Eva Jordan in conversation with… Heidi Swain

Eva Jordan in conversation with Heidi Swain - Post Header

Last month you may remember I read and reviewed Heidi Swain’s lovely Christmas story, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair, set in Wynbridge, a remote, fictional town in the Fens. So for my column in this month’s edition of The Fens it seemed very fitting to interview the author who sets most of her novels in the Fens.

Heidi, can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing and did you always want to be a writer?

Originally from the Fens, I have lived in East Anglia for most of my life. I have been a Norfolk resident for around 16 years now and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Yes, I always dreamt of being a writer and have the stack of notebooks dating back to the eighties to prove it! However, it took a long time to pluck up the courage to take my writing seriously. I’ve been ‘writing with purpose’ for over six years now and by next summer will have had six novels published in three years.

I really enjoyed Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair but I must admit it is the first of your novels I’ve read, mainly because I’m a writer myself and my reading time is limited. However, from what I can gather, most of your novels are set in the Fens, can you tell us why? What is it about the Fens that inspires you?

Yes, the fictitious town of Wynbridge is entirely my own creation but very much inspired by my childhood. My family have farmed the flat Fenland landscape for generations and even though I moved away in my early twenties, when I began looking for the perfect setting my thoughts travelled back to the dramatic skies and far off horizon. I find the no-frills, raw beauty of the Fens both soothing and uncomplicated.

And finally, for any would-be writers out there, before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, what one piece of advice would you offer them?

That’s simple – If you want to be a writer, write. If you put it off until you ‘have more time’ you’ll never put pen to paper. Stop procrastinating and make a start. You won’t regret it!

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Many thanks to Heidi for taking part in my Author Q&A and if you’d like some more information about the lovely lady herself, links to her are as follows:

Website
Twitter
Facebook
Amazon

 

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… J.A. Schneider – Author of Her Last Breath

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I’m very pleased to be taking part in the Blog Tour for Her Last Breath, the second psychological thriller by J.A. Schneider,  released on October 21st and described as…

A chilling psychological thriller about a woman caught between two men…
Mari Gill wakes to horror in a strange apartment next to a murdered man, and can’t remember the night before. Accused of murder, she feels torn between her husband, a successful defence attorney, and a mysterious, kind man who wants to help. Can she trust either of them – or even her friends? Detective Kerri Blasco battles her police bosses believing Mari is innocent…but is she?

Here, Joyce writes about how and where she writes and I totally understand her need for peace and quiet and the hectic days of raising small children! 

How and Where I Write

 by J.A. Schneider 

First, disclosure: my children are grown. As any author with young kids knows, that makes all the difference. I remember entire days never taking my jacket off, dropping off, picking up, driving to lessons, waiting to try to write in the car, or making a mad dash to the supermarket and then running back to pick up again. And always, in the scrambled-brains head, trying to figure the next page, the next sentence. I wrote in the oddest places! Once I got a whole two pages down in a paediatrician’s waiting room, filled with yelling, bawling, sneezing, coughing kids. “A contagion ward,” my husband called it when I got home. Oh yeah, I came down with strep thirty-six hours later. Couldn’t write or do much of anything for days. 

Frustrating times, end of disclosure. I was, and am a good mom, but I’ve never forgotten those early, hard days of writing, the feeling of struggling against chaos. 

Which is why I now love as few distractions as possible…and sameness, predictability. Writing Fear Dreams and Her Last Breath, I tried to work daily from noon to six, give or take, in the same small room usually lying on my back on pillows with my laptop on my knees. It was pretty much the same writing my Embryo medical thriller series. The curtains stay closed because if I look out I’ll fret that there’s weeding that needs doing or quick – move the car, it’s blocking the driveway or no end of things. Even with the blinds closed, a gorgeous, glowing shaft of light will squeeze through and start slowly sweeping across the rug, and I’ll stare at it. Two minutes pass – it’s moved, the earth is turning faster than we realize, it’s like watching an ancient timepiece. Concentrate, self, I’ll think. Focus

Writing is incredibly hard, and it never gets easier. Thinking is hard. That, plus what I consider the hardest part: the first draft, the weeks and months of the daily blank page. For editing, after I’ve gone through all the tough, early drafts and I finally know what my story’s about…then I could work in Starbucks, or while waiting somewhere to pick up a loved one or even standing in line at the supermarket, going over a familiar page in search of typos. 

But that’s when the story’s down, the hardest mental lifting part is over. For the weeks and months preceding that, I practically need a monk’s cell to do the job. And even then, I’d notice the spider spinning her web and become fascinated, or hear a bird and want to run to see it. Once, on a windy November day, I heard the most delicate thump against the window, and I had to run out and see. A little sparrow had broken its neck, and for the rest of the day, my heart was broken. What do you do with a poor little dead sparrow? I got busy, it found is final resting place under a blue hydrangea, but I felt too depressed after that to work. 

Friends have suggested that I use earphones and listen to music. “It’s terrific,” they tell me. “Shuts out the world!” 

Wouldn’t work with me. I’d be constantly tempted to switch to Bob Seger, wake up my sleepy head with his “Roll Me Away,” or “Centerfield.” I love music. Have no need for earphones, actually, music often goes through my mind as I write. There are some Beethoven concertos that also help. 

But those daily six hours in my “cell,” argh, headache. Once, writing Her Last Breath, I decided to give my smart NYPD Detective Kerri Blasco a headache she had to force herself through. It worked. The scene got written because I made the character feel what I felt. 

Eureka! Writing that scene was my first taste of a new kind of progress – give my problems to my characters, let them slog their way through it. A lot of writing got done that day of Kerri’s headache. Maybe I won’t need that monk’s cell after all… 

Her Last Breath is available to purchase here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
 
J.A. (Joyce Anne) Schneider is a former staffer at Newsweek Magazine, a wife, mom, and reading addict. She loves thrillers…which may seem odd, since she was once a major in French Literature – wonderful but sometimes heavy stuff. Now, for years, she has become increasingly fascinated with medicine, forensic science, and police procedure. Decades of being married to a physician who loves explaining medical concepts and reliving his experiences means there’ll often be medical angles even in “regular” thrillers that she writes. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.
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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Ross Greenwood

Eva Jordan in conversation with Ross Greenwood - Lazy Blood - Post Header

I’m extremely pleased to introduce fellow local author to me, Ross Greenwood. Ross is the author of the debut novel Lazy Blood. Now published by Bloodhound Books with a brilliant new cover, I thought this would be a great opportunity to remind everyone why they should read his book.

Are your friends to die for?

Did you make friends at school?
Are they still your friends now?
Do you trust them?
Will is on his way to prison. His life is a mess, but who is to blame?

Here, Ross talks about what inspired him to write and he also gives us a brief idea of what to expect from his second upcoming novel The Boy Inside.

‘Lazy Blood.’

By Ross Greenwood

I never wanted to go to prison. It was certainly not one of my choices at school when asked. Doctor, postman maybe, radiographer (obviously later on), never prison. I had passed my A-levels but was so unfocussed I just decided to get a job. As the years went by I seem to find myself working in a variety of call centres. First, as a phone jockey and then as a manager. Good money, as I was good at it, but hardly inspiring stuff. I found myself never staying in one job for long. Even now, at 42, the last job at 4 years’ service is over twice as long as anything I had achieved before.

I found myself travelling to get my thrills. The usual holidays when I was young, 18-30 etc., European capitals, then later 3 months in Asia and a year in Australia. More obscure capitals followed, living in Spain and then a month in Indonesia and 3 months in South America, before unexpectedly (how did that happen) children arrived. It was at that point, as I was trying buy-to-let and being a landlord, that the need to write a book was becoming very difficult to put aside. I had met such a range of people and had participated in so many amusing, mad events that I hoped I had a book people would be interested in.

I began what eventually became Lazy Blood. Life gets in the way and soon the need to get a job outweighed the urge to finish the book. I was stuck anyway. I had managed to mould many different attributes of hundreds of different people into four likeable and flawed characters, but I was struggling for a start and a beginning; the bite that would make the book interesting and exciting.

I wanted a career change though. No more insurance companies and depressing Mondays, I wanted something exciting. I was going to get it. I actually wanted to join the Police but, as you can imagine, my CV wasn’t going to stand any kind of investigation. The prison service wasn’t so fussy. As government cuts bite it is even less so now, the staff are leaving in droves.

After the training, how I got through those first few weeks I will never know. Only a commitment to myself to finish what I started got me through that period. HMP Peterborough is a B-category local jail. The hardest type to work in. We were constantly understaffed, sometimes running 80 man wings on your own for hours at a time. It is a revolving door for some, the drug addicts and shoplifters, but it takes all the prisoners from Cambridge, Huntingdon and Peterborough Crown and Magistrates Courts.

So there were murderers, rapists and psychopaths merged in with dangerous drivers, embezzlers and drug dealers. All of them meshed together in a crazy world of violence, depression, suicide, anxiety, drug abuse, self-harm and disorganisation that they weren’t allowed to escape from.

Obviously after a little while I had more ideas and stories than I could ever imagine. I was desperate to get back to writing my book. All the time the book was percolating and composting in my head. I think that was one of my coping mechanisms. When they wanted volunteers to put riot gear on and break up a barricade, I would be there, sometimes just for the experience. When you work in that environment, you certainly know you are alive. Then another child came along and the book went back on the shelf.

By that time I had got to grips with the job. I found consistency, professionalism and politeness with a certain amount of apathy was generally the best way to get the job done. Aggression and arguing generally led to assaults and rage. The prisoners get to know you too. They know which officers will help them and they are also fully aware what a tough job it is.

Another year went by and I took child friendly hours and started to work in Resettlement. The idea behind it was that you assisted them when they arrived in prison. For example, ringing the bank for them, finishing tenancies and then when it was time to leave you set about making sure people had somewhere to go. Unfortunately that wasn’t always achievable.

This job still had its difficulties as some people were almost impossible to help. There are many charities out there and Peterborough Council do a brilliant job in housing people, but If you have been made to sign the sex offenders register or, worse, are an arsonist, then it is very hard to find somewhere for you to live as there is a duty of care to existing residents.

I got to chat to a lot of people and got much more material! I still wanted to finish my book and my boy gave me the opportunity. He was waking for his four a.m. feed and with a sense of determination that this was my time, I completed it in the early morning hours. Lazy Blood is available on amazon and has been well received. Just £1.99 until the 1st May.

Prison is a crazy place, not for the faint hearted. It is an unnatural environment but not what people expect. Prison for most is Bad Girls, Shawshank, Prison Break and Porridge. A British jail is none of these things. Most people there are not ‘bad’ people. Sure there are career criminals and obviously these figure strongly in the book too. That’s why we love crime books, but many have just done something stupid. Perhaps used their phone whilst driving and killed someone. Silly things with terrible consequences. Got involved with drugs and had to steal to service their habit. Maybe borrowed a few quid from work and things have got out of hand, or had a few beers and got in a fight. These things could happen to most of us. This is their story too. The list is endless and so are the ideas for characters.

I finally left the job after nearly four years to get my first book published and take a year out to do some more writing. I will look back fondly on my time there though. By far and away it was the worst job I ever had, but it was also the best job. I worked with some amazing people as well. The money wasn’t great, but the commitment had to be. I’m nearly six foot tall, mature (ish) and fourteen stone so I walked on those wings armed with physical presence and life experience. You had to bow your head to small school leavers on their first day in the job, whose nervous hands fumbled with confusing keys, as they entered the abyss.

What I wanted to focus on for my second book, ‘The Boy Inside,’ was one of the more depressing and sad parts of prison society. The young. Before you judge these boys in hoodies you should really have walked a mile in their shoes. I know that is a little cliché but many of them never stood a chance. Parents who were drug dealers for example, or no parents at all.

Once you are in the police and prison system, especially as a juvenile, it is hard to get out. The people in it often do not have the skills, knowledge or finances to climb out of the hole they are in. They become careless, chaotic and have no expectation of any kind of future. They are a burden to society and there seems to be little appetite to deal with these issues. There are many who work tirelessly with young people and try to get them back on track, often without being paid, but it is hard work and often unsuccessful.

Ironically to paraphrase The Shawshank Redemption, a life without hope is a terrible thing. Many of these issues are brought up in ‘Lazy Blood’ and the ‘The Boy Inside,’ but they are also books about persistence, determination and luck. In some ways, they are also modern love stories. I hope to change your perception of those who end up in prison, but after reading these novels there is one thing I can be sure of. You will never want to go there yourself.

Lazy Blood is out at Amazon now, read the reviews and you decide!

Ross Greenwood on Social Media:
Facebook
Twitter 

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Alex Gordon

I’m really pleased to have the lovely Alex Gordon as guest author on my blog today. Former Sports Editor of the Scottish Sunday Mail, Alex is the author of no less than twelve works of non-fiction about football. However, several years ago Alex had an idea for a whodunnit story and, choosing to ignore the advice of some publishers who cautioned against writing fiction, Alex had his first novel, Who Shot Wild Bill, published in 2013. 

The first of a quirky mystery series to include a former sports-journalist turned-detective (wonder where he got that idea!), Charlie Brock, as the main protagonist, Who Shot Wild Bill was then followed by the second book in the series, What Spooked Crazy Horse and Alex is currently working on the third in the series.

Here, Alex talks us through his journey from fact to fiction, and what a fascinating journey it is!

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So, I’m propping up the bar at The Kelburne on Millport’s Stuart Street, sampling a small libation and chatting to my good friend and owner Eddie Hughes and a few of the regulars. As the former Sports Editor of the Scottish Sunday Mail – in the good old days when the newspaper was read by three million folk back in the early-to-mid-nineties – the topic, not entirely unexpectedly, is about football and how the clientele in this wonderful little howf would make Scotland a world power again.

As the author of several football books – twelve at the last count – there is a question that has cropped up a few times. Now if I had a quid for every time I had been asked why I had never got around to writing a novel, I would be penning this while sipping a refreshing ice-cold pina colada beside the shimmering pool of an ocean-going liner floating nonchalantly and serenely somewhere in the Med off the coast of the South of France.

Okay, maybe a little far-fetched. How about sitting shivering in a leaking rowing boat somewhere in the angry, choppy Firth of Clyde with a few over-zealous seagulls using me as target practice?

Right, fair enough, that might be stretching the imagination too far, as well. Would you settle for me standing in a puddle in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street during one of the country’s innumerable and, apparently, mandatory traditional summer thunderstorms?

To tell the truth, there had been a germ of an idea swirling around my cranium for a whodunnit for several years. I had been brought up on a staple diet of Agatha Christie (mixed in with a mountain of football autobiographies and biographies) and I just can’t get enough of extremely clever mystery writers.

On one of the days in the Kelburne, as we once again put the world to rights, someone just happened to mention there had never been a recorded murder on Millport. That was the kick-start I required, a challenge that had been presented at that precise moment.

The Country and Western Festival was a couple of months away and, almost immediately, a conception of a storyline crystalised in my imagination. What if someone staged a murder during the wild west weekend? There were wannabe Buffalo Bills, Wyatt Earps and Billy The Kids all over the place and many, of course, were equipped with fake firearms strapped to their hips. I had seen these guys strolling around the Millport promenade making the place look like Dodge City. In fact, I hadn’t realised there were so many cowboys in Scotland and I’m not talking about dodgy car salesmen, roofers, plumbers, electricians and candlestick-makers.

I had also been informed by one gleeful shop-owner of a particularly “crazy” weekend when something like twelve thousand visitors had been on the island, according to Cal-Mac records. The idea came to life and all I had to do was fit the pieces together in the jigsaw.

After writing the football books, I knew several publishers and more than one advised me to stick to fact and leave fiction to others. Granted, it is unusual for a writer to get involved in factual tomes and then turn his or her hand to fabrication. I didn’t really see it as an insurmountable problem and the only way to prove it was to sit down and produce a novel.

And so ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ was written in 2013 in the same year I had two football books published – ‘Denis Law: King and Country’ and ‘Celtic: The Awakening’.

The opening line in ‘Wild Bill’ appeared from nowhere: “Wild Bill Hickok was smiling. Which was odd considering there was a bullet hole between his eyes.” I was off and running, just another seventy-odd thousand words to get down in print.

Conjuring up the title was easy. There was no big deal to it when you’ve been employed in newspaper production for almost three decades and responsible for God only knows how many headlines in the sports section of that day’s publication. The supporting words on the front cover were a little more tricky. It’s too easy to clutter up a page and attract the eye away from the main visual impact ie the title. I decided to go for a deck of three at the bottom of the page. The first line read: “One Country and Western Festival”; the second: “One dead body” and the third: “Twelve thousand suspects!”

I roughed up an image of the front cover – and again I could literally draw on my newspaper experience to achieve this – and the designer followed it to the letter. I have to say I enjoyed writing the fiction for a whole variety of reasons. For a start, the characters were all inside my head.

Writing a football book entails quite a fair bit of research. Trust me, there are so many annoying anoraks out there who will spot even the tiniest error. “That wasn’t a corner-kick, it was a free-kick. It was the fifty-ninth minute not the fifty-eighth.” Get a proper job, you lot!

Then there is the time-consuming interviews where sometimes the subject tells you at the last moment that he has to cancel and “is it okay to do it next week?” You say: “Yes, no problem, whenever suits”, while grinding your teeth to powder and sticking needles furiously into an effigy.

So, it was great to come downstairs every morning around five o’clock in the confident knowledge all my subjects were lined up and good to go; my hero Charlie Brock, a sportswriter-turned-sleuth (I wonder upon whom I based that guy) and the many characters of the island. I didn’t have to chase them down, pick up an exorbitant drinks tab that would guarantee my accountant sucking out his fillings nor did I have to hang around for an hour or so while my interviewee had been sidetracked elsewhere.

I had fun selecting the characters and, as you might expect, several of them were parodies of genuine worthies of Cumbrae. Sherlock Holmes qualities are not required to work out ‘Hughie Edwards’, owner of Hugh’s Bar, is, in fact, the aforementioned Eddie Hughes, mine host at The Kelburne.

And so it went on, inventing characters and their mannerisms, down to how they looked, how they talked, how they dressed and even their favourite tipple. It was a chasm away from what I had been used to. If you’re writing about Denis Law, for instance, you would expect most football fans, certainly the ones of my generation, to have a mental image of him immediately. Not so in fiction, obviously.

I had to describe Charlie Brock, the reluctant sportswriter-turned-sleuth, and that was fairly easy, I just made him a better-looking version of the author! I hasten to add that is not an ego trip. I am acquainted with a few fiction writers and all of them will tell you (privately, of course) they are the main characters in their novels.

Actually, when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it? When you’re in the middle of a chapter and you are describing some individual, you don’t have to work out if he’s the one with the glasses or she’s the one with the red hair. Charlie Brock is all over the book and if I haven’t a clue what he looks like then I better stop frequenting the Kelburne Bar!

But there was a lot of entertainment in putting real-life individuals into the book. Who was Tip-Toe Thompson? Bungalow Bob? Boring Brian? Mustang Mags? Jimmy B de Mille? And, my personal favourite, Vodka Joe? It became a bit of a guessing game on the island for awhile. 

The quirky mystery was originally published by Crime Lab and Ringwood this year took over the publishing rights. Thankfully, their managing director, the indefatigable Sandy Jamieson, bought into the character of Charlie Brock. He thought he was Scotland’s answer to America’s Kinky Friedman, an author whose work I was introduced to after publication of my first novel. I have to say I was vaguely disturbed to discover someone else on this planet shared the same fairly warped sense of humour as myself. Not sure how a bloke from Texas and an individual from Glasgow quite dovetail in their pursuit of mirth, but, amazingly, that’s exactly the case.

My second novel, which came out last month, is entitled ‘What Spooked Crazy Horse?’ and that, too, is set on Millport. The ‘Crazy Horse’ in question is a famous footballer who flees from one of the world’s most famous football clubs and turns up on the island where he is discovered, quite by chance, by the intrepid Brock. Why did Crazy Horse give up the riches, the fame and so on? Brock investigates and once again the plotline takes more than a few twists and turns.

The third in the series is being worked on at this very moment. It’s entitled ‘Who Stole Sitting Bull?’ and the first twenty or so chapters are set again on the Isle of Cumbrae. The ‘Sitting Bull’ character is a Scottish boxer who keeps getting knocked over, hence the nickname. Somewhere along the line – and this can only happen in fiction – he gets a shot at a world title and goes to Crete to acclimatise and prepare for the fight at Madison Square Garden in New York. He is mistakenly kidnapped on the Greek island and that’s when the fun and games begin.

I just hope the readers derive as much pleasure from my novels as I have in putting them together. What’s that they say in the tabloids? Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?

I’ll drink to that!

You can purchase Alex’s books on Amazon.
Who Shot Wild Bill here and here.
What Spooked Crazy Horse here and here.

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Amanda James

Summer in Tintagel

It is my great pleasure to introduce the lovely Amanda James, fellow Urbane published author, as guest author on my blog today. Amanda has written since she was a child, but never imagined that her words would be published. Then in 2010, after many twists and turns, the dream of becoming a writer came true.

Amanda has written many short stories and has four novels currently published. A Stitch in Time was published in April of 2013 by http://www.choclitpublishing.co.uk and has met with great success.

Also with Choc Lit are Somewhere Beyond the Sea and Dancing in the Rain (March 2014) and 
Cross Stitch (December 2014)

Her fifth novel, Summer in Tintagel, was released last month, July 2016, with Urbane Publications.

Blurb:

We all have secrets…… Ambitious journalist Rosa Fernley has been asked to fulfil her grandmother Jocelyn’s dying wish. Jocelyn has also passed on a secret – in the summer of 1968, fleeing from the terror of a bullying husband, she visited the mysterious Tintagel Castle. Jocelyn wasn’t seeking love, but she found it on the rugged clifftops in the shape of Jory, a local man as enigmatic and alluring as the region itself. But she was already married, and knew her husband would never let her find happiness and peace in Jory’s arms. Now as her days are nearing their end, she begs Rosa to go back to Tintagel, but is unwilling, or unable, to tell her why. Rosa is reluctant – she has a job in London, a deadline that won’t wait and flights of fancy are just not in her nature. Nevertheless, she realises it might be the last thing she will do for her beloved grandmother and agrees to go. Once in Tintagel, Rosa is challenged to confront secrets of her own, as shocking events threaten to change everything she has ever believed about herself and her family. She also meets a guide to the castle, Talan, a man who bears a striking resemblance to Jory. Will the past remain cloaked in tragedy, sadness and the pain of unrequited love? Or can Rosa find the courage and strength to embrace the secrets of the past, and give hope to the future?

Here, Amanda explains where she finds her inspiration to write.

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Thank you for inviting me onto your bog today, Eva. I’d like to talk to you about where I find my inspiration, a bit about Cornwall, and the idea behind my latest book.

I find inspiration for my writing in different ways. Sometimes I might overhear a snatch of a conversation in a shop or a cafe for example, and that sparks off my imagination. I have been known to jot down a few ideas right there and then! Sometimes ideas come from just people watching. I think it’s the ‘what if?’ questions. What if that man at that table has a dark secret? What if the waiter knows what it is and is blackmailing him? Is the man’s wife in the dark? What will she do when she finds out?

Other times I have absolutely no idea where inspiration comes from. My recently finished novel woke me up at three in the morning a few weeks into January this year. It gave me a title, the bare bones of a plot and a sketchy ending. I jotted it all down in a notebook that I keep in my bedside drawer and The Calico Cat was completed at the end of April.

Where I live is a huge inspiration of course. I have always felt a great affinity with the ocean. I feel alive, a sense of peace and at one with nature when I am on the beach or walking along the cliff tops. I especially love the north coast of Cornwall and am lucky enough to have realised a life-long dream and now actually live there! The people are really friendly too.

The inspiration for Summer in Tintagel grew out of my love for that area, but how the actual mystery behind the story of Rosa Fernley arrived in my head belongs to a visit to the ancient Tintagel Castle one cold but sunny winter’s day. I walked along the cliff tops by the church opposite and as I stood on the edge looking onto the rocks I thought how easy it would be to step off and end it all … if a person was so inclined. I’m not, in case you were wondering! Then the ideas kind of came to me from there. I visited Tintagel Castle again later and the sketchy parts became easier to see, bold and exciting. I thought that whole area was the perfect setting for a novel – full of history and mystery.

I loved writing this story and couldn’t wait to see where the characters would lead me. Jocelyn, Rosa’s grandmother has a big secret from her past which she passes on to her granddaughter. This secret and its consequences set a huge challenge for Rosa, and it was a challenge for me trying to keep the reader guessing about the mystery surrounding it all, yet enticing them enough to keep those pages turning! It was very tricky trying to resolve all Rosa’s problems too, but I loved every minute of it.

Mandy James

Amanda James on Social Media:
Blog
Twitter

Summer in Tintagel is available on Amazon here and here.

 

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Margaret Kirk

Tales From Elsewhere - Margaret Kirk

My second guest author post today is by the very intriguing Margaret Morton Kirk, a writer living and working in her home town of Inverness. She has written a number of short stories, one of which, ‘Still Life’, was runner-up in the ‘Bloody Scotland’ short story competition in 2015.  It was later adapted for radio and broadcast on Radio 4 as part of its ‘Scottish Shorts’ series.

‘The Seal Singers’, a semi-mythic tale set in Orkney, won third prize in the 2016 Mslexia short story competition.  And ‘Coming Home’, a chilling insight into one family’s fragmented past, was published in the Tales from Elsewhere anthology.

Her debut novel, ‘Shadow Man’ is set in Inverness and is the first in a planned series featuring ex-Met DI Lukas Mahler. It is due to be published by Orion in July 2017.

Here, Margaret gives us some very helpful advice about writing the dreaded synopsis for a book…something I definitely struggled with!

Synopsis is a four-letter word…

Well, not literally…even my maths isn’t that bad. But whatever kind of writer you are, it’s a safe bet that writing a synopsis is your least favourite part of getting ready to submit your work. When I first thought about entering the Good Housekeeping novel competition, I wasn’t too worried about sending off the first couple of chapters—I’d worked hard on them and thought they were probably pretty much there. The synopsis, though…I spent a ridiculous amount of time drafting and re-drafting, and even once I’d sent it off, I couldn’t help thinking it could have been so much better.  But should crafting a synopsis really be such hard work?

On the face of it, synopsis-writing doesn’t seem that daunting. Most agents tend to prefer brevity (with good reason, given the number of submissions they receive each week) so in theory, all you need to do is write a concise but compelling summary of your book, in 500-700 words.  How hard can it be?  After all, you’ve already written 90,000 or so…

And that’s part of the problem, of course.  You’ve probably toiled over your novel for several months, maybe years.  You’ve re-drafted, re-examined every word choice, and it’s now as good as you can make it. You’re feeling endlessly chuffed for even finishing the wretched thing, for heaven’s sake…and now you need to compress the essence of those 90,000 words into a page or less (and no cheating with the margins or tiny fonts, in case you’re tempted). 

It’s as though your imagination’s being forced to hold a closing-down sale.  Everything must go, all the plot intricacies, the character nuances you’ve worked so hard on, and what you’re left with looks like…well, not very much. Certainly, nothing that would tempt you to ask to see more, so how can it possibly work any magic on an agent?

Well, there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, I’ve attended writing events across the UK, and the consensus amongst the agents I’ve spoken to is that they won’t usually turn to the synopsis first. They’ll have a look at your writing and your cover letter, to decide a) if you can string two words together and b) if you sound like someone they could possibly work with. If they’ve done this and are getting good vibes so far, then they’ll turn to your synopsis.  They’ll do this to make sure that the clever premise and vivid writing of your first chapter don’t lead to a surprise intervention from little green men in chapter 28.  

Secondly—and I wish I’d known this earlier—you don’t need to tell them everything in the synopsis. The main plot thread, of course, and the events leading to the denouement, and the ending, absolutely…but you don’t need to detail every twist and turn along the way. If you do, unless your novel is linear and simple in structure, you risk getting bogged down in unnecessary and confusing detail. You need to give the essence of your story, not chapter and verse.

Sound easy?  Didn’t think so. But fear not, there is help out there: I’ve found the wise and sensible Emma Darwin’s blog a source of invaluable help on all matters technical.  And Write a Great Synopsis by Nicola Morgan is a handy little eBook you won’t want to be without. 

Follow their guidelines, and writing your synopsis needn’t be the carpet-chewing trauma that mine became…best of luck!

Margaret Kirk

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Patricia Dixon

Pat Dixon BooksMy first guest author post today is by the lovely Patricia Dixon. Inspired by her second home, Patricia has published four novels that are all set in France. Born in Manchester, Patricia studied Fashion at Preston Polytechnic in the 80’s before starting her working life in London amidst the mad world of couture and designer tantrums.When the sparkle eventually wore off she returned to Manchester to a more sedate existence where she spent much of her time travelling the UK producing clothing for high street stores.
Twenty five years later, after swapping fashion for bricks and mortar and working alongside her husband in their building company, she found herself with an empty nest and her secret ambition to write novels could at last become a reality. Here, Patricia explains what inspires her to write and why she loves writing.

I Writing !

I Writing ! I also love everything it has brought to my life and I’m not talking about my earnings from book sales, it is so much more than that.

When I tell someone I’m an author, I can usually predict the next three things they are going to say, just after the look of surprise has worn off.

The first will be – Really! So what made you decide to do that?

The second – Where do you get your inspiration?

And the third – I’ve always wanted to write a book!

The answer to the first question is always easy – I decided to write because I knew I had to try and if I didn’t have a go, I would always regret it. I wanted to do something for me, that I was interested in and felt that I could do well. These were the simple building blocks on which to start my journey which up till now has been a huge learning curve, immense fun and a voyage of discovery which I never want to end.

And the inspiration? – That’s easy. Apart from my second home, France, which is a never ending source of ideas, tastes, sights and smells (I’m talking about the countryside and French cuisine here) what inspires me the most, is people.

I’m intrigued by the intricacies of their lives, not glamorous glitzy stuff or fame and celebrity, everyday things like marriage, divorce, birth, death, infidelity, jealousy, secrets….the list goes on. To me, the mundane aspects of our everyday existence which pass by largely unnoticed, those daily occurrences, familial interactions that make us tick, cry, laugh, rage, they all have substance, are tangible and real, utterly fascinating.

Our emotions too are complex, especially the more negative ones, and at whatever age, we can be thoughtless, indiscriminate, selfish and obsessed, blinkered and controlling. The good, bad and the ugly all make up the human psyche, have an impact on the lives of others with actions or words and combined, they have the ability to hurt or heal, make us sad or joyous, be labelled cruel or kind.

I’m a watcher of humans, wherever I may be. I’m the guest at the party who sometimes likes to sit in a quieter place and take in the scene before her, or maybe I’m the one being told a secret by the lady who has had far too much to drink and now, I’ll never look her in the eye again. Occasionally, you’ll find me in the middle of a debate, doing a bit of subtle stirring or listening to the views of others and naturally, putting my own ten pence worth in. I’m frequently reminded afterwards by my husband that it’s never wise to talk about football, politics, and religion in a social setting….but we’d never learn anything if everyone stuck to that rather limiting and boring rule!

What inspires me is a big old food mixer containing all of the above and even when it looks like all is lost, the fight is gone and the end really is nigh, all our foibles and strengths come into play, the human spirit rises up and triumphs, vanquishes foes, lays demons to rest and lives to fight another day. I admire people who try hard, have courage in their faith of whatever kind, help others, listen, have a desire to learn, show humility, kindness and understanding of those different to themselves. And in an odd way, I’ve found that these characteristics, the things which inspire me to write and form my stories, have a knock on effect, acting as a catalyst.

The incubation process takes place during the telling of the tale and by the end, I hope to have passed on some uplifting glimmer of happiness to the reader, a positive energy. I receive the most wonderful letters from all over the world, lovely people telling me how much they enjoyed my writing and that I have helped them, made them laugh, sometimes there’s even a bit of crying, too. Most say they can’t wait for another book which in turn, encourages me to continue, so in one way or another, the Angel of Inspiration is doing a fine job (yes, I am a believer in God and his celestial comrades).

As I said at the start, it’s not all about book sales, it’s the feeling I get when a name, familiar or new, pops up on my inbox, a letter from a happy reader. I have made so many new friends, some of whom I correspond and chat with regularly on Facebook or by email. It varies from weekly to maybe once a year, sending best wishes at Christmas, or just passing on snippets of news and catching up.

Some of them touch my heart, like the lady (I won’t mention names) who wrote to me from France during the winter months as she nursed her husband. Sadly, he was nearing the end of his life but she told me that the words in my Christmas story kept her going, and even now, she drops me a line and lets me know how she is getting on in her life without him. After reading À Bientôt, someone recently widowed got in touch to tell me that Anna’s tale gave her hope and encouragement, feeling now that all was not lost and she had the strength to carry on. I have so many other examples, some of them humourous, like the lady at the end of her tether with a step-daughter from hell, just like one of my characters, Lady Louise of Limousin, and I’d somehow persuaded her out of actual bodily harm. Many readers now want to visit France or make return journeys after catching the Francophile bug again, and on reflection, I reckon the French Tourist Board owes me a large chunk of commission! I might drop them a line next.

I’ve had to disappoint people too, by admitting that Rosie’s gîtes don’t actually exist and one lovely chap told me he was actually beginning to believe the people in the trilogy were all real. Knowing that readers can connect and associate with my characters really is such an honour.

Writing has given me so much, the most precious being new friendships (I met one of my closest, dearest friends through this process) a large injection of self esteem, something interesting to talk about, a sense of pride in myself and knowing that my family feel the same way about me. It has also brought me a sprinkling of confidence, something which, as you get older, can gradually diminish without you noticing it has packed it’s bag and is heading out the door.

For example, nowadays, I actually quite like saying the words ‘I’m a writer’ but not at the beginning, I was far too shy. I can remember the first time I confessed, under duress I may add, which was in the tinned food aisle at Sainsbury’s, just by the spaghetti hoops. A lovely lady was conducting a survey and looked quite flustered after possibly being re-buffed by one in three of the shoppers. Being a soft touch, I hadn’t the heart to walk by or make up some weak excuse so ended up answering each and every one of her multiple choice questions. When she’d finished, I was asked my age and occupation which is when I caught the beady eyed stare from my son, who was already bored out of his brains and ready to kill, so I took the hint and told the truth. Unfortunately for him, she then proceeded to ask the three questions listed above, to which I gave her honest and detailed answer’s and by the end of our chat, she’d jotted down the titles of my books and promised to buy them as soon as she got home!

After that I was on a roll and now take great delight in filling in registration forms and questionnaires, a task which has resulted in making a few unexpected sales and conducting book related conversations in some rather odd places.

Whilst having a procedure carried out at the local hospital, the chatty nurse spotted my job title on the notes and as they wired me up to the machine, I ran through my titles and even gave a quick synopsis of each. Suffice to say, while my heart went through its paces and the machine whizzed and whirred, the technicians on the other side of the glass were having a quick Google and checking me out on Amazon! The dentist was slightly trickier and I don’t know how they expect you to talk while they have those metal thingy’s inside your mouth. Still, both the nurses and dental staff seemed rather chuffed to have had their very first author on the reclining chair of torture, or strapped beneath something resembling a prop from the Star Ship Enterprise.

There are many advantages to being an author, the best is being able to disappear into a world of your own making, escaping to wherever you so wish and returning only when you have to cook the dinner (which is frequently burnt or overlooked completely if I’m engrossed). You can write your own endings, become another person, alter someone’s fate, and dish out punishments and revenge with a few clicks of the keyboard. I’m not power mad, honest!

I can’t say I’m in the league of authors where my name is instantly recognised or I am afforded special treatment, but my son actually got his car insurance quote much cheaper when he altered my profession online, so I assume authors are considered extremely safe drivers, or perhaps it’s just that they never stray far from their desks and laptop, thus leaving the roads of Britain less hazardous.

Being an author also gives me an opportunity to help others, by writing reviews for other writers (you will find that we are actually a very supportive crowd which in itself is comforting and uplifting) donating some of my profits to charity and offering my books as prizes.

The notion of passing on what I have learned from this whole process (good and bad) leads me to the final comment mentioned at the start. When someone says ‘I’d love to write a book’ my response is, just do it! I have quite a few acquaintances who, during our cyber chats, have expressed their desire to write and I hope I have encouraged all of them to have a go. If you think you can make people happy with your words, have a story in your head and you are burning to tell it, or there’s something you need to get off your chest, then write it down.

Don’t ever assume that your life is ordinary, we are all unique, have probably loved and lost, experienced sadness and pain, joy and heartache, witnessed life with our own eyes and battled on through whatever this world throws at us. If this is you, I hope that the Angel of Inspiration has gone a bit mad and sprinkled hope all over these words.

Maybe some of what inspires me, has trickled down the page and ended up here, at the end of my ramblings and will be the spark that sets you off on your own journey. Alternatively, if you are just happy to read the writing of others, then I do hope that should you chance upon mine, you enjoy my books and they leave you above all content and smiling.

Right, I’m off to finish book five, I’m on the home straight now. I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes which I think you may like. I try to keep them in mind each day.

Wishing you all the very best,

Trish x

*What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make* (Jane Goodall)

*Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try*

Patricia Dixon

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