Jill Mansell – Q&A

Today I am very pleased to welcome best selling author Jill Mansell to the blog. Jill is author of 27 novels, including The Unpredictable Consequences of Love, Three Amazing Things About You and Fast Friends and her latest, You and Me, Always was published by Headline on 28 January 2016. You can read my review of this wonderful, warm and funny read here.

 

1. Tell us a little about You and Me, Always.

Well it’s my usual mix of drama, romance and comedy, set in a gorgeous village in the Cotswolds, and it features Lily, whose mother died when she was eight. On the morning of Lily’s 25th birthday, she opens the last letter written to her by her beloved mother. And from that day, everything changes, both for Lily and her family and friends.

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book?

I can’t actually remember, but I know I’ve read in the past about letters written to their loved ones by people who know they are dying, and I’ve always found it a very moving idea. 

3. You are famous for writing the first draft of all of your novels long-hand. How long does it take for that first draft to be written and how many notebooks do you work your way through? Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

It takes me a year to write to each book. I couldn’t write straight onto a computer, because I never learned to type and now it just feels all wrong to try and do it that way. I much prefer pen and ink. I normally get through five or six A4 Pukka Pads during the course of each book, because quite a few pages get crumpled up and thrown across the room if the writing all goes horribly wrong!

4. You and Me, Always is your 27th book and you have achieved the best seller list many times. Is there anything that still surprises you about the creative process of writing a novel and publishing it? 

The thing that never fails to amaze me is how I manage to write something that other people like to read! When I’m working on each book, I’m always convinced it’s completely boring and unpublishable. It isn’t until it has been published and read by other people who say that they do like it, that I can believe they might be right and I’m wrong. (And I’m not alone in this – most of my writer friends feel the same about their books. Weird, isn’t it!)

5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I’m very keen on housework. No, of course that’s not true. I like TV and books and the Internet and holidays and painting and eating in lovely restaurants with friends.

6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

None! I used to love re-reading books when I was young, but now I can’t bear to do it at all. So the answer to this question is, since I couldn’t bear to only have one book to occupy me for the rest of my life, I guess I’d have to give up reading instead. 

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. You must have answered a lot of Q&A/interview questions before. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

No one has ever asked me before if I would like to marry George Clooney. The answer to this question is yes please.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

About the book:

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“It’s Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday. And she’s about to open the very last letter written to her by the beloved mother she loved so much… A warm, poignant and unputdownable novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU, THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT and THE UNPREDICTABLE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE

From the bestselling author of THREE AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOU and THE ONE YOU REALLY WANT comes a deliciously romantic and poignant read about love, loss and how nothing can stay hidden for ever… If you love the novels of Cathy Kelly and Sophie Kinsella, you won’t want to miss Jill Mansell.

On the morning of Lily’s twenty-fifth birthday, it’s time to open the very last letter written to her by her beloved mother, who died when she was eight.

Learning more about the first and only real love of her mum’s life is a revelation. On the same day, Lily also meets Eddie Tessler, a man fleeing fame who just might have the ability to change her world in unimaginable ways. But her childhood friend Dan has his own reasons for not wanting Lily to get too carried away by Eddie’s attentions.

Before long, secrets begin to emerge and Lily’s friends and family become involved. In the beautiful Cotswold village of Stanton Langley, nothing will ever be the same again…”

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Benjamin Myers – Q&A

Today I am very pleased to welcome Benjamin Myers to the blog. Benjamin’s most recent novel, Beastings, published by Bluemoose Books, won the Portico Prize 2015, won the 2013 Northern Writers’ Award and was also longlisted for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Award 2o15. His previous novel, Pig Iron, also published by Bluemoose won the inaugral Gordon Burn Prize in 2013 and was a runner up in the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. His best selling novel Richard, a fictionalised account of the disappearance of Manic Street Preachers member Richey Edwards was published by Picador and was chosen as a Sunday Times book of the year. His short story ‘The Folk Song Collector’ won the Tom-Gallon Prize in 2014 by the Society of Authors. With such impressive credentials I was excited to hear what Benjamin had to say and he kindly answered a few of my questions.

1.  Tell us a little about Beastings.

Beastings is a novel about a young woman who has grown up in a workhouse run by nuns. Upon leaving at the age of sixteen she is employed as a nanny but abducts a baby who has been placed in her care. She is pursued through the mountains of a Cumbria of the past by a priest who has his own motives for bringing her to justice, and a poacher who is acting as a guide through the mountains. Broadly-speaking it is a novel about morality, corruption, motherhood, landscape, industry, the beastial behaviour of men, nature, rural communities, surrogacy, religious dogma, female strength, abuse of power, atheism, the human body, the elements, mountains, survival and northern England.

2. What inspired the book? 

Around about Christmas 2010 I read a very small cutting in a local history book about old crimes in the north-east of England about a mute girl who went on the run with a baby, only to reappear three months later in a different town. It was  a story that was full holes; it raised more questions than answers. So that was the starting point – the idea of a journey of survival, and the bonds that might develop between a woman and a child that is not hers. I took this basic premise and moved it to a different place and era. In fact, the era is non-specific and the unforgiving location hopefully broad enough to suggest that this story could just as easily have occurred in Australia or Alaska, the Amazon or the Arctic. 

3. You recently won the Portico Prize for Beastings, which also won the Northern Writers award in 2013. What does this prize entail and what did it mean to you to win?

The Portico Prize is a biennial prizes for books written in – or set in – in Northern England. It has been dubbed the Northern Booker Prize. The prize itself was for £10,000. Though reviewers and readers seem to like it, people in publishing seemed baffled by the book or just couldn’t relate to something set in the past in a corner of England that they had little awareness of – the Cumbria you don’t see on Countryfile. I don’t know. Only Bluemoose understood it, so the win was a nice thing for all of us involved. It was a especially a pleasant surprise as I was up against many significant writers, not just on the shortlist but in the hundreds of books that were entered in the first place. Competitions are of course entirely arbitrary, so I don’t for a minute think my novel was ‘better’ than anyone else’s. It just reached the right people at the right time. Writers need a little luck now and again. Something like this prize win provides fuel for a full year’s writing – not just in financial terms, but via a boost in confidence and energy.

4. Both Beastings and Pig Iron are set in the North of England and future novels will also feature a different Northern county in each of them. How important is the geographical location to you. What makes the North so inspiring?

Location is usually the starting point for everything I write. I find landscape endlessly inspiring, especially man’s position in it or on it – or moving through it. I like to try and explore the impact we have on our surroundings and vice-versa; how we in turn are shaped by terrain, elements, geography. I don’t just mean over the course of our lives, but over thousands of years. Every obscure path tells its own story – every worn Yorkshire flagstone or Cumbrian mountain pass has been carved by the footfall of people in transit and I am attempting to tell some of those stories, whether they are set in the past or the present day. 

The North of England isn’t necessarily any more inspiring than anywhere else really, I just happen to live here, though I do think Yorkshire in particular has a greatly varied terrain in a relatively small space. I’m also interested in changing regional dialects too, and vocabulary seems particularly rich or obscure round certain areas of the north.

One thing I’ve noticed is, the older I get and the more I write, the greater my awareness of man’s impermanence. I’m beginning to feel like we’re just passing through and actually we don’t control nature at all. Or maybe I always suspected that. Successive government act like it have everything under control – and perhaps we as a 21st century society do too – but even just the recent floods in Calderdale, in which I saw hundreds of home and businesses wrecked within the space of an hour, and ended up chest-deep in icy river water, trying to save people and their possessions, reminded me that nature is a mighty force and we are but mere specks of dust in comparison. It’s arrogant and presumptuous to think otherwise. Nature is awesome, beautiful, spectacular, and it is stronger than all of us. It continually teaches us lessons, from which we rarely seem to glean much in the way of progressive insight. So, yes, landscape and nature, are at the centre of everything. We must pay attention to it. Hopefully stories are a good way of making people consider their surroundings at a deeper level, and, of course, how we interact with one another too.

5. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

It usually begins with a kernel. A nugget. A tiny idea. One scene perhaps, or a story that is one sentence long, for example: “Mute girl abducts child and flees through a visceral Cumbria, era unknown.” That was Beastings. 

Often I’ll write one key scene and then that scene ends up being somewhere in the middle of the book, and I then construct the plot and characters around it. The landscape is there too. Or I might make a soundtrack of songs and music that reflect the mood or tone of a book I intend to write. But you can’t plan too much because I think a narrative should be liquid or at the very least snake-like. It shifts and shimmers and goes off in unexpected directions. It is difficult to contain. Keeping it in line is tricky. You can’t entirely tame or train a snake.

Time-wise, it varies but a first draft might take about nine months – the same time of a baby’s gestation. But then I do several re-writes and edits. Sometimes six or seven. These might take two or three months each. It depends how broke I am, and how much other work I have to do. My next novel Turning Blue has taken over four years to write, but the book I hope to have out after that, has only taken a year or so. It took a lot more planning than usual though. I thoroughly researched it, in fact, so read a lot of material and made many, many notes before I started writing it. I even knew how it was going to end, which is a first for me, as I like to be surprised too. 

Actually, the ending of Beastings was changed only a couple of days before the book went to print, not because the previous version wasn’t good enough, I just thought it could be better, harder, more of a jolt. I think it worked.

The hardest aspect of writing a novel is knowing when to stop. When to just get up and walk away. Because really a novel never feels like it is finished. In my mind, there is always much more is still going on beyond the final page. 

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I like films and food. I don’t mind washing up too. Swimming is nice. And music – always music. But my favourite thing is dragging logs out of the forest, then splitting, sawing and stacking them. I like the mindless repetition and the smell of sap. The curls of silver birch bark in your hands. The insects in your hair. Birds watching on.

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

I think The Norton Anthology of Poetry would be a book that you could keep experiencing anew. I was also going to suggest À la Recherche du temps Perdu by Proust, but I’ve not yet got past the fourth page of Volume 1. He’s still in bed, staring at the curtains. Only 4211 pages to go.

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

The question I have always wanted to be asked, is actually the one you have just posed, which is: ‘What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?’

And the answer would, as demonstrated here, be:  ‘What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?”

We would then be locked in an downward, tail-chasing cyclical spiral in which one question and its subsequent answer then re-asks the original question, which itself requires an answer. And on and on it goes until, soon enough, the universe collapses in on itself. Have a great day.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

It’s a massive pleasure. Thank you.

 

About the book

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“A girl and a baby. A priest and a poacher. A savage pursuit through the landscape of a changing rural England. When a teenage girl leaves the workhouse and abducts a child placed in her care, the local priest is called upon to retrieve them. Chased through the Cumbrian mountains of a distant past, the girl fights starvation and the elements, encountering the hermits, farmers and hunters who occupy the remote hillside communities. Like an American Southern Gothic tale set against the violent beauty of Northern England, Beastings is a sparse and poetic novel about morality, motherhood, and corruption.”

You can find out more about Benjamin’s books and Bluemoose Books on their website.

You can find out more about Benjamin here.

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Huddersfield Literature Festival – How to write a novel with Tara Guha

On Tuesday evening I undertook the arduous five minute journey to my local library to see Tara Guha, West Yorkshire based author of Untouchable Things. She was visiting the library as part of the National Library Day celebrations in conjunction with Huddersfield Literature Festival. Tara’s talk was on the theme of How to write a novel and I was looking forward to hearing how she had approached creating her debut novel.

There were around 25 of us gathered in the small cosy library and it was lovely to see such a turnout for a cold, sleety night. Tara started by turning the tables on us and passed around a short quiz. The answers to these allowed to gauge what sort of writer we would be: organised and with plenty of pre-writing planning, slightly organised with some pre-ordained ideas of where the story would go or someone who would just wing and go with the flow, a seat of the pants writer if you will!

Tara explained how she had started to write her novel whilst on maternity leave with her first child. She thought she would have time on her hands and luckily she could write whilst the baby slept. She started out only with a theme for the novel and let her imagination run riot. It took about 9 months to write the first draft but then the process stalled and it sat for a few years.

Tara explained how she found the process of turning the first draft into a novel quite difficult and that she realised she had a lot to learn. Having read an article in the Guardian entitled How to write a novel in 30 days she used this as a guide to help structure her first draft. Things fundamentally changed in the story, use of different narratives were introduced for example and one character was totally removed from the novel.

Once the novel was at a stage she was happy with, Tara sent the manuscript to agents. As is often the case she received rejections, from the standard ‘no thanks’ letters to one agent saying she was sure she would regret it but she was having to say no. Just as she was about to put it back in the drawer Tara came across an advertisement for the Luke Bitmead Bursery, an award for debut authors, the prize being publication. Tara entered the competition then promptly forgot about it as real life took over. Then she heard that she had been short-listed which in itself was a wonderful surprise. Tara attended the awards ceremony with no thought of winning in her mind and was so unprepared to hear her name called as the winner that she didn’t have a speech prepared.

Things moved quickly from there as that evening she met with her publishers, Legend Press, and she mentioned she wasn’t sure about the original title. They agreed but then Tara had only 4 days to decide on a new title as Legend Press were keen to include the book in their upcoming catalogue. That also meant that quick decisions regarding the cover had to be made. Luckily they all agreed on the new title Untouchable Things.

Tara then went on to read an extract from her novel, which really brought the story to life. Not having yet read it, it certainly left me looking forward to reading it myself.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Tara talk about her writing process and journey to publication, and it was lovely to spend a miserable, cold, winter evening discussing books. She was engaging and friendly and the rest of the audience certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, asking plenty of questions and telling Tara what it was they had loved about Untouchable Things.

I had a lovely quick chat with Tara after the event and managed to buy a copy of her book which she was kind enough to sign.

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You can find out more about Huddersfield Literature Festival here.

Tara’s novel, Untouchable Things was published by Legend Press on 1 September 2015.

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For the third time this week he is watching her scream. Watching, not listening.

Rebecca Laurence is centre stage and shining in her role as Ophelia. She pivots, rotating like a ballerina impaled in a musical box, red hair cascading down her back. Amidst the thundering applause, one man is watching.

Rebecca meets the charismatic Seth Gardner, and as attraction grows between them, he invites her to join his Friday Folly, a group of artistic friends. But as Rebecca is drawn into the web of tangled relationships all is not as it appears. The scene is set for the night that will rip the group apart.

Consumed by loss and surrounded by secrets, Rebecca must escape the grip of the Folly to have any chance of saving herself. Meanwhile, one man continues to watch.”

You can find out more about Tara and her novel on the Legend Press website.

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Pirates Love Underpants by Claire Freedman, Illustrated by Ben Cort – Review

Published by Simon and Schuster Children

Publication date – 28 February 2013

Source – own copy

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“Ahoy me hearties! Join the Pants Pirates on a special treasure hunt. Grab your cutlass and sail on the Pirate Ship Black Bloomer past angry crocs, sharks in fancy pants and through gurgling swamps on a quest to find…the Pants of Gold! This hilarious new addition to the phenomenally successful Underpants series will not disappoint. You’ll be yo-ho-ho-ing until the sails come down! – See more here

This book came into our household as a birthday gift for one of my children. It has since become a firm favourite.

The Black Bloomer and the pants pirates are on the hunt for the famous golden pants to add to their treasure booty. Will they find the famous pants of gold or will another pirate crew get there first?

Some children’s books are obviously educational, others hide the lessons in the pages. Some books are just plain old fun, and this is one of them. Don’t get me wrong there are opportunities for kids to learn, as there are with the majority of children’s books. There are footsteps to spot, times when we have to whisper and opportunities to play find the object or count crocodiles under the Long-John bridge (a cracking double joke covering both pirates and underpants in one fell swoop). This is a lovely adventure story for young children. It includes pirates, crocodiles, parrots and underpants so there’s lots to appeal.

Ben Cort’s illustrations are fun and colourful, perfectly capturing Claire Freedman’s words and help children engage with the story.

Its the sign of a good children’s book when you are asked to read it again straight after the last page. Its a sign of a great children’s book when you don’t mind that second, third or twentieth read through. This is an engaging, fun read for young children and those reading to them.

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Nightblind by Ragnar Jonasson – Review

Published by Orenda Books

Publication date – 15 January 2016

Translated by Quentin Bates

Source – review copy

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel.

Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him.

The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house. With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will. Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all. Dark, chilling and complex, Nightblind is an extraordinary thriller from an undeniable new talent”

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Five years after the events in Snowblind we find Ari Thór Arason settled with Kirstin in Siglufjörður. They now have a 10 month old son, Stefnir. Tomas’s boss, Ari Thór has left the town, returning to Reykjavik with his family. Having hoped to take over Tomas’ position as Police Inspector, Ari Thór faced disappointment when Herjólfur was given the role. One night whilst Ari Thór is ill, Herjólfur attends a call out. Not returning, Ari Thór goes looking for his boss and finds him shot. Now Ari Thór, with the returning Tomas, must find out who wanted to kill the Inspector and why.

After having read and enjoyed the first in the Dark Iceland series from Ragnar Jonasson, Snowblind, I was eager to return to the sheltered northern Icelandic town of Siglufjörður and its residents. The sense of isolation and remoteness that was apparent in Snowblind is just as apparent in Nightblind. The town feels like it is part of another world or another time and this was extended by the fact that most of the story centres around only a handful of characters. The fact that the story centred on such a small group made the mountainous walls that surround the town seem even closer. The sense of menace of the murder again juxtaposes the sense of a safe haven that the town projects.

Time doesn’t appear to have altered Ari Thór much, he is still impetuous in his investigation of the murder of his boss, asking questions in a manner that could perhaps cause more harm than good. But his intentions are clear to see, he loves his job and wants to ensure he does it to the best of his abilities. His professional abilities are thrown into focus when compared to his apparent unawareness of issues with his relationship with Kirstin, which he is slower to detect.

The murder mystery itself is deftly dealt with. This is a short novel by some comparisons, at just over 200 pages but words are used wisely and the narrative drives on at a pace.  Short chapters are interspersed with extracts from a diary of an unknown psychiatric inpatient, which add a layer to the story. The use of such short chapters and extracts led me quickly through the story as I could always justify ‘just one more chapter’ to myself. The characterisation is clear, I grew more fond of Ari Thór, despite some of his obvious flaws. I welcomed the return of Tomas who is a perfect balance to Ari Thór’s impetuousness and who I hope will return in later books. His calmness and logical thought process perfectly partners Ari Thór’s more eager and direct approach. As for Kirstin, I wasn’t that keen on her in Snowblind and she didn’t appear to be any more personable in Nightblind. Hopefully the further books in the series will highlight Kirstin and her relationship with Ari Thór.

The translation by Quentin Bates again was spot on. I always believe that if I forget I’m reading a translated novel then the translator has done a good job. That was the case with Nightblind.

There is something of an old fashioned, ‘closed room’ feel about this book, aided I think by the fact that there are few suspects and Ari Thór and Tomas get to the conclusion by old fashioned deduction. It also mirrors the remote feel of the town, cut off from it’s modern day neighbours and still perhaps stuck slightly in the shadow of its herring fishing golden age, which long since disappeared.

The next three novels from Ragnar Jonasson will fill in the intervening years between Snowblind and Nighblind and I’m looking forward to them very much. Don’t worry if you haven’t read Snowblind. You can read it after Nightblind without any fear of spoilers.

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The Song Collector by Natasha Solomons – Review

Published by Sceptre

Publication date – 24 March 2016 (paperback edition)

Source – Netgalley review copy

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“By the author of Mr Rosenblum’s List, this is a captivating tale of passion and music, ancient songs and nostalgia, of the ties that bind and the ones we are prepared to sever.

Fox, as the celebrated composer Harry Fox-Talbot is known, wants to be left in peace. His beloved wife has died, he’s unable to write a note of music, and no, he does not want to take up some blasted hobby.

Then one day he discovers that his troublesome four-year-old grandson is a piano prodigy. The music returns and Fox is compelled to re-engage with life – and, ultimately, to confront an old family rift.

Decades earlier, Fox and his brothers return to Hartgrove Hall after the war, determined to save their once grand home from ruin. But on the last night of 1946, the arrival of beautiful wartime singer Edie Rose tangles the threads of love and duty, which leads to a shattering betrayal.

With poignancy, lyricism and humour, Natasha Solomons tells a captivating tale of passion and music, of roots, ancient songs and nostalgia for the old ways, of the ties that bind us to family and home and the ones we are prepared to sever. Here is the story of a man who discovers joy and creative renewal in the aftermath of grief and learns that it is never too late to seek forgiveness.”

I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Harry Fox -Talbot, known as Fox, is grieving the loss of his beloved wife. Unable to concentrate on anything he is wandering a lonely existence through life. The music that has always accompanied him has vanished, replaced only by silence. This is troubling to both him and his family as Fox is a celebrated composer. One day his four year old grandson visits and Fox discovers he has an unbelievable talent for playing the piano. Fox suddenly finds a reason to exist as he guides Robin on his musical journey.

Sometimes you stumble across a book and start to read it, perhaps more out of curiosity than anything else, not sure what to expect. And then the book starts to work its magic on you, drawing you in, urging you to read just one more page. This is such a book.

The story switches between post war Dorset and the first year of the new Millennium and each time period progresses over a number of years. We see how Fox and his beloved wife Edie meet, how they fall for each other, of the sacrifices Fox and his family make in their attempts to save Hartgrove Hall and how Fox forges his career as a composer. We then see how Fox has to cope with death of Edie, how he has to find the strength to continue, and to put right the wrongs of the past.

This is full of evocative writing, easily drawing a portrait of post war life, full of an atmosphere of celebration, reflection, sadness, frugality and frivolity.  I loved each era, drawn into the time when Fox was a young man, then transported to the future Fox, learning to live again after the death of his wife. The grief that Fox was suffering was sensitively and realistically portrayed, not only drawing the reader to Fox but also lending a certain wistfulness to the parts of the novel set in past. There is a betrayal and a love story at the heart of this tale, and that isn’t giving anything away. We are told early on what has happened, though not directly, so the story guides us through the how and when. This story is a journey to an already known destination and the time it takes to travel the tale is an enjoyable one.

There are only a few main characters, so the book feels more intimate and personal because of it. Each character adds something to the story, be it drive the narrative along, such as Edie or Fox himself, but also to highlight character traits and faults in others, for example, Fox’s granddaughters and how they act when they interact with their grandfather.

A symphony of a story, full of rich detail and beautiful movements, it should ideally be accompanied by a CD with musical soundtrack.

 

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Fahrenheit Press Exclusive – Introducing Fidelis Morgan

Today I’m delighted to be able to exclusively reveal the latest author to be published by Fahrenheit Press. Fidelis Morgan has joined the Fahrenheit Press ranks and her first novel to be published by them, The Murder Quadrille is released today. Fidelis is an actor, director and author, having starred in Never Let Me Go alongside Keira Knightly and Carey Mulligan and in A Little Chaos with Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. As well as acting on screen, Fidelis has an illustrious career on stage, appearing in productions of Proust, Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward. In between acting and directing Fidelis has also written many novels including the popular Countess series featuring 17th century Countess turned detective Lady Ashby De La Zouche. Faherenheit Press are delighted to be able to re-publish The Murder Quadrille, a novel described by actress Celia Imrie as “A cross between Wilkie Collins and Alfred Hitchcock, with a touch of Patricia Highsmith thrown in.”

Fidelis kindly answered a few of my questions and read on to find out more about The Murder Quadrille.

1. Tell us a little about The Murder Quadrille.

It starts at a dinner party. The couple hosting the dinner are on the road to divorce. The guests all have some interest in murder and, because a body has recently turned up on the local common, the conversation swiftly turns to murder. One by one, through the book, everyone at the dinner table becomes involved somehow or other in the real thing. Bodies get buried, bodies disappear, and so do the dinner guests.

2. What inspired the book?

A spate of ‘bodies under the patio’ domestic killings in the newspapers. I also wanted to write a multi-voiced book, as Wilkie Collins so often did. As he put it “the story of an offence against the laws as told in Court – by more than one witness”.

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I start with an idea and let it roll. It’s the same way I cook. I know what ingredients I have, then I try to put them together and attempt to make something sizzle. Whenever I hit a patch where I find things slowing down, I think ‘What’s the best that can happen? What’s the worst that can happen?’ and ‘Who’s available to muddle things up?’ and then chose which way to go. It’s like driving without a map, deciding where you’re heading every time you hit a crossroads or a T junction. Sometimes you get taken up a blind alley, but that’s easy enough, – you just go back to the last junction and make a different decision.

As for how long it takes, I usually think about a book or a play, and research around it for about 3 months. Then I sit down and write like a whirlwind. But I do take the occasional long pause while I think, so that the 2 months actual writing ends up taking about 4 months.

4. You’ve a prolific writing career with an array of including sagas, short stories and the historical crime Countess series featuring Anastasia Ashby de la Zouche previously published. Which is your favourite genre to writing and are what are the biggest challenges to writing the various genres?

I don’t have a favourite. I’m bad at choosing. If put on the spot and asked to choose out of 10 CDs I’d end up choosing 6. Usually the project that is my favourite is the one I’m working on and the one in my head. I don’t really see that there is much difference between the genres. Dickens and Graham Greene for instance wroteeverything from historical, comedy, social, crime, and plain drama. It’s a pity that nowadays (to help bookshops and their displays) things have to be divided into genres. I’d prefer everything to be shoved together. All I want is a thumping good read. It’s all telling a story and grabbing your audience by the throat and not letting them go till you’re done.

5. You are both an actor and director and write in your spare time (I’m surprised you have any spare time!) Do you find that your experience as an actor and director has influenced your writing and if so, to what extent?

I always write (and direct) as an actor. I find myself acting out all the parts and I am allergic to the kind of characters that would not be fun to play. It’s a theatre actor’s job never to let the audience drift off. You have to keep them alert and interested. I try to do the same thing as a writer. If you look back, actors have always written, even before the 17th century when novels were invented. Shakespeare is the most famous, but Moliere, Sheridan, Dickens, Shaw, and more recently Noel Coward, Beryl Bainbridge, Alan Ayckbourn, Harold Pinter, Rodney Ackland, Jessie Burton, Jackie Collins, David Nicholls and my cousin, Lynda La Plante, also started out (or, in some cases, continued) as actors.

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

Writing, directing and acting are what I do to relax. I love cooking too, and painting, and playing music. And I adore travelling around on trains and boats. But I usually find myself having to write about travelling while I’m doing it. And I am usually travelling somewhere to write or act!

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?

The Universal World Train/Ship Timetable and Rail/Ship Atlas. Unfortunately, there are no such books. Failing that it would be Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable or the Dictionary of Historical Slang.

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Q. Is there anything you CAN’T do?

A. Sew!

 

About the book

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“There’s a dead body on the Common, so what else can you talk about over dinner?  But for a husband and wife whose marriage is on the rocks, their bank manager, their lawyer and his bimbo girlfriend, is it a safe conversation to have, particularly when a writer of lurid crime fiction is also there to make up the numbers.  There’s a very sharp knife about the place too.  And whatever did happen to the missing librarian?

In this intriguing suspense novel written in the Hitchcock mode, Fidelis Morgan plays tag with the reader, taking them through the minds of six guests at a dinner party where Murder is on the Menu.”

“Creepy yet hilarious, filled with startling twists and thrills, this one had me laughing even as I was feverishly turning the pages. Only Fidelis Morgan can pull off a caper with such wit and style!” Tess Gerritsen

“Fabulously funny, twisted, dark and unpredictable. You couldn’t pry it out of my hands!” Rebecca Chance

“Fidelis Morgan plays a great game with the readers. The Murder Quadrille is twisty fun.” Karin Slaughter

“A totally engrossing read.  Highly recommended”  Classic Mystery

A cross between Wilkie Collins and Alfred Hitchcock, with a touch of Patricia Highsmith thrown in.” Celia Imrie

“This is possibly the funniest crime book I’ve ever read…  I found myself engrossed from chapter one. Every time you think you know where the story is going, it performs a switchback worthy of any white knuckle ride.  In short, expect the unexpected, because this is a rip-roaring page turner that wrong-foots you at every end and turn.”  www.crimefictionlover.com

 

Fahrenheit Press’ Chris McVeigh had this to say

“We’re so proud to publish Fidelis. She’s perfect for Fahrenheit – smart, funny, and always edgy. The Murder Quadrille is the first book we’re publishing by her but I’m delighted to reveal here that we’ve signed up ALL 4 of her best-selling ‘Countess’ novels. We’ll be publishing them under the Fahrenheit banner very soon and we can’t wait to bring these awesome books to the attention of a whole new audience.”

 

The book is available to buy now from Amazon. If you are a subscriber to the Fahrenheit Press Book Club you will receive a copy of The Murder Quadrille as part of your subscription. You can find out more about the Fahrenheit Press Book Club here.

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A Christmas in Disguise by Katie Fforde – review

Published by Cornerstone Digital

Publication date – 25 November 2015

Source – Netgalley review copy

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“When Jo’s friend Andi asks if she’ll stand in to cook Christmas lunch for her employer, Jo reluctantly agrees. She knows Andi will lose her job if she doesn’t, and wants to help out her friend.

Jo is nervous because Andi’s boss is a well-known celebrity diva, who outright refuses to have anyone but Andi cook for her. But she also insists Andi wears full chef’s whites so the girls think they’ll get away with it … it’s the perfect Christmas disguise.

But when Jo runs into one of the guests – good looking and very smart Anthony – things get even more complicated…
Read more here.”

 

I received a copy of this short story from the publisher via Netgalley and this is my honest opinion of the story.

Jo has been asked by her friend Andi to cover for her on Christmas Day. Andi is a chef to celebrity Christine who has refused to allow Andi to have the day off. Andi convinces Jo that Christine won’t even notice that it’s not her who is serving dinner. Jo reluctantly agrees. She then meets Anthony, a guest of Christine’s. Somehow he convinces Jo to pretend to be his girlfriend for the day. Will Jo be able to carry off both deceptions?

This is a short, sweet story from best-selling author Katie Fforde. I love Katie’s novels and so thought this would be a nice little distraction whilst I wait for her new novel.

This has all the characterisation and charm that you’d expect from Katie. Jo is a lovely character, Anthony a down to earth, yet charming, leading man, and the gentle villain of the piece, Christine, is pitched just right to balance the story.

This is a short story and can be easily read in an hour. It is a nice distraction to while away the commute or lunch hour and although it is set at Christmas it can be enjoyed at any time.

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Getting an agent or going it alone – Guest post by J. Paul Henderson

Today I am pleased to welcome J. Paul Henderson, author of Last Bus to Coffeeville, to the blog. Paul’s latest novel The Last of the Bowmans was published by No Exit Press on 21 January 2016. Paul has kindly written a guest post about the publishing process and getting an agent or not as the case may be.

 

I started writing The Last of the Bowmans for probably the wrong reasons:  to get another book published.  It was conceived not out of love, but as a donor baby to save the life of its three-year old brother, Last Bus to Coffeeville.  But things changed.

Last Bus to Coffeeville was my first book, written over a three-year period and completed in January 2011.  Writing a book is enjoyable.  Getting it published isn’t.  It costs you three years of your life.

Everything you read about being published focuses on the importance of securing an agent:  without an agent you’re dead in the water.  And this is generally true.  Publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts, and it’s the agents who now accumulate and sift through the slush piles.  Consequently, it’s they who decide what a publisher reads and doesn’t read.

The same people, who emphasise the importance of securing an agent, also emphasise another importance:  to go with an agent you feel a connection with, and not with the first one to offer representation.  It’s good advice, but only if you’re Haruki Murakami.  The rest of us can’t be picky.  We’re thankful just to get an agent.  Any agent.

And boy was I thankful when I heard back from an agent only two weeks after sending out the manuscript.  I thought my ship had come in, and so I travelled down to London on a train.  She and a colleague (the rights director, from memory) took me to lunch (this is what agents do), and I ordered sausage and mash:  I wanted to give the impression I was low maintenance and a man of the people.  Over coffee we agreed terms, and then parted company.  They went back to their offices and I headed for the Underground.  It was the last we saw of each other.

I should have been whistling or skipping down the street after that lunch; buying a copy of the Big Issue from one of its luckless vendors or throwing coins into the cap of a Rumanian accordionist:  I’d got an agent!  I was on my way to being published!  Hip, hip…

But there was no hoorah.  I felt oddly depressed, and couldn’t help but feel that I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.  But it was a mistake I couldn’t have afforded not to make:  a writer can’t live without an agent!  Everyone knows this.

It soon dawned on me that it’s also difficult to live with one.

I was under the impression, after our luncheon meeting, that the manuscript was pretty much ready to go.  A few tweaks, maybe, but nothing major.  But then the agent decided to send it to a ‘brilliant’ (she used this word a lot) freelance editor, and he wanted major changes:  the characters were fine, he said, but the plot was lacking:  there were no car chases – or this is how I interpreted his comments.  (I talked to him over the phone once, and he ate an apple for most of the conversation).  The agent agreed with his every word, as if more interested in representing him than me.

I was new to the game of non-academic publishing and didn’t want to appear overly-precious.  I also figured that between them, the freelance editor and the agent knew what they were doing.  And so, for the next four months I made the changes they asked for, but then, when they asked for more, I dug in my heels.  No more changes!  The manuscript presented to the publishers was a mess, a bad compromise between what they wanted and what I wanted.  I was almost relieved when it got turned down.  It wasn’t the book I’d written.

The agent’s new plan was for me to write another book, and one that would allow Last Bus to Coffeeville to ride its coattails.  And so I started writing The Last of the Bowmans, a celebration of life on the small-scale.

Halfway through writing chapter one, something happened.  I fell in love with the story and its characters, and again found myself writing for all the right reasons:  to get The Last of the Bowmans published!  The day I finished writing, I felt the same sense of bereavement as when I’d finished writing Last Bus to Coffeeville.  It was a good sign.

I sent the manuscript to the agent and looked forward to her timely reply:  the book, she’d tell me, was brilliant!  I was brilliant!  Everything was brilliant!

In the event I heard nothing.  I emailed her a couple of months later and she replied that she’d been busy.  A further three months passed – (that’s five now, if you’re counting) – and I emailed her again and asked if the manuscript was something she wanted to represent or not.  She replied the next day apologising for the delay but said no, she didn’t.  It was the voice, she said – that lazy and irrefutable get-out clause for any agent – and the fact that we’d disagreed over the first book.  She thought I’d be better off getting representation elsewhere.  The fact that she’d never even read the manuscript (I still believe this to be true) inclined me to agree with her, and we went our separate ways

I revised Last Bus to Coffeeville to my liking, and then prepared to take out the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for the second time (how I hate that book).  But then I got lucky.

There’s a song called People and it’s sung by Babs Streisand.  It starts:  People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  I beg to differ.  It’s the people who know people who are the luckiest people in the world.  And I was that lucky person, because it turned out that I knew people who knew people who knew other people, and I was introduced to No Exit Press.

I handed over both boys to them:  Last Bus to Coffeeville and The Last of the Bowmans.  They have different personalities, I explained, but I love one as much as the other.

Fortunately, they did too.

About the book:

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“After an absence of some seven years, Greg Bowman returns from America to find his father lying in a bamboo coffin, his estranged brother Billy stalking a woman with no feet and his seventy-nine-year-old Uncle Frank planning to rob a bank. While renovating the family house he is unexpectedly visited by the presence of his dead father and charged with the task of ‘fixing’ the family. In the course of his reluctant investigations, Greg discovers not only the secrets behind the strange behaviour of his brother and uncle but also an unsettling secret of his father’s, and one that brings him face to face with the unintended consequences of his own past.

The Last of the Bowmans is the story of a family on the run from itself in a city with no place to go.”

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Finding Margaret – Guest post by Catherine Hokin

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Catherine Hokin to the blog. Catherine’s novel, Blood and Roses was published by Yolk Publishing on 13 January 2016. Here Catherine talks about how she first came across Margaret of Anjou.

FINDING MARGARET

The Wars of the Roses: that’s a well-mined seam that’s surely been well and truly ‘done’? That’s usually the second comment when I mention that my debut novel Blood and Roses is firmly set against the background of this so bloody conflict – the first is ‘I wish I had the time to write a book’ but no writer ever responds to that one with anything other than an inner scream.

My response? No period of history is ever truly ‘done’ until all the voices have been heard: for the Wars of the Roses, as for so much of History, it is the female voice that is too often silent or misheard. Step forward Margaret of Anjou.

Who was she? The facts are well-known: she was born in the Duchy of Lorraine in 1430 and married to Henry VI of England in 1445; she had one son, Edward, born after 8 years of marriage and dead in battle at 18; she was a key figure on the Lancastrian side in the dynastic conflicts of the fifteenth century that the Victorians rather romantically christened the Wars of the Roses; she died in gentile poverty in 1482. That’s a life but it isn’t a person which is where my search for Margaret began.

I first met Margaret when I was 12. My father ran a war gaming club (in the non-virtual days when this involved a sand table) and all the members were obsessed with the Wars of the Roses, I think some of them thought it was still going on. They also shared a loathing for Margaret of Anjou which fascinated me – how could one woman who lived so long ago still rile men so much? As a contrary teenager, I was hooked.

My father was also a Shakespeare fanatic so I got caught up in that to. Anyone who knows their Shakespeare knows that, in the spirit of propaganda, he reviled Margaret in his work, depicting her as “a foul wrinkled witch’ and a ‘hateful with’red hag.” By this point my blood was up – how could such an over-wrought characterisation have become a shorthand for a woman contemporaries described as a “great and strong-laboured woman”? How did that fit with Shakespeare’s portrayal of her wandering round court clutching the severed head of her supposed lover the Duke of Suffolk like a medieval revved-up Mrs Rochester?

Clearly there was a lot more to this woman and, following a History degree which included a study of the use of political propaganda against women in the Middle Ages, she became a scratch I needed to itch. Then life got in the way and the scratch took 30 years to get to…

What did I find when I began to dig? A politically astute, well-educated woman trapped as a Queen Consort – her role was essentially to be an intercessor and a peacemaker which is all very well except she was married to the weak, ill and ineffectual King Henry VI at a time when the English Crown was very much the spoils of war. She was perfectly able to rule in an England that would not countenance her doing so and became the scapegoat for her husband’s failings.

That’s one aspect of my Margaret but there is also another: she was a mother, a strong woman trying to turn a boy she loved fiercely into a strong man she had to let go. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that I found my Margaret when I had a son of 18, the age hers was when he died – a key relationship too often portrayed in a sinister light and badly in need of a redress.

My Margaret is a strong, deeply intelligent women driven by ambition and perfectly capable of manipulating circumstances to her own advantage. I’ve been looking for her for a long time and am delighted that my publisher recognised that a revision was due and trusted me to do it.  I hope you will be as fascinated by her as I have become and that the voice I have found for her rings as true for you as it continues to do for me.

About the book:

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“1460

The English Crown – a bloodied, restless prize.

The one contender strong enough to hold it? A woman. Margaret of Anjou: a French Queen in a hostile country, born to rule but refused the right, shackled to a King lost in a shadow-land.

When a craving for power becomes a crusade, when two rival dynasties rip the country apart in their desire to rule it and thrones are the spoils of a battlefield, the stakes can only rise. And if the highest stake you have is your son? 

You play it.”

You can buy the book here.

About Catherine Hokin

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Catherine is a Glasgow-based author with a degree in History from Manchester University. After years of talking about it, she finally started writing seriously about 3 years ago, researching and writing her debut novel, Blood and Roses, which will be published in January 2016 by Yolk Publishing. The novel tells the story of Margaret of Anjou and her pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses, exploring the relationship between Margaret and her son and her part in shaping the course of the bloody political rivalry of the fifteenth century. About a year ago, Catherine also started writing short stories – she was recently 3rd prize winner in the 2015 West Sussex Writers Short Story Competition and a finalist in the Scottish Arts Club 2015 Short Story Competition. She regularly blogs as Heroine Chic, casting a historical, and often hysterical, eye over women in history, popular culture and life in general.

Social media links: https://www.catherinehokin.com/

http://catherinehokin.blogspot.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/cathokin/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Twitter @cathokin

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