Guest Post by Jeanette Hewitt – Author of Exclusion Zone

Exclusion Zone

 

I’m very pleased to introduce the lovely Jeanette Hewitt as my guest author today. Jeanette is the author of four novels including her latest, Exclusion Zone, described as “a gripping thriller that will keep readers hooked to the last page.”

A crime writer living in Suffolk, Jeanette has won the BritCrime Pitch Competition 2015 and was selected as a finalist in the Twisted 50 Short Story Horror Collection 2016. She is a member of the Crime Writers Association, the East Anglian Writers and is a regular at The Felixstowe Book Festival. Here, Jeanette gives us a fascinating insight into the importance of choosing the setting and location for her novels including Exclusion Zone.

Oh, and by the way Jeanette, I hope you will get round to publishing The Intelligence of Ravens – it sounds really intriguing!

 

The Setting of a Novel – Home or Away? 

I’ve never been able to write a novel that’s close to home – geographically speaking. It started with my first published novel, Freedom First Peace Later. Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the eighties, I didn’t really have an option on the location! My second novel, Worlds Apart, was a whimsical journey from the South of France, through the African wilderness to the sweeping moors of Yorkshire and it incorporated all of the places that I’ve been to and loved, or want to visit. Next up came The Intelligence of Ravens, an as yet unpublished tale of a brother and sister separated upon the invasion of their Jewish ghetto in Poland, with one sibling sent to Ravensbruck, a camp in Germany and the other making their way to London’s Soho. I adored the research into post war London, using the infamous Windmill Theatre as the pinnacle for my setting. Just yesterday I walked down Great Windmill Street, and the history is embedded there like it is in so many city landmarks, never to be forgotten.

Now of course we have Exclusion Zone, my debut crime fiction novel set in… Chernobyl! Although in Exclusion Zone I wanted it to be real and genuine so for the parts set in England I chose the location of Fitzrovia, a district of London that’s within easy reach of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Soho and the West End. I’ve stayed here many times and it is familiar and dear, a point which hopefully comes across in the novel. At the time of Exclusion Zone’s release I was reading Tuesday Falling, a brilliant debut novel by S Williams which is centred mainly in London’s underground. I found the book spellbinding, and the research that must have gone into it applaud worthy. Sometimes the setting in a novel makes the book, and as I write this I’m scrolling back through some of the novels I read last year to see if subconsciously the location made a difference. The Ice Twins, by S.K Tremayne, set on a tiny Scottish island of which the Moorcraft’s are the only inhabitants. Would this book have worked so well set in busy Birmingham? No, definitely not. You, by Caroline Kepnes is set in New York, and the characters are so hip and on point and up to date I don’t think any other location would have made so much sense. I understand her follow up, Hidden Bodies, is set on the west coast of U.S.A, so that will be interesting to see how that differs when I read it. Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds would not have been the sweeping epic that it is without the desolate Australian sheep country setting.

So I am a fan of a setting but more than that, it seems to come naturally to me when I’m writing. I’m a third of the way through the sequel to Exclusion Zone and it’s set in the beachside resort of Scheveningen and The Hague. Again, I’ve visited these places and they are among my absolute favourites. On my last holiday there I’d not even started writing the book, but I knew it was going to be set there.

Who knows, one of these days I may decide to write something a little closer to home. After all, as history has taught us, murder and mayhem can happen in sleepy little Suffolk villages…

Link to Exclusion Zone on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Exclusion-Zone-J-M-Hewitt-ebook/dp/B01BSOQHTE/Jeanette

Facebook: www.facebook.com/j.mhewittauthor

Website: www.jmhewitt.com or Twitter: @jmhewitt

 

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J. K. Rowling is my new best friend!

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J.K. Rowling Is My New Best Friend!

Something extraordinary happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Tuesday 8th March 2016 was International Women’s Day and being both a woman and a mother, I felt compelled to mark and acknowledge it. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day is regarded by most as a way to celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women.  And, although the world has made great strides toward gender equality, especially during the last several decades, major disparities between men and women still exist.  Women from all walks of life still face disadvantages. The United States, is still yet to see a female president, and among the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia, the tally remains at one.

Women around the world earn on average only 60 to 75 percent of men’s wages and are 65 percent more likely to work in informal, and often unpaid, work. However, although there is still some way to go, women in more developed countries have come a long way. Sadly, this is not the case for those living in countries still developing.

Activists for women in developing countries tend to focus on more basic issues like combating violence against women and providing equal access to vaccines, basic healthcare, and primary education. This led me to remember Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the neck and head by the Taliban in October 2012 in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. Malala was attacked because she advocated a girl’s right to an education; an idea that the Taliban fervently opposed. She was only 14-years-old at the time and amazingly, Malala survived. Therefore, as a woman and a writer and as she is also mentioned in my debut novel, what better way to mark International Women’s Day than with the following quote from Malala,

“Extremists have shown what frightens them most: A girl with a book”

So, just a little before 8am on that said Tuesday morning with a half-eaten piece of toast hanging from my mouth and phone in hand, I gave a final shout to my 17-year-old son reminding him that we really needed to leave if we were going to make his dental appointment on time. I hovered impatiently by the front door, hoping and praying that the banging and crashing sounds on the ceiling above my head, intermingled with some unintelligible mumblings of teenage speak, were a strong indication that my son had understood the urgency in my voice on this, my third (and final) call, and was finally getting ready to depart the floordrobe he calls a bedroom.

As I waited, I quickly found and posted the said quote from my mobile phone, to both my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Tapping various icons on my phone, I pressed send just as my son (or the grunt in the hood as my Dad calls him), made an appearance at the top of the stairs. Shoulders slumped as if bearing the weight of the world upon them, and, with much cajoling from me, my son slowly made his way down the stairs. Hoping I’d get at least a couple of likes or a couple of retweets for my recently published posts, as is the usual for me, I thought no more about them and we left the house and drove to the dentist.

My phone, although set to silent, was also on vibrate and ensconced somewhere in the black hole of Calcutta, otherwise known as my handbag, which was sat in the passenger foot-well of my car. Slowing my car down as I approached the red flashing lights of the railway level crossing on the way to my son’s dental appointment I heard my phone make a familiar buzzing sound. This is usually indicative of a text message or, as is often the case, someone has liked or retweeted something I’ve posted on Twitter. I felt sure it was my recent post concerning International Women’s Day and again thought no more about it. However, rather unusually my phone continued to vibrate all the way to the Dentist. When we finally arrived at our destination I quickly checked my phone and as suspected I had received likes and retweets for my Malala tweet. Hers were simple but brilliant words so I wasn’t surprised. However, what was surprising was that the bright screen of my phone informed me I already had 150 retweets – an all-time record for me.

“Wow,” I said rather proudly to my son, “see – look at the power of words.” He grunted something I didn’t quite comprehend and then climbed back into the car. We made a quick pit stop at the local supermarket – and still my phone kept buzzing. By the time we got to the supermarket I had approximately 350 retweets and by the time we left and made our way home I was up to 550 retweets. I was chuffed to bits but becoming more and more suspicious. By the time we got home I was up to 850 retweets and when both my son and I had unloaded the shopping I’d had another couple of hundred. Within the space of two hours I had had nearly 1000 retweets. My son, who couldn’t quite believe that me, his old mum, could get so many retweets investigated and discovered something I hadn’t noticed.

“You know why you are getting so many retweets don’t you?” my son asked. “No,” I replied somewhat perplexed. And then my son showed me – J. K. Rowling had retweeted my tweet. Finally, I understood why my phone had not stopped buzzing and why my tweet was so popular. J.K. Rowling has over 7 million followers so it’s hardly surprising my tweet for International Women’s Day was far more reaching than I could have ever hoped for.

My son looked on in mild amusement as his forty something year old mother morphed into someone that resembled an excitable 10-year-old – just for a few minutes (maybe hours!). I am a huge fan of J.K. Rowling and read all the Harry Potter books to my children when they were small and these days, putting the Harry Potter movies on is one of the only times I can actually get my teenage children to sit in the same room as me. I’ve also read most of the other books written by J.K. Rowling.

My phone continued to buzz throughout the day and night and still the likes and retweets kept coming. It is almost 2 weeks ago since that happened and I am still getting (although they are far less) likes and retweets for this post. It currently stands at 8300 likes and 6227 retweets. Unlike the title of this post and, sadly, J.K Rowling is not my new best friend but it was a wonderful privilege and fangirl moment for me to see my face on J.K Rowling’s twitter account. I’ve experienced a tiny taste of the kind of following she has and have realised how powerful social media is. J.K Rowling is not my new best friend but like me she is a writer and a woman and a mother. I am so very proud that J.K Rowling chose Malala Yousafzai’s words and my tweet to mark International Women’s Day.

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Guest Post by David Videcette – Author of The Theseus Paradox

THE THESEUS PARADOX KINDLE COVER

I’m very pleased to welcome David Videcette as my guest author today. David is a former Scotland Yard investigator who has worked on a wealth of infamous cases, including the 7 July London bombings in 2005.  Based on real events, The Theseus Paradox, which has had some great reviews, is a gritty thriller that asks,

Who masterminded London’s summer of terror?

Why can’t Flannagan make headway in the sprawling investigation?

Is Jake’s absent girlfriend really who she claims to be?

David, a former wannabe secret agent, explains what inspired him to write and how you should never judge a book by its cover…

 

Never judge a book by its cover…

First of all, I want to say thank you to the lovely Eva Jordan for inviting me over to her website and asking what inspired me to write.

It’s like those ‘About me’ sections on author’s websites, isn’t it? Write something about yourself – everyone uses the same format…

So here goes:

When I was a little boy I always dreamed of writing a book and being an author, I’ve always loved telling stories…My mum says I’ve had a pen in my hand ever since the age of four and I’ve never been able to put it down…

Hang on!

Stop!

For me this just isn’t true, though.

Sorry.

I never dreamed of being an author. No.

I wanted to be a secret agent, maybe even become James Bond. Or go to the moon, or perhaps even Mars. I wanted to design something that could raise the Titanic, or perhaps even discover a hidden pyramid full of treasure in the Egyptian desert…

But I couldn’t do any of those things could I? After all – I was just the son of a police officer and a cook who worked for the Ministry of Defence, and on top of all that, I went to a lowly, not so great, comprehensive school on an even less great, council estate.

I remember the careers officer telling me the year before I was due to leave school, ‘Keep your expectations realistic’. I guess he’d never had anyone tell him they wanted to be a secret agent or an astronaut? I told him I could do it. That he shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

He basically laughed me out of his office.

Never judge a book by its cover…

At fifteen – I still hadn’t grown up. All I wanted to do was – anything any other kids couldn’t do – the longest wheelie on my bike; the biggest bunny hop over loads of kids laying on the ground; I wanted to run the fastest, swim the farthest.

I stayed on at school and bummed around a bit, but I didn’t see anything that grabbed my attention much – and nothing that I thought would put me on course to being a secret agent. So I went out and got a job…

A really glamorous one at that…

Now, working in Argos, picking items off the shelves was a far cry from being a secret agent or an astronaut, I know – but I learned lots of things at Argos.

Argos was different. It didn’t try to be like any of the other stores on the high street. Argos didn’t look very pretty from the outside. Inside it was simply a counter with tills. It had no products on display. There was no maze of stacked shelves to negotiate to try and find your way in or out of the store, no gimmicky products in the window to grab your attention. It looked rubbish from the outside. It did its own thing, doing what customers wanted. It was an incredibly successful store and customers queued out of our doors most days to buy products.

Never judge a book by its cover…

But the limited glamour of Argos eventually wore off. I tried many other jobs, but nothing captured my heart and soul.

So in the early nineties, I joined the police service. I worked hard at police training school and learned all the techniques and laws that I needed to know in order to become a uniformed officer.

On 9th February 1996, not long into my career as a police officer, I was inside a police building in south London, near to the Blackwall tunnel. At 7pm there was loudest bang I had ever heard. It shook the windows and rattled the doors. I felt the vibrations through the ground.

Half a mile away, the IRA had bombed Canary Wharf with a huge lorry bomb. Two people were dead and £500 million pounds worth of damage had been caused. We rushed to assist our neighbouring police borough, just across the river and I had never witnessed a scene like it. Complete devastation. Gigantic tower blocks had been gutted by the blast, some of which had been moved off their foundations.

It was then, standing there, that I made up my mind. I wanted to join the Anti-Terrorist branch. I wanted to be part of the team that tracked down terrorists and prosecuted them.

But you had to be a detective to do that, so – I set about becoming a detective.

Twenty-two years after my hopeless meeting with the useless careers officer, having spent blood, sweat and tears working my way through borough policing, CID and organised crime, I was finally successful in being selected for the Anti-Terrorist branch – a highly trained, Specialist Operations unit of the Metropolitan police.

On 7th July 2005, the unimaginable happened. Four suicide bombers murdered fifty two people on London’s transport system. On 21st July, just two weeks later – another attempt was made to do the same.

As I desperately hunted for the answer of why this had happened and who had done it, I hunted down suspects, chased terrorists across continents, and had unprecedented access to the world of spies, secrets and foreign intelligence agencies.

Argos was but a distant memory.

I never made it to the moon, or Mars, or even to becoming a fully-fledged secret agent – but I came as close as a boy from a council estate could. On leaving the police, I realised that the careers officer had been wrong to tell me I couldn’t follow my dream.

I realised that I’d seen and done some very special things, things that you sometimes only see in films, and that I wanted to share these things – to share with others what it was really like and what happened behind the scenes. Not the made-up, fantasy Hollywood version, but the real, first-hand, British police account.

And now I share those experiences in hard-hitting, gritty, reality-based crime thrillers.

My books don’t follow the fashionable patterns of the publishing world. I don’t write for certain markets or platforms. I won’t change the story to fit what a marketer says will sell or what is politically correct. And that’s because I have to tell it how it happened. My books are what they are. Like me.

Never judge a book by its cover…

 

David’s debut thriller, The Theseus Paradox, set against the backdrop of the 7/7 London bombings, was voted in the top ten books of the year by five independent review websites. It became a number one bestseller in its Amazon category within a month of launch and the truth behind the fiction has since been investigated by The Sunday Telegraph, The Mirror, The Sun, Sky and ITV News.

 

The Theseus Paradox is available to buy for Kindle or in paperback at Amazon, through Waterstones online or Blackwell’s Bookshop online or via The Book Depository.

 

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You can connect with David Videcette via:

Facebook

Twitter

David’s website

Guest Post by Jackie McGregor and The House That Built Me

 

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Today I am very honoured to introduce Jackie McGregor as my Guest Author. Jackie is a journalist, columnist, poet, author and editor. Born in Northern Ireland she writes a weekly column for the Belfast News Letter. Here Jackie discusses her new charity book The House That Built Me, a unique anthology of memories from famous faces from the worlds of television, music, film and books. Jackie explains how, not long after losing her father, a ghost hunter came knocking at her door and provided her with the inspiration for the book. The book is dedicated to Jackie’s parents, both of whom have sadly passed away and both of whom suffered from Alzheimer’s. It is a charity book and 100% of the royalties will go to the Alzheimer’s Society. So read on everyone and dig deep for a very worthy cause.

GRIEF ENCOUNTER

My book, The House That Built Me, was inspired by an encounter with a ghost hunter.

I was coping with the recent loss of my father who had passed away from Alzheimer’s, when a knock came at my door and there stood a stranger. He smiled at me as though he was waiting for me to recognise him, but I had no idea who he was.

‘I’ve come back!’ he announced, ‘I used to live here’.

I looked at him thinking that perhaps he might have a form of dementia. I had become so used to strange behaviour whilst visiting my father in the nursing home, that I had begun to put down any odd antics exhibited by an elderly person as dementia. I had lived in the Alzheimer’s bubble for so long!

‘I think you must be mistaken I’ve lived here my entire life!’ I said eyeing him suspiciously. What on earth did he want?

‘I’ve been away. I’ve come back for my mother’s funeral. I’ve been living in New Zealand for over twenty-five years but this was my childhood home. I lived here from 1944-1964,’ he sighed sadly.

‘There was a beautiful tree here,’ he said pointing to where indeed, over thirty years ago, there had once stood a cherry blossom tree. No one else would have known that. He went on to describe how the house used to look. He recounted features from many years ago that had long since gone, like the little sun room and the rockery. I knew from those memories that he had once existed within those same walls. He had come in search of his past. He kept looking over my shoulder into the house as though he was trying to catch a glimpse of something or someone familiar. Perhaps he felt particles of his parents still remained there, maybe they do! I often sense a presence in my home, but it’s a calming, reassuring one. I love the house. I feel my late parents left whispers of their souls behind in the rooms, their invisible footprints cover the floors where they once walked.

I have always been fiercely protective of the house, having being born and raised there and now I am bringing up my own son in the same rooms where I grew up and where his father and I did our teenage courting.

I didn’t invite the man in. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do so. His presence felt akin to my spouse’s former lover returning to try and rekindle their romance. The stranger’s visit aroused a feeling of possessiveness within me.

We spoke for over half an hour. He told me of how his mother had died just two weeks short of her hundredth birthday. I shared with him how both my parents battled with Alzheimer’s. He described how he used to catch the tram at the top of the street to school. I revealed the paw prints in the cement on the driveway belonged to my dog who died when I was eleven.   In all honesty we weren’t really listening to each other. We were caught up in memoires of yesteryear as we relived happy childhood moments in our minds whilst verbalising them into the air.

Eventually we parted. As he turned to walk away he said he had felt comforted from seeing the house again and asked me if it had been a happy home. I assured him that it had.

For days afterwards, I couldn’t get his melancholy pilgrimage out of my mind. Turning on the radio I heard a song called The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert. I had never heard the tune before but oddly it described exactly the experience I had just had with the ghost hunting stranger. The lyrics described a woman going back to her childhood home because she felt she had lost her way in the world, she thought that perhaps revisiting where she was raised would help her heal. It was then that the idea came to me of putting a charity book together. Perhaps I could collect childhood memoires from celebrities to help those who have lost their memories through Alzheimer’s.

I received some wonderful stories from Hollywood actress Carey Mulligan, Lorraine Kelly, Alan Titchmarsh, Fearne Cotton, Ed Balls, Anne Widdecombe, Shane Richie, Bill Oddie, Cherie Blair and lots of other well-known people. Many wonderful authors kindly got involved too including Trisha Ashley, Lisa Jewell, Milly Johnson, Margaret James, Deborah Moggach, Christina Jones, Jill Mansell and more. Along with the memories I wrote about my own experience of being a carer twice over to two parents who took Alzheimer’s one after the other.

I constantly try to raise awareness about this disease through my newspaper column which I have been writing for the Belfast News Letter for the past eleven years.

Compiling and writing this book was incredibly therapeutic and sometimes extremely difficult.   I revisited those terrible days of isolation and hopelessness in my mind and recalled how my mother, whom hadn’t recognised my father for years, suddenly had a moment of clarity days before her death. Mum rose up from her hospital bed called dad by name, clung to him and told him that she loved him for the last time. As I pictured that precious moment and the delighted expression on my father’s face, tears ran down my cheeks and trickled into the keyboard.

The celebrity memory contributions are sometimes very revealing, making them a fascinating read as we glimpse into the writer’s past.  Bill Oddie wrote emotionally about his mother’s mental health problems, Rowan Coleman recounts the day she saw Jesus’s sandal in the sky and Jo Wood remembers her childhood home which had a vicar buried beneath the front door step!

I am very grateful to all of those who took the time to participate in this charity book of which 100% of my royalties will go to the Alzheimer’s Society.

The House That Built Me will be published by Accent Press on 19th May.

Jackie McGregor    Jackie McGregor byline (2)

The  House That Built Me can be pre-ordered here.

Jackie also wrote They Can’t Take That Away From Me described as  “a musical memory tour with the stars to a place where it is yesterday once more.” This book is also raising funds for Alzheimer’s . Available here.

 

Guest Post by Jane E. James – Author of The Long Weekend

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I’m very pleased to welcome Jane E. James as my guest author today. Jane is the writer of the novel The Long Weekend, described on Amazon as exploring…

the theme of maternal love and how the ‘sins of the mother’ affect the daughters. It also focuses on how dysfunctional patterns repeat across generations. Jane E. James weaves gothic and supernatural elements through her novel to create a truly chilling read that will appeal particularly to fans of mystery novels.

Here, Jane gives a fascinating insight into how she became a writer, how The Long Weekend had originally been a screenplay and she also reveals some amusing lesser known facts about herself (Britain certainly has got talent!). I must admit, I love George Bernard Shaw and also share some of her guilty pleasures…and I’ll always bring the wine!

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‘If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in the closet, you’d best teach it to dance’ George Bernard Shaw

Thank you to Eva

First up, I want to say a huge thank you to Eva Jordan for having me. It’s an honour to be here. As well as being a fab writer and a busy mum, Eva works super hard promoting other authors on her blog. I don’t know where she gets her energy from. But I’d like some.

Introduction

My name is Jane E James and I am the author of ‘The Long Weekend’ which was published just over a year ago. I would describe my novel as a dark and disturbing mystery, full of secrets, with strong supernatural elements. It is set against the haunting backdrop of a wintry Norfolk coastline and a remote lighthouse that overlooks the bleak North Sea. The story follows Hazel Ladd, who has spent her life hiding the love she feels for one of her daughters and disguising the hatred she feels for the other. After fifteen years apart, they all meet up for a long weekend. Hazel’s guilty secret is finally torn from her and the long-anticipated reunion ends in disaster.

A Bit About Me

I’ve been married to Darren for ten years now and between us we have four grown up children. We live in the country and share our home with three dogs (used to be six). We couldn’t be more different but he makes me laugh… a lot. ‘The Long Weekend’ is the first novel he’s ever read all the way to the end. I have a day job, working as a Sales and Marketing Manager, but my writing comes before anything else. I guess that’s why I’m not terribly fussy about what I do – I’ve written obituaries for local newspapers; worked as an Estate Agent; handed out Fixed Penalty Notices for people who let their dogs’ poo in public places and driven a fork lift truck! When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading or walking the dogs. Saturday is my main writing day and I love to finish off by listening to classical music, cooking something a bit special and opening a bottle of red. I love Saturdays.

My Background

Born the youngest of six children to a straight talking Yorkshire man and a deeply superstitious Welsh mother, I was an outdoor country girl who loved ponies, milking goats and tramping the countryside with one dog or another. On my walks, I discovered a love of old abandoned houses and got a real thrill out of being alone in the woods. In short, I discovered that I loved being afraid. Being the tomboy of the family I would rather climb trees with my brothers than learn domestic skills (the same still applies today). Not coming from an academic background, my fish and chip shop owning parents viewed my obsession with books as suspicious. As far as they were concerned, paper was for wrapping chips in!

My Writing Experience

For as long as I can remember, I have always written. But I didn’t always know I wanted to be a “writer”. The two seemed distinctly different to me. At various stages of my adolescence I might have said I wanted to be an actress, a nun, a jockey, or even a stand-up-comedian – but I just couldn’t bring myself to say the word ‘author’ out loud, especially not to my family who already considered me prone to melodrama (which of course I was – for one day I would be an author of fiction). It wasn’t until I was in my forties with two grown up children of my own that I started to finally do what I’d always dreamed of. But even then I couldn’t imagine having the patience to sit down and write a whole novel; so I went back to night-school and completed a diploma in screenwriting instead. Even ‘The Long Weekend’ started out life as a screenplay, but I soon realised pitching to television companies and producers wasn’t for me. Truthfully, the idea terrified me. Deciding I was more suited to a solitary life in the country as an author, I sat down to write my first novel at the age of 49 and ‘The Long Weekend’ was born. I already had the screenplay. It was all the head start I needed. Back then I don’t think I would have been brave enough to take on a first novel from scratch.

What Inspires Me To Write

I have always been interested in dark, disturbing subjects and find damaged & dysfunctional people far more intriguing than ordinary, everyday characters, especially unreliable narrators who never let truth get in the way of a good story. But if anyone asks me ‘What inspires you to write?’ I always feel a little tongue-tied as if I should know the answer. The truth is… I don’t. But I do believe it’s a combination of many different things – books I’ve read; writers I’ve admired; films I’ve seen and places I’ve visited. But I also think dreams play a major part in forming ideas. I suffer from a condition known as sleep paralysis, which is a temporary inability to move or speak, that happens when you’re waking up, or less commonly, falling asleep. Although you’re awake, your body is briefly paralysed after which you can move or speak as normal. But with the paralysis come the night terrors when you experience horrific visual hallucinations of monstrous figures; of someone else being in the room with you (often at the foot of your bed) and of footsteps and voices all around you. And if you’re really unlucky, like me, you also get to sleep walk and talk to strangers in the corner of the bedroom. If anyone knows what it is like living in a ‘paranormal activity’ household, just ask my husband. He’s scared stiff by my night time activities but they do tend to give me ideas for my writing. And ‘Mr Naughty’, a fictional fiend from ‘The Long Weekend’, was bred out of these episodes. As for how and where I write – that can be anywhere at any time When I am in the process of writing I scribble notes everywhere – in the bath, on the loo and in bed. My memory isn’t what it used to be and I tend to forget things if I don’t write them down. As a new author, I don’t feel I have the experience to offer advice to anyone else at the moment, especially those who are in the process of writing their first novel or short story. But I will say this, say ‘yes’ to everything when opportunities come your way. I really struggle with public speaking but I still say ‘yes’ whenever anyone invites me along to give a talk on my book. I keep going; in the hope that I will one day get better at it.

Why I Wrote ‘The Long Weekend’

I hoped writing ‘The Long Weekend’ would be a cathartic experience and I spent many hours during the writing of it, thinking about my own children. Anyone who has visited my website or read the dedication in the book will understand why the emotions in the story felt real to me, as I know from personal experience what it is like to be estranged from one’s own children. I don’t deny that some of the scenes in the book are harrowing, disturbing even (it certainly isn’t for everyone), but the heart of this novel explores the theme of maternal love and how the ‘sins of the mother’ affect the daughters. It also focuses on how dysfunctional patterns repeat across generations. Motherhood is an extremely complex relationship and each of us has a different story to relate. I grew up in the knowledge that I was my mother’s least favourite child and I wanted to use this experience in my writing.

The Location for ‘The Long Weekend’

The novel is set in Hunstanton, where walks along the beach on cold winter days helped me gather my thoughts. The bleak, wintry atmosphere also suited my main character’s mood. I remember being intrigued by the Old Lighthouse and knew that I wanted my novel to be based there. But I never properly visited the building until after I’d finished the book because I wanted my imagination to run wild with its mysteriousness. Once it was published I went to stay for my very own ‘long weekend’ (alone, I might add) in the lighthouse. It was not at all as described in the book, although the tower really was quite spooky. Even so, it was easy to imagine the presence of Hazel and her daughters there with me.

The Ups and Downs

Writing and publishing my first book has been a real rollercoaster ride and I can honestly say I have learned loads from the experience; especially about myself. One of the most hurtful things I have seen written about me (as part of a review) is that I am ‘arrogant’. Honestly, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I cry at anything and suffer from terrible low-esteem. Ask my husband, who is always having to prop me up. Whilst writing can be an incredibly humbling experience, the highlight for me has been meeting readers who have shared their own personal stories with me. I much prefer chatting to people as friends rather than the formality of giving talks; a prospect that scares me to death. It’s taken a while, but I have finally come to accept that bad reviews are just part of the process of being a writer; but in the beginning they are crushing. There have been days when I have not wanted to get out of bed because of what somebody has written on Amazon. But I do get up and I do write some more and I thank my lucky stars for the positive reviews. They have meant so much to me. I wish I could hug each and every one of my readers who has enjoyed ‘The Long Weekend’. In general, the experience has been hugely rewarding; besides I can’t stop now, can I? So many people have put out a generous hand to help me along the way – my local Waterstone’s for one, who stocked the book and threw me a launch party; the townspeople of Hunstanton; local press; other authors (you have been inspiring), and many a local librarian and independent book shop. I am grateful that so many people wanted to help.

What’s Next?

I’m currently in the process of writing my second novel, ‘The Crying Boy’, which is another screenplay adaptation. I’m hoping to complete a first draft by the end of July 2016. For this one I’m counting on the support of Kelvin Mackenzie who once wrote nice things about me in his newspaper column, saying “It would be a crying shame if this story didn’t make it to the big screen”. The book, another mystery, is about a couple who have already lost one little boy only to gain another in the shape of a cursed ‘Crying Boy’ painting when they move into their new home on the Yorkshire moors. When the grieving mother learns that the boy in the painting was deaf, like her dead son, she uses sign language to communicate with his spirit and soon becomes lost in another ghostly world. Some of you may remember the ‘Crying Boy’ painting from the eighties; which would be found undamaged amid the ruins of houses burned down by fire. The subject is once again personal to me as my own parents inherited one of these portraits and as a child I can remember being fascinated by the myths and folklore that surrounded it. Being a superstitious type, my mother was one of the thousands of anxious owners who sent their copy to the “Sun” newspaper to be burned. I own several of these paintings myself and even have one hanging on my study wall. My husband may not be quite so keen on having the ‘Crying Boy around but he keeps me company while I write. Part of my research for the book involved going back to night school once again to complete a course in sign language; a genuinely worthwhile experience.

Silly Stuff

Here are a few silly facts about me you may not know. I’ve always wanted to be assigned hazardous duties (as in Charlie’s Angels). I once auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent with my performing Jack Russell Terrier, Fury. My guilty pleasures include The Nolan Sisters, Catherine Cookson, pickled onions and crisp sandwiches. I once had a phobia of street lights and had to cross the road to avoid them (I was convinced one would fall on me). My favourite things (other than reading or writing) are my dogs, hubby, log fires, red wine and Saturdays. I’m also partial to taking spooky selfies – evident by my picture. You can catch up with me on Facebook or Twitter (always happy to make new friends), but make sure you bring wine… or you can like my Facebook page here https://t.co/EdzV31aT0y if you prefer. Here is the link to my website www.janeejames.com.

If you wish to purchase a copy of The Long Weekend you can find it here and here.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!

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“A Mother Is She Who Can Take the Place Of All Others But Whose Place No One Else Can Take”     Cardinal Mermillod

Happy Mother’s Day! 

Today is Mothering Sunday or, as it is often referred to, Mother’s Day and this post is dedicated to my wonderful Mum. Her’s has not been an easy journey. Born in 1950 she came from a place where things were done very differently and attitudes towards women, although beginning to change once she became a young woman, were a far cry from where they are today. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go if men and women are going to be looked upon and treated as equals, but it still begs belief that less than fifty years ago my Mum earned half the wage of a man doing the same job – merely because she was a woman. Also, when he was 19 years old my mother lost her beloved older brother in a motorcycle accident and when he was 26 years old my mother also lost her second oldest brother in a car accident. My mothers life, like many I’m sure, has been filled with up’s and downs ever since and just three years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fortunately she kicked cancer’s arse and is in remission. However, for as long as I can remember, my Mum has remained upbeat and positive. She has always been there for me through my own troubled times and, of course; she is (and I suspect will always remain so) my number one fan of my writing. Thank you Mum for your never-ending supply of love and support and words of wisdom. Thank you too, for believing in me, encouraging me and thank you for being my inspiration.

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Mum and I (more years ago than I care to remember!)

Mother’s Day or as it is traditionally known, Mothering Sunday, is celebrated throughout the world. Each year on the fourth Sunday in Lent, people show their appreciation to their mothers, usually with gifts and cards. This is a tradition believed to have started approximately 400 years ago in the UK when young people, who worked long hours, usually away from home, were given a day off by their employers so they could return to their ‘mother church’ where they had been baptised. This enabled them to spend time with their families and they would often arrive bearing small gifts such as flowers for the celebration.

Mothering Sunday is sometimes confused with Mother’s Day, which is held in the USA on the second Sunday of May. Ultimately, both days are in similar in their celebration of Mothers but their origins are different. In the USA, Mother’s Day came about as a result of Anna Jarvis ­­who was a social activist and founder of Mothers’ Day Work Clubs. She also played a significant unifying role within her community during the American Civil War. Jarvis campaigned relentlessly for a national holiday in honour of mothers and succeeded in 1909 and is now known as the founder of the Mother’s Day holiday.

However, regardless of it’s title – Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday – today is the day we reflect upon and (hopefully) give thanks to our Mums, often for all the good they do and continue to do – like my own Mum who has been an absolute rock throughout my life. The relationship between a woman and her Mother is extremely important. It has even been suggested that the mother-daughter relationship is so powerful it affects everything from a woman’s health to her self-esteem. Dr Christiane Northrup, author of the book Mother-Daughter Wisdom (Hay House), says: “The mother-daughter relationship is the most powerful bond in the world, for better or for worse. It sets the stage for all other relationships.”

Notable mother-daughter relationships include:

Anne Boleyn and  Queen Elizabeth I  – Although Anne (the second wife of Henry VIII and the first English Queen to be executed for treason) died when her daughter was very young, it has been suggested that Elizabeth carried a locket ring with a picture of her mother Anne, on one side and herself the other. She is supposed to have carried this ring with her, all her life.

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(the photo of the locket ring is via the BBC News website here)

“I would rather be a beggar and single than a queen and married.” – Queen Elizabeth (to the Ambassador of the Duke of Wurtemberg).

  • Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

“Strengthen the female mind by enlarging it, and there will be an end to blind obedience.” – Mary Wollstonecraft.

  • Marie Curie and Iréne Joliot-Curie.

“That one must do some work seriously and must be independent and not merely amuse oneself in life — this our mother has told us always, but never that science was the only career worth following.” – Irène Joliot-Curie.

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane.

The author of the Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder says she couldn’t have written the books without the support and resilience from her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.

“Happiness is something that comes into our lives through doors we don’t even remember leaving open.” – Rose Wilder Lane.

  • Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis

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    Janet Leigh with Tony Curtis (father of Jamie Lee Curtis)

“My mother was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. There are moments when I remember her beauty, unadorned, unposed, not in some artificial place like a set or a photo call but rather captured outdoors in nature, where she took my breath away. When those moments surface, I miss her the most.” – Jamie Lee Curtis.

The mother-daughter relationship (partly based on my own experiences) is of course a theme explored at great length with much humour throughout my debut novel 183 TIMES A YEAR.

Lizzie is the exasperated Mother of Cassie, Connor and stepdaughter Maisy and the frustrated voice of reason to her daughters’ teenage angst. She gets by with good friends, cheap wine and is often found talking to herself – out loud. Below is an early extract of Lizzie reflecting on her relationship with her 16-year-old daughter Cassie, after enquiring as to how her English exam went.

Lizzie 

Where did it all go so wrong? I’m standing midway on the stairs, stunned at the sudden eruption that has just taken place. I merely asked Cassie how her English exam went. Forgetting to ask about her Maths exam had resulted in accusations of failing to take an interest in her life so I was pretty confident remembering this one would surely score me a few brownie points. How wrong could I be? I’m still not entirely sure what I said—or did—that was so wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have corrected her when she said Shakespeare wrote in Islamic pentameter instead of iambic pentameter. Or perhaps it was when the conversation turned to Chelsea and her “undivorced” parents. It doesn’t seem to matter that Scott left me for another woman and had another child—side lining ours—it’s my fault anyway. Everything’s always my fault.

I stare at the photo of Cassie hanging on the hallway wall. She’s about 6 years old, her hair is in pigtails and her nose is wrinkled from smiling. No actually—she’s laughing. I feel sad. She loved me then. Maybe Scott leaving us was my fault and my teenage daughter’s malaise is entrenched in me?

How had I failed to notice Scott’s avarice and ambition? I don’t remember him being like that when we first met. The house, the cars, the golf club, the other women—all took priority over us. I—we—were never going to be good enough for him. God only knows why he married me? I feel wretched. Right now the only emotion I can remember from our marriage is worthlessness. What the hell was it all about Scott?

I look at a photo of Simon—I know Cassie calls him “Simple Simon”—on the same wall and smile. The irony is—he is far simpler than Scott. He doesn’t buy into all that status shit. He loves me for me and he loves the kids—all three of them—and that’s certainly not easy at times. I was burned and frightened when I met Simon but he promised me he was in for the long haul. He didn’t lie.

I run my fingers along the collection of framed snapshots of times past—ephemeral moments gone but not forgotten. I look at a smiley, fat cheeked Connor held, almost in a vice like grip, by an equally smiley but toothless Cassie. My thorax tightens and my vision blurs. It was shortly after that photo was taken, Scott left us. I still don’t get it though. Can’t get my head around his complete lack of interest in Cassie and Connor. I understand his apathy towards me but not the kids? Why Scott? Why?

I use my hand to reach up behind me and rub the back of my neck—twisting my head from side to side in a bid to banish the stresses of the day. It’s not really working so I perch on the stairs for a moment—staring into space. An unwelcome feeling washes over me. The black dog has made an appearance and looms at my feet. I shake my head, suddenly angry. I use my hands now resting on my knees to push myself to a standing position again. I will not give in to this ridiculous melancholy threatening to descend upon me. Yes, Scott is a fully-fledged, first class arse-hole but as far as I’m concerned it’s his loss if he chooses to miss out with Cassie and Connor. And besides, the bottom line is simple, teenagers—whether you are married or divorced, single or co-habiting, straight or gay, rich or poor—simply don’t like their parents. And that’s official. Every parenting book I’ve ever read clearly states that any parent hoping to be liked by their teenage children is on a damned path of discovery.

Looks like I’m f****d then. 

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If you wish to read more of my debut novel it is currently available to download for just 99p for the next two day on Amazon here and here. And for all those suffering Mum’s of teens out there, just remember, although at times the mother/(teenage) daughter relationship is a road fraught with diverse and complex emotions, it can also be – like many strong, female friendships – very enriching and rewarding. 183 TIMES A YEAR is a poignant, heartfelt look at the complex and diverse relationship between a mother and daughter set amongst the thorny realities of today’s modern family.