With the launch of her debut novel, ‘Trust In You,’ I am really excited to invite Julia Firlotte to my blog, to talk about her author’s journey.
Julia is a local writer who I met last summer, at the Gribble Inn, Oving, West Sussex. As budding authors, we had a good chat about books and writing before she told me about her up-and-coming first novel, a summer romance set in the US.
So a very warm welcome to you, Julia and I’m intrigued to discover more about your writing process…
“Novels take their readers on a journey, with characters leading the adventure and charging ahead (or limping slowly forward in some cases). I’ve been surprised though of the journey the writing process itself has allowed me to make as a new author, it’s not just been my characters on a path of enlightenment.”
So did you plot out your story or was it character driven?
“I’m very much an inspirational writer rather than a planner. I come up easily with scenes and can fabricate a whole dialogue between characters and write it down without ever knowing where my stories are headed. Developing characters that fit with what the modern reader wants and structuring it into a cohesive storyline, that’s more of a challenge for me (and why I have several unfinished books).
As with learning any new skill, new writers need to learn their craft, but as I’m discovering, this also means learning their target audience’s preferences too. I spoke recently to a highly experienced novelist and she told me that she never puts pen to paper without knowing exactly who her characters are and what is going to happen. This approach avoids wasting months rewriting and is clearly of commercial benefit, but for me I admit I struggle with this technique.
Hmm, that is good advice. You really need to know your characters before the novel can take shape. What other elements are important to you?
“My debut novel ‘Trust In You’ is a romantic suspense and like crime and thriller writers, I like my romance to have angst and passion, not be all light-hearted dinners and roses. Trust In You started as a bully romance over a land dispute, but after listening to my characters and beta readers, by the end of the writing process the original plot wasn’t even in the book anymore. It’s a love story through and through and I think a stronger piece of writing because of it, now with a strong crime and intrigue element.”
Ooh, crime and romance… I am really intrigued now, tell us more.
“Developing characters that are believable is widely recognised as being the most important aspect of writing any piece of fiction. Whether a protagonists or antagonist is a person or a theme, likeable or someone the reader will just love to hate, they have to be real. Some useful tools I’ve discovered in my writing journey to help develop my characters are mood thesauruses and personality typing such as Myers and Briggs.
Also key is the ability to step back from the novel after leaving it to rest between drafts and asking ‘would my character really behave like this’ and more importantly ‘will my readers want to read this?’ Having a clear audience in mind during the whole process seems obvious, but is easy to overlook. I recently spent nine months on a first draft, only to have feedback that the writing is great (descriptive, insightful and well-paced etc), but what I’d actually written, meaning the entire plot and the fundamental character traits was unappealing and distasteful. Oh dear, I’d clearly missed the mark by a mile of what I had been hoping to achieve.”
Quite a tough learning curve then but you do need to develop a thick skin as a writer.
“Although disheartening, I’m really grateful for these honest criticisms as without them truly appealing stories might never be written. My author journey is teaching me more about society and my readership than I’d ever expected to learn and making me a stronger and more informed person in the process.”
Thanks for sharing this, Julia, it’s been a most enlightening article. Now for those of you who are dying to get your hands on her book, here are the essential links:
For more information on Julia’s novels, please visit her website www.juliafirlotteauthor.com and subscribe to her mailing list where you will also receive the first three chapters free.
A first love summer romance full of intrigue, lust and lies.
From the moment she met him, Ella Peterson had questions. As always, though, she’s too shy to ask.
Older and sexy as hell, mysterious Adam Brook soon sweeps sheltered Ella off her feet; but is he as perfect as he appears to be, or is there more to him than he’s telling her?
Ella’s world has already turned upside down after moving from England to rural Kansas. She and her sisters were hoping for a more secure future, but instead find that life can be tough when jobs are scarce and the stakes often higher than anticipated.
When events spiral out of Ella’s control, she learns the person she needs to rely on most is herself and her instincts on who to trust in the future.
It’s just that her instincts are screaming at her to trust Adam; it’s what he tells her that makes that a problem.
This is the first book in the Falling for You series.
Happy Easter everyone and what better way to survive lockdown than to relax with a good book?
Today it is my pleasure to have author Patricia Osborne as a guest on my blog. As part of our author’s networking group, she is our ‘Chindi Author of the Week’ which happens to coincide with publication of her second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son.
So over to Patricia who tackles a tricky subject for us writers: choosing an eye catching book title and if that isn’t difficult, writing an engaging book blurb. Read on…
Choosing a Title
If a title grabs a reader then they’ll normally pick up the book but what readers may not consider, is how much work has gone into producing those few words. Sometimes as writers we are lucky and just know what the title will be, but other times it can cause quite a headache. I’m normally quite good at coming up with titles, for other writers that is, not so much when it’s my own.
House of Grace my debut novel wasn’t too bad. It began as Grace but soon evolved to House of Grace inspired by the seventies television series House of Elliott. House of Grace gets its name as it’s a fashion house where Grace Granville, later Grace Gilmore, starts up her own fashion business.
My next novel and number two in the trilogy of House of Grace is The Coal Miner’s Son. The Coal Miner’s Son was a tad more troublesome. It began as part of my MA and was titled ‘The Heir of Granville’ but my tutor said this title made her think the story was more historical than it was. After several days of brainstorming with other writers, The Coal Miner’s Son was born. However, when I first spoke to my followers about the book cover, some felt it should have images of a coal miner which got me thinking. My story wasn’t about a coal miner, but would the title make the reader think it was? I therefore came up with numerous other titles and settled on ‘Return to Granville Hall,’ although this never felt right. After serious consideration and chats with my editor I conducted a Facebook Poll before finalising the title for the cover. ‘The Coal Miner’s Son’ won outright. So there it was. The Coal Miner’s Son had its publishing title but I knew that I’d need to make it quite clear in the book blurb what the story was about.
Book 3, my work in progress and the final in the House of Grace trilogy, is titled ‘The Granville Legacy’ and I’m hoping it will keep this name. When I started writing it I used ‘Return to Granville Hall’ as it wasn’t used for Book 2 but again, it didn’t feel right. I spent a day on Facebook Messenger with author Colin Ward and we literally brainstormed to produce the right title. We went through all sorts and then it would be just an odd word that was wrong. I wanted something with a similar ring to House of Grace and The Coal Miner’s Son and I believe ‘The Granville Legacy’ has that.
Writing a Blurb
If choosing a title isn’t hard enough then writing a blurb is even worse. Readers, I imagine would think that coming up with those few words at the back of the book is easy in comparison to writing approximately 90,000 words for the novel. The reader would be wrong. It causes so many headaches that books have been written on it and courses available. I followed Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing 101 Course but Adam Croft has written a great book on it too, Writing Killer Blurbs and Hooks. Most importantly when writing this mini synopsis is not to give out any spoilers but at the same time draw the reader in so they’ll want to pick up the book and read it. It needs to be kept short, something that a reader can scan in seconds, and needs a tag line. I hope the blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son entices you in and makes you want to read the novel.
Blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son
After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents.
Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel?
Will George ever learn to forgive?
Step back into the 60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope.
My books can be found on Amazon at the links below
Today I am delighted to welcome, children’s author, Lexi Rees to my blog.
Lexi is the creator of a wonderful children’s adventure series (The Relic Hunters) and more recently published a book that introduces children to the pleasures of creative writing.
When I first spoke to Lexi, she couldn’t decide on what type of article to write that wasn’t purely ‘kids related.’
So she instead opted for something a little different; something that would open up an interesting debate for all authors and that topic is whether or not to include a prologue in your book.
So without further preamble, it is over to you Lexi.
Prologues are controversial for authors, dividing people as firmly as a Marmite/ Vegemite debate. Personally, I find them helpful to get me into a story quickly, if they are only a page or two. After all, if you were there, in the author’s world, you would have a vague idea of the context/ background/ scene before the story itself unfolds. But I do agree, a prologue that is really a chapter in itself, is probably not doing its job.
Anyway, conscious of the polarised views, my early drafts of Eternal Seas did not have a prologue in them.
The problem was, I then found myself writing in a lot of back story. Beta reader feedback on the back story was as brutal as only an eight-year-old can be, so I ripped it all out and wrote a short prologue. I can’t describe how hugely relieved I felt after I did that. All the clunky back story bits had gone and a weight was lifted from me, and also from the plot.
The whole story just ran so much more smoothly, and helped the pace throughout the book. So here it is …
Defeated by the Earth Lords during the Last War, the other clans were forced deep into hiding, locking away their powers in mysterious relics.
As the centuries passed, people forgot these powers ever existed. They faded into myths and legends, bedtime stories for children about magical people who could control the waves and walk amongst the clouds.
Today we go about our daily lives, unaware of how ordinary we have become.
But not everyone forgot.
The guardians, who protect the relics, did not forget.
The clan elders, who wait patiently, did not forget.
And Sir Waldred, the ruthless leader of the Earth Lords, will never forget. He will not stop until the relics are found … and destroyed. Only then will his reign be unchallenged. Forever.
We didn’t know it that morning, but our lives were about to become much less ordinary, and a lot more dangerous.
What do you think? Are you a prologue fan or not
Thanks, Lexi. I personally think that is a fabulous prologue, as it gives a flavour of some mystery about to be unravelled. The best prologues for me contain gripping scenes like this, that reel you in. It could be scene from the past or something that is yet to transpire, but fills me with a hankering to know more. How do others feel?
Lexi Rees was born in Scotland but now lives down south. She writes action-packed adventures and workbooks for children.
The Relic Hunters #1, Eternal Seas, was awarded a “loved by” badge from LoveReading4Kids and is currently long-listed for a Chanticleer award. The sequel, Wild Sky, is out on the 28th November.
She’s passionate about developing a love of reading and writing in children and, as well as her Creative Writing Skills workbook, she has an active programme of school visits and other events, is a Book PenPal for three primary schools, and runs a free online #kidsclub and newsletter which includes book recommendations and creative writing activities.
In her spare time, she’s a keen crafter and spends a considerable amount of time trying not to fall off horses or boats.
Thanks, Lexi, for opening up a most interesting discussion. This series sounds like it could be right up my street (even at my age!) but a great choice for kids who like a bit of adventure. Best of luck with the new book!
Today it is a pleasure to invite author, Isabella Muir as a guest writer on my blog. Like me, Isabella writes crime fiction and we are both members of the authors networking group, CHINDI. Isabella is the author of the Janie Juke series of Sussex crime mysteries, featuring a young librarian with a passion for Agatha Christie. Celebrating the lead up to Agatha’s birthday, she is joining me today to talk about her research.
So over to you, Isabella.
When I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the 1960s I knew I would need to do plenty of research to get a sense for what life was like back then.
Life in the 1960s was great, wasn’t it? It was easy and happy and full of brilliant music, fashion and possibilities. Sure enough, that might be our first thought, but then when we look at the decade in more detail it doesn’t take long to uncover some aspects that weren’t all ‘good’. Let’s take a glance at the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ and the downright ugly of that iconic decade.
Every week, almost every day, new pop stars emerged with music that would transform listening for decades to come. In January 1964 BBC TV launched a brand new music show, called Top of the Pops, which remained in its weekly slot for 42 years. Every musical taste was catered for – pop and rock from the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to blues and folk from talent such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Janis Joplin.
Teenagers were desperate to hear it all and many went to sleep with their transistor radio under their pillow as they listened to the pirate stations – Radio Caroline and Radio Luxembourg, among others. By the middle of the decade between 10 and 15 million people were tuning in.
It was a time for young people to enjoy – fashion was transformed by designers such as Mary Quant who popularised the mini skirt, and at the age of just sixteen, Twiggy became a fashion icon, with her cropped hairstyle and streamlined figure.
Plenty to celebrate, but some of those celebrations created their own problems…
Casting off conservative values was all well and good. The ‘flower-power’ hippies embraced the ‘summer of love’ with 100,000 young people arriving in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco to experiment with drugs and sex. Unfortunately the realities of ‘dropping out’ meant that ‘free love’ was used to excuse something else entirely. Many thousands suffered from serious drug addiction and mental problems, or became homeless. San Francisco was overrun with drug dealers and teenage runaways, and the Haight-Ashbury scene deteriorated through overcrowding, homelessness and crime.
Back in the UK it was politics that hit the headlines as a result of the ‘Profumo affair’. After a brief sexual relationship in 1961 between John Profumo, the Secretary of State for War in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government, and Christine Keeler, a 19-year-old would-be model, Profumo resigned from the government and from Parliament. The repercussions of the affair severely damaged Macmillan’s self-confidence, and he resigned as Prime Minister on health grounds in October 1963, possibly contributing to the defeat of the Conservatives by the Labour Party in the 1964 general election.
Public interest in the affair was heightened by reports that Keeler may have been simultaneously involved with Captain Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché, thereby creating a possible security risk – just at the time when the Cold War was gathering momentum.
Politics continued with its negative impact throughout the sixties, energising people to protest. The decade started with thousands joining the ‘Ban the Bomb’ march, with similar marches taking place over the next ten years. The Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 for twenty years, was the focus of many protests as people learned about the dreadful death toll – more than a million deaths of civilians and military personnel. Lennon sang out ‘Give Peace a Chance’ and many followed him, chanting the same message.
Then, as people looked forward to a bright future, the world came close to disaster as President Kennedy and Kruschev decided if they were going to obliterate the entire population in a nuclear war. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 filled people with fear and must have darkened the otherwise bright memories of the sixties for many.
A brighter note
It is that fascinating mix of the good, bad and the downright ugly of that decade that has always held an attraction for me. It is the reason I chose to set my Sussex Crime series in the sixties and why the period features in several chapters of my newest novel, The Forgotten Children.
Alongside my love of the sixties, I am a passionate fan of Agatha Christie. Sussex Crime’s amateur sleuth, Janie Juke, follows in the footsteps of Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, as she solves the crimes and mysteries that besiege the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.
This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’. Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex. Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.
To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and to help celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:
And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crime series – The Tapestry Bag – will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!
Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:
Receive the FREE Sussex Crime novella, Divided we Fall when you sign up to receive Isabella’s newsletter, with cozy mystery news and views, special offers and so much more. Just click here.
Thanks, Isabella, for a most interesting article. Isabella’s books are a great choice for those who enjoy an Agatha Christie style mystery, entertaining and light, perfect for a holiday read or curling up on a chilly autumn night; we wish you the best of luck with your books!
Welcome back, Carol Thomas, who has released a sequel to her Romantic Comedy, The Purrfect Pet Sitter. Last year she entertained us no end with her sparkling new novel, a great holiday read. You can see the previous post by clicking this link:
To celebrate the release of her romantic comedy, Maybe Baby, Carol Thomas is this week’s Chindi Author of the Week, and is stopping by to tell us more about her latest novel:
Maybe Baby is the second book in the Lisa Blake series, published by Ruby Fiction. While the story follows on from The Purrfect Pet Sitter (Lisa Blake book #1), it can also be read as a standalone novel.
In Maybe Baby, Lisa Blake is back with her first love, she’s reunited with her best friend Felicity, and life is looking good; even her pet sitting skills are improving – everybody knows you can’t believe all you read in the local Gazette, don’t they?
Felicity is on the cusp of achieving her perfect wife-mum-life balance; Her husband, Pete, is being wonderfully attentive, and her four children are getting older and wiser (sometimes too much wiser) by the day.
But just when they think that maybe, just maybe, they have everything sorted, it becomes clear that life is nothing but full of unexpected surprises!
What challenges did you face writing a romance about an already established couple?
In Maybe Baby, the romance aspect comes from the characters working together as they face the next phase of their lives. There are secrets to be revealed and new discoveries to be made. I really enjoyed working with the characters again and putting them in new situations, exploring how they progressed as a couple was a lot of fun.
Having written two books focused around the same characters, who are your favourites?
I have a soft spot for all of them, and I have spoken on your blog before about my male heroes – I do love the male leads in this book. But I adore Felicity’s four children. It was hard to write any scene involving them without a smile on my face. They have fabulously inquisitive minds and their own quirky characters. They, along with Lisa’s furry clients, give rise to many of the comedic moments across the series.
Can we expect more in the Lisa Blake series?
Never say never! Each story is complete in its own right, but I have an idea for a Christmas novella involving these characters that I may explore once I have finished the contemporary romance – separate to this series – that I am currently working on.
Meanwhile, The Purrfect Pet Sitter, currently ebook only, is coming out in audio and paperback on August 6th, which is very exciting!
Historic fiction is one of the many genres I enjoy and this month, I am enthralled to invite author Rosemary Noble to be a guest on my Blog.
Rosemary is one of many writers in West Sussex I have met and networked with over the years as a result of CHINDI (Celebrating and Helping Indy Authors). Last year she completed her ‘Currency Girls’ Trilogy, so it is my pleasure to introduce her and find out what lies at the heart of her writing.
Hello, Rosemary and may I start by asking when you first started writing?
I wrote my first book in my teens and then nothing until I retired. It wasn’t even in my retirement plan. I’m still amazed that I have four books written in five years.
The problem is that it’s rather taken over. I need to give myself and my husband a break. He’s getting fed up that I’m so busy.
What made you choose historical fiction as your genre?
I’ve always love history. If my A levels had been good enough in the 60s, I would have studied history at university. But now I have the opportunity to indulge my love with something creative too – the best of all worlds.
That sounds wonderful. Can you describe your novels in 10 words?
Gritty family sagas, real people leading extraordinary and interesting lives.
Just the sort of stuff I like to read, which leads me to my next question. When and where you prefer to do your writing?
I like an early start. Sometimes the ideas come to me when I’m trying to sleep (always annoying) but it means I’m itching to get going not long after dawn. I write in a comfortable chair, with the laptop on my knees.
Same here, I’m an early riser and instead of lying in bed thinking, we might as well be writing it down instead. Where did you get your ideas from?
Family history – simple as that. I like to research the social conditions of the time and that provides me with the settings and framework for the stories.
That is so inspiring – so are your characters based on real people or people you know?
So far, they have been based on real people with other supportive made-up characters.
The made-up ones are totally imaginative and that means you can make them whatever you want them to be. I had fun in my latest book making a couple of characters quite dark. Sometimes they write themselves, like Sarah, in Search for the Light.
Everyone else in the book is in the third person, but she wanted to tell her story in the first person. I was happy to let her.
Writing in first person is quite different isn’t it? The character has more voice. With this in mind, who is your favourite author?
That is the most difficult question. I have several favourites. I always look for any new books by Sebastian Barry; Rose Tremain; Tracey Chevalier and Margaret Atwood.
I have heard of Rose Tremain, as she is quite famous isn’t she? Following on from that, what is your all time favourite book and why?
Probably Poisonwood Bible by Barabara Kingsolver. It was the first time I had come across a book with some many different and distinct voices. It’s the story of an American Missionary with his family in Africa. It’s narrated by each daughter as the family descends into the chaos caused by the father’s hubris and their government’s duplicity.
That sounds like an intriguing story. But going back to your own books, How much research do you need to do?
Lots. I have written three books set in the nineteenth century, so I read contemporary accounts often freely available on Google Books. I use a lot of newspapers too, occasionally historical journals and the internet, of course, but that I take with a pinch of salt Sometimes I need to visit libraries and museums, specific to the setting. Some local newspapers are still not on-line in the UK.
I guess it is essential to get it right when writing historic fiction. Just imagine if one or more of your stories were made into films. Who would you like to see playing the lead character in your book and why?
In my new book I would choose Sarah Wiseman who played Carolyn Bligh in A Place to Call Home. My husband and I loved the series. He found it by serendipity and then we couldn’t stop watching it. It’s a fascinating representation of the land-owning class in 1950’s Australia, as well as being a great story.
Sounds good. With this in mind, do you work out a strict plot or just start writing?
I have a framework. I know I have to get from A-B via C. However, I also like to see where the writing takes me. For me, that’s a lot more interesting and exciting.
What’s the best advice about writing you were ever given?
Keep in your character’s point of view
And lastly, what are your future plans for writing and what are you working on now?
My eight-year-old granddaughter is desperate for me to write a children’s book. I have one lined up ready to write. She gave me the time-frame and the names of the characters. We brain-stormed a few ideas and then one night the plot came to me around midnight and by three, it was all planned out.
Something quite different then. I can imagine that will be a lovely new challenge for you and look forward to seeing the end result. Best of luck, Rosemary, this has been a really interesting chat.
To conclude, I have read one of Rosemary’s books, Ranter’s Wharf and was completely engrossed in the story as well as learning about a piece of history I didn’t know.
For further information about Rosemary, you can read her biography below, connect with her via her social networks and check out her author’s page on Amazon, which also lists her books.
Rosemary Noble lives in West Sussex and worked as an education librarian.
Books have been her life, ever since she walked into a library at five-years-old and found a treasure trove. Her other love is social history. She got hooked on family history before retirement and discovered so many stories that deserved to be told.
Her first book, Search for the Light, tells the story of three young girls transported to Australia in 1824. Friendship sustains them through the horrors of the journey and their enforced service in Tasmania. The Digger’s Daughter tells of the next generation of gold-diggers and a pioneering woman who lives almost through the first hundred years in Victoria. The third in the trilogy, Sadie’s Wars takes the reader to the fourth generation and into the twentieth century. The trilogy is based on the author’s family. It tells of secrecy and lies, of determination and grit and how all can be done or undone by luck.
Rosemary is a member of CHINDI independent authors and is involved in literary events in and around Chichester. She also loves to travel, especially to Australia and Europe and not least, she loves spending time with her grandchildren, one of whom is a budding author herself.
Where has this year gone? It seems a long time since I’ve added a post to my blog so the best way to remedy this is to offer some promotion tips.
Following on from my blog tours in January and April, I did some promotion with our authors networking group, CHINDI (which stands for Celebrating and Helping Indie Authors). This year, CHINDI brought out a new ‘Author of the Week’ initiative and so I decided to take my turn in May.
I haven’t got a new book out yet to promote so I instead tried to focus on some different areas of book promotion.
Tips on Research
An Author Interview (guest blog)
Photos on Instagram
My Video Trailers
Here is a summary of the posts I wrote which were generously published on the blogs of other authors in the group
May 14th Read my article on research as featured on our CHINDI website.
This light-hearted blog describes some of the early research I did for my decade spanning thriller series and the joy that was yet to be discovered for this whole series.
I really enjoyed my time as CHINDI Author of the week and a big thanks to everyone who took part and promoted my articles
So what next?
Pleasures gets another revamp
I am just about to finish another edit on Book 3 Pleasures before I finally draw a line under this series and start something new. Completing the series was a challenge but one I thoroughly enjoyed. By the time I had written Retribution (in two parts) however, I realised how much my writing style had evolved over the years. So my next goal was to bring the first two books up to the same standard, thus I relaunched a new edit of Beginnings in January and a new edit of Visions in April 2018.
Pleasures was probably the book I enjoyed writing most of all but that too needed some work! It’s been three years since I touched it, so it was time to take another look. The style of writing wasn’t bad but there was room for improvement given comments from reviewers and Beta readers from overwritten descriptive phrases to a ‘show and not tell’ approach.
Pleasures is due for a relaunch in August. Reviewers/book bloggers are welcome to a free copy. No obligation to review but if you’ve been following the series just enjoy the book!
After much deliberation, I will be taking all my titles out of Kindle Unlimited so that they can be distributed to a wider audience. This means that the entire ‘Same Face Different Place’ series will soon be available for readers who prefer Nook, Kobo and Apple i-Books.
I hope to publish the links in my next blog but until then, enjoy the lovely sunny summer we are having in England. Bye for now.
I am very pleased to welcome author, Sandra Danby, to feature on my Blog as a guest. In celebration of her new book, ‘Connectedness,’ Sandra talks about her research into the wonderful world of art.
‘Connectedness’ is the 2nd book in her ‘Identity Detective’ series, a story that revolves around the art world, adoption and romance, from London to the cliffs of East Yorkshire and the orange blossom streets of Málaga in Spain.
So how did you, go about your research for this book, Sandra, and will you tell us about the story and the characters?
“Novelists are always asked ‘how much of the book is about you?’ With my first novel I could honestly say not much, apart from sharing an occupation with my heroine. We are both journalists. My new novel Connectedness is slightly different. It is second in the ‘Identity Detective’ series and so again features journalist Rose Haldane, but the main focus is on a birth mother seeking to find the daughter she gave up for adoption twenty-seven years earlier. In creating Justine Tree, I used two locations close to me – Yorkshire and Spain – and I gave her a profession I have not experienced. She is an internationally-successful artist.
This was a clever plan that gave me the opportunity to go to loads of art museums and exhibitions and say I was ‘researching’. I’m lucky enough to live near London and have become a regular visitor to Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Royal Academy of Arts and the Victoria & Albert Museum. All feature in Connectedness. I quickly realised that not only did I need to understand more about art, artists and how they create their work; I also needed settings. I immersed myself in exhibitions, books and television programmes, absorbing information and sifting the bits I might be able to use.
A quick scan of my Art Research folder shows that I read [or at least flicked through] a wide variety of sources from Essential Crochet by Erika Wright to Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction by David Cottington. I quickly focussed on Tracey Emin as an example of an artist who puts all her emotions and experiences into her art, something I wanted for Justine; though in Justine’s case, what you see is not always what you get. Most useful were two Emin books, My Life in a Column is a collection of her articles for The Independent newspaper; Strangeland is her memoir from her childhood in Margate to her rise to fame as a YBA [Young British Artist] in 1992.
So from Emin I drew her emotions and the fluidity of technique from drawing and painting to embroidery and installation. I embraced the outwardly chaotic appearance of Emin’s art and hopefully showed Justine’s process of making it; sometimes chaotic, but also considered. To that I added the Spanish link. Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga – near to where I spend part of the year – and I decided to use this link [more art museums to visit!] to add an unpredictable twist to Justine’s student story in 1983. Picasso brought artistic gravitas to my research and to Justine he brought collage, the technique that introduces the teenager to her artistic path.
As a teenager, Justine experiences a torment of betrayal, jealousy and anger and begins to paint outdoors. Here’s a short excerpt that in my head is set on a clifftop footpath on Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, where I grew up:
Knowing she might throw up, Justine ran until she had no breath left, sinking to the ground with a puff of summer dust. She cried for a long time, for lost love and lost friendship and then, recognising betrayal, she got angry. She opened her satchel and took out a sheet of drawing paper, orange furry pencil case and tube of paper glue. She weighed down the paper with lumps of chalk culled from beside the path and then, careless of the dust and grass seed flowing freely in the soft breeze, she created her first collage. A tangle of gull feathers, grass, dock leaves and smears of mud made of the dusty earth mixed with tears. She carried the half-finished jumble to her father’s shed where she carefully dismantled it, sorted and re-assembled it, fixing it together permanently with some plaster-like stuff from his workbench. She rescued a Frosties cereal packet from the dustbin and then, imagining it was the boy’s A-grade physics essay of which he’d been so proud, she tore it into strips. She sat holding a felt tip pen feeling empty of words until they spilled forth from a subconscious thesaurus: Traitor. Betrayal. Envy. Hurt. Jealousy. Theft. Unfair. Friend. Pain. Lies.”
TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING
Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.
Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?
This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.
A family mystery for fans of Maggie O’Farrell, Lucinda Riley, Tracy Rees and Rachel Hore.
An extract from ‘Connectedness’
London, September 2009
The retired headmistress knew before she opened the front door that a posy of carnations would be lying on the doorstep beside the morning’s milk bottle. It happened on this day, every year. September 12. And every year she did the same thing: she untied the narrow ribbon, eased the stems loose and arranged the frilled red flowers in her unglazed biscuit-ware jug. Then she placed the jug on the front windowsill where they would be visible from the street. Her bones ached more now as she bent to pick them up off the step than the first year the flowers arrived. She had an idea why the carnations appeared and now regretted never asking about them. Next year, someone else would find the flowers on the doorstep. In a week’s time she would be living in a one-bedroom annexe at her son’s house in a Hampshire village. She walked slowly back to her armchair beside the electric fire intending to tackle The Times crossword but hesitated, wondering if the person who sent the flowers would ever be at peace.
Yorkshire, May 2010
The clouds hurried from left to right, moved by a distant wind that did not touch her cheek. It felt unusually still for May. As if the weather was waiting for the day to begin, just as she was. She had given up trying to sleep at three o’clock, pulled on some clothes and let herself out of the front door. Despite the dark, she knew exactly the location of the footpath, the edge of the cliffs; could walk it with her eyes closed. Justine lay on the ground and looked up, feeling like a piece of grit in the immensity of the world. Time seemed both still and marching on. The dark grey of night was fading as the damp began to seep through her jeans to her skin. A pale line of light appeared on the eastern horizon, across the flat of the sea. She shivered and sat up. It was time to go. She felt close to both her parents here, but today belonged to her mother.
Three hours later, she stood at the graveside and watched as the coffin was lowered into the dark damp hole. Her parents together again in the plot they had bought. It was a big plot, there was space remaining.
Will I be buried here?
It was a reassuring thought, child reunited with parents.
The vicar’s voice intoned in the background, his words whipped away by the wind. True to form, May was proving changeable. It was now a day requiring clothing intended for mid-winter, when windows were closed tight and the central heating turned on again. Or was it that funerals simply made you feel cold?
She repeated the vicar’s word, a whisper borne out of many childhood Sunday School classes squeezed into narrow hard pews. She was not paying attention to the service but, drawn by the deep baritone of the vicar who was now reciting the Lord’s Prayer, was remembering her first day at art college. The first class. Another baritone. Her tutor, speaking words she had never forgotten. Great art was always true, he warned, and lies would always be found out.
In her handbag was a letter, collected from the hall table ten days ago as she left the house for Heathrow and Tokyo. She had expected to return home to London but, answering the call from her mother’s doctor, had come straight to Yorkshire in the hope of seeing her mother one last time. The envelope, which was heavy vellum, and bore smidgens of gold and scarlet and the Royal Academy of Arts’ crest, was still sealed. She knew what the letter said, having been forewarned in a telephone call from the artist who nominated her. It was the official invitation. If she accepted, she was to be Justine Tree, RA.
About the ‘Identity Detective’ series
Rose Haldane reunites the people lost through adoption. The stories you don’t see on television shows. The difficult cases. The people who cannot be found, who are thought lost forever. Each book in the ‘Identity Detective’ series considers the viewpoint of one person trapped in this horrible dilemma. In the first book of the series, Ignoring Gravity, it is Rose’s experience we follow as an adult discovering she was adopted as a baby. Connectedness is the story of a birth mother and her longing to see her baby again. Sweet Joy, the third novel, will tell the story of a baby abandoned during The Blitz.
Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted.
Thanks for sharing this, Sandra, and it’s been great to learn more about the research you undertake for your series. I have read your first book, ‘Ignoring Gravity,’ and found it a deeply moving tale. After reading this, I am really looking forward to getting stuck into your second novel. Enjoying research is something we both have in common and like you say, it’s a good excuse to lose yourself in interesting places.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s a suggested tweet:
How CONNECTEDNESS author @SandraDanby researched art & turned reality into fiction #amwriting via @SFDPBeginnings https://wp.me/p2b3Yf-oO
Today it is an absolute pleasure to welcome Carol Thomas back onto my blog as a guest, with a charming, light-hearted post about leading men in fiction…
Carol writes contemporary romance novels, with relatable heroines whose stories are layered with emotion, sprinkled with laughter and topped with irresistible male leads. So onto Carol’s article:
One of the questions writers frequently get asked is whether their characters are based on people they know. Generally, most writers will say no to this. But some will confess to borrowing features from friends, family, work colleagues, and so forth.
Another question that crops up is, who would you pick as your dream cast to play your characters? It’s a good question and coming up with an answer during the early stages of writing is not a bad exercise to help you pin down the fundamentals of your character type. I know a thriller writer who always has a big screen action hero in mind while writing.
And if you are submitting to Choc Lit, expect to be asked to describe your hero in terms of chocolate!
That was a new one on me. For those who are intrigued to know how I responded, regarding the leading man in The Purrfect Pet Sitter, I said: He is tantalisingly tempting to be around. He is delicious and desirable, able to provide melting moments that are satisfying and sensual, and yet solid and dependable – no matter what the occasion.
While none of my male leads are directly based on men I know, I do borrow features I like. Not wishing to make a lovely male lead sound like Frankenstein, one character I wrote had my dentist’s eyes, physical build and surname, and the happy trail of one of my husband’s friends. I wasn’t peeking on purpose; he stretched up while standing next to me and it was revealed.
It was a bit of a, “Oo hello!” moment, and I wrote it into my debut novel.
As for my dentist, I later confessed and got his picture holding my book (I thought it was funny, though I am not sure if he doesn’t now consider me weird – it’s a good job he changed practice!).
When I am creating a hero, I consider their role in the story, their age, job, mannerisms, name, background – all things that might have a bearing on their final appearance and characteristics. In The Purrfect Pet Sitter one character is a landscape gardener. As a result of this, he is tanned; his hair has highlights from the sun, he is muscular and has arms and hands that reflect physical labour. He is not one of the leading men, but I grew very fond of him. I also try to include different types of men, to appeal to different readers.
So if I was choosing my dream cast, who would I pick to play the leading man in The Purrfect Pet Sitter? My vote for the lovely Nathan Baker would go to Chris Hemsworth – sigh! His blond hair, blue eyes and muscular build fit Nathan perfectly. He has strength while looking like the type of man you could happily spend an evening snuggled up in front of a roaring fire with. Perfect!
Introducing Lisa Blake, the purrfect pet sitter!
When Lisa Blake’s life in London falls apart, she returns to her hometown rebranding herself as ‘the purrfect pet sitter’ – which may or may not be false advertising!
But being back where she grew up, Lisa can’t escape her past. There’s her estranged best friend Flick who she bumps into in an embarrassing encounter in a local supermarket. And her first love, Nathan Baker, who, considering their history, is sure to be even more surprised by her drunken Facebook friend request than Lisa is.
As she becomes involved in the lives of her old friends Lisa must confront the hurt she has caused, discover the truth about her mysterious leather-clad admirer, and learn how to move forward when the things she wants most are affected by the decisions of her past.
Genre: Romantic Comedy Publisher: Ruby Fiction, the new imprint of Choc Lit
About the author:
Carol Thomas lives on the south coast of England with her husband, four children and lively young Labrador. She has been a playgroup supervisor and taught in primary schools for over fifteen years, before dedicating more of her time to writing. Carol is a regular volunteer at her local Cancer Research UK shop. She has a passion for reading, writing and people watching and can often be found loitering in local cafes working on her next book.
This month, I am very excited to be discussing the life and works of Siobhan Cunningham, author of The Penance List, Unfinished Business and The Deal.
S C Cunningham creates psychological crime thrillers and paranormal romance with a skilled mix of fuelled tension, dark humour, and pulsating sex scenes. Having worked in the industries she writes about, her novels offer a fresh level of sincerity and authority, rare in fiction.
Abducted as a child, she survived; and every night for months afterward, she prayed to God, asking for a deal. This personal journey sparked the fuse behind the intriguing and riveting fictional world she portrays in The Deal, the first in The Fallen Angel series. Twenty years later Cunningham crossed paths with a violent serial attacker, sowing the seed for her mind-bending thriller, The David Trilogy; The Penance List, Unfinished Business, For My Sins.
An ex-model, British born of Irish roots, she married a rock musician and has worked in the exciting worlds of music, film, sports, celebrity management and as a Crime Investigator for the British Police (Wanted & Absconder Unit, Major Crime Team, Intelligence Analyst, Investigations Hub).
She is the proud mother to contemporary Artist Scarlett Raven and owned by three dogs.
So Let’s start by exploring a little more about your Genre, Siobhan… why did you choose to write in this genre?
I write Paranormal Crime Romance and Psychological Rom Thrillers. Also, as respite from the blood and gore, I’ve written a children’s picture book about a rescue dog (based on a rescue Pyrenees Mountain Dog I had when living in Texas), my artist daughter, Scarlett Raven, produced the art work.
My current passion is a Paranormal Crime Romance series of 8, The Fallen Angel Series. When I was about 3 or 4 years old I was taken, I got away, the following week another little girl was taken, but she didn’t get away, she died. I come from an Irish Catholic family; I remember saying my prayers at night, asking God to do a deal with me. If I was a good girl, when I die would he let me sit on a cloud for a while, invisible, and help him get the baddies that slip through his fingers? I have always had a strong feeling of justice, of looking after the underdog.
There have been a few times in my life where I seemed to have been extremely lucky to have survived situations. I call it my Angels looking out for me.
There is something else up there; I don’t know what it is, but it’s there. If my gut says something, I have learned to follow it. My paranormal works are taking this idea to the next level, of Vigilante Angels dishing out tough karma from the skies. I am a romantic, therefore there is always romance.
My Psychological Thrillers are based on an incident that happened to me in my 20’s, I crossed paths with a prolific serial attacker who was haunting London at the time, targeting girls living on their own in basement flats in Notting Hill and Olympia. I got away unscathed (those angels again) and helped Police with a photofit. I remember looking at him wondering why? What makes someone so evil? The seed for my David Trilogy was sown.
The common thread here is I write about what I know. I guess it choses me.
Oh my God, that’s actually quite chilling! It’s easy to see where you got your inspiration from.
Yes, from life experiences; story-lines that provoke thoughts, that teach, that help others. I’ve worked in various industries; Music, Film, Football, Modelling, Sports Celebrity Management, and more lately in crime – Crime Investigator, Major Crime Team, Intelligence Analyst, Wanted and Absconder Unit for Sussex Police.
So to be short and sweet, how would you describe your novels in 10 words?
Fast paced, exciting, thought provoking, sexy, funny, heart pounding, thrilling.
Now just to lighten the tone a little, let’s talk about your writing environment.
I have a writing room at home. I write whenever I can, I have no social life, am a bit of a recluse. I set the scene to write, with lovely smells/candles, soft music, lighting and dogs curled at my feet. It takes hours to block out the world in my head, then I settle down to churn out the words. It’s hard to get to the writing ‘place’ but once you are there, it is wonderful. My ideal place would be in a villa with a pool in the sunshine, where I could pop out to take a dip in the pool between chapters… but hey, one day…
That sounds so chilled out. Dogs are great writing companions – mine curls up with me too when I’m writing but moving on, are any of your characters based on real people?
From my own life experiences, studying people, observing, listening, I see stories in everything, even as I walk down a street… sometimes it’s a bit exhausting. Characters are a mishmash of different people I know. It is easier to write about the truth.
So I must ask, which authors do you like and do you have a favourite book?
My chosen authors include Lee Child, Martina Cole, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Harlan Coben, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell and Karin Slaughter. The Lee Child Jack Reacher Series is my favourite… I have a crush on Jack Reacher. Although if I ever get to meet Lee Child I will bollock him for selling out to Tom Cruise. Cruise is wonderful, but he is no Jack Reacher.
Thanks for sharing that! So who would you like to see playing the lead character in your book?
My Psycho Thriller books, Tom Hardy. I think he has the depth of mind to play the part. He’s been there and done that in his own life, therefore can bring it to the fore in his acting. My Fallen Angel Series, Hmmmm… (scratches head)… I actually cannot think of anyone yet… maybe an unknown actor could step forward and shock the socks off people!
So going back to your books, do you work out a strict plot or just start writing?
I just start writing and it develops itself. If I knew what happened in the end I would be bored. I love the way a story writes itself.
Writing is the fun part, so what about research?
My life is research in a way. I’m constantly observing, learning and adapting my own experiences to the page, and am of course SO grateful to google which answers any technical questions I may have i.e. blood splatter, gun calibre, drugs, health symptoms etc (my web search history is damming). My Police Investigation work is like a university degree in the criminal mind. However I have signed the official secrets act, therefore am not able to talk about cases I work on – which is of course right.
That’s understandable… I know what you mean about browser history, the mind boggles. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about writing, to inspire others?
Just start, keep doing it, every day, the first outline can be as rough as you like, no one else sees it. The magic then comes in the first edit, shining the coal into a diamond.
That’s a lovely analogy. So do you have any future plans for writing, that is, are you working on anything now?
I am finishing off the series and trilogy, then adapting them to screenplay. Book I of the David Trilogy has been adapted to film script and is sitting on a desk in Hollywood as the moment. Fingers crossed.
Good luck! That would be amazing. Last but not least, here are the links to the books.
AND LAST OF ALL, HERE ARE SOME INTERESTING (AND JUICY) SNIPPETS FROM SIOBHAN’S BIOGRAPHY
Sports Celebrity Management job consisted of working for the management company of footballer personalities – i.e. David Beckham, Alan Shearer, Gary Lineker, Gaby Logan and helped coordinate a EURO Football Tournament in Belgium and Holland. Got to see first hand the crazy way fans and women react when a footballer walks into a room/club!!
Worked in music business (8yrs) with first husband, Raf Ravenscroft, who played sax on Baker Street by Jerry Rafferty, he played with the likes of Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Pink Floyd, Lou Reed etc. We had a recording studio in Oxford Circus, making music for film,TV and radio. Was the eye candy in a band (couldn’t sing or play an instrument), appeared on Wogan Show twice, entry for Eurovision Song Context.
Single mum with Scarlett from age of 7. Worked in London until she finished Uni, then she didn’t need me any more and could start my writing life in earnest.
Worked in Horse racing for 5yrs, running events, looking after international VIPs coming into UK for Ascot, Derby etc. The horse racing world is racier than any other industry I have worked, its all that hay and sweat. Great fodder for authors like Jilly Cooper.
Got fed up lining the pockets of the rich, wanted to line the pockets of the poor so worked for a year or so as an international coordinator for Children’s Charity raising awareness and funds for HIV, orphanages, schools, meds etc in Africa – visiting these children was a humbling experience.
Got drunk and married in Vegas to second husband, a tall dark handsome Texan. We lived in Dallas, had great fun for 2 years, love the Texan larger than life, can-do-anything mentality.
Fashion model for 5 years, catwalk and beauty (makeup etc). Europe USA & Far East. Witnessing the behind the scenes behaviour of the glamour world. Sadly, I liked my food too much and didn’t bow down to the ‘casting couch’ mentality/pressure.
All of the above are great fodder for my story-lines.
Charitable causes I wish to support are; Veterans, Mental Health and Animal Abuse. I am angry with the way Veterans are treated in this country, MH is increasingly prevalent, especially in my Police work, and I prefer animals to some humans.
It’s been an absolute treat to have Siobhan as a guest on my blog and I am intrigued by her novels. Check them out for yourself and add them to your reading list!