It’s a pleasure to welcome author Ruth Morgan to talk about her book The Whitworth Mysteries
Ruth lives in Lismore, New South Wales where the whole community has been devastated by flooding. We are talking unheard of flood levels of up to 14.4 metres. Lives and homes and businesses were lost. Even more cruelly, a month after the first flood, when the cleanup was well underway, Lismore endured a second flood. While helping out in her local area, Ruth is still writing. She is also promoting a re-stocking drive for the Lismore library which lost 29,000 books.
So, I am very grateful that Ruth has taken the time to talk to us. We will discuss her writing later, but first some quick-fire questions.
Late nights or early mornings? Always early mornings.
What’s for breakfast? Toast and coffee.
Night out or Netflix? Night in, with a good book.
G &T or Tea/coffee? All three – but not at the same time!
Perfect weekend? Going for a walk, catching up over coffee with friends, and time spent in the garden getting dirty.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I’m not sure I’ve grown up yet! Everything! Reader, writer, dancer, nurse, vet, work in a zoo..
What is for dinner tonight? Can you cook? What would you rather be eating ?Love cooking. Dinner tonight – probably leftovers! Preference these days is vegetarian, and when the veggie garden is productive, whatever is in season is usually what’s for dinner. I love it though when someone else cooks.
What brings you joy?Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood. Cats – always cats. The sound of a purring cat, being head-butted, sat on – magic. Or going for walk, sitting by the ocean, listening to beautiful music.
Your hero? I don’t know that I have a hero. If I look around me at the moment my community is full of heroes. To deal with two floods a month apart makes heroes of us all. A hero is someone who doesn’t quit, although they may want to, even when the odds appear overwhelming, they just keep going. Those who help clean up after the flood, those who listen, those who are running a business from their damaged premises and are operating through the back door, yet still going. The battlers, the fighters, those putting one put in front of the other… Those wonderful heroes who came from nowhere in droves to help, the wonderful Sikhs who drove 27 hours to come and cook the most amazing food for everyone, groups who turned up offering food, water and fruit to the mud army, those who run the Resilient Lismore FB group…
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party,( dead or alive)who would they be and why?
Only three! Probably Laurens van der Post, Arthur Upfield, Agatha Christie and Carl Jung – maths was never my strong point!
Questions about Writing.
Have you always written? I’ve been a storyteller since childhood. Growing up in a very isolated location threw me back on my own resources for entertainment. So I learned at a young age to see stories everywhere and in the most mundane events. In my first years of primary school, I began writing. There have been long periods when I haven’t though and always felt something was missing. Now it’s a full-time occupation, and I’ve never been happier.
What inspired your new book?
Mildura. My home town renamed Whitworth for the book. I love the wide-open spaces, the red dirt, the river red gums, the river… The breathtaking sense of solitude that standing in the middle of somewhere like the Hay Plains brings. The sense of peace. I grew up in Mildura when there were lots of interesting things going on – especially for a budding crime fiction writer. I wanted to explore links between events, characters, to explore what was hidden, and always to learn why people do what they do.
What time of the day do you usually write? Much prefer mornings. Brain is fresher and ideas emerge more easily.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? When my characters refuse to co-operate, or tell me what’s going on. Sometimes threats work, cajoling, offers of tea or something stronger. They fall silent when I’m taking the story in the direction I want it to go, rather than how they want it told. When we work in harmony it’s so much easier.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? It depends on where I’m up to in the process. Always start early and often work through. If I have a deadline, I just keep going. If I have time, usually finish about lunchtime and do other things in the afternoon.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? Being able to close my eyes and watch the characters interact, eavesdrop on conversations, see what’s unfolding through someone else’s eyes. And if the characters are playing nicely, be able to ask questions. That’s a fabulous quirk to have!
Did you do any research for your current book? Yes. Because it’s a police procedural I need to understand how things are done, interviews conducted, the treatment of a crime scene. A lot of information can be gathered by reading widely, asking questions, but in the end how you put the research together, which sections you use are all determined by how the story wants and needs to be told.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special? It would have to be David. The man in my current novel who didn’t want to be the hero. His refusal to take on the role ground the entire story to a screeching halt. It was only when I asked a writing group I’m part of why he was being unhelpful that someone made the suggestion that perhaps the wrong person was in the hero role. I listened to the characters, to the story, and swapped the hero. A flood of ideas and events, layers and understanding emerged and I have to type more quickly in order to keep up.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? Possible. But perhaps not fiction. So much of what goes on in a story, love, loss, anger, grief, hope – are strong emotions and for many felt physically as well as in the mind. It would be hard to be convincing if the emotion wasn’t felt.
Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received? Best advice – get the story out of your head in whatever way works for you. Worst advice – draft everything. That takes out all the fun of discovery.
Best money you have spent as a writer? The first course I did at the NSW Writer’s Centre, was in about 1996. I don’t remember now what it was, but I remember the teacher and her belief that I had the capacity to tell gripping stories. No one had ever given me that backup before.
Do you have a favourite author and why? Favourites change from month to month, there are always new discoveries to make. I always come back to Garry Disher and Peter Temple. I love the speed in Temple’s work, and the dark depths and how he handles dialogue. I love the spartan writing in Disher’s work and how the landscape is a powerful part of what unfolds.
What are you reading now? Gary Jubelin’s I Catch Killers, and Fiona Macintosh’s The Spys Wife.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing? I think everything I’ve ever read has added something. The way of describing a scene, an emotion, a discussion between characters – I’ve taken some piece of information, view, learning from every book I’ve read. Some books show me how NOT to tell a story. The influences can be positive and negative.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? How much paper do you have! So many remarkable books and all have had a different impact on how I see stories. I loved the Far Pavilions, Len Deighton’s Hook, Line and Sinker series, Ruth Rendell, Simeon, Arthur Upfield. Arthur Upfield’s, Death of a Swagman has a special place in my memory. It was the first book set in a country that I knew well and had grown up in. Jon Cleary, Trent Dalton, Kate Forsyth….
Favourite book/story you have read as a child?Lord of the Rings was the first book I read as an early teen that has stayed with me and is reread on a regular basis. But I don’t write or read fantasy. There is such depth to the story that it always enriches anything I’m working on. LOTR is a place to retreat, to emerge inspired and restored and after, well, some decades, it always has something new to offer that I hadn’t discovered before.
If you would care to donate to the library appeal ,as I did, more details can be found on the Lismore library home page.
Thanks for joining us Kelvin. I know Kelvin slightly as a fellow member of a writing group I belong to. But I found his answers intriguing and I hope that you will too.
First some getting to know you questions and then we will talk about your writing.
Late nights or early morning? As it happens, I am an insomniac so most nights I’m at the computer in the wee hours, often until the sun comes up.
Whats for Breakfast?
Breakfast, Kelvin’s fabulous home -made muesli. If I wasn’t destined to be a world-famous novelist, I would market my home made muesli and be a millionaire breakfast food magnate.
Night in with or without Netflix or Night Out?
Both night out and in, yes with Netflix and Foxtel
Sadly, when I have finished watching a Netflix series, I realise there must be a shortage of good writers. Some of the scripts are beyond ludicrous.
Certainly, G and T, and of course coffee. As for tea, that’s the main reason the British Empire has diminished in the last 100 years. People realised a nation that chooses to drink the abomination that is tea, don’t deserve to have an empire.
What did I want to be?
I really wanted to be a world- famous rock and roll musician. It seemed the only thing that prevented that was a lack of talent. Apart from that I thought I ticked all the boxes.
Talk about a jack of all trades. Shoe salesman, car salesman, real estate salesman, and a would- be politician. I was a professional musician for many years. Those stories are in my autobiographical book ” Oh How We Rocked”. This slim volume was compiled with an ex-band member and lifelong friend Allan Butler.
What brings me joy? Silly question, a good book.
And then of course we have sport. Bugger sport I loathe any game that has balls in it, so that fortunately rules out most of them.
My hero? There are too many to list. Not too many politicians. Certainly, some authors I admire I’m a fan of Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and perhaps curiously I remember as a child how enthralled I was with Enid Blyton. She probably helped to spark a lifelong love of literature.
Choose three people alive or dead to invite for dinner.
I would love to have met Mark Twain. My grandfather heard him speak and was enthralled. As a writer his novels are actually far deeper than just adventure stories. Having dinner with Shakespeare, probably the most influential writer of all time, would be a life changing experience. Having a chat with Leonardo De Vinci, just so I could tell him how some of his crazy ideas actually came to fruition.
About Writing, are you a plotter, know what is going to happen or a pantser as in don’t plan, fly by the seat of your pants?
Oh boy, am I a pantser? You bet. I start with the vaguest of ideas and then like a water diviner, I see where it takes me. I like the surprises.
Tell us a little about Spencer’s war.
Life is idyllic for Spencer Marlowe, a successful Gen Y marketing guru, living the dream in Perth, Western Australia. Good-looking, fit and self-assured, Spencer is fascinated by Japanese culture, fluent in the Japanese language, and passionately in love with his Japanese girlfriend, Michiyo. He’s also a formidable karate expert who just can’t stop getting into trouble. After a particularly eventful night, involving bikie gangs and motorbikes, he makes up his mind to marry Michiyo. But on the very same night as his romantic proposal, he is inexplicably transported back in time to Perth in 1942, where he finds himself a recruit in the army and forced to play a war game.As time goes on, with no indication of when he might return to his old life, Spencer embarks on a dangerous mission to Singapore – his assignment to detonate Japanese ships and prevent the invasion of Australia. But can Spencer destroy an enemy he’s come to love? Can he convince his senior officers he’s not a spy? Can he conform to a new culture and its old-fashioned beliefs? And – in this time – can he save the day?Along the way, Spencer’s comrades, and the many colourful characters he meets, become like family. The beautiful and beguiling Trilby Lim, potentially something more. But just as Spencer finds his feet, they’re whisked out from underneath him and he begins to question everything. Including if he wants to go back home..
Yes I have finished book two of the Spencer series. Hawaiian Intervention has just had its final proofread and is about to be uploaded onto Ingram Sparke and Amazon. “Hawaiian” sees Spencer cast back in time to Hawaii, prior to the Japanese attack. I’m very pleased with the finished result.
How Much research did you do? Research on my novels is an ongoing process I research as needed. Thank God for Doctor Google.
I wish I had started to write earlier in my life. Apart from being a prolific letter writer to newspapers I didn’t start to write a novel until I was almost 70. About two and a half years ago. I’m now hooked.
How do you decide character names? I don’t have a formula for names. I try to make them interesting.
What time of the day do you write ? Anytime.
Difficulties? Grammar and sentence construction at times needs a little work.
Do you have a writing schedule? I have been known to write for ten hours straight.
Writing quirk? I’m not sure what quirks I have. As far as I know, I’m not sure my style is like anybody else’s, so that’s a quirk I guess.
In my third Spencer Marlowe novel, yet to be edited I have a female character FBI agent Savannah Steele, who is a slightly psychopathic, but lovable lady. I was so taken with her I’ve written a third novel featuring her. I’m in love. Sadly, she turns out to be a lesbian, so my love is doomed to be unrequited
Can a writer write if they don’t feel emotions? Absolutely so long as it’s instruction manuals for IKEA
Best advice? Keep writing.
Worst advice? You will never succeed.
Best money spent? Hire a good editor.
Favourite author? Impossible to answer. But current faves are Michael Connolly, Peter James and Stephen Leather. Currently reading ” Memory Man” by David Baldacci.
I really couldn’t say who has influenced me the most. Probably an amalgam of Leslie Charteris, Ian Fleming and I hate to say it, Lee Child.
Favourite quote.” If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
Favourite book ‘ Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett.
As a child, my absolute favourite was the ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ by you know who.
You are busy! Anything else in the pipeline?
Recently I was invited to collaborate on a “crime noir” novel with award winning author Dr Bruce Russell. I wasn’t quite sure how a collaboration would work, I don’t think he did either. Bruce has a doctorate in creative writing and has taught in American Universities. The formula seems to be, we take turns writing a chapter each. So far no cross words. We are up to around 40,000 words. I’m pretty excited by the project. It’s entitled ” The King of San Francisco” It’s set in 1978 when the main character, an Australian, visits his younger brother in San Francisco, only to find himself dragged into a world of murder and intrigue. Naturally we have lots of sex and violence. At the speed we are going it will be ready for editing within a couple of months.
The weather was dismal, as we had twenty eight days of rain in July. The last time the rain was so frequent, in sunny Perth, Australia, was seventy five years ago. Home and comfort was the place to be. My local library provided most of the books I’ve been reading this month. Television provided few distractions, so I happily got lost in a good book.
When She Was Good by Michael Robotham.
Criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac return in this new thriller from author Michael Robotham. Who is Evie, the girl with no past, running from? She was discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Her ability to tell when someone is lying helped Cyrus crack an impenetrable case in Good Girl, Bad Girl. Now, the closer Cyrus gets to uncovering answers about Evie’s dark history, the more he exposes Evie to danger, giving her no choice but to run. Ultimately, both will have to decide if some secrets are better left buried and some monsters should never be named…
Although this continues the story which began in Good Girl, Bad Girl, it could be read as a stand-alone. Tautly plotted and filled with tension, the story follows Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face. She was a child discovered at a horrific crime scene. Evie is deeply traumatised, trusting no -one, apart from Cyrus Haven, the criminal psychologist who initially got her to speak. Evie has the unerring ability to know when someone is lying. When she says their lives are in danger, Cyrus doesn’t believe her.
The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah
The world’s most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot, the legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket, returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in the London of 1930.
Hercule Poirot returns home after an agreeable luncheon to find an angry woman waiting to berate him outside his front door. Her name is Sylvia Rule, and she demands to know why Poirot has accused her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met. She is furious to be so accused, and deeply shocked. Poirot is equally shocked, because he too has never heard of any Barnabas Pandy, and he certainly did not send the letter in question. He cannot convince Sylvia Rule of his innocence, however, and she marches away in a rage.
Shaken, Poirot goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him — a man called John Mc Crodden who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy…
Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort have been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger?
MY REVIEW. It’s a while since I read Agatha Christie and I was intrigued to learn that Sophie Hannah had been authorised by the Christie estate to continue the series. I picked this one at random, not realising it was the third in the series. There is a new inspector, Inspector Edward Catchpole, replacing Inspector James Japp. George, Poirot’s Valet also makes an appearance. I missed Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon. Hasting to pose the questions that we all would like to ask. Miss Lemon for her solid devotion to Poirot. The book is cleverly plotted, but for me, it felt a bit flat.
The Charleston Scandal by Pamela Hart.
If you devoured THE CROWN you will love this exuberant story of a young Australian actress caught up in the excesses, royal intrigues and class divide of Jazz Age London, losing her way but reclaiming her heart in the process
London, 1920s: Kit Scott, a privileged young Australian aiming to become a star, arrives in the city to find the Jazz Age in full swing. Cast in a West End play opposite another young hopeful, Canadian Zeke Gardiner, she dances blithely into the heady lifestyle of English high society and the London theatre set, from Noel Coward to Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele. When Kit is photographed dancing the Charleston alongside the Prince of Wales, she finds herself at the centre of a major scandal, sending the Palace into damage control and Kit to her aristocratic English relatives – and into the arms of the hedonistic Lord Henry Carleton. Amid the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, both Zeke and Kit are faced with temptations – and make choices that will alter the course of their lives forever. Readers of Natasha Lester’s A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD will love THE CHARLESTON SCANDAL. Bestselling author Pamela Hart’s energetic, masterful storytelling will have you glued right until the end.
MY REVIEW. From starting this book, I was immersed in its setting and felt as if I was a participant in Jazz Age London. As an ex-pat Brit, I had of course heard all about dazzling David, the Prince of Wales. Later, he became Edward VIII who subsequently abdicated in favour of his brother Bertie, who became George VI. At the heart of the story is a presumed scandal, that the Prince of Wales should be caught dancing the Charleston with an actress. Australian Kit Scott has orders both from her theatre management and the Palace, to appear alongside someone else. They even provide the decoy in Lord Henry Carlton. He is amiable and aimless. He’s a younger son, with nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it. This conflicts with the connection that Kit has built with Zeke, her dance partner in the play. There they are both second leads and socialise in the theatrical world. As Colonials they feel a sense of connection, and maybe something more.
A Woman’s Courage by Simon Block.Book Three in the Home Fire Series.
As bombs continue to fall on the North West of England, the members of one town’s WI fight harder than ever to help the war effort. Grieving for men already lost or anxious for those still away fighting, the women of Great Paxford must rely on each other. Amidst the complexities of broken relationships, loss, love, betrayal and sudden freedom, this group of very different women must work together to find a way through.
Despite the chaos of war, behind closed doors they fight more personal battles. Pat is reeling from her own role in her husband’s death, while Steph is struggling to come to terms with significant changes in her life.
Together the women of Great Paxford must find a way through .
Knowing this book was the last in the series, reading it was bittersweet. I can understand Simon wants to get onto other projects, but these characters have become real to so many. We were heartbroken when Britain’s ITV cancelled the series, as it was a cut above so many other dramas. Well scripted, and well-cast, we glimpsed the lives of our grandparents or parents. Despite being set in a Cheshire village, and not a battlefield, plenty was going on. We see the likes of Downton Abbey more frequently than stories of ordinary people. That was what made the series and books so fascinating. Daily challenges such as make do and mend, food shortages, worry about loved ones. Daily life, not as we know it, but how it was for millions of Brits.
Most storylines made sense, some happy, some sad. New characters such as the doctor integrating with our old favourites. What rang true for me was the petty jealousies and gossip, as well as the kindness and pulling together. I am sad to say goodbye to these much-loved characters.
Son of A Witch by Louisa West.Midlife in Mosswood, Book Five.
She knew she’d have to find something old and something new. This wasn’t what she was expecting.
Rosemary Bell is going to the chapel and someone’s gonna get married. But when an unexpected visitor begins causing trouble in Mosswood, the something blue on Tammy’s big day could end up being the bride.
For better or worse, Fox Cottage has a new resident. And mostly, it’s for worse. With Declan struggling to rein in his way ward son, Rosie ends up playing referee as well as bridesmaid–and she doesn’t look good in stripes. Wanting to support her boyfriend and still keep peace in the neighborhood, Rosie is stuck between a diamond and a hard place.
When the teenage troublemakers commit a ceremony foul, will Rosie find herself one family richer or one group of friends poorer?
Freaky Friday meets My Best Friend’s Wedding in this short novel about the vows we make, the promises we break, and the things we do for family’s sake.
MY REVIEW. Rosie’s life keeps getting more complicated, and her magical ability isn’t proving helpful. She’s torn between wanting to keep the peace, or her sanity. Maggie, Rosie’s daughter is slightly in awe of her new sibling. He’s not one for conforming or fitting in. Anyone who has dealt with truculent teens will have sympathy for Rosie and Declan. The book still has the trademark wit and good humour with the characters we have come to know and care about.
The Bermondsey Bookshop by Mary Gibson.
Set in 1920s London, this is the inspiring story of Kate Goss’s struggle against poverty, hunger and cruel family secrets.
Her mother died in a fall, her father has vanished without trace, and now her aunt and cousins treat her viciously. In a freezing, vermin-infested garret, factory girl Kate has only her own brave spirit and dreams of finding her father to keep her going. She has barely enough money to feed herself, or to pay the rent. The factory where she works begins to lay off people and it isn’t long before she has fallen into the hands of the violent local money-lender. That is until an unexpected opportunity comes her way – a job cleaning a most unusual bookshop, where anyone, from factory workers to dockers, can learn to read and then buy books cheaply. A new world opens up, but with it come new dangers, too. Based on the true story of the Bermondsey Bookshop, this is the most inspiring and gripping novel Mary Gibson has yet written.
MY REVIEW. I am pretty much guaranteed to pick up any book with a bookshop, or a library in the title. This story though focussed more on the main character Kate Goss. She is an unloved child ,who has been foisted on her aunt. Her mother is dead, and her father has disappeared. The grim surrounding and tough treatment meted out to Kate were very reminiscent of a Catherine Cookson novel. Her deprivation and the cruelty of her family were hard to take. Kate works a difficult and dirty job as a tin worker. When her aunt throws her out, she needs more work to survive. She finds it as a cleaner at the Bermondsey Bookshop. Through her part-time work there, she is gradually drawn into the lives of some of the middle-class patrons. When a Pygmalion transformation takes place, Kate learns how the other half lives. The part I found most interesting was about the bookshop ( based on the real bookshop) and its ethos.
Purls and Poison by Anne Canadeo.A Black Sheep Company Mystery.
When a fellow Black Sheep Knitter is suspected of poisoning her coworker, the group puts down their needles and takes up their friend’s defense . . .
Suzanne Cavanaugh has just about had it with her office rival at Prestige Properties. It’s bad enough that Liza Devereaux is constantly needling her at work, but when she shows up at one of Suzanne’s open houses to poach potential buyers, it’s the last straw. No one in the office fails to hear the two snarling at each other.
When Liza is later found dead in her office cubicle–poisoned by a diet shake–Suzanne becomes the prime suspect. It’s soon discovered, though, that Liza had double-crossed so many around town and stashed their dark secrets in her designer handbags that anyone could be the culprit.
The Black Sheep Knitters have no doubt their friend has been framed–but they need to prove it. Stirred to action, they get together to catch a sneaky killer who’s trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes . . .
MY REVIEW. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it was the cover of this one that attracted me first. Ironically, neither the gorgeous feline nor the string of pearls appears in the book. Did the cover designer mix up pearls and purls?
Work rivals Suzanne and Liza have had a less than cordial relationship in the past, but does that mean Suzanne murdered her rival? The police certainly seem to think so. They know that Suzanne had a very public row with Liza over client poaching. As the case unfolds, Suzanne is helped by her knitting club pals and begins to learn about a different side of Liza. The pace of the story flowed well and gave us a couple of interesting possible suspects. An easy and entertaining read.
Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace by Kate Forster.
Love comes when you least expect it… Tressa Buckland likes her quiet life in Port Lowdy, with its cobbled streets and colourful terraced houses overlooking the sea. Her job at the local paper allows her to pursue her art in her free time, with no one but her tabby cat Ginger Pickles to mind her in Mermaid Terrace. But then the owner of the paper is called away on an emergency, and it’s up to Tressa to run the paper for six months. Her first task: find a new part-time journalist.
Dan Byrne is the angriest man in Ireland – or so the readers of his very successful column, ‘Dan takes on the world’, think. But after a story goes south and he loses his job in Dublin, Dan has no choice but to start afresh. When an opportunity comes up in sleepy Cornwall, Dan and his Golden Retriever Ritchie set off for a new adventure.
For Tressa, Dan’s arrival to Port Lowdy changes everything. Tressa tries not to look too deeply at her own life, but Dan sees a story to uncover in absolutely everyone – even her. The two of them couldn’t be more different… yet, if they can find a way to work together, they may just breathe new life and joy into this sleepy seaside village.
Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace is a heart -warming new village romance about the power of love and kindness, from the bestselling author of Starting Over at Acorn Cottage
Kindle Edition, 263 pages Published February 4th 2021 by Aria.Paperback to follow.
MY REVIEW. Having lived in Cornwall as a child, I do have a soft spot for books set in Cornwall. It was easy to visualise the village and setting. Treena is a lonely character, happily isolated from her family, due to her mother’s expectations. She lives in Port Lowdy, where she feels happy at home. But life changes and her carefully constructed world is upended. George, her boss has left her in charge of the local paper, and she employs Irishman Dan to take on the reporting duties. He arrives with his gorgeous dog Ritchie and soon makes Port Lowdy his home. His charm had everyone telling him their stories and he’s just the one to write them. Treena feels life is brighter with Dan around and begins to trust him. But then, a story threatens to tear them apart. I enjoyed this book, but there was one loss that broke my heart.
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce.
Margery Benson’s life ended the day her father walked out of his study and never came back. Forty years later, abandoning a dull job, she advertises for an assistant. The successful candidate is to accompany Margery on an expedition to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty is not who she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all Margery’s expectations, eventually finding new life at the top of a red mountain. This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story and it is also a tender exploration of a friendship between two unforgettable women that defies all boundaries.
MY REVIEW. I was first drawn in by the intriguing title and soon began to appreciate the solitary life led by Miss Benson. An ordinary spinster, in the post-war period in Britain. One out of character event starts her on the path to going on a beetle hunt. She is a relatable character, with her insecurities, and foibles. When she advertises for an assistant, most of the applicants are unsuitable. Still, she embarks on her quest to find the mythical golden beetle. Think Thelma and Louise meet Raiders of the Lost Ark.
The Heroine’s Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture by GailCarriger.
Tired of the hero’s journey? Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren’t taken seriously? Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?
The heroine’s journey is here to help.
Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine’s journey, how it differs from the hero’s journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.
In this book you’ll learn:
* How to spot the heroine’s journey in popular books, movies, and the world around you. * The source myths and basic characters, tropes, and archetypes of this narrative. * A step-by-step break down of how to successfully write this journey.
What do Agatha Christie, JK Rowling, and Nora Roberts all have in common? They all write the heroine’s journey. Read this book to learn all about it.
From Harry Potter to Twilight, from Wonder Woman to Star Wars, you’ll never look at pop culture the same way again.
With over a dozen NYT and USA Today bestsellers, and over a million books in print, popular genre author and former archaeologist Gail Carriger brings her cheeky comedic tone and over a decade of making her living as a fiction author to this fascinating look at one of the most popular yet neglected narratives of our time. The presentation she does on this subject sells for hundreds of dollars.
“I’m not sure how you can just rewire my brain to see the heroine’s journey like this and then expect me to make coherent, thought-out comments about the text when all I want to do is hold it in my twisted little grip while I shove it at people screaming like a madman and pointing at passages.” ~ Author Beta Reader
Gail Carriger uses the heroine’s journey to produce bestselling, critically-acclaimed books that genre blend science fiction, cozy mystery, young adult, urban fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and alternate history. In this non-fiction book she uses her academic background and creative writing skills to bring to life the archetypes, tropes, story beats, themes, and messages inherent in the heroine’s journey. Part treatise on authorship, part feminist literary criticism, part how to write guide, Carriger uses mythology, legend, and Gothic Victorian 19th century literature to explore movies, screenwriting, books, and audience desires.
This is an excellent reference guide for genre fiction authors seeking to improve their craft or for readers and pop culture enthusiasts interested in understanding their own taste. It is the perfect counterpoint to The Hero with a Thousand Faces not to mention Save the Cat, Women Who Run with The Wolves, and The Breakout Novelist.
Kindle Edition, 285 pages Published October 1st 2020 by GAIL CARRIGER LLC
MY REVIEW. Finally, a book that makes sense of the heroine’s journey. Tired of trying to fit stories into the prescriptive and restrictive hero’s journey, and wondering where you went wrong? Perhaps like me, you queried where the heroine fitted into the hero’s journey and was answered dismissively. Try as you might your story wouldn’t fit that pattern. It was the wrong pattern- The Heroine’s Journey is the book that might change your writing life.
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz.
A woman crosses a London street.
It is just after 11am on a bright spring morning, and Diana Cowper is going into a funeral parlour to organise her own service.
A mere six hours later she is dead, strangled with a crimson curtain cord in her own home.
Did she know she was going to die? Did she recognise her killer?
Are the two events even related? Because nobody arranges their own funeral, and the gets killed the same day – do they?
Enter Daniel Hawthorne, a detective with a genius for solving crimes and an ability to hold his secrets very close.
With him is his writing partner, Anthony Horowitz. Together they will set out to solve this most puzzling of mysteries.
What neither of them know is that they are about to embark on a dark and dangerous journey where the twists and turns are as unexpected as they are bloody..
MY REVIEW. Anthony Horowitz likes to challenge his readers, not because he doesn’t give them a good, imaginatively creative, and intricately plotted story. He does, but he also does the unexpected. This time, he is a character in the book he is writing. On the one hand, it is interesting to learn about his writing experiences and thoughts on writing. On the other hand, I found it vaguely unsettling, the blurring of fact and fiction. And to add to the confusion, he thanks his fictional detective in the acknowledgements.
A Season in Paris: A Historical Anthology by Ava January, Nancy Cunningham, Sarah Fiddelaers, Clare Griffin.
One Paris shop, four women, four decades of intrigue…
Spring, 1909 When Delphine Altrain purchases a date with Paris’ most eligible bachelor, Gabriel La Pouge, she has one thing on her mind…hats. When her latest design becomes the talk of the Grand Prix, it seems everything she has dreamed of is within her reach, but when the past arrives to destroy her present, Delphine needs to decide, stay and risk heartbreak, or run and always wonder what could have been.
Summer, 1924 Beautiful Edith Carrow appears to have it all. As Coco Chanel’s mannequin her life is full of parties and the adoration of a rich man. But Edith holds a deep secret from her past. When she meets toymaker, Henri, her heart threatens to unravel all she has worked hard to achieve. She must choose, follow her head or listen to her heart and risk losing everything.
Autumn, 1935 Genevieve Dupuis is forbidden from doing two things; painting and falling in love. So when she meets handsome Sebastian on a forbidden painting trip her life becomes ever so slightly complicated. Can a girl who has learned to survive by lies and illusions face up to the truth in time to realise that sometimes surrender is the bravest act of all?
Winter, 1944 SOE agent Therese Lambert is about to risk everything to help free Canadian airman Will – a man hiding his own covert activities beneath an identity she knows isn’t his. Fleeing from the German occupiers and the collaborating French, they escape Paris. Can their budding attraction survive a perilous journey, or will a betrayal put both their lives on the line?
Kindle Edition Published July 26th 2021 by Girl On A Soapbox Press. Paperback to follow.
MY REVIEW. Books about Paris are perennially popular and this one contains four individual stories. Each story highlights a different epoch and aspect of Paris, but all are equally engaging with that ineffable je ne sais quoi of Parisian flair. I read this quickly, finding it an easy and enjoyable read. I received an ARC of this book, but with no obligation to review it.
Thank you for joining us- tell us about your new books
I actually have three books coming soon. Spirit Talker is a Y.A. Literary novel:
When a grieving teen starts seeing ghosts walk the streets, her sceptical psychiatrist thinks she’s hallucinating, but just because not everyone can see them doesn’t mean they aren’t really there.
City of Quartz is a Y.A. Dystopian Sci-Fi and book two of the Shadow of Nar Series:
On a distance world, where human flaw is eradicated, a teenage space explorer must convince the perfectionist society to provide vital medical aid that will cure her sister’s terminal illness.
And finally, we’re also hoping to get out the first book I’ve co-written with my daughter, Kaylie. Everlasting Sleep is a Y.A. Fantasy:
To cure her sister’s sickness, a dragon-winged teen must venture to Vislume , the land of dreams, where corruption has tainted the landscape and darkness lures dreamers into everlasting sleep.
Some quick-fire questions.
Late nights or early mornings? Late Nights, although I’m trying to switch this around.
What’s for breakfast? Lately it’s been two soft boiled eggs. This is because I help take care of my stepfather who has Alzheimer’s and soft boiled eggs is one of the four things he still knows how to cook and is in a routine where he cooks it every single morning. But I’ve also been known to have cereal, porridge, smoothies, toast, or croissants.
Night out or Netflix? Netflix. Or Disney Plus or Amazon Prime or Apple TV or YouTube. I’m a subscription service addict. lol Although I play a lot of video games too. 😉
G &T or Tea/coffee? Tea, or Milo. I don’t drink alcohol and I try to avoid caffeine because both have significantly negative impact on my Bipolar.
Perfect weekend? In bed with a book.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A writer. 🙂
What is for dinner tonight? Tonight was roast pork (stepdad cooked – his remaining two meal options are silverside or roast chicken.)
Can you cook? Yes, but I have to be in a good mood to want to.
What would you rather be eating? Sushi!
What brings you joy, lifts your spirits, and chases away a down mood? Spending time with my children. 🙂
Wow, I really don’t know. There are a lot of people I admire and would want to emulate. Most of them are fellow writers although there are also a few entrepreneurs, adventurers, scientists, musicians, actors, etc. I can’t say I have any one particular person I hold to higher esteem and would consider my hero.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Way too difficult to narrow down that list. I’d welcome anyone who would want to hang out with me. Let’s do dinner. Any time. Everyone has their stories, their interests and passions, their inner being. I can enjoy the company of pretty much anyone.
You write in more than one genre. What drew you to them and how do you keep a balance between stories?
To be honest, I don’t. I love lots of genres and I’ve got books in a multitude. Picture Books, Chapter Books, Young Adult, Romance Novellas, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Non-Fiction, even Game Lit. But my heart is most truly in the Y.A. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. And I bundle Sci-Fi and Fantasy together because I often find they overlap a lot.
These days I’m trying to focus solely on Y.A. because it’s very difficult to juggle multiple genres. It’s like having to build multiple careers. Each genre has different readers which means multiple target markets, multiple brands, multiple fan bases, etc. When my children were young we did the kids books as part of our home schooling and for a while I did romance or game lit just to put a few extra dollars in the bank, but these days I get to focus on the stories that are deeply true to myself and my own dreams and passions and inspiration which means I get to focus on Y.A.
What do you think makes a good story? Characters learning to live into the best versions of themselves. Usually that means embracing their whole self, including their flaws, and figuring out how to chase big dreams or accomplish great things even in the face of adversity or challenge. I think all of us want to see people beat the odds. We want to believe in possibility.
Are you a plotter, more organic, or a mix of the two? These days I’m definitely mostly a plotter. I’ve learned over time that the more foundation I lay before I begin the easier the writing process tends to be. I’ve also learned a great deal about story structure and character development. It’s something I now teach other writers because it was something that completely transformed me as a writer when I discovered it and I’ve been really thrilled to visit a few high schools in the past couple of years where they’re actually teaching this stuff to teenagers! They definitely didn’t teach it when I was in school.
How much research do you do for a story?
It really depends. Sometimes it can be a lot! Sometimes next to nothing. For example, I did very little research for Spirit Talker. Most of it came from lived experience or instinct. I did a little research into the school I chose for her and made sure I had a beta reader who was familiar with the school but beyond that I didn’t need to learn much. But for City of Light, book one of the Shadows of Nar, I did extensive research into ion engines, space travel, faster than light theories, impact of binary stars on planetary conditions, relative distance, etc. I needed to feel confident that I understood the inner workings of the science so that I could write with authority. But my key tip about research is to focus on what you need and leave as much as you can to the second draft not the first. You don’t necessarily need to know all the inner workings and if you research too much in advance then you’ll want to info dump it all into the book and for the most part you don’t need to. You need to know just enough to be confident that it works, and nothing more.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your stories from? Everywhere? It’s been so many years since I was last without a story to write that I really find this kind of question odd because there’s never a scarcity of inspiration or ideas. I wrote about my Idea Waterfall back in 2008 (https://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/idea-waterfall/).
What is the best advice you’ve had as a writer? There have been so many brilliant pieces of advice over the years and the “best” tends to depend on my current situation. For example, right now I really resonate with the mantra “it’s the catalogue not the book”. Out of context that sounds kind of lame but it’s been very powerful to me because I experience a LOT of anxiety about the writing process. I was getting so bogged down in wanting to get every single word perfect that sometimes it means I can’t even write a sentence, let alone finish a book. So my mentor taught me to remember that the success or failure of individual books isn’t worth getting hung up on because as a career author I’m building a catalogue of content. Lots of books. And each of those books will have people who love it or hate it. The more books I finish and add to my catalogue the stronger my foundations become. The more books I have the more fans will find me and the more books I’ll sell. So it reminds me to think big picture and to obsess less. Maybe that’s the true take away tip. “Think big picture. Obsess less.” lol
What’s your favourite part of the writing process? Least favourite?
Favourite is outlines and planning. It’s the part that feels natural to me and the part I’m able to help others with the most too. I love developing story ideas, building story structure, fleshing out characters, and seeing the evolution of arcs.
Least favourite is the writing part… Writing is hard.
What’s your process for writing for the male perspective / male characters?
Um… Just write them? Seriously, men aren’t that alien. Sure, there are innate differences between a masculine and feminine character but gender and sex are two different things. A man can be macho or effeminate, and still be a man. A woman can be butch or delicate, and still be a woman. I think it’s important to understand psychology and behaviourism. To understand people. Observe, study, and analyse. When you do that then gender/sex becomes less of a thing to worry about because you’re writing every single character from their uniqueness. When you write sci-fi and fantasy you can’t obsess over gender, because then you’d have to go, “Well how do you write a dragon?” Or “How do you write an alien?” Or “How do you write a sentient flying fluffy creature that’s almost pet-like but has language?” Character is character; define the individuals traits, and write from within the embodiment of that.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? First drafts. Primarily because of that anxiety I talked about earlier. I feel like there’s so much weight and responsibility in finding the best way to tell the stories I want to tell. Each of the books I write have deep cores. They have reasons for being that are really, really big. They’re way more than simple escapism. They all convey really complex themes and messages, hidden in the simplicity of story. I want my books to change people’s lives. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself and it makes it really hard to face the page because a lot of the time I feel like I could never do justice the story that I want to tell. Lots of self-doubt. Lots of fear. I’m working through it, trying to unlock that place because I’d really love to “experience joy, calm, and confidence when I am writing” but it’s something I have to proactively build within myself.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I wish I was consistent. I’d love to say I write from such and such to such and such every single day. But I don’t. Especially lately because my chronic health issues are having a nasty flair up so some days I don’t even make it out of bed let alone get to my desk. I do, however, prefer to write in solid blocks at least 90 minutes at a time. And I love writing in cafes. Some days I’ll be in a cafe all day long; others I’ll manage to scrounge a lucky ten minutes while in bed. Some days I manage to get the writing done first. I try to do this because often by the end of a day I’m just too wiped out to be creative. But I’m still inherently a night owl so sometimes it’s not until the evening that I can actually carve out some time for myself and that means I could be writing into the early hours of the morning. So I guess that’s all to say I don’t really have a schedule. I’d like one but I haven’t been able to force myself to be consistent. Another failing I’ve been trying to work on but haven’t quite figured out how to correct. Lol
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I honestly have no idea! I wonder if my readers would be able to identify any particular quirks. I’ve been told that I have some odd sentence structure sometimes which I guess is quirky?
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? There’s definitely things an emotion-less writer could write. In fact, they’d be ideal writers for content like research papers and new media. I’d also really love to read poetry by a writer who doesn’t feel emotions because they could still portray incredible imagery and observation. It’s really a question of what strengths and tone and voice could they convey? How well can they evaluate the emotions of others? We all write things that aren’t our lived experience so there’s no reason a person who doesn’t feel emotion couldn’t still be able to study it, understand it, and express it. I’ve never been in space but I can write about it based on research I’ve done from the experience of others.
I have a condition called aphantasia, it’s the inability to see things with my mind’s eye. But that doesn’t make me unable to imagine or describe or create visualisations that others can experience. It also doesn’t make me unable to write characters who can see with their minds eye.
Having said that, I’d really love to meet a person who is entirely absent of emotion. My son is autistic and many people think people with autism don’t “feel” but I have to say from personal experience that his emotional depths are vast. He feels a great deal. He just has trouble expressing that emotion to others. And honestly, I’d love to read the creativity that comes from that unique kind of experience. We need those stories in the world because it’s through the unique perspectives of every writer than we come to better understand the human condition.
Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received?
Worst? “Write what you know.” OMG how limiting is THAT? There is so much I don’t know and I’d much rather have the freedom to explore that. Yes, all of my stories have a lot of what I do know built into them but mostly it’s emotional or social depths that come out there. Situationally I’d much rather explore possibility. I want to consider things that might not exist right now or could never logically exist. That’s what fantasy and sci-fi is all about. It’s living into the maybe spaces and asking, “what if?” That takes having the courage to write outside of what you know and to get creative doing it.
Best? “Write to market.” And more specifically, understand who your target reader is and what tropes and expectations that target market has. For example, there are clearly defined traits that make an Urban Fantasy different from a Paranormal Romance. Similarly, a Space Opera is not a Military Sci-Fi. Readers love the thing they love and if you want your books to succeed you need to know how to satisfy the reader. That means understanding what it is about the niche you write within that readers expect and then deliver above and beyond.
Best money you have spent as a writer? There are a few things that come immediately to mind. One is the illustrators I’ve hired for my children’s books. Both Anton and Adit have been absolutely brilliant and worth every penny. They’re very talented artists and their work makes those books something really special.
Another was the first MacBook I bought in 2010. I bought it because I wanted to use Scrivener, which is novel writing software that I still use and love. At the time Scrivener was only available for Mac so I bought a MacBook and have absolutely LOVED the switch. I’m most definitely and Apple convert. And while it was a big investment at the time it’s been one of the best business expenses I’ve ever made.
Then of course there is always quality in investing in professional editing, professional cover design, and of course production of stock and marketing materials, even advertising. Investing in your business is all part of being in business.
Do you have a favourite author and why? Traci Harding is still my favourite although these days I have lots of other favourites. There are so many talented writers I admire and whose stories I enjoy, but Traci Harding is the reason I write the books I write. When I was a teenager, I read her Ancient Future Trilogy and discovered that fiction is an incredible gateway into truth. It allows big concepts to be conveyed with incredible receptivity. Fiction has the power to influence our beliefs and change our actions. I love writers who do that with their fiction.
What are you reading now? I’m actually going to decline to answer this directly because the book I’m reading right now is one I’m really struggling to like. The concept seemed really cool and the author is someone in Y.A. circles that I like, but the writing or voice just don’t work for me. I’m still holding on, hoping it gets better, but I’m not sure it will. And so, as I read, I pay attention to exactly what it is that’s feeling wrong and I learn from that. I think that’s an important thing for writers to do too. Don’t just read the great books, read the ones that aren’t great and figure out what doesn’t work and why. You learn from failure, your own and others. 🙂 I will say it’s a Y.A. Urban Fantasy that features reapers as the “special world”. See, cool concept, would be great if the execution were better. If you know any other Y.A. reaper stories please share because I’d love to read others.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing? Traci Harding as mentioned above. Lauren Kate’s Fallen series. Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers. Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. Demelza Carlton’s fairy tales. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. Then more generally authors more than their books Chris Fox, Derek Murphy, Joanna Penn, Lindsay Buroker, Serenity Woods, Sarah Painter, Brene Brown, Joseph Campbell, David Gaughran. I’m sure there are dozens more. Again, so many people to learn from and who share their wealth of knowledge and creativity with the world.
Favourite quote “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” The Princess Diaries (2001)
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Really hard to define a favourite but I’ve given a whole heap of titles above. 🙂
Favourite book/story you have read as a child? I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl as I child. I collected so many of his books and particularly loved Revolting Rhymes. Dahl was a master wordsmith. He played creatively with language. So many of the brilliant children’s book writers do that and the ones that do it brilliantly are remembered through time.
Thank you Rebecca for this insightful interview and wishing you every success with your new books.
First, because you can never learn too much about the craft, books about writing. Next, books that the library sent in its bookbag selection. Finally, my personal choices.
Books about writing
Successful Indie Authorship by Craig Martell.
Demystifying the tangled web of self-publishing to put you on the road to success.
This is a motivational guide based on my two and a half million published words (mostly with Amazon) to help you see past the hurdles that are keeping you from climbing the mountain of success. Nothing is overwhelming once it’s been explained. If you are smart enough to write a book, you are smart enough to do everything else needed to make your indie author business a success.
My review. I have this on Kindle, and I wish I had it in paperback as well. It’s a book I expect to refer to again and again. It may look like I’m stuck at 78% read, but that because there is a useful appendix recapping all the recommendations, and I want to keep referring to it.
Write to Market by Chris Fox.
Have you written a book that just isn’t selling? Would you like to write a book that readers eagerly devour?
Many authors write, then market. Successful authors write TO market. They start by figuring out how to give readers what they want, and that process begins before writing word one of your novel.
This book will teach you to analyse your favourite genre to discover what readers are buying, to mine reviews for reader expectations, and to nail the tropes your readers subconsciously crave.
Don’t leave the success of your novel up to chance. Deliver the kind of book that will have your fans hounding you for the next one.
My review. With a premise like that what writer wouldn’t want to read it? Encouraging and definitely worth considering the marketability of your book.
The Library Bag Selections
Ravenscliffe by Jane Sanderson
For fans of Downton Abbey . . . The peaceful beauty of the English countryside belies the turmoil of forbidden love and the apprehension of a changing world for the families of Netherwood
Yorkshire, 1904. On Netherwood Common, Russian émigré Anna Rabinovich shows her dear friend Eve Williams a gracious Victorian villa—Ravenscliffe—the house Anna wants them to live in. There’s a garden and a yard and room enough for their children to play and grow.
Something about the house speaks to Anna, and you should listen to a house, she believes…Ravenscliffe holds the promise of happiness.
Across the square, Clarissa and her husband, the Earl of Netherwood, are preparing for King Edward’s visit. Clarissa is determined to have everything in top shape at Netherwood Hall—in spite of the indolent heir to the estate, Tobias, and his American bride—and much of it depends on the work going on downstairs as the loyal servants strive to preserve the noble family’s dignity and reputation.
As Anna restores Ravenscliffe to its full grandeur, she strikes up a relationship with hardworking Amos Sykes—who proposed to Eve just one year ago.
But when Eve’s long-lost brother Silas turns up in their close-knit mining community, cracks begin to appear in even the strongest friendships.
As change comes to the small town and society at large, the residents of Netherwood must find their footing or lose their place altogether.
My review. This is the second book following on from Netherwood which I read last month. Fortunately, I had bought it but hadn’t read it- and of course,I wanted to read it before reading Ravenscliffe. I am glad I did, as this second book made more sense after reading it.
Life is changing for the families, upstairs in Lord Netherwood’s household, his heir Tobias has no intention of taking his position or his responsibilities seriously. His sister, Henrietta, would be an exemplary heir, but she’s female. A couple of major events alter everyone’s plans. Eve Williams has gained status and the family has moved to a bigger house called Ravenscliffe. Anna, the Russian emigre was the mover in this, and she plays a more substantial part in this story. Some of the stories engaged me and other parts I found dull. Primarily concerning Amos and politics, although some of the mining information also felt a bit laboured to me. The standout for me was the emergence and transformation of Anna. I know there is a third book in the series, but I doubt I will read it.
Don’t Go by Lisa Scottoline.
When Dr Mike Scanlon is called to serve as an army doctor in Afghanistan, he’s acutely aware of the dangers he’ll face and the hardships it will cause his wife Chloe and newborn baby. And deep inside, he doesn’t think of himself as a warrior, but a healer.
However, in an ironic turn of events, as Mike operates on a wounded soldier in a war-torn country, Chloe dies at home
My Review I would never have chosen this book for myself but decided to give it a go. Let me say at the onset it’s not for the faint-hearted as surgical procedures are explained in detail. At first, I thought that might be overdone but as the book continued I realised the relevance of Mike’s experiences to his handling of events stateside. He’s now a sole parent and has dual responsibilities to his surgical team and patients and his daughter. It’s a combination of murder mystery and legal procedural and deals with how good people can be torn apart by events.
More Than Words by Jill Santopolo.
From the New York Times, bestselling author of The Light We Lost comes a tender and moving new novel about a woman at a crossroads after the death of her father and caught between the love of two men.
Nina Gregory has always been a good daughter, a good girlfriend. Raised by her father, owner of New York City’s glamorous Gregory Hotels, after her mother’s death, Nina was taught that family, reputation, and legacy are what matter most. And her boyfriend Tim, thoughtful, kind, and honest, not to mention her best friend since childhood, feels the same. But after Nina’s father passes away, she learns he may not have practised what he preached.
As her world falls apart, Nina begins to question everything she thought she knew and to see the men in her life–her father, her boyfriend, and unexpectedly, her handsome and attentive boss, Rafael–in a new light. Soon Nina finds herself caught between the world she knows and loves and a passion that could upend everything. More than Words is a heartbreaking and romantic novel about grief, loss, love, and self-discovery, and how we choose which life we are meant to live.
My Review Having never heard of the author I did not expect anything of the book, but it resonated with me and I raced through it. In part, I suspect that as an only daughter I understood Nina’s wish to pleas her father. Nina is her father’s daughter, her choices modelled on what he would approve of. Her life is already mapped out for her, a suitable boyfriend, marriage and maintaining the Gregory hotel and its and her reputation. She is almost sleepwalking through life when Rafael her charismatic boss, makes her look again at all she has. Then her father’ s death disrupts her carefully planned life. Will she continue down the same path or is there another, better way forward?
Personal Choices. Hemlock and Hedge: The Witches of Wormwood Prequel
Only a witch would poison a cake. And only another witch would blackmail the poisoner.
Hazel Salem is the family disappointment. She isn’t a witch.
She doesn’t believe in magic. And she definitely doesn’t want a black cat for a pet.
But when she discovers an unsolved mystery amongst her inheritance, she is forced to accept that ignoring her heritage is no longer an option.
Hazel is determined to reveal a secret that’s stayed hidden for years.
But the witches of Wormwood have other ideas…
My Review. I enjoyed this prequel, so much so that I bought the first five books in the series. Several things appealed to me. Firstly, the English setting, then the fact that Hazel had no idea she was a witch or had abilities and the brilliant addition of Hemlock, a black cat with catattitude.
The Secrets of Primrose Square by Claudia Carroll.
There are so many stories hidden behind closed doors . . .
It’s late at night and the rain is pouring down on the Dublin city streets. A mother is grieving for her dead child. She stands silently outside the home of the teenage boy she believes responsible. She watches . . .
In a kitchen on the same square, a girl waits anxiously for her mum to come home. She knows exactly where she is, but she knows she cannot reach her.
A few doors down and a widow sits alone in her room. She has just delivered a bombshell to her family during dinner and her life is about to change forever.
And an aspiring theatre director has just moved into a flat across the street. Her landlord is absent, but there are already things about him that don’t quite add up . . .
Welcome to Primrose Square.
All you would expect from an Irish writer in the Maeve Binchy tradition. The book has heart. The women who are the inhabitants of Primrose Square are dealing with a variety of changes and secrets, Nancy who has escaped her past London life. Melissa a girl whose life has changed dramatically and whose mother is barely hanging on. Susan, her mother who is obsessed with loss. Jayne, who lives her life in the past talking to Tom her deceased husband.
New Witch on the Block by Louisa West.
Practical Magic meets Bridget Jones’ Diary in this fun, heart-warming short novel about starting over, putting family first, and finding love when you least expect it.
She thought she was running away from her past, not catching up with it.
Rosemary Bell just wants to live a quiet, happy life and raise her daughter as far away from her toxic ex-husband as she can get. But when they move into a decrepit cottage in the woods of Mosswood, Georgia, Rosie realises her life will never be simple.
A fun beginning to what promises to be an entertaining new series. I had this book on pre-order, so it was immediately available on release day on my Kindle. The town of Mosswood is a retreat for Rosie and her daughter Maggie, after packing up and leaving everything behind to start again. However, it’s not as straightforward as she might have hoped. Her rental is an almost derelict cottage and her nearest neighbour, Declan has some strange ideas about who she is and what they might accomplish together. After leaving her vicious and controlling ex Rose isn’t ready to get inv.oved with anyone, let alone this hunky Irishman. I predict some fun and exciting times ahead and I am looking forward to reading book two, Jealousy A Bitch, which is due in September.
The Book of Spells and Such by Jacquie Underdown
When destiny knocks, do you invite it in?
When a spell book lands on Ariana’s doorstep, her world is thrown into turmoil. That’s nothing new for her, except this time it involves bizarre and terrifying creatures who attempt to kill her. Then there’s a little fact that she now has the ability to perform magic.
Hadeon is another new addition in her life. He happened to drop in at the same time the spell book appeared. He’s dark, sexy, and mysterious as hell, and Ariana doesn’t know if she wants to kill him or love him.
But all this chaos is nothing compared to what destiny has in store for her. A future is promised of royalty and immense power, palaces and undying love. But hers is a destiny that is not easily won. She will have to fight to the death against those who want to take it all for themselves. And when the real battle begins, just who the true enemy is will surprise everyone.
My review. Expecting a magical story, I was slightly confused as the story began in the rather sleazy everyday world. In fact, I almost gave up, but I am glad that I persevered. Ariana had no one to turn to as she grew up. She has been treated badly almost her whole life, so she has trust issues. Hadeon could be her protector or her worst nightmare, but she has to trust someone when life takes a totally unexpected turn. To me, a part of the story read like a modern fairy-tale and had some unique magical touches. I am happy I continued to read this book.
Subterranean by B Michael Radburn.
‘The past is my shadow, forever behind me.’
Cassie Belrose was used to looking over her shoulder. Running away was what she did best – away from a possessive husband who wants her back, running from city to city, from job to job, to stay one step ahead of him.
Daniel Woodsman is at home in the dark; in the abandoned railway tunnels below the city where the homeless veteran has built his life since his injuries had taken away more than just his confidence.
Fleeing the Suits dispatched by her husband to bring her home, Cassie enters Daniel’s domain in the subway where their two worlds collide.
Together, can they stop running long enough to begin living again?
A fast-paced and immensely readable story that kept me hooked. The story is prefaced and concluded by a charming allegorical fairy-tale. Cassie is a totally relatable character, as is Daniel. He is both an enigmatic and interesting character who we gradually come to understand. There is enough gritty realism to make the story authentic. It makes one think about the fate of those veterans traumatised by their service. I was provided with a free copy of the book by the publisher but was not obligated to write a review.
The Witches of Wormwood Mysteries: Books 1 – 5 A thrilling and funny British witch cozy mystery series, packed with magic, cats, and murder! Perfect for fans of Agatha Raisin and Amanda M. Lee.
Not many people move to Wormwood. The witches aren’t welcoming.
The fortune tellers are frauds. And the recent murder is only going to make things worse.
Hazel Salem just wanted a story for her magazine. Instead, she finds herself at the centre of an investigation that’s about to turn into a witch hunt.
If someone doesn’t solve this murder – and fast – it will be out of the cauldron and into the fire for Wormwood’s witches.
Although I bought this as a boxed set I will be reviewing the books individually.
Mandrake And Murder by Silver Nord.
My Review. Hazel has returned to Wormwood, after the death of her mother to run the failing apothecary shop. Profits are abysmal and so is her reputation. Wormwood is a community divided between those who are magical and ordinary folk who have no idea that anything is unusual. Hazel senses she is an object of scorn as a supposed witch who can’t do magic. Two women who say they are her aunts arrive and reassure her that late-blooming magic could be powerful. When Wormwood has a murder, the first in hundred years everyone in town magical or not is on edge. To make matter worse there are some clues that it could be concerned with magic. Hazel hits on the idea of producing a free local magazine. It’s the perfect opportunity for her to ask questions. D.C. I. Admiral is also investigating and despite an initial speak between them, he doesn’t require any help. Jealously, fake fortune-tellers and hexes add to the fun.
Vervain and a Victim by Silver Nord.
A cauldron, a coin, and a corpse.
Three things that don’t belong in the woods.
The man standing over the body shouldn’t be there either, but when Hazel finds him with the victim, she suspects she’s already found the killer.
The only thing that keeps the prime suspect from being arrested is the absence of a murder weapon and a motive.
But in a town as weird as Wormwood, a motive for murder is only one dark secret away.
My Review. Wormwood hasn’t wholeheartedly welcomed Hazel. Although she is invited to join the coven, she suspects they are simply curious about her magical abilities. Her nemesis Natalia Gould is openly hostile. Another problem is she has now got a fake boyfriend, putting her at odds with his admirers. Her cat Hemlock seems to despise her and Jesse Heathen, the supposed detective has tried to charm her. All while murder has shaken the town and there is talk of vampires, the enemies of witches being seen in Wormwood. More fun and suspense, developing relationships and unanswered questions.
I am delighted to welcome B Michael Radburn to chatting with authors, his latest book Subterranean was released on July 1st.
Here is an extract.
‘The past is my shadow, forever behind me.’ Cassie Belrose was used to looking over her shoulder. Running away was what she did best – away from a possessive husband who wants her back, running from city to city, from job to job, to stay one step ahead of him. Daniel Woodsman is at home in the dark; in the abandoned railway tunnels below the city where the homeless veteran has built his life since his injuries had taken away more than just his confidence. Fleeing the Suits dispatched by her husband to bring her home, Cassie enters Daniel’s domain in the subway where their two worlds collide. Together, can they stop running long enough to begin living again.’
It’s on my to-read list and I think it should be on yours too.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Aside from the usual childhood desires of becoming either a cowboy or an astronaut, I knew from adolescence that I wanted to be a writer. The path wasn’t a direct one, but I finally got there.
What brings you joy? Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood.
Playing my guitar or riding my motorcycle will always lift me out of a slump (or writer’s block), but my family is a constant when it comes to the joy of life.
Also, for the motorcycle fans, tell us a little about your Harley?
Ah, my bike … She’s a beautiful Road King Classic that has been with me for more than ten years now. A tribute to that Americana road culture of chrome and leather that I love so much. Harley ownership is as much a culture as it is an interest. I can’t imagine life without it.
What is for dinner tonight? Can you cook? What would you rather be eating?
A simple BBQ grill of steak, jacket potatoes, string beans in butter, and corn on the cob with a nice Cabernet Merlot. As it’s Saturday, I’ll be doing the cooking. Can’t say I’d prefer anything else right now.
What are your musical tastes?
Old school country and blues. I’m a product of the 60s and 70s, so am also partial to rock and roll from that era. When I jam with my friends though, it’s usually a bit of all those genres, depending on where the mood (and alcohol) takes us.
This is tough. Heroes come and go in our lives, depending where we are and what we’re doing. There are so many people I have admired over the years. A constant is Neil Armstrong. Not so much for what he did, but for how he did it with such focus, heroism, and unassuming humility.
Right now, however, I’d have to say New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She is such a strong and shining light amidst the current World leadership. A true inspiration.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
It wouldn’t be a dinner party, but rather an open campfire to share a billy of tea. I would have Elon Musk and Bill Gates to discuss the possible future of humanity. My third guest would be Ricky Gervais to keep the conversation grounded. I think that would be neat.
Writing and other topics.
As a woman, I am intrigued by the fact that you wrote successfully for women’s magazines earlier in your career. What allowed you to tap into that market?
It was a calculated decision at first. There was a decade’s gap where I hadn’t written a word while I focused on my young family. When the itch to write again grew too much to ignore, I looked for an accessible paying market which at the time was the significant stable of women’s’ magazines in Australia. When I read a few samples, I recognised a pattern that I felt I could follow but decided to add a unique twist in the tale and stamp my own literary voice. The method worked well, and soon opened overseas opportunities. I think living in a household of women (my wife and 2 girls) also helped me successfully tap into the female psyche.
You couldn’t get much further apart than writing from this perspective and your love for Harley Davidsons and motorcycles.
Not really. The motorcycle community a diverse one these days, with many riders of all genders. The gap isn’t as wide as you may think. Conversations at rallies and motorcycle pubs and haunts can often turn to books and the arts. Don’t be fooled by the leather, tattoos and facial hair.
Equally, I am interested in your comment ‘no matter the story, it’s always better when told with strong female influences.’
Can you elaborate further, especially as many male writers only have token female characters?
I think it’s a matter of balance. My stories are character-driven, so I write most of my books from multiple perspectives. Therefore, it’s imperative that I understand the place where their influences and drives come from; bring their backstories to the surface to better understand their reasoning and actions. I am a fan of so many female writers, top of my list being Harper Lee and Margaret Atwood. Men and woman often process things differently. I think it helps a book to see both the conflict and common ground this can sometimes produce in a story. In Subterranean, however, I chose to write it entirely from my female protagonist’s point of view to dig deep on the domestic abuse angle. That way I could also keep Daniel’s story mysterious and at arm’s length until he was ready to share it with Cassie.
Do you get much feedback from women on your writing?
All the time. The greater percentage of my readership appears to be female, not an uncommon statistic in the crime genre as I understand it. One of the nicest comments I ever received was from a reader who told me; “You write like a woman.”
The book touches on both homelessness and veterans. What do you think is the mainissue contributing to homelessness for veterans?
Homelessness is such a complex issue. It’s difficult for many of us to understand how living rough on the streets feels safer than where they have come from, but that’s the crux of it. Add the trauma of PTSD to the mix and that rabbit hole some of our veterans find themselves down just gets deeper. Despite the efforts of government bodies to assist our vets, the culture learnt in the military is hard to shake when it comes to talking about these things. There is a line in Subterranean where Daniel tries to explain it to Cassie. He says, “We don’t talk to civilians because they can never understand what we went through; what we are going through; and we don’t need to talk to another veteran, because they do know.”
I applaud all-male champions for change concerning domestic abuse. What can men do to help other men and women?
Lead by example for a start. If you see a person in trouble, step up and bear witness. I find this passive action can often stem a potential abusive event in a public place without force. Sit with the victim, stand with them, walk with them, make them feel safe.
What time of the day do you usually write?
I find the mornings accommodate my creative writing more productively, and evenings better suited for the more mundane tasks of correspondence and research, although I’m disciplined enough these days to be able to write at any time of the day. It depends on the weight of any deadlines I may have.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Editing … I hate it. Not because I begrudge my editor’s work at making my books the best they can be, but because my headspace is usually in the next project by the time we are at the editing stage. I call it a necessary evil (first world problem, I know).
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
Not too strict. I have a conservative target of no less than 500 manuscript words a day (any more is a bonus). This means I can comfortably have a first draft in 10 months or so. I like it best when I have several projects on the go at any one time, dipping in and out of each as the mood takes me.
How long do you research for a book?
It varies, depending on the complexities of the plot. I am a less is more kind of writer anyway. I’m very fortunate to have a couple of sources within the police force that help me with procedural and cultural aspects in my novels. Research never really stops throughout the process. There are always details surfacing that need to be checked and explored.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I like to place an early model canary yellow VW Beetle car in all my novels. Sometimes it provides a minor insignificant prop, and at other times a major one that’s key to the story. I couldn’t tell you why I do that. It’s just a fun little foible that gives me joy.
I love that!
Do you have a favourite character that you have written?
If so, who? And what makes them so special? Firstly, The Librarian (Thomas Leon) from my debut novel, The Crossing. He’s an eccentric retired old-school newspaperman living in a rundown mansion on the cusp of a devastated landscape of past logging in the Tasmanian Highlands. He was one of those characters that wrote themselves; I just had to sit back and take notes. More recently I could say the same about Daniel Woodsman in Subterranean. I found a real affinity with his character as it developed on the page, possible because of the link to my army days.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
I think they could write a great technical manual. But fiction needs to find a pathway into the reader’s emotions. I find it better to set a seed rather than advise what the reader should be feeling. If I do it right, this allows them to discover the level of emotions based on their own benchmarks in life.
Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received?
Best: Stephen King suggested never to underestimate your reader when we were both speaking at the 84 World Fantasy Convention in Canada.
I am in awe, you met and spoke to Stephen King.
Worst: “Writing is easy”, by my best friend in high school.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
$90 dollars for a portable Remington typewriter back in 1978. It was the moment I decided that I could really do this.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
This is tough. There are so many. But the most influential of my favourites is Ray Bradbury. He was always able to write adult speculative fiction with the heart and curiosity of a child. I love that.
What are you reading now?
While the rest of the world appears to be devouring new literature during the C-19 crisis (which is wonderful), I’m revisiting the classics. Currently, I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I recently purchased a beautiful leather-bound hardcover version. The way Stoker has told the tale from a collection of diaries, journals and official documents is so masterful.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
Many writers imitate their most influential authors to kick off their career. My early influences were Americans like Bradbury, Bloch and Lovecraft to name a few, but I’d like to think that I have since found my own voice and style.
Favourite quote (does not matter the source) Can be from music if you like!
My favourite quote is from British author Clive Baker. You’ll find it in his Books of Blood collection. “People are like books. Wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” Creepy, huh?
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult?
Again, too many to consider as an ultimate favourite, but the one book I can go back to time and time again is Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I seem to find something new that touches my heart every time I read it.
Favourite book when you were a kid.
Maurice Sendak’s, Where the Wild Things Are. It was the first book that really sparked my imagination as a child, a spark that has since turned into a raging fire of creativity for me today.
Thank you so much for a fun and fascinating interview.
About the author.
B. Michael Radburn has been writing successfully for
decades with over a hundred short stories, articles and reviews published in
Australia, the UK and the United States.
He was an award-winning short storyteller before his move to novels and screenplays, a move that freed him to further explore his characters, as well as the natural and supernatural environs in his work.
Amidst road trips on his Harley Davidson, and jamming with the local musicians, B. Michael Radburn is a family man and enjoys farming his small Southern Highlands property where the hauntingly beautiful surrounds inspire his stories.
Connect with B. Michael Radburn on his Facebook, Instagram or webpage.
Subterranean: ISBN: Paperback ISBN 978-0-6487093-9-8, RRP $27.00
E-book ISBN 978-0-6487093-8-1, RRP $4.99
Pages: 238pp Category: Fiction, contemporary.
Available: From Booktopia and Amazon.
Sandi has a dual career as a fitness instructor and as a writer. So, she embodies the ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ concept.
That’s a terrific way to put it, Sonia. I also like to think of it as balancing my active, outgoing side with my sedentary, solitary one; both are creative and fun. Anyway, thanks so much for inviting me in for a chat!
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I read every day and it’s almost always crime fiction. I also love to garden, exercise, canoe, relax, visit the country, and be around great people. An evening at home, enjoying a glass of red wine with my hubby, wood fire glowing and popping, the pup at our feet, the cat on my lap, and a crime show on TV is my idea of bliss.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Since about the age of six, my dream was to be a crime writer.
What brings you joy? Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood.
A walk with the pup, inhaling the pure air up here on our hill, looking across to the nearby hills cloaked in a pretty blue haze never fails to relieve my computer-sore eyes or to put my worries into perspective, and it reminds me just how fortunate I am. Time in our garden, working or just relaxing, or a simple evening with my hubby also lifts my spirits.
What is for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating?
Chicken and salad. Hmm…a medium-hot Indian curry with peas–rice and garlic naan, or a beautiful Italian pasta dish. Mmm.
Can you tell us a little about your books?
I’d love to! I have three rural crime thrillers—Tell Me Why, Dead Again and Into the Fog— along with a collection of short crime stories with central police characters, On the Job, all being re-released in fresh editions thanks to my new publisher. Even more exciting, two new titles will soon join the others. The second collection of my short crime stories, Murder in the Midst, is out 11 August and it features eight different women with one thing in common: serious crime. And my fourth rural thriller, Black Cloud, publishes on 22 July. I can’t wait!
My novels all star Melbourne journalist Georgie Harvey and Daylesford cop John Franklin. Combining Aussie Noir, parallel stories led by a journalist and a cop, and gritty rural fiction set in a variety of country locations, my novels can be enjoyed as standalone as the crime aspects are wrapped up within each one, though many people prefer to read them as part of the gripping series, following the lives of Georgie, Franklin and other cast members.
What time of the day do you usually write?
I aim for ‘business hours’ for my work and switch focus to quality time with my family at night. In pre-Covid times, that meant my writing sessions fitted around my fitness industry commitments in that work time, but right now I have bonus availability for writing. And of course, I do work outside those hours when the mood or need strikes.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
I enjoy all parts of writing—from the first idea right through to professional editing and proofreading the final draft. Marketing is the trickiest part of being a writer for me. What I like most are personal appearances with the opportunity to talk to and connect with readers and aspiring writers.
How long do you research for a book?
Research can be a big hole that writers fall into, so interesting, that they spend far longer on it than they need to. I try to be disciplined and focused on the process. For my fourth rural crime thriller, Black Cloud, it was important for me to better understand several technical aspects of the situation I was setting up before jumping into the actual writing, as these points held direct consequences for the timeline, action and events. From there, the story evolved quite organically, but there were some further knowledge gaps that I either flagged and addressed after the draft was down, or I initiated the relevant research and added it in as I went.
What drew you to writing crime?
I was destined to write crime after deciding it was for me at that tender age of six. Admittedly, I was first drawn to the genre by enjoyment value—books that gave vicarious thrills and danger, broadened knowledge, explored other cultures and places, exercised the brain, and offered an escape from the real world. But I now love crime stories that offer social commentary about topical issues, situations that are believable, are relatable and happening to imperfect people. Reading—and writing—crime fiction makes sense of things and often brings a type of justice or resolution not always possible in real life.
Have you written in other genres?
Crime fiction is my writing passion, but I have written some short stories that aren’t a crime, along with a fair volume of articles and other non-fiction material to develop my writer’s bio and skills.
Did you ever consider using a pseudonym?
Not for my adult crime fiction. My lifelong dream was to write it, so I wanted to put my name to it. One thing I might try one day is writing crime or mystery books for children or young adults. In that case, a pseudonym would be useful to differentiate my books for my audiences.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
Yes, my two main characters, journalist Georgie Harvey and country cop John Franklin. It’s great to wear their skin, get inside their head, be in their world. Georgie is determined, strong, and sometimes reckless. Franklin is intelligent, loyal, and a maverick. Both have vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses, and both have character traits I’d like to own, and others I am happy not to. I am also fond of, and in some cases love to hate, other characters in each of my stories.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
We’re asking a lot of our readers. To invest in our stories. To care about our characters and the outcome of the situation we’ve built. To suspend disbelief at times. To care enough to finish the story. We want the story to resonate with readers after they finish and for them to recommend our books to others. It follows, then, that we need to feel it with them. While it can leave us vulnerable, a writer’s empathy and bond with their characters, story and readers are invaluable, is genuine and it shines through. (It is advisable to grow a thicker skin for other aspects of being a writer, though.)
Best writing advice you ever received?
Practice, practice, practice. Keep striving. Keep believing.
Do you have a favourite author and a favourite book, and why?
Oh, no! Naming one favourite author or one favourite book is like choosing a favourite child! I am an avid reader of Australian and international crime fiction. My preference is contemporary novels, and though I read many sub-genres of crime, I’m often drawn to rural crime thrillers, psychological thrillers, and police procedurals I also enjoy a good cosy when the mood strikes. I regularly feature my standout crime reads in my ‘Good Reads’ blog posts at https://www.sandiwallace.com/blog/.
What are you reading now?
Cause and Effect: Vice Plagues the City (Kind Hearts and Martinets Book 1) by Pete Adams, a stablemate in my new publishing house. Pete has a distinctive, witty, British style and his star is Detective Inspector Jack Austin, a ‘self-labelled enigma’ who runs the Community Police Unit from his deck chair, working a variety of cases while struggling with his mental health issues. Only a little way in, I’m enjoying its uniqueness very much already and know it’s going to take a more malevolent turn very soon.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
‘You know it’s never too late to shoot for the stars. Regardless’ If today was your last day by Nickelback.
Thanks so much for the chat, Sonia. I’ve had fun. I hope your followers have enjoyed it, too.
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author
I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. I’ve always like Norse myths and legends, though, and think Vikings were a little misunderstood. J They can’t really have been that bad. Can they?
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I read, of course, mostly historical fiction, and I love old black & white movies and Westerns, and I love travelling and photography. I am happiest tramping around the ruins of a medieval castle or exploring a smugglers’ village, with my camera running red hot.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I can’t answer that – I never grew up! No, I wanted to be Errol Flynn, swashbuckling star of Captain Blood, as well as a bunch of other pirate movies, and also Robin Hood and General Custer. I also wanted to be a Lieutenant in the US Cavalry, a Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion and a Spitfire Pilot in the RAF in 1940. Oh, and a Highwayman, a gunslinger, the Saint, and when I was about 14, I fancied myself as F Scott Fitzgerald, as played by Gregory Peck in the bio of his life called Beloved Infidel. The idea of being a tortured literary genius appealed greatly at that age. Unfortunately, these days I am neither tortured nor a genius, nor even suave like Gregory Peck, or even Atticus Finch, more’s the pity.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? It is Sunday night, so Jan and I are in for a perfect evening. A long hot bubble bath with the steaming water up to our eyes, until we get wrinkly toes, then pizza and red wine while watching a British crime drama on the TV. What would I rather be eating? I’m happy with that, though a bowl of freshly-made pasta and Chianti while sitting on a terrace on a warm evening in Venice might be pretty good too.
Your hero? I have a lot of heroes, but especially my beloved Jan Nicholls. She is my biggest fan, but never reads anything I write until it is published, which is probably why we still get on okay. She is from Northumberland near the Scottish border where they breed them tough, but she is warm-hearted, kind, gorgeous, as sharp as a tack and incredibly funny. The poor woman is addicted to books, though, and spends a great time of reading and promoting books in her role as President the Children’s Book Council here in WA. Jan also likes travelling, so that fits in perfectly with me, and I admire how she has navigated us across the world in search of exciting places for me to write about.
Another hero is my mother, Barbara, who is kind and gentle but has a backbone of steel. She lived in Broome in the 1950s when it was a derelict shanty town so far from everywhere, and brought up four boys often by herself for long periods while my father was away working. She moved to Perth and had a successful career at Channel 9 and is still a stylish, enthusiastic world traveller at 86 years old.
Next on my list is Winston. I am a big Winston Churchill fan, though I am well aware of his flaws and significant errors and subsequent disasters. US broadcaster, Edward Murrow, said of him, “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” I hugely admire that ability he had. He stared down Hitler, ran the government, helped win WWII, and then went on to write 30 books and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? My father and my grandparents. You never really get to say goodbye properly, so one lovely last evening with them would be wonderful. I still have so much I would have liked to share with them and so much still to learn. They were all great storytellers too, and I would have felt warm and safe and loved being in the same room with them again entertaining me with their tales of our family from long ago.
Now to questions about writing. I think readers and writers alike are fascinated by how writers write, and how they get their ideas.
What time of the day do you usually write? I am scatty and erratic, hugely disorganised, and away-with-the-fairies half the time, so there is no pattern to my writing day. My latest manuscript, The Smuggler 3: Dragon’s Blood, was written under a palm tree by a pool in Phuket using an old leather-bound notebook and a fountain pen. It was only the first draft, but I got so much written with no electronic distractions and no reason to stop other than the need for a quick swim occasionally.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Revising and polishing. I find researching the life and times of my characters and settings and then writing the plot reasonably enjoyable, but the constant need to turn out half-decent sentences while making sure the meaning is crystal clear and exciting at the same time is a real challenge for me. I need to keep reminding myself not to include every single detail I have uncovered during the research, but to concentrate more on the hero’s journey and their interaction with the other characters. Historical books often overload the minor details of the past, so the reader gets bogged down, and then fed up, and loses sympathy with the hero, and that can be fatal.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? My schedule is pure chaos. Sometime I’ll spend all day procrastinating, while others I’ll be on a roll and write like a demon all day, ignoring everything and everyone in the real world around me. Other days, it will be four hours before I get bored with myself. Ideas come at all times of the day and in odd places, so I have a box full of napkins, slips of newspaper, notebooks and movie tickets with random words and sentences hastily scribbled on them.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I tend to over-reference old movies, TV shows, books I read in the past, and even jokes, sometimes completely inappropriately for the dire situations in which I have placed my characters. I am also on the lookout for humour in every case, which can be very annoying when Red, for instance, is seconds away from being eaten by a monster Tiger shark or being fired on by blood-thirsty pirates.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? Not too much. I do get great feedback from kids when I am giving school talks, and teachers often tell me how much their students enjoy my books. I did once get the best letter, though. It read, “Dear Mr Jorgensen, I know you don’t make much money from your writing, but rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions of children all around the world.” Poor deluded fool they must have mistaken me for J.K Rowling.
I am guessing your readership is predominantly boys, am I right? I had imagined that was the case, but I am continually being proven wrong. Jack’s Island is studied and enjoyed in many girls’ schools, and I keep hearing that girls seem to like my character, Red Read, the teenage hero of The Smuggler’s Curse and The Wreckers’ Revenge. Several girls have asked for more romance in the sequels.
We both laugh and I suggest a comprise. Maybe you can write a choose your own adventure book to satisfy both boys and girls? Quick as a flash he comes back with ‘Choice one -Kiss the girl. Choice two -Jump overboard.’
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. Red Read, son of Mrs Read who owns The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel in Broome, is my favourite. His mother sells him as a cabin boy to Captain Black Bowen, a notorious smuggler. Red is just like 12-year-old me, except he is brave, fearless, athletic and resourceful, unlike me at 12 who was a snivelling coward and none of those things. He handles everything I was too scared to do like he is a full-on junior swashbuckler. And after all his hair-raising adventures, he ends up very rich, also unlike me.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? I don’t imagine so. You’d have to be pretty good at faking it. There is a saying in writing circles, “No tears from the writer, then there will be none from the reader.”
You’ve written children’s picture books and middle-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference? I prefer mid-grade by far. Picture books are sooo difficult to write. The industry standard for them is 600 – 800 words over 32 pages, and trying to get the story that fills your head into so few words is nigh on impossible. Picture book stories are also told using a mixture of words or pictures, but not both, so your words are often cut as the illustrator takes over. If your text reads, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the illustrator paints a dark and stormy night, then your carefully chosen words become redundant and get cut.
With middle-grade, you can create more elaborate plots and landscapes and explore inside your characters’ heads. You are also leaving a lot more to the reader’s imagination.
How do you decide whether it will be a longer book or a picture book? I see my stories in pictures in my head, just like watching a movie with a soundtrack and all, but some adventures will be far too long for 32 pages, so have to be turned into 60 to70,000 words instead. Interestingly, the three illustrators I have worked with, Allan Langoulant, Brian Harrison-Lever and my good friend, James Foley, have all had better pictures in their heads that I did, so, occasionally, I feel okay about my words getting the knife or the Viking sword.
You mentioned a trip to the Shetland Isles – did that inspire The Last Viking?
The Last Viking was inspired by my nephew Ben Jorgensen adding horns to his bike helmet years before, and then by me overlooking James Foley’s portfolio where he had an illustration of a boy dressed as a medieval knight. Why not a Viking, I thought? When I approached James with the Viking boy idea, I suddenly had to come up with the story on the spot.
The Shetlands Islands did, however, inspire The Smuggler’s Curse. R.L Stevenson’s father had been a lighthouse builder, and Robert had stayed in the same room as me as the Sumburgh Lighthouse. Learning this, I tried writing a pirate story just like R.L.S while there. It soon developed into a smuggler story set in Cornwall in 1810 and then, eventually, into an Australian sea story relocated to Broome in 1898, at the suggestion of my publisher, Cate Sutherland at Fremantle Press.
How much input do you have with your illustrators? Normally, none. Editors like to keep writers and illustrators apart, and often they are in different states. Brian Harrison-Lever lived in Tasmania, and I didn’t meet him until he had finished all the artwork for In Flanders Fields, though we did exchange emails. I met Allan Langoulant once a week for dinner where he showed me his previous week’s work, but I had no say in it as it was already finished. With James Foley, we did spend time working together on The Last Viking, sharing jokes and me suggesting scenes and film references, and that seemed to work well as we had a shared love of movies. The Viking books are heavily movie influenced. James was able to add in a lot of his own humour, making my original plot and jokes much funnier.
Best writing advice? Don’t get carried away with the traditional, stereotyped idea of being a writer
Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Instead, just begin.
Starving in a Paris garret, suffering from TB, drinking yourself to oblivion on Absinthe like many, shooting wild animals like Hemingway, or going on the road like Jack Kerouac will only distract you. Just sit, turn down the lights, and actually type in one word after another until you fill a page, polish it, then do it again the next day until you fill another page. After a year, you will have 365 pages which should be enough for a book. That is advice from John Steinbeck, not me.
Worst writing advice you ever received? A teacher who read the manuscript told me to change the name of the title of In Flanders Fields as kids won’t know what it means, she said. Luckily, I ignored her as the book is still in print 17 years later.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer
My Lamy fountain pen from Germany and my Chinese fountain pen called The Black Dragon, the same name as the schooner in my latest books. I just had to buy it with a name like that. Mostly, though, every dollar I ever spent on airfares has not been wasted. I have visited every place my books are set as I believe it is important to be able to describe the settings in detail, down to the smell of the drains, the feel of the sand between your toes and the sound of the monkeys screeching in the jungle trees.
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
Dragon’s Blood: Red 3 (Upper Primary Novel)
Sons of the Desert: The Journal of Harry White (YA Novel)
This Pen for Hire (Adult Comedy Novel)
The Illuminator’s Apprentice (Picture Book)
The Goldminer’s Son (Picture Book)
The Gr8 Escape (Picture Book)
Castaways on a Dessert Island (Picture Book)
Advance Australia Unfair (Picture Book)
The Final Mission of a Flying Tiger (Picture Book)
Mary Christmas (Lower Primary Novel)
Who is your favourite author, and why?
My favourite authors are Leslie Thomas who wrote The Virgin Soldiers and Dangerous Davies and Tom Sharpe, author of Wilt and Blott on the Landscape, both British writers who generally wrote satirical comedy novels about ordinary people living suburban lives while mayhem surrounds them. When Leslie died in 2014 and Tom in 2013, I was shocked at how saddened I was each time as if I had suddenly lost a part of me and a whole chunk of my early reading years. I didn’t know either of them, though I met Leslie Thomas briefly at a book signing after a talk he gave here in Perth. He answered ALL my questions then afterwards signed my book, “To my greatest fan, Norman”, and he wasn’t the least bit wrong.
I also love the work of Bill Bryson and have read every word of his. We are much the same age, and his gentle sense of humour matches mine exactly. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, about him looking for the small-town America of the old movies, is funny but also so sad as he slowly comes to realise that it has been lost and the towns have been devastated by enormous Walmart’s, huge car parks, endless fast-food joints, closed factories, empty shops and despair. His most successful book, Notes From a Small Island, about him revisiting the places he went when backpacking around Britain in the 1970s, is a joy to read. He gave his humour free rein, and I loved it, as I did with all his other books. He has since written 20 more.
What are you reading now? As usual, I have several books on my bedside table. This week it is Grant, a massive doorstop of a biography of General Ulysses S Grant, the US Civil War leader and President, by Ron Chernow. There is also The Last Dickens by Mathew Pearl an exciting books about copyright piracy in the 1870s, Mrs Kelly by Grantlee Kieza, about Ned Kelly’s mother, and to my absolute delight, an advance copy of Goldfields’ Girl by my great friend Elaine Forrestal just arrived this morning. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Smuggler’s Curse has Treasure Island and Kidnapped all over it. I even called a character Bosun Stevenson in his honour.
I belong to the Society of Writers and Illustrators here in Western Australia, and I am always amazed at the quality of the books that our members produce. I admire so many of them as we really do have some remarkable talent in Perth.
In my genre, closest to my style of recent stories in John Flanagan, who wrote the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series. His historically-based, overly-brave teenagers sometimes seem a lot like my young characters
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“If you are going through hell, then it is probably best to keep on going.”
Or maybe… “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Both quotes are by Winston Churchill.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult
Dissolution by CJ Sansom. It is a historical novel (of course) about a lawyer called Mathew Sheldrake in the times of King Henry VIII when he set up the Church of England and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys across England. Samson captures the life and times of pots medieval Britain so well that you feel positively grimy after reading his work. He has since written a series about Sheldrake, all equally as good and just as grubby.
Favourite book when you were a kid Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, although Enid Blyton and Biggles were favourites when I was younger.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? John Steinbeck, who wrote The Grapes of Wrath. He was the first writer to keep me awake all night reading. He wrote with such compassion for his characters who were based on real people suffering in the Great Depression, as well as perfectly capturing a sense of place of an American landscape destroyed by drought, greed and economics. His writing is so flawless and seemingly effortless that you do not even notice the writing style as he has so successfully carried you away with the fates of his characters.
What are you working on now? I am researching for a book called In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, Brother of the Outlaw Ned Kelly. Ned’s youngest brother, Jack, was a world-famous circus star performing stockwhip tricks and stunt riding for Wirth’s Circus in the early years of the 20th century. For a few years, he was, almost unbelievably, even a member of the Police Force in WA where he worked taming wild horses. After that, he left for the USA where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and then went onto a glittering career in England and then South America.
Do you enjoy school visits? I do about 120 school visits a year and usually enjoy them very much, especially with kids in upper primary classes. They typically are so enthusiastic and not yet self-conscious like their older school mates, and so pepper me with questions. My book, Jack’s Island, about my father’s experiences as a kid during WWII is studied in depth by many schools and, for some reason, the kids want every episode in it to be true. It mostly is true though sometimes exaggerated, and I find it fascinating seeing what sections appeal or capture the imaginations of the readers. School visits are also essential for trying out chapters on the potential audiences to see their reactions. Frequently, some instant editing takes place as I read aloud, and pages are mentally slashed and burnt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me- I have really enjoyed talking with you and I am sure you have gained new readers eager to share in an adventure or two.
Here is a list of all Norman’s published books and awards
Thanks for joining us- can you tell us a little about yourself please? What do you like to do when you are not writing?
When I am not writing I like to run my gratitude workshops where I read my book and we do some activities on the benefits of Gratitude and resilience.
Diana, what did you want to be when you grew up? As I grew up, I wanted to be a flight assistant and travel the world, or a train driver and I always loved my writing. I wrote my grateful book when I was around 15 but only illustrated it and published it a couple of years ago. An editor friend of mine introduced me to Sarah and she had the same picture ideas as what I did, and it just grew from there and became a reality it was so amazing to watch.
What was your dream job when you were younger? My dream job when I was younger was to write books.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? Dinner tonight is chicken wings. I wouldn’t rather be eating anything they are my Favourite! The hotter the better!
Do you have a hero? My hero here in Australia is Maggie Dent
Imagine that you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Maggie Dent Michelle Obama and Oprah.
Why? Because they are amazingly strong women who have made amazing changes to many lives young and old and I would love to listen to how they got where they are today.
QUESTIONS ABOUT WRITING
What advice would you give a new writer, someone just starting out?
Just start to write don’t be scared there are editors and other people who can help you make it great just start! Don’t be like me and put it off for years because you don’t think you’re good enough.
Which comes first, the plot or characters? The plot.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Panster, ( I had to Google what that meant)
How do you come up with the titles to your books? The titles are usually the theme of the book.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? Um most probably the rhyming
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? I do hear from my readers. The teachers say they love reading my books to the classroom.
On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing? I try to write for a couple of hours at least a day, I am writing a book about my daughters’ journey at the moment so a completely different Genre.
Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you?
I am on social media; my Facebook page is Bookstoinspire. My Instagram is bookstoinspirebydiana and my website is dianasmithbookstoinspire.com.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
I think my favourite is the first one My grateful book. I have written four that are being published and writing the other one about my daughter and one about my puppy.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your books? The most surprising thing I learnt was these are lesson’s I needed to learn later in life that I want children to learn earlier on.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special? The favourite character would be the one I am writing about my red cloud puppy Bruiser he’s just so cute.
What is the key theme and/or message in the book? My key messages are all about gratitude, kindness it’s ok to be anxious it will soon pass
Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers?#
I am working on the puppy book at the moment and a book about my daughter and me and I have also just finished one about a clamshell being washed up on the beach.
How many plot ideas are just waiting to be written? Can you tell us about one?
I feel there may be a few more in the gratitude series.
Do you have any new series planned? I think the puppy book may have a few books in there we had adopted a parrot so he can be in some as well
We’ve just started a new year and I’ve seen lots of posts about new years’ resolutions. Do you have anything special that you’ll be focusing on this year? I haven’t made any resolutions this year, but I will be focusing more on my writing and my gratitude workshops
QUESTIONS ABOUT OTHER WRITERs AND BOOKS.
What are you reading now? I am reading happier than God by Neil Donald Walsh
What book is currently on your bedside table? There is a pile of about 4 books on my bedside table
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing? Authors who have influenced me Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl, Winnie the Pooh
Who is the author you most admire in your genre? Roald Dahl
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source) You are good enough
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Me before you by Jojo Moy
Favourite book when you were a kid? Winnie the Pooh
Which famous author do you wish would be your mentor? : Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl
Can you tell us any fun facts about yourself? I was in New Zealand and I did the gap year in the army. I was 16. While I was in there, I buckled a wheel track on an APC which is a small army tank.
I love camping around Australia with my husband and our dogs in our camping trailer.
Do you have any unusual hobbies? Writing lol
Favourite Movies: Labyrinth and Me Before You.
Last Great book I read: Blue Moon by Lee Child
Favourite Book as a teenager: Nancy Drew! Now that is showing my age !!
Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed, Diana. s
The classic definer of a love story is the film Love Story starring Ali Mc Graw and Ryan O’ Neal. It is based on the popular book by Erich Segal. It is a real tearjerker, with the beautiful young couple parted by death. It is a tragedy and almost all of the love stories considered great have sad or tragic endings.
Here are some examples taken from films and books. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, filmed and updated as West Side Story.Othello. More recently Iain Mc Ewan’s Atonement, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.JoJo Moyes Me Before You, M.C Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans. And Cecelia Ahern’s Ps. I Love you, and of course ,my all-time favourite Casablanca.
Romances are different- they promise a reading experience or viewing experience that focuses primarily on the relationship between the couple or as Romance Writers of America says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Or in simpler terms you are pretty much promised a happy ending and if not a happy ever after, at least the reader gets the happy for now ending.So if we know the ending why do we read romance?
We read for the journey, for the twists and turns of the relationship. A happy ending may be promised but getting there is half the fun. Who doesn’t love a flawed hero or heroine? Or beautiful couple too blind to see that they are destined for each other? Real-life can be dull and bland, but romances are exciting, sexy and fun. It’s far safer to have a fictional lover than a real one. Romance writers are endlessly inventive and contrive new ways for couples to meet and fall in love.
Examples of romances are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and of course, it’s spin off’s Bridget Jones’ sDiary by Helen Fielding and the films Pride andPrejudice and Bride and Prejudice as well as the Bridget Jones trilogy of films. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a great read and has been filmed several times The fairy tales Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.
Some romance movies are Romancing the Stone, Breakfast at Tiffany’s( but not the book which ends differently) Moonstruck, Brokeback Mountain( a guy to guy romance) Ella Enchanted and a real oldie but a goodie It Happened One Night.Another of my favourite films Love Actually spans both genres as it has both love stories with sad ending and romances with happy ones.
Why do you read romance and who are your favourite authors? Let me know!