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Carol

Portrait of Carol by Janey Stevens

Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow Honno Press author, Carol Lovekin, whose debut novel ‘Ghostbird’ is described as ‘Charming, quirky, magical’ by Joanne Harris, and has just been nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize.

(You can vote for your favourite Not the Booker HERE)

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Welcome to the blog, Carol, and can I first ask you where the original inspiration for Ghostbird came from? Did you always see it as having a ghost as part of the story?

Mabinogion1Years ago when I first came to live in Wales I read the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain compiled in the 12th century from an earlier, oral tradition. The story that most appealed to me concerned Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers to serve the political ends of men. (The Mabinogion is of its time and deeply patriarchal.) For a transgression deemed a ‘betrayal’ Blodeuwedd is cursed by being turned into an owl: “I will not kill you … I will do what is worse: I will let you go in the form of a bird … you will never show your face to the light of day…”

My response was to question why it would be considered a curse to be turned into a bird. Able to fly, Blodeuwedd could escape her persecutors. This was the seed and it settled in the back of my mind for yearsBlodeuwedd until I was ready to reclaim it.

Cadi came first – my central character. I conjured her from somewhere and the ghost of her little sister attached itself to my imagination in much the same way as she attaches herself to Cadi. In the beginning the ghost was only ever intended as a gentle soundtrack to the story. It was my astute editor, Janet Thomas, who spotted that Dora’s ghost needed her own distinctive voice. She had to inhabit the book and not simply hang about in the shadows. Once I’d written her story in isolation and threaded it into the main narrative I realised I was writing a proper ghost story.

The village community feels very real, is it based on an actual village, or is it an amalgamation of communities (or maybe totally made up?)

There’s a village a few miles from where I live that oozes a sense of magic and mystery. It’s the kind of Welsh village about which people nod and say, ‘Oh yes, it’s a bit weird there…’ A mist-laden, mysterious place then, with its share of ‘characters…’ As part of IMG-20160423-01719my job description, I’ve embellished and subconsciously drawn on memories of this and other villages to create the one in Ghostbird. I decided to leave it as the nameless ‘Village’ because I wanted it to be a character in its own right, and allow people to see if they could guess where it is!

I loved all the different characters, did you plan them all from the start, or did some muscle their way in as you went along?

3 Deliberate or notCadi presented herself fully formed (and in full agreement with me as to the wrongness of Blodeuwedd’s supposed fate.) I knew Cadi. I knew what she looked like, her frustration, her quirks and personality. Writing a fourteen year old girl was less of a challenge than I thought it would be. And I quickly came to know her aunt Lili and Violet, her mother, too. These three were there from the beginning and at the centre.

The rest turned up. (I killed off an innocent postman en route. He was rather nice but sadly, destined for the dead darlings file.) One character changed a lot – another was completely unplanned. Once she arrived and presented her credentials, I gave her a cup of tea and let her stay.

I’m glad to hear it –  and commiserations on the nice postman. Talking of killing your darlings (ouch), can I ask how you found  find your first experience of the editing process? Was it what you had expected? Do you feel it has changed you as a writer?

Mind-blowing! No! Yes! Janet and I began the process of editing Ghostbird after one of Honno’s invaluable ‘Meet the Editor’ events, before the book was accepted for publication. She liked my story enough to take me under her wing. Initially, I was simply stunned by how insightful she was. Her generous comments were often tagged with a firm ‘but.’ As we progressed it quickly became a tick-box exercise, because everything she said was right and made sense. I did my homework, redrafting until it was time for the ‘big girl’ editing and where the real work began.

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Welsh Woodland by Jenny Gordon

 

Oh, yes, I can identify with that, having been through the same process with our mutual editor, the wonderful Janet Thomas. That is so true!

Although I often found it overwhelming, it was another part of the process and an exciting learning curve. Close, line editing is about letting go – negotiating cuts and changes in creative content that on the face of it can break a writer’s heart. Once I read the final result however, I was blown away. That was another lesson: a book is only as good as its editor. If you are fortunate enough to work with the best, your heart won’t break, it will burst with joy! (Copy edits are another thing altogether, Juliet and frankly, terrifying. Who knew there was so much red ink in the world?)

Copy edits … (hives off into a corner, traumatised).

Being published validated me. In a way it gave me permission to write with a bit more confidence. Writing my second book took me a lot less time. Having been well edited once facilitated the process. I had more tools at my disposal and hopefully, I’ve made fewer errors.

Yes, I agree. I think that’s hard to see, the first time you experience a good editing process that it is a learning process, and nothing IMG-20150813-00974will be quite as hard again. I’m glad you found it like that, too – and I’m already looking forward to your next book!

You are very active on social media, is that something that came naturally? Do you have any advice for anyone starting out?

My feeling is, so long as I play nicely and mostly stay away from politics, social media is a useful tool. I ignore the stupid and embrace the positive. Facebook and Twitter have been the making of me as a writer. I’ve met some amazing and genuinely supportive people who have had a massive impact on my book’s small success.

I don’t give advice as such. Watch how the big name writers you admire do it. Be wise with your words. Be kind – and reciprocate the kindness of others.

Can I ask what are you working on now?

My second book – another ghost story – is currently with my editor. I’m now working on my third. Stories know if what we’ve written is the right one. With a bit of distance I’ve been able to work out what this one is really about.

And finally – congratulations for being nominated for the ‘Not the Booker’ prize. How did it feel when you found out?

Rachel Toll

By Rachel Toll

Thank you very much, Juliet. Like I was dreaming?! I’ve heard of the ‘Not the Booker’ of course but it wasn’t on my radar. I operate at a very low-key level with regard to accolades. Inside, I’m fluttering and obviously appreciative but because I’m genuinely happy to have been published at all, things like this feel as if they’re happening to someone else.

To be nominated by a reviewer and blogger of Anne Williams’ calibre, is an honour. She reads enormous numbers of books, many of them wildly successful. That she picked Ghostbird is what means so much to me. Anne’s support for my book is an on-going blessing. I’m up against stiff competition and unlikely to make the long list but that’s not the point – I’ve been nominated and it’s enough. (I did eat lemon meringue ice-cream with my daughter to celebrate!)

That sounds like the best celebration to me! Thank you, Carol for answering my questions and for the lovely photos – and I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Tenby Book Fair this September.

You can buy Ghostbird from Honno  HERE,

Amazon UK HERE

and Amazon US HERE

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Somebody needs to be forgiven, somebody needs to forgive …

Nothing hurts like not knowing who you are.

‘Carol Lovekin’s prose is full of beautifully strange poetry.’  Rebecca Mascull, author of The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid.

Nobody will tell Cadi anything about her father and her sister. In a world of hauntings and magic, in a village where it rains throughout August, as Cadi starts on her search, the secrets and the ghosts begin to wake up.

None of the Hopkins women will be able to escape them. Her mother Violet believes she can only cope with the past by never talking about it. Lili, Cadi’s aunt, is stuck in the middle, bound by a promise she shouldn’t have made.

But this summer, Cadi is determined to find out the truth.

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Interview with Eloise Williams

author of ‘Elen’s Island’, published by Firefly Press 

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Hello Eloise, and welcome to the blog! Can I start by asking you if you had any favourite books as a child? Were they the reason you became a children’s writer?

 I have always loved books and had the huge good fortune of living directly opposite a library when I was a child so my love of reading grew with frequent visits across the road. I suppose I didn’t think it was that unusual to be able to see into a library from your bedroom window and I certainly didn’t realise how lucky I was!

I had so many favourite books. All of the Enid Blyton’s – I believed in lands at the tops of trees and islands where mysteries occurred, but I spent most of my childhood in Narnia and that is what led me to write something for children so many years later.

My sister taught children in South Korea for a few years and during that time she made me a compilation to listen to, so I plugged my headphones in and walked the Pembrokeshire coast path listening to tunes that had meant lots to us both and then suddenly a recording of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe came on and, although I know it sounds dramatic, I had an epiphany. That’s what I was meant to be doing with my life. Writing for children and Young Adults. It became clear in that split second and I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t realised it in the first forty odd years of my life. I literally stopped where I was and slapped my own head. Thankfully there was no-one else around to see me!

 Where did you get the idea for Elen’s Island? Is it based on a real island or somewhere near where you live?

And where did the puffin come from? (and can I have one!)

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The idea came from a stay on Caldey Island in Pembrokeshire where I was lucky enough to spend three nights in an old schoolhouse. It was such a magical experience. From the second I stepped onto the boat I was enchanted. There’s something very wonderful about being on a piece of land, surrounded by turquoise sea and cut off from all your problems and worries. At that time I had just moved to Pembrokeshire as I married a Tenby based artist and I had no friends there and was missing my family. If you read the book you will recognise these themes! I also went on a visit to Skomer Island and was over the moon to see puffins! So Elen’s Island is a mixture of Caldey and Skomer and imagination.

Caldey Island

Eloise on Caldey Island

You can have a puffin! Skomer lets you adopt puffins and seals so you can have your very own and help the Wildlife Trust with their brilliant work. It also gives you an excellent excuse to visit Skomer so you can see them and the comedic way puffins land and smile at their funny faces!

 How did you find out about ‘Firefly’ and what was the process of being accepted for publication?

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I found out about Firefly when they ran a competition for a new children’s book. I’d already been writing bits and pieces and had a short story published by Honno (who publish some wonderful female authors including yourself (thank you! 🙂) and the very impressive Thorne Moore) and some poetry and short stories placed in competitions, so I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t win (sadly) but they were interested in seeing more of the story and I went back to it and wrote the whole thing. It’s very different from the first piece I submitted for the competition and much, much better! I was completely shocked and overwhelmed with happiness when I got the email from Firefly to say they’d like to publish it – it really was a moment that changed my life.

 We share an amazing editor, so I’m curious to know how you found the editing process.

Was it something you enjoyed, and did you feel it made you a better writer? And how do you think it made the story better?

We are very fortunate to have had the help of Janet Thomas and I agree she is AMAZING! The editing process came as something of a surprise to me if I’m honest. I thought it would be a case of the odd typo here and there and restructuring a few sentences. Little did I realise how much work was involved. I am very lucky that I’ve become good at taking constructive criticism through working as an actress for over a decade! It is quite a journey from the very first manuscript to the polished piece and I am so grateful that I have an editor who I not only like as a person (handy) but who has such a sharp eye and a brilliant understanding of how to tell a story. Elen’s Island was the first thing I’ve ever written for children and I really needed that guiding hand. It made the story tighter, funnier, with more rounded characters and really made me think about what I wanted the reader to get from the book. YES it has made me a better writer (I hope).

Watson flying

Watson flying

 How are you enjoying your time to write from your Literature Wales Writers’ Bursary? Do you find it makes a difference being able to concentrate fully on your next book?

I am having the time of my life! It makes such a difference to be able to give my writing my full attention instead of grabbing time here and there between work commitments. It’s also a real honour to have the faith of such a great institution willing to fund my writing for three months (as you know) and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity.

Can you say something about your next book? And what are the plans for the future?

 My second book Seaglass is a Young Adult ghost story set in Pembrokeshire. It’s a scary, thrilling page-turner which also has funny moments and is a story of survival and loss. Lots of lovely authors have read it in manuscript form and given me fantastic feedback so I’m very excited to see it land in the hands of young readers. At the moment it’s with my agent, the fabulous Ben Illis of The Ben Illis Agency, while he finds it a forever home.

My third book, and the one I’m using my Literature Wales Bursary to write, is called Gaslight and is again a YA but is set in Cardiff in the Victorian era. I’ve never written anything in a historical period so it’s yet another learning curve for me. I like to keep life interesting! Gaslight is a thriller which features lots of dastardly goings on, gothic stuff, pea-souper fog, ships, music hall, murder, midnight skinny-dipping and thieves. There is also a serious crush going on but the course of true love never did run smooth…

After that…. who knows?

I’ve already started work on another three books, all of which are for young people and again feature a female protagonist with a very strong voice. Now I’ve found what I should have been doing with my life I am never giving up!

Thank you, Eloise. I loved Elen’s Island, and I’m looking forward to ghosts and dastardly goings-on!

You can find out more about Eloise and follow her here:

Website

Twitter

Facebook

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‘Elen’s Island’ is for ages 7 – 9. Elenfront1

Summary and reviews

When her parents send her to stay with a grandmother she hardly knows for the summer, Elen is furious. Gran lives on a tiny island and doesn’t want her to stay either – it’s not an easy start.

Gran’s idea of childcare is to give Elen a map and tell her to explore. Who is the odd boy on the beach with a puffin? After saving Gran in a storm, Elen finds a picture that she’s sure is a clue to hidden treasure. She investigates – and finds a very different treasure from the one she expected.

Early praise for Elen’s Island:

‘Wildly imaginative, funny and poignant, Elen’s Island keeps us hooked from the first scintillating sentence. You’ll fall in love with the feisty Elen, her phenomenal gran and a magical island, in a tale spun with craft and brio.’ Stevie Davies, novelist.

‘Elen’s Island is beautifully written and will stir the imagination of a generation of children. Children everywhere will be asking their parents if they can visit Aberglad.’ Kevin Johns, Swansea Sound.

‘An absolute treat.’ Jamie Owen, BBC newsreader.

‘With a plucky, driven heroine, a magical mystery and a pace that never lets up, Elen’s Island is a rollicking read that promises to keep readers enchanted and engaged.’
Guy Bass, children’s author, including the bestselling
Stitch Head.

‘A meticulously crafted novel that will encourage the most reluctant young reader to keep turning the pages. Elen is a heroine every child will identify with.’ Catrin Collier, novelist.

‘A joyful adventure. Full of wonder and magic.’ Simon Ludders, actor, Renfield on CBBC’s Young Dracula

Eloise has crafted a beautifully written and magical tale that will keep readers, both young and old, enthralled from the first funny sentence right through to the final, poignant conclusion.’ BB Skone, Western Telegraph

‘I highly recommend it. This book has so many good ingredients. Together they make a fabulous book with a wonderful ending.’ Suze, Librarian Lavender

 

About Eloise

Eloise writes words. Lots of them. Sometimes in particular orders.Sixer of Pixies. Child of the 70’s. Survived encephalitis, pizza thrown in face, a decade as an actress, school, endless years of Heavy Metal abuse from younger sister’s room.

Likes confetti, bluebells, memories of Gran and Grampa, family, cwtches, the way ladybirds shelter in beech nuts, collecting seaglass on misty days, comfy jeans, stories about interesting things.

Spent too much money on ill-fitting clothes, too much of the 80’s planning marriage to John Taylor and/or George Michael, lovely times in Europe, one cold week in New York.

Lives in West Wales. Lives for the sea, love, repeats of ‘Murder She Wrote’, for as long as she can. Has dog called Watson Jones. Has husband called Guy. Both of whom are handsome devils.

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In A Foreign Country

Ghana in 1976 with a baby and a suitcase

An interview with Hilary Shepherd

Today I would like to welcome to the blog fellow Honno author, Hilary Shepherd, whose second novel ‘In a Foreign Country’, set in Ghana, was published in March, and is currently in the Amazon Kindle summer sale. 

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I was 23 when I went to Ghana with a baby and one suitcase in 1976. All these years later the experience remains vivid, for the simple reason that I’ve never been back, nor have I ever been anywhere else quite like it.

Hilary 3There is an upside for a writer, writing about distant places, as authors like Peter Ackroyd have observed. However exacting it is to re-immerse yourself in faraway sounds, smells and colours, you don’t have so many decisions to make about what to include and what to leave out because the setting has been pre-edited by the limits of your memory. All you have to do is bring remembered detail to life. And because you are revisiting a place in your head, the detail that does come back is exciting, heart-rending, revitalising. That’s a pretty useful starting place for telling any story!

 

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As for the plot, I had written already about the trials and tribulations of living in the Sudan with a young family in my first novel and I wanted to write about somebody who thoroughly enjoys Ghana, however challenging she finds it. My character, Anne, is just out of university, keen to put her anthropological studies to good use at the same time as getting to know the father she has hardly seen since she was small. He has been working in Tamale for many years. Like him, she loves the place at once and decides to stay. And like him, she then falls in love awkwardly, perhaps unforgivably, with someone she finds there.

I didn’t want to write about northern Ghana outside the rainy season I experienced because the dry season is so different, so something had to happen to Anne within the same short time-scale of seven months. Hospitals I knew a bit about, having spent an unscheduled day in one in Tamale. I threw in some of my maternal experience in scenes with a secondary character, and drew on a brief trip we made to Burkino Faso, and horse-riding in Kumasi. But schools and teaching, which is where Anne gets to know her priest – that bit I had to shamelessly invent. After all, we’ve all been there, at some stage. It just needs a bit of imagination to go back as a teacher and in a West African setting.

As for the priest himself, a friend once told me the merest outline of something experienced by someone she knew, which has fascinated me ever since. What happens to a charismatic man if his life outgrows the framework he imposed upon himself long ago? And if you find yourself emotionally implicated, should you keep away or should you stay?

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 I’m not living in Ghana inside my head anymore. The book I’m currently working on is set in Spain in the aftermath of the Civil War. Writing historical novels is another foreign country in itself.

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Currently just 99p in the Kindle Summer Sale, you can get your copy HERE

Even in your father’s house you can feel like an outsider…

Recently graduated, Anne is in Ghana for the first time. Her father, Dick, has been working up country for an NGO since his daughter was a small child. They no longer really know each other.

A few days into her six-month stay, the houseboy Moses returns
from a trip. As the weeks pass, Anne has a growing feeling that she’s surplus to requirements. Dick is grumpy and distant; Moses distinctly put out at her continued presence. She finds respite teaching eager young pupils at a local Catholic school. Then, out of the blue, a terrible accident changes everything.

In its aftermath, Anne’s closeness to a priest in trouble with his superiors at the Mission, reaches a tipping point that endangers them both.

Praise for In a Foreign Country

“intelligent, subtle and sensitive… I was conscious throughout of the author’s deft control and understatement. Less was definitely more, and what she chose to omit, as well as what she included, made it a much greater book… a thought-provoking, absorbing and rewarding read, which I highly recommended.”
Debbie Young (Debbie Young’s Writing Life)

“Will leave you thinking about the characters after you put it down, and wanting more as you read the last words…[Shepherd’s future as an author looks bright]”
Gwales

HILARY SHEPHERD

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 After a lifetime of organic farming, and more recently making windows and stairs in oak for a living – and kitchens in all sorts of woods – Hilary Shepherd published her first novel with Honno in 2012. ‘Animated Baggage’ is set in the Sudan, where she lived with her young family for two years during the 80s. It is a wasp-on-the-wall view of the world of international aid but sadly is no longer in print. Earlier this year Honno published her second book. ‘In A Foreign Country’ follows a young English woman as she arrives in Ghana, where nothing is quite as she expects it to be, including the hidden faces of love.

Hilary is married to Nick and they live on a wild Welsh hillside where they spend a lot of time pushing rocks about. They also spend time in Spain, in a remote mountain village in the Maestrazgo, where the book she is working on now is set.

You can follow Hilary on Facebook: 

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Interview with

LINDSAY ASHFORD

AUTHOR OF

‘THE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF MISS AUSTEN’

 This week fellow Honno author Lindsay Ashford’s ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is the Radio 4 Woman’s Hour serial.

I loved the book, and can’t wait to hear the radio version.

And congratulations to Lindsay for winning her Mastermind heat this week. Exciting times, indeed!

 

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This interview with was originally posted in 2011, when ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ was published. 

Today, on December 16th, Jane Austen’s birthday, it’s my great pleasure to interview Lindsay Ashford, acclaimed crime-novelist and journalist, and author of ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, recently published by Honno Press.  ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is also the first of Honno’s books to be available for download as an ebook. 

Most appropriately, I chatted to Lindsay while she was in Chawton House in Hertfordshire, the former home of Jane Austen’s brother, and so a place familiar to Jane Austen herself, and now home to a unique collection of books focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 – 1830. The Chawton House Library also works closely with Jane Austen’s House Museum. So a perfect setting!

Lindsay Ashford is best known for her popular gritty contemporary crime series featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys. So I began by asking what had inspired her to delve into the past to write a historical mystery? Lindsay explained that it was when her partner was offered the chance to work for Chawton Library that she began to spend time there, as they divided their time between Chawton and their home in Wales.

 Gradually, she became fascinated by the letters and archive material in the library and found herself being draw into the world of Jane Austen’s family. While reading Jane’s letters, she came across Jane’s description of her final illness: ‘I am considerably better now and am recovering my looks a little, which have been bad enough, black and white and every wrong colour.’

For a writer who has studied criminology and researched the symptoms of arsenic poisoning for her Megan Rhys books, alarms bells immediately began to ring.… But it was only when, not long afterwards, she met the former president of the Jane Austen Society of North America, who told her that a lock of hair which is now in a nearby museum had been tested for arsenic by its former owners and come up as positive, that the kernel of a story began to stir. The writer’s mind began working on ‘what if’. Just supposing Jane Austen had been murdered rather than died of ignorance of the effects of arsenic in treatments for rheumatism, then who in her immediate circle might have wanted her out of the way, and why? And so ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ was born.

I then asked Lindsay what she found as a challenge in writing a historical fiction book rather than a modern urban thriller and was this research process very different from when she is researching her Megan Rhys books, such as ‘Frozen’ and ‘The Killer Inside‘?

 Lindsay explained that she found it more relaxing in one way undertaking the historical research. Keeping up with all the latest forensic tecniques, when so many people are so knowledgeable about them nowadays (thanks to all the police ‘procedurals’ in print and on TV) is demanding when researching her Megan Rhys books. On the other hand, writing a novel in a historical setting meant making sure every detail of setting and language rang true, which meant checking everything to make sure there were no glaring mistakes.

Lindsay tells ‘The  Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ very much in her own style. As Jane Austen’s own writing is so much a part of our psyche, I wondered if Lindsay had found it difficult not to imitate her style, or unconsciously lift bits from her books, especially as there are shades of so many of her well-known characters in the novel. Lindsay explained that she had not really read much Jane Austen since she was at school, when she had really been too young to appreciate the perceptiveness and humour. When she first arrived at Chawton, she read all of the novels and so came to them with a fresh eye. Something she feels was definitely an advantage when she began researching Jane Austen’s family for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’.

Fortunately, after living with Jane Austen as a character in her head, Lindsay can switch off from all her research and still very much enjoy all Jane Austen’s novels now. Lindsay’s favourite is ‘Persuasion’ and Anne Elliot is her favourite heroine. When I asked Lindsay if she had a favourite hero, she confessed to having a soft spot for Greg Wise as the caddish Willoughby in Emma Thompson’s film version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’. And I’m definitely not going to argue with that!

Lindsay says she would like to tackle another historical mystery at some point, possibly set in the Regency period – but probably not with real historical characters so closely involved. Which sounds intriguing.

And lastly, I asked Lindsay about her experience of working with the wonderful editors at Honno Press, and if she had any tips for aspiring writers. Lindsay confessed that – like most published writers – she has a draw full of rejections for her work, alongside novels that will never see the light of day. Again like many published writers, it was only when she began to work with an editor that she began to truly perfect her craft. For her, she says, an editor is an impartial eye that will tell you just as it is. It will not be kind, like friends and family will be tempted to be, but a good editor will give a new writer the benefit of years of experience. Lindsay’s advice is to listen and learn. Even an experienced writer still needs the input of an editor, as every writer gets so close to their story it’s quite impossible to see it with a clear eye. Even for ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’, it took about four drafts to get the book right and the best it can be. There’s always room to learn!

And so thank you to Lindsay Ashford for being interviewed for my blog!

About Lindsay:

Lindsay Ashford became the first woman to graduate from Queens’ College, Cambridge in its 550 year history. She gained a degree in Criminology. Lindsay Ashford was then employed as a reporter for the BBC before becoming a freelance journalist, writing for a number of national magazines and newspapers.

 In 1996, Lindsay took a crime writing course run by the Arvon Foundation. Her first book, Frozen, was published by Honno in 2003. ‘Strange Blood’, also featuring forensic psychologist Megan Rhys was shortlisted for the 2006 Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. She wrote The Rubber Woman for the Quick Reads series in 2007.

 ‘The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen’ is published by Honno Press.

You can find Lindsay at her website:

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Today I have great pleasure in welcoming fellow Honno author, Jo Verity, to the blog.

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Jo is an award-winning writer of short stories, novels and poetry. Her stories and articles have been  broadcast on Radio 4, and she has been a finalist in the Mslexia International Short Story Competition . In 2003, she was the winner of the Richard & Judy Short Story prize.

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A very warm welcome to the blog, Jo.  Can I start by asking how you began writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve always been a reader but, until 1999, it had never crossed my mind that I might be a writer.

That year, I’d planned to fly to Budapest to link up with Ruth, an American acquaintance – an eccentric Jewish zen-buddhist sculptor whom I’d first met in Prague when I was Inter-railing several years earlier – but, at the last moment, she cried off. At the time I was working as a medical graphic artist at the Dental School in Cardiff. I’d booked a week’s leave and I decided to use the week to get to grips with my new PC – a daunting task for a non-techie in those days. I needed a document to practice saving, copying etc. and my husband, bless him, suggested I ‘write something’. I was cheesed off at missing my trip, cross with Ruth for letting me down, and I got this off my chest by writing a story with her as my central character. By the end of that week I knew I wanted to write – but I never dreamed I would get ‘stuff’ published.

2. Do you feel there were advantages to not having your first novel published until you were older? Did you feel you benefitted from more life experience, or were you afraid you had started too late?

My first novel – ‘Everything in the Garden’ was published in 2005. I’d been writing for 6 years by then which is probably pretty average for novelists. The fact that I started writing late (I jo-verity-656477782was 54) seemed like no big deal. It certainly didn’t cross my mind that it was ‘too late’. And there were many advantages. My free time was pretty much my own to do with as I pleased. As a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, I’d seen life from lots of angles. Having first-hand experience of the events that shape everyone’s life has enabled me to write (perceptively, I hope) about birth, death, marriage and parenthood. All that ‘ordinary stuff’ that becomes suddenly extraordinary when it affects us.

51E3FaUFqUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_I choose my protagonists carefully. It’s horses for courses. For instance I would be crazy to attempt to write a novel from a teenager’s point of view. On the other hand, if you want to know what it’s like being responsible for a teenager, you might like to read ‘Not Funny, Not Clever’.

There is one disadvantage to being an older writer. I don’t want to sound bitter here but I’ve come to the conclusion that some agents and publishers are age-ist. To them the author is a commodity. And it’s easier to market a glamorous young thing than a ‘more mature’ person.

3. Do you prefer writing novels or short stories? Or do you enjoy the different discipline each brings?

I love writing both. I recently finished writing a novel – ‘Left and Leaving’ – and before embarking on the next, I’m writing a short story as a sort of palate cleanser cum brain shaker-upper. It’s a mistake (for me, anyway) to try and do both at the same time because I need to stick so closelyto my characters – take my eye off them for a moment and they might wander off.

A novel is a long haul. You have to like your characters because you’re going to spend a couple of years with them. When I start writing a novel I begin with a character or two and a ‘what if’. (In ‘Bells’ it was ‘what if’ a reliable husband stumbles out of his banal routine and into the life he feels he should be living.) I never plot my novels. I let my characters dictate where the story goes and who we might meet on the way. I definitely have no idea how it will end. This keeps it fresh for me, but this organic way of writing means that my characters often lead me down blind alleys and I have to back-track. It makes writing slow. I’m delighted if I can produce five hundred new words in a day.

Short stories are totally different. You have pretty much to have the whole thing in your head before you start. In a few thousand words you must transport the reader to a different world; give them a glimpse of something that might illuminate their own life. There has to be a point to it. There’s no room for waffle. Every word must earn its place. It can be great fun, too, as it allows you to play around with structure and style.

4. And finally, I have to ask what it felt like to win the Richard and Judy short story competition in 2003, and do you feel it helped your writing career. And on a more frivolous note – did you get to meet them?

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 My writing career has been shaped by two pieces of what seemed like bad luck. Firstly, my cancelled holiday and secondly a bout of food poisoning. Were it not for the latter I wouldn’t have been off work lying under the duvet watching the Richard & Judy Show. It was the last call for entries to their short story competition. I happened to have recently finished a story which I thought was okay so I stuck it in the post and forgot about it. Three months later, I got a call saying that my story – ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ – had made it to the last fifteen and inviting me to the show when the winner would be announced. I was thrilled to get that far and had no idea that my story had been judged best (of 17,000!). When Judy read out my name, my only thought was that I was going to have to speak ON LIVE TV. That part is all a bit of a blur. I do remember afterwards, in the green Room, chatting to the judges – Martina Cole, Tony Parsons and Suzy Feay, the then literary editor of The Independent on Sunday. I was incredibly excited to know that three such respected members of the literary world rated something I’d written. I got to meet Richard and Judy, of course, who were EXACTLY as they come over on the TV. Judy would fit in fine with a crowd of women on a shopping weekend. And Richard was, how shall I put it, pretty sure of himself. 

Bee

My prize was a trophy and publication of my story in the Independent.

The best thing about winning was confirmation that someone thought I could write. I naively assumed I would be inundated with offers from agents wanting to take me on. But after a few weeks I accepted that that wasn’t going to happen. Around then I received a letter from Honno Welsh Women’s Press. Had I, by any chance, written anything longer? (‘Short stories by unknown writers don’t sell.’) I had, that very week, finished the first draft of ‘Everything in the Garden’ which Honno published in 2005.

Thank  you for your insight, Jo, which was fascinating. And good luck with your latest novel, ‘Left and Leaving’

51yBOE8soUL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX385_SY500_CR,0,0,385,500_SH20_OU02_“Humane and subtle, a keenly observed exploration of the way we live now… I am amazed that Verity’s work is still such a secret. A great read
Stephen May, author of Life, Death, Prizes

The fifth novel from Richard and Judy Award winner Jo Verity, author of Sweets from Morocco a “pitch perfect evocation of childhood and sibling relationships
Marcel Theroux

Photographer Gil is on an extended grey gap-year, working in
the London hospital to which Vivian brings Irene for emergency
treatment; together they try to establish calm amid the chaos.
Irene is thrilled with her ‘guardian angels’, they less so with her ongoing interest in their lives.

Gil has a girlfriend, living in the same building as him, and a troublesome family back home. Thirty-something Vivian has a high- flying boyfriend, an irascible father and a demanding job. But they keep finding reasons to spend time together in the run up to Christmas. And still there is Irene, intent on filling the holes in her life…

Marooned in Tooting by a sudden snowstorm, Vivian and Gil are forced to spend the holiday confronting secrets and responsibilities they’ve been complacent about for too long.

Wales Book of the Month January 2014

Praise for Left and Leaving

her best yet. It is beautifully written… both rewarding and inspiring and I would recommend it unreservedly.
Ian Kirkpatrick

Humane and subtle, a keenly observed exploration of the way we live now… I am amazed that Verity’s work is still such a secret. A great read
Stephen May, author of Life, Death, Prizes

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In anticipation of Trisha Ashley’s sparkly new Christmas book ‘Wish Upon A Star’ this week, I’m reposting an interview from 2011,

when Trisha was celebrating the publication of ‘The Magic of Christmas’.

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The new Christmas Book for 2013

I was very new to blogging at the time, so this interview was put in a place where it didn’t appear in the tags. So here it is again, and will hopefully now appear in the right place.

Bonfire night is over – let Christmas begin!

And I’m hoping to follow up this interview with one for ‘Wish Upon a Star’ very soon.

FIRST POSTED IN NOVEMBER 2011

Today, as Christmas approaches,  I’ve great pleasure in interviewing the  bestselling author of ‘The Magic of Christmas’ : Trisha Ashley.

Trisha is published by Avon HarperCollins, and is the  author of twelve romantic comedies. Two of her books have been shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan award for romantic comedy, while ‘Every Woman for Herself’ was voted one of the top three romantic novels of the last fifty years.

Trisha’s books contain some wonderful recipes – indeed she was recently described as the  ’Queen of Yummy Lit’ – and you can find Trisha’s recipe for  ginger tree biscuits at the end of her interview. (Below the Christmas tree)

Trisha is also generously giving away a signed copy of The Magic of Christmas. Details of how to enter for a chance of winning this Christmassy treat are  below.

And so welcome, Trisha, and thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. My first question has to be: what was the first thing you ever wrote?

Hard to remember, really – as a child I was always writing poems, plays and little stories, then moved on to the opening chapters of novels.  I finished my first novel at 18 (unpublishable).

And so what was the first thing you ever had published?

The first writings of mine to be published were poems in the local paper, when I was eleven.  The first novel was a Regency romance in the early eighties.  (I wrote two of those, before returning to my first love, the satirical novel.)

Your books are full of very English eccentric characters in a very English setting. Have you been inspired by any particular village or people when creating your books?

Some of my books also have very Welsh settings and characters, like The Generous Gardener/Sowing Secrets, but many of my recent books have been set in an imaginary bit of rural West Lancashire not far from Ormskirk. I was brought up in that area, so I suppose you could say that I am steeped in the legends and lore of the region and I have condensed it all into my own little world. 

Your latest book, ‘The Magic of Christmas’ features a very traditional English Christmas. Can you give an idea of your own favourite part of Christmas?

Obviously, I love to bake the Christmas cake and make mincepies and mincemeat flapjacks, but after that, my favourite time is when I decorate the tree.  I do it quite late in December, when the house is (unusually) clean and tidy and already smelling of spice and mystery.

I have a large gold tinsel tree that my son fell in love with at a garden centre when he was two, and onto that go an eclectic collection of ancient and new baubles (forget colour-coding or ‘themed’!) culminating with the placing on top of a papier mache Santa over eighty years old.  His red robe has turned a soupy brown and my mother at some point tarted him up with a bit of red glitter glue and a cotton wool beard, but we love him anyway.

That Sounds very festive! I’m feeling all Christmassy now. So can I ask if you were going to be swept away for a romantic Christmas, where would it be, and who would be your dream hero to accompany you – especially if there was a bunch of mistletoe involved?

Rufus Sewell can take me anywhere he likes.

Ah, Rufus Sewell ….. Anyhow, to get back to the interview: you have some wonderful recipes in your book. If you were going to going to tear yourself away from Rufus to take part in the UK TV hit ‘The Great British Bakeoff’, what would be your signature dish for the pudding?

Oh, I couldn’t be faffing about with competitions or trying to impress anyone: I expect I’d just do a variant of Eton Mess using five minute microwave meringue!

Sounds yummy. And can I ask what your signature cake would be?

My favourite cake is the universal fruitcake recipe from the back of Wedding Tiers: perfect for birthdays, Christenings, weddings and just generally eating.  Soak the dried fruit for three days in dark rum for a Christmas cake version. 

Trisha’s Christmas cake, made for the launch of The Magic of Christmas. Delicious!

And, finally: ‘The Magic of Christmas’ is an extensive reworking of an earlier book. Did you enjoy the experience of revisiting a work you’d already said goodbye to, and was it easier or harder than starting a new book from scratch?

When I wrote Sweet Nothings, the original, I fell in love with Middlemoss and its inhabitants and always felt there was much more I wanted to say about them all.  So I was delighted when it was suggested that I rewrite the book for Avon, to be published as The Magic of Christmas. The heroine, Lizzy, is a keen cook, especially of puddings and cakes and she and her friends in the Christmas Pudding Circle get together months in advance of the season to make sure that every Senior Citizen in Middlemoss gets the Christmas hamper of their dreams!

I think it was harder to rewrite a book than write one from scratch, and this was definitely a one off: I hope my out of print backlist will eventually be reprinted, but they will be as they were.

My new book, Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues, is a brand new novel, set in the village of Sticklepond, where A Winter’s Tale and Chocolate Wishes were also set and you will find one or two characters from Middlemoss also turning up…

Sounds intriguing! Thank you Trisha for being a guest on my blog. And Happy Christmas!

Trisha at the launch of The Magic of Christmas

You can see Trisha talking about her books HERE 

TRISHA’S RECIPE FOR GINGER TREE BISCUITS

Ingredients

4oz/100g butter

80z /225g plain flour

6oz/175g soft Brown Sugar

1 small egg, beaten

1 level teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cinoman

¼ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)

Method

Sieve flour and spices into a bowl, add butter chopped into bits. Rub into flour between thumb and finger (as you do with short crust pastry). When you have a mix like fine breadcrumbs, add the sugar and most of the egg, then knead lightly into a firm dough, adding the rest of the egg if necessary. Place the dough in a bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for at least half an hour to make it easier to roll out and cut.

Heat oven to 190 C , or 375 F, or gas mark 5. Grease a couple of baking trays. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured board then cut shapes as desired.

Pierce each biscuit so it can be hung from a thread or ribbon (Trisha uses a chopstick to do this) place on the baking tray, well spaced, and bake for about 10 minutes until light brown at the edges (Trisha says it’s best to keep a close eye on them!). Remove and place on racks to cook. Trisha ices them by mixing a little icing sugar and water with natural food colouring, and brushes this on with a small brush.

Very pretty hung from the tree – and delicious eaten!

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Marge2

Hello Margaret, and welcome to my blog. It’s a real pleasure to have you here.

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Juliet. I’m delighted to be here.


TWD

Having enjoyed your historical novels, such as The Silver Locket, it was a lovely surprise to read  your contemporary story for Choc Lit, The Wedding Diary. Can I ask what the inspiration was for such a different bo0k?

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A year or two ago, my local writing group ran a plot-generating workshop. So we were all trying to come up with some original what-if situations. The one which popped into my head was – what if you won a competition for which the first prize was a fantabulous wedding in a country house hotel, but you didn’t have anyone to marry?

It’s certainly a great idea! I loved the fairy godmother with such a deliciously naughty streak, is she based on anyone?

I don’t know where Fanny came from. She’s not based on anyone I know. She walked into my head as a fully-formed character saying come along, darling, write about me. All her lines seemed to arrive as if by some kind of celestial dictation. I’ve never written about anyone remotely like Fanny before. I knew from the start that she was essentially benign, but that she was a force of nature, too. A man like Jack would cross her at his peril…

Definitely! Let’s hope he learns his lesson! Did you set out to write a contemporary story, or was it that the idea that was so good you just had to go for it?

I told one of the people in my writing group that although I thought the concept of winning a competition but not being able to accept the prize was quite a good one, I wouldn’t be able to write a novel about that. She said go on, I bet you could. I always like a challenge.

I’m glad you did. And as the owner of a dog who insists on stealing the limelight, I have to ask if you have a particular inspiration for Caspar the dog?

My older daughter had a beautiful and elegant grey whippet who was a bit dim, but was a charming, gentle and much-loved pet. The real dog is now in Whippet Heaven, but she lives on in Caspar, who has a similar sweet temperament.

What were the different challenges of writing a historical and a contemporary novel? You must have to do detailed research for historicals, did you have to do lots of research for this one, too?

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The great thing about writing a contemporary novel was that it was comparatively research-free. All I had to do was listen to real people talking, watch television programmes about restoring stately homes, go to Italy and climb the Torre Guinigi myself, and go to the biggest Marks and Spencer in the world. Yes, it’s a hard life!

Now that sounds like my kind of research! Did you enjoy writing from a modern male’s point of view?

Yes, very much. One of the great pleasures of writing fiction is that it allows me to be other people, and it was fun being a thirty-something man for a while. But Adam is a fantasy creation. I’ve never met or heard of any man who is as wonderful as Adam. I don’t suppose such a man exists. Although if any reader knows better, I’d be delighted to hear about a real life paragon!

(sighs) Me too! So for your next book are you planning another contemporary or are you returning to a historical setting
Or maybe both?

I have written the first draft of a historical novel, but I think the villain is going to have to be the hero because heis much more interesting and has a longer moral journey to make than the hero, who is actually (whisper) rather dull. So that book is on the back burner while I finish another contemporary story.

Thank you, Margaret, and I look forward to your next book – historical and contemporary!

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The Wedding Diary

If you won a fairy-tale wedding in a luxury hotel, you’d be delighted – right? But what if you didn’t have anyone to marry? Cat Aston did have a fiance, but now it looks like her Prince Charming has done a runner.

Adam Lawley was left devastated when his girlfriend turned down his heartfelt proposal. He’s made a vow never to fall in love again.

So – when Cat and Adam meet, they shouldn’t even consider falling in love. After all, they’re both broken hearted. But for some reason they can’t stop thinking about each other. Is this their second chance for happiness, or are some things just too good to be true?

Margaret James is a British writer of historical and contemporary fiction. She has written sixteen commercially published novels and many short stories and articles on the art of writing. Margaret is also a journalist working for the UK’s Writing Magazine and teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism.51X2fFsYTrL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU02_SS100_ 5102iZ4Cq0L._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU02_SS100_

Margaret was born in Hereford, UK, and now lives in the beautiful county of Devon, UK.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Wedding-Diary-Choc-ebook/dp/B00C6BFEUC/ref=pd_sim_kinc_1

www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268

www.twitter.com/majanovelist

www.margaretjamesblog.blogspot.com

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