Eva Jordan in conversation with Gina Kirkham @GinaGeeJay

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A Q&A With Retired Police Officer and Author Gina Kirkham

Last month, you may remember my book review (here) of the politically incorrect, hilarious rollercoaster ride of a read, Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong by fellow Urbane published author Gina Kirkham. Loosely based on her own experience in the police force, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a chat with the lovely lady herself.

Gina, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? I understand you are a retired officer of the Merseyside Police Force?

Oh gosh, how I would love to tell you about myself in an exciting and mysterious light but in reality I’m just Mr & Mrs Dawson’s eldest, Emma’s mum, the current Mrs Kirkham (as my hubby calls me!) and ‘prinkly’ Nan to Olivia and Annie and a baby grandson due any day. They are the best titles in the world to hold though.

I was a mature recruit to Merseyside Police, joining when I was in my early 30’s as a then single mum with a little girl, after my first marriage ended in divorce. I joined at an exciting time for women, there were no barriers to achieve any role or rank. I chose to remain a front line uniform response Constable throughout my career as I was very much a ‘street’ cop but took on the role of Crime Manager in my final 12 months prior to retirement after being diagnosed with a bone condition and arthritis. I think age just caught up with me, I found I could chase the naughty boys and climb walls after them, but I couldn’t get down again on the other side. Nothing ruins your street cred more than to be left dangling from a concrete pillar!

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How long have you been writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

 I always feel a little guilty about my writing as I didn’t have the dream, desire and author angst to be a writer, initially, so I think I’m a bit of a fraud. I loved penning stories as a child and books were my escape to other worlds, but I had never carried a serious hankering to write. I would joke at work that I would one day write a book based on my experiences as a police officer, but never dreamt that it would actually happen. I had been retired a little over six months and my idea of chilling in my garden drinking gin wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, so I began to imagine an alter ego who could recount my stories. I put pen to paper to scribble, then fingers to my laptop and 18 months later I had an 86,000 word manuscript.   I think I surprised myself…. I know I definitely surprised my family.

Your bio states that Mavis Upton, “Constable 1261… Ace police driver and apprehender of naughty people” is actually your alter ego, but how much of her character is actually based on you?

 In truth, quite a lot. I suppose Mavis is me as I write through her eyes. The personal side to her life in the books mirror very closely my own life and I try to use the experiences and emotions I had to bring her alive. A lot of the police stories are based on true events and legendary stories passed down over the years, with some artistic licence thrown in but if you were to think ‘oh that couldn’t really happen’ – then they are the incidents that actually did!

In Handcuffs, Truncheon I deal with the loss of my own mum through Mavis. I wept buckets when I had finished that chapter, but as sad as it was, it was also very cathartic for me. Writing can truly be a release and a healer.

What is the most difficult/frustrating part of being a police officer and how does that compare to the most difficult/frustrating part of being a writer?

 Gosh, there are so many ways that being a police Officer can be difficult and frustrating. I found death, particularly in the young, heartbreaking. Even more so if that death was as a result of crime, suicide or road traffic incidents.

The most frustrating for me personally, were not guilty court results when I knew the offenders were guilty, and poor sentencing that didn’t reflect the seriousness of the crime or give the victims a sense of justice and protection. The mountains of paperwork is a huge frustration too. No police officer wants to be sitting in a police station or custody suite with their nose buried in it when they are needed out on the streets.

The frustrations I experience as a writer are, by contrast, very minor….although I still swear like a trooper when they rear their ugly heads – which is often. The most difficult is writing humour when you don’t feel ‘funny’. 2018 wasn’t my best year. I have cared for my Dad who has Alzheimer’s for the last five years, and sadly he had to go into a residential home, I felt I had failed him. A few months later I had to undergo spinal surgery, which had a lengthy recovery time. I desperately wanted to write, but I’d temporarily lost my ‘funny’… until I had one of my ‘Mavis’ disasters with Amazon one-click ordering and a humongous stick-on bra, which happily gave me back my mojo.

 I thoroughly enjoyed reading Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong and, as I work my way through my ever increasing TBR list, I look forward to reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The Further Adventures of Constable Mavis Upton.

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However, I understand you have a third book out later this year? Can you tell us the title and what readers can expect? Are there plans to write more books about Mavis?

 Book 3 in the series is called BLUES, TWOS & BABY SHOES The Further, Further Adventures of Constable Mavis Upton. This follows Mavis through the third stage of her career, as she juggles the demands of the job, a new, late in life baby and her relationship with Joe her hubby. There’s a little bit of fun with the ‘Stupendous Cora May Spunge’ a genteel 72 year old widow who decides to throw caution to the wind and find excitement by becoming a blackmailer of the other elderly folk in the village to fund her dream of a cottage with a cat sanctuary.

As with all Mavis’s stories, I type THE END and then add….

….. ‘or is it?’

And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a police officer or a writer?

Oh, as a writer definitely prepare for rejections and 1* reviews that tell you how awful your book is – don’t cry, it stings, but it’s not as bad as it first seems, take it as valuable critique and go and drink gin… lots of it! And best of all, welcome the lovely fellow writers and book bloggers you will meet, either in person or on social media, they are so supportive and friendly.

As a police officer, I would say to police with integrity, passion and pride. There are no limits and there are no boundaries to what you can achieve, always be kind and respectful on the way up, as you could so easily meet those you have treated favourably or less favourably on the way down, it’s a hard, stressful and dangerous job, you need allies not enemies… and take the time to care. You might not be able to change the world by becoming a police officer, but if you care, then you will make a difference to someone.

You can find Gina at:
Twitter:  @GinaGeeJay
                @MavisUpton
Amazon Author Page with Book links:

 

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Eva Jordan in conversation with… Anne Hamilton

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A Q&A with Anne Hamilton
Editor & Writer

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 With the recent publication of my third novel, Time Will Tell, I can definitely say it’s been a journey. I’ve learned a lot, sometimes by trial and error, but one thing I have discovered, if you want to write novels and write them well, you need a good editor. I know for some writers, especially those just starting out, hiring an editor is an expense they can do without. There are other options of course. For instance, having a team of great Beta readers can help point out the gaps, errors and pitfalls in your manuscript, however, where possible I’d always recommend using a professional editor, plus the Beta readers. Therefore, I’d like to introduce you to the lovely Anne Hamilton, the brilliant editor who worked with me on Time Will Tell.

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

Hi Eva, it’s a pleasure to be here! And can I just say how much I enjoyed Time Will Tell – the perfect ending to the trilogy.

I am, indeed, lucky to be a writer and an editor, and since I’m a bit of a nomad, too, it’s great that both of those can be done from more or less anywhere. I’m never exactly sure whether I come from the Fens or the West of Ireland…so I’ve ‘compromised’ by settling in Edinburgh, where I live with my eight-year-old son. We enjoy the odd jaunt to Bangladesh, where I’m a trustee of Bhola’s Children, a charity set up on foot of my first book, a travel memoir called A Blonde Bengali Wife.

I originally started out in social work, sidestepped to epidemiology, and finally found myself doing a postgraduate course in Creative Writing, which has led to my freelance work as a writing tutor. When I’m not reading or writing, I’m invariably baking or helping construct LEGO creations – often at the same time!

  1. You are a writer as well as an editor, which do you prefer doing and why?

I’ve often been asked if editing is second-best because I haven’t (yet!) made it as a best-selling author. But honestly? I love editing. I love the creativity of structural or development editing (looking at a story as a whole) and the nitty-gritty precision of line or content editing (checking and polishing the finished article). Whether it’s my own work or someone else’s, having words to play with, working out the best way to communicate a story is like an enormous, satisfying jigsaw puzzle.

Being a freelance editor means my hours are very flexible so I can fit in mum-time or writing-time – often quite chaotically, it must be said – and for me, these three things go hand in hand. There’s many a dreich Scottish Monday morning when I look out of my kitchen window at the commuting traffic and remember how lucky I am that I get to stay at home and make up stories for a living.

  1. What does it take to become a professional editor and, if anyone reading this is considering it as an occupation, how would they go about it?

I’ve been a reader and writer since childhood (my first ‘book’ was called The Little Blue Elephant and was kept in pride of place in Deeping St James County Primary School library for years!) and I’d say enjoying both of these is essential. In fact, all the Ps come to mind: being persistent, pedantic and patient. Editing is painstaking work and, like writing itself, the only way to build up the skill is to practise, practise, practise.

I never set out to become a professional editor, it was whilst doing my PhD, I realised I had something of a flair for it. It really goes hand in hand with mentoring, so I started by tutoring students, teaching online, and gradually building a (small) business from there.

I’ve met people who have been journalists, teachers, completed English degrees, worked as interns at publishing houses…so there are many roads to becoming an editor.

  1. And finally, what one piece of advice would you offer to newbie writers and editors?

Very few people get rich or famous from writing or editing, so you really need to enjoy the process for its own sake. For writers, I’d add, don’t compare yourself to others – your unique voice is your greatest asset – and for editors, edit the book the author wants, not what you think s/he should have. For some authors I’m a hard taskmaster, for others, a cheerleader, others still, I play devil’s advocate…

…And how could this answer be edited succinctly? Read, read, read, and write, write, write!

Thanks for being a guest on my blog today Anne, and for your brilliant, informative replies to my questions. 

Anne Hamilton

If you want to contact Anne or find out a little bit more about her, you can find her here:
Website
Twitter
Facebook

Eva Jordan in conversation with… M.J. Lee

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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 the 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 the 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 on Social Media:
Website
Facebook
Twitter He’s nothing if not original with his handles (his words – not mine!).

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Betsy Reavley

Eva Jordan in conversation with Betsy Reavley

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 Bloggers – The Unsung Heroes Of The Book World

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Once a month I write a column for a local lifestyle magazine called The Fens. As well as offering writing advice I’ve also had the pleasure of doing some great interviews with some amazing authors. However, this month I thought I’d chat with one of the many brilliant unsung heroes of the book world, namely Linda Hill – book blogger extraordinaire. Among other things, Linda – a prolific reader – writes book reviews, takes part in blog tours and regularly hosts author guest posts on her award-winning Book Blog, Linda’s Book Bag. And like many book bloggers, this is all done in her spare time for nothing more than the sheer love of books.

  1. Hi Linda, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva. I’m a passionate and eclectic reader (and a bit of a closet writer) who used to be an English teacher, inspector and educational consultant. I’m self-retired and love books and travel.

  1. Have you always enjoyed reading books and when did you first become a book blogger?

I was a late reader as my sight is so poor that I didn’t realise those squiggles on a page had meaning! Once I got glasses at 7 there was no stopping me and I still have my childhood Paddington books.

I began blogging three years ago when I decided life was too short to keep working and I wanted to share my love of books. Since then my blog has grown and I might even say has got out of hand!

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a book blogger?

Learn to say ‘No’. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s so tempting to accept every book you are offered for review and once you get known, the books keep arriving even if you’re not expecting them – I currently have over 900 physical books that have just turned up and I can’t get into my study.

Bloggers need to be very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook so that lots of readers see their blog posts.

I’d also say that authors never set out to write a bad book so be constructive and kind in reviews. A book that may not appeal to one person might be perfect for another reader.

I’d urge ALL readers to review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as a blog, as this is the only way many authors can get their books noticed.

And blog often!

It’s Just My Point Of View – POV!

 

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A couple of months ago I wrote about the different types of writer there are (see here), namely Plotters, Pansters or, as in my case, Plansters! This month I thought we’d take a look at one of the more important literary devices of a novel, often referred to as Point of View – or POV.

For now, I’ll keep it simple and look at the three most popular POV’s. 

First Person Narrator – is from a single perspective, a personal one – where the narrator uses words like “I” and “me” and “my” – and where the world the writer creates is seen through the eyes of a single character. 

Pros – first person allows you and the reader direct access to what your character is thinking and feeling. This means your readers are instantly connected with your narrator, creating more empathy and emotional investment in your overall piece.

Cons – there are limits as to what your narrator can and cannot relay to your reader. Everything is from a particular person’s line of sight so there will be details that they and therefore your reader, won’t know.

Second Person Narrator – uses the pronoun “you” and puts the reader into the story, and if done right can plunge the reader into the narrative completely. 

Pros – you can tell the reader what to feel and how to react, and, as they are part of the story, by default there is already a strong sense of empathy.

Cons – writing in the second person has to be done carefully to avoid poor writing. Also, by telling the reader what they are thinking and feeling, you run the risk of alienating them.

Third Person Narrator – a popular POV, is a narrator who tells the story from outside the narrative itself and uses phrases such as “he said” and “she said” and gives the author the option of an omniscient narrator (an all-knowing narrator) – who knows every character, every event and every detail.

Pros – generally, writers have more freedom and fewer limitations when it comes to third person narration.

Cons – what a writer gains in narrative freedom they lose in intimacy. This POV doesn’t give characters a direct voice to the reader. The narrator is not speaking subjectively to the reader so it can make it harder for them to empathise and connect with characters.

 

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Ross Greenwood

 

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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 around 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

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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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