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24 Sept Suffering in Silence
A guest post today from Emma Rose Millar, whose historical novel Five Guns Blazing (co-written with Kevin Allen) has just been published by Crooked Cat. Here she talks about the branks or scold's bridle, a cruel punishment inflicted mainly on women, and evokes the horror of it through two excerpts from the novel. Over to you, Emma!
A Woman of Modesty Openeth Not Her Mouth
It was a shame for the good lady that her manners were so very rude, that she had such a leaning towards insolence and that her mouth was nothing short of profane. Often her behaviour would see her dispatched to the stocks or deprived of her meat ration; the latter of which being far worse a punishment for a woman whose appetite was so utterly insatiable. On this occasion though the punishment was harsh indeed, sickeningly harsh. As bad in fact as any flogging or hanging I had ever seen at Tyburn. The whole place was alive with talk of what was to happen. I still cannot think of it now without ordeal.
(Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen Five Guns Blazing)
The scold’s bridle or branks was a common instrument of humiliation and torture used to punish women who were deemed to be rude, profane or troublesome, who defied their husbands and who challenged priests. In some cases, women accused of witchcraft were also forced to wear the branks. The device consisted of an iron muzzle in an iron framework which was clamped over the faces of so called scolds or shrews. A bridle bit or curb-plate protruded from inside the mask and was forced into the woman’s mouth, pressing down upon her tongue. Often it was studded with spikes in order to inflict more severe pain or to pierce or lacerate the tongue if the woman tried to speak.
In the case of workhouse inmates, the punishment would be carried out in public in order to humiliate the scold and to serve as a deterrent to other riotous or unruly women. The woman would be led through the streets by a halter or leash, sometimes exciting a carnival-like atmosphere. We often look back on the bridle as a shocking spectacle of an age gone by, which has sometimes been portrayed as providing some form of sexual titillation for the crowds. However, the reality was that as the woman was led by the halter, her jaw might have been broken and she would have been spitting out blood, teeth and vomit. It was a harsh punishment indeed, which could be inflicted upon any woman brave enough to speak out, and the fear of it was an extremely formidable means of social control. Often the bridle would hang upon a cross in the town’s square as a sinister warning to all: A woman of modesty openeth not her mouth.
Probably the best documented case of a woman being subjected to the branks was that of the Quaker, Dorothy Waugh. The Mayor of Carlisle put her in it after she was caught openly preaching in the market place. Dorothy Waugh was forced to wear the bridle for four hours, after which it was taken off and she was put into gaol. She was then put back in the bridle for a further four hours, whipped and chased out of town. This young religious woman gained the sympathy of the crowd, undermining the Mayor’s intent.
There are some documented cases of men being bridled for crimes such as slander and inciting a riot. In eighteenth century Nottingham, a man, a blind beggar was put in the bridle whist in gaol in order to keep him quiet prior to his execution. The Royal Navy also used gags similar to a branks or scold’s bridle right up until the early nineteenth century. However, it seems that the punishment was overwhelmingly one meted out to women:
A horrible foreboding fell upon me; goose pimples shot up, spreading across my back and down the length of my arms. A man stepped forwards, dressed in leather breeches and doublet, with a mask also of leather covering his face. Then at once everyone seemed to melt away but for me and my mother and that man in his suit of leather. The air was charged with expectancy and all fell silent as the man walked towards her. She stiffened and drew back her neck. She remained in that stance with her head thrown up indignantly as the iron frame was wrapped about her head and the silencer clamped down upon her tongue. (Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen Five Guns Blazing)
Many thanks for those rather shocking insights, Emma, and good luck with the novel!
27 Oct Collateral Damage
In the latest of my occasional series of short pieces written at writers' groups, here's a little story about a train journey that doesn't turn out as expected ...
I can see water. And look, there’s a bridge. The Forth Road Bridge, to be exact. So this is the Forth Rail Bridge. Well, that’s progress, I suppose. I’m about two thirds of the way there, but it’s still a long way to Inverness. I look at my watch. It’ll be dark when I get there. I’ll be so tired, but then I’ll be worrying about my presentation in the morning and I won’t get to sleep.
‘Stop it’, I tell myself. ‘There’s nothing I can do that will get me there any sooner. Just sit back and relax. At least, since all the other first class passengers got off in Edinburgh I have some piece and quiet to work on my talk, maybe even take a little nap.
I spoke too soon. A door opens and a figure walks into the carriage – funny, I didn’t think there were any carriages in front of this one. He doesn’t look like a first class passenger to me. Still, not my business – up to the guards to sort that out.
My heart sinks a little as he sits down opposite me. He clearly wants to talk – oh well, there goes my nap.
“This is first class, isn’t it?”
I nod, resignedly.
“You know, in the thirty-eight years I’ve been working for the railway I’ve never once travelled in first class. Thought I’d see what it’s like, just the one time before I’m done.
“Are you planning to retire, then?”
“Well, I suppose you could say that, in a manner of speaking.”
“And what did you do for the railway?”
“I was – I am – a driver. I’m the driver of this train, in fact.”
My eyes must have bulged. “So you have a co-driver, then?”
“No, no, they phased them out years ago.”
“Some sort of autopilot, then?”
“No, not really. Just a few sticks I’ve wedged against the controls to keep the train moving as fast as possible without me.”
“Isn’t that a bit dangerous? We could crash.”
“That is the general idea. Just this side of Perth, I reckon. There’s a nice sharp turn that we’ll hit at about a hundred and twenty. That ought to do it. You see, this bloody railway has made my life a misery for the last ten years. Now it’s time to get my own back. This crash will ruin them. Hopefully they’ll lose the contract. I’ve got cancer, me, only months to live anyway. I thought ‘why not go out in style and take the railway company with me?’”
“But people will die!” I exclaim, incredulous.
“Well, yes. It wouldn’t be much of a crash if they didn’t, would it? Collateral damage and all that.”
I stand up and look desperately for the emergency brake.
“Don’t bother. Disabled the brakes just now.” He takes a swig from a small bottle of whisky and offers it to me. “Brought along a wee dram to celebrate the occasion. Be my guest.”
I sit down and close my laptop. Not much point in worrying about that presentation now. I take the bottle and put it to my lips.
7 Oct A Poem
Today is National Poetry Day - so I really ought to post a poem here, oughtn't I. I decided to have a go at a villanelle a while back, being a big fan of Dylan Thomas's 'Do not go gentle into that good night'. This was what I came up with.
We are enmeshed together, you and I,
our roots and branches coil and intertwine.
So do not say that futile word, goodbye
as if these knots were easy to untie.
Your threads cannot be unpicked from mine:
we are enmeshed together, you and I.
Do you forget, or worse, do you defy
the vow we made that binds us for all time?
Do not say that faithless word, goodbye.
This tapestry of love we crafted, why
would you destroy what touched on the sublime?
We are enmeshed together, you and I:
two such as us, if torn apart, must die
or shamble on in pitiful decline.
Do not pronounce that fatal word, goodbye.
All this has been for nothing: in your eye
I see the web beginning to unwind.
We were enmeshed together, you and I;
go now, spare me that final word, goodbye.
1 Oct Impact
Here's another in my occasional series of short pieces I've written in response to exercises set in writers' groups. In this case we were invited to write something about a disaster. They don't come much bigger than this one, but it occurred to me that, faced with the inevitable, not everyone would respond in the way we might assume ....
Those in the know had booked their places here as soon as the trajectory of the comet was calculated. A restaurant on top of a mountain, nine thousand feet up. Champagne cocktails, fillet steak and lobster all round – there is no point in letting this stuff go to waste. From here, you can see two hundred miles out to sea. Not now, of course – it is still dark, but when the object arrives it will bring its own light. We will be close enough to see it in all its apocalyptic, never to be repeated glory. Far enough to have time to savour the moment before the shock wave hits. There is an oddly normal party atmosphere, a sort of frenzied gaiety, as we all finish our meals and knock back as much champagne as we can manage. A few of us have left in pairs to spend a few minutes in darkened corners: making love, or revealing secrets they have kept for their whole lives. No one is crying. If we were the sort of people that were going to cry, we would not have come here. Those people are in the cities below, huddled together in cellars or churches, turning their backs on the greatest event in history.
Slowly, the clink of glasses and the hum of conversation dies down. People have been looking at their watches expectantly for a few minutes now. “It’s here,” someone says, surprisingly calmly. And sure enough, there it is, in the constellation of Leo: at first, just an oversize star, growing larger and larger. Then, as it hits the atmosphere, suddenly it becomes much brighter, leaving a shining trail behind it and bringing a pale orange glow to the sea. Throughout the room, there is the sound of people putting down their binoculars and putting on their sunglasses. It is almost like daylight now. A few seconds, and then the moment we have all been waiting for. For an instant, the whole world is a brilliant, unbearable white that burns our eyes even through blackened glass. We blink, and as we adjust, a new sun rises above the horizon, vast and incandescent with godlike power, as if the planet itself were crashing into its star. We give it a round of applause. What else could we do? No one has ever seen, will ever see, anything remotely like this ever again.
The fireball rises into the sky and begins to dim, its light now filtered through a boiling stew of the black entrails of the earth. The expanding hemisphere of the shock wave rushes through the air, hurrying to include all corners of the planet in its embrace. We take off our sunglasses and say goodbye to each other, congratulating ourselves that in these final minutes we have lived more intensely than in all the years that went before.
If you've enjoyed this piece, why not check out my novels? - you can find out about them, and read some excerpts, on the BOOKS pages of this website.
11 Sept Greek Letters
Having interviewed Kathryn Gauci last week, today I'm talking to another novelist who has written about the Greek War of Independence: Suzi Stembridge, whose Greek Letters series begins in that turbulent period.
Welcome, Suzi! Tell us something about your book series, The Greek Letters Quartet.
The Series begins in the early 19th century and through four volumes reaches the early twenty-first century. The Quartet follows a Cheshire yeoman’s adventures and continues with his English family, his later Anglo-Greek marriage and the lives of his descendants through two centuries in Europe, mostly in Greece and northern England.
The series begins towards the end of the Greek War of Independence and its aftermath. What made you decide to write about this particular period?
Much of my adult life has been spent travelling to Greece, but it was when we were running our tour operation Filoxenia Holidays to remote parts of the mainland that we took a break from inspecting hotels and talking to agents to explore the wealth of historical sites and particularly the castles of the Peloponnese. The towns of Nafplio and Pylos in the Peloponnese and of course Athens were particularly rich in history from the early 19th century. As well as seeing these sites first-hand I began to read the story of Byron and the history of the Greek War of Independence, indeed anything I could read about Modern Greece but I found there was a shortage of novels set in this period.
I made the final battle of the Greek War of Independence, (the last battle using sailing ships,) introduce the story because outside Greece few people have heard of it, yet its significance in the history of Europe is immense. Had the Allies, France, Russia and Britain not come to the aid of the Greeks and - by chance – found the whole Turkish fleet sheltering in the Bay of Navarino (near modern Pylos in the Western Peloponnese) thus allowing them to trap the Ottoman armada within the bay there would not have been a battle. Even so Vice-Admiral Codrington’s orders were to talk to the Turks and refrain from force but as the Turks launched a fire-ship an over enthusiastic British captain covered his men and fired on the Ottomans. The Ottomans soon realised they faced defeat and set fire to many of their own ships. With their fleet destroyed the great Ottoman Empire turned on Russia, closing the Dardenelles to Russian ships in retaliation for Russia’s participation at Navarino, but after several defeats the Ottoman Empire was shrinking. The Battle of Navarino was one of the great turning points of European history.
How much research did you need to do about these places and events?
I am proud of the fact that my novels were conceived and much of the research was done by reading and travelling in the years before use of the internet! Although we had been exploring the landscape and historic sites of Greece since 1960 it was in 2004 when we had sold our business that I began to research the area seriously with the idea of creating The Quartet. I had a collection of old books, and bought other histories of the period such as those written by David Brewer and David Howarth, but also I read Edward Lear’s Travels in Northern Greece to get a feel for travel in the early 19th century and Leigh Hunt to help set the scene for my protagonist to set sail from England to the Mediterranean. We visited many old sites including the dungeon on the Palamidi fort in Nafplio where Kolokotronis was imprisoned and the Bay of Navarino where the Turkish fleet was sunk at the Battle of Navarino. As the series develops the hero moves to the Mani region of the Southern Peloponnese and of course here writers such as Paddy Leigh Fermor stirred my imagination. The Mani is a barren part of Laconia peopled by warriors who as well as giving the word Laconic were fierce enough to prevent their land ever to being occupied by the Ottomans. It was a dramatic area to use as a setting for my 19th century English characters, a couple completely out of their comfort zone. With the arrival of trains and steamships travel becomes easier for the protagonists and they can ‘commute’ between the embryo state of Greece, especially its new capital of Nafplio, and Northern England.
I was now turning to mid 19th century writers such as Dickens to inspire me and drawing on my studies with the Open University to describe the industrialisation of Manchester and changes to agriculture.
At the same time I was reading numerous 19th century novels and studying the history of Ancient Greece. But by the time I was writing the third volume I was using a primary source much closer to home: my mother had left letters and often spoken of her childhood and her tales (which I partly fictionalised) make up the first half of Volume 3 through a child’s eyes but as Helene (the first protagonist’s great-grandchild) grows up and travels to Northern Greece I am back to secondary historical sources!
You’ve also written another series, Coming of Age, which together with The Greek Letters Quartet completes the whole series, Jigsaw. Tell us about that.
Coming of Age is a series of four contemporary novels; they begin where Volume 3 of Greek Letters finishes at the time of WW2. They do interlink insomuch that the characters are all descended from Samuel, the first protagonist, moving to his great-great granddaughter Rosalind and her son Andrew who are often major players in the individual novels but they are very much independent volumes. CAST A HOROSCOPE is Rosalind’s tale of her life as an air-hostess at the beginning of the 1960s, her hardship with an out of wedlock pregnancy and her relationships. BRIGHT DAFFODIL YELLOW is a story of a man unsure of his identity, not at one with himself. It begins in Cyprus with the 1974 Turkish invasion but moves back to the English Lake District and London at the time of the Moorgate Tube disaster. THE GLASS CLASS discovers the horror of alcoholism and the tragedy of many marriages, death, possibly murder, adds another dimension. THE SCORPION’S LAST TALE is a story set in Corfu at the time of the Colonel’s Junta, and as the tale turns into a psychological thriller the setting moves to Yorkshire and Greenwich. This book is written under a pen-name Pan Peters, Rosalind’s name before marriage, but this pseudonym deliberately becomes very much part of the story in the final (or it could be the first) novel wrapping up both series under MUCH MORE THAN HURT – Volume 4 of Greek Letters.
How far did you draw upon your own experience in these novels?
I think all life experience is valuable for a writer, certainly being an air-stewardess in the early 1960s inspired CAST A HOROSCOPE but it is not auto-biographical! Family life adds a wealth of experience and talking to elderly relatives, studying old photographs and family trees, and if you are lucky the odd old letter can create an imaginative scene. Both Bright Daffodil Yellow and The Scorpion’s Last Tale were written from imagination but both were kindled by travel to the settings of the plot, then again I have never been to the villages in Northern Cyprus nor some of the ports and places visited in the Quartet, so we are back to imagination again!
Do you have any further books planned?
I have started the story of a Springer Spaniel puppy trying to be good, told through his eyes (but then the actual pup became very ill and I stopped). Now I have to find a way to incorporate his recovery from steroid-responsive meningitis in a way which will help other dog owners!
For a long time I have had the first chapter of book featuring the youngest child of Rosalind who is taken from her comfortable home in Northern England to the Tunisian town of Kairouan by her much loved Nubian husband. When he is killed in the first uprising of the Arab spring she has to fend for herself and get herself and her mixed race twins to a place she considers safe….. and there events in the real world continued at such a pace I’ve been unable to continue the synopsis confident that I will know enough about these challenging times in which we live!
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
I have read many books on Greece, any I get hold of, but Patrick Leigh Fermor, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller were early influences. Going back to early childhood a teacher inspired me to write, another read the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and in addition old books which belonged to my mother were read avidly as a child who encouraged me to write, as her aunt had encouraged her to write (an often told family story.)
Do you have any other talents or interests that you would like to share with us?
I put down walking, gardening, cooking, theatre, music, opera as a matter of course but in truth I like nothing better than to sit down with a box of paints and a clean piece of thick art paper. Sadly the results are never good enough and I suppose I really should enrol in art-classes.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Into which genre do you think your books best fit?
And what is the answer?
That seems to be the crux of a problem, I suspect they are romantic-historical-fiction-stories-and- travel-guides, sometimes thrilling with a touch of crime but always with a spirit of place and as such are hard to place on a single bookshelf! With the Quartet I wanted them to contain as much history as possible, to be used as a travel guide but this does not always sit easily in fiction! Although recently I have come across other writers trying to do much the same so perhaps a polymathic genre is the new thing!
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you about my books.
And thank you for those very interesting answers, Suzi!
You can find out more about Suzi's books (and about Greece) on her website, www.greco-file.com
Her books are available on Amazon
31 Aug A Bit of Fun
I am a member of two writers' groups in Holmfirth and Slaithwaite, two little towns near where I live. Twice a week I sit down with a group of other people and write something for half an hour or forty minutes, responding to an exercise someone has set, or just a set of unconnected words. I recommend it to anyone as a way of exercising your writing muscles and generating ideas.
Various different things happen to the pieces that I write at these sessions. Some of them don't amount to anything worthwhile and are quickly forgotten. A few get expanded and/or polished later on and become poems or short stories (most of my poems begin this way). Ocasionally the exercise inspires a passage that will end up in a novel (one such became the opening of Revolution Day).
But often I will write something that I am quite pleased with in itself, but is already fairly complete and self-contained and doesn't really lend itself to expanding into a longer piece. It seems a shame to do nothing with them, so I've decided that I will share some of them on this blog, starting today!
So here is a little piece I wrote a while back in response to a random selection of words suggested by members of Holmfirth Writers Group. I think one of the words was 'coffin' - and I know that another one was 'vibrator'!
In the cool November air, the breeze blew a dense cloud of cheap eau de toilette slowly across the graveyard. The vicar coughed and spluttered before composing himself.
“We are here today to say goodbye to our dear friend Margaret, also known as Raquel, who has so suddenly and sadly passed away. I will not pretend she was a virtuous woman in all respects, but she was honest and had a warm heart.”
“Get on with it, vicar,” shouted Celine impatiently, “this wind is going right up my arse. We don’t get paid for standing around in fields, you know.” She had dressed in black especially for the occasion, even if it was PVC. The other girls had also made an effort, and were arrayed in their finest black leather, spandex and lace.
The vicar’s eyes bulged, but he continued.
“Margaret had many friends among the women, and of course among the men, of this town...” Four of the aforementioned men were standing rather sheepishly beside the grave: two builders, a lorry driver and a very embarrassed-looking accountant.
The vicar soldiered on, but things were starting to get out of control. The girls were now smoking heavily, and one of them had opened negotiations with one of the builders. Uttering a hasty blessing, the vicar cut short his speech and nodded to the four men, who began gingerly to lower Raquel’s coffin into the earth.
Over the face of the little accountant came expressions in rapid succession of solemnity, of exertion, of desperation and finally of horror as the weight of the casket became too much for him. With an awful crash, it descended the last two feet in a second and came to rest, mercifully upright, at the bottom of the hole. From inside the box came an unmistakable buzzing sound.
“It’s what she would have wanted,” said Celine.
4 Sept The Fabric of History
Today I welcome historical novelist and former textile artist Kathryn Gauci, whose first novel, The Embroiderer, is published by Silverwood Books.
Welcome, Kathryn! I'm looking forward to learning more about The Embroiderer.
The novel takes place during three historical periods: the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, the Greco-Turkish Wars of the early 20th century, and the 1970s. What made you decide to write about these particular periods?
My interest was sparked many years ago when I worked as a carpet designer in Athens, 1972-78. At that time I had no idea I’d ever write a novel. The harrowing, sad stories told to me by refugees from The Asia Minor Catastrophe, and especially the great fire of Smyrna, left an indelible impression. I never forgot them and so when I did decide to write a novel, it was their stories that I wanted to tell. Of course for every catastrophe there is a cause and effect which led me to go back further, to The Greek War of Independence, and in particular the Massacre at Chios in 1822, up until the Italian and Nazi occupation of Greece, 1940-41.
What research did you need to do about these places and events?
I don’t believe I could have given the story such authenticity had I not lived in Greece, not only because it enabled me to hear the stories, but also because it helped me to understand modern Greece. I am also fascinated by Turkish history and culture and have visited Turkey on several occasions. And of course there’s the endless reading one has to do on the wars and way of life in a changing world.
I believe some of your main characters are inspired by historical figures. Would you like to tell us a little more about this?
The Embroiderer is fiction based on fact. All the historical details are factual but the protagonists are composites of strong women who lived during that period. Of course there are also real political characters such as al Eleftherios Venizelos and Ataturk – consummate statesmen who are still respected today. The secret organizations and various factions wanting change or to break away from the empire did exist as did the Turkish Secret Police intent on crushing them.
How important do you think accuracy is in historical fiction?
I believe we must aim to be as accurate as possible. Whilst historical novelists endeavour to tell history through creative plot-lines, imagery and emotions, I think we have a duty to our readers not to deviate from the known facts. As a reader of this genre myself, I like to feel that I’ve learnt something about history and would be disappointed if I discovered it was inaccurate.
How did your professional experience in textiles inform the novel?
Textiles and art have been my life and so it wasn’t a difficult decision to place my protagonists into a world I knew. Most Ottoman women led a cloistered existence and embroidery was one of the few areas in which they were encouraged to excel. When Sophia opened her couture house in Constantinople in the early 1900’s, the Ottoman Empire was still in a transition phase and was influenced by the West. Women’s fashions were very much a part of this change.
Did you draw upon your own experience in other ways?
I drew on my art background, especially my interest in Orientalist paintings to help create settings and imagery prior to WWI. Living in Greece also helped me to understand their culture; religion, superstitions, sayings, etc.
Do you have any further books planned?
My current WIP is set in France during WWII. After that, I may return to Greece and Turkey but a different period. Antioch 100 B.C.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
My own life has influenced me. I love to travel and explore places off the beaten track. I am happiest when I am walking alongside the ghosts of history. And then there are the authors; too many to list here but I will try. Nikos Kazantzakis, Louis de Bernieres, Giles Morton, Orhan Pamuk, to name but a few.
What do you think makes for a good novel?
A plot that draws you in, descriptions that give you a sense of time, place and mood, and an ending that leaves you satisfied.
You have previously hosted me on your own blog. How do you think blogging can be helpful for writers?
Because we writers tend to be a bit wordy, blogging helps you to focus and hone your writing skills. I also enjoy interviewing other authors on my A Literary World blog because it feels as if we are having a conversation. I like to know what makes people tick. We can all learn something from each other
Do you have any other tips or suggestions for aspiring writers?
Having the inspiration is one thing but one also has to be dedicated and tenacious. It’s also vital to believe in yourself.
You have now taken up writing full-time. Do textiles still play a part in your life?
Textiles and art will always have a place in my life. I still see a gown, an exquisite piece of jewellery or a vase and think to myself, I must put that into a novel.
Do you have any other talents that you would like to share with us?
I like to make glass jewellery, both kiln-formed and flame-worked, and I did a few courses on book-binding. If I had more time, I’d do more of this. And I love to cook – the creative side of me again.
You have lived in several different places and countries. Where feels most like home?
I think when you live in different countries you start to feel “international”. The older I get, the more I miss the English countryside yet I love the Mediterranean lifestyle and the wide-open spaces of the Australian outback. Ultimately, I believe, ‘home’ is an elusive thing. It’s where your family and friends are or where conditions at the time suit you.
You once spent some time in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, where I was born. What were your impressions of the place (positive or negative)?
I was at Art College there for a year so you have to remember Tim, that life was one long round of parties and pubs. The Beatles had just released Sgt. Pepper, we were still into soul and the blues, and I’d just discovered Captain Beefheart. I also enjoyed the many plays at Keele University. They were good times and I have fond memories of The Potteries. Whilst I went on to specialize in carpets, most of my friends went on to be ceramicists in the many potteries.
Tell us a little about your home life, and your interests outside writing.
I am a homebody. I love my garden, reading, cooking and spending time with my husband who is also creative but in another field (magician). So we can spend hours together both lost in our own world. And there’s nothing I like better than settling down with a glass of wine in the evening, curled up on the sofa and watching a good French film.
Thank you for hosting me, Tim. It’s been a great pleasure to be here.
The pleasure is all ours, Kathryn. Thank you for those fascinating insights into your life and work.
You can learn more about Kathryn and about The Embroiderer on her website: www.kathryngauci.com.
The Embroiderer can be ordered from all good bookshops and online retailers.
The Embroiderer can also now be purchased from the Cornucopia web site.
21 Aug The Forgotten Tudor
Today I welcome fellow historical novelist Tony Riches, who has recently hosted me on his own excellent blog, The Writing Desk.
Tony, who has previously written about Warwick the Kingmaker and Scott of the Antarctic among others, is currently writing a trilogy about the Tudors. The first book, Owen, takes as its central character the progenitor of the dynasty, Owen Tudor.
Tell us more, Tony ....
England 1422: Owen, a Welsh servant, waits in Windsor Castle to meet his new mistress, the beautiful and lonely Queen Catherine of Valois, widow of the warrior king, Henry V. Her infant son is crowned King of England and France, and while the country simmers on the brink of civil war, Owen becomes her protector.
They fall in love, risking Owen’s life and Queen Catherine’s reputation—but how do they found the dynasty which changes British history – the Tudors?
This is the first historical novel to fully explore the amazing life of Owen Tudor, grandfather of King Henry VII and the great-grandfather of King Henry VIII. Set against a background of the conflict between the Houses of Lancaster and York, which develops into what have become known as the Wars of the Roses, Owen’s story deserves to be told.
I am now working on the second book of the Tudor Trilogy, about Owen's son Jasper Tudor.
A story that deserves to be told, indeed! I love books which bring to life the less well-known events and characters of history, which are often even more fascinating than the ones everyone is familiar with. I look forward to reading it.
Tony is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time.
Why not check out Tony's other books on his Amazon page?
14 Aug Accent on Dialect
Today I welcome back fellow Crooked Cat historical fiction author Nancy Jardine - this time to talk about her contemporary novel Take Me Now.
Nancy Jardine writes:
historical romantic adventures
(Celtic Fervour Series);
contemporary mystery thrillers
(Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist,
Topaz Eyes-finalist for
THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014);
& time-travel historical
adventures for Teen/ YA readers
(Rubidium Time -Travel Series
–Book 1 The Taexali Game).
Hello Nancy, it's lovely to see you again!
Hello Tim, it’s lovely to be returning to your blog during my little mini promotional tour for my contemporary mystery novel Take Me Now.
When dialect can be a bad thing…and a good thing.
When I started to write my contemporary humorous mystery Take Me Now, I knew I wanted the initial setting to be on a Scottish island castle with my highland hero in a bit of a predicament. In the very first draft of chapter one, I had Nairn Malcolm—my main male character— musing to himself in quite a strong west coast of Scotland accent as he awaits the arrival of a potential temporary employee. However, I was barely into the first twenty pages when I realised that Nairn’s accent and vocabulary wouldn’t work for a global audience. I was sure that a successful businessman, with world-wide concerns like Nairn has, wouldn’t speak to a potential employee in such a heavy dialect—and especially not when I chose to have my main female character come from Vancouver, Canada. Yet, I still wanted there to be a Scottish flavour to the novel and pondered over how something could be inserted for an extended geographical readership.
A strong secondary character in the novel is Nairn’s father Ruaridh. Ruaridh, I felt, could have that Scottish burr, even if Nairn couldn’t. After some months of writing, the earliest drafts were completed and I did major self-edits. Was I satisfied with what I’d written? Unfortunately not, because although I am Scottish, originally from Glasgow which is a west coast city, I’m not an islander and don’t speak with the lilt that you find there. The cadences I had given Ruaridh didn’t quite ring true and it irked me. I personally get annoyed when I read many of the incredibly bad Scottish accents that are in print, especially in ‘highland hero’ romance novels and didn’t want to join that queue. I didn’t completely edit-out all of Ruaridh’s Scottishness, though—I left in a few traces; just enough to geographically place his origins.
I realised a number of things during that writing experience. It’s actually very difficult to create the dialect speech of a character if the accent isn’t one an author is completely familiar with. In my case, it was a highland/island Scottish accent but I think the same case would apply if I were writing about a born and bred north Yorkshire man, or a Londoner, or a character from the US Deep South. The author would perhaps need to ensure they had a team of beta readers who could ‘tidy up’ the accent before final edits. Or, the author would need to find another technique within the novel to give the reader an authentic taste of the home environment of the characters.
I’m sure there are other possibilities – maybe you know of a few? I’d be interested in any answers.
Here is the Blurb for Take Me Now:
Patience isn’t Nairn Malcolm’s strong point when he finds himself and his business mysteriously under attack. He needs a general factotum immediately— someone with exceptionally varied skills who can ferry him around, help him keep his business running smoothly and be available to him 24/7. He doesn’t expect the only candidate who arrives at his Scottish island castle for an interview to be so competent…or so incredibly attractive.
Aela Cameron’s range of talents is perfect for Nairn’s current predicament. She loves transporting him all over the globe, adores his restored Scottish island castle, and is thrilled with his hectic lifestyle. Dangerous situations don’t faze her, in fact they make her more determined to solve the mystery of Nairn’s saboteur. She’s not into passing flings – yet how can she resist her new boss as time runs out on her temporary contract?
Can Nairn persuade Aela she’s the woman for the long haul as the mystery is solved?
Thank you, Tim for inviting me.
You're very welcome, Nancy! Good luck with Take Me Now.
Take Me Now can be bought from Amazon via:
Find Nancy at the following places
12 Aug Strange Magick
By some infernal sorcery my blog has had a visitation today from Iamo, an inhabitant not of this world but of the alternate reality that is the setting for fantasy novels Alchemy and Shaman's Drum. I can't help thinking that Ailsa Abraham had something to do with it.
So, Iamo, tell us what it's like being a character (and an ex-priest) ....
Thank you, Scribe Tim, for inviting me to your journal today. I am Iamo, ex-priest and adventurer of whom you may have heard through the writings of Scribe Ailsa Abraham, Alchemy and Shaman's Drum.
Being authors and readers I wondered if you might like to compare your experiences with ours, as characters from novels. We are all faced with endless choices in life. When I was a priest I would have said it is our choices that ultimately show our souls but on a more mundane level...
As readers, your choices are relatively simple “What book shall I buy?” I say relatively because there are so many influences on this: your own taste, what you read last, if the author is known to you, even down to does the cover appeal to me? Accepted, that decision can be hard enough.
Authors have an even harder job. Once they have fallen in love with a tale which they have to do to be able to write it (no mean feat in itself) they then face the arduous job of convincing several groups that their work is worth it. First may be publishers or agents, reviewers, editors, proof-readers and cover-illustrators come into it before the back-breaking slog of making the work visible to you, the reading public without causing you to choke on the advertising.
Imagine then, how hard we characters have to work just to convince the author that our story is worth telling. Research? As my partner Riga would say
“You wanna talk research, I'll see you and raise you heart-ache.”
Perhaps it would be easiest if I describe to you how we, the core-group of the series, managed to hook Scribe Ailsa. Knowing her to be, astonishingly, a true romantic at heart and a devotee of mysteries, we showed her just a glimpse of forbidden love; a rescue (or was it an elopement?) from a convent. Her life-long studies in religion would help, we knew that but to hint that the woman in the habit was really a highly-placed shaman would clinch it. I will modestly admit to taking the appearance of an actor of whom whe was extremely fond which did not harm our cause at all.
Like all authors, at that point we had to withdraw and be patient while the publisher, in this case Herself, got back to us. Once invited, we moved into her head and house to pour ideas and images into the writing process. New personalities turned up, having heard of the plot and feeling ideal, somewhat like actors auditioning.
Now the first two books are out there and we stay with Scribe, trying to heal her head from a serious accident and dangling tempting morsels of books 3 and 4. Riga is inclined to kick and shout but so far, I am winning. Gentle persuasion will win.
It is Scribe Ailsa's birthday soon. Fortuitously her publishers Crooked Cat have reduced the price of her books on Amazon Kindle so that you can buy both for less than the usual price of one. Riga loves the expression BOGOF and assures me that in this case I may use it without offence.
So, my thanks again to Scribe Tim and may I take this opportunity to wish all readers joy of our work and BOGOF to you all.
Kind regards, Iamo.
Thank you for sharing that refreshingly different perspective with us, Iamo. Good luck to you in your future adventures, and please pass on our birthday wishes to Scribe Ailsa in due course.
4 Aug Goodbye then, Summer
As I was getting drenched outside Morrisons this afternoon I started wondering what happened to the summer we were supposed to be having, and was reminded of this little poem, written during another disappointing summer a year or two back.
Goodbye then, Summer.
I find it absurd
to have this dreary season
described by that word.
You fluttered your eyebrows,
and blew us a kiss,
got us all hot and bothered
and left us with .... this:
three months of boredom
resentment and pain,
of godawful holidays
watching the rain.
By some time in August
things got so bad
that now it’s all over
I’ll almost be glad
to see honest November:
all decked out in greys:
it promises nothing
and does what it says.
13 July Treading On Dreams
Today I welcome my good friend Jeff Gardiner, who worked with me as editor on both Zeus of Ithome and Revolution Day. Jeff is here to talk about his novel, Treading On Dreams.
Jeff Gardiner is a UK writer who was born in
Jos, Nigeria. His first novel, Myopia explores
bullying and prejudice among teenagers.
Igboland is a novel of passion and conflict set
in war-torn West Africa. Treading On Dreams
is a tale of obsession and unrequited love.
He has recently signed a three book deal with
Accent Press for a trilogy of YA fantasy novels,
starting with Pica.
His acclaimed collection of short stories, A
Glimpse of the Numinous, contains horror,
romance and humour. Many of his short
stories have appeared in anthologies and
magazines. Jeff also has a work of
non-fiction to his name: The Law of Chaos:
the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock.
“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)
Hello Jeff, tell us about Treading On Dreams
Unrequited love is the worst thing in the world: being in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you.
“Let’s just be friends” or “I don’t feel the same way about you” are terrible phrases to hear. There’s very little you can do about it whilst clinging on to your dignity, unless you plan to provoke or bore them into eventual submission. The message is pretty clear.
It’s not easy to then ignore the images, emotions, thoughts and fantasies dominating your mind, as those cruel words echo through it (usually when you wake up at 3am). But just for your own sanity you’ve got to decide whether to continue with the friendship and hope – risking serious hurt as you watch them get involved in other relationships – or to move on.
In Treading On Dreams, Donny is obsessed with Selena who is engaged to the perfect man. But Donny refuses to give up, and he bides his time. It’s a risky strategy, which is very likely to go horribly wrong.
I wrote Treading On Dreams in an attempt to explore how those feelings of hope and desire mix with the jealousy and anger rising from romantic rejection – which feels so personal. Donny attempts to distract himself from his obsession by enjoying other sensual and sometimes overwhelming new experiences, guided by his dubious friend, Jaz. It’s contemporary fiction, with twenty-something characters learning about love (or not).
An extract from Treading On Dreams:
One evening Donny overheard Selena talking to Melvin in her bedroom. Melvin’s unusually animated voice mentioned his name.
‘Because I don’t particularly want to invite Donny, if it’s alright with you.’
‘But we were asked to invite friends and he’s my friend,’ Selena replied, to Donny’s delight.
‘That’s all I ever hear from you. Everything has to involve Donny. You must really feel sorry for the guy.’ Right outside her door now, he crouched, ready to pretend to be going to the toilet in case it should suddenly fly open.
‘Sorry. Wish I hadn’t mentioned it now.’ For the first time Selena spoke in a sarcastic voice, before.
‘If I didn’t know better,’ Melvin continued, ‘I’d suspect something was going on between you two.’
Melvin was jealous of him. How wonderful. After so much time and energy resenting Melvin this change of affairs came as something of a welcome revelation. Even better, she spoke about him constantly.
‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ She sounded annoyed.
The next day he read long through the night and into the morning, until his eyes ached when he finally submitted and went down for an early breakfast. Hearing voices, he assumed Jaz had brought home a girl. However, to his surprise Selena and Melvin came into the kitchen to make some toast and coffee. Melvin did not normally stay over, but then Donny guessed they’d probably sat up chatting through the night until it got too late for him to go home. Eventually, Melvin made his excuses to leave and Selena saw him out. Because they took a long time whispering on the doorstep, Donny feigned aloofness and took his mug of percolated coffee upstairs. He sat in his room reading again, until interrupted by a light tap on his door.
‘Is it okay if I come in?’
He jumped up and opened the door. ‘Of course. I always allow beautiful women into my bedroom.’ She didn’t respond with her usual coy smile.
‘I need to have a chat with you, Donny. Is now a good time?’ She sat on the corner of the bed and he sat next to her, carefully cradling his drink.
‘Donny, I get this feeling you and I have been getting quite close recently and I’ve really enjoyed your company and friendship.’
Donny’s face went hot.
‘Yes, it’s been wonderful. I love being with you.’
‘Well, I don’t think we should spend so much time together.’
Blood pumped in his ears and it almost deafened him. ‘Sorry?’
‘I only want us to be friends. I don’t want any more than that, Donny.’
‘Oh…no, okay.’ However, it wasn’t him speaking; he was a character in a corny film.
She walked out without looking at him or saying another word.
Thanks for visiting and giving us an insight into Treading On Dreams, Jeff - best wishes for the success of the book!
29 June 2015 Welcome to the Revolution!
My second novel, Revolution Day is published tomorrow! To whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the book (you can also scroll down on this blog for some more excerpts). Ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor is clinging to power, trusting no one else with the most important matters of state, while Manuel Jimenez, the vice-President, is burning with frustration at his subordinate role. Here, having had his proposals to boost his role humiliatingly rejected, Manuel ponders what to do next ...
"Manuel was not a gambling man. He did not see the point in risking good money for a less than even chance of winning a little bit more. The people who were addicted to this chaotic process, who found excitement in it, seemed foolish to him, even slightly mad. They must surely know, on some intellectual level, that in the long run they could never win; the odds were such that every short term gain must be more than cancelled out by bigger losses later on. How else could bookmakers and casinos make their money? Yet still these people did it, throwing good money after bad time and again. He could see no appeal in this wilful irrationality. How much more satisfying it was to eliminate risk; to keep what one has secure and build upon it steadily and incrementally, knowing that progress is inexorably upwards rather than a haphazard jumble of up and down, with the possibility of disaster around every corner.
But if what one has is worthless, then the risk of losing it is no risk at all. If there is little to lose and the possibility of gaining a great prize, then to roll the dice seems not like gambling, but rational behaviour. And yet, it is still rolling the dice. As he contemplated the possibility of doing so, Manuel experienced for a moment the frisson of excitement that the gambler must crave: that strange wild union of hope and fear. He felt for the first time some partial insight into why they did what they were compelled to do.
The fear, he told himself, was irrational. His situation had become intolerable. Had he not been endlessly patient? He had devoted himself to loyal subservience for decades, quietly doing service for the President and the Republic, setting aside his personal dreams and tugging his forelock to Carlos, who claimed all of the real power and kudos exclusively for himself. Had he, Manuel, not been utterly reasonable? He had restrained his aspirations and suggested modest and sensible proposals for minor additions to his responsibilities, putting them forward in a way that was clear, cogent and extravagantly respectful to Carlos’ exaggerated sense of his own importance. And how had his ideas been received? With gratitude, with open-mindedness, with reasoned discussion? No. With condescension, with contempt, with the blind, unthinking negativity of an old man approaching senility and clinging desperately to every last morsel of power or prestige that he holds, as a drowning man clutches at driftwood.
The fact that, after rejecting every single proposal of any real significance, Carlos had approved the transfer of responsibility for prisons, was clearly a sop, intended to placate him. It had had the opposite effect. Of all the responsibilities he had proposed taking on, it was the most onerous, the most mundane, the least interesting; it would impinge upon his time but add nothing to the quality of his job. He bitterly regretted including it in his proposals. It was quite clear now that there could be no hope that Carlos would agree to any meaningful transfer of responsibility. Manuel would remain what he was now: merely the primus inter pares of the President’s lackeys; expected to do what he was told without complaint and to shut up if he disagreed. Treated as an inferior, a lesser being. For how long? Another decade? Maybe even two – sometimes these elderly dictators went on for ever, like vampires sustained by the blood they sucked from their countries, becoming increasingly insane, capricious and vindictive so that no one would ever dare to challenge them. He could readily imagine this of Carlos. The thought was unbearable.
If the present situation was anathema, what was there to lose – and therefore what was there to fear – in taking action to change it? Nevertheless, the fear was there, rational or not. He could not explain it away. Unlike the gambler, Manuel did not like it: it poisoned the excitement for him rather than heightening it. But he could work on the fear by working on the risk. It was not possible to eliminate risk altogether – if nothing else, he could see no conceivable way of avoiding the need to involve at least a small number of other people in his plans, and other people were inevitably a source of risk. What he could do, however, was to plan meticulously so as to reduce that risk to the absolute bare minimum; to a level that would make the fear bearable and enable him to act. He enjoyed planning, and he knew he was good at it. He had a blank canvas before him, upon which a plan would slowly paint itself as he wrestled with the problem – he savoured the prospect with relish. There could be no underestimating the difficulty of the task. He could expect no support from the other members of the Revolutionary Council: Carranza and Farias had always been Carlos’s men, while Angel, who as head of the Army had the keys to power in his pocket, remained obstinately, inexplicably loyal to him. But Manuel was in no hurry. He had learned well how to play the waiting game over many years. It was not the waiting itself which had become intolerable but the lack of any prospect worth waiting for – that was no longer an issue. The dice would be rolled – he was now resolved upon that. The plan, as it came together, would tell him when, and how."
Why not come along to the Facebook launch event for Revolution Day tomorrow - there will be competitions with prizes, music and other assorted fun!
12 June Welcome, Sue!
You can find out more
via her blog
and on Twitter
Today I say hello to fellow Crooked Cat author Sue Barnard, whose novel, The Unkindest Cut of All has just been released. Welcome, Sue!
Hi Tim, and thank you for inviting me to your virtual sofa!
Tell us about your new novel, The Unkindest Cut of All.
It’s a murder mystery (with a touch of romance), and is set during an am-dram production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It was released earlier this week as an e-book by Crooked Cat Publishing.
When writing the story I drew on my love of the theatre, my own experience of amateur dramatics, and my dim and distant memories of studying Julius Caesar at school for my English Literature O-Level. (For those of you below a certain age: O-Levels are what we had way back in the Dark Ages before the days of GCSEs.) I was extremely fortunate to have an excellent teacher who not only made the play really come alive, but who also managed to achieve the near-impossible task of making a group of stroppy teenage girls appreciate the finer points of Shakespearean tragedy.
The book’s title is based on one of the lines spoken by Mark Antony, in his crowd-turning speech after Caesar’s murder. The actual quotation is “This was the most unkindest cut of all” (according to my English teacher, the double superlative is intended to add extra emphasis), but it was generally agreed that this was perhaps a little too fussy – especially for a book by a writer who is notorious for her insistence on correct grammar!
Here’s the blurb:
Beware the Ides of March...
Brian Wilmer is God’s gift to amateur dramatics – and he knows it. So when the Castlemarsh Players take the ambitious decision to stage Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, there is only one man who can play the title role – even though Brian’s posturing ‘prima donna’ attitude has, over the years, won him few friends and many foes.
Rehearsals progress apace, and the production draws ever closer. But when another member of the cast has to drop out due to illness, local journalist Sarah Carmichael (a stalwart of the Players’ backstage crew) suddenly finds herself called upon to step into the breach at the eleventh hour.
Not surprisingly, Sarah finds that Brian is in his egotistical element playing the mighty Caesar. The fact that the final performance of the play takes place on the infamous Ides of March – the day when, according to tradition, Caesar was fatally stabbed – only adds to the excitement.
But tragedy is waiting in the wings. And when it strikes, it falls to Sarah – with the help of Brian’s personable, and fascinating, nephew Martin Burns – to uncover the incredible truth about what really happened…
How close is it to your personal experience?
I’ve done backstage work at our local theatre, so a lot of the backstage routine which is described in the book is based on what I’ve done there. But there the resemblance ends. The rest of the story is pure invention. And I haven’t based any of the characters on real people (I wouldn’t dare!).
What plans do you have for future novels?
At the moment I’m working (very slowly) on a time-slip novel based on an old French legend. I’ve also had an idea for a possible sequel to Nice Girls Don’t (my second novel), but so far that hasn’t progressed beyond the concept stage. So don’t stay in specially waiting for either of them!
You also write poetry, and have won awards for it. Would you like to share a short poem with us?
The first poetry prize I ever won was for writing a limerick, which summarised the plot of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in five lines. Here it is:
On the strength of a witches’ conjection,
a regicide’s planned to perfection.
But revenge is prepared
by a tree-moving laird
who’d been born by Caesarean section.
I’ve done a few more in the same vein, and I’d love to do one for each of Shakespeare’s plays, but that’s a seriously long-term project. I need to familiarise myself with all the plays first (sigh…)
As both a novelist and an editor, do you have any tips about writing that you would like to share with readers?
Try to write something each day, even if it’s only a sentence or two. And when you’ve finished your first draft, put it aside for a few days, then read it through – ideally in one sitting, so you’re looking at it more objectively. Check it carefully for typos, punctuation, grammar, continuity errors, and loose ends left dangling. And never assume that the reader knows as much as you do. You’d be amazed how often an idea forms in the author’s head but never quite makes it on to the page!
Your bio says that your background is ‘stranger than fiction’. Tell us more!
That‘s a very long story, and would probably fill most of another book just on its own. But briefly: I was adopted as a baby, was brought up as an only child, and had lost both my parents before I was forty. Then, a few years later, quite out of the blue, my birth family turned up. Suddenly I had a mother, a stepfather, siblings, cousins, and nephews & nieces. Some of those siblings were already grandparents, which turned me into a ready-made great-aunt.
A few months ago I wrote a blog post about one particular episode of the story. You can read it here.
I was interested to see that you have set questions for radio quiz programmes. Would you like to challenge us with one?
Very well – though you might be sorry you asked! This is one of the questions which featured in last year’s series of BBC Radio 4’s Round Britain Quiz.
Marlene Dietrich’s one was blue. James Cagney’s, of which there were several, sounded as though they needed a wash. A famous lifesaver declared that she wasn’t one. And a Hardy hero, despite his name, proved to be anything but – but was later given an Arty reincarnation. How so?
(The answer is at the end)
Other than writing, what things most interest you in life?
I enjoy reading (my Kindle is full of Crooked Cat books!), walking and birdwatching. I’m not a twitcher - I wouldn’t even describe myself as an expert – but if I see a bird I like to know what it is. I also enjoy gardening. In fact, I’ve had some of my best writing ideas when I’ve been mowing the lawn. And I love foreign travel. If someone were to offer me an all-expenses-paid job as a travel writer, I think I’d be very tempted!
Finally, what question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Another Crooked Cat author recently asked me about my secret plan for world domination.
And what is the answer?
It involves books.
Many thanks for those fascinating answers, Sue, and best wishes for the success of The Unkindest Cut!
Sue also works as an editor for Crooked Cat Publishing
Answer to the RBQ question:
The link is Angel.
The Blue Angel is a 1930 film starring Marlene Dietrich.
Angels with Dirty Faces is a 1938 gangster film starring James Cagney.
The famous lifesaver is Mae West (which is another name for a lifejacket). Mae West starred in the 1933 film I’m No Angel
The Hardy hero is Angel Clare, the husband of Hardy’s eponymous heroine Tess of the D’Urbervilles. He abandoned her immediately after their wedding on discovering that she wasn’t a virgin, even though his own past wasn’t devoid of indiscretion. Despite his name, he was anything but angelic toward her. (To be fair to him, he did repent later, but too late to save Tess from her grisly fate.)
Angel Clare is also the title of a 1973 album by Art Garfunkel.
1 June Viva la revolucion
A second excerpt today from Revolution day, in the run-up to its publication on 30 June. Here Juanita, the estranged wife of dictator Carlos Almanzor, recalls the day when he come to power.
" .... we stood and watched as, seventy metres away where our road joined the avenue, our comrades ceased to march from left to right and began to run from right to left, some falling headlong in their panic. Then, a few metres behind, the presidential guards in their blue uniforms charged after them, some pausing to club the fallen with batons or rifle butts; others to fire shots at the fleeing protestors. I remember thinking how odd they looked, actually fighting in their ceremonial tunics covered in gold braid and medals. A few seconds later, they too were gone: all that remained was the din of violence further down the avenue and a few bodies lying ominously still and twisted in the road.
It was then that I became uncomfortably aware of two hundred pairs of eyes focused searchingly upon Carlos and myself. “What shall we do?” they demanded silently. I had no answer for them. Now the moment of crisis had come, I was as paralysed and helpless as a frightened rabbit. I stood there, open-mouthed, and looked in desperation at Carlos. He too was still and silent, and at first he looked as dumbfounded as everyone else. Then his expression changed. His features became clenched in intense concentration; his eyes looked downward, moving this way and that as if the solution was written somewhere upon the pavement. I imagined cogs whirring in the machine of his brain as options were thought through to their conclusions, evaluated, discarded. Then he looked up, and from his face shone an expression of calm triumph that I had never seen before. He looked quickly behind him, and mounted some steps that led up to the door of a building, so he could clearly be seen by everyone.
“Comrades. You have seen what the dictator’s guards have done to our friends. This means that the fate of this nation now rests in our hands,” He spoke in a voice of great strength and assurance. We had sometimes forgotten that he had been a lawyer, but his training stood him in good stead at this moment. “Those of you who are afraid, walk away and go back to your homes. No one will blame you. But those of you who are angry, those who hate injustice, those who want to seize this moment that history has given us, follow me.”
There were not many words, and I remember most of them to this day (well enough to know when they were embellished by sycophantic screenwriters for those terrible films). He ended them with the cry, “For freedom and justice,” and began to run down the road towards the avenue. I sometimes wonder what he would have done if he had reached it and found that no one had followed him - would he have charged to his death or quietly slipped away? Probably the latter, I suspect. But of course, every single one of those two hundred who had been in the column ran after him. We had our third and greatest slice of luck when we entered the avenue, for the crowd was so big that it could not disperse easily, and rather than running in pursuit the presidential guards were now engaged with the rear of the great milling throng, less than a hundred metres down the road. And so they were fully focused upon what was in front of them, not what might be behind them; they were also close enough that we could fall upon them before we ran out of momentum. Just before we reached them, Carlos cried out again, at the top of his voice so that those in front as well as behind would hear, “For freedom and justice!”
There will be more extracts to come in the coming weeks. Scroll down to 11 May for the first one in this series.
21 May 2015 The Taexali Game
Further to her visit here a few weeks ago, Nancy Jardine borrows my blog today to share some information about her new novel, The Taexali Game, launched tomorrow.
Over to you, Nancy ....
Everyone loves playing advanced
interactive computer games, don’t they?
Callum Fraser’s games are totally awesome
but when his Rubidium Time-Leap flips
Aran Bruce and his best friends—Brian and
Fianna Fraser—back to AD 210, the reality is
incredible. They have a task list to fulfil,
which includes solving a local mystery,
but it’s a nightmarish business when
Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his
legions heap death and destruction on the
Taexali Celts of northern Britannia.
Giving help to Celts and Romans alike
becomes a lethal assignment—some Celtic
chiefs are as foul as Severus and his beastly
son Caracalla. Dicing with death becomes
the norm for the time travellers from
Will they complete the mission and return
to Callum unscathed?
Thank you for opening your blog to me to share the information about my latest novel!
The Taexali Game officially launches on the 22nd May 2015.
The action of The Taexali Game —Book 1 of Nancy Jardine’s Rubidium Time Travel Series of Adventures for Middle Grade/YA readers (and anyone older who loves a good fast-paced yarn)— takes place in ‘Aberdeenshire, Scotland’ in AD 210, during the invasion of the legions of Septimius Severus, Emperor of Rome. The local Taexali Celtic tribes of this far north in Britannia have already had dealings with the soldiers of Rome, back in AD 84, but they haven’t been good subjects. They’ve been causing such a lot of grief to the Governor of Britannia that the Ancient Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus, has come to Britannia to flood the north with his super-trained army to teach the wayward Celts a harsh lesson.
During their adventure, Aran and the twins— Brian and Fianna— are initially in awe of the Roman fighting machine but they find Emperor Severus’ is a horrible man. That’s only till they meet the emperor’s son Caracalla who is even nastier. None of them want to be skewered by a Roman gladius or slapped into Roman slave chains but avoiding that fate is nearly impossible.
As well as uncovering the answer to a local contemporary mystery, the time travellers have a task list to fulfil but how can they when the some of the Celts they encounter are just as deadly wielding their Celtic longswords?
This adventure novel is designed as a rollicking good read with the added bonus of being a companion novel to younger readers doing a study of Celtic Roman Britain. There’s a wealth of historical data used in the novel, gleaned from archaeological interpretative information, wrapped up in a fast-paced, readable, adventure mystery quest.
The fantastic cover design is by graphic artist Neil Saddler who has done a great job to encompass the main aspects of the novel- its impact both local and global.
All are welcome to pop into the official Facebook Event that’s on-line to launch the novel on Friday 22nd May. Participate in fun quizzes featuring Celts and Romans and win a novelty prize. The grand prize of a signed paperback of The Taexali Game could be yours, or if you only read on kindle a few review e-copies will also be on offer as prizes. https://www.facebook.com/events/839159202815971/
The novel is available across Amazon in paperback and ebook formats:
More about Nancy Jardine
Her Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures (3 books to date) is set in first century AD northern Roman Britain. Book 3 (AD 84) culminates in a horrendous clashing of Celtic Sword and Roman Gladius on the foothills of Beinn Na Ciche (Bennachie) where the amassed Celtic warriors of the north, led by tribal leader Calgach, take on the mighty Roman legions led by General Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Book 2 of the Celtic Fervour Series was in the long list of books read for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014.
Nancy Jardine also writes contemporary mystery romantic fiction which gives her the opportunity to include fabulous world wide locations in her novels—Amsterdam, Vienna, Heidelberg, Barcelona to name only a few. She has also had great fun using her love of ancestry research when creating the family trees for two of her contemporary mysteries. Take Me Now, a humorous mystery/thriller will be re-launched by Crooked Cat Publishing on the 5th June 2015. Topaz Eyes, a mystery /thriller was a Finalist in THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014.
You can contact Nancy/ or find updates on her writing at these author links:
http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk http://nancyjardineauthor.com/ Twitter @nansjar Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:
Most novels are also available from Barnes and Noble; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.
11 May A Taste of 'Revolution Day'
My second novel, 'Revolution Day' is due to be published by Crooked Cat on 30 June. Over the next few weeks I will be giving several tasters of it on my blog. Here, to get the ball rolling, is the very start of the novel, introducing us to its central character, ageing Latin American dictator Carlos Almanzor....
At six minutes past ten, the sun climbed above the Government buildings on the east side of the square. As the shadows lifted, the large number of people gathered there started to become uncomfortably hot. With the sunlight came a change in tone of the hubbub of the crowd, as the mood of thousands of individual conversations turned from anticipation to irritation. Like some great beast disturbed in its repose, the crowd ceased to purr and began to growl. Around the edges of the square, men in uniforms sensed the change and gripped their guns a little more tightly. As minutes passed and the crowd grew ever more restive, the men began to pace nervously up and down. Then, suddenly, at a sign from one of their number, they stood to attention. A door opened onto the balcony of the presidential palace, and a cheer arose from the back of the crowd, flowing like a wave through the square to engulf even those at the front who could not yet see, their view obstructed by the tall facade of the building.
Yet the balcony remained empty, and the cheer began to falter as people wondered whether anything was going to happen. At last, the figure of an old man stumbled onto the balcony. He appeared lost, confused, as if, in the grip of senile delirium, he had wandered onto the balcony by mistake. His body was so frail, so insubstantial, that it seemed to be held upright only by the starched creases of his elaborate uniform. But the cheer grew in intensity till it was almost deafening, and the old man drew energy from it, straightening his hunched back and stepping forward with new confidence to the lectern at the front of the balcony. With broad sweeps of his arms he first acknowledged and then stilled the cheers to complete silence. His face was now displayed upon large screens on either side of the balcony, revealing wisps of white hair beneath his peaked admiral’s cap, and folds of skin beneath his sad grey eyes. He took a deep breath, and from his mouth issued a voice of unexpected strength and sonority.
“My friends,” it said, prompting a fresh cheer which he allowed to bloom for a few seconds before silencing it with his open hand, “We are here today to celebrate the liberation of our great nation from despotism. Thirty-seven years ago today, people came to this square to express their anger at fifteen years of repression, of corruption, of injustice. They presented their grievances peacefully, but were met by vicious force.” At this point he paused, as had become his habit, to allow the crowd to boo at the atrocities of the long-dead dictator. He had often thought to himself that these events had more in common with pantomime than with politics. “But this time the people did not run away. This time a new spirit stirred in them, a spirit that would not be broken…”
The story was familiar to everyone in the square. Even the words used to convey it varied little from one year to the next. Yet the President seemed to have control of the crowd as if it were an extension of his own body. His large, pale hands conducted the response to every time-honoured phrase, beckoning a cheer at one moment, imposing abrupt silence the next. Where there was content that differed from previous years: a denouncement of some foreign power’s machinations, perhaps, or the promotion of a government initiative, the hands made clear what noise was expected, and the crowd produced it without error or delay. With each cheer, they waved the flags and photographs of the President that had been provided for them as they arrived at the square.
Or most of them did. A small knot of people near the front of the crowd carried pictures not of President Almanzor, but of a prominent campaigner against his regime who had recently been imprisoned. Their chants were markedly less complimentary than those of their neighbours - not that anyone else could hear them above the prevailing noise of the crowd. But their placards did not go unnoticed. One of the policemen pointed them out to a colleague, and soon several of the uniformed men could be seen speaking into their walkie-talkies.
The end of the speech was always the same, and had been the same for so long that the older people in the crowd found themselves mumbling along with the words as the climax approached. They knew without prompting that towards the end a reverent hush was required, so the President’s closing words would ring out clearly around the square and on state television: “…I say now once again those words we first uttered on that glorious day…” –his right hand now rose in triumph and shook its clenched fist at the sky, and the voices of the crowd joined him in the final phrase– “Long live the revolution!”
27 March Two from Nancy
Today I am delighted to welcome back to my blog fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, who is here to talk about not one but two new books: Monogamy Twist, released by Crooked Cat today, and forthcoming time-travel adventure, The Taexali Game.
You can find out more about Nancy via these links.
Welcome back, Nancy!
Hello Tim, I’m very pleased to come and share my new launch news with your readers.
So far my writing spans the fiction sub-genres of historical romantic adventures; contemporary romantic mysteries; and time travel adventures for a middle grade/YA market. My next two books to hit the launch pad are quite different in that the first is a contemporary mystery with history and the second is a time travel adventure set in AD 210, so…history of a long time ago.
Today, the 27th March 2015, Crooked Cat Publishing is re-launching a new edition of Monogamy Twist, a light-hearted contemporary romantic mystery. The quirky new cover, designed by Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat, reveals a grand house at the centre of the story which is a perfect image since the plot is based around a Dickensian ‘bequeathed house’ theme. Luke Salieri finds he’s been named in a will as the recipient of a dilapidated mansion in Yorkshire…but he can only fully inherit after some weird and antiquated stipulations are fulfilled! He’s never met his benefactress Amelia Greywood. In fact, he’s never before heard of her, but Luke’s never one to back down from a challenge. To unravel the mystery of why he has been chosen he needs expert help and, initially, Rhia Ashton seems ideal. Rhia, a historian and family tree researcher, appears perfect but it turns out that she has her own ideas of what will make Luke’s strange request worthwhile. Compromise is the name of the game for Luke…and for Rhia as they fulfil the bequest terms and reveal the mystery of Greywood Hall.
It’s probably no surprise that the plot for the novel came to me when I was watching the current BBC TV Charles Dickens serial of late 2010 while I was concurrently making the first forays into researching my own ancestral background. I found a decided black sheep in one of my great-grandfathers - Rhia finds a good few family surprises for Luke in Monogamy Twist!
Rhia and Luke were lovely characters to invent but some readers have told me that they love Thor, the Irish wolfhound, even more!
I extend a warm welcome to your readers to join my Facebook Launch Party for Monogamy Twist which is happening right now - the 27th March 2015. Quirky goodies can be won. There’ll be music; food; lovely locations in Yorkshire… Why not pop in and say hello! https://www.facebook.com/events/1092788957413601/
This is the PRE-ORDER link on AMAZON UK but it’ll likely be the same one on the 27th March 2015:
My other new launch – The Taexali Game, a time travel historical adventure for a middle grade/ YA readership − will be in April 2015. Set in northern Roman Britannia (current Aberdeenshire) in AD 210, my valiant trio – Aran, Brian and Fianna – must work through a set task list, part of which is to help both the ‘baddies’ and the ‘goodies’ in the story. The problem is that there are local Celtic tribespeople who are just as nasty as the invading Roman Emperor Severus and his barbaric son Caracalla. Working out who to trust is a perilous business. Literally sparring with death is a daily occupation back in AD 210, but in The Taexali Game, my teens are up to the challenges facing them! Graphic designer, Neil Saddler, has done a fabulous job of blending the main elements of the story in the wonderful cover design he’s created for me − depicting locally recognised background scenery in Aberdeenshire (Bennachie); the threat of invasion from the Ancient Roman Legions; and my time trio who are about to launch themselves into the adventure!
I loved writing about this Roman Britain era as much as I did the earlier Agricolan one (Ad 71-84) for my Celtic Fervour Series of historical adventures for the general/ adult market. My choice of setting the Middle Grade/YA time travel in the Roman Severan Britain period was so that it remained distinct from my other historical work but also because it gave me an excuse to do more research into a time that has very little written about it. During my researches, it was exciting to read that it’s possible that the Roman Emperor Severus and his son Caracalla invaded my home area of Aberdeenshire with upwards of thirty thousand Roman troops and that it’s also likely to have been the last huge scale invasion of the area by a highly organised invading army.
The Taexali Game will be available in both paperback and ebook formats.
Thank you for those fascinating insights, Nancy! I shall be joining your launch party tomorrow, and wish you every success for both books.
14 April 2015 A few thoughts ...
I’ve been invited by friend and fellow Holmfirth writer Christina Longden to join the ‘my lovely blog’ series - which asks writers to say a bit about themselves under the six headings below. You can check out Christina’s own excellent blog (and her equally good novel, Mind Games and Ministers) here.
I have a cluster of early memories – I can’t be sure which one is the oldest. One contender is being picked up by a nurse and put in a big scale to be weighed, and being extremely unhappy about it. I’d like to see her try that now!
My parents’ bless ’em, were always giving me loads to read – even well into my adult life I would get a box of books for Christmas off my Dad. I used to love the Tintin graphic novels, and Rosemary Sutcliff – my first initiation into historical fiction. At the age of eleven I read The Lord of the Rings and thought it was the best book that could ever possibly be written. Then later I got into Graham Greene and William Goulding. More recent favourites have been Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami. But I love all sorts of things: different kinds of fiction, non-fiction, poetry. I’ve always got a book on the go of one kind or another.
Libraries or bookshops?
This has probably changed quite recently. Though I did go to libraries when I was a child, I thought bookshops were great, as if I took a fancy to something I could sometimes persuade one of the aforementioned parents to buy it for me, and that nice feeling stayed with me when I had money of my own to spend. The end result of all this is that I now have a house overflowing with books. I can’t bear to get rid of them, but there’s no room for any more. That doesn’t stop me buying them now and then, of course, but I’ve gone back to borrowing from libraries again, as well as buying e-books, to keep things under some sort of control. Libraries are great for all sorts of other things too, of course: for research, or just relaxing quietly and reading the papers; and as meeting places for reading and writing groups (of which I’m in two). It’s important to support them, especially now they are under threat (see my post of 24 November last year below!)
Unlike Christina, I can’t claim to be the first in my family to go to university. That honour goes to my dad, who went to his local grammar school and got into Oxford to study history. Then his father - a complete bastard by all accounts, though I never met him - bullied and tricked him (by stealing interview letters, etc.) into staying in the (not very successful) family business. So he spent most of his working life fitting carpets. He later became a teacher, but was never really happy doing that either. My mum was also a teacher (a rather happier one), so education was a big deal in our house, one way or another. I guess it rubbed off on me, as I followed Dad to university. Then some years later I was drawn back strongly enough to spend eight years doing postgraduate study in philosophy while working full-time. I haven't really stopped ever since. Oh, and perhaps inevitably, my wife Rosa was a teacher when I met her. My daughter Helen is eighteen now, and will be off to university herself soon, all being well. We are very different in lots of ways, but something seems to have rubbed off on her too.
It’s always been there. I used to write poems as a child. My mum kept a book of them, which I've still got – aaah! I always had the idea that I wanted to write, and I always did write, to some extent. Even after I got sucked into the world of work, I managed to write a couple of novels (probably not very good ones) in what spare time I had. But in the last few years things have really blossomed, partly thanks to finding friends and kindred spirits in Holmfirth Writers Group. The publication of my novel, Zeus of Ithome, in November 2013 was one of the best days of my life. The next one, Revolution Day, should be coming out in July.
What's your passion?
There is no single answer to this question - one thing I am absolutely not is single minded! I sometimes envy people who dedicate their lives to one thing – they will probably achieve a lot more than I ever do. But there are lots of things I love and care passionately about, and now I have the luxury of some time to pursue those things, I can’t bring myself to focus on one to the exclusion of the others. Perhaps the richness of life ultimately matters more than success. So I have my writing, and I’ve kept up my philosophy as an honorary research fellow (and occasional tutor) at Leeds University. An old passion from my youth that I’ve managed to keep alive and which is now coming back into its own is music – I hope to do some recording shortly with someone I was in a band with thirty years ago! I love being in hills and mountains – walking up them, or just sitting back and gazing at them. And then there’s my family, of course, the bedrock of my life.
9 Mar Revolution Day
My second novel, Revolution Day, will be published by Crooked Cat later this year (provisionally on 17 July). The title reveals a point of similarity with my first novel, Zeus of Ithome. Both books, in very different ways, describe a revolt against an oppressive regime – in the case of Zeus, the Spartan occupation of Messenia and the ongoing enslavement of its people; and in Revolution Day the overthrow of the (fictional) President Velazco by Carlos Almanzor, which is recounted by Almanzor's wife as she writes her memoir.
There the similarity ends. Zeus is a historical novel, dramatizing actual events (albeit through the lives of mostly fictional characters) which took place well over two thousand years ago. Revolution Day recounts fictional events in a fictional country, set in the present, albeit interspersed with recollections of what happened in previous decades, against the background of the real fluctuations in relations between the superpowers and their client states.
The novel charts a year in the life of President Carlos Almanzor, now in his seventies, who is feeling his age and worried that he is losing his grip. Interspersed with the main narrative are recollections from his estranged and imprisoned wife, Juanita. She recalls how Carlos fortuitously came to power and how, over time, he gradually changed from an idealistic liberal socialist into an autocrat who now believes that he alone can be trusted with the stewardship of the nation and is prepared to do whatever is necessary to protect himself against the threats that he sees in all directions.
Carlos’ paranoia, though misdirected, is not without foundation. For Manuel Jimenez, the vice-President and Minister of Security and Information, has long been resentful of his subordinate position. When his attempts to expand his role are met with a humiliating rejection, he resolves to take action, and has no qualms about exploiting those close to the President to further his ambitions.
In the coming weeks I will be revealing more about the main characters in Revolution Day, and trailing some extracts from the novel. Watch this space!
18 Feb Welcome, Jeanne!
My guest today is Jeanne Bannon, a novelist who also has 20 years experience in publishing as a journalist and editor. Her latest book, Beautiful Monster, has just been published by Blueberry Hill Press.
Welcome, Jeanne. Tell us about your latest book, Beautiful Monster.
Hi Tim, thank you for inviting me. Beautiful Monster is a paranormal themed novella. My plan is to write three in the series, publish them first as ebooks, then bundle them into a novel and offer it as an ebook and in hardcopy.
The blurb for Beautiful Monster is:
Lev Baronovsky, a soulless creature of the night, has a problem. Carly, the love of his life has just died in an accident and in three days will pass to the other side. Without a soul, he cannot cross over with her and the thought of spending eternity without his beloved is unbearable. Is seventy-two hours enough time to find a way?
With the help of his brother, Alexei, they must face the vilest creature of all, Boris, an ancient one with selfish motivations of his own.
[ And here is a link to a trailer for the novel ]
The cover tells us that it’s book 1 of a series. Are you able to reveal anything about what is to come?
At the moment I’m in the midst of revamping my Young Adult novel, Invisible, as the rights have reverted back to me from the publisher. Once I’ve finished with that project, I’ll continue with book two. I can’t say much without revealing the ending of book one. Let’s just say, one of the character’s from book one is running amuck and needs to be stopped. He may be beautiful on the outside but is hideous on the inside.
Your previous novel, Nowhere to Run, was a romantic thriller, while your first, Invisible, was a young adult novel with a paranormal element. What sorts of novels do you see yourself writing in the future?
Pretty much everything I write has a paranormal twist, even Nowhere to Run had a pinch of paranormal in it. After I finish the Beautiful Monster trilogy, I’d like to get back to young adult novels. I have an emotional connection with that genre. Perhaps because I saw all the good Invisible did to help boost the self esteem of young people because it dealt with bullying, body image, and homosexuality. I’m proud to say Invisible has been optioned for film. I’m excited to see what will come of that.
As someone with 20 years of experience in the publishing business, do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
I’m not going to lie. Writing a tough business. Don’t get into it if you think you’re going to make a fortune. Write because you want to. Don’t write to the market; to what’s selling. Write what’s in your heart. Write the kind of book you’d like to read. There will be times when you want to quit. Believe me! You will be frustrated, you will be angry, you will be disappointed, but remember, you only lose when you quit. Do not quit. Keep writing even if it’s just a little bit each day.
Do you feel that your career has helped your writing?
I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a child. I had numerous short stories and magazine articles published when I was a teenager and young adult. I got into the publishing business because I wanted to be close to books. However, there’s a big difference between being an editor and being a writer, so I’d say no, it hasn’t helped except to give me a bit of legitimacy. Sometimes my editor brain gets in the way of my writer brain and that slows the writing process for me.
How do you organise your writing – do you set targets for yourself, or set aside particular times to write?
I usually write in the evenings and on weekends. I used to set goals but life kept getting in the way and sometimes I wouldn’t be able to meet those goals. That set me up for disappointment and failure. Now I write when I feel like it. Sometimes writing is hard work and sometimes it flows easily and is the most wonderful thing in the world. I’m an emotional person and have to pay attention to how I’m feeling. If I’m frustrated by writing or burnt out, I let it go for a while. I need breaks from writing every so often.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
When I was very young - about eleven or twelve, I’d pick up whatever novel was lying around the house and devour it. Both my parents were readers. I remember reading Sidney Sheldon novels and Jeffery Archer’s Kane and Abel. As a teenager, I read every novel Stephen King put out (I still do). I suppose that’s where my fascination with the paranormal came from.
What other projects do you have on the go?
I’ve recently finished a paranormal thriller titled Dark Angel. It’s in the hands of my agent, Karen Thomas of the Serendipity Literary Agency right now. I’m awaiting her input, then after some edits, I hope she’s able to find a great home for it. Dark Angel is the longest novel I’ve written so far and I’ve been working on it on and off for four years.
Here are links to Beautiful Monster on Amazon
You can find out more about Jeanne via her
2 Feb Welcome, Seumas!
A guest post today from thriller writer Seumas Gallacher, who tells us in his unique style why, after successfully self-publishing several novels, he has joined Crooked Cat. He has just published his latest, Savage Payback, which finds SAS officer turned security consultant Jack Calder grappling with murder and drug running. Take it away, Seumas ....
…one simple step for a Blogger… one giant step for a self-publishing Author…
…January 27th, 2015 is unlikely to go down in the history books for future generations to marvel at its significance… but for this ol’ Jurassic quill-scraper the date is laden with various emotions… it marks the first day when my wee Jack Calder crime thriller masterpieces saw the light of a Publisher’s beacon… the good folks at Crooked Cat Publishing, Stephanie and Laurence Patterson, have contracted to re-launch my entire series to date, with the likelihood of further titles to follow… the emotions are mixed, Mabel, ‘coz it means that all of the Master-Gallacher-solo-driven initiatives in the self-publishing universe now have a formal partnership… the six years of exhorting, complaining, and, yes, whining, like a Missed-An-Oscar-Award-Actress, that nob’dy in the publishing industry LUVS me or my WURK are now over… the incredible range of fantastic literary pals include many who have already slung their hammock over to the Crooked Cattery… and they all speak well of their experience… I’ve been asked several times ‘why go with a publisher after all this time, and after yer successes to date with 80,000+ downloads on the Great God Amazon?’… well, I could give yeez plenty of so-called ‘logical explanations, Sherlock’, but it boils down to this… it feels right, it feels ‘time’, it feels good… and the wunnerful thing is that I realize that any author, self-published or ‘housed’, is still expected to bear a significant amount of the SOSYAL NETWURKIN activity that is so inured in the ‘business of writing’ for a scribbler these days, in my not-so-‘umble opinion… and as many of yeez Lads and Lassies of Blog Land know, I rejoice in being a part of the Web WURLD…and here’s the clincher… the Patterson duo as publishers ‘get’ the modern reality of hybrid offerings to the reader market… eBooks and print, and oh, by the way, they have the ability to get my stuff into many other distribution channels that my single brain and one pair of hands simply could never find the time to do, and write… watch this space… yeez will be kept informed… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!...
Thanks for dropping by, Seumas. Hope the move works out well for you, and that Savage Payback is a big success.
You can find Savage Payback via these links:
You can follow him on Twitter (@seumasgallacher) or contact him by email at email@example.com
24 Jan Coming of Age
Helen in the Shard, the day before her 18th birthday
My daughter Helen turned 18 last week. It seems only five minutes ago that I was driving her home from the maternity hospital (I have never driven so carefully in my life!). So hard to believe she has grown up already. And it's also difficult to get out of that way of thinking you fall into as a parent, of feeling responsible for everything that happens to your child - probably even harder for Rosa than it is for me. She is her own woman now, though we can still feel proud of what she achieves in her life. Hopefully, we gave her a decent start!
Anyway, these thoughts reminded me of a little poem I wrote about Helen a couple of years ago. Here you go.
To my daughter
You hold within yourself
unknowing, such a reservoir of me:
were it to drain away
this flesh would be a mere facsimile.
And yet, you cannot live
constrained, protected like some tender flower.
You must be left alone
to take your chances, seize each vivid hour.
I would not wish for you
an old age stained by dreams that never shone.
I know from my own life
that time seems precious only when it’s gone.
So I shall hold my tongue
when, conscious of the hopes that rest in you
I see behind each door
you move to open, perils not in view
to teenage innocence.
Knowing that if you fall, then all is lost
I send you on your way
and keep behind me fingers tightly crossed.
31 Dec New Year - what's the fuss all about?
As we approach the turn of the year, a little poem (knocked up at Holmfirth Writers on Monday) musing on whether these big dates we all mark in our calendars and make such a fuss of have any real significance.
As the world spins, looping
round the sun in its interminable race,
is it aware that time
is measured by this ring of empty space?
This timepiece has no dial:
no signs are visible, and if they were
they would flash quickly past
the oscillating planet in a blur.
So Earth will be unconscious
of that sense, peculiar to man
that there must be some point
in time at which a given lap began.
We measure out our lives
in years: these circles drawn on nothingness.
We mourn at each one’s passing;
cheer and toast the new year nonetheless.
So is Earth missing something?
Or is it superstitious to pretend
these aimless orbits through the void
have a beginning, or an end?
For all that, I'll be breaking out the wine this evening like everybody else!
2014 [ post deleted ]
24 Nov Save our Libraries!
As caps imposed by central government on local authority spending are biting deep, councils all over the country are being forced to make increasingly drastic cuts. Inevitably, when so much of their budget is to committed to things that cannot be sacrificed without endangering life and health, the axe is starting to fall on services, like libraries, which do not fall into that category. In my own area, Kirklees, libraries are facing the prospect of a drastic cull - I am sure that much the same is true in many other areas.
I think that libraries play a vital role in our society and communities. As well as providing a vital lending service, especially for those who cannot afford to buy books regularly, they are also a priceless resource for research - both on paper and via computers - and a great venue for groups and events. It will be a great loss to local communities and to the country as a whole if significant numbers of libraries are cut. Once they are lost, it seems unlikely that we will ever get them back again.
What can we do? Well, we can make a point of using our libraries, to help emphasise their importance (and councils gather statistics on library use). Those of us who are writers, or have something interesting to talk about can help by arranging events in libraries. (I will be doing my bit on this, reading from my novel, Zeus of Ithome as part of Holmfirth Writers' Group's Winter Lights event on Saturday 29 November at 2 pm in Holmfirth Library. I am planning to arrange another reading event in Slaithwaite Library next month.)
And we can have our say as members of the public, especially when there are consultation exercises. For example, there is a public meeting about the future of my local library in Meltham on Wednesday. We can join one of the 'friends of' library groups that are starting to spring up, and/or get involved in pro-library campaigns. As well as local groups, there is also a national one - here is a link to their website: http://www.librarycampaign.com/
If you agree with me, why not share a link to this blog post on Facebook or Twitter - and perhaps do some of the things listed above. We should not lose our libraries for lack of doing anything about it.
10 Nov Happy Birthday, Zeus
It is now a year (give or take a few days) since those lovely people at Crooked Cat published my novel, Zeus of Ithome. As good an excuse as any, I think, for a little reminder of what it's all about!
Set in the fourth century BC, the novel chronicles the real-life struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of enslavement under their neighbours, the Spartans, against the background of the shifting balance of power between the leading Greek states.
The historical events are revealed through the personal story of Diocles, a seventeen year-old Messenian 'helot' slave, who is forced to flee after an encounter with the Spartan assassins of the Krypteia, leaving behind his family, his sweetheart Elpis, and everything he knows. On Mount Ithome, the ancient sanctuary of the Messenians, he falls in with Aristomenes, an ageing Messenian rebel who still remembers the proud history of their people and cherishes dreams of revolt. The pair travel towards Delphi, where Aristomenes hopes to receive guidance from the oracle, and on their journey the old man teaches Diocles some of the ways of the world.
When Aristomenes is injured in a chance encounter, Diocles is forced to continue the journey alone. In Delphi he meets the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas, and must make a difficult choice between loyalty to his friend and the opportunity to go to Thebes and learn military and political skills that will be important in the struggles to come.
Diocles finds himself swept up in a wider conflict that is brewing in Greece. But in time this will provide the opportunity for him to return with Aristomenes to Messenia to be reunited with Elpis and his family, who have experienced trials of their own in his absence.
As Diocles and Aristomenes go back to Ithome once more to commune with their god, Zeus Ithomatas, it is time for them to begin their rebellion in earnest....
Zeus of Ithome is a historical novel in the fullest sense; a recreation of actual events, places and times through the lives of both real and fictional characters. It is also an adventure story, a coming of age tale, and an exploration of timeless themes of identity, injustice, loyalty and struggle.
20 Oct That Time of Year Again
Some people tell me they love Autumn and prefer it to summer. Really? I don't mean that Indian summer you sometimes get in September (we had a bit of one this year), where it's not really Autumn yet at all, just an extension of Summer but a bit cooler. No, I mean proper Autumn, when the weather changes for good, like it did a couple of weeks ago.
OK, it's true that the trees look nice for a week or two - though if you've got two horse chestnut trees dropping their leaves all over your garden like I have, that's very much a double-edged sword. I don't mind that it's a little cooler. But you seem to get so much wind and rain and fog, then when those pretty leaves have finally gone and the clocks have gone back so it gets dark early, you have bleak, bare November with absolutely nothing to offer and no decent weather in prospect until the following May. Anyway, here's a little poem I wrote about it a couple of years back.
He strides up in his swanky gear:
spraying confetti everywhere
and one more time we’re taken in
by his sharp suit and his toothy grin,
his flashy coat of gold and red:
give me those summer greens instead.
Do not forget the gifts he brings:
the fog, the driving rain, the wind
that soon enough will strip him bare,
this faithless fag-end of the year.
6 Oct The Graham Saga
Today I welcome Swedish author Anna Belfrage, whose historical novels in the Graham Saga chart the lives of Alex Lind, catapulted back in time from the present day to the seventeenth century; and Matthew Graham, the man she meets there. Here, Anna talks about the religious and political upheavals that form the backdrop to the saga, and treats us to tasters from two of the novels. Take it away, Anna!
For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?
From religious fervour to love
What do people like Thomas More, John Huss, George Wishart, Thomas Cramer and Mary Dryer have in common? They all died – quite painfully in some cases – because they refused to compromise when it came to their faith. To us modern day Westerners, it is difficult to comprehend how someone could be willing to risk everything – including the future well-being of their children – for something as intangible as faith. To them, faith was paramount, the immortal soul far more important than the body that housed it.
One doesn’t have to go all that far back in history to find people utterly determined to die, if needed, for their faith. Actually, it is still happening as we speak in several parts of the world. In Europe, the 17th century is one of those hotbeds of religious fervour, which is why, of course, I just had to set my books in this period and propel an agnostic modern woman into an alien world defined by faith. I have a lot of fun having Alex Lind cope with her new reality. She, on the other hand, is less enthused… Below, a little excerpt illustrating Alex’s and Matthew’s rather different take on religion.
“My mother hated this,” Alex said. “She said it felt like the heavens were planning to fall on her and squash her flat. Magnus always laughed when she said that, promising he’d stand and hold the sky above her head should it happen. It didn’t comfort her in the least, and she’d sigh and tell him that she was a city girl, and that to her nature at its best were the planned gardens in Seville, her home town.”
“Well, to each his own,” Matthew laughed.
“A cada uno lo suyo,” Alex nodded, “one of my mother’s favourite expressions.”
Matthew lay back against the warm rock, staring up at the nothingness above. Should the sky fall down he imagined it would be like being smothered in a featherbed, a slow drowning in an enveloping softness. His mind leapt from one kind of enveloping softness to another, and he lay in the sun with his eyes closed and felt his cock stir. He sat up so fast it made his head spin, looking down at Alex who lay beside him, a contented expression on her face.
“So, you’re Catholic.” Unfortunately; all papists were destined directly for hell.
She opened one eye. “I am?” She sounded very surprised, and Matthew swallowed back on a chuckle.
“Well, aye; if your mother’s Spanish, she’s a Catholic, and then so are you.”
Alex made a very disinterested sound. “I don’t think I’ve even been baptised, and I’ve definitely never been to mass or confession or all those other things you’d do if you were a Catholic.”
“You’re not baptised?” He was scandalised.
Alex opened both eyes, raising herself on her elbows. “I don’t think so. My parents weren’t that much into religion.”
“But…” He cleared his throat. “That means you’re a heathen!”
“No I’m not. Heathen are people living in primitive countries that have never heard of God. If anything, I’m agnostic.”
“Agnostic?” Matthew said. “Do you mean to tell me you don’t believe in God?”
Alex regarded him with obvious caution. “Of course not, it’s just that I don’t think you need to be part of a church to believe in God. I can just as well pray to Him here, out in the open, as in a dark and smelly little chapel, right?”
“Hmm.” He decided to drop the subject – after all, her spiritual welfare wasn’t his concern. But deep inside, he knew that he wanted it to be, every facet of Alex’s life he wanted to be his concern. It shook him to the core to admit that.
There were other reasons for choosing the 17th century. After all, this is a fascinating period in time. The Europeans expanded into the New World, with all the complications this brought. The political situation in Europe was a mess, with the Thirty Years’ War re-drawing most of the previous boundaries – at least for a while. The 17th century scientists took gigantic leaps forward with men like Newton and Boyle in the forefront. And right at the end of the century, someone actually went as far as to draft a document defining the universal human rights – err… MALE human rights, but still. Sadly, at the time those human rights did not include the right to worship as one pleased, but the seeds for future liberties were sown.
Once I’d boiled down all the research I’d done into the 17th century, The Graham Saga began to take form. So as to properly take advantage of all the possibilities for drama, my central character quickly became a Scot, one of those Covenanters that were so brutally persecuted by the restored Charles II. This shadow man developed into a former Commonwealth soldier, a man of convictions and deep personal faith.
At this point, I had already realised two things: my book project would not fit into one book, and I needed to add something quite different to the pot so as to ensure my Matthew did not become too dour. (Matthew would have you know he objects strongly to the adjective “dour”, saying there is nothing dour about a man who can fight himself out of one tight corner after the other) Enter Alexandra Lind, a modern day woman who had the misfortune (or not) to fall through time and land at Matthew’s feet.
Life in the 17th century was harsh. Even more so if you were a man persecuted for your faith, as Matthew is. As the series progressed Matthew Graham has had to face abduction and slavery, enforced emigration and the general stress of keeping his family alive and safe in the wilderness that was 17th century Maryland, complete with embittered Native Americans and immoral rogues such as the bad-ass Burley brothers. But very little had prepared him for the devastation his family has to face in the sixth book in the series, Revenge and Retribution.
He was dead. From the first step he took towards Philip Burley, Matthew knew he was dead. It was just a matter of time and place. He had supposed they would shoot him on the spot, and had at first felt a soaring relief at the unexpected reprieve, but now, stumbling after them with a noose that tightened round his neck, he was no longer so sure if this was a reprieve.
An hour later, the Burleys drew their horses to a halt. Matthew sank down in a crouch, panting heavily. He heard one of the brothers laugh, but kept his face hidden in his tied arms, grateful for his broad-brimmed hat in the glaring sun. Someone jerked at the halter, sending him sprawling on his back. Another jerk, and Matthew had to scramble to get back on his feet.
“Tie him to one of the trees,” Philip said, and Matthew was pulled to stand while the rope around his neck was thrown across a branch above him.
“We could hang him,” Walter suggested, biting into a piece of bread.
“We could.” Philip dragged a hand through his shock of dark hair. He sauntered over and tightened the rope, obliging Matthew to raise himself on the balls of his feet. “Not yet, I think.” He drove his fist into Matthew’s face. Matthew staggered, the noose tightened, and he could hear himself fighting for breath, loud dragging sounds until he got his bound hands up to loosen the rope, standing now on tiptoe.
The men settled down to breakfast, reclining in the shade while Matthew stood uncomfortably beneath his tree. His head swam with thoughts and images: Jacob crumpling to the ground, Alex’s hissed, pleading ‘no’ behind him, the way her fingers had tightened like a vice around his own in that last silent farewell. His Alex, and now he would never hold her again. Sarah…what had they done to her, and how was she to be healed? Alex would know, he comforted himself. Alex would safeguard all of their bairns and see them into adulthood.
“Alex,” he whispered, and then he pushed her away. All of them he pushed away, locking them down behind mental doors. Here stood Matthew Graham, no longer husband or father, only a man that knew he was to die, and desperately wanted to live.
Well, as you can imagine surviving in this environment was hard – especially for a woman born and raised in an entirely different time. But just as Alex is Matthew’s constant support, so he is always there to hold her and keep her. And that, I think, is the main theme in The Graham Saga – that of Alex’s and Matthew’s love for each other, a deep-seated certainty that they belong together, must be together, no matter what life throws in their way. He is her man, she is his woman – that is how it is, that is how it will always be!
15 September 2014 Welcome, Colin
Today I am joined by Anglo-Australian writer Colin (C. S.) Burrough, whose historical saga, Or Forever be Damned has recently been published as an e-book and will be coming out in paperback in a few weeks' time.
You can learn more about Colin on his Facebook page
and on Goodreads.
Or Forever be Damned is available on Amazon.
Welcome, Colin! Tell us about your novel, Or Forever Be Damned.
It's an historical saga spanning eight decades, following the lives and families of two very different women who escape the slums of northern England’s ‘Cottonopolis’, Salford in the 1930′s Slump. Mona — a poor but respectable Protestant teenaged factory girl, is tormented by sibling rivalry over her favoured artistic younger brother, Ambrose. Untrained and against parental orders, stagestruck Mona resolves to outshine Ambrose, furtively pursuing a theatrical career. Into her journey, Mona unearths her younger bête noire, Kat — a Catholic rough-diamond child-veteran entertainer who, conversely, yearns to escape theatre life. So begins their lifelong enmity — a simmering irrational enmity that lives on in modern day Australia.
What was idea that led you to begin writing the book?
I've always loved the great historical fiction classics, including family sagas, and thought it a shame, as trends change, seeing them phased out, shelved for posterity. Most popular contemporary fiction – crime, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever – does little for me as a reader, so I'd feel a fraud as a writer, producing what I won't consume. I'd met countless classic saga fans who felt similar: browsed library shelves becoming dismayed, having exhausted this special genre of yore. I thought, if nobody else will top up supplies, why not me? The challenge nagged at me for ages before I caved in and took it on. I've also, from decades of consuming historical non-fiction, acquired knowledge of various periods, which felt unused, sitting in my head. My passion for historical trivia needed expression. Then there was my weird theatrical background, which others were fascinated with. As a storyteller it made sense to combine these two fields at some point.
How far does the novel draw upon your own experience?
Very little. Like everyone, I have family experience, geographical experience and professional experience, which came in useful, but this story covers mostly times and places I didn't inhabit. The characters are entirely created, not drawn from those in my life.
You have been writing since 1989. Would you like to say a little about your earlier work?
When I first left England, many years ago, someone suggested I keep journals of my first impressions of places, to reflect on, in hindsight. I travelled extensively with my theatre work and spent many hours in trains, boats and planes, watching foreign places whizz past, passing my time just thinking and writing. After some years I had all these written words and had developed a skill I liked using. I did journal articles, weekly columns, essays, short stories, novellas, and along the way my memoirs. I think all those writing stages needed to unfold to get me to this one. I just kept going, doing whatever came next, it wasn't a planned, structured vocation. A lot never reached publication and some is listed at AustLit: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A18776?mainTabTemplate=agentWorksBy
What writing projects to you have planned or in progress at present?
I'm tied up with this novel's release, which is in two phases. The eBook was released just weeks ago and the paperback is out in coming weeks. I'm not ruling out spinoffs or sequels, but have no time yet to plan anything. I'll stay with literary fiction though, a book of short stories really appeals to me. Also a screenplay of one of my favourite classic novels is a far off dream, but I'd rather not say which, I might jinx myself.
How do you plan and organise your writing – any tips?
It starts with some character entering my head, in some situation. Then I do rough sketches, pastiches, let it evolve spontaneously. Only when I see a basic outline forming do I draft a short, rough plot outline. I resist predetermining the conclusion, the situations are driven by the characters' decisions as I write. I then rewrite everything many times from start to finish. I start this by condensing the word count until it's a tight as possible without losing mood, style or cadence. Then I reread and rewrite, over and over. I wake at strange hours and jot down insertions and adjustments that come in my semiconscious states. Hard plotting from the outset is my literary death – I leave that for the fast-fiction industrialists.
You have had a career in the performing arts. Is this still a part of your life?
No. I grew up in theatre, trained full time in Performing Arts, then worked for a long time in the business until I craved different experiences. That world demands all of you, there is no other life when you're there. It remains an ingrained part of me though, and will always be in me.
Do you have any other talents or interests that you would like to share with us?
I'm fascinated with English history, hated it at school, maybe it's a nostalgia thing. I also love animals, sunshine and beaches. And I still travel when I can.
As someone brought up in Britain who has lived for many years in Australia, do you consider yourself British, Australian, or a bit of both?
I'm an English born Australian, a citizen of both and equally proud of both.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Why do you keep writing?
And what is the answer?
Dogs bark, drunks drink, writers write.
Many thanks for those insights, Colin, and good luck with the book!
25 Aug Ten books that changed my life
2014 I've been tagged by Jeff Gardiner to name 10 books that influenced or inspired me. Here they are, roughly in the order in which I read them.
My parents (bless them!) were always giving me books, but the first ones I really got hooked on as a child were the Tintin graphic novels by Herge – I asked for them after seeing the stories on TV. So the first one I ever got:
The Calculus Affair by Herge
is probably what started my longstanding love affair with books. I used to sit up in bed reading them, though this one had some scary pictures that gave me nightmares!
I guess the first ‘proper’ novel that ever grabbed me – I must have been about 9 or 10 - was
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff.
I remember being really gripped by the story. It was the start of my long-standing fascination with the ancient world. In any list like this, I can’t not mention
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien
I was utterly captivated by this book at the age of 11 and read all 1,077 pages of it several times. I still love it. A titanic feat of imagination.
I never read much other fantasy literature – what I did read never came anywhere close, as far as I was concerned. But I did get into Sci-fi, after reading
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
I guess it had some of that same epic scope, in a different context, and there were lots of great ideas to wrap my head around, like ‘psychohistory’ – a science that predicted the future. Though I mostly read literary and historical fiction these days, I still do read some sci-fi – particularly Iain M. Banks. I have recently discovered Ursula le Guin.
Probably the book that had the biggest impact on my behaviour as a teenager (not necessarily for the better) was
The MAD book of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions
I used to read it at the back of boring French lessons at school and, for a while, did my best to emulate the witty ripostes it contains (e.g. [man comes home soaking wet] “Is it raining outside?” “No, I got a lift in a water truck.”) This probably did not win me any friends!
As I got older, I started to read some of the great twentieth-century British and American novelists like Graham Greene and John Steinbeck. Probably the author who made the most lasting impression on me was William Golding. So many great books – The Spire, Pincher Martin, The Scorpion God. But the one I choose is:
A vivid and tragic imagining of the extinction of the Neanderthals, at the hands of our own ancestors.
Among current novelists, there are so many I love, like Kazuo Ishiguro, Mario Vargas Llosa, Paul Auster. And like Jeff, I’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami. But I only have space for two books, so here they are.
Money by Martin Amis
As I read this, my jaw kept dropping with the sheer audacity of the storyline and the innovative use of language – he virtually invents a new idiom for himself.
Another great book, equally well crafted but utterly different, is
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A picture of a time in British history that is within living memory yet utterly alien to most of us in its social attitudes, brilliantly conveyed through the voice of its protagonist.
There should be a philosophy book on the list. I think the one which has had the most influence on my own work is
Welfare, Happiness, & Ethics by Wayne Sumner
It is probably because of that book, which I read when I was doing my PhD, that I most of my academic work has been on well-being. Though I don’t ultimately subscribe to Sumner’s own account of well-being, his analysis of the issues and competing theories is excellent. I find myself quoting him in almost every paper I write.
I’ll end with another non-fiction book:
Persian Fire by Tom Holland
Though it reads like a novel, sweeping breathtakingly through centuries of history. Brilliant writing!
I tag Louise Turner, Mark Patton and Kim Walker.
8 Aug Creating Jerusalem
2014 Today I welcome Miriam Drori, who shares her thoughts on writing
about place and tells us about the places that feature in her novel
Neither Here Nor There, newly-published by Crooked Cat.
Writing about the place you live in and places you haven’t been to
This is the second of two guest posts about place in writing. The first was published on Sue Barnard’s blog.
Can you write about the place you live in, or do you first have to move away, to get the right perspective on the place?
Some authors say they have to distance themselves from the places they write about. That’s probably one reason why I haven’t written much about my home town before. The other is that I have preferred to set my stories in places that raise fewer emotions. My newly-published novel, Neither Here Nor There, is my first real attempt to portray my home town of Jerusalem. I even managed to write it without moving away.
In some ways, this made the writing process simpler. It was easy to revisit the places in my novel and check the details. Also, as I haven’t always lived here, I have some sense of what would stand out for visitors. I still find it hard, sometimes, to see places through other eyes. Readers of my blog have asked me to write about everyday experiences of living in Jerusalem for those whose impression of this country is warped by the news. I don’t always notice things I take for granted, things that might surprise others. My lovely writing buddies, Sue Barnard and Gail Richards, advised me to add more descriptions to my novel and I did, but I needed them to show me what was missing. The process taught me a lot. Next time I write about my home town I’ll hopefully be more in tune with the things that need to be described and explained.
Of all the places in Jerusalem that come into my novel, perhaps the most interesting is Yemin Moshe. This is one of the oldest areas of West Jerusalem. I dedicate a section of my novel to its most famous feature: the windmill. Nik Morton recently wrote a stimulating post about windmills in literature, and I see that my little novel is in very good company.
Yemin Moshe has much more to commend it, including the old buildings, cobbled alleyways and magnificent views. We used to live in this neighbourhood, but have since moved away. Would I have been able to write about it in the same way if I’d still lived there? I think so. Some places are special however much you see them. I was conscious of its unique beauty every single day.
The characters in my novel also spend a short time in London, where they visit places I’ve seen but couldn’t revisit as I was writing, and one that I haven’t seen at all from the inside: Buckingham Palace. Is it possible to write about places you haven’t been to? This is a question many authors have asked. I think the answer depends on the amount of information you can discover from other sources. Fortunately, Buckingham Palace is very well documented.
Then of course there are fictional places – those that could exist but don’t, and those that belong in science fiction and fantasy. In the first case, research still needs to be done to base the fictional place on existing models. In the second, the author’s imagination can run wild, as long as readers are willing to keep following.
Many thanks for those fascinating insights, Miriam - I wish you every success with Neither Here Nor There!
Miriam Drori was born and brought up in London, and now lives in Jerusalem where her daughter has left her to hold the female fort against three males. Following careers as a computer programmer and a technical writer, Miriam has been writing creatively for the past ten years and has had short stories published online and in anthologies. Neither Here Nor There, published on 17 June 2014, is her first published novel. Miriam began writing in order to raise awareness of social anxiety. Since then the scope of her writing has widened, but she hasn’t lost sight of her original goal.
To find out more about Miriam, visit her website: http://miriamdrori.com/
28 July Fire and Sword
Today I welcome historical novelist and archaeologist Louise Turner, who talks about her novel, Fire and sword, her life and influences, and an ongoing project featuring a time-travelling Spartan!
You can find out more about
Louise on her website:
Fire and sword is available
on Amazon via this link
Born in Glasgow, Louise Turner spent her early years in the west of Scotland where she attended the University of Glasgow. After graduating with an MA in Archaeology, she went on to complete a PhD on the Bronze Age metalwork hoards of Essex and Kent. She has since enjoyed a varied career in archaeology and cultural resource management. Writing has always been a major aspect of her life and in 1988, she won the Glasgow Herald/Albacon New Writing in SF competition with her short story Busman’s Holiday. Louise lives with her husband in west Renfrewshire.
Welcome, Louise! Tell us about your novel, Fire and Sword.
Published by Hadley Rille Books, it’s a historical novel set in late 15th century Scotland, in the turbulent period which follows the murder of King James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488 and the accession to the throne of the young James IV.
Based on real characters and real historical events, it follows the challenges faced by John Sempill of Ellestoun, a young man whose father was killed fighting for the losing side. John inherits his father’s titles of laird and Sheriff, but finds his future success and even his life threatened by men eager to make gains at his expense. John finds an apparent ally in Hugh, 2nd Lord Montgomerie, but Lord Hugh’s not exactly the most reliable or trustworthy of patrons. While he may be going places fast in the new government, Montgomerie has earned a dubious reputation for violence and treachery, and is obsessed with settling old scores with another local family, the Cunninghames. Caught between the two warring households, John must somehow renegotiate his way into the new King’s favour, without getting caught up in Montgomerie’s feud.
What inspired you to write it?
I’ve lived in the west of Scotland all my life, and it was the landscape and history around my home in West Renfrewshire which sparked off the idea for the story. I was interested merely in rooting out a good story - I only learned later on that I’d chosen to write about a period which is pretty much ignored round these parts as far as popular history is concerned. There’s great interest in the Scots Wars of Independence (particularly Wallace, with his Ayrshire/Renfrewshire roots) and then there’s nothing until Robert Burns comes along in the late 18th century.
This is a real shame, because there’s so much going on here, and with sufficient research, it’s possible to see how seemingly insignificant events which took place in the provinces were the shock waves of important events taking place in Edinburgh and affecting the whole of Scotland. It struck me that more effort needed to be made to bring these stories to a wider audience, and in the wake of publication, it’s been great to discover that as well as appealing to a more general readership interested in historical fiction, I’ve created something which local readers are keen to read because it features people and places they’re familiar with.
How much of it is history and how much is fiction?
I’d say it’s about 20% fact, 30% educated conjecture, with the remaining 50% comprising pure fiction. I’m always careful to keep the framework of the narrative as close to the known historical facts as possible. However, because the subject matter is so obscure, opinions between historical authorities can differ, particularly on the local level. Genealogies, for example, can be a double-edged sword, especially when they’re used to try and recreate the identities and lives of women. When the narratives clash, I’ll use the version which creates the most interesting twist in the story, though this can, at times, drive my inner historian batty! What I do with the spaces between the facts is a different matter - while there’s no reason why the events described in ‘Fire and Sword’ didn’t play out just as I described them, there’s no way of finding out whether I’ve interpreted the story correctly or not.
And how far does it draw upon your own experience as an archaeologist?
My background in archaeology has been crucial to my development as a writer. In more practical terms, I have a tendency to recreate past societies and events from the ground up, working with the architecture and the material culture as much as the written record. Some of my most crucial sources while writing ‘Fire and Sword’ were the burgh surveys and site reports which have been generated through work carried out in Scotland during recent decades.
Perhaps more importantly, the way I view the world has been shaped by the theoretical perspectives that formed the backdrop to my studies, informing in particular the way in which I view past societies, and how the individuals who make up these social groups interact both with each other and the wider natural and cultural environment within which they live to create the material (or written) record that has survived to the present day.
This has definitely influenced the way I see history – so often when I read historical fiction, I find there’s a sense of pre-destination about the narrative, as if the author knows how events will pan out. As a result, the story often seems to be written with the benefit of hindsight. I prefer to take the view that history results from the actions of various individuals all following their own agendas and often promoting their own self-interests. In medieval terms, the best way of understanding this is to identify the social networks within which the characters operate, whether this is reflected in loyalty to their king, or to their kin group, or whatever. It’s the way in which these social networks interact – whether they work together in a common interest or strive to undermine each other – that creates the imbalances and which generates the momentum for the story.
I’m intrigued by the sound of your work in progress about a time-travelling Spartan. Tell us more.
Instead of writing a standard time-slip novel where the heroine goes back into the past, meets the hero and falls in love, I wanted to approach the format in a different way. My hero is a young Spartan named Lysander (a Lysander, I hasten to add, not the Lysander!) who finds himself trafficked to the ‘future’ against his will. It’s proving an interesting project in many respects, because I’m trying to recreate a real Spartan who is essentially an Ancient Greek who considers himself to be an Ancient Greek par excellence and therefore a guardian of Ancient Greek values and culture.
I’ve tried to get behind the ‘Spartan mirage’ by establishing what it is to be Spartan, and what it is to be a fairly normal, regular human being who’s born and raised in a rigid, austere environment and who has willingly submitted to this existence because – let’s face it – he doesn’t really have any alternative. I wanted to challenge the popular preconception of the bellicose, spoiling for a fight Spartan, because I really don’t think they were like that. Instead, my hero is cunning, thoughtful, pious and and extremely good liar. He’ll not fight unless he absolutely has to, but when that time comes, he’s determined to be the last man standing.
There’s still a tendency for us to sneer at our ancestors, to consider them backward, and intellectually incompetent in comparison with modern humanity. It’s unfair, I think: I believe that most intelligent, articulate individuals from the past would quickly see the advantages of life in the modern world. But in the end, Lysander remains constrained by his upbringing, which means he is haunted by a dilemma: can he turn his back on his heritage and settle down to a comfortable life in the future, or should he seek an honourable death so he can, in effect, return to the comrades and the male lover that he left behind him? It’s a conflict between what he wants for himself and what he is duty-bound to do. For a Spartan, this is a pretty fundamental decision, and it’s not something that can be taken lightly.
Do you have any plans for further novels?
Too many to write, I fear!! I’ve already started plotting the third novel in my ‘Westland’ series set in 15th century Scotland (Working Title: The Lords of the Westland) and I can envisage writing quite a few more, too. I’d like to get at least as far as the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to fit everything into my allotted lifespan, if current progress is anything to go by. And then there’s the Grooved Ware Trilogy – but that’s another story….
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
Two individuals in particular made a great impression on me as a reader and as a writer through the years. The first was C J Cherryh, whose science fiction books set in the Union-Alliance universe I found particularly inspiring especially with in a historical fiction context. Ms Cherryh’s books read as if a history of the future is being played out before your eyes, and nothing is ever presented in simple black and white. The villain of one novel may be the viewpoint character of the next, and such is the strength of her writing that however badly they’ve behaved in a previous book, you’ll find the characterization sympathetic and convincing.
It struck me as being very much a reflection of real life, and when I first started reading historical fiction, I found this kind of approach quite lacking. Heroes might be flawed heroes, but villains had a tendency to be truly evil and while there are undoubtedly personages in history who can be viewed as evil, the vast majority of historical figures don’t really deserve to be portrayed in such a harsh light. It was only when I read ‘A Place of Greater Safety’ by Hilary Mantel that I realised that here was a perfect portrayal of how history is created almost by accident. Those at the heart of the narrative (Danton, Robespierre, Desmoulins) are out to change the world, but in doing so, they find themselves overwhelmed by the forces that they’ve unwittingly unleashed. In essence, it’s a novel which encapsulates that view of the human agent actively transforming their own environment that I described previously. It’s a very powerful book, and the ensemble writing is brilliant – to be honest, I prefer it to the more celebrated ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies,’ for which Mantel has achieved so much acclaim.
How do you go about the process of writing, and how does it fit in with the rest of your life?
When I wrote my first two novels, I was in a period where I was struggling to get established in archaeology, which meant having to glean a living from a succession of temporary contracts. It wasn’t a secure place to be and financially it was tight, because there was a fair amount of downtime in between jobs. But it was during these ‘resting’ periods that I got the bulk of my writing done, which is why I’ve now managed to get two completed novels under my belt. I find things much more challenging now I’ve managed to secure full-time permanent employment, but I’ve still managed to write a full first draft of my third novel over the last few years, so it can be done.
Archaeology can be quite intense physically, especially when fieldwork gets factored into the equation. There can sometimes be days and weeks on end when I come home too shattered to do anything. At the same time, I find that when I’m on a roll with the archaeology, I tend to be all fired up with my writing, too. Now I’ve got my first book out things are easier, because even when I’m too tired to be creative, there are always things to do. Editing, research, publicity, working on web content, or whatever: these tasks are all important, but they’re not quite so taxing as the process of generating new material. I don’t panic when I find myself stuck with writer’s block - I always find that the Muse returns when it’s good and ready.
What other interests would you like to tell us about?
My interests are varied and eclectic – I just wish I had more opportunity to pursue them! I’m a keen gardener, which helps swallow up a lot of my time during the summer months. I enjoy cycling, though it’s something I don’t seem to have much time for these days, and I’m a big fan of the Tour de France. It’s my annual soap, I suppose… I ride horses, again not as often as I’d like, and I also enjoy walking, especially fell-walking in the Lake District. And, of course, I have a passion for exploring ancient monuments and historic buildings. Consequently, my holidays tend to turn into extended field trips…
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
It’s a question which I’ve been asked several times – why didn’t you write about someone famous?
And what is the answer?
As a reader, I’m keen to find something which goes beyond the almost inevitable subject matter of Henry VIII and his 6 wives, Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots etc. Sure, there’s always a time and a place for an inventive retelling of these stories, but there’s so much more going on out there which we never even hear about. I should probably be marketing ‘Fire and Sword’ as a book about James IV, but even he’s considered by some to be too obscure to be ‘marketable.’
I find this a great shame – having researched James in depth (I’m reading a collection of his correspondence at the moment, and it’s riveting!) I think that he’s been cruelly underrated as a king, and all because of that one fatal day at Flodden. He was a true Renaissance prince, and I’d be delighted if my work can help his achievements to become better known and more widely celebrated amongst a broader audience.
Many thanks for those fascinating thoughts, Louise. I look forward to hearing more about your time travelling Spartan!
21 July The Spartans – Heroes or Villains?
Leonidas of Sparta
The Spartans have generally received a good press in the modern day. They feature in Hollywood films and video games as archetypes of courage and military prowess. They have given their name to contempt for luxury, and to a certain kind of dry wit (‘laconic’, named after Laconia, the country in which Sparta sits). Sparta is even praised sometimes by feminists for the freedom its women had in comparison with others in ancient Greece.
Is this a true picture, or were the Spartans not the paragons of manly virtue that they are portrayed to be? Well, it is true up to a point. It is undoubtedly the case that for most of the classical period in Greece, the Spartan (‘Lacedaemonian’) army in general and full citizen ‘Spartiate’ hoplite soldiers in particular were, man for man, the most highly trained and effective force in Greece and possibly in the world at that time. It’s also true that for the most part they lived up to their reputation for physical courage. Finally, it is also true that in general women had a greater degree of freedom and equal treatment in Sparta than elsewhere in Greece – though that is not saying much, when in Athens and elsewhere they lived very circumscribed lives and were supposed to stay indoors.
So far so good, then. But describing the Spartans solely in terms of these positive attributes is a bit like describing the Nazis by saying ‘well, they built the autobahns, and they made some great technological advances’. The parallel is apt in more ways than one. Like the Nazis, the Spartans considered themselves superior to other peoples, were morbidly obsessed with eugenics and turned conquered peoples into slave labour. I do not claim that they were (quite) as bad as the Nazis – at least they did not perpetrate mass genocide (they were not averse to executing the male population of a captured city on occasion, though in this they were by no means unique in the ancient world).
Nevertheless, they were bad in similar ways, and worse in some. Their eugenics programme included the killing of children not thought to be sufficiently robust to make good warriors or mothers. The relative equality of women in comparison with other Greek states was itself a consequence of the eugenics policy, at least in part – they were given nourishing food and physical training to help ensure that they would be fertile and healthy mothers. Sparta’s whole society was organised for war to an even greater extent than Nazi Germany. All Spartan citizen boys were taken at the age of seven and put through an extensive and often brutal training programme, the Agoge, lasting until they were twenty-one. Sparta’s military pre-eminence was hardly surprising, given that all of its citizens were full-time soldiers, whereas the armies of other states citizens were manned by part-time soldiers who went back to their farms or shops after the campaigning season.
What made this full-time military service both possible and necessary was the fact that the Spartans had turned firstly some of the original inhabitants of Laconia and later, in the eighth century BC those of neighbouring Messenia into ‘helot’ slaves, who were owned by the Spartan state and required to work the land for their masters. Their labour freed the Spartiates to spend all their time practising military skills which in turn were used, often brutally, keep the helots under control. They were often subject to beatings and random or targeted murder by the Krypteia, a clandestine organisation of young bloods newly graduated from the Agoge. Slavery was commonplace throughout Greece, but even there, the enslavement of a whole people – a Greek people to boot - and their brutal subjection for centuries was regarded as unusual and disturbing. My novel, Zeus of Ithome portrays the struggle of the Messenians to free themselves from this wretched condition.
So should we deplore the recent trend for lionising of Sparta in the popular media? Not too much, perhaps. Undoubtedly, the Spartans made a unique and lasting impact on the Greek world and wider European history. They are an obvious subject for exciting films, books and games. But we should be careful to remember the dark side of Sparta. There is nothing wrong with being intrigued and fascinated by the Spartans: impressed by them, even. But we should not admire them.
7 July Meet Diocles
I've been tagged (again!) in the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour, by fellow historical novelist Mark Patton, whose novels about prehistoric and Roman Britain I heartily recommend. This time my subject is Diocles, the central character of Zeus of Ithome.
What is the name of your character, and is he or she a fictional or a historical person?
The character’s name is Diocles, and he is fictional, though his story unfolds against the background of real historical events.
Where and when is the story set?
It’s set in ancient Greece in the 4th Century BC: the events depicted in the novel take place between 371 and 369 BC. The story begins and ends in Messenia, in the southwest of the Peloponnese peninsular in southern Greece, though Diocles also travels to neighbouring Sparta and to Naupactus, Delphi and Thebes in central Greece. The historical backdrop is the long struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three hundred years of enslavement by the Spartans, and the wider power struggles in Greece which created the conditions for their revolt.
What should we know about the character?
At the start of the book he is seventeen years old, a Messenian helot slave ‘owned’ by the Spartan state, farming a plot of land with his family for the benefit of their master, Cleander.
What is the personal goal of your character?
At the start of the book, he has two goals. He wants to marry his sweetheart, Elpis, and he aspires to emulate his cousin Leochares, who has been given his freedom after serving Sparta on the battlefield – the only way in which a helot can realistically hope to become free. But events will cause him to take a very different course in life, and to seek not only his own freedom but that of the whole Messenian people.
What is the main conflict? What messes up your character's life?
He has an encounter with the Krypteia: Spartan youths fresh from their military training who are sent to Messenia to spy on the helots and to kill any who are regarded as too big for their boots. As a result, he has to flee, leaving behind his home, his family, Elpis and everything he has known.
Where can we read more about him?
In my novel, Zeus of Ithome, published by Crooked Cat.
I tag Christina Longden, author of Mind Games and Ministers, a lively, sharply observed tale of a young widow's struggles to keep afloat a battered women's centre, and to choose between the attentions of two very different men.
30 June 2014 Tour Fever
Something strange is happening in Yorkshire. People normally seen in flat caps are pedalling around in lycra and cycle helmets all over the place. Pictures of bikes, yellow jerseys, images of anything stereotypically French, are turning up everywhere: on shop fronts, hanging on bunting all over Holmfirth. It is difficult to believe quite how the Grand Depart has captured the local imagination. What will people do when those two days of cycle mania are over, a week from now? Will they put their flat caps back on and sell their bikes on e-bay?
Not that I'm complaining. The excitement generated by the Grand Depart has been brilliant, and has inspired lots of people to do things they wouldn't otherwise have dreamed of. Like my indefatigable friend Mary, who has organised a five day Yorkshire Yurt festival in Holme Village and persuaded lots of people to come and play music, or read poems, or tell jokes. I'll be there myself, playing a bit of guitar tomorrow and reading some poems and a bit of my novel on Wednesday. It's going to be a blast!
You won't be seeing me in a cycle helmet though (come to that, you won't be seeing me in a flat cap either, though I am sometimes found wearing a sun hat at this time of year). Living half way up a Big Hill, getting anywhere by pedal power from here looks too much like hard work. No, bikes are for serious sports people, and for people who live in Holland. Or indeed, France.
16 June 2014 Revolution Day
A taster today of the novel I am currently writing, thanks to fellow Crooked Cat Author Pamela Kelt, who has tagged me in the Meet my Main Character blog tour. Pam is a master of several genres - thrillers, fantasy, romance, historical - and has published six novels. Check out Pam's website.
1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
The character’s name is Carlos Almanzor. He is the autocratic President of an unnamed Latin American country. The country is fictional, and so is he.
2) When and where is the story set?
The main story is set in the present day, but it is interspersed with excerpts from a memoir by Carlos’ estranged wife Juanita, which chart the history of their relationship and Carlos’ regime, beginning forty years before. The events take place mainly in the Presidential palace and the city in which it sits, with some scenes in Carlos’ retreat in the mountains. Juanita’s memoir often features the house on the edge of the city where she has been under house arrest for fifteen years.
3) What should we know about him/her?
Carlos is not the stereotypical strongman dictator. He was once a liberal and a socialist, a campaigning lawyer who threw in his lot with marxist revolutionaries in order to overthrow the previous dictator. But over time he has allowed himself to be persuaded that autocratic rule, repression of dissent and the cult of his own personality are necessary to steer the country through difficult times. Now in his seventies, he is feeling his age and beginning to worry that he is losing his grip. Nevertheless, he is convinced that he alone truly understands the nation, and therefore must continue to keep all power to himself.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
His Vice-president, Manuel Jimenez, resents his preminence and is plotting a coup against him. Lacking the strength to overthrow Carlos by force, he seeks to detach him from his supporters by playing on his paranoia and inducing him to do something which puts him beyond the pale.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
To preserve his legacy, as he sees it. That means clinging on to power, since he believes that there is no one else to whom he can safely pass on the stewardship of the nation.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The working title is Revolution Day. Keep an eye on this blog for some extracts from the novel over the coming weeks.
7) When can we expect the book to be published?
I don’t know for sure – but I have finished a first draft and will be editing it over the next few weeks.
I in my turn tag Jane Bywe, author of Breath of Africa, a brillian novel about Kenya during its transition to independence. Check out Jane's website and her interview on this blog on 13 January, below.
3 June 2014 The Writing Process
I have been 'tagged' by Alison Lock on the Writing Process Blog Tour, which encourages writers to share their secrets about how they work. Check out Alison's website to read about her poetry and short stories.
What am I working on?
I am currently working on a novel, provisionally entitled Revolution Day, about an ageing (fictional) Latin American dictator. As he begins to lose his grip, one of his subordinates is plotting a coup. Interspersed with the main narrative is the memoir of his estranged wife, now under house arrest, who recalls how he overthrew the previous, despotic, regime and gradually changed over time from an idealist into a brutal autocrat. I have just about finished a rough draft, and am about to do some editing prior to submitting it.
I also write poetry, and have two or three pieces in various stages of development. I should perhaps mention that as well as creative writing I write academic articles (and have written one academic book, Knowing What is Good for You). My background is in philosophy. Recently I have been mostly writing about well-being and its relationship to public policy. I am working on a couple of articles about well-being and intellectual property law.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m not really a fan of pigeonholing fiction in genres, and am at a loss to say what genre Revolution Day is. It was first conceived as a literary novel about the different ways in which power corrupts people, but has taken on something of the plot of a political thriller. My previous novel, Zeus of Ithome (published by Crooked Cat), is easier to categorise: it is straightforwardly a historical novel, weaving the lives of fictional characters around real events – in this case, the struggle of the ancient Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans. But is ‘historical’ really a genre? Certainly, historical novels share certain features, such as the creation of a period setting, but they can encompass pretty much the whole range of what fiction can do – thus Zeus of Ithome, for example, can also be read as a coming-of-age story, and the themes it explores of friendship, loyalty and the struggle against oppression are not specific to any historical period.
Why do I write what I do?
I have always felt the urge to write, since I was a child. Though there have been periods in my life when I was too overwhelmed by other commitments to do very much of it, even then the urge was still there.
As for what I write, I am at the mercy of whatever ideas I happen to stumble upon. I see this as essentially a passive process – ideas come to you, but cannot be conjured up out of thin air by an act of will (or at least, not good ones) - though there are things you can do to put yourself in a place where ideas are more likely to come your way.
How does my writing process work?
When writing fiction, I like to have a rough plan for a novel in place before I start writing it – I feel the need to work within a structure, though it is important that it should remain flexible – sometimes it’s important to allow the characters to take it off in a new direction. I set aside ‘writing days’, during which I will aim to produce a minimum of 1000 words – usually a bit more - of good quality text that fits within my plan for the novel. I know that some writers produce several thousand words a day, but I don’t think this would work for me. No doubt I could physically produce that amount of text, but it would not be text of the right quality, and it seems to me that any benefit from the extra output would be more than cancelled out by the extra work required in editing it afterwards. Even as things are, editing is a major task, and I’ll go through a draft more than once before I’m ready to show it to anyone. But hopefully, this way I’ll be able to minimise the major structural re-writing that is a lot more difficult – and a lot less fun – than writing from scratch.
My process for writing poetry is rather different. I usually start with an idea – perhaps the bringing together of different things and finding the connections between them. Very often this will be generated during a writing exercise at Holmfirth or Slaithwaite writers’ group. Often, the process does not generate anything worthy of a poem, but every so often something will really capture my imagination, and if I’m lucky I may end up with a rough draft of a poem after half an hour. Then I will spend weeks returning to it and honing it bit by bit into its final form (insofar as any poem is ever truly finalised). Again, the editing process is often much more difficult than the initial writing.
See the 'BOOKS' page of this website for more information on Zeus of Ithome and Knowing What is Good for You. You can find examples of my poetry by scrolling down to previous posts in this blog.
WATCH THIS SPACE to see who I in my turn am going to tag.
29 May A Yorkshire Tale
Today's guest on my blog is Stephen Bailey, whose humorous tale of
Yorkshire mill folk, Murgatroyd's Christmas Club, is published
by Fishcake publications.
WELCOME, STEPHEN. TELL US ABOUT YOUR NOVEL, MURGATROYD’S CHRISTMAS CLUB
The book concerns five friends who all work in a West Riding of Yorkshire Woollen Mill and who after Christmas one year in the 1950s are all desperately short of money.
They decide to do something about their annual financial embarrassment before next Christmas and although they know absolutely nothing about finance, banking or commercial organisation, they battle on and have a huge success with their Christmas Club.
The story surrounds the characters, families and friends of the five main textile workers, Murgatroyd’s Mill where they work, the village of Grolsby and the village Club and pubs that they inhabit with frequent regularity.
The book is humorous, even funny and has been described as a cross between Last of the Summer Wine and James Herriot.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE IT
If I said I don’t know will you believe me?
I have always enjoyed writing, going back sixty years to my school days and one day sitting on a beach somewhere, I began to write. It was all longhand in those days and I wrote the first line ‘What’s for dinner?’ I put my book down, went for a walk, returned to my deck chair, opened my writing pad, took pen in hand and began to write. Approximately twenty years later I finished the novel. I used to write at weekends and on holiday, because I had a demanding and long hours job as a textile engineer giving me little time to write on a working day. My main inspiration comes from people watching and observing the absurdities of life.
TO WHAT EXTENT ARE THE PEOPLE AND PLACES IN THE NOVEL BASED ON REAL LIFE?
Very much. All the characters are based on people I have met in my travels around the now almost defunct British textile industry. All of them have been exaggerated with artistic licence, but there is a basis in people I have known. As far as the place is concerned, the action takes place in one Pennine valley village where part of the textile industry began, well known and well loved by me.
AND HOW FAR DOES IT DRAW UPON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE IN THE TEXTILE INDUSTRY?
It is all based on my experience in the textile industry. A lot of my working time I spent with senior management but even more was spent on the mill floor, measuring and planning. It was here that talking to the operatives, I picked up an amazing amount of local information, stories and at times absolute rubbish, most of which can be sorted and put into a novel.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR FURTHER NOVELS?
Yes, I have the second of the Murgatroyd novels about a few hundred words from completion, but as with most novelists, the last few words are the hardest. Then I have the third one of the trilogy in mind, but that is for the future.
I have a light hearted detective novel half way to completion, and another hilarious tale about an annual dinner burning down a four star hotel well on its way. Plus of course the almost compulsory collection of short stories which at the preset time is very short in deed.
WHO OR WHAT HAS MOST INFLUENCED YOU AS A WRITER?
I think that the novels of Tom Sharpe have had some minor influence on my thinking, but other than that, all of what I have written has been dreamed up by me from my experiences of meeting people.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT THE PROCESS OF WRITING-DO YOU HAVE A SET ROUTINE.
I have no routine, no plan, nothing. I sit down at irregular intervals, at any time of the day and write. I am lucky that I have never suffered from writers block but I have at various times had periods of weeks or even months at a time when I have not written.
I am probably unconventional that when I sit in front of my computer I have no pre-conceived idea about what I am going to write. I just start to write and inspiration comes from somewhere.
WHAT OTHER INTERESTS WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL READERS ABOUT?
I am a very keen gardener. I enjoy growing flowers, fruit and vegetables.
I do a lot of photography, particularly when I am walking. DIY features heavily in my programme, I am a keen caravanner, I love to travel and I really enjoy meeting people. I am also a member of my local Probus Club.
To agree with many people I meet, I really do not know how I found the time to go to work before I retired.
WHAT QUESTION WOULD YOU HAVE LIKED ME TO ASK THAT I DIDN’T?
Do you know that you’ve sold one million copies of your novel?
AND WHAT IS THE ANSWER.
Here is Stephen's page on Smashwords
Murgatroyd's Christmas Club can be bought via the Fishcake Paperback Book Store
or by ordering at any good (or bad) bookshop.
It is also available as an e-book on Amazon via this link
12 May Human Writes
Today, horror writer Damon Rathe - a.k.a. independent
publisher Martin Rothery - joins me to talk about Human Rights, his
zombie novel with a difference, and more.
Human Rights can be bought from
Amazon via this link and from
other online retailers, as well as via
Here are some links to Fishcake
Welcome, Damon/Martin. Tell us about your novel, Human Rights.
Imagine a zombie with ethics trying to save the ‘human’ race from extinction, but trying to do this whilst not trying to get shot or decapitated, having to fit into the new zombie society and playing his part for the bigger community by meeting work targets and then, worst of all, having to overthrow the super mutant zombie overlords as well. Then he has to try and make peace with his most hated enemy and communicate with then to try and negotiate a peace. It’s not easy for the poor soul.
And then he has questions of his own. Why does he remember his previous life before conversion? Why does he think it’s wrong to commit genocide?
We see how he achieves these goals whilst comically wandering through the everyday life of a normal zombie – killing humans and eating brains.
Weaved through this is another story of a doctor trying to save the human race in his own way and almost manages to manufacture a cure…almost! The end of this character results in an interesting surprise ending that ties in with our own zombie hero.
What inspired you to write it?
As it seems with all my books, it started as a bit of a joke in a conversation between myself and two other authors Kenneth Frank and Louise Hunt who I collaborated on with the project ‘Souls of Darkness’. We were looking at the zombie genre from the zombies point of view for a change (which is quite a rarity at the moment as it seems all zombie books and films contain humans trying to kill, survive against or run away from them).
No one ever gives a thought to the poor zombie as they get a bullet through the head or ever wonders why they have to swarm across the land looking for victims. They are just seen as mindless monsters – but what if they weren’t? What if they had a purpose? This book addresses that question.
Are you planning other zombie novels for the future?
Not at the moment, I am currently looking to continue with my next project but I’m not sure what it is yet. I have started a children’s apocalyptic survival adventure and created a fantasy world and started a novel based on that so I may return to them. I’ve also got an idea for a ‘mutants versus aliens’ story that I’m quite excited to develop.
There is the potential for a sequel to human Rights as it raises the question of immortality and that would be something interesting to explore. But not just now – I’m a bit ‘zombied’ out.
You have previously written fiction for (older) children. Do you have any plans to branch out into other genres?
Yes, as mentioned, I would like to branch out into fantasy and sci-fi more. It’s interesting that my first love in reading is fantasy novels and when I first decided I wanted to write back in 2007 the first things I started to write were fantasy, so I’m surprised that I never actually continued down that path. I think it’s time to redress that.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
Escapism. I love to get away from real life and go off to other worlds, places or see things in a way that I’ve never seen them before. I have a bit of a dark side (which is how Damon Rathe, my alter ego, appeared) and I’m enjoying playing with that at the moment.
But I love all things fantasy and sci-fi the most as I have been reading that from being very young from things like ‘The War of the Worlds’ by H G Wells to the Narnia stories by C S Lewis.
You also publish novels by other people. Tell us about Fishcake Publications.
Fishcake Publications was a response to the domination to the big publishing companies controlling who the public gets to read. There are so many good writers out there, but they just don’t get the opportunity to be read whether that’s due to the opinion of one editor or it just doesn’t fit in with current trends or fashions that these publishers perceive. New writers are rarely given a chance these days and I wanted to change that. With the rise of the ebook and digital publishing, with a little skill and know-how a good quality book can be produced and new writers launched into the public domain.
I used my own book as a launch vehicle to get the ball rolling, but since then Fishcakes has signed five new authors and is hoping to sign up three more before the end of the year.
Through Fishcakes, I can also get involved with charity and community workshops to promote children’s reading and raise money. Last year a book was released after working with kids and the Kirklees library and later this year we’re hoping to launch a book of poetry to help raise money for Kirkwood Hospice.
How do you make time for writing alongside your day job and publishing activities?
With great difficulty! I work in small bursts when it comes to writing but luckily I am a fast writer. I just fit it in when I can.
What other interests would you like to tell readers about?
I love going to the Holmfirth Writers’ Group, it helps me keep in touch with what other writers are doing and doing the workshops always keeps the mind ticking over with new ideas and challenges. I also like to try and attend the NAWG (National Association of Writers Groups) writing retreat at Wentworth Castle, Barnsley every year. It’s my one chance to get away each year and just concentrate purely on writing – I love it.
I’m also a keen illustrator which is something I’m developing through Fishcakes as I have done all of the cover designs for the books that are launched with the exception of Souls of Darkness which was done by the talented Warren Lee. However, I did do some of the internal illustrations for that one.
My other passions are camping and walking which luckily I can combine which results in many great holidays!
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Can I buy a book from you?
And what is the answer?
Of course you can!
12 May Welcome, Fred
2014 Fred Tidball joins me today to talk about his humorous fantasy
novel, County Tales and its forthcoming sequels, other projects and
County Tales is published by Fishcake Publications
The book is available to buy in paperback
on the Fishcake website
and as an e-book on Amazon
(also available through other outlets)
Here is a link to the County Tales Facebook page
Welcome, Fred. Tell us about your latest book(s)
My latest books are as follows: First, County Tales, then County Tales Too. After that comes County (The Quest of the Nine) Tales, with County Tales Three bringing the series to a close (perhaps). They are set in The County, overseen by Her Ladyship (the giant star who sits on a golden turnip), Overseer of all the galaxies. Originally, she was one of the Unseen Ones, but was chosen to rule the galaxies, especially The County. With the ability to assume any shape she wishes, Her Ladyship has a passion for Faery Folk bordering on the insane. She does, however, hate halflings (cross bred species like dragon/faery, goblin/pixie, etc) and does her utmost to kill them.
Give us some background to the world in which the County Tales series takes place.
The County is filled with all sorts of faery folk, goblins, pixies, elves, hobgoblins, etc - along with a mixture of weird and wonderful creatures like the IdoasIlike, stubborn birds with the survival skills of a piece of wet lettuce; werewolves, dragons including Redstripes, Firescorchers and Bloopy, to name but a few.
What led you to write this kind of fiction?
County Tales happened by accident. I was writing the book "The Fallen Man (Nature's Revenge)". When I got to the middle of it, I had the urge to write something completely different. And that's how County Tales began.
Do you have plans to branch out into other areas in future?
Yes. I have written a book of Pomes, Rimes and Tiny Tales. It is filled with both serious poems such as Visit to Auschwitz and humorous ones like Longing for Rain. In the mix are a number of Tiny (County Tales) Tales, along with limericks and silly stuff gleaned from my fertile imagination.
I am also writing a horror story based on the Book of Revelations, using my experiences within an evangelical organisation that almost cost me my sanity.
Other projects include the crime thriller Once Upon a Sixpence, along with an ongoing book of short(ish) stories, which include Joyce's Pond, The Prodigal, and Albert Scroggins, to name but three.
How do you go about the process of writing?
I just pick up a pen and write. Other times, I get an idea and jot it down, but mainly I just write.
Who has most inspired you as a writer?
Many writers, including Terry Pratchett, Gerald Seymour, Stephen King, Spike Milligan, Mary Shelley and Tom Sharpe.
What other interests would you like to tell us about?
I am a keen gardener/environmentalist. I enjoy walking, being with my writers' group and other writers. I am a fan of all sorts of music, but have a yen for choral/classical (opera) music mainly. I read a lot, having been an avid reader since the age of four.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn't?
What would I like to achieve through writing?
And what is the answer?
To encourage others to read - and yes, wealth and fame wouldn't go amiss either.
29 April Looking Back
Hats off once again to those great people at Two Valleys Radio, for giving a voice to the local community in the Holme and Colne Valleys and a platform for writers, musicians and people with something to say. Holmfirth Writers Group did another of our Institute of Ideas broadcasts on Sunday 27th, on the theme of nostalgia - ably coordinated by Henry Gibson (a.k.a. Chris Huck). There was a nice mix of poetry and prose, and the latest instalment of Henry's comic play, Wilton Codpiece. Some lovely pieces from Mary Lister and Sue Clark especially. I think we managed to be poignant without being cliched or sentimental. Check it out on the Two Valleys Website - you can hear the broadcast here on Listen Again.
Here is one of the two short poems I read for the broadcast - about how the past may not live up to our nostalgic expectations when we revisit it.
This is the place.
The gentle mound beside the reservoir,
the wall of ivy-eaten stone
that separates nothing from no one,
the tower on which no soldier ever stood.
Once, there were dragons here;
with my plastic sword
I stormed the castle,
saving princesses from evil kings.
I was a fool to think
these walls would sing to me
the magic of that distant time.
There is no place for chivalry
among the condoms and the empty cans.
I trudge back from the silent stones,
stubbing my toes
upon the bones of dragons.
7 April Hello, Spring (I hope)
We don't seem to have had a proper winter this year - snow covered the ground around here just once, and only stayed for a couple of hours. But what it lacked in cold it more than made up for in spiteful wind and rain, that seemed to drag on for ever. It does finally seem, though, as if the end is in sight and we can at last say good riddance to that miserable season. Tempting fate, probably, but I felt optimistic enough to dig out this little poem about the arrival of spring.
It all seemed much the same,
the winter’s smoky breath still hanging in the air,
condensing on the skeletons of naked, sleeping trees.
We coughed, and reached for coats and hats once more.
But this fog had a glow to it,
ghostly at first, as if the moon had stayed out far too long.
It grew brighter, and we realised
that this was our old friend the sun,
so seldom seen of late, but here in triumph;
here to chase the mist away
and sprinkle dew-moist grass with diamonds.
They felt it too: the trees, the birds,
for we could sense their bleary yawns,
the stretching of ice-stiffened limbs,
a great unbuttoning of winter clothes,
so we in turn threw off our coats
and danced with joy
24th March Agricola’s to blame!
2014 Today I welcome Nancy Jardine to my blog for the second time
on the eve of the launch of her latest novel, After Whorl:
Donning Double Cloaks.
After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks is
available for pre-order from Amazon here
Officially released in ebook formats on
Amazon on 25th March 2014.
The Facebook launch party for
After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks
is on the 25th March and all are welcome
to pop in and say hello.
Hello again, Nancy, and congratulations on your new novel. Tell us all about it.
Hello, Tim. It’s really excellent to be visiting you again and especially since the third book of my Celtic Fervour Series - After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks (Crooked Cat Publishing) launches tomorrow, the 25th March 2014. I’m personally very glad it’s being released so soon after the second book of the series, After Whorl: Bran Reborn (Published 16th Dec 2013), because a number of my readers have expressed a desperation to read the next part of the series which continues the stories of Brennus of Garrigill, and Ineda of Marske - the main characters of Book 2.
After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks covers the period from AD 74 though to AD 84, beginning in Brigantia (northern England). However, unlike Books 1 & 2, the locations soon change and move northwards into Scotland. By AD 78, the relative political stability between the Celtic Brigante tribes and Rome changed yet again. The treaties, which had been operating for a few years, were no longer sufficient to keep the legions of Rome from invading northern reaches in greater numbers. When Gnaeus Julius Agricola became Governor of Britannia in AD 78, he was determined to conquer the whole island of Britannia- very much a political move to demonstrate his prowess as Governor and Commander of the legions stationed in the outermost reaches of the Empire. To accomplish this major achievement he needed to march his legions to the furthest areas of what is now northern Scotland. According to the writings of his son-in-law, Tacitus, Agricola’s legions soon went on the march after his inauguration as Governor in what have been named his Northern Campaigns.
Whilst researching the period I became fascinated with the interpretations of these campaigns. Here is a map that shows the main locations featured in the novel. (For a map of Agricola's campaigns, see
I pored over the maps compiled from information given in the works of Tacitus regarding the routes taken by the armies of Agricola. According to the interpretations, Agricola’s troops set foot on a lot of land over approximately five years. In many ways, the maps seemed too simplistic to me, since the legions could march some 20 miles a day, in favourable weather and over reasonable terrain. Doing that, they could have covered current day Scotland in a lot less than five years. Marching over any landscape, hospitable or otherwise, is naturally not the same as conquering the peoples who lived on that land. It knew it must have taken some time to subdue those northern Celtic natives but the dates given by Frere and his colleagues in the 1970s were a little confusing. It was only after most of the novel was written that I discovered recent archaeological evidence which made more sense of the timelines involved. It seemed much more reasonable that Agricola’s predecessors as Governor, Cerialis and Frontinus, had been the first Romans to strike forward into what is now the far north of England and Scotland- though perhaps only with exploratory forces rather than full legions. I was delighted that my novel didn’t have to be re-written since my original timeline for After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks now fit the historical model much better. I am, of course, writing fiction and inconsistencies perhaps should not matter- but they matter to me since I try to be as realistic and accurate as possible for a ‘best fit’ for my stories.
What also struck me was that little is documented of the actual domination of those far northern Celtic peoples, who were basically farming folk tending small and manageable Celtic strip fields. There’s little archaeological evidence in Scotland pointing to many very large settlements, leading to the supposition that the tendency was probably for smaller numbers to cluster together- thus, perhaps, easier for Rome to subdue individual areas. I, personally, cannot envisage a small Celtic roundhouse village, maybe harbouring even fifty people, taking up arms against the tramping feet of a whole legion of more than four thousand soldiers marching in rigid formation towards it. Fleeing, even temporarily before regrouping with other Celts, seems much more practical. The idea of being confronted by so many foreign and well equipped soldiers was an intriguing one which begged to be written about.
Tacitus doesn’t regale his readers with accounts of many battles undertaken to subdue the Votadini, Selgovae, Novantae or Damnonii tribes of southern Scotland. The main mention is that of a large battle somewhere in north-east Scotland against a Celtic ‘Caledon’ leader he named as Calgacus. The site of the battle is unknown but there are currently a number of sites in north-east Scotland which lay claim to being the place of battle. One of these sites is a place I’m very familiar with – the range of hills named Bennachie - which lies around nine miles from my home at Kintore, Aberdeenshire. Bennachie fits many of the criteria denoting the battle site and is a prime contender. There were two Agricolan temporary marching camps near Bennachie, at Kintore and Durno. Durno lies directly opposite the peak of Bennachie named Mither Tap, which fits the description of the peak named by Tacitus as being well discerned from many miles away due to its distinctive shape on the skyline. Some ten thousand Roman soldiers are thought to have been sheltered at Kintore and maybe three times as many troops at Durno. That was sufficient information for me to make my battle at Beinn Na Ciche - the Gaelic name for the hills.
I decided that Brennus of Garrigill would journey to north-east Scotland in search of one charismatic leader who would be prepared to lead thousands of warring Celts in battle against Rome; my idea taken from the battle, un-named by Tacitus though later named The Battle of Mons Graupius in early Victorian times. Since it took Agricola some five years to get to north-east Scotland, as interpreted by Frere and colleagues, I decided Brennus would have to seek long and hard before finding Calgach, my Celtic leader. Altering what is well documented history too much wasn’t on my cards. I only altered Calgacus to a more acceptable Gaelic sounding form and my battle remains unnamed in Book 3.
What of Ineda of Marske? She, too, treks northwards as the slave of Gaius Livanus Valerius who has a very interesting job as a tribune with the Legio XX, and for a short time with the Legio IX. I chose not to have him be in the forefront of the action of Agricola’s legions and gave him a slightly different progress northwards from Agricola’s main armies. Whilst researching the era, I became fascinated by the Roman installations which were built all the way up north-east Scotland. The Roman forts and watch towers named ‘ The Gask Ridge Line’ or ‘The Glen Blocker Forts’ were perfect and gave credence for my Roman tribune, Gaius Livanus Valerius, to be one step behind Agricola since his job is effectively a supplies officer. It followed that I would include a little about Pinata Castra, ‘the fortress on the wing’ now named Inchtuthil. Inchtuthil was a fascinating supplies depot which did not follow the standard half dozen or so regularly used plans for laying down a fort or fortress throughout the Empire. In being different from a normal fort, it was similar to the supplies depot set up at Corstopitum near the Scottish English border. I knew I could use the traffic of Roman supplies to forward troops, and to new installations, as part of my plot. Both of those supplies bases are included in Book 3.
More of Ineda and Brennus can be had by reading my newest novel, After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks. I would love to hear feedback from any of my readers about my Celtic Fervour Series. Many thanks for hosting me today, Tim!
You're very welcome, Nancy. Thank you for these fascinating insights into the background to the novel.
Nancy Jardine’s novels can be found in paperback and ebook formats from: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Crooked Cat Bookstore; Waterstones; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords; W. H. Smith; and other book retailers. Nancy can be found at the following places: Blog Website Facebook Goodreads About Me LinkedIn Twitter @nansjar Google+
Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in an area that’s steeped in ancient standing stones, tombs, ruined castles and fantastic Scots Baronial architecture. A lover of all things Scottish, her homeland creeps into her writing as does her fascination with history- Celtic/ Roman Britain in particular- though keeping herself updated is a constant battle, since history is being rewritten almost every week as new archaeological discoveries are made. Writing time is shared with regular grandchild minding duties, tending her large garden, ancestry research and leisure reading. She is currently writing a family saga based mainly in Scotland, and Book 4 of her Celtic Fervour series. Topaz Eyes (Crooked Cat Publishing) an ancestral-based mystery, is a finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE Fiction 2014. After Whorl: Bran Reborn - Book 2 of her Celtic Fervour Series (Crooked Cat Publishing) has been accepted for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014.
20 March Mind Games
2014 Today's visitor to my blog is Christina Longden, whose novel 'Mind
Games and Ministers has just been released.
Christina Longden was born in Tameside, Greater
Manchester. She studied at the Universities of Birmingham and
Salford, and now lives in West Yorkshire with her family.
To find out more about Christina, why not visit her blog:
or her Facebook page:
Mind Games and Ministers is available on Amazon
Welcome, Christina! Tell us about your novel, Mind Games and Ministers.
It’s ‘dark comedy – Set Up North.’ The story of Rachael Russell, a woman struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband but also being haunted by her own ways of dealing with grief. Without spoiling the story too much for people – she ends up in bed rather too quickly with her old flame….whilst getting involved with a Government minister. And then – oh the joy of irony – Ms Leftie Feminist appears half-naked in the tabloid newspapers as the Minister’s latest Bimbo.
What inspired you to write it?
I’ve always been interested in taboos. How society expects us to think and to behave during certain life events. Becoming a parent for example. The prologue begins with Rachael on the verge of abandoning her kids. And how we deal with death too. Gender issues…what is expected of us as a woman – and as a man. Domestic violence and the ‘correct way’ of dealing with it. I’m interested in how and why some people can get away with refusing to buy into these taboos. And how others of us cannot seem to stand up to the pressures of society – even though the crazy pressures might cause us some psychological damage! Of course, none of this was conscious in my head at the time of writing.
In what ways does the novel draw upon your personal and professional experience?
Well of course, Rachael’s work background is pretty similar to my original job – working in social housing and in the community. When I moved overseas and ended up working in developing countries, lots of people that I knew in the UK said ‘what qualifies you to work in the middle of the desert with the most marginalised people in the world?’ And I always wanted to shout ‘SOCIAL HOUSING’ at them! I do think that the way that poverty affects humans is the same, the world over. Sure – generally speaking in the UK we don’t have much absolute poverty. But where you are used to dealing with any form of poverty via a job in the UK – you can pretty much assured that you’re going to be good at supporting people in developing countries with their needs. Also, whilst living in developing countries I became very aware that different cultures deal very differently in terms of the expectations that they have for people. I gave birth to my daughter in Namibia and the different attitudes to parenting there really made me think a lot about the pressures in the affluence west on parents. Also, I think that witnessing so much death and such different attitudes to gender formed the nugget of what morphed into Mind Games and Ministers. And yes, I also have a bit of experience of working in and around MPs and Ministers – both in the UK and overseas.
To what extent are your characters based upon real people (if you dare tell us!)?
Inevitably, people were going to ask whether I saw Rachael as myself – but I would say that she is a much stronger character than I am. I wouldn’t have the guts to do the kind of things that she does. Her parenting style is rather like mine though… Michael, I am afraid, is like no Government Minister that I have ever known! I wonder if I subconsciously modelled him as a more right of centre version of the late Tony Benn. But the bit about him hating kids and being into all things military is clearly not something Mr Benn would have been in favour of. Shaun, I am pleased to say – is not based on an Ex or a husband! Sadly, I’ve worked with rather a lot of men who have had the Shaun-attitude and had a bit of charisma …But I won’t say any more than that!As for the children – rather too close to my own two. And I’m sure that they’ll sue me for this, one of these days.
Without giving anything away, it seems that there is more to come for your central character, Rachael. Can you say anything about your plans for future books?
The original book was double the length. But I thought that no-one would be able to plough through over 220,000 words! So I tinkered about with the storyline and I halved it. Book number two has been finished and is undergoing a severe edit. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the relationships develop between Rachael and Michael. With Shaun lurking in the background as always. And then a lot more going on in terms of Rachael’s Women’s Centre and a bit of book number two set in London as well.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
Strangely….feeling like an outsider! Being a Northerner, too. Where I come from, where I grew up – being a writer was nothing more than a pipe dream. The closest that you could get to it, was maybe being a journalist. Which is what I thought that I wanted to do – but my family couldn’t afford for me to get a post-grad journalism qualification. Which I’m grateful for now because I know that I am not made of the journalist-stuff. I guess that I’ve always worked with ‘outsiders’ – whether people struggling to get by on council estates, or with indigenous peoples in the Kalahari, like the San bushmen. I wrote two book with the San bushmen – using their words – and it was a fantastic experience. Seeing their faces as they held the book in their hands. Someone bothering to tell their story. And then when I began to write to prisoners – and to visit – death row in Texas. It was a bit of a lightning bolt moment for me. Seeing the power of the written word, of taking just a few minutes to reach out to someone and to hear what they had to say. This is how I feel about northern writers. Especially northern writers who aren’t from the kind of background where they have been encouraged to write. I was lucky, because I had some fantastic teachers and knew people in the community who fed my love for reading and keeping diaries. People – especially women – who encouraged me to get angry about the fact that there are so many untold stories…even from the streets of Manchester that just need to be heard.
You have a busy job and two small children. How do you organise your writing to fit into your hectic life?
I am not particularly disciplined unless I am ‘on a mission’ – in terms of getting the creative buzz – or in terms of having a deadline. Then I am fantastic at shoving the kids in front of the TV with a bowl of dry cereal and neglecting them until I emerge from the loft a few hours later and notice the patches of TV-drool on the carpet and two very spaced-out kids and saying to them ‘Oh. Are you still here?’
What other interests would you like to tell readers about?
My biggest interest is ‘where I live.’ I adore living in west Yorkshire. I know that I’m a shameless traitor – defecting from the Lancashire side of the hills over to the white rose side but….there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t look out of my window and Praise De Lord for the beauty of our countryside here, for being just a hop and a skip away from Manchester, Bradford, Leeds etc but mostly for the fantastic and eclectic ‘mix’ of the locals. Because our family life is so incredibly hyper-hectic, we do try and slow ourselves down a little bit – and we have found that the best way to do this is by being narrow boat owners. The canals of west Yorkshire are stunning (sorry….here I go again – bragging about where I live!)
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Ah….you could have asked ‘Should your book be recommended as a read for women-only?’
And what is the answer?
Initially I thought that it would have to be marketed at women-only. But I am so glad that things are not going that way – even though the protagonist is a feminist and a lot of the action takes place in a Women’s Centre. I’ve always had a lot of male friends and I’ve never really been into reading light-touch romances. Hence the inclusion of politics, dark comedy moments and lots of Mancunian slang. I’ve had far more male readers of the book than I ever dreamed of. And one of them told me that my style was a strange concoction of ‘Alan Bennett and Nick Horby’ – which was just wonderful feedback. So yes – bring on the fellas (who all seem to hate the Shaun-character, even more than the female readers do!)
I certainly enjoyed it. And as for that Shaun - grrr! Thanks a lot for coming along today, Christina - good luck with the book!
17 March Flower Power
2014 Today I am joined by poet and novelist Joyce Worsfold, who talks
about her forthcoming novel 'A Fistful of Marigolds'.
Welcome, Joyce! Tell us about your forthcoming novel, 'A Fistful of Marigolds'.
The novel is set in the mid 1970's on a large housing estate in a social priority area. The story is told largely through the voice of the main protagonist, Kathy Johnson, who teaches in the local school. The children in Kathy's class of seven year olds have many problems, some she can help with, because she's a sensitive and gifted teacher, others are more complex. Children are involved in accidents, a fire, abuse and shop-lifting, to name but a few difficulties, but they are also vibrant, compassionate and funny individuals who bring joy and laughter to those around them. For instance, Julie has a pronounced squint and a severe speech impediment and is subjected to bullying by other children. She is, however, a brave and fiery individual with a fierce determination to succeed and a dreadful secret that severely hampers her progress. Linda, on the other hand, is attractive, gentle and quiet. She suffers greatly when her father leaves and sets up home with the mother of another child in her class. Robert is the class clown, always with a ready answer and a humorous quip, one of six children who are frequently left 'home alone' by their alcoholic mother. Sally has a loving home and longs for a baby brother or sister. Steven has a passion for classical music and no-one can understand why this is so... until his mother reveals her secret. Kathy, in spite of having several close friends, is rather lonely and her relationship with the local community constable seems to be going no-where. However, when she and her friend Meg become involved with the local church their social lives improve considerably. Meg, a widow appears to have found a new love and Kathy also meets someone who begins to change her life. The lives of parents, children and community become more closely enmeshed during the year that we follow their progress and a couple of local tragedies have the effect of binding people closer and affecting change.
What inspired you to write it?
I taught in a primary school for almost thirty years and during that time I met so many wonderful adults and children who dealt with enormous problems with courage, humour and hope. I believe that these stories need to be told; teaching is not just about learning facts and testing, learning is complex and affected by many extraneous factors. How does a child sit for a SATS test the morning after mother stabbed father or the day after a parent was killed in a motorway crash? Unless we really know the children we teach, how can we ensure that we are using the right method for them? I have written since child-hood, always feeling the need to record stories and dreams and to give my imagination free reign. This book is a mix of all those things, facts, feelings and imagination. Many of the incidents are based on fact, some are not.
In what ways does the novel draw upon your personal and professional experience?
The class-room scenes are obviously based on my personal and professional experience. I was also anxious to show the excitement involved in a topic-based approach to teaching when children were encouraged to 'live' elements of history, geography and science and when art, music and story were much more predominant than they are in some class-rooms today. I hope that some of that excitement is conveyed to the reader in this book.
To what extent are your characters based on real people?
I believe that all characters are at least based on real people but time, imagination and other elements 'take over' until they become quite different and more of a 'product' designed by the author. Often when writing, a character might begin as a shadow and then take on a life of it's own.I love it when this happens as I can see the person so clearly in my mind and hear the words that they speak.
What would you like readers to take away from the novel?
A feeling of hope I suppose, that no matter how much darkness life throws at us it can always be offset by light and that with courage and determination people have the ability to overcome the most awful circumstances. Community is also important in this book, when people are working together for a common good, great things can be achieved. I also believe that we need one anotherfor encouragement, physical help and support. Finally, I would like people to laugh, children never cease to amaze me by the things that they say and I love the originality of innocence.
Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?
Other writers, definitely. I have had a rich diet of literature since childhood. All those classics that you could buy for half a crown in the 50's. Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island, Children of the New Forest, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women etc. I devoured them all. The Fairy Tales of Hans Anderson and Grimm were the vitamin food of my imagination. Nowadays I read anything I can get my hands on. At the click of a Kindle I have hundreds to choose from, crime, science fiction (a new love!) romance, chick-lit, historical novels are all interspersed with literary fiction. I love, The Book Thief and The Poisonwood Bible. I love the characters and descriptions of Marcia Willett and Rosamunde Pilcher, the dialogue of Maeve Binchy and the humour of Gervase Phinn, Derek Longden and David Nobbs. However, I can't stress enough, the importance of a good writer's group. The two groups to which I belong, The Holmfirth Writer's Group and the Association Of Christian Writers have been a tremendous fount of wisdom and experience over the years. We write together, laugh a lot and encourage one another. Writing is a lonely business so to have so many like-minded friends to bounce off ideas and with whom we can share our writing is a real privilege. You can find out if there is a group near you by contacting the National Association of Writers Groups who also publish useful material and hold regular writer's retreats and Festivals.
What other interests do you have?
I am passionate about poetry and love finding out about famous poets, discovering new ones, and just playing with words. I love the way that just a few words, put together in a particular way, can open up something quite unique and special and can spark off an original idea or thought. For me poetry is more about playing, thinking and making a sound like some kind of music. Poetry for me is a form of relaxation rather than work. I am a happy wife, proud mother and also a keen grandmother of 3 wonderful young women. I love gardening, music and meeting with friends in endless coffee shops and for afternoon tea.
Thank you, Joyce. Your novel sounds fascinating - hope it is a big success!
Joyce Worsfold was born in Leeds in 1945 and married David in 1965. She is mother to Kathryn and twins Mark and Helen who are all in their forties, and a doting grandmother of 3 grown-up Grand-daughters. When she left school she worked as a library assistant in Leeds until her children were born. When the children were at nursery she trained as a teacher and taught for over 20 years. She was headteacher of a primary school for 5 years in Leeds and then for a further 3 years was head of a school in Kirklees before retiring due to ill health in 1995. Since retiring she has published 5 books, mainly of poetry. She is passionate about writing about disadvantaged children and about the problems of the elderly. She has written an adult novel, a 'A Fistful of Marigolds' and a children's book, 'Paint me a window.' She is a performance poet and also speaks at a variety of venues throughout Yorkshire and the North of England. You can follow Joyce on Facebook
11 March A Taster of Zeus of Ithome
To conclude my short series of blog posts about Zeus of Ithome (see Home page for details), here are some short extracts from the novel, picking up some of the points highlighted in the earlier posts. Here is the very first paragraph of the novel, as the old rebel, Aristomenes, walks to the summit of Mount Ithome to commune with Zeus Ithomatas, the patron god of the Messenians:
The old man made his way slowly up the winding path to the summit of the mountain. It was not yet dawn and the faint glow in the eastern sky provided scant illumination to guide him. But it was enough. Though the path had been here for centuries, in recent years it had been his feet alone that had kept the grass from reclaiming it. They knew the way, even if his eyes could not see it. Gradually, the ground about him turned from black, to grey, to brown; and out of the gloom emerged his own long shadow, looming in front of him like the silhouette of some great god. The path began to level out, and soon he could see in front of him the columns of a ruined temple: pink fingers against the dark blue of the sky.
A glimpse now of the fear that pervaded the lives of the Messenian helots. The central character, Diocles, a young helot, is reminiscing as he returns from taking the harvest to his Spartan master, Cleander:
Later, as he began the long journey back over the mountains, Diocles had ample time for reflection. He remembered a harvest about ten years before, when Demeter had been less generous and they had to go hungry. “Why do we give Cleander half of our harvest, when he does none of the work?” he had asked his mother, with the fearlessness of innocence. “It is the way of things,” she had replied. “We serve and they command. That is our lot.” Then she had turned to him suddenly and shaken him by the shoulders. “Do not ever say such things, even at home, do you understand? If Cleander does not beat you, I will do it myself.” He had begun to cry, not understanding why he had aroused such anger in her. Then he had looked into her face; it was not anger that stared out from those livid eyes, but fear.
Diocles is forced to flee after an encounter with the Spartan assassins of the Krypteia, leaving behind everything he knows and everyone he loves. He falls in with Aristomenes and travels with him towards Delphi, where the old man hopes to obtain guidance from the oracle about how the Messenians may achieve their freedom. When Aristomenes is injured in an encounter with brigands, Diocles is forced to travel on alone. Here he has been ushered by a priest into the presence of the oracle.
“What you smell is the breath of the earth itself, escaping from fissures deep in the rock, here at the very centre of the world. Those fumes help the Pythia to commune with the God and to see the future. She sits below us in the forbidden chamber, the adyton . It is time now for you to ask your question. You must speak slowly and clearly, and loudly, so that she may hear your voice through the grid.” In a trembling voice that somehow did not sound like his own, Diocles spoke the words that he had memorized: “What must the Messenians do in order to achieve their freedom and to win back their country?” There was a long pause; then an eerie ululating sound, like the far-off call of some strange bird , emerged from the adyton below. As it became louder, it resolved itself into what seemed like words, but in no language that Diocles had ever heard. After a few seconds the word-sounds dissolved again into a tremulous wailing, which slowly faded away into silence.
At Delphi, Diocles meets the (historical) Theban general Epaminondas, who persuades him to come to Thebes to learn the arts of war and politics. Trained by the elite Theban Sacred Band, he serves in Epaminondas’ personal bodyguard. As war brews between Thebes and Sparta, he finds himself facing his former masters across the battlefield.
He had stood in this position many times, in training, on manoeuvres, and on a few occasions in earnest, when Thebes sent out the army to put muscle behind its political ambitions. But usually no one had come out to fight them, or if they did, they had run away again after a show of intent from the Sacred Band. This time was different. A few hundred yards away, directly ahead, stood the Spartiates, who were not going to run away. They were all dressed alike with their conical helmets and red cloaks, and the big red lambda on their polished bronze shields. They stood ominously still and silent, as if waiting for their opponents to display some sign of weakness. Among the Sacred Band there was a similar sang-froid, but in the rest of the Theban army men fidgeted, talked anxiously to their fellows and prayed to the gods that they would see out the day alive. Some had clearly lost control of their bodily functions, as there was a slight stink of urine in the air. Indeed, looking across at those stern, immobile warriors and wondering which one he would have to face, Diocles himself was transfixed with fear and able to control his bladder and bowels only by a supreme effort of will. He had faced danger before, but it had always been on the spur of the moment when there was no time to think or worry. But this time danger was looking him solemnly in the eye across the plain and soon would be striding purposefully towards him.
The conditions at last become right for Aristomenes’ long-cherished plans for revolution to be put into action. He and Diocles return to Messenia by ship. In our final extract, their journey draws to a close as they prepare for the coming struggle.
As morning passed into afternoon and Diocles sat eating bread and olives in the bow of the ship, they rounded a promontory, turning north at last on the final leg of their trip. On the horizon, dusted with the first snows of winter, lay the unmistakeable ridge of Taygetus, somehow seeming greater and more imposing from far away than it had ever done from an ox cart winding its way slowly up the mountain’s massive flanks, bearing the harvest of Messenian fields to Sparta. He was glad to see it again, this first reminder of home, yet he was also glad that, for better or worse, he would never make that journey again. At Aristomenes’ instruction, the crew partially furled the sail, slowing their progress to a crawl, lest they arrive at their destination while it was still light. Anxious though he was about the trials and uncertainties to come, the last few hours on the ship passed interminably for Diocles, and when at last the sun passed out of sight over the hills to the west, he willed the line of shadow upwards until it swallowed the last pink-tinged morsel of Taygetus. Only then could he welcome the night that would shepherd them home.
23 Feb Jeff Gardiner's IGBOLAND Blog Tour
Jeff Gardiner joins me today for the first leg of his blog tour to mark the launch of his new novel Igboland, set in Nigeria, continuing the African theme of recent guest posts by Jane Bwye and Gerry Freeman.
Nigeria is a much misunderstood place. Many people know it as world centre for corruption. We’ve had those dodgy emails from the Bank of Nigeria telling us to put all savings in a ‘special’ account. There are still bombings and attempted coups to this day. It’s a messy place, politically, and yet it is also an inspiring place of beauty; rich cultural heritage and the birthplace of many great football players (Go, Super Eagles!).
Chinua Achebe is recognised as the father of African literature. His wonderful novel ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a terrific book that even inspired Nelson Mandela. Many world famous actors and singers are Nigerian; for example, Chiwetel Ejiofor (star of ‘12 Years A Slave’).
Whilst ‘Igboland’ tells the story of Lydia, an English girl thousands away from home and under the shadow of her husband Clem; the setting is an Igbo bush village at the beginning of the Biafran War. She meets Kwemto, a local doctor, and Grace, whose life has been ripped apart by the war. These two between them change Lydia’s life forever.
Nigerian Background. In 1914, when Nigeria became a single nation (under the leadership of British Governor, Lord Frederick Lugard) there were three distinct groups: the Muslim caliphates in the north; the mainly Yoruban southwest; and the Igbo people in the southeast. This is a simplistic, but useful way of understanding things, although Nigeria is an incredibly complex nation, consisting of over 250 different tribes, each with separate languages. Finally, in 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from Britain.
The Biafran War. On 15th January 1966, a military coup resulted in General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo and head of the Nigerian Army becoming President under military rule.Then on 29th July 1966, Northerners executed a counter-coup placing Col. Yakubu Gowan into power. July and September saw large-scale massacres of Igbos living in the north. 1967 saw the south-eastern region of Nigeria attempt to become the independent Republic of Biafra under the leadership of Igbo military governor, Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu.
The Biafran War officially began on 6th July 1967 when Nigerian federal troops advanced into Biafra, and this brutal civil war led to around three million deaths. The hunger and genocide became world news. For the next few years Igbo villages and farms were bombed on a daily basis. The pogroms, massacres, and starvation continued until January 13th 1970. Meanwhile, millions of Igbos were displaced, losing their homes and forced to travel south as refugees.Martin Luther King, Jean-Paul Satre and even John Lennon spoke out against the atrocities.
John Lennon sent back his MBE in anger of the government’s support of the Nigerian federal government (as well as his anger about the Vietnam War and the fact that his latest single was doing badly in the charts).Since then and to this present day, military coups and parliamentary deals see political power change hands between tribes and parties. Some commentators suggest that the fight over oil revenues is very much to blame. Now does that sound familiar? ‘Igboland’ is a fond and sympathetic look at a country that I consider my spiritual home (having been born there). I want to celebrate the wonderful culture of the Igbo people, which is well worth exploring. Jeff Gardiner, February 2014. (The photos were taken by my parents who lived in Nigeria from 1964-1970)
10 Feb The Power of Water
Will this wind and rain ever end? I find myself almost wishing for snow. At least, in Yorkshire, I am spared the horrors that have been visited on those poor people unfortunate enough to live on the Somerset Levels. What has happened there has reminded me of a poem I once wrote about another flood, of a rather different kind, that struck much closer to home, back in 1852, when Bilberry reservoir burst its dam and emptied itself into the town of Holmfirth ...
The Ballad of Bilberry Reservoir
Stranger, as you walk my shore
and think my home a tranquil place,
look closer: do you see a frown
within the ripples of my face?
These were not always quiet waters.
When first the moor gave birth to me
this valley echoed with my laughter,
unfettered, I ran wild and free.
Men looked in envy and desired
to bend my labour to their wills.
They made an earthen dam to bind me,
pipes to bleed me for their mills.
But I was strong, and with a storm
conspired to burst my prison walls
and through the breach my righteous anger
surged in furious waterfalls.
That happy night! How I did dance
among the streets and houses, free
to vent my power and forge anew
my ancient pathway to the sea.
That time is gone: men learned to fear
and built for me a stronger cage
in which I languish, left to brood
on memories of a better age.
What else to do but plot revenge
with my old friends, the wind and rain.
You who think me tamed, beware:
I sleep, but I shall wake again.
27 Jan Escape to Africa
Continuing the African theme begun on 13 January with Jane Bwye and Breath of Africa, today I welcome Gerry Freeman, whose novel, Kill Daddy, is also set in Kenya.
Welcome, Gerry. Tell us about your novel, Kill Daddy.
Kill Daddy is my debut novel and part of a series, which I call Life. The story takes place in East Africa, where I have gone to escape the demons from my past and find something inspirational to do with my life. Escaping England was easy, but escaping my past was not. It is an emotional journey as well as a physical one. I am damaged goods, the product of abuse and I feel like a pariah, not worthy of anything. However, in Africa I find love, friendship and even security among the poorest people in the world, who open their hearts and welcome me into their families as one of their own. Will this be enough to help me regain my sense of self-worth, or will my abusers win in the end?
Kill Daddy clearly draws on your own experience. To what extent is the book fictional, and to what extent autobiography?
Allowing for any natural memory loss, which may have occurred over the years, it is 99% true.
What would you most like readers to take away from the book?
That you are not alone. I hope readers of all ages can identify with the personal struggles in my story. Life isn’t easy, and I hope my book inspires people to fight for a life they deserve, rather than settle for one they don’t. I also hope I have shed light on the plight of the African people, who have so little, yet are willing to give so much.
Do you have any further books planned?
I am currently writing the prequel to Kill Daddy, which is called I Don’t Believe God Wrote The Bible. It is a roller-coaster ride through Europe and life. It is a story about growing up, discovering the world, and how all the wonderful adventures I had on the way made me who I am today. I left England at the age of twenty, to go hitching around Europe with a friend.
You have travelled widely and lived in different countries. Where feels most like home?
I have long considered the world to be one big playground, it made travelling less lonely feeling a part of everything. I feel at home anywhere: the world is my home.
As well as a writer, you are a sculptor. Tell us something about your art.
Through my art, I hope to identify with people all over the planet and leave a footprint when I am gone. My collection of lifeworks will be an example of one human being’s experience on this planet. I hope to promote discussion about the great enigma of life, and to inspire people to follow their dreams.
Do you now see yourself now as primarily a writer or an artist (or something else)?
I am a person who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and making sculpture. I think labels make people feel safe at dinner parties.
Would you like to tell us a little about your other interests?
My biggest interest is sharing my life with my wife and our dogs. There is harmony in my family, and I enjoy nurturing our love, enjoying each other’s company and making plans for the future. Eva contributes a great deal to my artistic process.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Do you blame anyone?
And what is the answer?
People are responsible for the consequences of their actions, the effect an abuser has on their victim is the abuser’s fault. My story is not about blame, I am almost past caring, but it is about acknowledging the fact that long-term damage can be caused to another human being when you abuse or mistreat them. ‘Move on’ is one of the most derogatory things you can say to a victim of abuse: we’d like to, but often the abuse becomes us, and we have to spend our lives trying with difficulty to fit into a society we don’t really believe we belong to.
Here is a video trailer for the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w20AAAje07U
And here are links to Gerry's blog, website, Facebook page and Twitter:
20 Jan Who were the Messenians?
A couple of days ago Catriona King kindly invited me to talk about the historical background to Zeus of Ithome on her blog. http://www.catrionakingbooks.com/#!tetaylor/c1j6v
I thought I would continue the historical theme today by saying a little about the ancient Messenians themselves, the people who lived in the southwestern part of the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece that to this day is still called Messenia.
Their origins, like those of many ancient peoples, are shrouded in myth and legend. In archaic times, Messenia seems to have been populated by Mycenaean Greeks. Pylos, a promontory on its western coast, was the home of Nestor, the wise old counsellor of the Greek heroes in Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. In the Classical period, however, the inhabitants of Messenia were regarded as Dorians, speaking the Doric dialect of Greek. Legend has it that during the Greek 'Dark Ages' in the so-called 'Dorian Invasion' Messenia was invaded by Dorians from northern Greece led by Cresphontes. The extent to which the legend has any basis in truth, and the extent to which the population of Messenia itself, as opposed to the dialect they spoke, changed during this period are uncertain.
What is fairly certain, however, is that in about 742 BC - by which time a number of Messenians had been crowned as victors in the early Olympic games - Messenia was invaded by Sparta under King Alcmenes. This war - the First Messenian War raged for some twenty years, and the Messenians enjoyed periods of success under their Kings, Euphaes and later Aristodemus. It was during this war that the Messenians first established a stronghold on Mount Ithome. Eventually, however, the Spartans proved stronger, and Ithome fell, ending the war. The surviving Messenians either fled or were enslaved (it is not clear whether this was yet the fully-fledged helot slavery of later periods).
In about 685 the Messenians revolted from Spartan rule: thus began the Second Messenian War. In this war the Messenian hero Aristomenes (he declined the title of King) came to prominence. He enjoyed notable successes, defeating the Spartans in the battle of the Boar's Tomb and frequently taking the war into Laconia itself. However, after a catastrophic defeat at the battle of the Great Trench, betrayed by their Arcadian allies under King Aristocrates (who had been bribed by the Spartans), the Messenians were forced to retreat to a stronghold on Mount Ira. They nevertheless managed to continue to fight for another eleven years. Aristomenes' exploits during this period, as recorded by Greek author Pausanias (writing much later), read rather like the adventures of Robin Hood - it is difficult to distinguish history from legend at this distance. Ultimately, not even Aristomenes was able to prevent the Spartans from regaining control. He and some others were able to escape.
Following the defeat, Messenian exile communities were founded overseas by those who had escaped, notably at Messana in Sicily and Rhegium in the toe of Italy (modern Messina and Reggio Calabria), but the remaining population of Messenia itself were now subjugated into helot slavery. In this condition they remained for centuries, owned by the Spartan state and forced to farm the land, giving half their produce to their overlords. There were also subjected to brutal control meaures such as flogging, and arbitrary murder by the Krypteia - a sort of secret police formed of Spartan youths.
The Messenians nevertheless seem to have preserved their identity, and when the opportunity presented itself they would revolt - most notably, in 464 BC after Sparta was hit by an earthquake. Ithome was again occupied by the rebels. The Spartans proved unable to capture it, and a peace brokered by Athens allowed the defenders to leave - they were later settled by the Athenians in the town of Naupactus in Locris, just north of the Gulf of Patras. (The character Aristomenes - named after the ancient hero - in Zeus of Ithome was from this expatriate Messenian community, and returns to Naupactus with Diocles in the book.)
Nevertheless, as before the great bulk of the Messenian population remained trapped in helot slavery, still waiting for the opportunity to achieve their freedom and win back their country. They were not alone, however, in wanting to break the power of Sparta, as readers of Zeus of Ithome will know.
13 Jan African Queen
Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye, who talks about
her novel, Breath of Africa, her life and her travels all over the world.
To find out more about Jane, why not visit her blog? http://jbwye.com/
You can read more about Breath of Africa on her website: http://www.janebwye.com/breath-of-africa
To view the book on Amazon use this link
Your novel, Breath of Africa, was nominated for the Guardian First Book of the Year and Not the Booker Prize. What was the spur that led you to write the novel?
Pure nostalgia kept me going to the finish line, Tim. As for the spur, I’ve always had a notion to write a book one day, which would show my home country in a better light than authors such as Robert Ruark (Uhuru) and Nicolas Monserrat (the Tribe books). I wrote to Monserrat, asking if he planned a success story after Richer Than all His Tribe, but received a letter from his widow (see my blog http://jbwye.com/2012/12/10/there-is-always-hope-shining-through/). It has taken me quite a while to rise to her challenge.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of Africa?
Ah – ha! You have read the blurb on the back cover of Breath of Africa!
Of course there’s hope! And much progress has and is being made. Africa is as resilient as the shoots of green grass which push up hours after rain follows fire. But she has to be evaluated on her own terms, which don’t always equate to ‘first world’ ideas. I know it looks as if Africa has picked up the worst faults of the capitalist world, but if you scratch the surface and meet the people, you’ll be astonished. Africa has much to teach the so-called civilised world. I know people from the UK whose outlook on life has been changed after going to Africa. Forgive me – I know I do go on a bit.
Do you have any other literary projects planned?
A romantic novella is in the pipeline. I felt like a complete change after birthing Breath of Africa. Then I will get down to writing the sequel. It will be a good excuse to go back and do some research.
You have written a novel, short stories, articles, history ... and a cookbook! What kind of writing do you enjoy most?
You’ve forgotten about book reviews, Tim! I can’t say I actually ‘enjoy’ writing fiction. It’s hard work. But I’ve been a book worm ever since I learned to read, and it needs little effort for me to jot down notes as I go. I try to create something positive for the author and helpful for the potential reader, which I can upload onto Amazon.
As well as being a writer you also run a business and work for a charity. Which of these would you mention first if asked to describe what you do.
That question has made me stop and think… Before Breath of Africa was published, my first mention if asked to describe what I do was ‘business mentor for a local charity.’ Now, nine months on, I spend more time on matters to do with writing than on anything else. I guess I’ve had a career change: I’m a writer at last – and proud of it!
You have travelled widely and lived in different parts of the world. Where feels most like home?
Home for me will always be in Kenya, even though I can no longer live there.
I’d love to hear more about your round the world walking trip ...
I went walkabout round the world to take my mind off leaving Kenya at the turn of the century. It took me ten months. Of course I flew from continent to continent – Canada, the US (including Hawaii), New Zealand, Australia, Nepal, Austria and finally the UK. I joined several walking groups on the way, and walked most of West Australia’s Cape to Cape walk alone, in stages. I kept a detailed dairy, took many photographs, and bought a bird book in every country I visited. Then I couldn’t stop, and have been away on my travels about every two years since then. My most exotic destination was the Galapagos Islands.
What is there about you, Tim, that makes me get ideas – or is it New Year fever? I’ve just had a notion: It’s about time I dusted off all those notes and shared my experiences. Look out for a weekly Friday travel blog on my website. See? I’m already acting like a real writer!
Would you like to tell us a little about your other interests?
I love riding over the hills and far away on horseback. I seldom have the opportunity now, but judging dressage keeps me in touch with the horsey world. Geriatric tennis and bridge occupies me once or twice a week, and I exercise my lungs with choral singing.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
A bit of trivia: What have you never done that you always wanted to do?
And what is the answer?
Ski – but I know I’m too old and rickety now.
Thank you for your hospitality, Tim – it has been an eye-opener, answering your questions.
As have your answers, Jane!
6 Jan Welcome, David Menon
Crime writer David Menon is here today to talk about his latest novel,
Sorceror; and about his life and interests.
To learn more about David and his books, visit his website, www.davidmenonwriter.com
or his blog
You can buy Sorcerer here
Hello, David. Tell us about your latest book.
‘Sorceror’ is the first in what I plan to be a series of crime novels featuring Detective Superintendent Jeff Barton. They will all be murder mysteries set in and around Manchester and like with all series, the character of Jeff Barton will develop with each one. Jeff is a single Dad following the sudden death of his wife and is reliant on his brother for childcare of his five year-old son Toby. He’s an intelligent man and an excellent police officer who manages to work out solutions by sometimes going for the most extreme of possibilities. That’s what he does in ‘Sorceror’. Three bodies are found in a house in Manchester that’s being renovated and the house used to be a residential care home for teenage boys. Jeff and his team uncover a horrific history of physical and sexual abuse all of which points to a man who used to be the manager of the home back in the nineties. His wife is also implicated too and some pretty ugly family secrets are exposed before the suspect disappears and Jeff works out that a former inmate is planning their revenge. Jeff has to get to them before justice is taken out of his hands. One of the 5-star reviews has called it a ‘chilling but humane thriller’ that will make you ‘laugh, cry, and have you on the edge of your seat’. I can’t ask for more than that.
Do you have further novels in the pipeline?
Oh yes. I’m writing the second in the Jeff Barton series which is called ‘Fireflies’ and starts off with the murder of a bride on her wedding night in a Manchester hotel. I’m also writing a stand alone mystery about a man who loses everything in his fifties and I’m planning the fourth in my DCI Sara Hoyland series which is also set in Manchester but she deals with crimes that are nearly always politically motivated. So in this one her team are officially made into a unit dealing specifically with politically motivated crime and that brings them into conflict with many government agencies in the process of solving them. I’m taking full advantage of how the creative juices seem to flowing at full speed at the moment!
What first led you to turn to crime fiction?
I like the idea of exploring what happens to an ordinary person when they’re pushed into the most extraordinary of circumstances. That’s what motivated my first novel ‘The Wild Heart’ and I went from there. Crime fiction allows me to subtly add all kinds of social commentary and I can write about characters from all social groups right across society. I like the idea of the ‘little’ man or woman getting their own back. I like going to the dark side of how far someone may be prepared to go to right a wrong.
Has your previous career in the airline industry had an influence on your writing?
I think it did, yes, because when I was flying I met every kind of person from all different backgrounds, cultures, and creeds, and I can’t see how that couldn’t have influenced me because I tend to be quite an observational person. The airline crew world is also full of gossip and innuendo and some of that has definitely gone into my writing. It also has its own self-imposed hierarchy between cabin crew and flight crew (pilots) which always used to irritate me when I was there because I got on with most people regardless of whether they were cabin or flight crew, but for others marking that difference was important and that taught me a lot about human behaviour in social and work situations.
How do you organise your writing – do you set targets for yourself, or set aside particular times to write?
I’m not organised at all! I have two notebooks that I scribble stuff into and I also scribble on train and bus tickets, the front of the daily paper, napkins, anything I can lay my hands on sometimes! It all goes in and I refer to it all when I’m at my laptop. I write every day at some point but it depends on what else I’m doing as to when. I know that if I don’t write then I get very grumpy and not a nice person to know.
You have been active in politics – is this still a big part of your life?
Yes it is, very much so. One of the reasons why I don’t live permanently in France is because I’m still active here in the northwest region for the Labour party and sometimes work for them on an official basis organising events and motivating activists at election time. My political interests have always been left of centre and I believe passionately in fairness and an end to social injustice. I’m particularly interested in international affairs. My politics has definitely had an influence on my writing, particularly in the DCI Sara Hoyland series.
What other interests would you like to tell us about?
I’m into all the arts of books, film, TV, theatre and when it comes to music I’m a rock man. I’m a serious fan of American singer/songwriter Stevie Nicks who I call the poet in my heart and the voice of my interior world. I listen to her every day and find her incredibly inspirational and those keen eyed amongst my readers will notice that the titles of all my books have come from the titles of Stevie Nicks songs and there’s always an oblique reference to the lyric of the song in the dedication page of each book. I can’t quote directly of course because of copyright. I’d love to meet her one day. I read a lot too, mainly crime fiction and my favourite authors are Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, and the Icelandic Arnaldur Indridasson. I’ve also recently got into the Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng who doesn’t write in the crime genre but wrote an incredible novel called ‘The Gift of Rain’ set during the Japanese occupation of Penang during WW2 and which I think was a piece of absolute genius. Apart from all that, I like a glass of wine or two, I love my food but I don’t like anything with vinegar or mint in it, I think that ABBA should just get on with it and reunite for one concert to please all the fans who’ve bought the 380 million records they’ve sold, I believe strongly in the European Union and Britain’s place in it, I campaign for the Palestinians to have their own viable state alongside Israel, outside of Europe my favourite part of the world is southeast Asia and Australia, and I’m known for doing impressions of people and quoting endlessly from Victoria Wood sketches. I also teach English to foreign students to plug the financial holes and at the moment I work mainly for a Russian school at study camps in Finland.
What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?
Why haven’t any of your books become bestsellers?
And what is the answer?
Because everybody has their moment and mine hasn’t come yet. But it will