Giveaway – A New York Love Story by Cassie Rocca

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I’m delighted to be featuring A New York Love Story by Cassie Rocca, which is published tomorrow, 1st October 2016, by Aria Fiction, a digital imprint of Head of Zeus. A New York Love Story is available for purchase in e-book here.

To celebrate publication I have an extract for you to read and the opportunity to enter to win one of three e-copies of A New York Love Story at the bottom of this blog post.

A New York Love Story

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Giving a present is not always easy. Clover O’Brian knows that only too well: her job consists of helping people in the arduous task of choosing unusual gifts. Christmas is coming, New York is buzzing, and Clover, who has always loved the festive period, savours the atmosphere.

Cade Harrison already has everything in life. A Hollywood actor, he is handsome, rich, famous and popular. Success, however, has its downsides; having just emerged from a disastrous relationship with an actress, he feels a need to hide away in an area unfrequented by stars, in an apartment lent him by a friend, far from prying eyes – especially those of tabloid reporters. But as chance will have it, the apartment in question is right opposite the one occupied by Clover, who until now has seen Hollywood actors only on the big screen. Two quite different lives meet by chance, at the most exhilarating time of year…

An extract from A New York Love Story

The Rockefeller Center was crowded beyond all expectation. The concert had started an hour earlier and it always attracted hordes of people – this year even more than usual.

In the past Clover was able to find a quiet corner to watch the show, but this time it was impossible.

Cade was looking around, surprised to see so many people, yet he seemed completely comfortable. Obviously he was used to being in large crowds. However, he tried very hard not to be noticed, and so did Clover.

“All the photographers are focused on the evening’s celebrity guests. Mariah Carey, Rod Stewart and Billy Crystal are on the stage. They are more famous than you, right? You should be perfectly safe.” Clover said to lighten up the situation.

“Of course!” Cade answered, without pointing out that they weren’t exactly the trendiest of today’s stars.

But Clover knew perfectly well that right now Cade Harrison attracted more curiosity than those has-beens. She wasn’t indifferent to him either. The crush of the crowd kept pushing her closer to him. In this close proximity, she could inhale his scent, which began having a certain effect on her.

She wondered if these people might think they were a couple. Just for a few seconds she imagined that some paparazzi would take a picture of them together. The photo would appear on the latest news with the title, Cade Harrison’s new girlfriend? This would raise hell, provoking millions of questions and a lot of envy. She imagined with a certain satisfaction her mother’s surprise – her mother who thought that she couldn’t attract any man on earth… God! It would be really fantastic!

These impossible daydreams, the music and the excitement she felt all around made her so happy. Not even her sore knee stopped her from darting around Rockefeller Plaza in search of the best spot.

She felt Cade’s arm around her waist and her heart leapt in her throat.

“Would you like to watch the show from above, away from this crowd?” he whispered in her ear. His warm breath on her neck gave her the sort of shivers she could barely remember.

Go ahead and shoot, fucking paparazzi. Right now! She thought, in a moment of total insanity.

She didn’t know why she wanted to be photographed with him, to appear in a trashy tabloid tomorrow, but at that moment it was what she really wanted. When would it ever happen again, a stroll around New York with someone like him? She would frame any photo of them together, just to remind herself – in her darkest hours – that great things could happen and not only in fairy tales.

She tried to come back to reality. Damn! This guy had more talent than a snake charmer! Even if he didn’t realize it.

About Cassie Rocca

Cassie Rocca is an author of Sicilian origin who has lived in Genoa since the age of three. in every-day life she is a child minder, a job which gives her plenty of ideas for her modern fairy tales.

You can follow Cassie Rocca on Twitter.

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Enter to win one of three e-copies of A New York Love Story by clicking here. Open internationally until UK midnight on Friday 7th October 2016.

For more about A New York Love Story, see these other bloggers:

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A Disobedient Little So and So, a Guest Post by J.J. Patrick, author of Forever Completely

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Whilst I began Linda’s Book Bag just to share my reviews, the blog has evolved to support authors and publishers too so I’m pleased today to be bringing a new to me book, Forever Completely, by a new to me author, J J Patrick, published by a new to me independent publisher, Cynfin Road. Forever Completely was published on 16th September 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Today, J.J. Patrick has written a guest post explaining why he’s a disobedient little so-and-so and how this led to Forever Completely. If you’re offended by strong language I suggest you just check out his book instead, but I think the guest post is raw and honest and full of brilliant advice for writers.

Forever Completely

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Forever Completely is an unapologetically unique debut by J.J. Patrick, set in a haphazard world of love, psychopathic primates, hodgepodge witchcraft and the apocalyptic end of mankind.

He doesn’t matter. That’s how he feels, writing a bitter note on a Saturday morning. He’s lost his relationship, gone bankrupt and lives in a drug infested sink estate…until he’s shown a vision of the end of the world by two ancient deities.

Join a lovelorn mess of a man as he is forced to face up to what he deserves and save the Earth, with the help of a nice old dear and her collection of eye-popping tracksuits…

A Disobedient Little So And So

A Guest Post by J.J. Patrick

PLEASE NOTE – CONTAINS STRONG LANUGUAGE

There’s an index, a common measure. A consensual method. It tells everyone when people are in poverty – when they can’t live sufficiently by the standards of normal society. There’s also a lot of ‘rock bottom’ quoted. People have been as near to it as they can get. Thing is, and I mean this, there is no near miss. You are either destitute or you’re not.

I have been.

Though I’d never really thought about it properly, having had to convince myself otherwise for the sake of being able to put one foot in front of the other, one night not so long ago came the epiphany. I was destitute and had just dead kitten bounced off rock bottom.

My life has been a bit of a do for the last few years and I’ve never had chance to fully rest and recover from the whole parliamentary whistleblowing and loss of policing career thing. Never had time to balance the books and learn to cope with feeling like I’m in deep space orbit. A lonely kid out on Saturn’s rings, having nightmares about the awful things people do to one another and no longer being part of the coping mechanism which helps you keep it all in check. But life laughs in the face of damage done.

In 2015 the marriage finally broke. We’re amicable now and focus on the kids but to say it was pleasant would be a lie. This year something else broke and left me in a right mess, but it doesn’t matter. It was just a kick in the teeth as I was being kicked in the head.

But none of this is destitution. That started in March 2016.

I’d managed to open a pub and then watched a four-month road closure destroy it. Bad luck. On the 17th of March, I was declared bankrupt losing the business which was also my home. The benefits system does not provide a safety net if you don’t receive the child benefit. No housing. No charitable grants. No hardship loans from the social. I had, at this point, £27 in an old savings account which the receiver promptly took. I sofa surfed at my dad’s, up in Derby. Managed to find a low paid job back in Colchester and the old man lent me the money to get a room. It’s a bedsit, and not a good one. I can’t describe the horror of lying in the dark, listening to the sounds of an alcoholic Scot screaming and urinating on the floor directly above, leaving you to wait for his bodily fluids to seep through the plaster and drip into your space.

Between the 29th of March and the 28th of May this year I was paid £570, out of which I had to pay my phone bill, so I could talk to my kids, and £380 rent for the room. You can’t even get a payday loan when you’re bankrupt and I’d run out of things to sell so I lived on crackers, despite the job being physical, and eventually had to resort to accepting charitable offers from people as the effects of malnutrition set in. I had no body fat at all by May.

There comes a time when you take a look around and realise you are fucked. You reside in a hovel, well below the breadline, and you aren’t living. A useless fucking charity case, you’re just looking for a way to survive. There is no near miss, you are either destitute or you’re not. I was and it’s fucking awful.

So I did the only thing I could, turned to the blank screen and started typing. Within a week I was staring at the rough draft of Forever Completely, and those 30,000 words saved me. By the end of May the final draft was done, I’d sat there and bled in the greatest tradition of Hemingway and when I tentatively sent the manuscript out to beta readers I started to believe the magic in that story could do more than take me away from my soul-crushing surroundings. More than provide a waking dream. I saw a way out and played my usual game of Kipling’s pitch and toss, one of the reasons I get affectionately referred to as the walking embodiment of If.

Forever Completely is, for want of a better phrase, unapologetically unique. I carved out a haphazard world of love, psychopathic primates, hodgepodge witchcraft and the apocalyptic end of mankind. And the narrator, in many ways, is a true case of art reflecting life: He doesn’t matter. That’s how he feels, writing a bitter note on a Saturday morning. He’s lost his relationship, gone bankrupt and lives in a drug infested sink estate. I suppose the story is really about redemption and overcoming self-loathing, with the help of a nice old dear and her collection of eye-popping tracksuits.

I was nervous as hell about other people reading it, almost debilitatingly so, but so far so good. My favourite response so far has been “This deserves to sell a million and be made into a film, top drawer stuff. Reading it was the literary equivalent of smoking a joint, drinking five pints of scrumpy, listening to early Pink Floyd with Syd Barret while watching Saving Private Ryan.”

Writing Forever Completely wasn’t catharsis, not really. It was just survival, plain and simple,  and I wouldn’t still be here but for its grace. I certainly can’t say I used it as a device to create order either, the work itself is chaos because life is chaos. Love is chaos. Redemption is chaos. And I’m not exactly famed for obedience or conformity – the chair of the Public Administration Select Committee once described me as ‘Awkward’. My approach to writing is no different really.

The internet is awash with reams of sanctimonious shit about writing. Endless rules about what must be done, how you should behave, what you must show and what you must tell. The fact adverbs will bring about the death of your story and end your writing life, by leaving you open to broad ridicule. Don’t say anything other than said, use everything but said. Don’t use was but also shy away from complicated words, simplify your prose. Cut, slash and burn. Don’t over describe but also see show don’t tell, in the first sentence of this paragraph…Avoid the ellipsis at all costs, stick to the Oxford list, and murder your darlings. The cobblers is almost infinite, in the main self-righteous, and, worst of all, utterly meaningless. So my advice is stop worrying about it, sit down, and write.

There aren’t ten rules. There aren’t any at all. Everything is subjective, the whole industry – from writing, to editorial, to publishing. One day a story will be great, then a bus will get missed, a cat will die, or someone will feel grumpy, horny, angry – whatever – and the same tale will be in a slush pile.

If you are writing to run from people, good. Hide away and build a world you’re happy in because somebody else will be happy there too. If you are writing because you love people, good. Let everyone know why and share it.

Don’t worry about grammar beyond the basics, these aren’t the laws of physics you’re dealing with. If you want to start a sentence with and, do it. Because no one can stop you. And don’t worry about all the technical terms for participles and tenses, if you can tell yourself a story it’ll come out just fine. Literary elitism is the last refuge of literary elitists. Never let yourself be put in a bracket, pegged in a genre. The entire industry around writing has become incredibly lazy in this respect because of a need to categorise for the ease of sales and marketing. Look at the meaningless comparisons beginning with ‘this book is the next [insert the last book which is the nearest thing you can think of over morning coffee]’. It’s dross, so shun it and be proud to do so.

Lastly, after you’ve read this remember there are no rules when it comes to writing. Stop reading all the bollocks and either open a book and enjoy it, or sit down and put pen paper. Whichever of the two you choose, enjoy the freedom because that’s the point of writing and nothing else matters.

Forever Completely is available worldwide now. You can find it listed on all online retailers and wholesalers in hardcover, and in all ebook formats including Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Booktopia…you get the idea.

Meanwhile, my policing and whistleblowing memoir, The Rest Is Silence, is being released on the 19th of November 2016 – the third anniversary of the parliamentary inquiry I sparked. On top of that I am writing two more fiction works, both due in the spring and summer of 2017, and have to fit in a few weeks in Mexico helping them review the way they record and audit murder. It’s hard work, this business of being a disobedient little so and so.

About J.J. Patrick

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J.J. Patrick — or JP to those who know he’s nothing but trouble — was born in the New Forest and did most of his growing up in Derbyshire.

He served as a police officer for ten years, resigning from New Scotland Yard having acted as a whistle-blower, kicking off a parliamentary inquiry into the manipulation of crime figures by the police. He received open praise at the highest levels for his integrity.

At a bit of a loose end — largely being seen as an unemployable risk to skeletons in closets everywhere — he opened a pub. Wrestling a road closure, along with his own demons and ghosts, he was bankrupted and lost everything in the spring of 2016.

If you knew him, you’d say that the broken pieces fit together much better nowadays.

You can follow J.J. Patrick on Twitter and read his blog.

An Interview with Gilli Allan, author of Life Class

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It’s always disappinting when a book that I think I’ll love comes along and my TBR pile is so huge I haven’t had time to fit it in. Life Class by Gilli Allan is one of those books, especially since it has just won A Chill With A Book award (here). Life Class was published by Accent Press and is available for purchase by following the links here.

Until I have time to read Life Class, I thought I’d find out a bit more from Gilli Allan and luckily she agreed to be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag.

Life Class

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Four people hide secrets from the world and themselves. Dory is disillusioned by men and relationships, having seen the damage sex can do. Fran deals with her mid-life crisis by pursuing an online flirtation which turns threatening. Stefan feels he is a failure and searches for self-validation through his art. Dominic is a lost boy, heading for self-destruction.

They meet regularly at a life-drawing class, led by sculptor Stefan. They all want a life different from the one they have, but all have made mistakes they know they cannot escape. They must uncover the past – and the truths that come with it – before they can make sense of the present and navigate a new path into the future.

An Interview with Gilli Allan

Hi Gilli. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing.  

Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I am obstinate, persistent and optimistic.  The middle child of three, my given name is Gillian, but I was always called Jilly, Gilly, Jillie or Gillie!  No one – not even my parents – could decide on, or stick to, a consistent spelling.  I took matters into my own hands when I went to art school age sixteen. That’s when the absolutely logical, spelling of Gilli was born, and forcefully dinned into everyone who knew me.

On leaving (or rather dropping out of) art school it proved impossible to get a job in the art world. So I worked at various, and increasingly desperate, fill-in jobs – shop assistant, barmaid, beauty consultant, and a job which involved identifying and ‘picking up’ American tourists in London and offering them a free sight-seeing tour, followed by lunch at the Hilton. Of course there was a catch; they were then subjected to a high pressure sales pitch, to persuade them to buy building plots in Florida.  I hated it, only lasted a month, and spent most of that time weeping in cafés. It was a wake-up call.  I knew I had to do something about my life, and my obstinacy prompted me to have another go at finding an art job. This time I managed it, although I got the job through a complete fluke – I happened to have my art specimens with me at a crucial moment.

I am married and have one son, and live in the Cotswolds – near Stroud, in Gloucestershire.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

The idea that you could write the book you wanted to read first occurred to me when I was ten or thereabouts, when my fifteen year old sister began her own, Georgette Heyer inspired, Regency romance. My imagination and energy failed after only three or four illustrated pages of a small notepad. Even though that ‘novel’ and the three or four which followed, were never finished, the writing seed had been planted.

Once her novel was finished, my sister did not embark on any further recreational writing, until she retired, but as a young teenager I continued with the hobby. It was a time when Young Adult did not exist as a genre. The choice was between children’s or adult fiction. So the stories I embarked upon as an author were again a way of creating the books I wanted to read – usually about pop singers, clubs, drugs, and motorbikes. The prime purpose of each plot was to provide a scenario for love.  My experience of the world I imagined was zero, as was my experience of romantic love. My characters never progressed beyond gazing longingly, and kissing.

But I never took seriously the idea of writing as a profession. Writers were clever, educated people. Although I went to Grammar school I was not a star pupil; I wasn’t even outstanding at English. As art was the only subject in which I had a demonstrable talent, I left school as soon as possible, after achieving the minimum number of exam passes required to get me into art-college.

In my early adult life I stopped writing.  My career was as an illustrator in an advertising design studio. It was only when I stopped work to look after my young son that I started writing again. This time it was with the serious intention of finishing a book and seeing if I could get it published. I have to confess, however, the decision to put pen to paper on that first day was purely an economic one; I wanted to earn money at home. I was hopelessly misguided about the money-making potential, but the decision to restart writing was crucial to the rest of my life.  The process was magical and deeply fulfilling, and I fell back in love with writing. More importantly, I became convinced that not only was I capable of finishing a book, but that what I was writing was publishable.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I can’t describe my routine. There isn’t one.  As I have got older, I have become less and less disciplined. Although I spend the majority of most of my days in the study, the actual creative writing time is fluid and dictated by my mood, how excited or depressed I am by the story I’m trying to tell, and by the pressures or distractions of social media.

It was a different time when I started out. There was no ‘online world’ clamouring for attention.  Then the process of writing a book was predictable.  I started in January, writing while my son was at nursery or infant school, and writing some more in the evenings after he’d gone to bed. I would reach a final draft by the end of the year and start the next book the following January.  But life changed after three books. My mother died, my husband was head-hunted, we moved house from Surrey to Gloucestershire, and my publisher went out of business. I felt bereaved and abandoned in a place where I knew no one, without the comfort blanket of having a publisher. The idea of starting a new book became more and more resistible.

(That sounds a very challenging time in your life Gilli.)

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Given my previous answer, you won’t be surprised to read that for me, beginning a new book is the most difficult part of the writing process. It’s like carving a block of granite with a teaspoon.  I try to plan but nothing reveals itself to me beyond the main characters, their back stories, and the scenario in which they come together. I may have a few elements of the story in mind, but other than this handful of building blocks, my ideas about the plot will be nebulous and ill-defined. What I have to do is make myself sit down at the computer and start. It’s an approach aptly described ‘as into the mist’.

Fortunately, once I have persuaded myself to bite the bullet, a new story will eventually come alive. The when and where in the process is unpredictable, but it’s this that makes writing worthwhile. The story catches fire and races off, with me trying to catch up and get it all down. This is where I need to introduce routine and discipline in order to cope with the fundamentals of life, like getting dressed, buying food and washing clothes. But it is also scary; I often have no idea how a story will resolve, until the finishing post comes in sight.

My favourite, and the easiest part of the process for me, is knocking the finished text into shape. Once I no longer have to dredge the story out of the murky depths of my imagination, I am far happier.  I can see what I’ve got, and I can see how to improve, cut or even add to it. Because I find the editing so much fun – I am capable of polishing, tinkering, and restructuring it forever – I eventually need to be ruthless with myself and let it go.

(That’s really interesting, as many authors tell me they hate the editing stage.)

You frequently write about ‘the messiness of life’. What is the fascination for you of ordinary lives?

My first forays into writing were to create the book I wanted to read, and it’s the same impulse that motivates me now.  It’s been said that some people read fiction to escape the reality of life, but others read to identify with the characters and their dilemmas.  There is a curmudgeonly part of me that’s impatient with impossibly beautiful heroines, and rich, powerful, handsome but a little bit arrogant heroes.  I find that I can’t care about characters whose flaws and failings are negligible, and whose journey from hate to love is implausible. (And I don’t like Sci Fi or Fantasy for that matter.)  But it’s my personal taste.  I am not opposed to escapist literature, and I don’t decry those who write it, or those who want to read it. I simply fall into the ‘identify’ camp.  To remain committed to reading fiction I need to believe in the scenario – to recognise it, if you like.

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I am an unapologetic member of the Romantic Novelists Association, however, and I would defend to the death the fact that all of my books are love stories, but I prefer to write about life and love in an honest way, not ignoring or glossing over its uncomfortable or difficult aspects. The original blurb for my book, Torn, sums up my approach. “[It] is a contemporary story, which faces up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships.  Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. You don’t always fall for Mr Right, even if he falls for you. And realising you’re in love is not always good news. It can make the future look daunting….”

Your books are available in e-book and paperback. Which do you prefer to read and why?

It depends on what I’m reading and where.  Ebooks are very transportable, easy to read in a variety of locations, and the books themselves are usually cheaper and easy to obtain.  The majority of my reading these days is on my kindle, but….  I do, deep down, prefer real books. I am given books as presents, and these will usually be ‘keepers’.  I like the smell, the feel, the heft, the physicality; there is nothing better than sitting up in bed with a new book in my lap.

(Oh, I couldn’t agree more Gilli.)

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I don’t read a lot of women’s romantic fiction. Since I began to write it seriously, I have found it hard to relax and immerse myself in it, probably because I’m unable to switch off my inner editor. Either I find fault, and nit-pick over style and plot, or I find myself cast into a depression because I will never be that good.  ‘Frothy’ just doesn’t appeal to me, so if I have to pick favourite women’s fiction authors, I would say Jo Jo Moyes, Lisa Jewell, Marian Keyes – writers who often choose to explore more muscular and unconventional themes.

The genre of fiction I read most is psychological thrillers or crime (but not the cosy variety). Even with this grittier style of writing, I prefer a world I recognise – so I tend to pick British authors who write UK set fiction. A good story is not enough, however.  My pleasure is heightened immeasurably by good writing, and there are many superb authors who choose to write crime fiction.  I won’t list all of my favourites, but I have recently been delighted to discover the excellent books by Belinda Bauer and Sabine Durrant.

Apart from the above, my fiction ‘habit’ is further fed by authors like Robert Harris, C J Sansom and Hilary Mantel, all enjoyed in ‘proper’ book form. I am currently looking forward to reading the third in Robert Harris’s ‘Cicero’ trilogy – Dictator.  It was a present to my husband so I am making myself wait until he’s read it.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I have retained an interest in art, particularly in portraiture and the human figure.  I am an avid reader. I like photography, though I’ve never been particularly good at it.  I’m lucky enough to live in the country, in a beautiful setting. So my love of the natural world and walking is easy to satisfy. I believe that my appreciation of landscape informs my writing.

As a little girl, I won the form project prize in the final year of primary school. The subject I’d chosen, entirely off my own bat, was archaeology.  My son is now a historian and a (desk) archaeologist.  So my present book is about – guess what? – an archaeologist.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

My original career was as an illustrator in advertising, but I worked in the sector at a time when finished illustrations were not commonly used in advertisements.  My job was to visualise the art director’s ideas.  These roughs, or story boards, as the drawings were called, were just to communicate to the client what was being envisaged for the ad or campaign. The final images would be photographic or a filmed commercial. I began writing at a time when I’d rather fallen out of love with advertising.  Jobs were typically wanted yesterday, and as I moved further out of London and had my son, the sheer logistics became more difficult. This was a pre-computerised, pre-online world.  I wouldn’t want to go back, even if the kind of job I did still exists.

What I would have liked to do, and was able to dabble in, in 2013, was book illustration. My son – Thomas J T Williams – was the project curator of the 2014 ‘Vikings – Life & Legend’ exhibition at the British Museum. He decided to pitch the idea of writing a children’s book about Harald Hardrada. In this country Hardrada is mainly known as the Viking King who fought our own King Harold Godwinson at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, just before the Norman Invasion. The British Museum agreed the book was a good idea, and after looking at my sample illustrations, the project was born. It was fun working with my son on this, but also nerve-wracking – I didn’t want to let him down. The deadline was very tight which meant I didn’t have time to think too much about whether or not I could do it.  I just did it!  The Tale of King Harald – The Last Viking Adventure was published by British Museum Press in the Spring of 2014, to coincide with the exhibition.

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How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic? Have you ever been a life model for example?

I am far too vain ever to take my kit off in front of a group of people, however pure their motives for wanting to study me in the nude. My knowledge of life classes comes not from the model’s point of view, but from the artist’s. I have attended recreational life drawing classes forever, and I always knew one day I was going to write a book entitled Life Class.

I am lazy and shy, and I don’t like the telephone, so I choose subjects that I feel confident of writing about without too much research.  In my stories, there is always some real experience – re-imagined, reshaped and embroidered – and events, jobs, and activities I have knowledge of.  But…  there are always elements of a story, once I’m in the midst of it, that I discover I know nothing about, and I am forced to undertake proper research.

For Life Class, I talked to sculptors, did a sculpting workshop and visited a foundry where bronzes are cast.  I also talked at length to a friend of mine who worked as a lab technician in a sexual health clinic.

For Torn, I talked to sheep farmers, spent time observing a nursery class, and called up memories of an incident in Streatham High Road, which I and my husband-to-be, were witness to. I also recalled a story told to me by a friend, of an altercation with a landowner when she was walking with her young children in the woods above my house. I spent a long time talking to an expert on dyslexia. (The outcome of this was surprising as I discovered that I am on the dyslexia spectrum. It made sense of many of the practical difficulties I’ve had in my life – including doing worse than I knew I should, at school.)

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For Fly or Fall, I looked back to a particular time in my life when I moved home. I found myself in a very different neighbourhood and social circle, to the one I’d left behind at my old address. We had to have various jobs done on the new house which involved burly builders coming in and out. I also took on an evening job at that time, working in the bar of a local squash club. These various elements provided me with the initiating idea, and the personal experience, which became Fly or Fall.

For my current WIP, title not finalised, but currently known as Human Archaeology, my main protagonists are a desk archaeologist, and an Essex girl. She left school at sixteen, and is now developing a career as an events organiser.  They meet because she’s scoping out the university where he teaches, as a conference venue. Neither is who they appear to be at face value.  Their histories are slowly revealed throughout the unfolding story.

I have experience, through the company my husband works with, of conference organisation – two a year, held at Queens’ College Cambridge. I have experience, through my son, of the work of an academic archaeologist.  The story is partly based in Suffolk. We took a holiday there last autumn, specifically for me to visit various sites and to get a feel for the landscape. I’ve communicated with Moyse’s Hall, the museum in Bury St Edmunds, and with the owner of a leisure boat business. To find out why, you’ll just have to buy the book.

(We will indeed!)

Your novels frequently have a handwritten title. Is that your writing and how do you choose the covers for your books?

When I was an independent I designed my own covers, but I am with Accent Press now, and their design department revamped all of my covers, including the style of the title lettering (so, no, it is not my handwriting). I was able to have some input in the overall design. I chose to have a photographic style of cover, and selected the photographs used in Life Class and Fly or Fall.

It’s a long time since your first book was published. How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

My original plan, when I first took up my pen seriously, was to write a book suitable for Mills & Boon – a plan immediately subverted when I began to work out my plot. At the time I was irritated by the romantic fiction of the time which always ignored contraception, or the possible consequences of unprotected sex. My book, Just Before Dawn, is about a young woman whose very first love affair ends in pregnancy.  The story opens when she is in hospital, going through a miscarriage. The romance is between her and the Obs & Gynae consultant.

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Although I suspected it was a theme which would not appeal to Mills & Boon, once I’d thought of it, I couldn’t abandon it.  I did incorporate many of the tropes of standard romantic fiction in the hope that I was wrong.  To become a writer you have to be an optimist.  But M & B did reject it, with the comment that it “lacks emotional depth”.  I interpreted this as meaning I didn’t have hero and heroine kissing soon enough. Undaunted, I very soon found another publisher, who also took my next book, Desires & Dreams.

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These days I believe my writing is improved beyond all recognition and is far deeper and more multi-facetted.   But the admittedly unconventional plot of my first published novel does go to suggest that in a very fundamental way, the kind of life-changing situation I prefer to confront in my books hasn’t changed.

One of the reasons I invited you onto Linda’s Book Bag is that you have always so generously tweeted the interviews, review and guest posts I have had for other authors. What role do you see for social media in an author’s life?

The trouble with social media is that it can stop you doing what you should be doing – i.e. writing.  But answering emails, reading blogs, commenting, sharing, tweeting and re-tweeting, gives the illusion of working.  I can easily spend all day at the computer, but by the end of it, if I’ve achieved anything at all, it will only be a hundred or so words added to my WIP.  Consequently, my relationship with social media is love hate. I am not very techie and find using the various websites which ostensibly promote and market books, difficult to navigate and very time-consuming.

Successful best-selling authors, those who have already established their names and their fan base, and had their books adapted for TV or feature film, probably don’t need it so much. But writers like me are trapped on the roundabout, never knowing if any of it is doing any good, but not daring to jump off.

(I think you’ve summed up what many authors feel Gilli.)

If you could choose to be a character from one of your books, who would you be and why?

I wouldn’t want to be any of my characters. I prefer an easy life, and hate having to cope with guilt, worry, struggle and soul-searching. I put all of my protagonists through the mill. There are no easy answers or straightforward roads to travel, for any of them. I am not an ‘up the aisle in a meringue of lace and satin’ style of writer. By the conclusion of my books my main characters will find themselves in a happy, hopeful place, but they’ve always had a struggle to get there.  There wouldn’t be a story otherwise.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that a Gilli Allan book should be their next read, what would you say?

They’re unpredictable and unconventional – grown-up love stories, without the froth, or the rose tint.

And I, for one, can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much, Gilli, for answering my questions.

About Gilli Allan

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Having written for most of her life, Gilli Allan, originally self-published until securing a contract with Accent Press. Love may be a central theme, but the books she writes are not conventional romances. On the mild end of the dyslexia spectrum, Gilli tries to write honestly, refusing to romanticise the downsides and the pitfalls in modern relationships.

You can find out more about Gilli by following her on Twitter, finding her on Facebook or reading her blog.

An Interview with S E Lynes, author of Valentina

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OK. I admit it. I’m a bit star struck today to have an interview with S E Lynes on Linda’s Book Bag as I absolutely adored her debut psychological thriller Valentina, my review of which you can read here.

Valentina was published in e-book and paperback by Blackbird Books on 1st July 2016. Valentina is available for purchase on Amazon, and from all good book sellers like Waterstones. You can read the opening of Valentina by clicking here.

Valentina

Valentina

When Glasgow journalist Shona McGilvery moves with her partner Mikey and their baby to an idyllic cottage in rural Scotland, they believe that all that lies ahead of them is happiness.

But with Mikey working offshore, the frightening isolation of the Aberdeenshire countryside begins to drive her insane…

That is, until she is rescued by a new friendship with the enchanting Valentina.

She has the perfect home, the perfect man, and a charismatic new best friend – or does she? As her fairytale life begins to unravel, the deep dark wood becomes the least of her fears…

An Interview With S E Lynes

Hi Susie. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Valentina.

Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m from the North West. I am married and have three kids: 17, 16 and 11. I’ve lived in Leeds, Paris, France, Oviedo, London, Aberdeen, Rome and now live in Teddington. I’ve had so many careers Barbie had better watch her back and my husband fully expects me to be an astronaut before I’m done.  I ran a café in central London, I’ve been a reporter then a producer for the BBC in Aberdeen, been a stay at home mum who did a bit of writing/translation/voice-over work on the side in Rome and am now back in Greater London where I’ve a creative writing tutor at Richmond Adult Community College for almost ten years, a writing coach and a writer.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

When my first novel was picked up by an agent in 2008ish. It didn’t get published but I began to write more seriously then and to see myself as a writer. I never thought I’d get published, as I always knew how difficult that was, but it was my dream. I wrote because I loved writing.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I used to make radio programmes, so I might have returned to that. When I was at home with the kids I learnt how to bake because I was a bit crap at getting down on the floor and playing trains or dollies or whatever. I was terrible at baking – real ‘if you drop this on your foot it will hurt’ cakes. But I got better and now I still bake to relax and sometimes make not very perfect but made with love cakes for friends and family. I made a book-shaped cake for my publisher recently. I will try and attach a photo!

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(That looks brilliant. I enjoyed playing spot the author on it too!)

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic? (If readers haven’t read Valentina they might want to skip this answer as there’s a slight spoiler!)

Google is ace! Especially for any time-poor writer who is spinning many plates. Google earth is amazing – I recently took a trip around Bainbridge, Washington and decided where a new character might live. I read novels too – so right now I’m reading David Lodge as I have a character who is at University in the late 70s and I’ll be looking for novels set in San Franscisco at the same time. What I’m after is historical details, yes, but also atmosphere, or vibe, and I think that is present in fiction in a way it isn’t in non-fiction. I also believe in the right to artistic licence. In Valentina, I used a fictionalised Aberdeen (although my good friend said ‘thanks for setting fire to my cottage’!).

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I need to improve my research skills but in terms of the actual writing, I find knowing what to leave in and what to take out very difficult.  You have to trust your reader but at the same time you have to be clear or the reader’s attention will be focussed in the wrong place. I also find shutting down distractions very difficult too – social media in particular – as I am a very sociable person and love joining in if there’s a joke going.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I get the little one to school, walk the dog, sort laundry, tidy round etc then try and get to my desk before 11am. I then have to shut down all social media and focus. I sit in my study, which is quite dark and there is no view – just the wall of the house next door. People ask why I don’t work in the kitchen with a view onto the garden, or even in the shed – like a proper writer with a garret and everything – but I need totally uninspiring surroundings to enter the world I’m creating. I always tell my students never to wait for the muse – you sit down, you put your hands on the keyboard and you write, badly if necessary, and eventually you get in the zone.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

Anything authentic, where the psychology of the characters has been properly thought through, where the voice is consistent and where the details bring the work to life, make it real. I like the work to make me think: ‘I know these people’. Expository or clunky dialogue makes me throw the book across the room, people reacting in a way no one ever would, characters undergoing a complete and sudden personality transplant in order to fit the plot…

I return time and time again to Alice Munro. I love her long short stories and her ability to analyse moments that would perhaps pass us by. I love Pat Barker’s visceral writing, Sarah Water’s storytelling. I had a phase of reading psychological thrillers in order to prepare to write Valentina, as I had not tried one before. I liked the quality of Gillian Flynn’s writing, I loved the description of the head on page one and how prepared she was to give us truly horrible characters. Now I’m back to reading more literary fiction as I want to write beautiful sentences and create some depth as well as tell a story. I loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am currently reading The Ballroom by Anna Hope, which is exquisite.  The plot can be amazing but if the writing isn’t great I don’t stick with the book.

(I agree. The Ballroom is an amazing book)

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

Life. I think having lived in a lot of different places has given me a lot of material. I go out a lot and love my pals and my family. I read a lot and watch films, good TV series like Breaking Bad. Valentina came from a flippant remark I always make – but I can’t tell you what it is because it would give the plot away. My last novel – unpublished – also came from a flippant remark: ‘sexuality is a spectrum,’ one of my friends quipped.  That got me thinking and I wrote a novel full of sexually ambiguous encounters and relationships.

We can’t say too much about the cover of Valentina without spoiling the plot, but how did that image come about? (No spoilers please!)

I wanted something suggestive, iconic even. Something not similar to the other book covers in the same genre. My brother is Game of Thrones artist, Robert M Ball. I cook his Christmas dinner every year so he said he’d do it. His images are incredibly striking. I wanted something with fire on it but if it had been left to me it would have looked like a bad concept album from the seventies.  So I sent him the synopsis and left him to it. He is a genius, which is irritating, frankly.

We can’t discuss the plot either for fear of spoiling the book for those who haven’t yet had chance to read Valentina, but how did you manage plotting? Did you use post-its, flowcharts, cut and paste or some other process?

I wrote it all as best I could, got it more or less to stand up like a rickety shed, then went round removing plot holes, or hammering in nails to continue the metaphor. I then mucked about with the end to make it more cat and mouse.

The iterative themes and images add layer upon layer of tension in Valentina. Did they arise naturally as you wrote or did you plan for them or add them in the editing stage?

I know my job is first and foremost to tell the story – so that is my aim: what does the character want? Why can’t she get it? What is she going to do to get it?  But I wanted to look at trust, which is a big theme in my work  – and in order to make the impact of this thriller felt, I had to make Shona represent ideals which fed into that theme.  I wanted to look at class and privilege, how a certain entitled mentality can do great harm to those who are brought up to earn, to share, to be ‘good’. Feminism came into it in terms of the choices facing women and the judgments women make about one another. And I wanted there to be lots of fairy tale references in there too – there is a great Russian fairy tale, The Firebird and the Falcon, which is in there to be spotted or not.

(You know I’m going to have to read that tale and then re-read Valentina now don’t you?)

Valentina really explores the nature of identity and how well we know those we love. Why did you choose such a theme?

All writers have to find drama, otherwise there is no tension, nothing for the reader to worry about. Drama, also comedy, comes from subversion, in taking life as we recognise it and pulling the rug out from underneath. The theme of how well do we know those we love departs from another question: how well do we know ourselves? I have met people whose perception of themselves is so far removed from who they actually are and how they are seen, that it is scary. But scarier still is the thought: but what if I am like that too? I might think I’m entertaining company, for example, but who is to say my companions aren’t pulling out their own teeth just to stay awake? So I wanted above all to make the characters and the way they relate to each other highly realistic, highly recognisable. So I drew on what I knew – love and friendship – and subverted it.

I found the limited number of characters in Valentina really added to the claustrophobic feel. How far did you plan the characters to create this effect?

Absolutely spot on. I had read Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, among other high quality psychological thrillers and the limited cast added to the intensity. I also wanted it to be a novel, in the sense that there had to be some exploration of themes and characters, there had to be some depth.

If you could choose to be a character from Valentina, who would you be and why?

Good grief, I wouldn’t be any of the main ones! Jeanie, probably. She is the only character I have ever based on a real person – so I didn’t bother changing her name.  She was my friend and mentor at the BBC, a person of great generosity and integrity. She read and loved Valentina but very sadly died before the book came out. I had written her into the book before I knew she was ill. The book is dedicated to her.

(Goodness, how poignant. I’m sure she would have been thrilled.)

If Valentina became a film, who would you like to play Shona, Mikey and Valentina?  

Arrrrghhhh. That is so tough!  My first instinct is to say no one famous because if it got made into a film I would love there to be opportunities for up and coming Scottish talent – actors, film makers, musicians. For Shona, I had Bjork in my mind for her physical appearance, so the actor would have to be small and pixie-like, with dark hair. So if we were going big, it would be Carey Mulligan for Shona, Sam Riley for Mikey and Emma Stone for Valentina.

Valentina has received rave reviews (mine included). How has that made you feel and what difference will it make to you as a writer?

It has been the longest sustained beautiful surprise I have ever had. Validation after ten years of writing into the void has been life-changing. The first surprise/shock was Rosalie Love at Blackbird telling me she wanted it. The next was Stephanie Zia, the owner of Blackbird, saying she agreed. It has given me confidence, something I have always struggled with. However, even now, if someone I like or admire is reading it, I am convinced this will be the person who says: nah. When I saw you were an English teacher, I had the same fear and was of course delighted when you loved it. I think for people to get this book, they have to understand that the reader is ahead of the protagonist up until the reversal – and that the tension is not coming from figuring out what is going on but from waiting for Shona to realise, taking the reader to a point where they are like a pantomime audience shouting ‘ he’s behind you’!  What happens beyond that, the twist very near the end, I tried to keep as a surprise.

(I really did love Valentina and again my review is here.)

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Valentina should be their next read, what would you say?

I used to say: it’s only 99p, if you don’t like I’ll give you a quid and you can keep the change.  But I’ll try harder:

Valentina will get under your skin and stay with you long after you’ve read it.

(Oh yes indeed it does!)

What are you working on now after Valentina?

I am working on a book with the working title of Rope. It is a psychological thriller again and centres around themes of one’s name, one’s identity, one’s place in the world.  Oh, and hopefully it’s a right old yarn too. The main character is male this time so I am wearing trousers, watching a lot of football and taking an interest in cars. Not really. Now, where’s my pipe…

Well I can’t wait for Rope to arrive! Thank you so much, Susie, for your time in answering my questions. It has been fascinating finding out more about Valentina.

About S E Lynes

S E Lynes

After graduating from Leeds University, S E Lynes lived in London for a couple of years before moving to Aberdeen to be with her husband. In Aberdeen, she worked as a producer at the BBC Radio Scotland before moving with her husband and two young children to Rome. There, she began to write while her children attended nursery. After the birth of her third child and upon her return to the UK, she gained an MA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. She now combines writing with lecturing at Richmond Adult Community College and bringing up her three children. She lives in Teddington.

You can find out more about S E Lynes by finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter.

Publication Day, A Guest Post by Barbara Henderson, Author of Fir For Luck

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I’m absolutely delighted to be hosting a guest post all about publication day for Fir for Luck by Barbara Henderson. I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced reader copy of Fir for Luck and I loved it. You can read my review here.

Fir for Luck was published by Cranachan on 21st September 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Fir for Luck

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Would you be brave enough to fight back? 

When 12-year-old Janet’s village is under threat– she decides to take action.

It’s a split-second decision that could cost her everything: her home, her family – even her life.

Can Janet save her village from being wiped out? Or will her family and friends be forced from their homes to face an uncertain future?

Based on real life events, Fir for Luck is a tale of the brutal Highland Clearances, when land owners cared more about sheep than people.

Publication Day, school launch and public launch.

A diary of 36 hours

A Guest Post by Barbara Henderson

WEDNESDAY 21st September. PUBLICATION DAY

5.30 am I readily admit; I didn’t sleep all that well the night before my publication day. It isn’t a threatening situation, really – I’ve been into the local primary school many times as a volunteer, and I know a lot of the children who will attend my launch event this afternoon.

5.45 am Get up! My 16-year-old daughter has her paper round that morning, so getting up with her is part of my routine anyway. No matter the lack of sleep – adrenaline is just as good! A quick settle down with my cuppa at the table, a prayer for the day, a quick read, and I am set to go! The sun is just peeking above the horizon above the school building in which, just six hours later, I will launch my book!

8.00 am I shower and get into my book launch dress – a half-price tweedy bargain – and my tartan docs – I know the occasion may demand something more glam, but I want to feel myself. I stagger to school with two boxes of books. On the way, I pick up my fi-sprig necklace, made by a local social enterprise called Libertie.

10.45 am Running down the hill a wee while later to the River Ness Premier Inn where Helen and Anne from Cranachan are staying, I’m relishing the sunshine. My book is now officially available to buy. I am a published novelist, for the first time in my life. This is the morning I’ve waited for. Years of closet writing, then submitting and being rejected – for this! I feel just about ready.

12.00 noon Sitting in Velocity, my favourite café in Inverness where a lot of Fir for Luck was actually written, chatting through plans for the launch with Anne and Helen. An email pings in from the BBC to say the lunchtime news bulletin will feature an extract from my interview and cover the book release. We pack up and walk to my house where BBC Radio Scotland is blaring out already – my husband saw the email too.

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12.30 pm So special to listen to the  radio news item on the book, in my messy kitchen with my husband and the publishers, and doubly grateful that the BBC website also features an on-line article on Fir for Luck.

13.30 pm At school setting up for the launch event. Children have pre-ordered, and I bring another eight copies, all of which are sold immediately. We play the trailer on the big screen (it buffers a bit, which is a shame!), I show a quick power-point about the journey from idea to publication and then, for the first time in all my life, I sign books! The barrage of questions from the super-enthusiastic audience means I don’t have time to sign everyone’s books – I need to go in again next week!

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15.30 pm  You wouldn’t think it, but my usual Wednesday routine kicks in at this point: I pick up piano music for the oldest, drop her at lessons and head to a supermarket to do the weekly family food shop. Yes, that’s how glam my life is!

17.00pm -21.00 pm Piano pick-up is followed by basketball pick-up, making dinner and then printing some display photos for the Waterstones launch the following night. I’m glad to slouch on the couch for Bake-off ; a family fave.

THURSDAY 22nd September, PUBLIC LAUNCH DAY

5.45 am – paper round. You guessed it.

8.30-11.30 am The usual, plus I compose the captions for the display pics and glue them into place – quite a therapeutic morning of literally cutting and pasting – with my hands! The kids are off school and come and go, friends in tow.

12.00 noon lunch with Helen from Cranachan at Eden Court Theatre’s café. We have a chance to chat, and to run through possible questions for the launch.

13.00 pm Anne who is working at a local school today, texts: Fir For Luck is showing as #1 in Amazon ranking for its category. My stomach plummets, but my heart does a dance of disbelief!

16.30 pm Dressed and ready to go, dragging displays and gigantic fir branch with me towards the Eastgate shopping centre where the launch will take place.

17.30 pm People begin to trickle in.

17.45 pm more and more people arrive. Are we going to have enough room?

18.00 pm The launch should begin, but we’re pushed for space and can’t fit everyone in. Thank goodness there are microphones!

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18.05 pm.We cut our losses and get started. A brief Q&A is followed by a short reading, more questions and then a slightly longer reading. I’m actually loving the chance to bring some of my characters to life and almost forget I’m chatting to an audience of over 100. They’re on my side anyway, clapping encouragingly at the end.

18.35-19.35 pm A blur of smiles and hugs and book signings and sales. Every book goes, 75 of them! My five complimentary author copies disappear to the Waterstones tills, too. The book I read aloud from vanishes, and still they ask. I’m told it’s a great problem to have, but I feel terrible that there are people who have queued for almost an hour and have to go away with nothing.

20.00 pm Get a chance to look at emails, Twitter, Facebook etc.  Amazon ranking is #1 still; unbelievable! I decide to take time out, watching a Merlin DVD with the family while having Domino’s Pizza and the bubbly I received for the book launch! Social media can wait till after the news.

23.00 pm Final social media flurry of the day before collapsing, gratefully, into bed. So far, so very excellent – I couldn’t have asked for better, busier, happier launch events. And now we wait…

What a fantastic couple of days Barbara. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

About Barbara Henderson

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Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.

Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition.

You can find out more by following Barbara on Twitter and reading her blog. You’ll also find her author page on Facebook.

You can find out more too with these other bloggers:

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Lost in Static by Christina Philippou

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I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Lost In Static by Christina Philippou. Published by Urbane on 15th September 2016, Lost in Static is Christina’s debut thriller.

Lost in Static is available for purchase in e-book and paperback from, amongst others, Amazon UK, Amazon US, and directly from the publisher Urbane Publications.

Lost in Static

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Sometimes growing up is seeing someone else’s side of the story.

Four stories. One truth. Whom do you believe?

Callum has a family secret. Yasmine wants to know it. Juliette thinks nobody knows hers. All Ruby wants is to reinvent herself.

They are brought together by circumstance, torn apart by misunderstanding. As new relationships are forged and confidences are broken, each person’s version of events is coloured by their background, beliefs and prejudices. And so the ingredients are in place for a year shaped by lust, betrayal, and violence…

Lost in Static is the gripping debut from author Christina Philippou. Whom will you trust?

My Review of Lost in Static

It’s the first year at university for Ruby, Callum, Juliette and Yasmine, but the reality of the year isn’t going to match their expectations.

What a powerful read Lost in Static is. It opens dramatically and we find ourselves drawn into the events leading to this point throughout the narrative. I found the experience of reading Lost in Static a bit like eating a millefeuille slice as there were so many layers to it.

I loved the title Lost in Static. There is a direct reference to static in the story, but it also refers to the deliberately unreliable narratives that the characters,  Yasmine in particular, create. Static also refers to the effect of equilibrium and the characters in this story are certainly trying to establish, regain or create their own stasis as they come to terms with their relationships, their sexulaities and their own personalities which are among the themes explored so convincingly in Lost in Static.

I loved the idea of being lost too. Christina Philippou has made her characters lose sight of the truth as the plot builds, repeats and echoes so that much of the time the reader is unsure whom to trust. It’s quite difficult initially to work out to whom the characters are addressing their first person narratives, and this helps create the sense of mystery. It’s as if there’s a kind of vortex drawing them in from which they cannot escape.

I thought the characters were so vivid and, if I’m honest, truly awful. I loathed each and every one, even Ruby with her constant references to everyone as ‘mate’ and especially Yasmine who is utterly loathsome. Indeed,  it surprised me that I found the story so compelling when I didn’t like those in it at all.

What I enjoyed most about Lost in Static, though, was the way it took me back to my own time at university. The lifestyle Christina Philippou describes, the accommodation and the fluctuating relationships and experiences brought back many memories and I thought she had created such student life admirably.

In many ways, Lost in Static is a challenging read as there are so many narrative perspectives but definitely worth the effort as it is a gritty, no holds barred, insight into the student psyche as well as being an entertaining thriller.

About Christina Philippou

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Christina Philippou’s writing career has been a varied one, from populating the short-story notebook that lived under her desk at school to penning reports on corruption and terrorist finance. When not reading or writing, she can be found engaging in sport or undertaking some form of nature appreciation. Christina has three passports to go with her three children, but is not a spy. Lost in Static is her first novel.

Christina is also the founder of the contemporary fiction author initiative, Britfic. You can follow Christina on Twitter, and find her on FacebookInstagram and Google+. There’s also more with these other bloggers:

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The Voice, a Guest Post from Michael Robotham, author of Close Your Eyes

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I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback launch celebrations of Close Your Eyes by Michael Robotham. The paperback Close Your Eyes was published by Sphere on 22nd September 2016. Close Your Eyes is available for purchase from all good book sellers including your local Amazon site, Barnes and Noble and Waterstones.

To celebrate the paperback edition of Close Your Eyes, the eighth book in the Joseph O’Loughlin series, I have a wonderful guest post from Michael Robotham on capturing voices in his writing and how he created Joe.

Close Your Eyes

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I close my eyes and feel my heart begin racing
Someone is coming
They’re going to find me

A mother and her teenage daughter are found murdered in a remote farmhouse, one defiled by multiple stab wounds and the other left lying like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince. Reluctantly, clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is drawn into the investigation when a former student, calling himself ‘the Mindhunter’, jeopardises the police inquiry by leaking details to the media and stirring up public anger.

With no shortage of suspects and tempers beginning to fray, Joe discover links between these murders and a series of brutal attacks where his victims have been choked unconscious and had the letter ‘A’ carved into their foreheads.

As the case becomes ever more complex, nothing is quite what it seems and soon Joe’s fate, and that of those closest to him, become intertwined with a merciless, unpredictable killer . . .

The Voice

A Guest Post by Michael Robotham

Before I became a crime writer, sometime in the last century, I made my living as a ghostwriter, helping the great and the good (and the less good) to pen their autobiographies. I did fifteen of these projects – most of which I can’t mention – but they included books with politicians, pop stars, TV entertainers, soldiers, psychologists and survivors.

Every one of these people came from different backgrounds and had led different lives. Lulu, for example, grew up in the tenements of Glasgow and left school at fourteen. Ricky Tomlinson was a plasterer from Liverpool who spent five years in jail as a political prisoner. Geri Halliwell grew up in Watford, singing into a hairbrush, dreaming of being Madonna.

Like a portrait painter, I started with a blank canvas and slowly added colour and texture. I had to look at the world through their eyes and capture their voice. If I succeeded, I knew the autobiography would look and sound and feel exactly as though they had dictated their life stories directly onto the page.

When I became a crime writer I approached my writing in exactly the same way, only this time I was dealing with a fictional narrator. His name was Joe O’Loughlin, a clinical psychologist with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, who was reluctantly drawn into a murder investigation.

Writing in the first person, I treated Joe as though he was another client, sitting by my side, telling me his story. And just like with Lulu and Geri Halliwell and Ricky Tomlinson – I had capture Joe’s voice. He had to live and breathe in my imagination. He had to become real.

I remember the moment it happened. I wrote this paragraph:

Each morning when I drag myself out of bed, I know what sort of day I’m going to have if I can bend down and tie my shoes. If it’s early in the week and I’m rested, I will have little trouble getting the fingers of my left hand to cooperate. Buttons will find buttonholes, belts will find belt-loops and I can even tie a Windsor knot. On my bad days, such as this one, the man I see in the mirror will need two hands to shave and will arrive at the breakfast table with bits of toilet paper stuck to his neck and chin.

That was it! I had Joe O’Loughlin’s voice – his self-deprecating sense of humour, his humility and his humanity.

I didn’t expect Joe to be a series character. I thought that first novel, The Suspect, would be a standalone. It was only after I’d finished that my publishers and readers began asking when Joe was coming back.

I compromised. He became a lesser character in the next two books, before I brought him back as the narrator in Shatter in 2008 because it was the perfect story for Joe to tell. Ever since then I’ve kept writing about Joe because my wife refuses to sleep with me unless I sort out his personal life and make him happy.

All of which explains why Joe O’Loughlin is back in my newest novel Close Your Eyes, a dark psychological thriller about a mother and teenage daughter who are murdered in a remote farmhouse in North Somerset, one defiled by multiple stab wounds and the other left lying like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her Prince.

Nothing about the case makes sense to Joe. Why would the killer show such anger towards one victim and love towards the other? Who was the real target? And what the murders have to do with a series of recent attacks where people are choked unconscious and have the letter ‘A’ carved into their foreheads?

There are twists and turns and red herrings in this story; and I warn you that not everybody will be saved. The only certainties are these – the story is dramatic and my wife is sleeping in the spare room.

About Michael Robotham

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Before becoming a novelist, Michael Robotham was an investigative journalist working across Britain, Australia and America. He is the author of twelve Sunday Times bestsellers, both fiction and non-fiction. He has also worked as a ghostwriter for prominent military figures and star performers, as well as in the fields of science, sport and psychology. Michael’s haunting psychological thrillers have been translated into twenty-three languages and are currently in development for TV by Bonafide Films. He is a two time winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year. He has twice been shortlisted for the CWA Steel Dagger and won the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger Award in 2015 for Life or Death.

You can find out more by following Michael Robotham on Twitter or visiting his website.