In conversation with…@WriterMJLee

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Author Q&A with writer Martin Lee 

Last month, in honour of Remembrance Day, I wrote about my Great Great Uncle William who is commemorated on the Menin Gate. How apt then, when writing my column, I came across author Martin Lee’s recently published novella, The Silent Christmas, which finds Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, trying to unravel a mystery concerning her client’s great grandfather in the trenches on December 25, 1914. Read my review here to find out more but in the meantime, I’d thought we’d do an interview with the author himself.

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

I’ve been a writer for most of my adult life, but not a novel writer. I worked in advertising for over 25 years as a copywriter and creative director. Every day, I had to go into work and, in the blink of an eye, come up with creative solutions to business problems for clients. About four years ago, I was offered a new job and I had a chat with a headhunter who asked me what I really wanted to do with my future. Without a thought, I answered ‘write novels’. And now, here I am, with The Silent Christmas being my tenth book to be published, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair series.

I really enjoyed The Silent Christmas, which falls into the historical fiction genre, however, I also understand that you’ve recently released a contemporary thriller called Where The Truth Lies? My question being, which do you prefer to write about, the past or the present?

I’m so glad you enjoyed The Silent Christmas, I really loved writing the book. The answer is both, because the challenges are very different for an author. When writing about the past, you have to put yourself in the mind of the character, his or her beliefs, attitudes and thoughts at the time. Writing in the present is much more about observation of people and events in one’s daily life. I think what links the two is the idea of character. What made people act they way they did, whether it is yesterday or 100 years ago. That’s what I love to write about.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research, it’s where you can escape the banal and ordinary and discover something new. As I write historical crime fiction, the mores, actions and beliefs of the time are present in all my work. Readers would soon point out (and have) anachronisms for me. Research allows me to stay true to the times whether its 1920s Shanghai, the Restoration period of Samuel Pepys, or the first year of the Great War.

I’m quite methodical, probably because I was at one time a researcher in history as well as my background in advertising. I start with some general books of the period, in this case the lead up and first year of World War One, so that I can understand what was happening on a macro level. Then I will read contemporary newspaper accounts of what happened. In most cases these are third hand, ie reporters writing about something told to them, but in the case of the Christmas Truce some newspapers published letters from men at the front describing what had happened. At the same time, I will look at newsreel footage, programmes or films on the subject. Some of the participants actually described what happened on film. Next I will read memoirs or first hand accounts of what happened. There are three or four published accounts of the Christmas Truce the best being by Henry Williamson, Bruce Bairnsfather and Bertie Felstead. Finally, I will look at contemporary documents such as War Diaries and individual diaries kept at the National Archives or, in this case, at Cheshire Military Museum.

I’m generally researching two books ahead of my writing. So at the moment I’m looking into the Emancipation of Slaves in 1834….

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Character. Why do people act like they do?

In The Silent Christmas, what made people, on both sides, stop killing each other for one day? What made people stop being enemies and become friends? And conversely, having met and chatted with their opposite numbers, how did they return to the trenches a day later and start killing again?

And finally, what one piece of advice would you offer any would be writers out there?

Read. Read. Read.

But read smartly.

How is the writer telling his story? What are they trying to say? How are they saying it? What would you do differently? How have they built up character and themes? What genre are they writing in? How would you describe this book in one sentence?

And once you’ve decided to be a writer, never, never give up. There will come a point when you want to stop. Don’t. Push on through to the end, because nobody will ever read an unfinished book.

Writer Martin Lee

M J Lee can be contacted at http://www.writermjlee.com, on Facebook at writermjlee and on twitter at @writermjlee. He’s nothing if not original with his handles (his words – not mine!).

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Book #Review of Corrupted by @simonmichaeluk @urbanebooks

 

My Book Review of – Corrupted by Simon Michael

Published by Urbane Publications

 

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Corrupted, the latest book by fellow Urbane published author Simon Michael, is the fourth in a series of noir gangster crime thrillers concerning criminal barrister Charles Holborne. However, although part of a series there is just enough back-story for it to read perfectly well as a standalone. Set in London’s swinging sixties, the author mixes historical fact with fiction, making Corruption a story that sees its fictional barrister, Charles Holborne QC, drawn into the real life investigation of a sex ring scandal that involved the Kray twins and some very powerful but corrupt politicians. The author’s note reads, ‘This is not a true crime novel, but the historical facts upon which it is based did actually occur.’

 

Written in close third person, Charles, the flawed main protagonist, narrates throughout and the story itself unfolds during several crucial months of 1964, namely Friday 26th June–Monday 24th August. Charles, a Jewish East Ender doing well for himself, building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer, is living with his partner Sally. On the surface all looks well, however, Charles is clearly at odds with himself. ‘An East Ender, born and bred on the wrong side of town, the wrong side of the track and the wrong side of the law, Charles has muscled his way into the Establishment by becoming a war hero, barrister… His acquaintances include Oxbridge graduates with country seats, titles and racehorses; they also include boxers, burglars and con artists. He no longer quite fits in anywhere, and everywhere feels like the wrong place.’

 

Charles is asked to help a young lad called Teddy who has been arrested and accused of murder. Charles agrees to take the case on and in doing so takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of 1960s London including the music, fashion and haircuts of the time. The author also gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of Fleet Street during the sixties, sprinkled with sporadic but fascinating historical facts like the time Charles takes a run past Jack Straw’s Castle–the pub and reputed favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker. However, at the heart of this story is a dark, uncomfortable tale about power, corruption and sexual abuse. Pacey, but often sombre and heart breaking, it also includes great dialogue and some extremely well written courtroom drama. A thrilling page-turner and one I highly recommend.

The Crime and Punishment of Writing and Publishing with @BetsyReavley @Bloodhoundbook @bombshellpub

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@BetsyReavley

On my blog I’ve been lucky enough to host some great interviews with some amazing local authors, and just recently that extended to a wonderful and informative Q&A session with prolific book blogger, Linda Hill, which you can read here. However, this month I’m really honoured to bring you an interview with someone who is both a successful author and one half of a successful husband and wife team behind the publishers Bloodhound Books and Bombshell Books, Betsy Freeman Reavley. 

  1. Hi Betsy, can you tell everyone a bit about yourself? 

I began my career as a writer and started my first novel when I was twenty-two years old. After having my first daughter and then getting married, I finally got round to finishing it and I was thrilled when an indie publisher offered me a contract and went on to publish the book.

The birth of eBooks and Amazon changed how people could publish and gave me, and my husband, an opportunity to start our own business, which we did in 2014. Bloodhound Books was born and we’ve never looked back. 

  1. What is the most difficult/frustrating part of being a publisher? 

The publishing world has changed since the birth of eBooks. Many authors still think of publishing in traditional terms and some authors struggle with the idea that our focus is on eBook sales, despite the fact we also produce paperbacks.

  1. As we all know, life can be difficult at times. Do you have a quote (either your own or someone else’s) or a motto that you try and live by, not just during the tough times but the good ones too? 

I listen to music to encourage me to focus my mind. Anything from BB King to Eminem will help me concentrate on what I want to achieve and keep going. The lyrics are all important to me and I take strength from them. I also love poetry, which inspires me to never give up.

  1. Truthfully, which do you prefer, writing or publishing?

They are both fulfilling but require very different skill sets. I couldn’t say. The pressure from publishing can be stressful but keeps life interesting. Writing is a lonely pursuit but one that I love.

  1. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? 

I used to read every review, taking each to heart, whether those words were good or bad. I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to leave a review, be it good or bad, but I’ve grown a thicker skin and now worry much less. What I do care about are sales figures. I am not a literary writer who does it for the art of writing. I am a career woman and I want to make a good living.

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer or a publisher?

I don’t think you can advise someone how to become a writer. It’s either in you to do it or it isn’t. Writer’s write, it’s that simple. As for publishing, I never thought I’d end up being a publisher but I have discovered that I enjoy business and the opportunity to give talented writers a platform. The one thing I would always encourage people to remember is that publishing is based on opinions. Do I like this book? Can I sell it? What one publisher may think another may disagree with. Neither is wrong. It’s all just opinion. As long as you remember that, then you’ll keep your head screwed on properly.

 

 

Book #Review of Over My Shoulder @pbadixon @Bloodhoundbook

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My Book Review of – Over My Shoulder by Patricia Dixon

Published by Bloodhound Books

This is the first book I’ve read by this particular author and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Over My Shoulder is no holds barred look at the physical, mental and emotional effects of a controlling, abusive relationship. A dark psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat racing through the final pages.

Set in Manchester, written in the first person, the story is narrated retrospectively through the voice of Freya, the main protagonist. Freya takes us back to where it all began, as a young woman in her twenties during the 1990s. I didn’t particularly warm to Freya to begin with. It wasn’t that I disliked her as such, but first impressions painted a picture of someone shallow, materialistic, more concerned about her looks and labels, easily impressed by those who could afford the finer things in life. However, I quickly realised my initial judgment was somewhat harsh. I also remembered what it was like to be a young woman at the start of my own adult life, all the angst, uncertainty and possibilities that lay ahead, the need to forge my own identity and yet at the same time the need to assimilate, to somehow fit in. So in that sense the author got Freya’s character bang on because she also demonstrated just how vulnerable young people are, how prone to manipulation they can be and therefore, despite coming from a loving and caring family, what a prime target for dangerous, and controlling individuals like Kane, they can be. Kane is the antagonist in this tale, a real anti-hero, the very epitome of evil, although, as with all good storytelling, the reader is not privy to the depths of Kane’s depravity until much further into the story.

Over My Shoulder is a dark tale of domestic abuse and the far-reaching, destructive effects such a relationship can have on the victim and their loved ones. Well written with a sympathetic understanding of a difficult subject matter, it is a rollercoaster of a read that also delves into the murky underworld of criminals and sexual predators. Gripping, hard hitting, it is not a read for the faint hearted but it is one that will find you taking a sharp intake of breath towards the conclusion and will also, perhaps, at times, like me, find you looking over your shoulder.

Buying links are below and if you want to know more about the author you can find her here:

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facebook.com/pbadixon

Amazon 🇬🇧

Amazon 🇺🇲

 

 

 

#Review – Anatomy of a Scandal by @SVaughanAuthor @simonschuster ‏

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My Book Review of – Anatomy of a scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Published by Simon & Schuster UK

They say timing is everything and to my mind this is a story that couldn’t be more socially and politically relevant. With global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, Anatomy of a Scandal delves into the murky waters of sexual harassment, political corruption and abuse of power, the underlying suggestion that the perpetrators of such deeds are often orchestrated by those who have obtained their position in life through privilege and opportunity.

The story centres around three key characters, namely Kate, a highly ambitious barrister, James, an MP and close friend of the Prime Minister, and Sophie, his loyal wife. Kate, working class, single and child free, has worked hard to forge a successful career for herself. With a few close friends and barely any social life she is a somewhat serious character. She also has a strong belief in right and wrong, in justice, which in part powers her ambition to succeed. However, as the story evolves, you can’t help but wonder what other forces fuel her drive. James, Oxford educated, is both charming and attractive. Unlike Kate, James, thanks in part to his privileged upbringing, has a strong sense of entitlement and, despite his charming façade, harbours a sanctimonious disdain for anyone he believes is beneath him, including most women. Sophie, James’s wife, recalls a conversation with her husband, “‘The trouble with women,’ James once told her, making the sort of sweeping generalisation he would never make in front of female colleagues but did at home, ‘is that they lack the courage of their convictions. Mrs Thatcher aside, they don’t have our self-belief.’” Sophie, with “a look that belonged to a certain class” is both snobbish and elitist, “James will be fine (she says when her husband is accused of a criminal offence) because he is the right type … and he has the prime minister’s patronage.” She is not a particularly likeable character but she does redeem herself towards the end of the story.

Part courtroom drama, part psychological thriller Anatomy of a Sandal is set during the present day with flashbacks to the past. Gripping and pacy it is extremely well written with believable, well-rounded characters. A timely, thought provoking study of class, privilege and toxic masculinity, eerily echoing recent and current debate. A brilliant read and one I highly recommend. A big fat five stars from me!

Author Q&A with Ross Greenwood @greenwoodross

 

Each month I write a column for local (to me) lifestyle magazine The Fens and after reading and reviewing the brilliant Fifty Years of Fear (book 1 of his Dark Lives Series) by Ross Greenwood , I thought it a good idea to chat to the author himself.

Pictured from right to left: Ross Greenwood, author Jane E James, and myself

From right to left: authors Ross Greenwood, Jane E James and me!

  1. Hi Ross, can you please tell us all a little bit about yourself? How long have you been writing and did you always want to be a writer?

I’m 44 and was born in Peterborough. I travelled all round the world, living in Australia and Gibraltar of all places. Then I met my soon to be wife walking a dog about 50 metres from my back door next to the River Nene! I had an urge to write a book about 10 years ago, but life (kids actually) got in the way. The drive to finish it became irresistible, and I wrote Lazy Blood between 4 and 6 am after being woken up by son’s request for milk.

  1. I really enjoyed reading Fifty Years Of Fear (read my review here) and from what I can gather your first three novels are set in or around Peterborough, can you tell us why? Is it important to you to ‘write what you know’?

Fifty Years, Lazy Blood and The Boy Inside are all set in Peterborough. I wanted to write about my home town as there are few books set here. The ones that are often portray a stark place that I don’t think exists. Characters from each book may pop up in the others, but they can all be read standalone. I worked in the prison for four years, and used my experiences there to portray modern lives told with humour. I find writing flows when you pull the information from your own memory.

  1. And finally, for any would be writers out there, what one piece of advice would you offer them?

You’ll find lots of people have advice about writing, but everyone’s journey is unique. The only advice that is guaranteed to be correct is to pick up your pen and begin. Then you are a writer, whatever anyone says. It’s unlikely you’ll make much money from it, but it’s a wonderful thing to do. Holding your own first book is an experience that’s within your reach, if only you pick up that pen and write.

Thank you for being a great guest, Ross. If you want to connect with Ross on social media you can find him on:

 Facebook 

Twitter @greenwoodross 

Website  www.rossgreenwoodauthor.com

 

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Ross has also recently released his fourth novel, Abel’s Revenge, which is getting some rave reviews. Check it out here and here.

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#Review – Fifty Years of Fear by @greenwoodross

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My book review of Fifty Years of Fear by Ross Greenwood

Independently published

Fifty Years Of Fear is one of three novels in the Dark Minds Series written by Ross Greenwood, all of which are set in or around Peterborough. Sad but thought provoking, this is a story about families, lies and secrets, brothers, loss and regret, and missed opportunities. It is also a reminder that we should never be too quick to judge others, and cautionary tale that shows how a simple act of kindness can literally change your life – forever.

The opening of the book tells us that Vincent Roach was born in 1966, the same year as England won the World Cup – “When I look back, it sometimes feels as though it was downhill after that.” Chapter one begins fourteen years later. It’s 1980 and Vinnie, unlike his older brother Frank, who comes across as a bit of a thug, is both quiet and unassuming. Both brothers live with their parents and their father has just had a stroke. A bit of a book lover, bullied at school, until Frank steps in, Vinnie is, for all intents and purposes, quite unremarkable. We are also made aware that a childhood accident at the age of seven has left Vinnie without much memory of his life prior to then. Chapter by chapter, we then follow Vinnie’s life for the next thirty-six years.

Through a series of flashbacks Vinnie starts to remember his early childhood, although it will take years for him to understand that things are not always as they first appear. Vinnie matures into a young man. Happy for a while we see him get his first taste of independence and a holiday to Cromer where he falls in love. Then comes the loss of his father, followed a couple of years later by the death his mother. Vinnie marries a girl he meets at work. He’s happy for a while but it’s short lived. When the newlyweds move into a new home of their own, with new neighbours, life slowly descends in the wrong direction for Vinnie. However, although at times sporadic, and despite Vinnie’s concerns that trouble and violence appears to follow him around like a bad smell, it is older brother Frank that remains a strong presence in Vinnie’s life, a much valued constant. Which proves especially true when Vinnie finds himself behind bars. Is Vincent really guilty of the crime he is accused of?

Fifty Years Of Fear is a gripping tale about misfortune and redemption and a reminder of just how easily things can go wrong in life, despite our best intentions. It is also a story about self-discovery, that people are not always as they first appear, including how we think we come across to others. Vinnie, written in the first person, is the main protagonist and storyteller throughout and, like all the characters we are introduced to, is both extremely well drawn with plenty of emotional depth. The author has a distinctive writing style and covers some upsetting issues with great sensitivity. Despite being quite an emotional read at times it is also well paced with a few moments of humour. There is even a mention of the infamous ‘Crown to Town’ pub-crawl – if anyone reading this lived in Peterborough and is old enough to remember! A remarkable story, one I highly recommend and one that will stay with me for a very long time.