got carried away, and Nia came up to me and was like, “Uh…hold on, was I at the Grim Bean the same time you were talking to the imp?” We realized that our characters did, in deed, come into close contact with each other, and this gave birth to our first cameo appearance in Spellbound & Hellhounds. We were able to sneak one more cameo appearance in when both of our characters were in Tasgall’s at the same time (something that we both realized later when we read over the story, because we clearly didn’t learn about paying attention to the timeline the first time). We’re those authors who don’t know exactly where the story’s going when we write it. We just write it however it comes to us. Neil Gaiman once said “Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”by
Three friendships torn apart by one chance meeting. By autumn 1984 Sharon and Pip are in their final years of school and on the verge of adulthood. Best friends for as long as they can remember, the two young women befriend their badly bullied schoolmate, Gavin.
Their futures are bright until a chance meeting leads to a path of corruption, anger and malicious betrayal. Sometimes, when we can’t rely on those we love, our only hope is in the kindness of strangers. All three teens are driven from their homes to follow very different paths. They face dark times of heartbreak and new temptations.
But there may be ways out and better futures, if they are willing to take risks. What will they choose, and will they ever see each other again?
The Wild Roses is a coming-of-age drama for all ages that speaks honestly of love, loss, jealousy, coercion and self-discovery.
D.B. Carter has joined me today to chat about writing contemporary drama and romance and the challenges he faces. Over to you.
With two published novels, The Cherries and The Wild Roses, I’m starting to accept I may use “author” to refer to myself. I’ve worked in many sectors, including art, computer sciences, and business, but I felt I had come home to the place where I was meant to be when I started writing. My parents were artists and a creative drive runs deep in my psyche, but it took nearly half a century for fulfil my lifelong desire to write the kind of drama-romances that I’ve enjoyed for so long.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to people’s true-life stories. They give so many fascinating details and perspectives on society that the history books will never tell. When I was a lad, I would go with my mum to visit my grandmother, whereupon I’d be presented with a comic (generally the Beano or Dandy) and sent to read in the corner of the room while they chatted about life or reminisced about the past; even then, I realised how many anecdotes they had to relate and how many of life’s pleasures are to be discovered in small details. Since then, I’ve stored away decades of chats and reminiscences and they help me remember the rich assortment of people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.
I hope I’ve carried these observations into my work as a writer. I’d never replicate anyone’s true story, but I draw inspiration from them. It seems to me we tell most about a character from how they react in a situation – the remarks they make or the tears they shed are testaments to their very souls. To me, the people who inhabit my books are real, and I often miss them when I finish writing.
I get so many kind messages from readers of my books, some of which touch me deeply. It’s a wonderful thing when someone says your writing has helped them in some way. I often cover difficult subjects, but I hope I do so in a compassionate and respectful manner, and I believe creating believable and relatable characters helps foster empathy.by
There are no hard and fast rules for writing that all-important first sentence of a novel, but I like to think of it as an invitation to a reader that will make them want to read on, a hint of what is too come without revealing too much.
An effective first sentence establishes an important aspect of the book. You could begin with a short statement of a fact that plunges the reader headlong into the story, or a line of dialogue that establishes the character of story’s narrator.
I think it’s best to avoid long, waffling description as this tends to put readers off, but a short, effective first sentence can set the style and mood of a novel, if it is comical, serious or even shocking!
What a writer is doing with a first sentence is showing the reader that something interesting is going on, encouraging them to take their first step into the world of the book.
Good luck to everyone taking part in NaNoWriMo.
With October being Black History Month, I am pleased to be welcoming Steve to Novel Kicks. He is here to talk about his book, Severus: The Black Caesar who was the first African Emperor.
About the book:
Severus follows the amazing true story of a rebellious boy who grew up in an African province and became the first Black Caesar of the Roman Empire, the head of a dynasty that would lead Rome through bloody civil wars and rapidly changing times.
As a young man, Severus hates the Romans and conspires to humiliate them. What begins as a childish prank unfurls into a bloodbath that sends Severus careening into his future.
Through a tragic love affair, dangerously close battles and threats both internal and external, Severus accrues power — and enemies — in his unlikely rise to become the most powerful man in the ancient world.
Without further ado, chatting about his book and the fascinating history behind it, it’s over to you, Steve. Welcome.
I was encouraged and excited to see that notable historian Patrick Vernon included the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus on his list of 100 Great Black Britons and that he ended up ranking as highly as 25 in the final list.
Severus died in York in 211 BC and was arguably the first black man to set foot on British soil, but he came not as a slave, but as Emperor. Behind this still little-known fact there is the incredible tale of someone who grew from rebellious youth to the most powerful man in the ancient world.by
It’s been over half a century since the Phoenix rose in the City of Light. Accused of grave crimes against the Obsidian Throne, Nathaniel Grey is cast out of Obsidia and forced to seek refuge with his peoples’ sworn enemies, the Lycans.
With the Szar and Necromancers plotting in the shadows, Nathaniel must mount a swift return to his homeland before war breaks out between the Regals and Lycans.
Whoever bears the Obsidian Crown, shall hold the fate of Horizon in their hands…
Chatting about his journey into self-publishing, it’s over to you, Farrell…
When I first started writing, I never imagined that there would be anything as time-consuming and difficult as my chosen passion. Indeed, even when it came to the day of publishing – after months of editing and finding the right cover to slap over the manuscript – I remained blissfully unaware of what lay around the corner.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
How did I make the decision to go into self-publishing, you might ask? Well, to put it quite simply – through a complete lack of patience. Not to say that lacking patience can necessarily be a bad thing sometimes. Certainly not, when it comes to the seemingly unnavigable mire that is self-publishing.
Like many other aspiring authors, I finished summer with my first, brand spanking new novel, Thorne Grey and the City of Darkness, ready to send out into the world. I bought the latest edition of the ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’ and started compiling a list of the most relevant agents in my genre. For those determined to go through publishers, I would not discourage it, but I do feel personally that it can’t hurt to have someone experienced within the industry backing your submission.
I sent out a lot of emails – and I mean A LOT – quietly optimistic that I would at least get some feedback. It might not be the desired backing, but at least something that would help improve my manuscript. Around 40% never replied. Of those that did, the vast majority sent back short but polite refusals. However, I was fortunate enough to receive a couple of emails with positive, encouraging feedback.by
IT’S CRUNCH TIME AND JENNIFER BARNES MUST SEIZE THE DAY
She’s stumbling through the mid-life crisis from hell…and then she receives a diagnosis that puts her future in jeopardy.
She has two choices. Crumble or follow the call of her heart. She chooses life, and embarks on an adventure trip to India armed with pick-pocket-proof knickers and a shewee.
To add to her woes she must travel with a group of seven strangers.
Among her travelling companions are an upper-class toff with bossy tendencies, and a wisecracking, gorgeous Glaswegian who says he’s in it for the adventure.
During the journey from one end of the Ganges to the other, Jen experiences the magic of the biggest festival on earth; rides the river’s rapids; and glimpses the wilder side of Varanasi.
Wanting pity from no-one, she hides her illness, and during the journey learns she’s not the only one with secrets.
Will opposites attract? Does Jen have the strength to resist the temptation of forbidden fruits? What will she discover about herself and others and, can she master the shewee?
Talking about her start as a writer, without further ado, over to you, Nell.
I’d like to welcome you with a quote from Ernest Hemingway.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”.
Sounds easy doesn’t it? Yes, I thought so too.
Well, now I know why so many people who start writing a book never actually finish it.
The seed was planted six years ago when I wrote a blog about my adventure trip to India. I knew with my series of anecdotes I had a powerful story begging to be told. “I’ll write that book one day” I kept telling myself, and for four years my anecdotes gathered dust on the hard drive of my laptop. Then something happened out of the blue which changed everything.
Two years ago I got the exciting opportunity to help make a pilot television show, which involved pitching the idea of my story as a comedy drama series to a panel of tv experts. Although the pilot wasn’t screened the production company loved my story, and that was the catalyst which compelled me to pick up where I left off.
I stopped telling myself “one day blah, blah, blah” and my mantra became “now is the time”.
I’ve learned to create and flesh out characters, master dialogue and outline compelling plot and structure. I’ve tested my writing mettle with descriptive prose, subtext and point of view. Crafting beginnings and endings and discovering theme and premise, I’ve found my voice.
I knew of the obvious trials and tribulations before I embarked on my writing journey; finding the time; writer’s block; self-belief; getting published amongst others. But I hadn’t anticipated the challenge of waking up in the dead of night when my Muse decides to burst into activity. Believe me, when that happens you can say goodbye to sleep – you’re not the one in control.
Without further ado, over to you, Barbara.
Hi! Thank you for letting me visit.
I’m going to share with you a little secret. As much as writers love telling stories, the actual process of writing a book can be a long and boring process. After all, you try and spend months with the same two people in your head. Therefore we sometimes – okay I sometimes – make up little inside jokes and references as a way of making the work fun.
What I’d thought I’d do today is share some of those behind the scenes facts. I’m also sharing some of the great historical facts I learned while doing research. Provence and Nantucket are both rich with history. Because Philippe is an historian, I was able to weave in a few facts, but just as many ended up discarded. (Until now.)
Lastly, I decided to share a deleted scene with you all as well. I thought it might be fun for you to see the kinds of things that editors suggest we cut.
So, without further ado, let me present, Ten Fun Facts About One Night in Provence (whether you wanted to know them or not.)
The Destination Brides series was originally named Bucket List Brides. We conceived the idea during a brainstorming session on Facebook Messenger. It began as an excuse for Donna Alward, Nina Singh and I to work together on a project. We asked Liz Fielding to join us because working with her was on our personal bucket lists.
Jenna Brown and her colleagues Shirley and Donna were named for my fellow romance authors Jenna Bayley Burke, Shirley Jump and Donna Alward.
In the book, Shirley is dating a man named Joe. In real life, Shirley will be marrying her fiancé Joe this fall.
Chateau de Beauchamp is based on a real five star French hotel: La Bastide de Gordes. Sadly, I haven’t been there. Never been to Provence either. I’ve spent exactly eight hours in France. Long enough to do a hop on/hop off tour of Paris.
Equally sad is the fact that those eight hours are more than I ever spent in Nantucket – despite living four hours away. By the way, The Whaler Inn in Nantucket – the Merchant auction takes place – is also based on a real hotel. The Ocean House Resort in Westerly, Rhode Island. That hotel was recently named one of the best in the country. Oh yeah, and Taylor Swift lives down the street.
The White Terror that Philippe refers to when he first meets Jenna was an uprising staged by the royalists following the French revolution. Members of the noble classes briefly fought back by conducting nighttime terror raids.
The Tour Magne in Nimes is real and you can climb the stairs. It was built by the Romans in 15 BC.
Philippe’s apartment is located in Arles. Vincent Van Gogh also lived in Arles. In fact, I imagined Philippe’s apartment overlooking the park near Van Gogh’s famous yellow house. While living in the Arles, Van Gogh decided to focus many of his paintings on a single theme: Sunflowers. Arles is also where Van Gogh severed his ear.by
Laura Bradford is the author of A Daughter’s Truth and I am very happy to be welcoming her to the blog today.
Emma Lapp tries to be the perfect daughter, to earn the loving embrace of her family and her Amish community in Pennsylvania. Yet she can’t quite win her mother’s smile–or her forgiveness for a transgression Emma can’t quite place . . .
Emma knows she’s the source of her mother’s greatest sorrow, having been born on the same day Mamm lost her beloved sister. The one bright spot has been the odd trinkets anonymously left at her aunt’s grave each year on Emma’s birthday–gifts Emma secretly hides because they upset her parents. But the day she turns 22, a locket bears a surprise that sends her on an unexpected journey . . .
Searching for answers, Emma travels to the English world and finds a kinship as intriguing as it is forbidden. But is this newfound connection enough to leave behind the future she’d expected? The answers are as mysterious, and as devastating, as the truth that divides Emma from the only family, and the only life, she’s ever known . . .
Talking about the birth of a story, it’s over to you, Laura.
With thirty-three published books under my belt to date, it’s not any wonder that readers are curious as to how I get my ideas. Do I keep a notebook by the bed? Do I pick the brains of my friends and family? Do I spend hours thinking about the next book?
The quick answers are no, no, and…no.
My ideas generally are born on a conversation I’ve overheard, the juiciest part of a 30-second radio newsbyte that piqued my interest, and/or, oftentimes, my own imagination.
A conversation, you ask? Sure. I think it was the sixth book in one of my earlier mystery series that came about after listening to someone talk about a co-worker with a penchant for pinching things off people’s desks. There was more to this woman’s story than just that, but that initial nugget was enough to send my thoughts racing. By the time I was back home that afternoon, one of my beloved series characters had an elderly mother with that same affliction…
A 30-second radio newsbyte? Absolutely. Think about it. When you’re listening to a favorite music station on the radio, the disc jockey likes to share quirky little news stories between songs. And it’s always the juiciest part, because they don’t have time to drone on for too long. So when I heard a story about a decades-old letter found during the renovation of a post office, my personal antennae shot straight up. What was in the letter? Who had sent it? What did/didn’t happen because it had never reached its intended destination? These were the kinds of answers the newsbyte didn’t give, but that was okay. Because, once again, the writer part of my brain filled in the answers all on its own. And, before long, I had the plot for what became my first ever romance novel.
Fun stuff, for sure.by
It’s finally the weekend. Julie Caplin joins me today with the blog tour for her novel, The Secret Cove in Croatia.
Sail away to beautiful Croatia for summer sun, sparkling turquoise seas and a holiday romance that’s forever…
When no-nonsense, down-to-earth Maddie Wilcox is offered the chance to work on a luxury yacht for the summer, she can’t say no. Yes she’ll be waiting on the posh guests… But island-hopping around the Adriatic sea will more than make up for it – especially when Nick, her best friend Nina’s brother, is one of them.
Sparks fly when they meet on board and Maddie can’t believe self-entitled jerk Nick is really related to Nina.
But in a secret, picture-perfect cove, away from the real world, Maddie and Nick discover they might have more in common than they realise…
Talking about the value of research, it’s over to you, Julie…
As I set my Romantic Escapes series in interesting, overseas locations, I’m often asked how I research my books.
These days with the internet at the tips of our fingers, it is so easy for authors to do their research from the comfort of their own homes and it is amazing what you can find out without ever having to leave home. However, as a writer, I’ve found that nothing quite beats proper first hand research thanks to those interesting little facts and insights that you pick up when you actually visit a place.
I’ve been to Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany many times and I feel I have a reasonable understanding of the cultures of those countries, however when it came to writing my first book in the Romantic Escape series, The Little Café in Copenhagen, I had never been to Scandinavia let alone Denmark, so it felt really important that I visited Copenhagen to get a feel for the country and it’s people.
And it was exactly the right decision, I felt much more confident to write about the city once I’d been there.
With book five in the series, I decided to set the story in the beautiful country of Croatia. This was inspired by my lovely work colleague, Gordana, who grew up in Croatia. In our quieter moments (not many in a school office admittedly) she would show us the most wonderful pictures of the islands, the sea and the beautiful little towns. When my editor gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to Croatia as the next setting, I immediately knew that I needed a research trip to Croatia and specifically the Dalmatian Islands.by
The fantastic Sue Moorcroft has popped into Novel Kicks today.
Now summer is here, I’m very pleased to announce that one of our favourite books of the summer, ‘A Summer to Remember’, by The Sunday Times Best Selling author Sue Moorcroft is available to read and to make things even better, it is now only 99p on eBook.
As a special treat, Sue as written the description below of what a hero is to her. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Over to you, Sue.
What do I look for in a hero of one of my books? Decent but no pushover – in fact, a man with a bit of edge. He’s loyal to those who deserve it, probably a leader in his way, a man with admirable qualities including, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, good looks! He’ll invoke emotions in my heroine, whether that’s making her laugh, cry or steam with rage. And I like something a little less-usual about him, if possible.
Aaron de Silva’s a landscape gardener, creating or regenerating beautiful gardens in stately homes. He also hand-makes guitars. He’s one of the few people in Nelson’s Bar to be able to get satellite broadband and is constantly changing the password or finding half the village in his garden ‘borrowing’ his internet access. His own garden looks out directly over the cliffs to the sea far below and whether he’s sitting on the bench alone playing his guitar or hosting an outdoor party, his garden is Aaron’s happy place.
Aaron has lived all his life in the seaside village of Nelson’s Bar, Norfolk. His family are around him, including a lively younger cousin, Harry, who causes Aaron a few hair-raising moments, and his much-loved brother, Lee, who Aaron spends much of the book looking out for. Lee’s emotionally fragile after being jilted six years earlier and he returns to Nelson’s Bar to live just as heroine Clancy Moss comes to the village too. And it’s Clancy’s cousin Alice who jilted Lee. That Aaron was wildly attracted to Clancy at the wedding-that-never-was only feeds his emotional maelstrom when he’s constantly forced into her company.by
A lovely huge welcome and hello to Lynne Shelby and the blog tour for her new novel, There She Goes.
When aspiring actress Julie Farrell meets actor Zac Diaz, she is instantly attracted to him, but he shows no interest in her. Julie, who has yet to land her first professional acting role, can’t help wishing that her life was more like a musical, and that she could meet a handsome man who’d sweep her into his arms and tap-dance her along the street…
After early success on the stage, Zac has spent the last three years in Hollywood, but has failed to forge a film career. Now back in London, he is determined to re-establish himself as a theatre actor. Focused solely on his work, he has no time for distractions, and certainly no intention of getting entangled in a committed relationship…
Auditioning for a new West End show, Julie and Zac act out a love scene, but will they ever share more than a stage kiss?
Lynne is chatting about her five favourite fictional characters today. Over to you.
Reading a novel, I find that some characters simply leap off the page and hang around in my imagination long after I’ve read the last chapter of their story. Not that they’d all be people you’d want to meet in real life, but here are five of my favourites:
In books, governesses are often prim and pitiful creatures but Jane Eyre, the heroine of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, is neither. Outwardly conventional, Jane is actually a rebel against the constraints society imposed on women of her time – her then-radical ideas about equality between the sexes, shocked many of the novel’s Victorian readers! The way Jane remains true to herself while overcoming hardship, and the fact she refuses to become the mistress of the man she loves, not because of her society’s morals, but because it would mean she would lose her own sense of her place in the world, make her one of the most memorable characters in English literature. I first read the book in school when I was a teenager, and have re-read it many times – I’m always delighted to renew my acquaintance with the subversive Jane.
The charming heroine of JoJo Moyes ‘Me Before You,’ Lou describes herself as ‘an ordinary girl leading an ordinary life.’ She is actually a wonderfully quirky girl, cheerful and optimistic, who could do all sorts of things, but the small town where she’s always lived is stifling her potential. When she takes a job as a carer for quadriplegic Will Traynor, she shows that she is both kind and resourceful – someone you simply have to root for, and hope that her life will get better, the whole way through her story. I don’t want to say too much and give away the plot of the book, but Lou Clark is a character that makes you both laugh and cry.by
Iain Maitland has joined me today with the blog tour for his latest novel, Mr Todd’s Reckoning.
Norman Bates is alive and well… He’s living just next door
Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.
The father: Mr Todd is at his wits end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home… with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.
The son: Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?
The unholy spirit: in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.
Iain is chatting today about getting into Mr Todd’s head for the novel. Over to you, Iain.
Mr Todd’s Reckoning tells the story of two men, Mr Todd, the father, and Mr Todd, the son, living in a small, rundown bungalow during a long and endless summer heatwave. The younger Mr Todd is unemployed and has various mental health issues. The older Mr Todd has just lost his job and is angry and frustrated. Each man drives the other mad.
Getting inside Mr Todd’s head – both heads really, the father and the son – was easy to do. The two men were based, at least to begin with, on my eldest son, Michael, and me. I was writing from deep within myself.
Michael went to university, as so many teenagers do, away from home. He struggled with issues of low self-esteem and anxiety when he was there. Left unchecked, these turned eventually into depression and anorexia. He spent time in hospital and five months in The Priory. For a while, we thought we would lose him, either through anorexia or by taking his own life.
I understand now, to some degree, how someone with mental health issues thinks and acts. I read some of Michael’s diary entries from when he was in the Priory – they were the basis of a memoir we wrote together when he was getting better, Out Of The Madhouse (JKP Books). The younger Todd began as a fictionalised version of Michael, or someone much like him – someone with some of his issues anyway.
I’ve written in the national media, The Guardian etc, and in a memoir, Dear Michael, Love Dad (Hodder) about my childhood. My father brought his teenage mistress to live in the family home with him, my mother and me when I was six. Strange times, and they got much worse over the years. Lots of intense and negative feelings that I had in my childhood – being unwanted, feeling like an outsider, believing I was useless – were easy to dredge up when I wanted them.by
Effrosyni Moschoudi is the author of The Raven Witch of Corfu series.
She is joining me today to talk about how Corfu has inspired her writing.
My love affair with Corfu began when I was only a child. Ever since I was about five years old, my Corfiot grandparents used to have me over for long periods every summer, first in Corfu town, then in the village of Moraitika.
Moraitika is situated on the southeast coast of the island between Benitses and the port of Lefkimmi. Back in the 1980s, Moraitika was a bustling holiday spot. My family ran both a souvenir shop and a small business of room rentals at the time, which meant I had plenty of opportunities to mingle with tourists on a daily basis, Brits mostly.
My sister and I often spent three-month holidays in Moraitika as youngsters, where we helped our grandmother with the cleaning of the rented rooms. Yet, there was always time for plenty of swimming and sunbathing, as well as for having fun in the evenings with a host of cousins and friends. This time of my life remains the most precious I hold in my heart, and this is even more so the case now that my grandparents have passed away.
I have strong family roots in Moraitika. My great-grandfather, the teacher and priest of the village in the turn of the 20thcentury is buried beside the old church. Part of his home that’s still standing in its entirety near the church was originally used as the school of the village. Today, it has been split up into small apartments which stay closed for most of the year and only come to life for 1-2 weeks at a time when descendants of my great-grandfather (my cousins, aunts and uncles) arrive for a short holiday. Having inherited the part of the house that once belonged to my grandparents, it is a precious bond with that special part of my life that literally comes to life for a few days every summer when I stay there.
Beside Moraitika, and across the river of Messonghi, lies a small fishing village of the same name. Unlike Moraitika that kept getting more built up over time, Messonghi has changed very little since I’d first laid eyes on it in the 1970s.by
Writers’ ability to create new characters never ceases to astound me. Indeed, for as much as we hear that Hollywood is “out of ideas,” the literary world seems to be full to bursting with them. In just the last few years some of the most noteworthy books I’ve read have concerned a girl on a semi-fantastical journey launched from her family’s Everglades gator-wrestling attraction (Swamplandia! by Karen Russell); a tale of President Lincoln’s son in a state of purgatory (Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders); and a spellbinding narrative in which trees are as much main characters as people (The Overstory by Richard Powers).
A great written story can be spun out of just about any sort of character, provided a writer has a good idea, a bit of talent, and a great deal of imagination. Even with the innumerable ideas that have been tried though, I still catch myself daydreaming now and then about the characters or stories I’d like to read (or perhaps write). Lately, I’ve been musing about some more modern ideas for protagonists that – to my knowledge – haven’t really been tried yet.
Here are a few I’ve come up with.
1. A Space Voyager’s Spouse
Space travel is nothing new in fiction. From realistic stories to full-fledged science fiction and everything in between, there have been all kinds of tales written about people venturing out into space. What we don’t see too much of though is writing about the people who might one day be left behind by those heading out on deep space explorations. For instance, imagine Mark Watney, the central character in The Martian, had had a wife on Earth. Wouldn’t her story be fascinating as well? A few years ago, when people were signing up for a highly publicized one-way ticket to Mars, there was actually a profile about one woman’s husband who was coming to grips with never seeing her again. I’d love to see this sort of character fleshed out more in a full-length, realistic, yet fictional account. It feels like an aspect of modern space exploration we don’t consider, yet one of the most deeply human components of it all.
2. A DJ
Personally I’m not wildly into the DJ or electronic music scene. Nevertheless, we have works of fiction pertaining to most every genre of music that’s ever dominated our culture – save for modern DJs (to my knowledge, at least). This just seems to be leaving something of a gap, and I would imagine that the right author could spin a fascinating story out of a character like this. Most of these people are fairly young when they make it big, and from that point forward they travel the world playing shows and festivals, with crowds full of people responding to their every whim. It’s an interesting life whether or not you like the music.
3. A VR World Architect
Virtual reality has been a hot topic for years now, and it’s had a place in popular fiction for decades. There’s fairly little talk, however, about who might design and control VR worlds if and when they become more sophisticated. In fact, the closest example I could think of in fiction (never mind books specifically) is the vaguely comical “Architect” character in The Matrix films. I’d be curious to see an inventive author draw up such a character though – someone with a god-like ability to control, manipulate, and monitor a VR world catering to thousands or millions of users in the near future. It’s not exactly a comfortable idea, but it’s an interesting character outline that could make for a fun read.
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.by
I am pleased to say hi to author, Sandra Danby. As well as sharing an extract with me today, she is also talking about her latest novel, Connectedness and the origin of her story.
To the outside world, artist Justine Tree has it all but she always has a secret that threatens to destroy everything.
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
Thanks for joining me today, Sandra. Over to you…
When I was writing Connectedness, second in my ‘Identity Detective’ series of adoption mysteries, I didn’t realise how much I was writing about food. Then a blogger friend who reviewed the book sent me an email saying I had presented her with a difficult biscuit dilemma.
While biscuits are something that remind Justine Tree of her childhood in Yorkshire, coffee is about romance in Spain. When she arrives as an art student in Málaga, Justine struggles to order a decent cup of coffee.
Then she meets Spanish student Federico who appreciates her difficulty and tries to help. I wrote this scene early in the genesis of the book and recreated it in our local bar in Spain, much to the bemusement of the waiter. I ordered six cups of coffee and tasted each in turn. The result was that I realised I liked café con leche, and my husband chose sombra. This is the coffee scene where Justine meets Federico for the first time.
****** start of extract*****
‘No quieres café?’ He looked at her as if she had asked for champagne.
Quickly Justine explained the difficulty she had ordering coffee, and then waited as Federico and the waiter exchanged a rapid dialogue interspersed with lots ofsí’sand no’s and much gesturing.
Finally Federico nodded. ‘Sí, vale.’
The waiter soon returned carrying a tray with six cups on it. Nodding first at Federico then at Justine, he retreated to the restaurant door beneath the shade cast by a large eucalyptus tree and watched.by
Forgetting Ophelia is the new novel from Julie C. Gardner (released today by Velvet Morning Press.) She’s joined me today to talk about her life in books. Over to you, Julie.
I owe my obsession with reading, at least in part, to my sister Nancy. More specifically to her tonsils. I was seven and my sister was six the year my family drove from California to Texas to spend Christmas with our cousins. On the way, Nancy broke out in yet another of her fevers, her throat swelling up, her tonsils the size of tennis balls. It was a truly miserable situation.
Why? Because Nancy, who was my only playmate on this road trip, was suddenly quarantined. No more alphabet games in the backseat of our car. No songs or hand-slapping routines.
On a pit stop at my Aunt Elaine’s house in Arizona, my aunt took pity on me and my loneliness, whisking me away to a local bookstore where she bought me The Secret of the Old Clock.
I curled up with my new mystery, gobbling the adventures of this titian blonde named…Nancy.
The love was instantaneous. I wanted to be a titian blonde. I wanted to BE Nancy Drew.
I read every book of hers I could get my hands on. Then the Trixie Belden series. Harriet the Spy. A Wrinkle in Time. Island of the Blue Dolphins. By the time I was ten, I decided to be Judy Blume, not merely devour all her books.
When I was in fifth grade, my parents took me to a bank where they were handing out free copies of James A. Michener’s Hawaii. The book was roughly the size of a toaster. As I announced my plan to read all 1,000 pages of this sprawling saga, my parents chuckled. “Go ahead!” (Of particular interest were the sexy scenes, since I’d recently watched my school’s puberty films.)
By then my sister had had her tonsils removed, and I’d moved on to Little Women, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities. A bevy of classics littered my nightstand and saved me from being completely boy-crazy. (Rest assured, I was still plenty boy-crazy. Just ask Nancy and my parents.)by
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin has been released today in paperback and I am so pleased to welcome her back to Novel Kicks. Thank you for joining me today, Rhiannon. What’s your writing day/space like?
The short answer is: never the same. I’m a stay at home mum of three, so I always have to squeeze in time and space for writing between a million other things. I used to think that I needed to create this perfect scenario to get some writing done, hours of uninterrupted time and no distractions. But I’ve found that I actually need a lot of movement while I write. I can’t sit in one place for too long and I have to allow my mind to wander. So, it’s not unusual for me to have multiple writing “windows” throughout the day and each in a different location around the house.
What advice about writing would you give to your younger self?
To start sooner! My whole life, people have suggested that I try my hand at writing, but I never thought that would be something I could do or be good at until I sat down to write Only Child. And then I fell in love with writing so quickly. It’s become such an essential part of my life, basically from one day to the next, and it sometimes feels like wasted time that I spent almost 40 years not writing. But maybe I had to be in the right place in my life to be receptive. And maybe it took the right story to get me hooked.
What elements are needed for a good novel?
A good novel to me is one that makes me miss it when I’m not with it. I have to want to carry it around with me even if I know I won’t have time to read it. And I have to think about it long after I’ve finished it. It’s hard to say which elements in a novel have that effect on me. A different voice certainly, one that I haven’t heard before, or a perspective I haven’t considered before. The characters have to be real and imperfect; they have to be people I’d like to meet in real life. I like to walk away from a story having learned something. And if the story made me laugh—or cry!— bonus points.
About Only Child:
We went to school that Tuesday like normal.
Not all of us came home . . .by
Hello and welcome to author Lynne Shelby, whose latest novel is called The One That I Want. She joins me today to talk about her writing process, from idea to editing. Over to you, Lynne.
An idea for a novel usually comes to me when I’m least expecting it. A sepia photo in an old family album, an overheard conversation on a train, a visit to a museum, have all inspired a story. Once I have that initial idea, I find that sooner or later my main characters appear in my head, demanding that their story be told. I only know the beginning and ending of my novel at this stage, so I make a few notes or at most a rough outline and then sit down at my laptop and start typing, introducing my hero to my heroine and seeing what happens – hopefully sparks will fly! There seems to be a moment when the main characters take over the plot, while minor characters have a habit of insisting on their own sub-plot – or even their own novel!
On a typical writing day, I aim to be at my desk in my writing room by 9.30. Before I begin writing, I read back over everything I wrote the day before to get back into the world of my story, and then, ideally, I write for about three hours, or maybe more, usually producing between 800 to 1,000 words – a couple of hundred of which will probably get deleted in the next draft!
In many ways, my actual writing process hasn’t changed a great deal since I started writing – it’s been more a case of my discovering which ‘tools of the trade’ work best for me as I write. When I was about three-quarters of the way through writing the book that was to become my first published novel, I went back and read it through from the beginning, making brief notes about the plot so far and a rough timescale over which the action was taking place. By then I had a clearer idea of where the story was going, and it was at that stage that I planned future chapters to make sure that the plot and sub-plots were tied up before the end of the book. When I wrote my second novel, The One That I Want, which was published in July 2018, I did much the same, except when I came to read through the manuscript, I decided to make a chart for each chapter with more notes about the events of the plot and each stage of my characters’ emotional journeys, and a detailed timeline. I found this made keeping the plot on track much easier when I came to the next draft, and I now do the same for each book I write.
The other way my writing process has evolved is that I edited my first novel as I wrote it, and also wrote the story in the order it would appear on the page. With my second novel, I edited far less while I was writing the first draft, and when I came to a scene that wasn’t working, I made bullet points for the main events that needed to happen, and went on to the next chapter – which meant I could see where the story was going far sooner.by
A big Novel Kicks welcome today to Dean Mayes. His novel, The Artisan Heart is due to be released by Central Avenue Publishing on 1st September.
“Hayden Luschcombe is a brilliant pediatrician living in Adelaide with his wife Bernadette, an ambitious event planner. His life consists of soul-wrenching days at the hospital and tedious evenings attending the lavish parties organised by Bernadette.
When an act of betrayal coincides with a traumatic confrontation, Hayden flees Adelaide, his life in ruins. His destination is Walhalla, nestled in Australia’s southern mountains, where he finds his childhood home falling apart. With nothing to return to, he stays, and begins to pick up the pieces of his life by fixing up the house his parents left behind.
A chance encounter with a precocious and deaf young girl introduces Hayden to Isabelle Sampi, a struggling artisan baker. While single-handedly raising her daughter, Genevieve, and trying to resurrect a bakery, Isabelle has no time for matters of the heart. Yet the presence of the handsome doctor challenges her resolve. Likewise, Hayden, protective of his own fractured heart, finds something in Isabelle that awakens dormant feelings of his own.
As their attraction grows, and the past threatens their chance at happiness, both Hayden and Isabelle will have to confront long-buried truths if they are ever to embrace a future.”
Dean is himself an Intensive Care nurse and he is with us today to talk about how he portrays Medicine in fiction.
It is often said that, as a writer, our best writing comes from what we know. I’ve tried to buck that trend over the course of my published works, but there’s an inevitable truth I’ve come to accept – that maxim definitely holds true.
Having been an Nurse for over two decades now – with most of my career focused in Intensive Care – both Adult, pediatric and Neonates – along with Accident & Emergency – I’ve seen things and gained experiences as a clinician that translate well into the realm of gritty fiction. There’s compelling character moments to be found and situations that offer high drama. At the same time, I have to be mindful that I’m writing for a general audience who may not be well versed in the minutiae of medicine. There’s definitely a high wire act to master in writing engaging scenes.
My soon to be released novel “The Artisan Heart” is probably the most comprehensive example of me using my career experience to craft characters and situations.
In the story, we are introduced to Hayden Luschcombe, a brilliant pediatric emergency doctor who has an uncanny ability in diagnosing his patients quickly, efficiently and accurately. He has saved many lives as a result and, as a clinician, he is held in high regard – even if, as a person, he is seen as socially awkward and “on the spectrum” as some colleagues point out in their interactions with him. In one scene, early in the novel, Hayden’s acute sense of observation proves to be life saving for a new-born baby who presents with a stricture of the intestine. In another powerful moment, further on, Hayden correctly suspects a child has been deliberately scalded in boiling water by her parents. During the scene there is a highly charged confrontation between the child’s step father and Hayden that serves to illustrate the variation in presentations to the department and the dramatic circumstances that can spill off from those presentations.
While I won’t blow my own trumpet here and compare myself to Hayden Luschcombe, I did I craft Hayden as an amalgam of my own clinical experiences, working in a busy, inner city children’s emergency department. There are probably two or three other doctors in Hayden, medicos who I’ve worked alongside and watched over the past 10 years. The two examples I cited above are based on real clincial presentations, the latter of which was indeed as emotionally charged as it appears in the novel.by
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
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