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In The Spotlight: Diana Moss

I am delighted to welcome to the spotlight one of my lovely clients who I have worked with for some time. She knows how tough it is to get your work recognised and break into the women’s commercial market. So without further ado please welcome Diana Moss to my blog this morning…

spotlightoj-md

 

diana-moss

 

Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

 

Hi everyone. I have been happily married to James since 1975. We are committed Christians and have two adult children, both of whom have left home with families of their own. We are servants to two cats. I wrote my first illustrated short story book at the tender age of six years, even sewing the pages together with help from my mother. It was never published of course, but received great acclaim from my family. Having always enjoyed both reading and writing, other hobbies are sewing and craft work. My first publishing success was coming second in our local newspaper’s Christmas Story competition during the 1990s. This spurred me on to seeing my second story published in The Cat, (the magazine produced by Cats’ Protection). Around that time I had several articles published in the Woman’s Weekly magazine under the heading of A Lighter Look at Life. Unfortunately that column was scrapped when a new editor took over the magazine. At that time our church (The Community Church in Southampton) purchased Central Hall here in the city. It was a large building in a sad state of repair, but we raised the money to buy it and renovate it. Having been put in touch with an elderly lady who was the daughter of the first minister there in the 1920s and who had the original vision for how the church would serve the community, I wrote an article for The Hampshire Magazine, comparing the first minister’s ideas being on a par with our own. Following this I had several articles published in Your Cat magazine. I then started to work on a novel.

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

No – I just sent a manuscript off and hoped for the best!

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

Yes. I had only been working part-time as an administrator for some years, but when my health deteriorated I took early retirement. It was then when I discovered a Creative Writing group near me and became a member of it for some years. Then the lady tutor retired and the group came to an end. I confess I was relieved as I felt we had been covering the same ground several times. I then did an email course with The Writers’ Bureau. With that complete I was still keen for more, so I did a novel writing course tutored by Margaret James, then a short story course tutored by Sue Moorcroft, followed by a second novel writing course, again tutored by Sue Moorcroft. (I sometimes used my husband to proofread my work but he used to take simply ages! I only asked friends’ opinions a couple of times because they always thought my work was wonderful and never gave any proper criticism.) Having regularly taken The Writers’ Forum magazine for some years I had more-or-less completed my second novel entitled After the Summer and was struggling with its ‘soggy middle’. In desperation I contacted Debz Hobbs-Wyatt and was relieved by her friendly response plus some fairly obvious solutions that she offered. She also helped me to be brave and cut out irrelevant waffle. It was difficult to do, but leaving it in would probably bore my reader.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

I have always been self-published. Despite being told at Winchester Writers’ Conference (in 2008) by several agents that ‘they are looking for new authors like me’, especially as I had pressed ahead and self-published two books at that time, I never heard back even when I applied officially, offering manuscripts.

What happened next? 

I first self-published my mother’s biography with Bound Biographies, Bicester, Oxon. My mother told me a lot about herself when she was very ill in hospital towards the end of her life. I was amazed by some of the awful things she had been through as a nursing sister in West Africa during the second world war. I wrote it all down, typed it out and gave her the manuscript for her 85th birthday. She was thrilled with it and begged me to get it published. It needed a lot of editing, but after her death ten years later in 2003 I did this using my second-hand lap-top. Having lived in Nigeria myself for 18 months as a child I recalled my own first impressions as well as amassing other factual information from books my parents owned on the area at that time.

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

Being officially retired and enjoying anything creative, my writing is more of a hobby, as is my sewing, so I always have both to hand. Generally though as I live just with my husband now, I work in the lounge while he uses the computer in the dining room. I always carry a small notepad with me for recording something that amuses me, describing a particular scene, an overheard conversation, etc. Once lost, that moment never returns.

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

Monica Dickens’ writing I hugely enjoy, as she seemed to see the funny side of situations and her descriptions of places and people were very visual. I enjoy Erica James’ writing, also novels by Patricia Pearse and Maeve Binchy. Deric Longden was a brilliant author too. Despite his natural humour he obviously had a very sensitive side.

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

 If I get an idea, I simply can’t help writing! Occasionally in real life I wonder … Supposing he or she had said this or done that … and my brain goes into overdrive! Sometimes I may shelve it and look at it another time. Other times I may feel that it could make a good story and it seems to develop itself. When I was being tutored by Sue Moorcroft I sent loads of short stories to loads of magazines that she thought were ready for publication, but always had them rejected. Sometimes a real-life situation will set me off and my thoughts go tumbling over one another as the characters write the book for me.

 How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

I don’t like telling the world how great my book will be if they buy a copy! I would never be any good at selling anything! Two of my books have now been re-written, self published again but by New Generation Publishing. At least doing it this way I get royalties from sales. They are automatically available from Amazon and any good bookshop. I advertise them on Facebook every so often. I have written to the local papers and to our local radio, (Radio Solent) but so far nothing has happened – no mention at all.

Tell us about the latest published book…

Both of these books are re-writes and happened to be published on the same day in July 2016. The first is my mother’s biography, The Mother I Never Knew which I see has a brilliant review on Amazon. The second is my novel Once Upon A Summer, also available from Amazon. Both books are also available in U S of A and Canada from Barnes & Noble. For Australian readers these books can be obtained from Dymocks.

My mother’s biography was first self-published in 2005 entitled Tales My Mother Told Me. Too bashful about promoting my work, I mainly gave copies away to families and friends. As the years passed, I discovered more facts, created more dialogue in order to make this book interesting to a wider audience. This has now been re-written and re-published under its new title of The Mother I Never Knew. I feel this is more of how my mother visualised it when she asked me to write her life story.

 

 

My second novel was originally written and self published in 2012 as After the Summer. That too suffered because of lack of marketing resources and I gave most of the copies away. This has also been re-written, severely edited and published as Once Upon A Summer.

Now that New Generation Publishers sell these through Amazon, I hope that my work will be known to a wider audience and at least to have some royalties from sales! (Up until now, my writing has been an expensive hobby.)

 

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I am currently re-writing my first novel When Tomorrow Becomes Yesterday. Published in 2010, it was due to my own bad marketing it never got off the ground. Now I have a different plan for it, so may change characters’ names etc. – then I will re-publish this with New Generation Publishers.

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

I have found it very difficult and suggest doing it via New Generation Publishing. Be warned though that they will print what you write, so it may be wise to employ a proof-reader.

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

I like both Ruth and Kate in Once Upon a Summer. I can see something of myself in Ruth sometimes. I would like to think I had her friend Kate’s empathy once she is an adult.

Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book?

Yes please!

 

This is an account of when my mother was torpedoed from her biography, The Mother I Never Knew

 

On the fourth day out Marjorie began to feel seasick due to the heavy swell. No sooner had she settled comfortably on deck to get some fresh air, there was a terrific bang and the ship shuddered as if trying to shake off the resultant shattered glass and debris falling all around.

The ship immediately listed way over on its starboard side apparently about to sink almost at once, so heavy was the impact from not just one torpedo, but two. Then the ship righted itself a little and the crew began lowering lifeboats although some of these had been destroyed by the impact of the torpedoes.

A voice came from the tannoy. “This is your captain speaking. All passengers and crew must put on your lifejackets and go to your appointed muster station immediately.”

“Man the lifeboats! Prepare to abandon ship!” roared another voice.

Marjorie donned her bulky lifejacket and staggered along to her emergency station. People were scurrying everywhere. She felt her stomach lurch.

Lifeboats were hastily lowered into the heaving grey sea below. As Marjorie looked, her stomach churned with nausea and in terror. Being unable to swim very well she hated water deeper than her bath.

The women were ordered to get into the lifeboats first. There was no time to collect any belongings. With pounding heart, Marjorie clambered awkwardly over the side of the badly damaged ship. The wind clawed at her clothing causing her to falter. Her heart beat wildly. Unable to swim she was terrified of missing her footing and falling into the sea. Then she felt the lifeboat sway beneath her as she literally fell into it. Once it was overfilled with people it was lowered jerkily over the side of the huge parent ship which by now was fast taking in water. All the passengers in the little boat clung on for dear life as it went down towards the moving murky waters below by means of ropes and pulleys, first the forward end pointing downwards, then the stern.

Suddenly one end hit the waves whilst the other remained suspended in mid air. Marjorie disappeared under the water as people fell on top of her in a kind of watery rugger-scrum. She resurfaced again a little farther away. Unable to breathe she panicked as she faced death head on.

Her life seemed to flash before her eyes. She recalled her father, Timothy, Jack Sullivan, her stepmother; what was the quality of her existence anyway? Then she recalled some of the wonderful things she had heard spoken about her own mother; Lottie, people had called her. People had always spoken well of her. Perhaps she would see her soon? But suppose her own mother disapproved of Marjorie’s life so far? Oh, she couldn’t bear that! She struggled violently in the freezing cold sea that threatened to engulf her. Her body disappeared beneath a huge wave and she swallowed what felt like a large proportion of it as it overwhelmed her. Fear set in as her mind pictured what sort of life was lurking in the ocean beneath her. With her arms flailing wildly, she desperately tried to keep afloat and thrashed around in the chill wintry sea until lifelines from the Accra were thrown. Eventually she managed to catch one that snaked near her.

“Hold on down there!” yelled a male voice as she found herself hoisted into the air, crashing painfully against the iron hull, now a welcome island in the midst of such an angry sea. Several other people were also hauled up and left dangling on ropes like strings of onions.

 

 

This next is an extract from Once Upon A Summer

 

Ruth took the Royal Blue coach home. Waiting in the dingy little coach station, she felt like the outer crust of a person, someone who’d let all her pain spill away with her life force. Tears were never far away. She was in the depths of grief for her baby she’d given up for adoption.

She noticed none of the New Forest or the pretty Dorset rolling countryside that she was passing through as she dwelled on her thoughts and tried not to sink in the midst of emotions she wasn’t yet ready to deal with. In her bag was a small baby’s vest and tiny matinée jacket that Andrew had outgrown and she’d omitted to put them in the baby box kept at Holmwood. Ruth would keep both.

Once home, she unbuttoned her coat, and inhaled the familiar smell of her family household. A sense of belonging washed over her. Her mother greeted her, “Oh, so the prodigal returns.”

Her father asked, “So did you-er, find yourself, or whatever it was you hoped to do?”

“Well at least you’re home in time for Christmas,” said her mother. Families should all be together then.”

Her brother Martin greeted her casually as if she’d never been away. “Hi Sis!”

Ruth went to bed that night in a haze of sadness that she couldn’t seem to detach herself from.

* * *

 

Shops were displaying coloured lights and decorations. Women struggled along with awkward shaped bags and baskets of shopping. Men strode about clothed in business suits, some clumsy with carrier bags along with their brief cases and umbrellas. School children dawdled home in groups, pausing occasionally to look into the bright shop windows. The town council had strung decorations and coloured lights from one side of the road to the other.

So much colour and sparkle, but Ruth felt empty.

 

A tall Christmas tree had been erected in the square, lit up with lots of coloured bulbs. A greengrocer’s shop had stalls outside on the pavement; with piles of tangerines, pineapples, nuts, apples and bananas. Further up the street two  small children stood with their noses pressed up against the window of a toyshop, faces bright with excitement until their mothers pulled them away.

It didn’t seem so long ago that she’d been a child herself. Now she had given birth to one of her own. He was hers, or he should’ve been. Very soon it would be Andrew’s first Christmas.

She paused to gaze into a shop window. On one side was a brand new Silver Cross pram. On the other was a wooden cot with a blue lamb painted on it. Would her baby be sleeping in one like this tonight? She stared at the display of smocked baby clothes and rompers… no, she must walk on.

 

© Diana Moss 2016: can not be reproduced without permission from the author

 

 

Thank your Diana for sharing your journey and I hope it will inspire others. It’s a tough journey, but so worth it, right? I wish you all the success in the world 🙂 Thank you for also being part of my journey.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Filed under being a successful writer, Blogging, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Publishing, Reading, Writing

In The Spotlight Guest Author: L. G. Flannigan

My author today, I am delighted to say, I met (virtually) some time ago through Bridge House Publishing when one of her short stories was runner-up in our competition and published in On This Day. I finally got to meet her in person at a book launch at the end of last year. She is a wonderful writer and she asked me to work with her on a couple of her  YA novels over the years but one of them really stood out and I urged her to submit it. Which she did. It got close to being signed, in fact one publisher did offer to publish an eBook but she held fire on that; it was also shortlisted in a big competition. Now that novel IS published I have asked to tell you something about her journey…

 

Please welcome L.G. Flannigan to the spotlight …

spotlightoj-md

L G Flannigan

Author L.G.Flannigan

Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

My eleven-year-old self knew I wanted to be a published fiction writer. However, my avid reading had me aspiring to be a marine biologist (even though I can’t swim at all well), a lawyer, a scientist, a detective, a textile designer… In other words, I wanted to do whatever profession the main character did in the book I was reading! In my late teens it was to be a book called Occupations that had me training to be an Occupational Therapist eventually specialising in Forensic Psychiatry. Through that I ended up contributing a chapter about Occupational Therapy to a Forensic Psychotherapy book and I rediscovered my love for writing but it wasn’t until over a decade later that I took a course in creative writing. This course gave me the encouragement and confidence to start sharing my work and in 2010 I entered a short story competition run by Bridge House Publishing and I was fortunate enough to be a runner-up with my tale Trojan. It gained a place in the anthology On This Day and most importantly gave me the conviction to carry on writing. I have now written six novels and have ideas for many others!

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

My first novel, Blood Rain, (for young adults) was met with many favourable responses from agents and came close to snagging one although it never came to fruition. I tried again to get an agent for my debut novel Ordering Flynn Matthews and again I had good feedback but still no success.

Undeterred I tried publishers and it was positively received however as many authors know breaking into the market is tough. I hoped that my shortlisting for the 2015 Choc Lit Search for a Star competition might trigger interest from established publishers and I have still not given up. A US Indie publisher offered me an eBook contract but after much thought and reflection, including advice from the Society of Authors, of which I’m an associate, I decided to self-publish. It is important to have self-belief, so I now imagine how Ordering Flynn Matthews will be successful and that I’ll have a choice of agents and publishers!

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

I have been a member of a writing group and met some great people who I still stay in touch with but with my writing and having started work, I don’t have any spare time to keep attending.

One of the best things I did was to get my novel Blood Rain professionally edited by Debz. Whenever I feel the need to blush I think how naïve I was so early in my writing career to send it to agents without proper editing and no longer wonder why Blood Rain was initially rejected out of hand. Thankfully Debz was able to provide a detailed critique which importantly provided a mix of encouragement and constructive criticism. What was clear was that I had a lot to learn in the art of writing. Where most would probably scrap that first novel I was determined to rewrite it. I sent it back to Debz who responded positively and as I said earlier, it eventually came close to getting an agent.

By the time I sent Ordering Flynn Matthews to Debz for more great insightful editing it had been edited numerous times by myself using the lessons learned with Blood Rain. It’s been through even more edits since then!

I have four main people who read my writing, bless them. My dear friends Carrie and Sam, and my husband and daughter who are my harshest critics! I can’t imagine submitting anything before they’ve seen it.

Hmm, not sure I can say I’m a successful author yet. I’ve had two short stories published, another due to be published this November and of course Ordering Flynn Matthews was self-published last month.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

My husband.

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

I didn’t accept the publishing contract for Ordering Flynn Matthews but I can tell you what it’s like working with Debz as an editor. She’s excellent and thorough and yes her input has made a big difference to my writing.

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

I work part-time in a library so my days, no matter what I am doing, are immersed in books which is a lovely place to be. When I’m not at work I try to be at my laptop ready to write by 9am. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on just one idea however my concentration is aided by a large mug of Rooibos Earl Grey tea, and then the hard work starts. I will write for at least four hours a day although it is often way more. I take my wildly excitable dog out for a mid-day walk which helps me stretch my legs and the different scenery inspires and helps me think through a character or plot problem.

I’m having slightly different issues to deal with at the moment, but no less enjoyable, because publishing Ordering Flynn Matthews has created some distractions. I’ve been writing extras for the Ordering Flynn Matthews website such as newspaper articles and scenes from the novel written from the point of view of different characters. In the novel the main character, Ellie, is a moderator on Flynn’s Fan Forum so I have also created a forum which readers can join if they want to. It’s still writing but not as we know it!

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

Having worked as an Occupational Therapist I have come across many people who have faced profound difficulties yet have been able to get on with life and often with a smile. It is these people that I think of whenever I need inspiration. Public figures can also inspire and like many others it is hard not to feel admiration for the way Nelson Mandela conducted his life especially how he encouraged forgiveness having experienced the exact opposite. Finally, I feel inspired by all successful authors – it’s a tough road but if they can make it, with a lot of hard work I can too.

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

My husband plays a lot of golf and I encourage it because it’s a real stress reliever, is not bad exercise and is sociable and I get a happy spouse. I sometimes play the golf widow card but the real truth is, and I’m not sure he has figured this out, he is actually an author widower. You see I let him play golf so he can’t fully see how much time I devote to my writing. It’s just that I can’t not write. It satisfies an itch and relaxes me. And I hope my stories give the reader enjoyment and a chance to immerse themselves in another world.

As a writer I find that I tend not to take the well-trodden, predictable road in my stories and while this can mean that it is hard to categorise my novels I am happy to strike out on my own. This also means I portray my characters honestly, even if occasionally the reader dislikes them, because that is the truthful way to write them.

How much marketing have you had to do? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

I’m not comfortable with self-promotion so this makes marketing difficult. As I said earlier I do want people to read my novels so I have to accept it’s a necessity and come out of my shell otherwise no one will know about them. Marketing is a much different matter compared to writing and the two aren’t necessarily compatible. I’m aware it is a real issue for many authors and whether self or traditionally published it is part of the job. Self-publishing means I have to create the strategy and then have the energy to implement it. Social media is obviously a crucial aspect of marketing so I have been developing my on-line presence which for me is relatively easy because I have the skills and experience to do so. Also, like my heroine Ellie, the online community allows a degree of anonymity which suits my personality. So, I am doing all my marketing and I’m sure when I have mastered it I will feel great satisfaction but it is certainly not easy.

Tell us about the latest published book…

Ordering Flynn Matthews is a pacey contemporary novel about love, loss and betrayal in a world of social networking, celebrity obsession and media frenzy.

The story centres around Ellie, a university student, who feels more confident online than she does in real life. She has been a fan of Flynn Matthews since she was twelve and is a moderator on his fan forum spending most of her free time on the internet connecting with fellow fans and sharing information and photographs of him. Desperate to meet Flynn she makes a vision board of what she wants, hoping the universe will deliver him to her. Coincidence or not she bumps into him and has her fangirl illusions destroyed. He has a drug problem and he’s not the hero she imagined. While she’d rather not have any more to do with him Flynn needs her. In knowing him Ellie becomes unwittingly embroiled in a series of mishaps, and naïve judgements which put her in the media spotlight. This exposure impacts on her family and puts her closest friendships in jeopardy.

It’s fun, thought provoking at times and an unpredictable read.

 

Follow LG on Twitter – Twitter

Facebook – Facebook

Website: www.lgflannigan.com

Website for Ordering Flynn Matthews: www.flynnmatthews.com

Flynn’s Fan Forum: www.flynnmatthews.freeforums.net/

Available as an ebook on Amazon: AMAZON

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

My immediate task is to market Ordering Flynn Matthews. This marketing business is like having children I reckon. Before you have them people tell you how much they will change your life and you nod in blissful agreement but truthfully you have no idea how they will change and enrich your life… until one micro second after they are born and those earlier words of wisdom hit home and you actually see the depth of what you have been told.

That’s how I now feel about marketing. I knew I would have to publicise my novel; after all I’d read it on the internet but what that means in practice is a whole lot more far reaching. At the moment I am therefore neck deep in publicising my novel and trying to simultaneously edit the next one, Failing Flynn Matthews, which is a follow on to OFM, but can also be read as a standalone.

Eek! Not sure I can think ten years ahead but I would love to keeping having new ideas, my husband’s golf handicap lower and to have many readers enjoying my stories and eagerly awaiting the next one.

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

You have to have a good product so my first advice is to get it edited. An impartial, professional evaluation will make the world of difference. Have an online presence so that you can connect with your audience, and other writers who, in my experience, are generous in sharing their advice and experience. And finally, don’t give up.

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it

I can touch my nose with my tongue!

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

Flynn because despite his flaws he’s honest, loyal and fun.

Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book?

Yes! Here’s the blurb for Ordering Flynn Matthews:

Using a vision board university student Ellie brings heartthrob actor, Flynn Matthews, into her life. She quickly realises he isn’t the man she thought he was – he’s a foul-mouthed narcissistic drug addict. And it’s not fun being in the media spotlight after her life spirals into chaos from just knowing him.

How will Ellie cope with the way her life is now she is trending on Twitter, being exposed by incriminating photos and hounded everywhere she goes; not least, when the press find all those messages her teenage self once wrote on fan sites about Flynn? And does she even want him now?

 

Extract From Chapter 3

 

Breathless I sneak another look. Flynn Matthews is running towards me. There’s a substantial gap between him and the photographers.

                I manage to shout out, “Psst, this way!”               

                Hearing my words, he throws a glance behind him and then speeds over to me. Hopefully it’ll look like he went down the passageway that runs parallel to our alley. We sprint along the path. I pull him into the recess of our front door and watch the photographers run past the end of the alley.

                “Thanks,” he says in that dreamy voice of his.

                “That’s all right,” I squeak wishing my voice didn’t do that when I get nervous.

                “Is this place yours?” His blue eyes sparkle down at me.

                I nod. It’s all I can manage.

                “Do you mind if I come in and lay low for a while?”

                I hear him, but my brain and mouth have disconnected and I can’t formulate any words.

                “They’ll figure out I came down here soon. Can I babe, please?”

                He just called me babe, Flynn Matthews called me babe. OMG.

                He touches me on the arm, “Please.”

                His hand on my arm electrifies my body jolting me into action, fumbling for my keys I let him in. He follows me up the stairs and into the kitchen. I can’t think of anything sensible or normal to say.

                “Would you like a drink?” is all I can spurt out and I’m still squeaking.

                “Yeah, sounds good.”

                I dare to look at him as he pulls out a chair. He spins it round and straddles it; he leans forward resting his arms on the chair’s backrest. He can even make sitting on a chair look sexy.

                Of all the ways I’d imagined meeting Flynn this scenario hasn’t been one of them. Sitting in a cafe alone he asks if the chair opposite is free, I say yes, he sits and I am witty and erudite, happily ever after ensues. And in real life all I can say is, “Tea, coffee, orange juice?”

                He frowns, “I was hoping for something a little stronger, it’s been a heavy morning as you saw.”

                I open the fridge, “There’s some bottled beer.” But that’s Dad’s.

                “Not really into beer.” He smiles but there’s a hint of irritation in his voice and a little sigh.

                Understandable really considering he was being chased. I remember the bottle of whiskey Dad bought last Christmas because his cousin was coming round.

                “We’ve got whiskey, will that do?” My voice seems to be returning to its more normal pitch.

                “Now we’re talking.” He runs his hand through his famous flick of hair momentarily distracting me. “Anytime today babe,” he says his mouth twitching at the corners.

                “Sorry. We don’t have any mixers I’m afraid.”

                He raises his eyebrows at me as if I’m some sort of nutter, “Fine by me, don’t usually have them, I like my whiskey straight.”

                I put the glass on the table and pour out a couple of inches of the brown liquid. I stop but Flynn nudges the bottle, “You might as well fill it to the top babe. Gonna join me?”

                I shake my head.

                “Suit yourself,” he says draining the glass and then pouring himself another.

                I feel sorry for him. Being chased has stressed him out.

                “So you know who I am? Silly question, course you do.” He flashes his ever so white teeth at me focusing his eyes on my t-shirt.

                I feel foolish. Why did I have to wear this t-shirt, today of all days.

                “Nice t-shirt.”

                “Thanks.” With all the stress he hasn’t asked me my name, “I’m Ellie and—”

                “Good. Nice pad.” He casts a quick look round the newly fitted kitchen. A couple of months ago he’d have thought the place was a dump.

                “Thanks. I live here with my—”

                “Why don’t you sit down Emma.”

                “Ellie.”

                “Yeah I meant that, sit down Ellie.” Flynn takes another gulp of whiskey.

                I sit opposite him plotting how I’m going to get an exclusive interview for the forum. I’m already thinking of titles for the thread. “Why were they chasing you?”

        “If I can give you any advice at all babe, it’s choose your friends wisely.”

 

©L.G.Flannigan 2016

Ordering Flynn Matthews

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Thank you so much for your wonderful answers and for being on my blog today, which I know will inspire others. We wish you all the very best with this… go on folks, give it a try!

If you want it you will never give up… and this book is a great one to add to your collection 🙂

But don’t just take my word for it 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

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Filed under being a successful writer, Blogging, Learning to be a writer, Living the dream, Mainstream Fiction, Novel writing, Passion for writing, Publishing, Reading, Writing

In The Spotlight: J A Corrigan

Please welcome to the spotlight a very talented writer who I first met at the Hay Winter Festival some years ago. We were at an event and she was one of the people who held out her hand for a business card when I said that I worked for a short story publisher, Bridge House Publishing.

Later she submitted to us and we published her first short story in one of our collections. I knew then that she had talent. She also contributed to and was published at CafeLit, an ezine I edit for.

But, somewhat like me and my own writing, while she liked writing the short stories, her real passion lay with the novel and she asked me to critique some very early drafts of her first novel. Which I did. In fact, I saw that novel a few times and got to see how it developed and how her writing skills were honed. When that novel didn’t find a home but had a few near misses, I advised her not to give up. She had talent. I then got to see a new novel that was a departure from the historical thriller she had written. This was dark and wonderful and psychological which I love. The novel was then reworked a few times and the responses to it got more and more positive.

“Don’t give up” I kept telling her. “It will happen.” It did for me and I knew it would for her as she is a great writer but above all one she was prepared to put in the hard work to achieve it.

 

And it did happen and here she is to tell us all about her journey to publication of her debut novel, that dark and wonderful psychological thriller, now targeted for a nationwide promotion in WHSmith. Not envious or anything 😉

Well deserved and so without further ado please welcome the fabulous Julie-Ann Corrigan to the spotlight to end her Blog tour…

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Julie ann photo

J A Corrigan

  1. Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

 

I wrote stories as a little girl, and wrote diaries as a young teenager. I remember telling lots of people as a young adult that one day I’d write a book. Tentatively, I started writing in 2009, and was lucky enough to have Bridge House Publishing pick up my first short in 2010 – The Half-Read Manuscript – a supernatural tale, but with some humour, and written for Young Adults. Six year later and after much hard work and anxiety, I have just had my first novel published – a psychological thriller – Falling Suns by Accent Press.

 

  1. Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

 

As all writers know, securing an agent is difficult – almost as difficult as securing a publisher; some would say even harder!

I had several near misses securing an agent, with both the first book I wrote, and the second, Falling Suns.

I signed with an agent, and then Accent Press offered on Falling Suns.

 

 

  1. Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

 

I have used literary consultants, especially at the beginning of my journey. I also have great writing friends who read my work and that is invaluable.
Although the feedback I received early on from professionals really did set me up. I think it stopped me from getting into bad writing habits early on and ultimately saved me a lot of time.

These days, my agent is my beta reader, although I do still like to send to writer friends. My agent has the patience of a saint!

 

  1. Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

 

My husband. I called him at work!

 

 

  1. What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

 

My editor at Accent Press is a very talented woman.  I was dreading the edits but when I actually sat down and tackled them it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought! She suggested getting rid of the lines the reader would skip over, and did a great job – I do think the final book is very tightly written and that is in no small part is due to the editor. She also picked up on continuity issues.

 

  1. Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

 

Early start – 5 – 6am. I write all day if I can, until 4 or 5 pm. We recently acquired a dog so now I always go for a walk around midday. However, if there’s something I need to finish I have a wonderful dog walker! I often write at the weekends, but only for a few hours in the morning.

 

  1. What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

 

Over the years there have been many authors who have inspired me. I decided early on that it was the hard working authors who were ultimately the most successful. Writing is a job and to be successful you have to see it as work, even if you love doing it. Writing is like having homework every day of your life!

 

  1. Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

 

I write because I am much better at expressing myself in words than in speech. It is my ‘talent,’ if you like!
Ideally I would like my stories to inform the reader, and give the reader something to think about and possibly debate with others.

I also love to entertain. I want readers to enjoy, even love, reading my stories.

 

  1. How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

 

I think you have to do a fair amount of marketing even if you are with a large publisher, and definitely as a debut novelist.

I’m not at all comfortable with self-promotion but would find it so easy to promote other people’s work!

 

  1. Tell us about the latest published book …

Falling Suns is essentially a book about grief and loss, but it also a tale about vengeance and corruption.

 

  1. What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

 

I am working on my next novel. It is triple narrative (I like multiple point-of-view stories) and I hope to have it finished soon.

I can’t think about 10 years ahead – I just hope I’m still alive, and still writing.

 

  1. Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

 

Persistence, persistence, persistence.
Read a lot, and seek good feedback on your writing.
Write what you want to write and don’t write for a market in which you have no interest.

 

  1. Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it

 

My favourite meal is beans on toast, washed down with a pint of milk!

 

  1. Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

 

Jonathan. He’s loyal and fun. And in my mind’s eye, he looks good too.

 

So can we read some of your work?

YES!

Blurb to whet your appetite:

A psychological thriller for fans of Belinda Bauer, Mark Edwards, Clare Mackintosh – a dark and brooding tale about the horrors that can lurk within a family.

Ex-DI Rachel’s small son is missing. Then his body is discovered. Her cousin Michael is found guilty of his murder and incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit.

Four years later, now divorced and back in the police force, Rachel discovers that Michael is being released to a less secure step-down unit, with his freedom a likely eventuality. Unable to cope with this, she decides upon revenge, assuming a new identity to hunt him down and kill him. However, as she closes in on her target, her friend Jonathan, a journalist, uncovers some unnerving information about her mother and others in her family and begins to suspect that Rachel’s perception of the truth might not be as accurate as she thinks – that she might be about to murder the wrong man…

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

 

Five days later

 

Charlotte had left for California on a two-week holiday, staying at her house in Venice Beach, and catching up with Jacob who was filming in the States. Liam had taken her to the airport the day before; they had both said I should stay home and rest.

Jonathan had called me earlier in the morning asking if he could come and visit. I’d said yes easily. Liam was going on to visit his parents from the airport.

I could not rest.

The house was desolate and empty and I was spending too much time in Joe’s room. Waiting for the toffee popcorn, waiting to glimpse the petrol blue, but seeing and sensing barely anything; only hearing the ticking of the Dr Who clock on the wall, the ruffling of the matching Dr Who curtains, feeling the cold breeze that floated through the open window. No Joe.

I sat in the rocking chair. Liam had bought it for me for breastfeeding, which, to my distress, I’d been unable to achieve. I’d done all the right things: I’d loved my baby, but the milk didn’t flow. As Joe grew, I blamed myself for his propensity for sore throats and bad colds, sure they were due to the lack of mother’s milk.

As I thought of my inability to feed Joe, cool air from the window blew into a mini gale giving me goosebumps, but it was good to feel cold, good to feel anything. I rubbed at my breasts roughly and from nowhere the image of a young Michael Hemmings’ face intruded. I squeezed my eyes shut as if this would erase the impression, and gradually it did fade.

A plate with one lone muffin and a knife sat on the floor. I slipped downwards onto the carpet and cut it into equal halves, as I’d always done.

One half for me, one for Joe.

I ate my half and it tasted of nothing. I placed the plate with the remaining muffin on Joe’s bed, in the middle of the blue Tardis image that filled the duvet cover, thinking back to the last day of the trial. Of Margaret and Dad’s confession. It explained why my son had gone easily with Hemmings.

I lay on top of Joe’s Dr Who rug and stared at the ceiling. I’m sorry, Joe.

Eventually the chime from the door roused me. It was exactly one and I smiled at Jonathan’s familiar punctuality. But it wasn’t Jonathan; it was my dad, his face more gaunt than the last time I’d seen him and any anger I held slipped away.

‘Hi Dad, come in.’ I stepped sideways.

He held a package wrapped in brown paper and offered it to me. ‘Hope I’m doing the right thing.’

I took it from him. ‘What is it?’
‘The day Joe stayed at our house …’
‘I don’t want to talk about it. Really, I don’t.’
‘Joe did some paintings,’ he pointed to the package, ‘I

thought you and Liam would like to have them.’
I placed the package on the hall table. ‘I can’t look. I can’t.’
‘When you’re ready, love.’
‘How are you? And Margaret?’
‘We’re all right. I want to talk to you.’
‘Come through.’ We sat down. ‘You should have told me.’
I did want to talk about it.
‘I know.’ He leant onto the table, wedged his elbows on

its edge. ‘There’s something I do need to tell you.’ I waited.

‘You wanted to know why Michael came that day, to see Margaret? Because he did go only to see Margaret. There’s something your mum and I have never shared with you. There was no point; it wasn’t relevant. But you should know. Margaret looked after Michael when he was very young. Full-time. Sam and Bridget were building their business, your mum had left her job as a teacher to have her own children … but she didn’t fall. So she looked after Michael.’

‘What?’ Was I that surprised?

‘Then you were born and she stopped. Caused a lot of aggravation between your mum and Bridget. Truth was, Bridget didn’t like having a kid, it suited her to palm Michael off onto Margaret, then Margaret having a baby – you – inconvenienced her.’

‘Margaret looked after Michael?’

‘As I said, often. He stayed over, it worked. I travelled a lot then with my job.’

‘Michael came over to our house when I was growing up. I used to tell you but you chose not to listen.’ I looked up at him. ‘Not often, but he came.’ I turned my eyes away towards the window. ‘Did you know he came, Dad, to visit?’

He shuffled in his chair. ‘Of course I knew he came occasionally. But there’s nothing alarming in that, is there?’

I shrugged.

‘Well … as I said, your mother did look after him, so I don’t think it’s that strange.’ He exhaled loudly. ‘Soon after she stopped taking care of him he got meningitis. It changed him, even after he recovered. He became odd. That’s what we all put it down to, the meningitis. Sam did as much as he could but Bridget wasn’t the best mum. Not unkind, just not cut out to be a mother. It was Sam who wanted a child, not Bridget. That was why they only had one.’

‘Margaret hasn’t been the best mum either.’

‘She’s tried. She wanted you, was desperate for a child.’ He placed a clammy hand on top of mine. ‘You two clashed from the minute you were born.’

I knew there was a part of that statement that was true. We clashed from the minute I could question her. ‘Why did she give up teaching?’ I remembered why I’d been so upset the day Joe disappeared, and it wasn’t just about Liam’s suspected affair, it was more about not being able to work. But the two were connected. I’d felt he could do whatever he liked, and I could not. ‘Maybe if she’d carried on with her job … she wouldn’t be the way she is.’

‘Maybe.’ He wriggled in his chair. ‘Michael has always had a sort of love/hate relationship with your mum. I think he missed her.’ He looked up at me. ‘He became aggressive towards her on the one hand but he wanted her, loved her, if you like, on the other. I kept out of it. The day he came, after you’d dropped Joe, I was called on to do something unexpectedly for work. I knew you wanted me around when you left Joe … I knew that, so I didn’t tell you I’d been out all day when you picked him up later that evening.’ Guilt passed over his features as it did mine, I was sure. ‘Michael had taken the coach down from Chester for the day, that’s what he told us.’

‘You should have told me when I picked Joe up. And you should have told Tom about this.’

‘There’s no point telling them anything now, Rachel. It’s over. Michael came to see Margaret, that’s all. Nothing sinister.’ He watched me. ‘As it wasn’t sinister if Michael came over occasionally when he was growing up. No matter what we know now, he was my nephew. Someone who’d spent the first part of his life with us. I’d always felt a bit sorry for him despite his history with the police, but now … the guilt eats at me every day.’

‘Dad, he spent the whole day with Joe.’

He seemed to tuck into himself and then stood, tears forming in his eyes. ‘Your mother was trying to be nice; she knew he had no relationship with Bridget, that Sam found his son difficult.’

‘Margaret trying to be nice?’ I rubbed my finger in a small well of water left on the table. ‘I find that hard to believe.’

Margaret wasn’t nice. That would never be a word I’d use to describe her, although I accepted that she portrayed that image to many people. She was active within the church, did a fair amount of voluntary work. People didn’t love her, but our small community held her in respect.

She was different outside the four walls of her home. I knew it, and my dad knew it too. I touched my scar and a memory floated to the surface.

I think it was the summer after the auspicious Boxing Day when I went on my first school trip. Two nights in the Peak District, camping. The highlight of the trip, apart from frying bacon every morning around a campfire, was visiting the Blue John Caverns. I’d missed my dad but loved being away from home and my mother. The school bus was due back into Birmingham and the car park of our school at 6 p.m. It was a Thursday, I think. The teacher had made a call from the service station to the lead parent (no one had mobiles then) saying we would be on time. We arrived back at 6.10 p.m. Margaret was picking me up. My dad was away with his job. My teacher and I were still waiting at 7.30 p.m. No Margaret, and no answer on our phone at home. We waited. Still no Margaret at 8.30 p.m. Everyone had gone, just the teacher and me left. Eventually, he took me home. Margaret answered the door in her dressing gown, a copy of Madame Bovary in her hand. I don’t remember what she said to my teacher, not a lot I’d guess. My teacher didn’t know what to say. I think he mumbled an apology for disturbing her – she had that

effect on people – and he left as quickly as he could. She didn’t say a word to me, only looked at the heap of my rucksack and the plastic bag that held wet and dirty clothes. I took everything up to my room trying desperately not to cry. I pulled out the Blue John brooch that I’d bought her from the gift shop and put it in my bin. I felt so stupid.

When finally I went back downstairs to the quietness of a house that always felt so empty without my dad around I realised my mother had gone to bed.

So I did so, too. Hungry, sad, and still cold.

Now I watched my dad making his way to the kitchen door and away from me, if he’d ever been with me. Without Joe, whatever we shared had come to a full stop. In that moment loneliness engulfed me completely.

‘This is all too much for me, love,’ he said. ‘We can’t change what happened.’

‘Why do you love her, Dad? How can you love her?’

‘She is who she is. I’ve always stood by her, through everything.’

‘She doesn’t love me; she didn’t love Joe. I don’t understand.’

He didn’t even try to contradict me. ‘Some people, people like your mother, are difficult to understand, but it doesn’t stop me from loving her. And she did love Joe, in her way.’ He stopped, looked defeated. ‘And I love you.’

‘Did she love Michael?’

He peered through the kitchen window. ‘I think she did.’

A sharp pain stabbed at my stomach. ‘I can’t see her again, any time soon.’

‘I understand. Look, I’ll come around again next week, to see you and Liam.’

I nodded, followed him through to the hall and watched him amble down the driveway. As I closed the front door, I noticed the package on the hall table and picked it up.

Walking towards the cupboard under the stairs, I opened the door and placed it at the back unopened.

I made my way to the kitchen and sat at the table. Loneliness was becoming a part of me but perhaps that was a good thing.

© J A Corrigan, Accent Press 2016. Extract published with kind permission of the author and publisher. Permission must be sought if you wish to reproduce or quote from this extract.

 

You can buy the book from all usual outlets. Here is the link to Amazon…

Falling Suns

Buy Me

Follow Julie-Ann on Twitter: @aspirinnovelist and @julieannwriter

Facebook:  LINK

Website: jacorrigan.com

This is a wonderful book and I urge you all to give it a whirl… expect to hear a lot from this author…

Thanks so much Julie- Ann and I look forward to being at more of your launches!

Also, folks, look out for this book on train stations and airports! It has been spotted!

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In The Spotlight: Guest Post Charlie Flowers

We have not had a guest for a while, so it gives me great pleasure to welcome to the spotlight an author who’s local to me and who I met online; he was recently interviewed by Tony Fisher on BBC Radio Essex about his latest novel and I think some of you might be interested in his work and his journey. Please welcome to the stage… Charlie Flowers.

spotlightoj-md

 

Charlie Flowers Author Pic

Charlie Flowers, Author of the Rizwan Sabir Thrillers

 

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story published.

Hi everyone! I’ve always *written*, as I used to be a frontman for two bands, and I wrote most of the lyrics. But I could never seem to write vast screeds of words. So imagine my surprise in April 2012 when I found myself writing the first Riz book. It poured out of me and I had it finished in about four months.

 

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

Nope, all done on my lonesome. The few agents I contacted weren’t interested, although one of the people who represents Lee Child told me that personally, she loved the first book but she couldn’t pitch it to publishers as it was “too real” in its depiction of modern British Asians. Apparently they all still want that Far Pavilions stuff…

 

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

I have a small “constant readers circle”, each of whom has a specific task — one for grammar, one for continuity, one for the French, one for the Urdu…

 

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book had been accepted?

 My Facebook group. Sign of the times!

 

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

The editor(s) are everything, as of course, they can see the things you can’t. Also, some of my readers know my two main characters very well, and will pull me up on things. Would he/she say that? And so on.

 

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

I write for an hour a night, normally around 11pm. Loud music helps. During the day, I’m often writing the first drafts out by hand, into notebooks.

 

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

My friends inspire me, as that is where I drew inspiration for the characters from. Author-wise, I’d say Fleming, Deighton, and most of all, Ralph Peters’ classic novel Red Army, which is basically a retelling of War and Peace but set in 1990!

 

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

 Because I hate it and I love it and I have to! I aim to make my books, and characters, live on in the reader.

 

How much marketing have you had to do? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

Very comfortable — nowadays you have to be. You’ve got to be willing to doorstep, sell yourself, and tweet those tweets.

 

Tell us about the latest published book…

My latest book is Murder Most Rural, a classic cosy crime novel set in East Anglia.

And you can get it at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Murder-Rural-Rizwan-Sabir-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00RQNVTJU/

Here’s the Facebook fan page for the series:

https://www.facebook.com/TheRizwanSabirMysteries?ref=bookmarks

Here’s the Twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/rizthrillers

 

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. 

Next up this year are FOUR new books, hopefully —  a historical SAS thriller called The Siege; two spinoffs from the Riz series, one of which is a cookbook and the other a Young Adult novella about the childhood of Riz’s wife; and finally, a sixth Riz thriller!

Where do I see myself in ten years’ time?

Writing Riz 25 I’d imagine!

 

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

 Self-publish to begin with, and never, ever, ever give in.

 

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it

I can ride a camel.

 

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

They’re actually loosely based on my friends, so…

 

 Finally: can we post an extract of your latest published book? 

 

Extract from Murder Most Rural…

My boss had once described my other half as “Essex Girl, from Mars”. He was mostly right, I’d give him that. Our families were from Mirpur in Pakistan. Our mothers had lived on the same village street back in the old country. And they’d married us off.

Holly ‘Bang-Bang’ Kirpachi was a short, birdlike girl, with raven hair and non-committal hazel eyes. Her arms were adorned with several tattoos, and there was a gaudy golden ring in her nose. Every now and then she’d pop some bubblegum or her face would light up with a cheeky grin. Very little phased Bang-Bang. She was always happily singing to herself. And with good reason.

Bang-Bang was twenty-one. She’d shot her first man when she was fourteen, and she’d probably killed more than forty people in her career as faction leader of the Blackeyes, and then section leader in our Army unit.

I say “probably” because in our line of work, you stopped counting after the first few. All in all, she was a better person to have on your side than against it.

Something else that should be known about Bang-Bang. When it came to things mechanical or electric she was a sorceress. Her hacking skills were at an insane level and had saved my, and the country’s, collective bacon on several occasions. She’d been the star of her school’s science department, and had a bursary lined up at BAe Systems, before she’d just jacked it all in and got into burlesque.

In short, stuff WORKED for her. The downside was that you couldn’t leave her near equipment without her tinkering with it.

Shredded paper fell like confetti. I looked down at her. ‘Continuous improvement, I see?’

‘Always! Got the briefing then?’

I nodded.

‘We going anywhere nice?’

‘Yep. Essex.’

She jumped in the air and clapped her hands. And then stopped. ‘Oh no. Not that place your cousins live.’

I looked at her. ‘Yes that place our cousins live. What’s the problem?’

She looked up at me. ‘You know. I go that far north of the A414, I get a nosebleed.’

I resigned myself to griping and banter. Darkest Essex, here we came.

 

© Charlie Flowers RIZ 5 MURDER MOST RURAL. Published with permission of the author and can not be reproduced without his permission.

 

Thankyou for having me Debz!

Charlie

You are most welcome Charlie and I wish you the very best with this, I saw it climbing the charts and from the radio interview folks you don’t have to read all the others to read this one… but you might as well?

Charlie Pics

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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

What a great name for a very clever novel. While the jury is still out about the merits of the book group I have joined, we will see what happens in December’s meeting, it did mean Mum and I read Jon McGregor’s novel and how refreshing it was.

It has the feel of a collection of short stories in some ways, although all part of the one story and not disjointed. The key narrator is omniscient (one of my usual dislikes for various reasons) but not when done well and this is done well. And redeemed because some of the chapters have a first-person narrator who holds all of the elements tightly together and means you can connect to someone; which for me is essential in any story.

In a nutshell the story is set in a particular street in a city, in Northern England, and everything relates to a single event that happened on the last day of summer. The story is based on very carefully crafted observations of the people in the street, named as the man at number 21, the girl at number 19 or whatever. But even without names we get a really vivid picture of the characters and their lives. We see the man dying on cancer who won’t tell his wife. We see the twins playing in the street, the students… and you really become immersed in a single day and its strange events that lead to this something bad that happened only you don’t know what it is yet. It’s a symphony of beautiful prose and clever devices. I love the man painting his house all day, on the day that something happened and he doesn’t quite finish the last part. What a wonderful way of measuring time as the novel keeps returning to the events of that day and we know from the outset that this thing stopped him finishing that last bit, so its progression is the ticking clock, brilliant. The only character whose life we see after the event is the first-person narrator who has a secret and teases the reader along with what did happen that day.

 

This is what it says on Amazon:

‘This novel owes as much to poetry as it does to prose. Its opening, an invocation of the life of the city, is strongly reminiscent of Auden’s Night Mail in its hypnotic portrait of industrialised society…An assured debut’ Erica Wagner, The Times.

On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence – street cricket, barbecues, painting windows…A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever. Jon McGregor’s first novel brilliantly evokes the histories and lives of the people in the street to build up an unforgettable human panorama. Breathtakingly original, humane and moving, IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS is an astonishing debut. ‘The work of a burning new talent …Jon MacGregor writes like a lyrical angel’ Daily Mail

I loved the way this is structured, for something experimental, and actually even in terms of the narrative it dares to break the rules, in its formatting, its lack of speech marks… and yet it works. I work with writers sometimes trying to be experimental and break the rules and I always say only break them if you one — really understand them, and two — it enhances the way the story is told, forcing the reader to change the way they read the words on the page. This is a good example that does just that.

Of course this is a literary novel and so it more about the characters than the plot that drives it and is a good example to illustrate the difference between the commercial and the literary. The title represents that small things in life and the novel looks at the every day and the mundane and yet significant to those people in the story.

It’s in the small observations we find ourselves.

Did someone say that, am I quoting someone or did I come up with that? I like it. It is the small things and if you get them right you paint a picture of life. I love the small details in my writing. And in fact, while my novels are more plot-driven, I do find myself looking for those tiny details to bring a character to life.

I see this more  in my short stories. It brings to mind the voyeur in The Theory of Circles story published in Unthank Books Unthology 3, one I was very proud of and it was nominated for the Pushcart. These are also observations of the comings and goings on the Crescent and is very much about the characters. See how you do this in your own writing.

Mum would not normally read this kind of book and she loved it. Unlike some novels that make it onto the Man Booker list, it is not word-heavy and the simplicity and yet beauty of the language made it feel as if every word counts. Mum’s only criticism which I kind of agree with in part, is by the end the device of using the observations on that single day was a little like watching something in slow motion. You were drawn into it and you wanted to know what happened, but Mum said she was thinking just tell us now. So perhaps it could have got to that sooner. I see what she means and it’s a valid point, but I felt that less so. I was drawn into the wanting to know and it carried me to the end, although the ending is oddly understated and yet brilliant and Mum did love that.

I urge any writer to look at this book for its differences and to see how to craft nameless characters in a wonderfully vivid way. Any book that makes me stop and say I wish I wrote that line is my kind of book. And there are many bent over pages in this book where I thought, oh what a line! Write it, save it, store it, aspire to write like that.

I will leave you to find out those for yourself.

I will be reading this book again.

I give this 5 stars.

If Nobody speaks...

 

BUY ME

Book clubs make you read other things and so I will be reviewing some of the books here or if I don’t persist with this particular book club (since we didn’t even discuss the book!) I will be doing my own book club with the writing group, suggesting titles and will put them here as well for anyone who wants to read along at the same time.

Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone! The chill means I am beginning to think of Christmas. I love it, but never until December, then I allow myself to succumb to it. Next week…

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WHSmith Southend

Saturday in Southend was a success although not as busy as I’d hoped, however we managed to sell a respectable number of books. I just wish there had been a sign downstairs to say I was actually there and what the significance of the date was, but never mind. I worked hard and was happy. No we didn’t sell them all, but it was fun talking to people.

So HUGE thanks for the Ian the manager for having me in store. Shane from Westlife had been there the day before! Walking in famous footsteps!

I am hoping to get into some more branches before Christmas so will keep you posted. When no one knows who you are you do have to work the room, so new writers, take heed. Unless you’re famous they do not queue for you! But one day…

Dream Big!

I was also delighted to see that close to 900 people entered the Goodreads giveaway and now have my copies ready to post off to the lucky winners, mostly in the US!

So a good weekend and now looking forward to another exciting week!

So I will leave you with some pics of Saturday and wish you all an amazing Monday!

Debz Signing Southend 3

 

 

 

 

 

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The Day the World Stopped #JFK51

Tomorrow marks the 51st anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas when John F Kennedy was assassinated. Today, the Friday, is the actual day of the week, 12.30pm.

 

kennedy for president buttonjpg

From website: LINK

With the Zapruder tapes, it remains one of, if not THE, most watched and most studied murders captured on film. The very public nature of it and the conjecture that came from it, puts it up there as one of the most iconic moments in history and it sits in the top ten list of conspiracy theories; being labelled THE quintessential conspiracy theory.

Why it captured my imagination the way it did and hence became integral to my novel, I don’t know. It hit me one day what other news stories are overshadowed when something as big as this impacts on our lives. That concept inspired our On This Day short story collection at Bridge House and some later works of mine. And of course is the premise of While No One Was Watching; Eleanor Boone goes missing from the grassy knoll at that exact moment.

I know I have talked about it here before, about the role of fact in fiction, but it continues to fascinate me and I am itching to recapture that sense of time and place, as I did for Lydia and the American civil rights movement when I revisit Colourblind. This was one of my training novels and one I really want to dive back into. I know it has something.

It’s a year on since we marked the 50th anniversary with my big launch event on Canvey, a day I remember so well and so fondly, having already celebrated its release and started to get some great reaction to it with my lovely friends in North Wales as well. And it marked the start of Lydia coming into her own when I started to give readings in her voice.

And a year on, some 60 reviews later (virtually all 5 star or 4 star) and reasonable  sales (not anywhere near the figures reached with the big presses but respectable never the less) I am still plugging away. And I still hold the dream alive that one day While No One Was Watching makes it onto the BIG screen. Keep dreaming they say and I always will. Come on!

I will mark tomorrow in WHSmith in Southend-on-Sea signing books with my stars and stripes bunting and tablecloth and I might even have some candy to share! Please come and see me if you live local and consider a signed novel (£8.99 so less than a tenner!) for a Christmas present! My mission is to outdo my afternoon in Liverpool and again SELL all my books but we have more! Come on Southend –prove you can do it! Help the local lass!

And of course if you can’t make it, I have signed copies for £12 on my website if you are in the UK! It would cost more if shipping elsewhere! http://www.debzhobbs-wyatt.co.uk/Pages/BuySignedCopies.aspx

The book is on Amazon too as you know! So please add it to your lists. And what a pertinent weekend to buy it, right?

Amazon.co.uk: LINK

Amazon.com: LINK

My Goodreads Giveaway finishes Sunday so if you haven’t had a go yet — please do! LINK

I was also in the local paper yesterday so as soon as I have a copy I will also post that here!

Have a lovely weekend.

I will leave you with my book trailer again for those who haven’t seen it, or want to see it again and my poster.

 

Have a peaceful one.

Signing again!

Signing again!

RIP JFK

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It’s not a race…

A lot of the time writing is like remoulding. It’s like taking the slab of putty you shaped and carving out the intricate details — sometimes you then smooth it over and start again. It’s a process and being a perfectionist is a great attribute for a writer. Slowly you breathe life into the shape, working it over and over in your hands until you create this beautiful thing and then decide tomorrow it’s ugly and you rework it again. Layer by layer, word by word until you get it right. And then if this masterpiece is accepted, along will come notes that say: don’t do it like that, do it like this — and so it starts again.

I tell clients over and over that it is a long process but a wonderful one — editing is the process. If you don’t like it, don’t write, it’s that simple. But making something from nothing has always fascinated and thrilled me. If you want to make anything the best it can be you have to learn your craft and keep on learning it from those around you. It’s not a race to get the next book out. If you make it about money and persona, I doubt you’ll find happiness. If you make it about process and enjoy it, you will always be happy no matter the outcome.

And there is also that lovely phase when ideas seem to fall from the sky. You stand with your head back and your arms outstretched and you let the ideas fall; one by one. Some ideas hit hard and won’t let go — like my little dog when she grabs her cuddly toy and shakes the life out of it. And then loves it back to life. Some ideas seep in slowly from the outside like mizzle. But look for them because they are ubiquitous. Seek and ye shall find.

Have a great week everyone. Last writer’s brunch tomorrow as this time next week, last morning in Wales before phase one of house move with animals.

Life is full of endless possibility. Never stop dreaming. Always believe.

MAD_BAD_BANNER

Book me at my first South East gig!

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In The Spotlight Guest Post R J Ellory [Spotlight On Crime Series]

I have a very special guest in the spotlight this morning — a very special guest. R J Ellory is the author of many books, perhaps shot into the public eye when A Quiet Belief In Angels made the Richard and Judy list. I love his writing style, writing sometimes on the darker side — crime/psychological thrillers — just my bag. Well worth looking at his extensive list — not that he needs me to sing his praises, the books speak for themselves.

I met Roger (in the virtual sense) through a writing friend and we have stayed in contact. He signed his novel Bad Signs to me and I loved it. So I asked, even though I know he is SO busy, if he would share some of his journey with fellow writers (and readers.) As Roger will tell you himself, it has been a long journey and he is testament to the fight, if you want it enough and you’re prepared to work at it, you can get there. So without further ado I would like to welcome to the spotlight, author R J Ellory (pause for RAUCOUS applause) …

 

Spotlight

 

Welcome R J Ellory

 

RJ Ellory Image

“I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop…”

 

Introduce yourself: Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book published.

 

Okay…well, my name is RJ (Roger Jon) Ellory, and I was first published here in the UK in 2003.  That was the end of a fifteen year-long ‘battle’ to find a publisher.  The first published book was the twenty-third I wrote, and the gap between when I first put pen to paper and first secured a publishing contract was fifteen years, taking into account that I wrote nothing for eight of those years due to accumulated ‘disappointments’ and mental exhaustion!  Of course, my own experiences are unique, and I am sure that there are great many more published authors out there who secured publication with their first or second novel, but this was just my journey and this was what it took for me.

 

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

 

I tried to work through an agent, and secured the services of three or four, but nothing came of it.  I think they just didn’t have the persistence that I had, and they each gave up after two or three attempts to find me a publisher.  I ultimately secured a contract with a publisher (Orion UK) directly, and my editor advised me to get an agent, recommended three or four, and even then – knowing that I already had a publishing contract with one of the most prestigious publishing companies in the UK – only one agent contacted me and met with me.  That agent is still my agent twelve books later.

 

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group?

 

No, I never belonged to a writing group.  I never had anyone read my work before I sent it off.  My wife used to read my work, and she was never anything but convinced that I would one day be published.

 

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book/story had been accepted?

 

My wife, of course.  She said, ‘About bloody time!’

 

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

 

Working with a good editor is the same as learning any new subject.  I have studied music, graphic design, photography, all sorts of things, and working with an editor starts with the same premise.  There is a great deal of difference between writing a novel and writing a novel for public consumption.  Your editor, usually, is the first person to read your novel as an ‘audience’.  He will see holes that you didn’t see.  He will see plot weaknesses that remain unknown to you, even when you have dragged your way through two rewrites.  There is an old expression: A wise man is a man who knows he knows nothing.  I approach my working relationship with my editor on this footing, that he does know better, that he can teach me a great deal from his own experience, that he is working towards making the book as good as it can be, and I am very fortunate to have one of the finest editors working in the UK book industry.  There is no book I have written that is not better as a result of his working on it.  He advises, we discuss, I then amend, rewrite and/or edit as applicable.  After working on twelve books together, we have a system that could not be better.  Not that I have any criticism of self-publishing, but that basic and fundamental relationship between writer and editor is missing, and I do not see how a book could be as good as it could be without that external and objective critique and input, especially from someone who is vastly experienced and knows exactly what they are doing.

 

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

For years I wrote longhand, almost three million words, but now I use a computer.  Sometimes when I’m away from home I’ll write longhand, and then transcribe when I return.  I tend to write a whole book, furiously ploughing through it, and then I go back through from start to finish and handle all the snags, anomalies, mistakes, cut back on the over-writing as best I can.  It’s kind of organic in a way, like it’s something that takes on certain character aspects of its own.  It’s like living with a bunch of people for a few weeks, and you watch them grow, watch them take control of certain elements of the story, and then when you’re done it’s like losing something.  Capote once said that finishing a story was like taking a child out into the yard and shooting them.  Perhaps a little melodramatic, but I know what he means!  When a book is finished it kind of leaves a hole in you, and then you have to start another one right away!  I am disciplined.  I start early in the day.  I try and produce three or four thousand words a day, and work on the basis of getting a first draft done in about twelve weeks.  Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes shorter.  For me a book always begins with the emotion I want to evoke in the reader.  That’s the most important thing for me.  How does a book make you feel, and does that memory stay with you?  So that’s my first consideration: the emotional effect I am trying to create.  The second thing is the location.  Location is vital for me as the location informs and influences the language, the dialect, the characters – everything.  I choose to start a book in Louisiana or New York or Washington simply because that ‘canvas’ is the best for to paint the particular picture I want to paint.  I buy a new notebook, a good quality one, because I know I’m going to be carrying it around for two or three months, and in the notebook I will write down ideas I have as I go.  Little bits of dialogue, things like that.  Sometimes I have a title, sometimes not.  I used to feel very strongly about having a good title before I started, but now – because at least half the books I’ve published have ended up with a different title – I am not so obsessive about it!  And as far as little idiosyncratic routines and superstitions are concerned, I don’t know that I actually have any that relate to starting a book.  I do have a routine when I finish a book.  I make a really good Manhattan, and then I take my family out to dinner!

 

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

 

Other writers inspire me.  I spend my time finding books by writers that make me feel like a clumsy and awkward writer.  I love film, too.  Music, of course.  Artists in all areas inspire me, especially those who have had to really work hard at creating recognition for something special or unusual.  I am inspired by the achievements of people in all fields, to be honest.  The basic truth that kept me going for yeas despite many hundreds of rejection letters was a quote from Benjamin Disraeli: Success is entirely dependent upon constancy of purpose.  I also love the following words from Eleanor Roosevelt: It is never too late to become what you might have been.

 

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

 

I was always creatively minded, right from an early age.  My primary interests were in the field of art, photography, music, such things as this.  Not until I was twenty-two did I consider the possibility of writing.  I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about a book he was reading, and he was so enthusiastic!  I thought ‘It would be great to create that kind of an effect’.  That evening – back in November of 1987 – I started writing my first book, and over the next six years I wrote a total of twenty-three novels.  Once I started I couldn’t stop, and now I think it just took me those first twenty-two years of my life to really discover what I wanted to do.  Now it seems like such a natural part of me and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  As for what I am trying to achieve as a writer, for me the most important thing about any novel is the emotion it evokes.  The reason for writing about the subjects I do is simply that such subjects give me the greatest opportunity to write about real people and how they deal with real situations.  There is nothing in life more interesting than people, and one of the most interesting aspects of people is their ability to overcome difficulty and survive.  I think I write ‘human dramas’, and in those dramas I feel I have sufficient canvas to paint the whole spectrum of human emotions, and this is what captures my attention.  I once heard that non-fiction possesses, as its primary purpose, the conveying of information, whereas fiction possessed the primary purpose of evoking an emotion in the reader.  I love writers that make me feel something – an emotion, whatever it might be – but I want to feel something as I read the book.  There are millions of great books out there, all of them written very well, but they are mechanical in their plotting and style.  Three weeks after reading them you might not recall anything about them.  The books that really get me are the ones I remember months later.  I might not recall the names of the characters or the intricacies of the plot, but I remember how it made me feel.  For me, that’s all important.  The emotional connection.  Those are the books I love to read, and those are the books I am trying to write.

 

How much marketing have you had to do, even with a big publisher? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

 

I did over one hundred and fifty library events in the first year of being published, all of them without charge.  I set up Facebook pages, Twitter pages, a website, whatever else I felt would help get my name out there.  I went to festivals, book-signings, seminars, and did anything and everything I was asked to do.  I think publishing has changed so very dramatically over the last twenty years, and the nature of how books are read (or not, as the case may be), has meant that we have had to adapt quite markedly.  It is an audio-visual age, and reading as a leisure activity seems to have declined so very much over the last decade or so.  While everyone is running around scratching their heads and trying to figure out why book sales have deteriorated so much in the UK, we seem to be ignoring the fundamental fact that literacy levels have collapsed, educational standards are at a record low, and reading for pleasure is rapidly disappearing.  It has been suggested that e-books and other digital formats have contributed to this decline, but that makes no sense as the shortfall in book sales is not being compensated for by downloads.  Also, changing the way in which books are being read does not make a non-reader into a reader.  Readers are readers, and they will read regardless of the format.  If the combined might, influence and financial power of the key publishing companies in this country devoted their energies and resources to a huge literacy and reading campaign, then they would secure their own future, both organizationally and financially.  However, it may be too late to reverse the dwindling spiral.  I hope not, for losing the book as a mainstay of entertainment, pleasure and education would be a huge tragedy.  Even though it may not sound so, I am an optimist at heart and I hope we can revive the book in the country.  We still publish more books per capita than any country in the world, and I think we carry a responsibility to maintain what we have created with our language.

 

Tell us about the latest published work …

 

The latest book (released on May 22 this year) is called Carnival of Shadows.  The blurb is as follows:

 

Kansas, 1959. A travelling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man’s body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michal Travis is sent to investigate. Led by the elusive Edgar Doyle, the carnival folk range from the enigmatic to the bizarre, but none of them will give Travis a straight answer to his questions. With each new turn of the investigation, Doyle and his companions challenge Travis’s once unshakeable faith in solid facts and hard evidence. As the consequences of what has happened become ever more disturbing, Travis struggles to open his mind to a truth that defies comprehension. Will he be able to convince himself that things are not what they seem? Or will he finally reconcile himself to a new reality – one that threatens to undermine everything in which he has ever placed his trust? In his powerful, atmospheric new thriller, bestselling author R.J. Ellory introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Carnival Diablo and reveals the dark secrets that lurk at its heart.

 

 

On facebook I can be found under both Roger Jon Ellory and R J Ellory

On twitter, it’s just @rjellory

My website is www.rjellory.com

 

The book can be obtained anywhere on-line and in bookstores.

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

 

The work I progress is a slow-burn mystery set in West Texas in the early 1970s, but there are two stories that run parallel.  The backstory, for want of a better term, is in the same town but twenty or thirty years earlier.  Very little violence, very little bad language, and the crimes perpetrated are deception, falsity, greed and jealousy.  Currently there is no title, but I am close to competing the book and we shall see what transpires!  As for where I will be in ten years’ time, I am sure that there will be another ten novels published, but I am also branching out into music, and I don’t doubt that I will have a good few albums and a few national and international tours under my belt.  That’s what I hope, for music is something I very much want to pursue as vigorously as writing.

 

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

 

Very simply the tenet from Disraeli above, and also something else that I feel is very valid, in that the worst book you could write is the one you think others might enjoy, whereas the best book you could write is the one that you feel you yourself would enjoy.  There is no formula for a good book.  You cannot predict what will be successful.  If you try to jump on a bandwagon and catch the current genres of interest, you will inevitably finish your book right about the time that the interest has waned and the public are following another thread.  True commercial success has come about as a result of writers creating their own genres and sub-genres, but writing for commercial reasons is always the very worst reason to write.  I think it was Hemingway that said, ‘Compared to writing novels, horse-racing and poker are good solid business ventures’.

 

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it

 

I am a guitarist and vocalist in a band called Zero Navigator.  We have just completed our first album, produced by Martin Smith of ELO, and featuring percussion by Hossam Ramzy, he of Page & Plant, Peter Gabriel, Shakira fame.  We are currently filming a video for the first single, and will be on tour soon.  I think this is a good example of Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, ‘It’s never too late to become what you might have been’!  Our website is at http://www.zeronavigator.com

 

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

 

I think that’s a really tough question!  There are characters who I see I would like to know, those I’d like to find out more about, those I feel sympathetic or paternal towards, those I feel could teach me a few useful lessons about life.  Actually, I think it would be interesting to raise the issue of autobiographical writing here.  How much of an author’s work is autobiographical?  I think we absorb so much from life – some of it good, some of it bad.  We take in events and circumstances, we deal with them (or not), we recover, we carry on, we try our best with everything we do.  Sometimes we get it right, other times we get it wrong.  That is life, and that is living.  As with any field of the arts – whether it be painting, sculpture, choreography, musical composition – the creator must draw on personal experience and personal perception in everything he or she creates.  I think that what we paint and what we write and what we sing are merely extensions of ourselves, and that extension grows from personal experience.  I think there are very few writers who write their own lives into novels, but I think there are a great deal who write their perceptions and conclusions and feelings about their own lives and the lives of others into the characters they create.  From that standpoint, every character I have ever created must have some small aspect of me within them…and that, in itself, could be quite a scary proposition!

 

Thank you so much Roger for being so honest and generous in your answers. You truly are testament to the journey and that if you have the talent and the belief you can make it. I am thrilled to have you in the spotlight on my blog and I am sure your story will inspire the readers of this blog. Thank you so much.

Have a great day everyone!

 

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In The Spotlight: Guest Blog by Sharon Zink

I met Sharon when we our short stories were published in Unthology 3 by Unthank Books and I was at the launch in Norwich. We since made Facebook a place to hang out and I very much look forward to a weekend in Brighton this weekend where she launches her debut novel — also published by Unthank Books. She is a literary writer and like me tends to write very American novels (so there is a kindred spirit there) — so I will be reporting on her launch, but I wanted to introduce you to her first by inviting her to the spotlight now her book is released!

So without further ado, please give a warm welcome to Sharon Zink … (pause of raucous applause!)

In the Spotlight …

spotlightoj-md                                                                                              …    Sharon Zink

 

Author Sharon Zink

Author Sharon Zink

Have you always wanted to be a published writer? Tell us something about your path to having your first book/story/poem published or your most recent success.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about five, scribbling stories and even an autobiography (weird kid that I was!) on the top step of the stairs. I was lucky to know what my calling was from an early age and even luckier that I had mentors who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I dedicated my first novel, Welcome to Sharonville, partly to Bryan Ricketts, a brilliant English teacher who helped a messed up teenager become Young Poet of the Year and get my first collection, Rain in the Upper Floor Café, published when I was seventeen.

The transition from being a baby poet to a grown up one was hard though and so, once I went to university, I got caught in the grip of becoming an academic and creative writing was set aside for pretty much a decade. Bryan and I continued to correspond and he was proud of my studies, but he said to be once in a letter, “You should write” – meaning, real stuff, poems, stories. He sadly died before I started writing fiction – something I never imagined I’d ever do – but I hope he is happy now the novel is being published. I’m pretty sure he has been meddling from on high to make it happen!

My fiction writing journey is one of paradoxes really – of early successes and great luck (as with the poetry), followed by years of work and waiting. I was incredibly fortunate that the first ever story I wrote, “Lobsters” – which you can read on my website – won me the Writers Inc. Writer of the Year title and was published in their winners’ anthology. My novel, Welcome to Sharonville sprang from that story and there was a flurry of excitement as I nearly got taken on by an agent when the manuscript was only 100 pages long. But then – as is the way with my life (and probably every one else’s!) – lots of things happened which dented my confidence. Things unrelated to writing – such as multiple bereavements and falling ill with M.E. – and other more literary struggles, such as my uncertainty about dealing with the book’s opening chapter and rejections from agents, which finally led to me putting the book into a virtual drawer for a few years.

I completed my second novel (which is currently ‘resting’ and may stay that way!), but when I met Jacqui Lofthouse, the novelist and writing coach, she forced me to let her look at Sharonville (as it was titled then). I remember my relief and absolute joy when she rang me and said, “It’s brilliant! This is one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in years!”  She instantly breathed life back into a project I’d felt was permanently dead. After that, she began submitting to agents for me as a scout and I gathered courage and approached a few myself and had various near misses, plus the book was even shortlisted in the 2011 Mslexia Novel Competition out of 4000 entries. It was hard to face the rejections, but I told myself that I was getting mostly personal responses (which is unusual in the agent’s world of standard letters) and that near misses meant I was getting nearer  – but then I tried Unthank Books – the first independent publisher I’d approached – and they took the novel!

I felt like it was the perfect home for the book because of its reputation for literary fiction, but also because one of its founders, Ashley Stokes, had critiqued the first draft of the novel years before and had been so enthusiastic and positive about me completing it. I’m a writer and love symmetry, so this circling from the beginning to the end of this novel’s journey really tickles me.

Did that journey involve an agent? If not did you try to get one? Any advice about that?

As Unthank Books is a small press, I didn’t need an agent to get my novel published and this seems to be the way many first time authors get their break. Independent houses are often more willing to take risks on newcomers and those whose work doesn’t fit well with the standard genres. Because of this, I think the independent houses perform a really valid role in terms of allowing innovative writing to find readers who are still hungry for something different and often challenging. The success of many writers from small publishers in recent awards, such as the Baileys, attests to the quality of the books they are producing.

I managed to find a publisher before an agent and it does often seem like it is as hard, if not more so, to find an agent than a book deal due to the increasingly cautious nature of the publishing industry and the sheer number of writers trying to get a book out. Although I would really like a great agent and a conventional publishing deal as it’s the dream of most authors, I also write primarily to be read, so if it is a case of having an agent, but my book never seeing publication (as has been the case with several of my writer friends’ work), I would rather go to the small houses and keep getting my novels out there in people’s hands.

As a literary consultant, as well as a novelist, I would say if you are serious about getting an agent or publishing through one of the small houses, you really need to make sure your work is tip top – I’d strongly recommend hiring an editor to look at your book and the submission package. Agents and publishers are very busy people, so you only get one shot at success – don’t give them reasons to reject you due to rooky errors.

Do or did you ever belong to a writing group? Crit group? Did you ever have someone professionally critique your work before first submitting? Or do you have friends or anyone else who sees it before you send it off? Has that changed since you became a ‘successful author’?

I am a bit of a lone wolf and so haven’t really even been part of an ongoing writing group – I have attended some wonderful courses over the years though which changed my perspective, such as one at City Lit in London which made me realise that, though I was 55,000 words into my first novel, I didn’t have a plot! (Even after doing an English Literature Ph.D.!)

Generally though, I like to beaver away in privacy and then show my work to people I trust, such as well-read friends and literary consultants. Jacqui Lofthouse has been invaluable to me as she offers much-needed ego strokes for the stuff which is good, but she also challenges me when my work could be improved.

I was lucky enough to have two Arts Council Free Reads for Welcome to Sharonville and one for my second novel and would really recommend people look into that scheme as critiques can be very expensive and this scheme allows authors to access editorial advice for free or at cut price. I honestly think no one should attempt publishing – whether self-publishing or through traditional channels – without a good structural and copy edit.

Who did you first tell when you heard your first book/story had been accepted?

I can’t remember who I told about my poetry collection as that was a while back, but I screamed so loud when I got the email saying Unthank were taking my book that my cat, Muse, ran away, looking horrified!!And then I texted all my lovely friends who kept me going through the years I was waiting for this to happen and danced to “The Eye of the Tiger” (complete with hand moves). Yeah, I know.

What happened next? Can you tell us something about working with an editor? How important is that to you now – is there a lot of discussion and does the editor make a real difference to your work?

The main reason I didn’t want to self-publish is because I wanted to work with an editor and learn from that process. Even though I am an editor myself, with my own writing, I can’t see the wood from the trees, so it was good to have Robin Jones at Unthank go through the book and pick up the points where the writing could be polished. I was lucky that the novel had been critiqued by multiple people before it reached the publication stage, so a lot of the roughest edges had already been sanded down, but Robin really got the vision I had for the book and was able to put it in words in a way I never could and I gained so much from that. It wasn’t until he described my novel as being “nuanced psychological fiction” that I realised how much of my writing is about the workings of the human heart – that is a hugely important insight to be given after over a decade of writing!

Tell us something about your writing day, routine.

I wish I had a routine, but generally, life and my health issues mean I seem to work more as a “binge” writer these days. I tend to write loads at one sitting or in a few days and then pause for a while. I’d like to get back into a more regular writing pattern though as I think it helps keep your style even and generate more ideas as your mind is constantly focussed on one project. I find afternoons the best time for me as I’m more awake. I am very fortunate and have a seaview from the desk in my new flat, so I’m looking forward to settling down there and getting books three and four finished after the summer’s promotional events are over. They’re exciting though, so I can’t complain!

What or who inspires you most? Any particular people, authors, books?

It’s hard to single out one book really, but I am mainly inspired by American literary fiction – I would love to be mentored by Richard Ford as he’s a genius and was totally lovely to me when we met not long after I’d finished the first draft of my first book. I also adore Paul Auster, Lorrie Moore, Raymond Carver, Annie Proulx – I could go on all day!

I also find myself really inspired by music, TV and movies. I find scenes coming to me from song lines – Aimee Mann’s “It’s Not” inspired the ending of the first chapter in my novel, for instance, but David Lynch also deeply affected the book as I worshipped Twin Peaks and just adore his quirky take on the world in general. I often use art as prompts in my creative writing workshops, so sometimes I will look at paintings or photographs and see characters or scenes appearing in them. Images can be helpful to me in terms of generating the atmosphere of a setting and are one of the most fun parts of research.

I think all the art forms can enrich each other though, even if only in terms of allowing us a sense of belonging. I remember being amazed when I heard Talking Heads and seeing David Byrne as I suddenly knew I was part of this bigger creative family, that I wasn’t the only weirdo in the world!

I’ve always been fascinated by Marilyn Monroe for her beautiful vulnerability too – an aspect most artists need, but which makes life harder too – and Madonna for her absolute determination. She’s been very important to me in terms of the way she conveys the sense that anything is possible if you work at it – something you have to believe if you are going to work in the arts, where rejection and self-doubt are rife.

Why do you write? (Now that’s the question!) What do you want your stories to do?

Because I love words and the worlds created by them and I can’t imagine not doing it now. I could give up most things except writing.

I also write because I want to touch people with my work in the way that others’ books have touched me. Literature – especially poetry – has had a profound effect on the way I view life and helps me cope with its darker aspects, as well as bringing humour and enjoyment. If my novel could do that for one person, all the work will have been worthwhile.

How much marketing have you had to do? How comfortable are you with self-promotion?

Unthank Books provided me with a marketing assistant to help me with the legwork thankfully, but all writers – even my friends who write bestsellers – are expected to do the lion’s share of the promotional work. I’ve been very active in terms of working on the creation of websites, my new blog, The Book Diner, where I interview authors, arranging the making of the book trailer and organising the Brighton book launch and so on. I don’t think any of us is really that comfortable – at least at first – about pushing our books on social media and in other ways, but people are usually very generous when you have a big project coming out and tend to bear with you! I’ve had tremendous support from friends and others in the writing community and that makes this busy time easier.  It’s a steep learning curve as, like most writers, I don’t come from a marketing background, but I’m actually enjoying finding out more about it all and I know that, through this process, I will hopefully be much better prepared when my second novel comes out.

Tell us about the latest published work …

My debut novel, Welcome to Sharonville,  was published on June 15th —  it basically explores what happens when a young History professor, Toni Sorrentino, crashes her pickup in the Arizona desert a few days after 9/11 and the big secrets which come out in her small desert home town of Sharonville as a result.

What next? Tell us about work in progress and aspirations. Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

I’m currently writing my next two novels – Empiness, a literary thriller about female astronauts I was lucky enough to research at NASA, and Low Tide, a bit of seaside-set literary noir, involving mental illness, destructive relationships and a murder on a beach.

I have no idea where I will be in ten years’ time, but I would hope I’d have published a few more novels by then and found a lot of lovely readers. I hope I’m travelling the world, having adventures, surrounded by love and being happy.  I’d love to win the Bailey’s Prize as it’s a prize I really respect, but we’ll see!

Any advice for writers who are trying to get their work published?

Don’t listen to the odds, don’t listen to the naysayers, don’t send out novels to the industry before they’ve really gone through the editorial mill. Find literary consultants or literary friends who are prepared to challenge your work as well as praise. Enter competitions to help get your work noticed. Seek out a mentor who is ahead on the path and can shout back advice about the hurdles of the writing life. Treasure role models who make you feel hopeful – they can be rock stars or movie actors, but just find figures who inspire you with what is possible as a creative person. Tell yourself good things are going to happen for you artistically. Tell yourself good things are going to happen for you all over as everything is connected to your writing. Envision your victories ahead of time. See yourself succeeding in your mind – it works! Get back up after every rejection or bitchy review – expect them to come and develop a non-stick coating! Don’t let the winds of praise and blame, which the Buddha discussed, define you too much – don’t depend on external success. It’s hard not to look for validation and books are meant to be read, but the writing is the main thing always – love that process and everything else won’t get to you so much. And read, read, read – without knowing how others have pulled it off, you will find it hard to learn your craft yourself. Some people light a candle or pray before writing – rituals are helpful. Do anything to make yourself feel as safe as possible as then you’ll take more creative risks.

Tell us something random about you for the pure hell of it …

My family see ghosts – they’re like something out of a Marquez magic realist novel. My gran used to tell me how she’d told my long-gone grandfather about my school reports as if it was completely normal. That’s why one of the characters in Welcome to Sharonville, the Chinese American lingerie maker, Happiness Chong, is a ghost-seer – I had to do something with that craziness! I feel blessed to have grown up in such an interesting family – a writer needs that. My grandmother was an incredible storyteller and a lot of her tales are in the book. I just hope she is proud of me.

Which of your characters would you most like to be friends with and why?

I adore Uncle Franco, the central character in Welcome to Sharonville, as he’s basically a non-violent Tony Soprano – a huge Italian teddy bear of a man with self-esteem issues, an eating problem and enough guilt, as Tori Amos would say, to start his own religion. I love his compassion, warmth and loyalty to those he loves – loyalty is something I value highly in the people I care about and I know Franco would offer that, even if he’s prone to anger and impulsive actions. (I know it’s bad, but whaddyagonnado?)

Can we have a taster of your novel?

Of course!

Opening of Welcome to Sharonville …

Toni tapped her pickup’s cherry Kool-Aid-colored hood twice in greeting: her hand flew back, bitten by a coyote heat. Three months in New York had made her forget the egg-frying-on-the-sidewalk mood of late summer Las Vegas. She sucked on her stinging fingers and yanked the Redsmobile’s door wide with her still good limb, the enclosed heat smacking into her face like an opened umbrella. Clambering across the seat, she wound down the passenger window and set her backpack on the floor, before standing with the door ajar for a few moments, letting the truck breathe, letting herself breathe, though the difference between inside and outside was between Venus and the Sun.

She hadn’t driven for a long while, but, once seated, the pickup’s large white wheel, with its soft, rubbery indentations, felt friendly in her hands. She’d had the Redsmobile – her nickname for her 50’s Chevy truck – since she was a teenager, so there was something of comfort in gazing out over its humped dash, the ways its simple black and chrome dials eyed her as if remembering all their times together.

The engine churned  at the first turn of the key, the radio hurricaning to life–Toni punched it off. All the talk of what happened that Tuesday in Manhattan was too much and already too late, even if it was only three days ago. Those voices–grieving, bribing, selling their interpretations–reached her and yet they didn’t.

She was running home from the smashed Twin Towers, the broken city, from terrorism as never seen before, but it still seemed like she was moving under water, the blue surface jellying above as her own life’s uncertainties, like stones sewn into her clothes, dragged her down to a place where the world and its events–however bold and tragic–hardly mattered. After all, here she was, heading back to Sharonville, no nearer to finding the truth about her father or about who she really was than before she left. Some History professor she’d turned out to be.

 For all she knew, she could be the daughter of a Mafia mobster. Perhaps Uncle Franco was being honest when he claimed he’d lied to protect her, that he’d only sent her on that wild goose chase through New York’s hospitals and libraries to keep her safe.

She didn’t know who was dumber anymore–him for setting her up like that or herself for going along with it. But false names and false hope were possibly better than no hope at all.

 Toni squinted into the rear view mirror as she prepared to move off–her loose black molasses hair, usually so smooth, looped out at odd, static-stung angles following her flight from the East Coast—hours of turning and twisting in her seat to see whether hell was coming. Sleep had been out of the question, even though her eyes–usually such a dazzling amethyst-blue–were dull with exhaustion when she’d looked in her pocket mirror on the plane, a sadness which even kohl couldn’t cover.

God, she was so tired of wondering where her face came from. It was a beautiful face–even she could acknowledge that, at times–but it didn’t seem to matter when, over and over, she found herself returning to the same absence, the same lack of resemblance, the same failure of recognition. She was thirty-three and still didn’t know who she was.

Her best friend, Mila, was so similar to her mother–though you couldn’t tell her that. Mila and her mom, Aunt Happiness, were like Russian dolls, except they were Chinese American and the daughter was very much taller than the mother–the dolls going from small to large in this case. Still, in a way, she’d never really felt motherless–Betta had always been dead to her and her grief at that just walked quietly alongside her, only ever raising its voice when she witnessed generations of women shopping and laughing together in Vegas, or warm, apple-cream arms encompassing her students on the day of commencement. Uncle Franco loved her enough to assuage most moments of loss though–she even felt sometimes he loved her too much. Like his moving to Vegas when she went to college there, just to give her a home. It was generous, yes, but it also felt like she was running beneath his zeppelin-huge shadow.

And yet it wasn’t enough–even while she had this strong male figure in her life, with all his sheltering ways, she couldn’t silence the yearning to find her father. Perhaps the pull of biology was too powerful, the mystery of his name too irresistible for her inquisitive mind. Something kept tapping at her soul, gentle, but sharp, like a kitten’s playful paw. She wondered if he was alive, if he knew of her existence, if he would want to meet her and she was both terrified and electrified by the prospect , by the thought of this enigmatic man’s rejection or embracing. She needed to know the truth–and not just for herself, but for any children she might have some day.

But maybe she wouldn’t want reality when it finally came–maybe she couldn’t take it. After all, Uncle Franco swore he was ready to tell her the full story now, if only she would just go talk with him. Except now she couldn’t believe a word he said.

Toni pulled off, nodding to the security guard as the Redsmobile finally left the university parking lot after three long months, braking as she reached Tropicana Avenue. She should go to Uncle Franco’s place and figure things out–she should try to understand. That was the way he’d raised her–to be tolerant, to consider others. She loved him and so she should do this. Should. Should. Should. The accursed word of civilization, forcing people into forgivenesses they weren’t ready for, obliging them into lives which they never wanted. She “should” visit, but she wouldn’t.  That water she sensed around her–it boiled.

But she didn’t want to go back over the border to Arizona either. Mila would be working late at her office in L.A., leaving their apartment terrifyingly empty–the rising sounds and smells from the restaurant below would bang against her loneliness like a bell. And then there would be Buzz–he adored Uncle Franco and would try to persuade her to give him another chance and she was way too exhausted to justify herself again tonight.

 She pulled off in the direction of the Strip, jolting with the limousines and tour buses past Egyptian pyramids, glittering volcanoes, and the shrunken Eiffel Tower.  Her arm lolled against the side of the Redsmobile as she drove, absorbing the gaudy glory of neon names now emerging in the high desert evening which–if all else failed–would dry your tears.

Las Vegas apparently existed to prove that nothing lasts–hotels shape-shifted like aliens according to market forces; towers fell on film to become golf courses; stars lost their shine and were replaced by lions; boxers bled onto the canvas floor and crawled back up again. And that always made her feel more eternal. She remained while everything else changed–or, rather, everything changed and this told her, in its rough language, that whatever she was going through would become something else.

And if that impermanence failed to comfort you, you could always feel blessed that you weren’t the bird in the Chicken Challenge, tortured into playing tic tac toe, while being blitzed by color and the cock-a-doodle-doos of regretful gamblers. Although there were days when it felt like you were right there with them, chasing an elusive feed that would never come.

Toni took a right down Flamingo, looking into the as-yet-unleased office buildings, their empty white-lit rooms lighthouses warning of the city’s dangers. There was so much construction in Vegas, so many new beginnings. She wished she could start again. She wished she could flee through those rooms, screaming.

Toni eventually left Las Vegas as a violet dusk drifted down, the Redsmobile coughing its way toward the I-93 and the state border. It was her usual journey home, along the same road  Uncle Franco had taken before she was born. She didn’t want to see it that way, but she’d heard the story of her family origins so often, both from him and her now dead Uncle John, that it had bubblegummed to her memory. And so here it was, despite everything–a kind of dusty pilgrimage past careless trucks and distant mountains, a Passion she knew every inch of.

 

© Sharon Zink, Unthank Books, 2014. Can not be reproduced withour permission from the author and/or publisher

 

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Thanks Sharon for the great interview and I can not wait to read this and see you at the launch!

If you want to be treated to some great writing folks, of the literary kind, get this book!

Over the next few weeks I have some more Spotlighters waiting in the wings, including the crime thriller writer, Richard and Judy selected … R J Ellory, as well as children’s writer Pauline Burgess and more … so watch this space!

Have a great day everyone!

 

 

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