A reader’s special memories – and my short story OUT OF BALANCE

It’s always a delight to hear from readers and recently a lovely lady called Gilly Metcalfe wrote to me to say how much she enjoyed my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum, particularly the one where I was talking about how my family have inspired so many of my short stories.

“I have so many handed down family stories ” she told me. “My mother was one of ten children and like you, loved putting on plays.  My grandfather, a publican, was a founder member of Chelsea football Club and had the Rising Sun ( now The Butcher’s Hook)  they were just opposite the playing field at Stamford Bridge and my aunts and uncles had many childish memories of hilarious events connected with those days.

She then went on to add a delightful poem that she had written about her father, who was always trying new things,

A Man of Many interests

He had a go at many things

All in strict rotation:

Pelmanism, Christian Science,

And deep sea navigation.

…..

Riding horses, roller skates,

(He ended up in plaster).

Studying the stars and Fates

(That was a disaster).

…..

Potted meats and picnics

And camping by the river.

Keeping up with Father

Sent us all a-quiver

…..

He joined the Home Guard, did his bit

As shrapnel showered down.

He fought the fires and faced the blitz

To save old London Town.

…..

Now the man of many interests

Has new challenges in hand,

Bungee jumping with the angels

In happy Neverland.

…..

Isn’t that fun?  Gilly’s family and her father in particular sound fascinating so I contacted her to find out more about them and, of course, about her.

“I am in my nineties,” she told me.  “I have so many family stories.  The Fire Dance was what my father performed at our parties.  Each child was given a box of matches and he danced energetically, wearing a newspaper Hawaiian skirt made by my mother and cut into long fringes and tucked into the top of his trousers.  We had to try and set fire to him as he danced.  Finally he would slow down so a child could actually set fire to the fringe.  He would then snatch off the skirt, throw it down and stamp on it until the flames were out.  Everyone ran around the room screaming.  The Fire Dance was very popular.”

I’m sure it was although I wonder what today’s Health and Safety people would make of it!  And Gilly has many more family memories to cherish.

“So many titles come to mind: ‘Great Aunty Minnie and the Christmas Pudding, ‘Great Aunty Minnie gets the Better of Hitler,’ ‘Great Aunty Minnie Disapproves,’ and so on. Or my Grandmother accidentally sending a false moustache to the Bank with a note saying, ‘Please place to the Credit of my Account.’ Another time, when she minded us for the day, the dog ate the middle out of the egg-and-bacon pie. She turned the crust upside-down and spread jam on it. That was our dinner, but it still had bits of bacon rind in it. We made the most of everything during the war.”

Grandmother’s jam and bacon pie would probably go down a storm on Masterchef.  I asked Gilly what she writes about when she’s not writing poems about her father.

“I have written lots for feature pages in local newspapers, magazines, and anywhere – a wide assortment of subjects ranging from ‘Rare Moths of Dungeness,’ ‘Malaria on the Marsh,’ The Wickedest Man in the World,’ and many biographical pieces on blue-plaque awardees. Also fiction and poems of all sorts – ‘How to Draw a Kingfisher on a Computer,’ and I’ Got Bovver wiv my Little Bruvver.’ And nature poems and lots and lots more. I have spent the last two years researching for an academic paper on ‘God’s Word on Baler Twine’ which is about the mysterious scriptural textboards in the little Romney Marsh churches.”

My thanks to Gilly for such a fascinating glimpse into her wonderful family.  and I hope she goes on writing about them and about her many other interests for many, many years to come.

……

The copy for that particular issue of Writers’ Forum was written when I was emerging from a post-Covid brain fog and I used the rest of the column to talk about a short story I wrote that was inspired, not by my father this time (there’s no way anything he did comes close to that Fire Dance!) but from a card I bought for my Chartered Accountant son.  

In my column I explained to my readers how this jokey card led to a short story idea and promised that the story ‘Out of Balance’ would appear on my blog.  So, here it is:

Out of Balance

Jane bristled as she read the birthday card.

Old accountants never die,” it announced. “They just lose their balance.”

The card was wrong on so many levels. First, thirty-five was not old. Second, she had never lost her balance in her life, either literally (thanks to her daily yoga practice) or metaphorically (thanks to the fact that she was a totally consistent, even handed Libran) and she wasn’t about to start doing so just because she was now half way to her three score years and ten.

And third, that it should have been Conor, of all people, to have sent such a card proved what Jane was beginning to suspect. That she and Conor were totally incompatible. 

In fact, to paraphrase his silly card, as a couple they were completely out of balance.

Her doubts were confirmed later that day. As always when there was a special occasion coming up, she had everything planned. She’d treated herself to a glitzy new dress that had cost not only an arm and a leg, but head, shoulders, knees and toes as well. But it was so worth it. She was off to have her hair done this afternoon and she’d managed to book a table at Luigi’s, the smartest restaurant in town for this evening. She couldn’t think of a better way to spend her birthday.

It didn’t bother her that it was always down to her to do all the arranging, even for something like this. Conor was hopeless at that sort of thing.

But that was fine. She was good at organising. He wasn’t. That was just the way things were and she was ok with that. No, it wasn’t his lack of organisational skills that were giving her these crippling doubts but something much more fundamental.

The truth was, they were total and complete opposites. He was a dreamer, she was the practical one. He was an optimist, she a realist. He liked dogs. She liked cats. The list was endless.

And their relationship simply wasn’t going to work.

Should she cancel this evening, feeling the way she did? It was hardly the right thing to ‘dump’ someone in a place like Luigi’s, was it? She sighed as, being the true Libran she was, she weighed up all the possible options. She was in a right ‘mardle’, as Conor would say.

Then her phone rang. And her ‘mardle’ suddenly got a whole lot worse.

“Hi, sweetheart.” The excitement in Conor’s voice made his Irish accent even more pronounced than usual. “I’ve got some terrific news, so I have.”

So, no ‘Happy birthday, Jane’. Nor even a ‘Did you get my card?’ Just ‘I’ve got some terrific news, so I have’

This better had be terrific, Conor O’Mallin, so it had, she thought. 

“What is it?” she asked as she reminded herself that her idea of ‘terrific news’ and Conor’s were often poles apart.

“Remember that agent I was telling you about? Well, he’s in town tonight. He’s going to be at the Three Bells checking out some local bands – and he wants to hear us. Apparently he’d heard us at some gig we did a few weeks back and thinks we may be what he’s looking for. This could be it, sweetheart. The Big One.”

“Tonight? But I’ve booked Luigi’s. I told you -“

“Cancel it. We can go to Luigi’s any night. But I’ll never get this chance again.”

“But it’s my -” she began but stopped. He was so caught up in the excitement of the ‘Big One’ that he’d obviously forgotten that today was her birthday. Disappointment thudded to the pit her stomach. She’d so wanted her suspicion that things weren’t going to work between her and Conor to be wrong. But there was no pleasure in being proved right. 

It wasn’t about him forgetting her birthday – he had, after all, remembered to send her a card. It was yet one more example of how very, very different they were.

“Now you will be there tonight, won’t you?” he went on, his voice fizzing with barely controlled excitement. “Because I’ve got something really special -“

“No, Conor,” she cut in, wishing with all her heart she didn’t have to do this but knowing she must. “I won’t be there, I’m afraid. I’m going to spend the evening with Mum. I might even persuade her to come to Luigi’s with me. She’s still very low, you know. Missing Dad and all that.”

There was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone. Jane could imagine the expression on his face. The puzzled look in his eyes. She steeled herself not to give in and tell him she’d come tonight after all.

“Oh my God. How could I have been so stupid? It’s your birthday.” He’d finally remembered. “Jeez, I’m so sorry, sweetheart. It’s just – well, the call from the agent pushed everything out of my head. I’ll make it up to you, I promise. But I can’t -“

“I know you can’t,” she said, struggling to keep the tears at bay, at least until she could end the call. “Don’t worry about it. Best of luck for tonight,” she added. “Not that you’ll need luck. You’ll be brilliant, as always. We’ll talk tomorrow, OK?”

The call ended, she sat staring at her phone for a long time. She knew she was doing the right thing but why did it feel so bad? Was it because she couldn’t imagine life without Conor? He made her laugh, he made her cry but he always, always made her feel gloriously, zingingly alive.

But you couldn’t build a future, a life on zing, could you? You only had to look at the mess her father had left behind when he died to realise that. It didn’t add up. And for Jane everything had to add up.

Lose her balance? Not this accountant, no matter how ‘old’ she became. It simply wasn’t in her nature.

……

“Conor and I have broken up,” Jane said, totally unprepared for how much saying those words would hurt. “Or, we will when I get around to seeing him so that I can tell him to his face. It’s hardly the sort of thing to do in a text, is it?”

“Don’t get me wrong, love,” her mother said. “It’s lovely to see you. But why aren’t you out with Conor? I thought you had a special night arranged?”

“But why?” Her mother’s eyes widened with astonishment. “I really thought he was The One. You were so good together.”

“Because… well, because..” Jane twisted her hair around her fingers and avoided her mother’s eyes. “Because I don’t want to end up with a man like Dad.” The words came out in a rush. But she ploughed on, trying to ignore her mother’s shocked intake of breath. “He – he was an irresponsible dreamer, just like Conor. Always looking for the next best thing but never quite finding it. Lurching from one failed dream to the next. And then, when he died, leaving you with such a mountain of debts that you had to get a job in that pub, working all hours to earn enough to pay it off -“

“Stop right there, young lady!” There was an edge to her mother’s voice that Jane had never heard before. “For starters, if you do find a man like your father, then you’ll be one very lucky girl, believe me. And I always thought Conor was that man.”

“Then you thought wrong. I’ve just realised how incompatible we are. He’ll never change.”

“And why would you want him to?” her mother said. “I knew what your father was like when I married him and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about him. Yes, he was a dreamer, Jane, just like your Conor -“

“Not my Conor any more.”

“Just like Conor and I was privileged to share that dream. And yes, we had some hard times. But he was a good, loving husband and a kind and caring father. You can’t ask any more from a man.”

Jane shook her head. She didn’t want to remember what a kind and caring man her father had been. Didn’t want anything to breach the wall she’d built so carefully around her heart since his sudden shocking death from a heart attack eight months earlier.

Her mother looked at her intently. Then her voice softened. “I’d no idea you felt like this about your Dad. But, sweetheart, you’ve got it all wrong. I didn’t take that job to pay off his debts. Where on earth did you get that idea from? Yes, there were a few, but they were covered by his life insurance. I took the job in the pub to get me out of the house during the long, lonely evenings. And I love working there. It’s really helping and the people are so nice.”

Jane stared at her mother without speaking for a long, long time. Then, slowly the wall around her heart crumbled and the hard lump that had lodged in her chest ever since that awful day began to dissolve as the tears flowed unchecked down her face.

Her mother put her arms around her and held her close. “It worried me that you never cried for him, darling,” she said, her own voice choked with tears. “It’s time to let go of all that anger. I felt angry too, you know. Still do sometimes, in fact. I look up at the stars some nights and I want to scream and curse at him. It’s all part of the grieving process, so I’m told.”

“Why didn’t he take better care of himself, Mum? Why didn’t he go to the doctor, like we told him to when he first had those chest pains? If he had -“

Her mother put a gentle finger on Jane’s lips. “It was his time,” she said softly. “That’s all. And what you need to do now – what I need to do as well – is focus on the good times we all had together. The grieving process is hard because he was so very, very much loved. But it’s the price you pay for loving someone. A price I’m more than willing to pay. And if I had my time over again, I wouldn’t change a thing – except,” she added with a wry smile, “I’d frogmarch the stubborn old fool to the doctor instead of believing him when he said it was only indigestion.”

…..

An hour later, Jane’s tears had all been spent, her make up repaired and she felt better than she’d done since her father’s death.

She’d also made a discovery. Something her accountancy training should have made her realise sooner.

It was all about debits and credits. The first rule of double entry book-keeping, that she’d learned all those years ago, was that for every debit there is a corresponding credit. That’s what achieved perfect balance. Total opposites, balancing each other out. 

Just like she and Conor did. His yin to her yang.

The Three Bells was so packed she had some difficulty getting across the crowded bar. Conor and his band were in the middle of a number. It was one of her favourites and she was disappointed to have missed it. It ended with huge applause and her heart swelled with pride.

Conor held up his hand and spoke into the microphone.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “Now, for our last number, this is a song for a very special lady who sadly can’t be here tonight. I wrote the song for her but I’ll sing it anyway.”

Suddenly, he looked across to where she was standing and a huge smile lit up his face. He began to sing.

I spread my dreams at your feet,

My life, my love and my song.

Together we are complete.

One life, one love and one song.

Old accountants needn’t lose their balance, Jane realised. Not if, like her, they’d found the perfect counter-balance. 

Where does contemporary romance author Nina Kaye get her ideas from?

I am thrilled to welcome contemporary romance author Nina Kaye to my blog this week.  I recently read Nina’s novel, Take a Moment and loved it.  But before we get into the interview I’m going to copy my Amazon review of her book so that you can see what I’m talking about.

This is a stunning book and I loved every single page. It made me laugh, it made me cry – and it made me think.

It’s the story of Alex who has the perfect life until she is suddenly struck down with MS and it tracks her brave attempt to regain some independence and build a new – and very different – life for herself.

It’s a very honest, unsentimental account of learning to live with a debilitating and life changing illness and is told with humour and compassion. I loved everything about this book – including the descriptions of Birmingham. It sounds a fabulous place and has made me want to go there.

Me

Welcome to my blog, Nina and thank you so much for a really great read.  How would you describe your genre?  And do you write series or stand alone?

 Nina

My books are probably best described as contemporary romance.  Take A Moment, is marketed as a heartwarming romance, which I think suits it perfectly. I write standalone novels, however I do have a two-parter at the back of my writing closet that I hope will see the light of day at some point.  

Me

Tell us what inspires you most.  Is the characters? Settings? (I loved the Birmingham setting in Take a Moment, by the way.) Or are you inspired by books you’ve read?

Nina 

My inspiration often comes from my personal experiences and what’s going on around me. I like to write about things I’ve had some experience of to give them extra credibility, but I also apply a good bit of imagination. For example, Take A Moment, is inspired by my own experience of long-term illness, my love of karaoke and music, and a city that I’ve gotten to know and become very fond of (Birmingham). 

For characters, I tend to take traits from people I know or encounter and characters I see on screen. I never base them entirely on family, friends or acquaintances as they might then recognise themselves in my work – and I’m not sure that would go down so well. I also don’t tend to take my inspiration from other books in case I create something too similar. 

Me

You certainly succeeded.  I’m not sure I’d join you in the karaoke but you’ve made me want to visit Birmingham!  So, how did you writing journey start? 

Nina

I’ve spent most of my life as a ‘frustrated creative’ – someone who wanted to follow a more creative path, but who fell into a ‘safe’ career. I dreamt of being an author from a young age, when I was devouring the likes of The Babysitter’s Club and Point Horror. At 17 years old, I even flirted with writing outside the classroom when supposedly studying for my exams.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and it was my life-changing illness that got me on the path to becoming a serious writer. In 2014 my body essentially ‘broke’, and I spent months rehabilitating from a raft of confusing and debilitating neurological symptoms. During this time, I turned to writing to support my cognitive and physical rehabilitation, and the silver lining to all of this is that it led to me achieving my dream of being a published author. 

Me.

Take a Moment is your second published novel. Tell us a little about your first.

Nina

My debut novel, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, was actually the second book I wrote. It’s about Liv, whose high-flying career goes off the rails and she finds herself working at a glitzy new gin bar to pay the bills. She’s determined not to let romance distract her while she tries to get back on track, but with a hot colleague and a mysterious online follower in the mix, her dating life gets quite shaken up. It’s actually a story with some poignancy and themes of hardship, as well as finding love and a new beginning – and there’s a good dollop of humour along the way.  

Me.

It’s on my To Be Read pile and I’m looking forward to reading it.  But back to Take A Moment for a bit.  What was the inspiration behind it?

Nina.

The main inspiration for Take A Moment is my own experience of living with a life changing illness. When I became ill, my body failed me in incomprehensible ways: I experienced uncontrollable shaking and tremors, difficulty walking, loss of balance, faltering speech. My vision and hearing were distorted; I lost my ability to concentrate, couldn’t find words, could barely eat and I would fall flat on my face several times a day. That was only part of the picture. 

I was eventually diagnosed with a condition called Functional Neurological Disorder (FND). Simply put, my nervous system isn’t working properly and there’s a problem with the messaging between my brain and my body. It isn’t a degenerative condition, but it can be as physically debilitating and life limiting as MS and other neurological diseases, and it’s a condition for which there is no known cure. 

I’ve managed to reclaim my previous quality of life to a certain extent, but I’ve been left with chronic symptoms. These include pain, cognitive difficulties, fatigue, and a nervous system that’s stuck in high alert. And I still occasionally have acute flare ups of the symptoms I mentioned earlier.

When I started writing Take A Moment, I wanted to raise awareness of neurological/chronic illness as well as tell a good story. It was my way of giving a glimpse into the experiences of people with debilitating chronic conditions – because no one can ever really know what that feels like until it happens to them. I chose to write about a character with MS so that it wasn’t too close and because many of the symptoms I experience overlap. It was important to me to get across what it feels like to have your life suddenly shattered, while at the same time keeping the story light and humorous. 

My main character Alex’s experiences are drawn from my own: losing my independence and feeling suddenly vulnerable, concern about being unreliable, being treated differently, and facing professional barriers. Too often the focus is on what people can’t do rather than what they can – and I’ve gained some incredible strengths and insights through having lived this experience. I wanted to show this through my story: that being differently abled is not the end, it can almost be a new beginning, provided the right support is in place. 

On the positive side, some people can surprise you. In the organisation where I work now, I have hugely supportive managers who let me manage my health situation my way, while also allowing me to be the ambitious person that I am. Characters like Emmanual and Matt in my story are a reflection of the wonderful people in my life who have both supported me and cheered me on.      

Me.

You certainly succeeded in your aim, Nina.  I loved the way Alex’s strong character shone through.  She was never the stereotype ‘brave girl fighting against the odds’ , although she was brave and she certainly did a lot of fighting.  But you didn’t shy away from depicting her darker, weaker moments and this was what made her character so believable and compelling.  

It was, as I said earlier, not only a really good read with a strong storyline and well written characters, but it was also very thought provoking. I am so looking forward to reading more of your work, so what is next?

Nina.

My next standalone novel, One Night in Edinburgh, will be published 23rd June and I’m really excited to share it. It’s about a woman who suddenly finds herself single on Hogmanay (that the Scottish term for New Year’s Eve in case anyone’s not familiar). It’s another heartwarming romance, this time set in and around Edinburgh’s waterfront – a bit lighter and more humorous than Take A Moment, but it still gives a nod to the harder realities of life. 

Me.

Definitely something to look forward to then!  Thank you so much for answering my questions with such patience and honesty.  

Final question, three things we might not know about you.

Nina.

  1. My favourite karaoke song is Don’t Cry for Me Argentina – the faster Miami mix by Madonna, not the version from the musical.
  2. I have 18 different types of gin in my drinks cabinet (that I go through very slowly – just to clarify)
  3. At my day job, I chair a network for colleagues with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 

Author Twitter / Facebook / Instagram handles: all @NinaKayeAuthor 

Buy Links: 

Nina

I wasn’t sure what you’d look for in terms of buy links and what the reach of your blog is so just went for Amazon UK/AU/US/CA to cover the English-speaking countries.

UK https://amzn.to/2UScXm3

US https://www.amazon.com/dp/B099MLS9ND/

CA https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B099MLS9ND/

AU https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B099MLS9ND/

And here are some additional UK links for the paperback in case you want to include any of these: 

The Works – https://www.theworks.co.uk/p/contemporary-fiction-books/take-a-moment/9781800324732.html

Blackwells – https://blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/Take-a-Moment-by-Nina-Kaye/9781800324732

Waterstones – https://www.waterstones.com/book/take-a-moment/nina-kaye/9781800324732

Author Bio:

Nina Kaye is a contemporary romance author who writes warm, witty and uplifting reads with a deeper edge. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and much adored side-kick, James. In addition to writing, Nina enjoys swimming, gin and karaoke (preferably all enjoyed together in a sunny, seaside destination). Nina has previously published The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating and has also been a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayson Award.

Where does author Morwenna Blackwood get her ideas from? (edited)

First, I have to start with an apology.  To you, my readers who are no doubt waiting anxiously for my latest blog post.  Or maybe not. (;-)

But most of all, I owe an apology to this week’s featured guest. I interviewed Morwenna Blackwood in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum a couple of months ago when Morwenna told me about the inspiration behind her series of novels and I wrote at the time that a fuller interview with Morwenna would appear on this my blog.

But then, like so many households, we had an unwelcome visitor by the name of Covid 19 turn up uninvited on our doorstep.  And like many an unwelcome guest, they were extremely disruptive, made a thorough nuisance of themselves and definitely outstayed their welcome, leaving us, when they eventually did go, with our house and our lives in chaos and our heads in a state of total brain fog.

Which is another way of saying that I’m sorry but my fingers, my laptop and my brain haven’t been talking to each other very much lately.

However, all is now behind us (hopefully), we’ve crossed our unwelcome visitor off our Christmas card list and my brain has started to function again.  Or as much as it ever did.

So, in my Idea Store column in Writers’ Forum I told Morwenna how I’d read and throughly enjoyed her novel The Glasshouse, even though it was way out of my reading comfort zone.  I asked how how she came up with the idea for the book which was when I discovered it was actually the second part of a three book series. Such is her skill as a writer that I didn’t even realise that as I read the book and am certainly looking forward to reading the others in the series.

Below is the fascinating and thought provoking quote she gave me for the magazine article.

Morwenna

Once upon a time, when I was sixteen and at college, sitting at my desk in a Communications Studies class, my tutor, Annie, was teaching us about how something and something else were inextricably linked. I kind of missed the point of the lesson because I can’t remember what she was actually talking about, but I’d never heard the word ‘inextricably’ before and fell in love with everything about it.

I remember thinking at the time – I can still see where I was sitting and my old folder! – when I write my books, I’m going to write about a point in time as if affects everyone around it, and the characters will all be linked but they won’t know it. I thought about writing from the points of view of four friends – separate narratives rolled into one. The idea stayed with me, literally, for years, and I wrote a load of stories, messing about with format. As I’m also fascinated by the that fact that perception is everything, even our concepts of reality, I decided to write something based on my own experience of mental illness.

Throughout my life I’ve been in and out of various psychiatric units. In one hospital, I remember a member of staff commenting on the fact that one of the psychiatrists was very good looking – I hadn’t noticed until then! – and I wondered what would happen if a doctor fell in love with a patient or vice-versa; I explored the idea in the piece I wrote for my MA dissertation, and this transpired to be the bones of Glasshouse.

Muse were the inspiration for the band in Glasshouse, ‘Charcot’; along with all the gigs I went to in my teens and twenties. I found the name when I was planning a presentation on ‘Hysteria’ as part of my MA. Jean-Martin Charcot was a French neurologist, who is best known nowadays for his work on hysteria and hypnosis; Freud was one of his students.

Although I had this fairly well-developed story, something told me that I couldn’t begin with it; instead, I wrote The (D)Evolution of Us first.

When I first fell in love, I fell in love hard. I was ill at the time, which exacerbated the situation, and when the relationship began to crack, I couldn’t understand what this lad was feeling, I’m ashamed to say. Elements of Adam and Cath came from that.

In truth, I am a survivor of abuse, and really this whole series of books (the published two, the third that’s in edits, and all the others in my notebooks and in my head) came about because I wanted to try to understand why people do the things they do – what makes someone cross a line. I hope one day to take a course in criminal psychology.

Everyone has their reasons, or, rather, catalysts, and our choices make us what we are to others. As I said, it’s all about perception – that’s why my website tagline is It’s all in your mind. I’ve spent a great deal of my life in existential crisis!

In essence, I got my ideas for this series of novels from my own experience of life, and my attempt to make sense of it.

Me

Thank you so much for that, Morwenna. That’s fascinating and I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work..   But let’s move on to your writing in general.  What inspires you most?  Is it characters? Settings? Or, maybe, books you have read?

Morwenna

I don’t think any one thing inspires me ‘most’. I kind of mash things together in my stories, so inspiration might come from a sentence I overhear walking down the street, or, in the case of Glasshouse, a turreted B and B by the sea. Novels aren’t written in a vacuum, and my personal experience of life pops up in various guises. And as a writer, of course I’m a reader. I love the exquisite and lyrical memoir writing of Horatio Clare, the bonkers stream-of-consciousness and snap-shot tripping of William H Burroughs, the bittersweetness of Jack Kerouac, and the absolutely incredible Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Joyce’s Ulysses, Luke Rhinehart’s, The Dice Man…so many!

Me

So how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written?  And what was your first published piece?

Morwenna

Writing has been the only constant in my life. I can’t remember ever not having written. The first proper story I wrote was about a frog. I was six years old, and I got told off because I wouldn’t stop writing it! It went on for a whole exercise book, and I never finished it! I took my first degree at the Uni of Manchester, because it had a great creative writing element, and wherever I’ve lived, I’ve joined writers’ groups and taken courses.

I self -published a novel – under a different name – when I was 36, but I didn’t have a clue about the industry, and have since taken it off the internet, although it might turn up in a different guise one day! Twenty years after my first degree, I took a Masters in Creative Writing at the Uni of Exeter – my dissertation eventually became Glasshouse. But it wasn’t until I took a course with Imagine, (click on the name for the link) called Novel in a Year, that I was ready to take my writing seriously, and approach agents and publishers. The (D)Evolution of Us was published by darkstroke, an independent publisher, in May 2020. And there’s no stopping me now!

Me

That’s great to hear. And what are your future plans?

Morwenna

Keep going and see what happens! As I mentioned earlier, my third novel is with my editor right now, and I’ll approach publishers when I’m happy with it!

I’m also writing a non-fiction book, and a short story. I have several other novels in the Glasshouse series planned out, and a whole load of possible plots for other works, including a tongue-in-cheek piece called My Boyfriend Invented the Jagerbomb.

Me

That’s certainly an intriguing title!  I’ll look out for it.  Now, how about telling us three things that we might not know about you.

Morwenna

1.  I Have forgotten how to ride a bike

2. I can read music

3. I threw my bra at Jarvis Cocker at a Pulp gig in 1995.

Me.

Hmm. Well, I can still ride a bike and I can also read music. But I have never thrown my bra at Jarvis Cocker or anyone else come to that! So if I tell you it’s never too late to learn to ride a bike, and you tell me, it’s never too late to ….. well, maybe not!

Thanks for a great interview, Morwenna. it was fascinating.

Edited Hot off the press

Since this interview, Morwenna’s third book, Underrated, has become available for preorder. It will be published on February 14

And finally, those all important social media links and buy links

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

www.morwennablackwoodauthor.com – website and blog

www.facebook.com/morwennablackwood -facebook

www.amazon.com/author/morwennablackwood – amazon author page

@MorwennaBlackw1 – Twitter 

morwennablackwood_ – Instagram

The all important buy links.  

Mybook.to/devolution – The (D)Evolution of Us

Mybook.to/glasshousenovel – Glasshouse

https://my book.to/underrated. Underrated. Publication dated 14/2/22

Author Bio

When Morwenna Blackwood was six years old, she got told off for filling a school exercise book with an endless story when she should have been listening to the teacher/eating her tea/colouring with her friends. The story was about a frog. It never did end; and Morwenna never looked back.

Born and raised in Devon, Morwenna suffered from severe OCD and depression, and spent her childhood and teens in libraries. She travelled about for a decade before returning to Devon. She now has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Exeter, and lives with her husband, son and three cats in a cottage that Bilbo Baggins would be proud of.

Morwenna is the author of best-selling noir psychological thrillers, The (D)Evolution of Us, and Glasshouse, published by darkstroke. The novels standalone but the characters and events interconnect; the third novel in the series, Underrated, is in progress.

 When she is not writing, Morwenna works for an animal rescue charity, or can be found down by the sea.

She often thinks about that frog.

Where does crime thriller author Bill Todd get his ideas from?

I’m delighted to welcome to my blog this week Bill Todd, author of the Danny Lancaster series of crime thrillers.

I came across Bill as one of the contributors to the anthology Criminal Shorts which I have featured in previous blog posts.  I was interested in featuring him in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum as I knew my readers would be interested in learning how a writer of a series manages to keep coming up with ideas.  

I was, therefore, delighted when he agreed to be featured both in my column and here on my blog.

Me.

Welcome, Bill and thank you for agreeing to sit in the hot seat and answer that question all writers are said to dread.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Bill

The old quote ‘Write drunk, edit sober,’ wrongly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, is not a reliable path to ideas although the odd glass or two can liberate the imagination. 

Sometimes it’s like lightening from a clear sky but in my experience ideas have three sources – news, travel and ‘what if…’ moments.

Plot ideas can come from anywhere, anytime. When they do I push them away, ignore them. If they keep muscling back into my consciousness then I think I might be on to something. 

I’m a journalist and travel writer and have written seven crime thrillers featuring wounded soldier turned investigator Danny Lancaster. 

My first book came from a shipwreck. I remember watching TV news of the container ship Napoli damaged by wind and waves in Storm Kyrill in the English Channel. 

When shipping containers washed ashore hundreds of people ignored police and scavenged the cargo. Booty included nappies, perfume and even motorbikes. My peculiar brain asked, what would happen if something dangerous washed ashore? The answers are in THE WRECK OF THE MARGHERITA.

When I was a kid I was a huge fan of rock bands, going to Zeppelin and Deep Purple gigs. The crazy lifestyle of drugs, groupies and trashing hotel rooms was admired back then but would raise a hashtag Twitter storm today. I wondered if consequences from those wild days might come back to haunt the aged rockers and so DEATH SQUAD was born.

I’ve always loved travelling, Interrailing in my teens and later visiting more than 40 countries as a travel writer. One favourite is Namibia, south west Africa. It’s like another planet, ancient deserts, multi-coloured cliffs, centuries-old trees preserved by fierce dry heat.

This inspired a plot that became ROUGH DIAMOND.

The same principle applied using Gibraltar as a character in ROCK HARD. This tiny spec at the entrance to the Med is dripping in history and just shouts stories.

Focusing on a plot can be a very single-minded activity so next I decided to challenge myself with something shorter. Brighton is a party city but it has a dark side. Homelessness, drugs and violence are real issues. I wanted to explore this and met many wonderful people while researching. The result was a novella and six short stories, GARGOYLE PIXIE DOG.

Then I had the urge to write something that needed an isolated, tranquil setting before the storm hits. The Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven on the Sussex coast was the perfect place and I loved writing GODLEFE’S  CUCKOO. 

I’ve had a passionate lifelong affair with the great British pub. Few things match the rush of tiny bubbles rising up a freshly-poured pint of real ale, impatient to bathe your waiting tastebuds. A locked pub murder mystery seemed an obvious move and, after much dedicated research, this became LAST ORDERS.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the birth of ideas. It’s just a case of keeping eyes, ears and mind open. And a notebook handy.

Me

Great answers, Bill – and I’ll certainly remember the tip about keeping a notebook handy.  Thank you so much.  As space in the magazine is limited, this blog now gives us the chance to go into your writing career in a little more detail.

How would you describe your genre?  And do you write a series or can your books be read and standalone?

Bill

I describe my books as crime thrillers, a mix of detection and action. All seven feature wounded ex-soldier turned investigator for hire Danny Lancaster but all are self-contained. They can all be read as standalones and you can dib in anywhere. 

Me.

What inspires you most?  Is it characters, settings or maybe books you have read?

Bill

I think it’s a cocktail of characters and settings. Each element affects the other and, using my experiences as a travel writer, the settings are often characters in their own right as they influence characters and drive the action. 

I’m always pleased with one of my characters when they abandon their carefully-plotted path and go off at a tangent. It’s as if they’ve developed a life of their own which has to be a good thing.

Books I have read had an influence in the early days. I was a big fan of Frederick Forsyth, Len Deighton and Jack Higgins. 

Me.

And how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written?  And what was your first published piece?

Bill

When I was very young my grandfather Bill, a countryman living in town, wrote a series of short stories about the adventures of cave boys Wilto and Johto, based on me and my brother John. 

It’s very un-PC, featuring hunting and trapping, but I treasure the yellowed and cracked notepaper it’s written on.

Grandad’s stories were an inspiration and I’ve written for as long as I can remember. 

Working on newspapers and family life has filled much of my time, although I still wrote, so my first published work was probably my first Danny Lancaster novel.

Me.

That’s wonderful!  I’m sure your grandfather would have been thrilled and delighted by your successful writing career.

What are your future plans?  More Danny Lancaster, I hope!

Bill

I have a number of irons in the fire. Some are glowing gently, others are red hot. There are ideas for a new Danny Lancaster and a standalone thriller as well as a book of my travel diaries and, perhaps, editing my grandfather’s Wilto and Johto stories. Not sure yet which way I’ll go. I’m still waiting for the muse to decide.

Me.

Exciting times!  I look forward to seeing which the muse decides for you.

Finally, Bill, how about telling us three things we might not know about you?

Bill.

  1. My spiritual home is a small place on Crete but I’m not saying where.
  2. I am addicted to steamed apple pudding but no one makes it like my late lamented grandmother Jean. 
  3. I’ve been tear gassed twice. Once by Greek riot police and once by the United States Air Force. In both cases I was an innocent bystander.

Me.

Ouch!  But at least you can write with confidence about how it feels to be tear gassed.  Nothing is ever wasted to a writer, is it?

Thank you so much for answering my questions for fully and so patiently.  And the very best of luck wherever your muse agrees to take you.

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

Website: www.billtodd.co.uk

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5804102.Bill_Todd

Twitter: https://twitter.com/williamjtodd – @williamjtodd

Twitter: https://twitter.com/@DannyLancaster3 – @DannyLancaster3
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DannyLancasterInvestigates/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/billtodd_writer/ – @billtodd_writer

The all important buy links.  

THE WRECK OF THE MARGHERITA http://mybook.to/WreckOfTheMargherita – Free ebook 

DEATH SQUAD http://mybook.to/DeathSquad – 99p/99c

ROUGH DIAMOND http://mybook.to/roughdiamond – 99p/99c

ROCK HARD http://mybook.to/rockhard – 99p/99c

GARGOYLE PIXIE DOG http://mybook.to/GargoylePixieDog – 99p/99c

GODLEFE’S CUCKOO http://mybook.to/GodlefesCuckoo – 99p/99c

LAST ORDERS http://mybook.to/LastOrders – 99p/99c

Author Bio

As I kid I lay in bed at night making up stories in my head. Soon they transferred to paper and then screen. I’ve always written. 

My career has been in journalism and travel writing but I have wound that down a little now so I can write more for myself.

In addition to my seven Danny Lancaster crime thrillers I’ve written three brief military histories.

GUNNER is based on my father’s World War Two diary. A CROCUS FROM JERUSALEM is an account of a great uncle serving as an infantryman in Palestine in 1917. PIGTAIL PILOT is the story of a young girl, passionate about flying, killed in an RAF training accident. 

Running in joint second place after writing are passions for real ale, interesting cheese, photography and Crete. 

However, much of my time now is occupied by three-year-old grandson Theo, a dinosaur fan and keen adventurer, and his baby brother Jack who enjoys staring and smiling.

Where does Trevor Wood, multi-award winning author of gritty crime thrillers, get his ideas from?

You know that moment when you read a book and think “This one’s a winner”?  It’s always exciting but even more so when the book you’re reading is a debut novel.  It sends a tingle up your spine, doesn’t it?

Well, I had one such spine tingling moment recently when I picked up Trevor Wood’s “The Man on the Street” – yet another great recommendation from my favourite Facebook group, UK Crime Book Club.

This is a well written, fast paced book with some wonderfully drawn characters and a most unusual “detective”, Jimmy Mullen, an ex-serviceman who suffers from PTSD and has ended up living on the streets.

So, as always, I asked Trevor where he got the idea for the books (and yes, I’m happy to say it’s a series of three) and whether he would agree to be interviewed for my blog.  And he said yes.

Me

Welcome, Trevor and thank you for the hours of reading pleasure you have given me and, I’m sure, many, many others.  I’ve read the first two books in the series and am now eagerly awaiting number three which I understand is due out early next year.

So, the question all writers are said to dread!  Where did the idea for “The Man In The Street” come from?

Trevor

The idea for The Man on the Street came out of sheer necessity. I was on the inaugural Crime Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. I signed up for the course for two reasons. The first was that although I had previously been a relatively successful playwright I felt that the two writing disciplines were almost entirely different and needed help to make the switch. The second was that the deliverable at the end of the course wasn’t a theoretical essay or thesis it was a 90,000 word crime novel.

It was only when I got to the first residential that I realized everyone had already developed an idea for their book except me. So the moment I got home I sat down with my wife and brainstormed ideas. One of the many things I love about modern-day crime fiction is the way you can explore almost any social issue within the guise of a crime novel and I was keen to write something outside the standard police procedural format. As soon my wife said ‘what if a homeless man sees a murder’ I knew that was an idea worth exploring, the only problem was that I wasn’t sure that I was the right writer to explore it.

Fortunately, as soon as I started to do some research one of the first things I came across was a statistic that suggested that around ten per cent of the homeless are ex-servicemen. That gave me a way in – before I started writing I was in the Royal Navy for 16 years. I was fascinated to explore how someone who had once, at the very least, been organized, disciplined and capable of working under intense pressure, could end up living on the streets. The answer in many cases was PTSD. I was in the RN during the Falkland War and though I was never sent down to the South Atlantic I had many friends who were and knew how deeply it had affected them. My protagonist, Jimmy Mullen, was starting to take shape. 

My next breakthrough was to read about a new book in the Big Issue. The Veteran’s Survival Guide was written by an ex-soldier called Jimmy Johnson, who had served two tours in Belfast and ended up with PTSD. His condition was so bad that he killed a man whilst suffering an extreme flashback and is now in prison for life. The book is his way of trying to prevent anyone else going through a similar experience, primarily urging ex-servicemen to seek the help they need.

The last piece of the jigsaw that I needed was to learn more about homelessness so I started volunteering at the People’s Kitchen in my home city, Newcastle. It’s a charity that feeds around 200 people every day, amongst other services, entirely run and manned by volunteers. Working there, as a cook, every Tuesday afternoon has been eye-opening and helped me understand the difficulties and experiences that Jimmy experiences in The Man on the Street.

Me

That is fascinating and your painstaking research certainly paid off as the world you have created is very believable as are the characters.  So, how would you desc ride your genre? 

Trevor

I looked back to when I was pitching the book to agents and back then I was calling the book a ‘character-driven crime thriller which combines social realism with great pace.’ That’s obviously a bit of a mouthful so let’s go with gritty crime thrillers. 

Interestingly The Man on the Street was originally written as a standalone for the obvious reason that it has a homeless protagonist, rather than the standard cop or detective. However, every publisher who showed an interest insisted it should be a series as readers would want to read more about the main characters. I didn’t want to move away from reality too much, with a homeless man tripping over bodies as if he lived in Midsomer, so we eventually compromised on a trilogy. The second in the series, One Way Street is already out in e-book and audio with the hardback arriving on June 10. The third in the series, Dead End Street, will be published in early 2022.

Me

Well, you have certainly succeeded in writing something that combines social realism with great pace.  What inspires you most?

Trevor

I had never been to Newcastle before I met and married a Geordie in my early thirties but fell in love with the place immediately and really wanted to capture the passion and energy of the place in the books so that’s one big inspiration. 

I also like crime writers who managed to say something about the state of the nation in their books, Eva Dolan, Denise Mina and Doug Johnstone spring to mind so that’s another.

Me.

You’re in great company!  Tell us a little about your writing journey.

Trevor

When I left the Royal Navy I retrained as a journalist and met Ed Waugh on my journalism course. We became firm friends almost instantly – we car-shared to the course and both were keen music fans and had the same taste in comedy shows. 

A few years later we decided that we should try and write something together. Amazingly our first play, Good to Firm was on stage within six months of starting out. Our second play Dirty Dusting was a massive success, touring all over the world and is still touring now (when the theatres are open anyway). We went on to write around a dozen plays together, all of which had productions in the North East before moving to other parts of the country. You can check out our plays at www.edwaughandtrevorwood.co.uk 

Me

And future plans?

Trevor

The third book in the Jimmy Mullen series is just being edited at the moment. I have a deal for one further book with my publishers and I’m currently working on a standalone thriller set in the wilds of Northumberland, which has given me a great excuse to go on some fantastic walks around the country recently!

Me

And finally, how about telling us three things about you that we might not know?

Trevor

1.   At my advanced age of 61 I played for the triumphant England Crime Writers football team against our Scottish counterparts at Bloody Scotland the last time it was on in 2019. We won 3-0. 

2 I’m the all-time leading run scorer for Mallards CC – the self-acclaimed friendliest cricket club in the North East. That’s not as impressive as it sounds – I’ve played a lot more games than anyone else and we’re not very good. Our website is a lot of fun though, especially the match reports and player profiles. You can see mine here: http://mallardscc.org.uk/player-profiles/trevor-wood

3   When I was 16 I appeared with my mum on the TV quiz show Three Little Words. Your partner was given a word and had to give you a one-word clue so you could guess what it was. The first word my mum was given was ‘illegitimate.’ She didn’t shy away from going for the obvious.

Me

Brilliant!  Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

Author bio

Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for 25 years and considers himself an adopted Geordie, though he still can’t speak the language. He’s a successful novelist and playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for 16 years. Trevor holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from UEA. 

His first novel The Man on the Street, which is set in his home city and features a homeless protagonist, was published in March 2020. Lee Child described it as ‘an instant classic.’ It won the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey New Blood Dagger for best debut and has recently been longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. It’s also shortlisted for the Crimefest Specsavers Debut Novel of the Year. The sequel, One Way Street, was released on e-book and audio in October and was published in hardback in June 2021. 

Trevor is one of the founder members of the Northern Crime Syndicate and is a volunteer at the People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, a charity that provides hot meals for more than a hundred people every day.

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

Twitter @TrevorWoodWrite

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/trevor.wood.3150

Website: www.trevorwoodauthor.co.uk

The all important buy links.  

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trevor-Wood/e/B07V43Y9YX

Bookshop.org https://uk.bookshop.org/books?keywords=trevor+wood

https://www.forumbooksshop.com/

Where do these talented Criminal Shorts authors get their ideas from?

Towards the end of 2020 I was delighted to be included in an anthology collated by one of my favourite Facebook groups and sold in aid of a very special charity.

UK Crime Book Club is a thriving, well run book club on Facebook with a great mix of authors and readers. (As I write this there are 18.7k members, of which over 500 are authors, including big names  and some not-so-big names – like mine.)  

The anthology, Criminal Shorts, is available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon (link here) and was the brainchild of authors Kath Middleton and Will Templeton.  Several times a year UKCBC produces seasonal short stories (eg Christmas, Halloween etc) written by UKCBC members and shared on the UKCBC Facebook page.

“The idea of compiling an anthology first occurred to me a while ago, when the ‘Seasonal Shorts‘ events became so popular,” Will Templeton explains.  “I discussed the notion with Kath Middleton, but between us we dismissed it as being too much hard work! 

“When the idea was raised again in the UKCBC admin group chat it became apparent there was a strong interest in it and we wouldn’t be able to duck out of it so easily. (Just kidding!). 

“The charity was chosen by the admins as one of our author members has a child at the Red Kite Academy, (www.redkitespecialacademy.co.uk) so we felt they would be an ideal recipient of the proceeds.

“The call for submissions brought us a staggering number of stories of a very high quality. This made whittling down the entries to a manageable amount very daunting, assessing originality and ingenuity to finish with a selection to impress the most discerning reader. We hope we have succeeded in creating a unique and exciting book.”

And they certainly succeeded.  The anthology is a superb collection of finely crafted stories and I enjoyed every one.

So I asked the 22 authors involved if any of them would be kind enough to share with the readers of my Ideas Store column (in the UK magazine Writers’ Forum ) where they got the ideas for their stories from and was delighted when thirteen of them responded.  So much so I had way too much material for one issue of my single page column and I had to spread them over three issues!

Also, because of issues of space, I was unable to supply the authors’ links or buy links and am happy to rectify this here. 

I don’t want to make this post too long so I am splitting up the 13 authors who contributed quotes in my column into two posts, with the second being published within the next few days.

………………

Kath Middleton.   Short story: Dark Fires

“I began with the idea of a girl being set up to take the blame for her twin brother’s fire-raising,” Kath explains. “As she was the subservient twin, it would be easy for him to fool her, and make her incriminate herself. As the story evolved, I started to consider the concept of gaslight, so the whole focus changed. Sometimes you don’t write the story you thought you would.”

From Kath’s Amazon author page

Kath Middleton began her writing with drabbles (100 words stories) and contributed a number to Jonathan Hill’s second drabble collection. It wasn’t long before she moved up a size to contribute short stories to anthologies. Shortly afterwards, she progressed to writing longer pieces and her first solo work, Ravenfold, was published to much acclaim. This was followed by the novella, Message in a Bottle. There are now several more publications from short stories to novels. 

Kath likes to put her characters in difficult situations and watch them work their way out. She believes in the indomitable nature of the human spirit (and chickens).

Kath is retired. She graduated in geology and has a certificate in archaeology. When she’s in a hole, she doesn’t stop digging.

website http://www.kathmiddletonbooks.com/

Amazon author page

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kath-Middleton/e/B00H1WWW2E%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

………………..

Brian Caves.  Short story. Brooks

“The idea behind this was to try an do something different…and I remembered the Francis Ford Coppola film with Gene Hackman as a surveillance operative. It was called The Conversation – superb film,” he says.

“And that’s what started the idea of Brooks, a gun for hire, a cleaner; someone who sorts out someone else’s mess. I thought why not two men in a room having a conversation about sleazy goings on with a Government minister? Brooks would question the minister about his unpalatable habits and actions, each of which is revealed as the conversation progresses. Ultimately, the minister accepts that he has to resign.”

Brian has published two full length novels, short stories and novellas.  He is currently working on follow ups to A Long Way from Home and The Tin Man,  a new full length novel set in the US called Close To The Edge and a book of horror shorts.

The link to his Amazon page i

………………..

Tony Forder.  Short story: Mission Accomplished

“My story, Mission Accomplished, emerged out of pure panic,” he admits. “I had no story, so turned to my most read characters in an act of desperation. My first thought was: what if I send Jimmy Bliss to Ireland to see his mum and [something] happens? My second thought was: what if I send Penny Chandler with him? That was it. I started writing their journey from the airport and finished the entire story in a single sitting.”

It’s a cracking story and a testament to the strength of his characters when an author can just sit down and write an entire story straight off!

From Tony’s Amazon author page

Tony J Forder is the author of the bestselling DI Bliss crime thriller series. The first seven books, Bad to the Bone, The Scent of Guilt, If Fear Wins, The Reach of Shadows, The Death of Justice, Endless Silent Scream, and Slow Slicing, were joined in December 2020 by a prequel novella, Bliss Uncovered. The next book, The Autumn Tree, is scheduled for release on 24 May 2021.

Tony’s other series – two action-adventure novels featuring Mike Lynch – comprises both Scream Blue Murder, and Cold Winter Sun. These are currently unavailable, but will be back in 2021.

In addition, Tony has written two standalone novels: a dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, and a suspense thriller set in California, called Fifteen Coffins, released in November 2020.

Link to Tony’s amazon author page

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tony-J-Forder/e/B01N4BPT65

His website is www.tonyjforder.com

………………..

Jan Edwards.  Short story.  Down to the Sea Again

“DCI William Wright is a character from my Bunch Courtney crime series,” she says. “Wright was following a lead in my current work in progress that went nowhere useful.  It is referenced in a very minor way in the book’s narrative, but I knew it was never going to fit, no matter how hard I tried.  Trouble was that tentacle of thought simply refused to lay down and be quiet and so ‘Down the Sea’ came into being.”

From Jan’s Amazon author page

Jan Edwards is a UK author with several novels and many short stories in horror, fantasy, mainstream and crime fiction, including Mammoth Book of Folk Horror as well as various volumes of the MX Books of New Sherlock Holmes Stories. Jan is an editor with the award-winning Alchemy Press (includes The Alchemy Press Books of Horror series. Jan was awarded the Arnold Bennett Book Prize for Winter Downs, the first in her ww2 crime series The Bunch Courtney Investigations.

Winner of the Arnold Bennett Book Prize; Karl Edward Wagner award; Winchester Slim Volume award (for Sussex Tales). Short listed for both the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction and Best Collection.

To read more about Jan go tohttps://janedwardsblog.wordpress.com/

Jan’s Amazon page link here

………………..

Susan Handley.    Short story.  Robbed

“My story, Robbed, came from thinking about how someone who has served a prison sentence might feel when they are released,” she explains.

“So many things will seem familiar, yet so many things will have changed. The story starts with Robbie, on his release day, coming out of prison, determined to reclaim his dues and settle a few old scores.”

From Susan’s Amazon page

Susan Handley grew up in England, in the Midlands and despite a love of literature, and crime fiction in particular, she never dreamt of being able to carve out a career as a published writer. But the desire to write never left her and after years of writing by night she has at last been able to share the results of her efforts.

Susan now lives in a small village in rural Kent with her husband and two cats. When she’s not indulging in her love of writing crime fiction she loves walking (the hillier the better), bike riding (the flatter the better) and tending her veggie patch.

Susan has published three novels. A Confusion of Crows is the first to feature DC Cat McKenzie, a one-time marine biologist turned detective. In the second in the series, Feather and Claw, Cat is holidaying on the sunny isle of Cyprus when the death of a fellow guest sees her put her holiday on hold and turn detective. In the third Cat McKenzie mystery, The Body Politic, Cat finds herself investigating the violent death of local councillor. As she uncovers the truth, Cat learns as much about herself as she does the dead man. 

Susan has also produced two short story collections: Crime Bites Volume 1 and Volume 2. Full of bite-size crime stories there’s bound to be something to suit all tastes.

The link is

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Susan-Handley/e/B078YRLWQP?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1623160417&sr=1-1

………………..

Cecilia Peartree.  Short story: The Coastal Path

Cecilia found her inspiration from a series of walks she did with her sister-in-law on the Fife Coast Path.

“In the story I wanted to weave together the walk itself, the uncovering of a secret, and the main character developing as a result of her experiences,” she explains. “At first the walk was the most important thing, but in the end I feel the character development came to be the core of it.”

From Cecilia’s Amazon page

Cecilia Peartree is the pen name of a writer who lives in Edinburgh and has worked as a computer programmer and a database manager. 

She has been a compulsive writer since she first learned to write, and by the age of sixteen she had a whole cupboard full of unfinished stories. 

Cecilia writes the Pitkirtly series of quirky mystery novels set in an imaginary town on the coast of Fife, and the Quest mystery/adventure novels set in the early 1950s. Recently, almost without meaning to, she has also written a short series of Regency novels.

As befits a mystery writer, she is often surrounded by cats while working on her novels.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cecilia-Peartree/e/B005826ULI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1623160729&sr=8-1

Website. . www.ceciliapeartree.com

………………..

Lexie Conyngham.   Short story: Special Delivery

“I was intrigued by the idea of starting a book with someone walking into a situation he didn’t understand. It seemed a good place to start for a short story, too,” she says. “Apart from that the story was one of those ones that just seems to happen – though I can say that the room in the story that contains only a cistern handle and nothing else was something we found when viewing a house, once!”

From Lexie’s Amazon author page

Lexie Conyngham is a historian living in the shadow of the Highlands. Her Murray of Letho novels are born of a life amidst Scotland’s old cities, ancient universities and hidden-away aristocratic estates, but she has written since the day she found out that people were allowed to do such a thing. Beyond teaching and research, her days are spent with wool, wild allotments and a wee bit of whisky. 

The link to her page is https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lexie-Conyngham/e/B008XH0YQ2?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1623161090&sr=1-1

Read her blog at www.murrayofletho.blogspot.com for some nice veg and occasional insights into Scottish history and wildlife.

………………..

Bill Todd. Short story: Lucky Break

Bill Todd has written seven successful crime thrillers featuring wounded ex-soldier turned private investigator Danny Lancaster.  “For the UKCBC anthology I thought I’d have a shot at a Danny short story which presents different writing challenges.”

A challenge to which the author rose magnificently as his short story, Lucky Break, made me want to read more about Danny Lancaster and I’m now really looking forward to reading the first in the series, The Wreck of the Margarita.  The ebook is currently free on Amazon.   (link here)

Bill’s author bio

I’ve spent my working life as a journalist. You meet a lot of people, see things, learn stuff. For a crimewriter, it’s a plot factory.

I’ve also done a lot of travelwriting. It’s not all cocktails under the palm trees but it is a fantastic job that’s taken me to more than 40 countries, from the white wastes of Arctic Finland to the deserts of Namibia.

People often ask my favourite place. In a world of globalisation, many destinations look the same but Iceland and Namibia are like stepping onto another planet. Go if you can.

I’ve also enjoyed a long love affair with Western Crete, the mountains, coastline, food and people. And I was delighted and surprised to receive the Ed Lacy Gibraltar travel award in 2007.

Another interest is my family tree. I’ve traced the ancestors back to William of Byfield, a farmer in 1600s Northamptonshire, just down the road from Shakespeare.

I love maps. They might seem old fashioned in the age of GPS but they tell stories, make promises. I have a ragbag collection of more than 3,000.

I’m also a fan of interesting cheeses, good beer and wilderness. They’re like Marmite, you’re an empty places person or you’re not.

I have written six crime thrillers and a book of short stories featuring Danny Lancaster, a wounded Afghanistan veteran turned private investigator.

Bill’s Amazon author page. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bill-Todd/e/B008SA121U?ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vu00_tkin_p1_i0

Bill’s contact details

Bill Todd and Danny Lancaster aren’t hard to find. If you don’t bump into them out and about you can catch them here…

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5804102.Bill_Todd

Twitter: https://twitter.com/williamjtodd – @williamjtodd

Twitter: https://twitter.com/@DannyLancaster3 – @DannyLancaster3

Facebook: www.facebook.com/DannyLancasterInvestigates/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/billtodd_writer/ – @billtodd_writer

Website: www.billtodd.co.uk

………………..

In my next blog I’ll be featuring the other six authors who gave me quotes for my column – and my grateful thanks go to them all.

And, just in case you haven’t done so yet, please check out Criminal Shorts at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Criminal-Shorts-Crime-Book-Anthology-ebook/dp/B08LH879H4/ref=sr_1_1?

It’s available in paperback or ebook – and as I’ve said before, it’s a cracking read and a great charity.

Where does historical novelist Sally Zigmond get her ideas?

It is my great pleasure to welcome historical novelist Sally Zigmond to my blog this week.  I featured Sally in my Ideas Store column in the December 2020 Issue of Writers’ Forum magazine in which I asked her where she got the idea for her novel, The Lark Ascending, which I had recently read and enjoyed.

She explained how a shopping trip on a snowy January day was the inspiration behind the book which is set in Leeds just after WW1.

“When we lived in Harrogate I often shopped in the city centre and loved its celebrated Victorian shopping arcades.

“One day in a freezing-cold January day I took shelter under the beautiful glass roof of the Queen’s Arcade and shopped until I dropped (well almost). When I emerged into busy Briggate, I realised it had been snowing for a long time but I hadn’t noticed! 

“So there and then, I had the first scene of my next novel, The Lark Ascending, about a shop assistant who worked in the arcade and a strange day on a cold January morning. Only I wanted a change from the Victorian age and settled on the period just after World War One.”

The Lark Ascending is a beautifully told story and deals with some quite difficult subjects that faced people in that post-war era with great sensitivity and empathy.  I can really recommend it.

So I invited Sally to come along to my blog and answer yet more questions from me. And, happily, she said yes!

Me

Welcome, Sally.  And thank you for agreeing to appear on my blog.  Thank you, too, for giving me several hours of reading pleasure from The Lark Ascending.  I don’t often read historical novels but I loved it so much that I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work.

Do you write series of standalones?

Sally

I write historical novels and my published short stories are mainly historical. So far all my novels are stand-alones but the novel I am currently writing could well be the first novel in a three or four-book series.  I shall wait and see!

Me

I’ll look forward to that.  I love getting into a series.  So, what inspires you most (apart from snowy shopping arcades, that is!)? Is it characters?  Or settings?  Maybe even books you have read?

Sally

For everything I write, whether it be a novel or short story, I have to first choose a setting and a historical period. Then the main character(s). Plot comes much later. I think of my character at the beginning and where I hope to finish. Then I start fleshing out how that character (or characters) gets from on to the other. That’s the novel.

Me

And how did your writing journey start?  Have you always written? 

Sally

I’ve always loved reading and writing. English was my favourite subject at school and I studied English Literature at Uni. When my children  were  settled in school, I took various adult education classes. I then spotted one called “Writing For Pleasure and Profit.”  So began a long learning curve.

Me.

Ah, I remember taking a course with a similar title!   Now tell me a little of your future writing plans.

Sally

As I mentioned earlier I am currently writing a novel which may be the first part of a three or even four part serial beginning in the 14th century and concluding in the 16th.

Me

That sounds exciting.  And finally, tell us three things that we may not know about you.

Sally

1      I used to work at New Scotland in Interpol.

2      When I was on a train from Paris to Lyon full of French soldiers we were halted for 3 hours by a bomb scare.

3         Diana Dors once bumped into me on Euston Street in London and almost knocked me flying!

Me

Wow!  Plenty of material for a writer there then!  There’s your challenge for 2021 then – to try and work all three of those things into one story!

Thank you so much Sally for answering my questions so patiently.

The Blurbs and buy links for Sally’s books

HOPE AGAINST HOPE

Stoical and industrious Carrie and carefree and vivacious May lose both home and livelihood when their Leeds pub is sold out from under them to make way for the coming of the railway. They head for Harrogate to find work and lodging in the spa town’s hotel trade. But the sisters fall prey to fraudsters and predators and are also driven apart by misunderstanding, pride and a mutual sense of betrayal and resentment.

Alex Sinclair, a bold and warm-spirited Scot, has eschewed the wishes of his father to become a railway engineer. His companion, Charles Hammond is the dissolute heir to a vast fortune, withheld from him by an overbearing mother and grasping stepfather. Charles bides his time as a physician, a profession for which he lacks both aptitude and enthusiasm.

The futures of both men will become bound up with those of the two sisters.As time passes the sisters overcome their adversities: May becomes the most sought after dressmaker in Paris; Carrie, the proprietor of the most successful hotel in Harrogate. Alex pours himself into new railway projects. Meanwhile, having been almost destroyed through gambling, drunkenness and self-loathing, Charles starts on the long and difficult road to redemption and fulfilment.Carrie and May have now been estranged for several years. But in 1848, the Year of Revolutions the streets of Paris erupt in bloody insurrection while Alex Sinclair is commissioned to bring the railway to Harrogate. 

CHASING ANGELS ( novella)

In 1794, Henriette d’Angeville was born into a French aristocratic family in crisis.Her grandfather was guillotined and her father imprisoned but later released causing the family to live on their memories in an impoverished château. In 836, she was the first woman to reach the summit of Mont Blanc – in a bonnet and petticoats!This novella is a fictional account of her life in which her love of the outdoors and her determination to excel in her climbing endeavours, which made her an object of derision and pity, is examined in a witty and sympathetic portrayal. We see her father, her mother and her younger brother. We see her at school and the circumstances in which she ‘rescued’ her companion, Jeannette, from destitution. We meet the Protestant ladies of Genevan society and the men of Chamonix who accompany her on her expedition.Starting close to her death, Henriette looks back on her life and her great achievement. Full of humour and love, Chasing Angelstell the story of a truly remarkable woman

THE LARK ASCENDING

Leeds 1919. The war is over but young Alice Fields, who hates her job in an old-fashioned shop, isn’t celebrating. However, her life is about to change when a rich customer leaves behind an expensive fur stole and Alice makes great efforts to return it. Dark secrets bring not only money but misery, too. During the contrasting worlds of the roaring twenties and the General Strike, love and deep friendships bloom like poppies on the devastated battlefields over which the lark rises again. 

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

My blog needs attention and more time! Sallyzigmond.blogspot.com

Twitter. @sallyzigmond

 Facebook. sallyzigmond

Buy links

The Lark Ascending

Hope Against Hope

Chasing Angels

Author Bio

I was born in Leicester, moved to Lincoln then back to Market Harborough. Leics where In attended senior school. I studied at what is now Queen Mary |University, London where I met my husband. We moved to Yorkshire where my two sons were born. Now retired, we live in Middlesbrough with stunning views over the Cleveland Hills. 

Where does psychological thriller writer Charlie Tyler get her ideas from?

I am delighted to welcome to my blog psychological thriller writer, Charlie Tyler whose debut novel, The Cry of the Lake, was published earlier this year. Here’s the book’s blurb

A gruesome discovery unravels a dark trail of murder and madness

A six-year-old girl sneaks out of bed to capture a mermaid but instead discovers a dead body. Terrified and unable to make sense of what she sees, she locks the vision deep inside her mind. 

Ten years later, Lily is introduced to the charismatic Flo and they become best friends. But Lily is guilt-ridden – she is hiding a terrible secret which has the power to destroy both their lives. 

When Flo’s father is accused of killing a schoolgirl, the horrors of Lily’s past come bubbling to the surface. Lily knows that, whatever the consequences, she has to make things right. She must go back to the events of her childhood and face what happened at the boat house all those years ago. 

Can Lily and Flo discover what is hiding in the murky waters of the lake before the killer strikes again?

Me

Hi Charlie and welcome to my blog.  I really enjoyed your book.  It was a fascinating read and very cleverly constructed. You certainly know how to crank up the tension! Congratulations on a very accomplished debut novel.

So, the question I ask everyone.  Where did you get the idea from? (I’m sure that should really read ‘From where did you get the idea?’ but it just doesn’t sound right.  Or is it just me?)

Charlie

Lakes, ponds and fishes are all things which spark my imagination. My inspiration came from seeing a photo of a rickety boathouse, complete with a long, wooden jetty, leading out onto a lake. 

I remembered being a child and fishing by the edge of a pond, collecting tiny creatures in jam jars and lining them up along the bank. I imagined a small girl lying on the jetty, catching minnows, and being told by her older sister that a mermaid lives beneath the surface of the lake; a mermaid called Myrtle who can only be seen at night when there is a full moon. 

If that had been me, I would have been out the very same night, searching for the mermaid and that’s what led to me creating the main incident for the book. I envisaged the girl arriving at the water’s edge, but rather than seeing a mermaid, she witnesses a terrible crime. 

Unable to process what she has seen she buries it within her mind. I built up the rest of the story around the fallout from what happens years later, when this memory is forced to rise to the surface again.

Me

Great answer!  My older sister used to tell me stories like that.  They used to frighten the life out of me.  In fact, come to think of it, they still do.

So, what inspires you most?  

Charlie

I am completely obsessed and inspired by water – lakes, rivers, ponds, though, curiously, not the sea.  I daydream about lakes – maybe it’s because I’m often driving through Rutland Water.  I also spend a lot of time out walking my dog.  My house borders onto fields and quite quickly I can get to the canal, so I’m frequently out, marching along the towpath, passing through various small, chocolate-box villages which feed my description for an idyllic village life.  

Sometimes, on my walks I see things and store them away for later use, for example, a couple of years ago I was walking through fields with my husband and daughter and we came across a fenced-off, rectangle of slime which we later found out was King Charles’s Well where he supposedly watered his horses when he came back from defeat at the battle of Naseby.  Fast forward a couple of years and the well makes an appearance in The Cry of the Lake; I remembered it and thought it would make the perfect place to hold a village fete.  

For bookish inspiration I look to anything written by the amazing Agatha Christie.  How I wish I’d come up with the plots for ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ and ‘Then there were none’ – pure genius.  I also adore Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series which I think has a perfect blend of description and mystery all cleverly tied up with two characters I’ve grown to care about. 

Me

Great to meet another Agatha Christie fan.  She’s the reason I love reading and writing crime novels.  How did your writing journey start?

Charlie

I have been writing now for over a decade.  I’ve written various different things, including a contemporary romance, a children’s book and a YA.  For a couple of years, I was signed to a big literary agency, but sadly the book submitted was never sold.  Not put off by this, I did a six month online Creative Writing Course which kept me going, but it was only this year that I signed with Darkstroke and they published The Cry of the Lake in July 2020.  

Me

And what are your future plans? 

Charlie

Whilst The Cry of the Lake was doing the rounds, I was already three-quarters of the way through another novel which is set in a girls’ convent school.  Two bodies are discovered, hidden in the crypt of an Abbey, but the police cannot make any headway into how or why they got there.  They have to send in an undercover policewoman to try and engage with the girls and figure out what secrets they are hiding.

Me

Sounds great!  I am really looking forward to reading it.  Thank you for some great answers and now, to round it off, please tell us three things we may not know about you.

Charlie

I am terribly squeamish and find writing murder scenes absolutely horrendous.  Sometimes just the thought of what I’m writing about makes me cry – I’m such a big baby.

I adore spicy food, but if it’s too hot I get a nosebleed which isn’t great for my dinner companions.

My absolute favourite type of fiction to read is historical.  Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy is the perfect match for me.

Me

Thank you so much for answering my questions so patiently, Charlie.  There’s just one thing I wish I’d asked you but didn’t.  What’s the name of your gorgeous dog?

Social Media Links, blog, website etc.

The all important buy link.

https://www.charlietyler.com

https://mybook.to/thecryofthelake

Author Bio

Charlie signed with Darkstroke in May 2020 and The Cry of the Lake is her debut novel.

Charlie is very much a morning person and likes nothing more than committing a fictional murder before her first coffee of the day.  She studied Theology at Worcester College, Oxford and now lives in a Leicestershire village with her husband, three teenagers and golden retriever.

Where does historical novelist Kate Braithwaite get her ideas from?

It gives me great pleasure to welcome historical novelist Kate Braithwaite to my blog this week.

I don’t often read historical novels but during a blitz on my Kindle app the other day I found Kate’s Road to Newgate that had been languishing there for far too long. I moved it to the top of my To Be Read list.

And I am so glad I did.  I loved it!  So much so that I featured Kate recently in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum but have a longer – and fascinating- interview to share with you here.

So, here we go, starting with the question all authors are said to dread.

Where did you get the idea for The Road To Newgate from?

Kate

I stumbled across Titus Oates in one of those internet ‘research’ trips that writers are prone to take when the words aren’t quite flowing. My first book, Charlatan, was all about a poisoning scandal at the court of Louis XIV, and I was amazed to find that at the exact same period, Titus Oates had created chaos in London with wild revelations of a Popish Plot to assassinate Charles II and make England a Catholic country once more.

Oates was an extraordinary figure – a vicious and unrepentant liar, full of self-pity and delusions of grandeur – and many people were executed as a result of his claims. As a writer I was excited to bring him to life on the page, but the story of the Popish Plot is complex, tied up in Restoration politics and the unsolved murder of a protestant magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.

Enter my hero, the writer Nat Thompson, his independent-thinking wife, Anne, and their friend William Smith, who knows more about Titus Oates than he wants to. These three narrate the story of The Road to Newgate, as they pursue the truth about Oates, investigate the death of Godfrey, and struggle to keep faith with each other when Nat’s very public crusade against Oates puts them all in danger.

The seventeenth century is sometimes overlooked by readers. The Stuarts don’t yet have the popular appeal of the Tudors, but it’s an important period in British history and as a reader (and a writer) I gravitate toward stories that bring unfamiliar times and places vividly to life.

I’m particularly attached to Anne in this novel. The lives of women at that time were fairly circumscribed but even though history books too often overlook women’s experiences, I’m sure they had just as strong voices and feelings as they do today. When I think about the book now, I hope that readers will be just as engaged by Anne’s fortitude in facing the unpleasant realities of seventeenth century life, as they are by the awfulness of Titus Oates and the hunt to bring him to justice.

The book’s blurb

What price justice? London 1678.

Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.

Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.

When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.

Me

Titis Oates really was one of the most chilling villains I’ve ever met between the pages of a book and you brought the period brilliantly to life.  And that courtroom scene makes John Grisham’s seem tame.

So how would you describe your genre?  And are your books a series or standalone?

Kate.

I write historical fiction, based on real events and people. Charlatan, is set in 17th century Paris, based on the scandalous Affair of the Poisons where a police investigation discovered an underworld of poisoners and fortune tellers with direct links to courtiers at Louis XIV’s Versailles. The Girl Puzzle, a story of Nellie Bly is based on the life of a trailblazing journalist who reported from the inside of a notorious lunatic asylum. It’s set in late 19th and early 20th century New York City. 

The Road to Newgate, set in 17th century London, is all about three individuals caught up in the Popish Plot, a web of lies created by the infamous Titus Oates, that resulted in panic on the streets, demonstrations, mass arrests, political trials and executions.

Me

What inspires you most?  Characters? Settings? Books you have read?

Kate

I find I start with an event in history that catches my interest – some event I know little about, and often something on the dark side, for example an unsolved murder or a trip to an asylum. I love writing scenes in dark settings – confined spaces, ruins, prison cells and so on – but it’s puzzling out character that I enjoy the most. History books give you the facts (or as many as are known) but I get really invested in wondering what kind of person would do x or y, how must they have felt and what personality traits or experiences could have led them to do what they do.

Me

Tell us a little about your writing journey?

Kate

I always wanted to be a novelist. I love novels of all stripes and was ambitious to create one of my own… but I had no idea what to write about. I would start off stories but abandon them after a couple of pages when I didn’t know where to take my ideas and saw that I wasn’t a natural literary genius! When I came across the story of the Affair of the Poisons however, I was ready to persevere and write a novel that I wanted to read. It took a lot of re-writes and learning to get there though. While all that was going on my first published story was “Maiden Flight”, a historical short about the Canadian giantess, Anna Swan, who was trapped in a fire at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. An illustrated version of that story is available free to anyone who signs up for my occasional newsletters at www.kate-braithwaite.com 

Me

I’m so glad you persevered, Kate and am looking forward to reading more of your books. So, what about your future plans?

Kate

I’m currently writing a book about two sisters, set in Virginia in the late 1700s. It’s based on a real scandal where one sister was accused of secretly giving birth to a child, possibly fathered by her sister’s husband. It’s about the scandal itself and how it dogged both women and their relationships for many years afterwards.

Me

Now for the fun questions!  Tells us three things we might not know about you.

Kate

1 I’m a Scottish American. I was brought up in Edinburgh and lived in England for many years, but now live not far from Philadelphia.

2 I have a brother, Alan Taylor, who is also a writer. Recently we were both featured in the same anthology, Dark London, which gave me quite a thrill.

3 I have three kids who are totally unimpressed by my writing endeavours and think I should spend more time running after them and less writing books. I’m ignoring them as much as possible.

Me

Keep ignoring them, Kate, and keep writing! And thank you for a great interview.

The All Important Links

Please do visit Kate’s website and grab a free short story – www.kate-braithwaite.com 

Or connect with her on:

Twitter

Goodreads

Bookbub

Facebook

Instagram

Buy links for books (listing all just in case you want them all…)

The Road to Newgate

Charlatan

The Girl Puzzle, a story of Nellie Bly

Author Bio

Kate Braithwaite is a best-selling historical novelist inspired by lesser known people and events from the past, always with a mystery, crime or scandal attached.  Kate grew up in Edinburgh but now lives in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. She combines her love of historical research with a passion for reading & writing fiction, fuelled by long, thoughtful dog walks and copious cups of tea.

Where does author Audrey Davis get her ideas from?

Have you ever read a review for a book that’s not your usual choice of genre, but tried it on the strength of a review?  I did that recently when I read a review of Audrey Davis’s book, The Haunting of Hattie Hastings.

I don’t usually read books with anything remotely ‘supernatural’ in the title, but I’m so glad I made an exception for this one.  It’s a lovely story, told with wit and charm with an array of interesting characters and some real laugh out loud moments.

So I contacted Audrey and asked if she’d be interested in appearing in my monthly column, Ideas Store, in Writers’ Forum.  And also, of course, on this blog.

Thankfully, she said yes!

Me.

Welcome, Audrey and thank you for agreeing to be featured and for answering my questions.

First, the question all authors are said to dread.

Where did you get the idea for The Haunting of Hattie Hastings?

Audrey

I can only say ‘spooky’ forces were at work, because it literally came out of thin air. Looking back, the name – Hattie Hastings – materialised first. I started writing a chapter about Hattie and her husband with only the vaguest notion of where it might go. I imagined them as an everyday couple, ordinary people leading ordinary lives. In Chapter One I wanted to paint a picture of this normality, with Gary lapping up his moment singing in the spotlight, and Hattie wishing she could get to bed. From there, I added their twenty-year-old son, Johnny, and his reluctance (or inability) to make something of his life. But, where was it all heading? Only as I neared the end of that first chapter did inspiration strike. What if Gary died, then came back to haunt Hattie?

Always a sucker for a spot of alliteration, the title provided the bare bones of the story. As a confirmed ‘pantster’, I did little in the way of plotting, preferring to let the story and characters develop with each page. Hattie needed a best friend. What if that friend had her own set of problems? Who else could Hattie turn to when Gary reappeared? Gradually, other family members and friends crept in, whispering in my ear (a definite case of ‘voices in my head’.)

Although I don’t necessarily believe in an afterlife, I was drawn to the idea of a place where lost souls are assigned guardians and tasks to fulfil. Here was potential to mix things up with humour and pathos, because I enjoy the balance between comedy and sadness. Making people laugh is a gift, as is bringing a tear to someone’s eye. 

The Haunting of Hattie Hastings was originally published as a novella trilogy. Partly because I wanted to experiment with releasing books this way, but mainly because I was still ‘winging’ it! In the lead up to publication day, I was working on the next instalment with still no fixed idea of how the story should progress. Surrounded by white cards and random scribblings, possibilities presented themselves, many of which were discarded. 

Taking on board pleas for the trilogy to be released as a standalone novel, I went ahead and combined the three parts. Many people have asked how the book came about. I usually mumble, ‘not sure, really’. Probably best not to mention my ‘imaginary friends’ …

Me

So you have ‘imaginary friends’ as well?  So glad it isn’t just me! That’s fascinating.  And I love how Hattie started as a novella trilogy and sort of evolved

You’ve written other books, I see.  Including one called “A Clean Sweep”.  How did that one come about?

Audrey

The inspiration for my debut romcom novel, A Clean Sweep, came from an unexpected visitor a few years after we’d moved to Switzerland,” she says. “I answered the door one morning to discover an extremely attractive young man with a van. He gestured to my beloved yellow Mini Cooper, and said, ‘Madame, il y a un lapin sous votre voiture.‘ My French was basic at the time (and hasn’t improved greatly), but I understood enough. Yes, there was a fluffy bunny hiding under my car, my neighbours’ pet with a fondness for hopping into our garden. 

It turned out that my good-looking gentleman caller was the local chimney sweep, calling to organise the cleaning of our chimney and to check the central heating boiler. I later learned that all households are required by Swiss law to have this carried out annually. 

Fast-forward many years – and visits by this charming man – and I embarked on an online course in Writing Fiction. Scrambling around for ideas for a short piece, I thought of my chimney sweep and imagined a relationship between him and an older woman. No, I wasn’t fantasising, honestly! Once I’d completed the course, I couldn’t get the story out of my head.

From there, a couple of chapters about Joe and Emily took wings and – several months later – I had over 80K words. Along the way, other characters knocked at the door (metaphorically speaking), and I submitted the MS to an editor in the UK. She came back with (gulp) a 14-page report, and the suggestion that I expand on the book club element which I’d only touched on briefly. As a member of a book club at the time, I was able to draw on my experiences but I hasten to add that everyone in A Clean Sweep is entirely fictional!

Me.

That’s great, thank you so much.  So tell us about your writing in general.

Audrey

I write romantic comedy, but like to incorporate real-life challenges and issues (such as illness/divorce/loneliness) to balance humour with pathos. My two (soon-to-be-three) books are all standalones, but I did write a short, dark prequel to A Clean Sweep entitled A Clean Break. I also offer a short book entitled When Hattie Met Gary on my author website as a freebie leader magnet. Which makes me sound much more promo-savvy than I actually am!

Me.

Do you have a particular writing method?  (I think I might know the answer to that, from what you have already said about writing Hattie!)

Audrey

I only learned the terms ‘plotter’ and ‘pantster’ well into my fiction writing journey. It’s safe to say I’m much more of a pantster. I envy authors who can plot and plan every detail, proudly displaying a wall in their office plastered in Post-It notes, their book drafted out meticulously on Scrivener with character notes, detailed chapter synopses and a clear beginning, middle and end. My only concession to being organised is scribbling random thoughts on white postcards and printing out a calendar for my most recent book. Chiefly because the timeline was a total disaster!

I’ve always written, but as a journalist from the age of 18. A very different discipline, and my career went off track after I moved from a video magazine in London to Singapore, then Australia and – in the late 1990s – to Buckinghamshire. Two boys, relocation stress and house renovations meant I had little time or energy to write more than shopping lists. I am so grateful to FutureLearn (an offshoot of the Open University) for rekindling my passion for writing and for the many people I’ve subsequently connected with on social media for believing in me. Twitter, Facebook etc often get a bad press, but the writing community is a rock-solid source of encouragement when all you want to do is bang your head repeatedly on the keyboard.

Me.

You’re so right about the positive side of social media.  There are some wonderfully supportive groups out there.

So, tell us three things we might not know about you.

Audrey

1. I interviewed Rowan Atkinson back in my London days, after Blackadder, one of my all-time favourite shows. He was more nervous than me, but revealed his next project was ‘about a man who doesn’t say very much, and gets into all kinds of comic capers.’ The rest, as they say, is history …

2. I’ve bungee jumped in Cairns, scuba-dived on the Great Barrier Reef, Fiji and Vanuatu and screamed my head off on some of the scariest theme park rides in the world. Nowadays, I get scared driving on the Swiss autoroute!

3. Speaking of scary, I adore movies/shows that give me the heebie-jeebies. Ever since I cowered on the sofa watching Dr Who do battle with the Cybermen (and my Mum realised I was coming down with measles), I’ve been a huge fan of all things terrifying. Top two off a very long list – Sean of the Dead (love the comedy/zombie combo) and Train to Busan, a Korean corker I’ve watched three times. It makes the journey between Edinburgh and Dumbarton East seem like a stroll in the park …

Me.

Thank you so much, Audrey, for such a fascinating interview. And now for those all important links.

Social media links, website etc.

https://www.facebook.com/audreydavisbooks/

Twitter. @audbyname

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