Category Archives: JFK50

Four Years On…

A lot has happened in the last four years since my debut novel was published. No more novels are out yet and that is a shame, but it is not that novels have not been written, just that things have slowed down since I was signed by my agent. I am hoping that 2018 is the best year ever by seeing progress in getting that second novel out there. So watch this space.

Well, today sees the 54th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination: the event that inspired, first the short story and then the novel While No One Was Watching. So it seems right to slip in another quick blog post for the rare few that follow this blog that did not buy the book, with a blatant plug! I launched it on this day at the same place I will be launching the Canvey Writers book this Friday. November 22nd, 2013 was, in fact, a Friday and we showed the famous news clip announcing Kennedy’s death at almost the exact moment it broke some 50 years before!

I did see that the book Kindle version is only 99p today so do download it if you haven’t yet and the paperback is also on offer too!!!

So here it is… !!!

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Friday Writing Prompt

Inspired by my talk last weekend, and thinking about the close interaction between fact and fiction, here’s a prompt for you.

Take a key moment in history; so something that ‘literally’ stopped the world, not just your world, so let’s say, as is the case in my novel, the death of a president, maybe 911, Diana’s death, Elvis… ? and then write a short piece of ‘alternative history’ as if it never happened. So you will need to use fictitious characters perhaps or make it a memoir piece where the event affected you, but now let us see what happened if something else happened instead… So, for example, JFK Airport used to be called Idlewild and, in fact, this is the name of Mark Lawson’s alternative history novel, if Kennedy had not died as he did and make him the icon he is, would the airport still be called that? In fact, that is the case in this novel; Kennedy is still alive years later. Perhaps juxtapose what might have happened with what did happen, so some of you might even want to write two versions…? I will leave that to you! Allow your imaginations to run wild… and not be idle! See what I did there 🙂 Groan!

Happy Writing!

Happy Weekend!

Happy Being YOU!

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Settling into Life

How lovely it is settling into my new life in this lovely little house. The house has so many windows and I love the light.

Yesterday a very talented musician friend was here with her hubby; I think I have known her longer than any of my friends, we go back to infant school in fact and I introduced her to her husband when we were both doing our A’Levels! They have now been married twenty-seven years! Wow! Anyway, Nic is the one who wrote and recorded the music that goes with the book trailer for While No One Was Watching, the one Dad and my best friend sang on… shared again below as it’s been a while! Anyhow, she is releasing a very special album and yesterday we turned our living room into a recording studio and I gave a reading as Lydia, the whole of Chapter 16 of the novel as it happens!

Once this is released I will share. I think she will use some of it as it’s ten minutes long, but there will be a link to hear it all, so that’s me talking in my African-American accent. Hope it sounds okay. How bloody exciting is that!

So what fun! And then we had a Chinese meal sat on our patio, so the house has had its first social gathering 🙂 How lovely 🙂

The garden is a work in progress but we are getting there! What do I look like? Don’t answer that!

 

Here is the book trailer :)CLICK  https://youtu.be/yu-FEliJflA

 

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Opening Windows With The Short Story Form

After some twenty short stories being published in collections since 2008, the biggest feeling of accomplishment came when my debut novel While No One Was Watching was finally published in 2013, nine years and one MA after deciding to be a serious writer. It was  finally something all in my name and the thing I had been working towards. But it would not have happened without the short story. This is why I have a lot to thank it for and why I still write short stories; although fewer now, there are still some out there trying their luck and still ideas I can’t wait to develop.

The short story form for me is this perfect thing; if you get the voice right; deepen the characters enough and capture life in those few words you can shape the story into something that didn’t exist before — and within a relatively short space of time. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I am probably most proud of three short stories (so far including the one I’ve just written, right?) — the first one ever to be good enough to be published in 2008 and that was Jigsaw. I was in the middle of working on a novel (with a lot to learn about writing) when this child’s voice entered my head and I was compelled to write it. I was nothing like anything I’d written before and I was thrilled when Bridge House Publishing (who I didn’t work for back then) chose it and it inspired the cover. What a feeling that was.

A string of success later (and rejections naturally) I wrote something while studying for my MA, but not as an assignment as an experiment in contemporary story-telling and that was The Theory Of Circles, which I have talked about here before. The faceless/genderless voyeur social media obsessed narrator in a story reporting on the goings-on on a crescent in a nameless place; but reading backward the way you scroll blogs. But of course, I had to make certain it still flowed forward for the reader in terms of story. Quite a challenge. I knew conventional publishers and competitions would pass on it but had been seeing a lot about innovative short story publisher Unthank Books. So I targeted them and waited.That wait was rewarded and the story was published in Unthology 3 back in 2012. I was even more thrilled when the publisher nominated the story for the prestigious US Pushcart Prize.

So more short story successes later ( a few short lists and anthology acceptances), between the novel writing and I saw Learning to Fly win the Bath Short Story Award; another young voice, but an important theme, coping with grief but with humour.  This story, with some autobiographical elements, is one I was so proud of — so did the dance when it won! I celebrated that night at a Bon Jovi concert and wow. They even had a tea-party in my honour in Bath (not Bon Jovi!) but the lovely ladies at the Bath Short Story Award.

Of course amongst these stories are some yet to find homes and others that made it onto prestigious short lists that I hope will find homes: namely Mirror Image that I long to adapt into a novel (short listed in the Aeon Prize in 2010) and Chutney that was short listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013 and is the current work in progress having been adapted into a novel.

While No One Was Watching as you may also know was adapted from a short story.

So it’s clear how important short story writing has been for me, in three key ways: the first in teaching me how to write, to experiment, to develop and to grow (and you learn faster and get the satisfaction faster with this shorter form). The second  being that some short stories get bigger and inspire development into a novel. And thirdly, the more I write them, it seems the more the ideas fall from the sky. So ideas seem to be around me all the time and some get scribbled on bits of note paper… and when I am between drafts of novels beg to be written. Once I finish Chutney I plan to write a few more.

When I was thinking about moving back to my home town over the past two or three years I wrote ny first short story set on Canvey Island about a group pf friends meeting at Canvey sea wall after the wake of one of their friends, Adam. I called it Open Windows; which has more than one meaning, but the main theme is making the time for people while you still can. Something happened to Adam when he was thirteen and he got stuck. He is the real boy who never grew up.

The story was selected for another Unthank books Unthology and I got to hold a hot off the press copy in my hands yesterday! Don’t you love the smell of fresh ink! This book is officially released on June 20th. There will be copies at the London Short Story Festival Unthology event that I plan to pop along to and say hi to the lovely Ashley and Robin. And its official launch event is June 25th in Norwich where I, and others, will be giving readings.

While this might be something like publication success number 20, or 21 (which is an odd but humbling thing and to lose count!), and it might be that we all strive for that next novel success (and trust me I do) but we must never negate any success, and to be alongside such a calibre of writers in Unthology 7 is indeed a thing to feel very humble about and feel very grateful for. I am immensely proud to be in another of their collections. Thanks for choosing it Unthank Books.

I will post a small excerpt of Open Windows tomorrow.

Wave your banner BIG and PROUD for the short story form, and thank the publishers for keeping the stories out there…

Happy Wednesday folks!

I hope to invite some of the other unthologists onto the blog to talk about their writing and their stories, so watch this space… and there will be photos and a post about the launch of course!

Unthology 7 coverOrder from Amazon, release date June 20…

Yay!

Yay!

 

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Rochester LitFest Rocks!

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

 

I had a great night last night. It was my first appearance at a literary festival and I hope not my last!

The venue the Nucleus Cafe is a trendy arts cafe in Chatham. If I lived closer I have a feeling the kind of place I’d be meeting writer friends! My north Wales writer friends would love it! I think Jaye has done a great job with this new festival that only started last year. Check out the website here: www.rochesterlitfest.com

 

Nucleus Arts Cafe, Chatham

The Venue (sorry slightly blurry photo taken by me!)

I wrote to a few festivals when I knew I was moving back to the south east proposing a talk about ‘Blurring the Lines between fact and fiction’. Jaye Nolan who organises the festival said yes, it fit her other talks and the rest I guess is history (literally!). I want to thank her for all her tremendous efforts and again if I was closer I would certainly like to be involved and help out. I will try to do more next year, perhaps spend the week with my brother so I can offer my support to the writers etc.

Jaye is pictured here (centre) at the event last night

Photo by Bill Gooch -- official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

Photo by Bill Gooch — official photographer for the event, thanks Bill!

 

I hadn’t given this particular talk before, although I have talked about the subject matter a lot and it was part of my MA dissertation, how fact and fiction are not opposite ends of a spectrum but intimately woven into the fabric of how we tell stories. ‘Factual account’ — uses wiggly in the air finger thing — are often biased, spun from yarns, filled with opinion and conjecture while fiction does what it says on the tin and is created from imagination but needs fact for authenticity, right?

The venue was intimate and being a great fan of the coffee-shop culture (not enough of that on Canvey Island) it worked well for the talk. The first half I felt was slightly less coherent as I did jump about a little in subject, although the audience were kind and receptive and I felt enjoyed it from the great reaction in the break. The second half was more focussed and more engaging. By then everyone had relaxed, we’d chatted and everyone wanted to interact so having thrown out the odd question it then became really interactive and I think it worked well. So I think I need more of that in the first half when I do this again. I am wondering about hosting an event on Canvey — ideas machine now flowing!

I loved meeting the people, some readers, some also writers and I already see friend requests and followers on Twitter, so I hope to have made some new friends!

Another photo thanks to Bill -- do check out his FB page here:  LINK

Another photo thanks to Bill — do check out his FB page here: LINK

 

I am still buzzing from the event and the engaging conversation and I can’t wait to do it all again!

It’s been a crazily busy few days since my move, so busy I can not wait for a couple of days just to relax. I have worked this week too although not written but my plan is to do a rare thing and take tomorrow off after my workout as I have a full day at the Southend Book and Art Fair this Saturday. And next week will be a normal working and writing week, which I need! I also seem to have a short story buzzing like a fly inside my head — perhaps one for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize I wonder …

So I will leave you with the last two photos from Bill Gooch, and will share some my brother took next week!

Thanks again to Jaye and the festival for having me!

Chatman 3 2014 Chatman 2 2014

Clearly making an important point!

 

Thanks Rochester LitFest!

 

 

 

 

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When truth is elusive

Lots of thoughts buzzing this weekend as I made preparations for my talk at the Rochester Literary Festival in ten days’ time. When I wrote While No One Was Watching I realised more than any other work, that truth is not something absolute and is defined by context. Yet we would tend to believe truth is a defined thing: a fact or belief  about something known to have happened. And the lie is considered a deliberate distortion of truth. But when truth is open to interpretation and is in fact really only in the mind of the believer, and a lie is only really a lie if a deliberate act, then is there such a thing as absolute truth?

When it comes to the Kennedy assassination, the quintessential conspiracy theory, truth is perhaps even more elusive. How do you know what  to believe when you have credible books by experts, equally convincing, but saying the exact opposite thing. Is what we believe weighted by how many books we read that say lone assassin versus how many say conspiracy — is that a known entity defined by how many books are actually out there and is that a figure biased by what people actually believe — or is what we think just how many books we happened to read? #random? I mean you can’t read them all? My science brain is kicking in, having worked in research so I know how many credible sources you need to say something might be probable and the errors through biased reading before you even examine the credibility of the source and author bias — I mean, even ‘factual’ books are little more than opinion a lot of the time, not absolute truth.

So I realise that there is truth in history, the known facts — Kennedy was assassinated at 12.30pm CST, on 22nd November 1963 in Dallas Texas as we rode in his motorcade, by gunshot wounds but even when I go to write from an assassin’s bullet I realise we are not moving away from absolute truth — how many assassins? The placement of the apostrophe suddenly becomes significant. So now we enter the realms of speculation and conjecture. Probability in fact!

I amassed huge amounts of information when I did my reading for While No One Was Watching. Huge. Far more than I needed, given the assassination is a catalyst for action and yes it is integral to plot but it is not an assassination novel per se. But the scientist in me has to have all the details. But truth remained elusive. The ‘factual’ books nothing more than conjecture. And while historical novelists receive critique from historians for their ‘bad version of history’; it’s a novel, by definition it’s ‘fantasy’ ; the author executing ‘creative license’ and since it means no one really knows which part is real and which is fantasy, I propose the novelist creates their own version of truth.

Stephen King claims that ‘Fiction is the truth inside the lie.’ I like that. I like that a lot. The novel is, in its purest form ‘made-up’. But, as in my novel and just about most novels you’ll read, it still needs some facets of reality to work. In my case, fact and fiction are woven together so tightly in places you can’t see the join! So the fiction writer is not so much the fantasist but the creator of a different type of truth. The truth of the story and the role of the fiction writer is to make the reader believe.

A recent psychological study said that the way we read fiction and non-fiction is different. We tend to be far more critical about non-fiction. And if we are emotionally engaged and immersed in a story — we are far more likely to believe it. And indeed the writer of the novel has failed if their reader does not believe it, right? The rules are the rules the reader has created; an un-truth in reality, look at the alternative history novels like Mark Lawson’s Idelwild, Kennedy didn’t die that day but the reader will believe that as the ‘truth’ inside the lie — right? Of course they know here he did die. But what if the fictional elements are more subtle than that, a possibility the reader hadn’t considered before that changes his view about the historical truth?

Lydia Collins in my novel is psychic and even friends who confess to initially having reservations about a ‘psychic’ narrator, said by a page or so in they found her beguiling as a narrator and believed every word. So I did what I was supposed to, right? Phew. But what about my suggestions about what really happened that day at the grassy knoll?

So there lies the crux of the question I pose at my talk, this being the case, where the factual elements and the fictional ones are so close together, will my readers also believe, if even for a fleeting moment, that there really was a little girl called Eleanor Boone who disappeared from the grassy knoll and it had to be a plot to kill Kennedy or why else is she still missing?

The question therefore is: Do fiction writers affect what we believe about history?

What do you think? What films/books/plays etc. used real  events and changed what you believed about the real event? (Even if it wasn’t actually true.) I would love to know … for my talk! Please email me or reply to this post! writer@debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk

Have a great day everyone.

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

Don’t forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent! BOOK 

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The Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2015

Some of you may remember my blog post last year when I had the great honour of being invited to the opening of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, having made the short list in 2013. So I was indeed honoured to be invited once again this year to the opening of the prize. What made it extra special was I asked to bring a friend and they said with pleasure — so I invited the talented Paula Readman. Not only that, I also made  contact with Tracy Fells who was on the short list for the UK/Canada region this year and we all met first, note the selfie below, affectionately titled The Bridge House Anthologists — Tracy and Paula having made it into the next Bridge House collection!

We met at Green Park and partook in a Costa Coffee snack (as you do) — it was the first time I’d met Tracy, but our writing paths have crossed in a virtual sense a few times, so was great to find another kindred spirit. We got to know one another and I was interested to find she had a similar background in science to myself. Tracy is a very successful published short story writer and aspiring novelist so I may ask her to be on my blog soon.

We then walked to the grand and very regal Marlborough House and met with lots of dignitaries — Commonwealth people, agents, publishers, writers, journalists and diplomats. After a short drinks reception, this year we were treated to an interesting discussion by a panel of talented writers including this year’s short story prize winner: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. The other panelists were:

Romesh Gunesekera, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature,originally from Trinidad, author of eight fiction books, novel Reef, short listed in the 1994 Booker Prize and Chair of the  2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Leila Aboulela, Sudanese novelist awarded the Caine Prize for African writing for The Museum included in her short story collection Coloured Lights.

Kei Miller, Jamaican poet, novelist and essayist, his collection of short stories Fear of Stones, shortlised in the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. He also won the 2014 Bocas Prize for Caribbean literature.

The winner of the 2014 short story prize, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist, short story writer and poet with a PhD in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and her doctoral novel The Kingu Saga won the Kwani Manuscript project in 2014. Jennifer teaches creative writing at Lancaster.

The panel hosted a discussion called: No Laughing Matter: Conflict and Humour — is there a line?

I will blog more about this at some point and open the discussion to all of you as I think, having read a lot of short stories in my work, there is a tendency in short stories for the deep, the tragic and the sad  and I know with Bridge House, when stories are able to use humour, pathos, it’s a great device. So the discussion looked at the role of humour in even the darkest tales. How does humour translate across the countries of the Commonwealth? While not covered per se, what aspects of humour do cross borders? Is there a universal humour? Are there lines we can’t cross — perhaps as Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi suggested it’s okay to laugh at ourselves and our own culture, but what about other people and other cultures? What about conflict and how do many of these countries where conflict is part of life, create a need for humour, a way of coping?

I know the stories of mine that seem to have the greatest success are those where I use humour and sadness alongside — pathos. You only have to look at the story that won the Bath Short Story Award Learning to Fly to see how I took a family’s grief and used humour to show how even in the darkest moments there can be light.

Tracy and I talked about our short Commonwealth stories after the event, noting that not only did both reveal something about life in Britain, both had elements of humour woven into the fabric, as did the winning story. That does not mean jokes, but use of voice and events even when the essence of the story has sadness. I do this all the time and not necessarily by conscious choice. I happen to think creating believable well drawn authentic characters calls for humour and the ability to laugh at situations, even ourselves. Tracy tells me her story also had elements of magical realism as well as humour and she didn’t expect it to do so well. Same with my story Chutney, never thought it stood a chance! It’s about unlikely friendships formed on an allotment in East London. There is a sadness there, one being a Holocaust survivor, but there is a lot of humour between the characters.

So if you’re thinking of entering this year — I would bear that in mind! Here’s the link and it’s FREE!

LINK

Also some great news that I hope happens, as I had a lovely long chat with Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, asking the pertinent question of whether she ‘did the dance’ when she found out she’d won, what did she say? Of course she did! I asked if she would be a guest on my blog and she said yes! So watch this space!

What is lovely for me is being part of the Commonwealth family like this and I feel highly honoured. It was great to see some familiar faces from last year, including the intern Joe who now has a full-time job with the Commonwealth Foundation AND is a great writer as I looked at some of his work for him last year. The new intern, Jake was lovely too. I also got to meet some of the writers I met last year and friend, also an agent and publisher, Unthank Books’s Robin Jones.

It was a great evening and I say a HUGE thank you for the invite.

While last year I posted some photos of Marlborough House from a website, grandeur in abundance, this year — the selfie!

Have a great day everyone and remember my talk at the Rochester Lit festival in 2 weeks’ time! Got your copy of my novel yet? Bought your tickets for this event? Go on, treat yourself!

Don't forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!

Don’t forget to book your tickets! October 1st in Kent!  BUY

Got yours yet?

Got yours yet? BUY ME

The Bridge House Anthologist and so much more…

The BHP Anthologists

 

Tracy Fells (UK/Canada shortlistee 2014), Paula Readman (winner Harrogate Crime Short Story 2012) and of course Debz  (UK/Canada shortlistee 2013)

Don’t mess with these guys! Look at those plotting faces… pause for evil laugh

MWAR MWAR MWAR…

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