Song of the Sea Maid Author Interview with Rebecca Mascull

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I cannot begin to tell you how excited and honoured I am to be part of the celebrations for the paperback launch of Rebecca Mascull’s ‘Song of the Sea Maid‘ which was one of my ‘Best Reads’ in 2015. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton on 11th February 2016. You can buy a copy here in the UK, here in the US, directly from the publisher and from all good bookshops.

I am thrilled to have an interview with Rebecca Mascull here on the blog today.

You can see my review of ‘Song of the Sea Maid’ here and find out what happened when I went to the book launch here – my first one as a blogger.

Song of the sea maid

Song of the Sea Maid

In the 18th century, Dawnay Price is an anomaly. An educated foundling, a woman of science in a time when such things are unheard-of, she overcomes her origins to become a natural philosopher. Against the conventions of the day, and to the alarm of her male contemporaries, she sets sail to Portugal to develop her theories. There she makes some startling discoveries – not only in an ancient cave whose secrets hint at a previously undiscovered civilisation, but also in her own heart. The siren call of science is powerful, but as war approaches she finds herself pulled in another direction by feelings she cannot control.

Praise for Song of the Sea Maid

‘Captivating . . . With a plot rich in description, written in a straightforward style that reflects the no-nonsense attitude of its heroine, this is an inspiring read.’ The Lady

‘From the opening chapter I was totally captivated and felt completely at ease in the company of a fine array of characters and by the storytelling skill of an author who clearly knows how to hold a reader in the palm of her hand.’ – Jaffa Reads Too

‘It felt as if I was reading a work by a modern and accessible Dickens. SONG OF THE SEA MAID is a highly intelligent novel – a feminist text, a scientific text, a philosophical text, a love story and an historical novel. However, above all else it is a fabulous blend of all these genres into a wonderful and hugely satisfying read. Song of the Sea Maid enriches the reader’s life.’ Linda’s Book Bag

‘Rebecca Mascull’s second novel continues to showcase her talent for writing intelligent, impeccably researched, absorbing historical fiction. Dawnay Price – foundling, scientist, feminist – is a wondrous character and I was on the edge of my seat following her fortunes.’ Louise Walters, author of MRS SINCLAIR’S SUITCASE

An interview with Rebecca Mascull

I’m absolutely delighted to welcome you here on Linda’s Book Bag Rebecca. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions about your writing and ‘Song of the Sea Maid’.

‘Song of the Sea Maid’ is your second novel after’ The Visitors’ and both feature strong and brave female protagonists. How easy or difficult was it to move from writing about Adeliza to writing about Dawnay?

As many writers do, I found myself editing The Visitors while starting the initial planning for Sea Maid, so I had to learn how to hold two books in my head simultaneously. Not easy! By the time I’d finished the first novel, Liza was so clear in my mind, and Dawnay so shadowy, there was no comparison. I realised that, instead of starting my Book 2 research with all the minutiae of C18th life, I decided to start with Dawnay. What kind of person was she? How did she think? How was her later ambition to be a scientist made manifest in her child’s mind? I’d not done it that way with research before i.e. starting with the character instead of the setting, but it worked really well for me, allowing me to get to know her early on, so that by the time I came to start drafting, her voice was very clear in my head.

How did you go about creating Dawnay’s character? Did you have photographs, music, an image in your head perhaps or was she based on someone you knew?

Strangely, she just turned up one day – figuratively speaking – and started rattling on about her brother! It happens that way sometimes. I had done quite a bit of research by then, so, of course, it’d all had a good lot of time to start percolating in the old subconscious. That’s where characters are born, I think, in a kind of rich primordial soup of things you’ve read, people you’ve met, movies you’ve watched, your dreams and yourself. For Dawnay, her scientific characteristics come from looking at a range of female scientists of all different backgrounds throughout the history of science. I found a wonderful book called Hypatia’s Heritage, that did exactly that. It was a revelation. The truth is, there were so many female scientists in the history of science, yet we just don’t know about them. Dawnay was particularly influenced by Émilie du Châtelet and Sophie Germain, amongst snippets of others. These two were both scientific and mathematical geniuses, utterly determined to learn and study, and achieved their aims. Dawnay was certainly based on their sense of self-belief and minds before their time.

In ‘Song of the Sea Maid’, Dawnay narrates her own story so engagingly. How far did you find yourself becoming her as you wrote or did she always remain a character for you?

Ah, well, I don’t think I ever do that, to be honest, become my characters. I’m always one step removed from them. They do kindly allow me to step into their mind and walk in their shoes from time to time, but mostly I’m a bit like John Fowles sitting on the train watching Charles in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I watch them a lot to see what they’ll do next. I just start them up but they call the shots after that. Oddly, I hardly ever see their faces. I’ve talked to a lot of other novelists about this and many have said the exact same thing: they never see their main character’s face, full on. I wonder if it’s because in some ways we do become them, and so in the same way we have an internal self-image which is usually quite different from the ways others see us, it’s also very difficult to truly see our protagonists. When I was pregnant, I was totally aware from the earliest days that this child was totally separate from me, a totally separate little soul with her own inclinations. My characters feel like that to me too, a part of me, but separate.

Education for Dawnay is so important. You have a daughter of your own. What are your views on education for girls in today’s society compared with Dawnay’s time?

Things have improved! But we’re not out of the woods yet. I do think there’s still too much assigning of gender roles from the earliest age. I really like all this stuff about Let Toys Be Toys. The same goes for books – I hate seeing Books for Boys and Books for Girls. I saw one the other day where the book for girls was all about fairies and suchlike, while the boys’ version was Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, The Count of Monte Cristo – some of my favourite stories ever! Literature should be for everyone, not what some numbskull thinks a boy or girl should like. So, that winds me up. Also, girls in science is another live topic at the minute. My editor sent me a link to this advert, remarking that this could be Dawnay: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/24/verizon-ad-tells-parents-to-encourage-girls_n_5526236.html Yet we’re 250 years on from Dawnay’s time and how much further along the road have we really come? Little boys still get told not to push prams around or throw ‘like a girl’. So, there’s still a lot of work to do. That’s one reason I love writing about the past: it’s so very effective at illuminating the present.

That link certainly provides food for thought!

When I read ‘Song of the Sea Maid’ I thought it was beautifully crafted and it reminded me of the best elements of Dickens’ writing. I know you wanted (and you succeeded) to create an authentic text. How difficult was it to achieve such a style? Did you edit as you went or did you go back and polish the writing in stages or at the end?

*swoon* Now, Linda, you mustn’t go around saying things like that to a Dickens fan, as it’s all too much to cope with. I’ve read all of Dickens and I worship him, so to hear that is quite, quite wonderful! I did work hard on the style and voice for this novel. Partly, this came through immersing myself in the period by reading a lot of texts written at the time. That included fiction e.g. novels by Defoe, Swift, Richardson, Smollett, Fielding and non-fiction, such as memoirs, essays, diaries and letters. This gave me a good grounding in the voices and style of the era. For each novel I write, I keep a file titled LANGUAGE and this becomes a virtual box where I throw in any nice words and turns-of-phrase I come across in my reading. I print that out once I start drafting and have it beside me on the desk. It means I can pepper my prose with some authentic vocabulary that gives the writing a good flavour of the period, hopefully without overwhelming it. I also add quite a bit in the second draft too, when I’m tweaking the language to get it just right. It’s a gradual process and one that, for me, does involve quite a bit of polishing, yes.

Without spoiling the plot for those who’ve yet to read ‘Song of the Sea Maid’ for the first time, how did you go about researching the historical elements of the story?

I go through stages of research when planning a novel. I start off reading widely around the topics involved in the story; in this case, C18th society, female scientists, the age of sail, palaeoanthropology, the Seven Years’ War etc. I take lots of notes and scribble a lot in the backs of books. I watch a lot of documentaries and movies about the period and the topics too, such as DVDs on evolution or a film like Barry Lyndon. It all helps feed into immersing myself in the era and the subjects I need to know about. I also have a picture wall (on 3 cupboard doors in my study!) where I put up images of the era e.g. C18th streets, clothes, houses, ships etc. This helps me shut out the modern world when I come in to my study to write. I also travel to visit relevant locations whenever I can, within reason. For this novel, I visited C18th town houses – Dr Johnson’s House and Fairfax House – in order to get ideas for Dawnay’s benefactor’s house. I also visited an C18th scientific collection at Burton Constable Hall – an actual cabinet of curiosities. I also went to the Caird Library in Greenwich to see original C18th documents related to the Siege of Menorca, which was priceless. It’s a long but fascinating process!

Cabinet of Curiosities

C18th cabinet of curiosities Rebecca visited

Burton Constable Hall

I found the descriptions of the environment in which Dawnay finds herself so evocative. How many of the places you use for settings have you visited personally?

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Berlengas Islands Portugal

Thank you for saying so. I studied Spanish at university (along with English), so I did spend quite a bit of time on the Iberian Peninsula in my younger years, so I used my memories of Portugal and Spain when writing about Dawnay’s travels. Mostly, it was the atmosphere that came back to me and the feelings they inspired in me when I was there. I also know Charmouth quite well! I’ve collected fossils myself on that beach.

Fossils I found on Charmouth Beach

Charmouth Beach Fossils

The sea is almost a character in its own right. How important was it for you to present the sea as a central theme in the novel?

Oh gosh, the sea was so important in this story, and is so important to me too! One of the working titles for this book was The Edge of the Map, and that says a lot about the idea of seascapes and landfall in this story. Dawnay is desperate to escape her lot, yet also her place in life, and her travels are an outward journey that echo the inward journey she’s making in educating her mind. Crossing the ocean was still a dangerous and mysterious process in the C18th – I loved writing the scene where her tutor shows her the map and Dawnay learns that down in the southern parts of the world, nobody really knew what was beyond there. After all, Captain Cook hadn’t left on his epic voyage yet and thus Australia didn’t even exist as far as Europe was concerned! So, the sea represents freedom and also mystery, as well as exploration and discovery. I also was very attracted to the idea of the sea playing an active part in our human evolution. If you read about the aquatic ape theory, there’s a wonderful point made by, I think, Elaine Morgan who says, why do we go on holiday and sit and stare at the sea? Why don’t we turn our chairs and sit and stare at forests? I love the idea that we could once have been creatures of the sea, within human memory. Humans have a deep fascination for the sea. I saw a documentary just today about the giant squid and was in tears watching the first time this amazing creature had ever been caught on camera in the wild. David Attenborough’s lovely voice reminded me that the oceans are still full of mysteries – in today’s jaded media-riddled world, it’s so nice to think that there are still mysteries to solve out there.

I’d love to hear more about Dawnay. Do you think she may appear again in a future novel or would you prefer to investigate a new era and character?

Ah, I think I’ve sung that song. I love Dawnay and was so happy writing her story. But I’d like her to row off into her own future without me, I think. But never say never! I do have an idea for a sequel to The Visitors, so who knows?

For those of us who’ve so loved your first two novels, please would you give us an insight into your third?

Thank you, Linda! Yes, I can, a bit! I don’t like to say too much while I’m still writing, which I am at the minute. What I can say is that it’s set in Edwardian times, starting in 1909 and the story begins in Cleethorpes, not far from where I live! My heroine this time is a much quieter person, watchful and observant, quite different from Liza or Dawnay’s gobby ways! Yet she’s a determined young woman, again! I like gals like that.

As an author, what is your view of social media like Twitter and Facebook?

What an interesting question. I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It has brought me much joy – joining Twitter in particular opened up a world of connecting with readers and other writers that I’d never have hoped to join if I wasn’t on there. I have made some wonderful ‘real-life’ friendships through this too, so it’s been invaluable. It’s also been marvellous to interact with lovely book bloggers and readers such as your kind self, which again, would have been far less likely to happen without social media. One of my favourite things is interviewing authors on my blog – I’ve learnt so much. However, promoting your books and connecting with people on social media is incredibly time-consuming and can sometimes feel somewhat relentless. It can take up far too much space in your head and in your day. I’ve learnt that taking regular breaks from social media – i.e. specifically posting something that says I’m taking a break and will see you all soon – has been a marvellous tonic every now and again. It means that I don’t have to think about it all or answer to it for a while and can get some breathing space. It also means I’m really happy to come back to it afresh after a break and get cracking again and join the fun. And it is fun, such great fun!

And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?

PERSEVERE! It’s a long, long game, this writing business and nothing’s going to happen overnight. It’s worth it though. To hold a book in your hand, that you wrote, with your name on it? There’s nothing quite like it. J

Thank you again Rebecca for agreeing to answer my questions. Your answers have been so fascinating and I can’t wait for book three.

About Rebecca Mascull

becca

Rebecca Mascull lives by the sea in the east of England with her partner Simon and their daughter Poppy. She has previously worked in education and has a Masters in Writing. SONG OF THE SEA MAID is her second novel.

You can find out more about Rebecca through these links:

http://rebeccamascull.tumblr.com/

https://twitter.com/rebeccamascull

https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

https://www.facebook.com/becca.mascull

http://uk.pinterest.com/rebeccamascull/

https://instagram.com/rebeccamascull/

Aurelia by Alison Morton

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I’m delighted to introduce the gripping and alternate history thriller AURELIA by Alison Morton, which was published by Silverwood Books on 5th May 2015.  AURELIA is available in paperback and ebook at Amazon (worldwide), Kobo, B&N Nook and iBooks.

Part crime thriller, part razor-edge personal feud and at all times a conflict between duty and family, AURELIA has been shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society’s Indie Award.

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Alison’s first three acclaimed novels INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO in the Roma Nova series, are set in the present day, but AURELIA takes us late to the late 1960s. All the Roma Nova books are published by SilverWood Books.

Alison says she loved ratchetting up the conflict between Aurelia and her nemesis while exploring how the 1960s might have turned out a little differently. But Aurelia’s a complex personality and Alison found a unique way to build her character – you can find out more here.

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Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead. Forced in her mid-twenties to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer, she is struggling to manage an extended family tribe, businesses and senatorial political life.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a suspected smuggler, and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Aurelia suspects that the silver smuggling hides a deeper conspiracy and follows a lead into the Berlin criminal underworld. Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she realises that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles. She pursues him back home to Roma Nova desperate now he has struck at her most vulnerable point – her young daughter.

Watch the exciting AURELIA book trailer here.

AURELIA is shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award.

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All four Roma Nova thrillers  – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA – have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion, an award for independent fiction that rejects 90% of its applicants. The first two were finalists in Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Published Book of the Year Award and the last two selected as Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choices and longlisted for the HNS Annual Indie Award in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Alison’s third book, SUCCESSIO, was featured as Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014.

  ABOUT ALISON MORTON

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Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has clambered over sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But the fabulous mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) started her wondering what a modern society based on Roman values would be like if run by women…

Six years in a Territorial Army special communications regiment allowed her to do all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever experience and gave her a direct line into her heroine Aurelia’s mind.

Alison belongs the International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors and the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She is represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for foreign and subsidiary rights.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog

Find Alison Facebook and Goodreads.

Follow Alison on Twitter: @alison-morton

 

 

 

First Blog Anniversary Interview with Lindsay Hawdon

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Today, Sunday 7th February 2016, is my first blog anniversay. What better way to celebrate than with an interview with Lindsay Hawdon? Lindsay is the author of Jakob’s Colours, my Book of the Year for 2015. Seldom does a book come along that still resonates and moves the reader so many months after it was first read. Jakob’s Colours touched me in both heart and soul. You can read my review of Jakob’s Colours here. I am utterly delighted that Lindsay has agreed to answer some of my questions about her book to help me celebrate my first year as a blogger. I loved Jakob’s Colours with a passion and was honoured to be quoted in the paperback release of the book, saying ‘it IS the best book I have ever read’.

My Anniversary Interview with Lindsay Hawdon

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Lindsay. I am absolutely thrilled to be able to interview you about your book Jakob’s Colours which I found so affecting that it became my Book of the Year 2015.

To begin would you mind telling readers a little bit about yourself and your journey to publication with Jakob’s Colours?

When I left school my over arching impression of myself was as someone who would love to write but who was so appallingly bad at English that this was not a possibility.  So instead of making up worlds I set off to find them, and spent the next three years travelling around Europe, Africa and India.  During that time I had many wonderful and hair-raising experiences, which all somehow seemed pointless unless I wrote them down.  I began working in Television when I got home, working as an undercover reporter for various films, most notably Britain Undercover, Inside Quarantine where I worked as a kennel maid for six months, secretly filming the truth behind our Quarantine system.  But all the while I was writing up my travel tales and slowly with much persistence and many rejection letters I started to get things published.  Then aged twenty six I got my first travel column in The Sunday Telegraph.  It was called An Englishwoman Abroad, and was a series of small travel tales about things I experienced and witnessed all over the world.  It lasted for seven years, stopping only when I had children.  Since then I’ve written columns for The Sunday Times – Have Kid’s Will Travel, which featured a year’s trip away, travelling solo with my two young boys, then aged 5 and 8 around S/E Asia and Australia.  Last year we did a second trip called The Rainbow Hunters which was based on a story I used to tell them as a child, and which in fact features in Jakob’s Colours.  For six months we travelled to seven countries in search of seven colours, the first pigment made by the first colour men for the charity War Child. Travel writing pays the bills but throughout this time I have always written fiction, have had several short stories published and won several competitions and was scribbling away in my spare time on a novel that was to become Jakob’s Colours.  I sent an agent the first 20,000 words and her response was delightful.  She signed me up before I had finished the book, and encouraged me to finish.  A year later the novel was pre-empted by the wonderful Kate Parkin who was then an editor at Hodder and Stoughton and since then it’s all been a dream come true.

I’ve had my fair share of rejections and knock backs but my path to publishing my first book was not one of them.

Jakob is a gypsy; part Roma, part Yenish. How important was it for you to give a voice to the gypsy people from World War 2?

I began this book simply with a small boy running, that was all, and then slowly layers were added to it.  In a sense writing is very much about reading too – you write a sentence down, then read it, have an emotional or thought provoking response to that and then write down another sentence.  I knew the world Jakob was running from wasn’t a safe one and for a while I very much stayed clear of the second world war because I simply didn’t have the confidence nor felt I had any claim to write about it.  But then I started to think of Jakob coming from no home, from having no place to run to, or a place to return to and that got me researching Romany past and present which led me back to WWII.  I was intrigued that the stories we always hear about were Jewish ones, because between a half and one and a half million Romani lives were lost by 1945.  The exact number isn’t known.  The Nazi genocide of the gypsies was only officially acknowledged in 1982 and it was not until 14 April 1994 that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial held its first commemoration of gypsy victims.  The silence of this information was what interested me.  The Roma come from an aural background, traditionally they do not write stories down, so there are very few accounts in the written word, though that is changing.  Then when I started to research the Romany past I realised that for them WWI and WWII were just two moments in time when they had to face persecution, no more no less that anything they had faced before.  Afterwards they had no time to linger on the atrocities that had taken place, to pause and claim justice, they were too busy surviving the next wave of persecution that came their way.  Certainly they are the forgotten people.  The disappeared.  Jakob’s Colours is a book about the displaced, and sadly that is still very relevant to today.  I suppose in the end what I wanted to do, was to strip back everything, to see what you were left with if you had to face the very worst, as I think they have done.

How did you create Jakob? I know you support the charity War Child. Did Jakob arise out of an amalgamation of children you’ve encountered, is he based on one person you know or is he entirely from your imagination?

I think Jakob is a mix of my imagination and the children I have seen on my travels.  Particularly in third world countries, a lot of children sleep rough.  They have nowhere or no one to go to and it’s always something that sticks with you, something that is hard to walk away from.  But I also see them surviving, and I’m always in awe of how a child manages to do that.  I think any reality is possible for them, which means their ability to find solace in things is matched by their imagination.  Their inner world is very powerful and because of that they are very much able to live in the present, which I think is a place of great solace when the past is too painful and the future too frightening to draw upon.

You have young children of your own. Did this inspire you to have a child as a protagonist or was there another reason for choosing an eight year old boy?

My boys grew up with me writing this book, and certainly they were a huge influence on the world I was writing about.  Some of the lines in Jakob’s Colours came from them, particularly questions about death when they themselves were trying to come to terms with the fact that this was something that would happen to me and to them one day.  And because we have travelled so much together I got to see the world again through their eyes.  They would play with all number of children in the street and in villages, question the differences between their lives.  There is something terribly moving in witnessing a child’s journey through the loss of innocence.  A child’s version of the world is not the same as an adult’s. There is space for magic to exist and I wanted that to be present in the depths of hopelessness and despair. A child’s ability to somehow hold on to the desire to live, and run with it.

In Jakob’s Colours, one of its triumphs is the way you appeal to the senses of the reader. How easy or difficult was it to achieve this in your writing?

I think I’m very drawn to the idea that while we are feeling certain things internally, there is this whole world outside of ourselves going on, that has been going on since the beginning of time, and will continue to go on to the end, regardless of our existence or not. We are insignificant against it and there is great relief in that.  I think my own senses tend to become very heightened when I’m distressed.  It seems to be my way of surviving.  To see the very small things and to take note of them.  They pull you into the present and keep you safe.

Colour is a vital iterative image throughout. I know you’ve been on a Rainbow Hunter’s trip with your children to search for colour too. Did you set out with the idea of colour as a central theme in your novel, or did it evolve as you wrote?

Jakob came first, but the colours came next.  I think I wanted to explore the strength of the internal world, and to see, if you were equipped with a legacy of colours passed down from parent to child, could that endure in a world devoid of colour. We have, from the beginning of time, sought to interpret our surroundings, sought to make colours as bright as the ones we find in our natural world.  But the strength of our internal world is often all we have left to help us bear the unbearable.  Sadly we are capable of huge atrocities, of turning our world very dark and grey at times, but often through that we also seem to find the very best in ourselves.   The colours will out.  Mostly I believe that.

I wanted to strip Jakob of everything and to see if it was possible to be left with a world that he could still see some brightness in.

Reading Jakob’s Colours reduced me to tears. How were you affected by what you’d written?

I wanted to approach each scene from a very human place, to explore in the writing if a moment of brutality could be overridden with the love of the people that surrounded it. I wanted that to be what you were left with.  Children hold their emotions very closely to the surface, are raw and transparent with them, and through their eyes we can see more than simply the horrors of a scene.  We can see the love that endures, from parent to child, child to parent, sibling to sibling.

A few years ago I visited The Killing Fields in Cambodia with my two young boys and it really struck me as we wandered around the place that despite the atrocities that had taken place there, and despite the pieces of bone and tooth that had been washed up from the ground with recent rainfall, that still lay on the path on which we walked, the overriding atmosphere was one of peace and love.  I wanted to explore how it was that in those final moments it is not the horror or the brutality of death that endures, but love, perhaps because it is the last thing that we feel when we pass from this world to the next. I think I wanted to see in those last scenes whether it was possible for the strength of human emotion, to outweigh the horror of the scene unfolding around us.

Fiction very much allows us to emotionally venture into places we wouldn’t otherwise dare to go.  Fact is too harsh, often for us to risk emotional involvement, but if we are led in a way that is bearable I think fiction offers a space where we can feel deep empathy, see the very worst and best of humanity and be better for it.

I agree Lindsay. I’ve been to The Killing Fields in Cambodia recently and, as you say, there is a sense of peace despite the human remains that seem somehow so prosaic. Fiction does indeed help us cope with our emotions.

In Jakob’s Colours, there are acts of extreme brutality and extreme kindness. If the setting and events took place in 2016 instead of 1944, which do you think Jakob would be most likely to encounter and do you think we have progressed since the 1940s?

Sadly I think not much has changed, but at least we know that it hasn’t and most of us keep on questioning why it hasn’t.  Awful things are still occurring as I write.  Children are still washed up on foreign shores with no where to run to, leaving unspeakable atrocities behind them.  But throughout all of that there are huge acts of kindness and courage. We debate. We petition.  We give, because ultimately we are striving to be good.  It might be that part of being human is the fight between the dark and the light, and maybe there is nothing really we can do about that.  But still we shouldn’t stop the fight of trying.  And I don’t think we will.  That’s human nature too.

Without giving away any of the plot of Jakob’s Colours, do you believe that pain is the price we pay for love and that it doesn’t have to be the worst thing to die?

I do think pain is the price we pay for love.  It’s what you feel when you lose what you love.   But I don’t think love dies when we die, and I guess that’s the power of it.

I honestly felt there wasn’t a word out of place in Jakob’s Colours. What was your writing process like and how much editing did you have to do?

That’s terribly sweet of you to say, but I know if I re-read Jakob’s Colours now I’d be fiddling away, cutting and changing things here and there.

At the beginning, I tend to envisage a scene and then start writing, working my way around it as I go.  And initially I love the freedom of that, where I can open my imagination up to possibility.  Later I have to pull back, draw everything in tightly around itself, and I love that part of writing a book – when I have words safely on a page and like a sculptress can pick and hack away at making a line as I want it.  I re-write and re-write and don’t let anyone see it until I can’t see the woods for the trees.

I spent ten years working on the first half it, juggling between looking after my two children and working as a journalist.  I wrote when I could, in the evenings, and in strange hotel rooms in far off lands as the boys slept.  And then a year writing the second half when I put all other work aside and just put my head down into this book with every free moment.

In terms of research, I tend to do that as I write.  I found everything I could to read on Roma culture and history, and also mental institutions in the 1930’s.  I also visited several gypsy fairs in England.

This is my first book.  I’ve very much learnt how to do it as I’ve gone along, muddled my way through it in every sense of the word.

Readers can see more about your writing and your travels here. How far do you think your travels have influenced your fiction writing?

Certainly I think travel writing means you train your eye to capture detail.  You are a spectator, invited in to witness someone else’s way of life, to watch it fleetingly from the ringside.

In terms of Jakob’s Colours, on my travels I have often come across Roma people and spent time with them.  In Albania, Kyrgyzstan, most of Europe.  I have often slept rough, or taken long treks across difficult terrain, mountains, deserts, forests, so I relied on the memory of those experiences to evoke in my imagination the reality of living a life beneath the stars.

I’ve also seen a lot of people in a lot of lands not of their origin. You see tides of people in strange places all the time; Indian workers in Oman, Muslims in Mali and it very much makes you question how people come to be where they end up.  We are like waves, washing one way, then another.

It’s also the wars of a country that we are often drawn towards.  We want to know a country’s pain, want to know what the people that live there have experienced and endured, so I’m constantly visiting sites of destruction, but witnessing at the same time, how people survive the very worst and carry on.  As an eighteen year old, travelling around Europe in a camper-van for a year, I had been to the concentration camp Mauthausen in Austria, and it had always remained a very vivid memory for me.

I think my travels keep me very heightened and in touch with what it is to be truly human.

You’ve been a writer for some time. How does writing a novel compare with the columns you’ve had in broadsheet newspapers?

A column is much more constrained in terms of freedom of style and length, and I am writing about things that have actually happened so they have a factual constraint too.  But you still have to find a way to turn an article into a story, for it to have a beginning, middle and an end.  The reader still has to want to read on from that first sentence to the next.  With novels you are free to explore anything you want.  There are no constraints, just this vast blank page, the prospect of filling it both terrifying and thrilling.

I’m desperate to read more of your fiction. Would you mind telling us a little bit about what you’re currently working on and when we might expect it?

Well I won’t say too much for fear it will disappear into the ether, but it is a story set in the quiet lands of both snow-drenched Alaska and the red deserts of Australia, those places where in the blank canvass of those barren landscapes those on the fringes of life have a space without boundaries to  make the world what they want to it to be.  I seem to be interested in how people survive great loss,  and I wanted to set this story in those lands where reality can be twisted without question or judgement and see where that left me.

I’ll be awaiting it with excitement – but I hope it doesn’t take another ten years!

Finally, Lindsay, I’d just like to thank you again for agreeing to be interviewed. It has been such a pleasure reading Jakob’s Colours and having you on my blog.

Lindsay Hawdon

Follow Lindsay on Twitter and visit her website.

 

 

No Wonder by Emma Cooper

No Wonder

Regular visitors to the blog will know that I belong to a group called Book Connectors on Facebook where authors and bloggers work together collaboratively. See #BookConnectors on Twitter too. Today, I’m delighted to bring you an extract from No Wonder by Emma Cooper, an author member of the group.

Released on 24th November 2015 No Wonder is available in ebook and paperback here in the UK and here in the US.

An Extract From No Wonder

I threw another stone into the river and watched as the globules of water shot up as the weight of the stone sunk, and stole their place in the world.  I threw another and felt a sense of camaraderie with the helpless drops of water, as they were evicted from the unity of the river and thrust upwards without warning.

Where the hell is he?

Leaning back on my elbow, I held my hand above my eyes to shade them from the sun.  I looked around at the blossoming park, trees bowing reverently under the persuasion of the wind and birds swooping effortlessly from branch to branch.  If it weren’t for the booming inside my head, I would imagine this picture of countryside ideal to be quite a calming influence.

Sitting back up, I reached into my bag and pulled out my diminishing packet of co-codomal, glancing at my watch as I screwed off the top of my bottle of water with my teeth.  Frank had been gone for almost twenty minutes and as much as I liked surprises, I, not being the most patient of people, preferred them to be immediate.

With the aim of an eighteen stone darts player, I threw my drugs of choice to the back of my throat and took a hefty swig from the bottle.

Blimey, my arse is numb.

I screwed the top back on the bottle and plonked it beside me.  Shuffling from cheek to cheek, I idly picked a daisy from the blanket of grass.  He loves me? I fiendishly plucked a harmless petal, he loves me not, he loves me? He loves me, oh who cares? I discarded the spoiled flower and lay back on the grass, covering my eyes with my forearm.  I relaxed slightly as the sun warmed my aching body, the gentle breeze caressing my skin, the calming lapping sound of the…

What the fuck?

I felt a warm wet splodge of something of unknown origin land on my chest. I pulled my arm back from my eyes just in time to see a shady looking Magpie making a hasty retreat.  No way I was going to say ‘good morning’ to that thieving little bastard after it had just shat down my cleavage.

I sighed.

Fantastic.

Where was my changing bag when I needed it? I scurried around for something to cleanse myself with, silently cursing myself for being a woman and not a mother for the weekend.  I pulled out the only absorbent item from the depths of my bag, one solitary tampon.

Oh well.

Needs must.

I unwrapped the little gem and holding it in my teeth, gingerly attempted to pour some mineral water onto the tarnished area.

Shit.

My shoulder blades shot forward in spasm as a great heavy flow of water exploded from the bottle.  I held the tampon to eye level.  Bugger.

Only a medium flow one.

Oh well, I would have to make do.

With haste, I began pushing and pulling the little white bullet between the great crevice between my large, white boobs.  I looked up to see two astonished, actually, disgusted would be a better word, middle aged faces dressed in uniform beige, taking a leisurely stroll beside the river.  I stopped mid plunge.

‘Morning!’ I smiled in salutation.  ‘Beautiful day!’ I remarked enthusiastically.  The gentleman put a protective arm around his companion as they scuttled off with their heads down.

Marvellous.

I pulled the tampon, now treble its original size (fabulous invention) and a distinctively pooh colour, from its crevice and scouted about for a nearby bin.  How could there not be a bin in a park this tidy? I looked about for signs of any sort of waste collection facilities and finding none, sheepishly checked for signs of spectators.

Excellent, no signs of beige dressed Theatregoers.

I pulled my arm back and prepared to launch my torpedo, with the dexterity of a baseball player, in to the river.  I threw with all of my might and watched as it flew from my grasp in a perfect arch and landed or rather hooked itself to the folded wing of an elegantly gliding white swan.

My hand flew to my mouth in horror as a watched the beautiful bird sashay towards a family of ducks; unaware of its repugnant cargo swinging from its wing by a little blue string.  The ducks, needless to say, fled with disgust.

About Emma Cooper

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Emma Cooper is a Teaching Assistant, successful writer and mother of four. Successful because by Sunday of each week, she has written 3500 words (100 of which will be re-written in a state of wine fuelled, self deprecation on Saturday night) has clean pants on and has not caught e-coli from the bottom of her fridge. She has three loves in life: reading, writing and her family, oh, and wine, pizza, films… maybe not three then. Maths is not one of her talents.

No Wonder is her fifth baby, with which she gained more weight during its pregnancy than the other four put together … truly a labour of love.

Emma describes her debut novel ‘No Wonder’ as more com-rom than rom-com, but that isn’t to say that she didn’t cry and fall in love with her characters whilst writing it.

Emma keeps in touch with her readers and loves to hear from them on Twitter and on Facebook.

 

The Rest of My Life by Sheryl Browne

The Rest of My Life Tour Banner 1 1

It’s my great pleasure to spotlight The Rest of My Life by Sheryl Browne. This lovely contemporary romance was published by Choc Lit on 1st July 2015. The Rest of My Life is available to buy on Amazon UKAmazon US and from Choc Lit.

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There is the chance too, to win an e-copy of any Sheryl Browne book of your choice at the bottom of this post.

The Rest of My Life

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Recommended by the WH Smith Travel Fiction Buyer

Shortlisted for the LoveStories Awards 2015

A Being Anne’s Book of the Year 2015

The Rest of My Life – When is it time to stop running?

“You can’t run away from commitment forever … “

Adam Hamilton-Shaw has more reason than most to avoid commitment. Living on a houseboat in the Severn Valley, his dream is to sail into the sunset – preferably with a woman waiting in every port. But lately, his life looks more like a road to destruction than an idyllic boat ride…

Would-be screenplay writer Sienna Meadows realises that everything about Adam spells trouble – but she can’t ignore the feeling that there is more to him than just his bad reputation. Nor can she ignore the intense physical attraction that exists between them.

And it just so happens that Adam sees Sienna as the kind of woman he could commit to. But can he change his damaging behaviour – or is the road to destruction a one-way street?

WATCH THE VIDEO for The Rest of My Life

 

ABOUT SHERYL BROWNE

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Heartache, humour, love, loss & betrayal, Sheryl Browne brings you edgy, sexy, poignant fiction. A member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Romantic Novelists’ Association and shortlisted for the Best Romantic e-book Love Stories Award 2015, Sheryl has seven books published and two short stories in Birmingham City University anthologies.

Sheryl’s new contemporary romance novel was recommended to the publisher by the WH Smith Travel fiction buyer. THE REST OF MY LIFE comes to you from award winning Choc Lit.

You can find out more about Sheryl Browne on her Website, by following her on Twitter  and on Facebook. You’ll find all her books here in the UK and here in the US. Sheryl is also on Pinterest.

You might also like to see: Loveahappyending LifestyleSafkhet PublishingChoc Lit and Romantic Novelists’ Association

You can follow Choc Lit on Twitter too.

Giveaway

Win 1 ecopy of a Sheryl Browne book! You pick what book you want! 

 Click here to enter.

 

Valentine’s Day at the Star and Sixpence by Holly Hepburn

Valentine's Day at the Star and Sixpence

I received this romantic short story, Valentine’s Day at the Star and Sixpence by Holly Hepburn through the Books and the City newsletter. It is published by Simon and Schuster UK on 8th February 2016 and is available as an ebook with Holly’s other books on Amazon UK and on Amazon US. At the time of this blog post it is currently free. Summer at the Star and Sixpence and Autumn at the Star and Sixpence are available for pre-order.

This lovely little story only takes half an hour or so to read. There are references that I think relate to the first in the series Snowdrops at the Star and Sixpence, but that did not spoil my enjoyment of the read and the story works well as a stand alone and as a good introduction to the other tales.

Sam Chapman and Nessie Blake have taken over their dead father’s pub and are hosting a Valentine’s meal. In the thick of preparations and delivery of the meal, love can sometimes blossom.

Given that the whole tale takes place in under 50 pages of narrative, Holly Hepburn packs in plenty of action to entertain the reader and creates characters that seem real and attractive. There is a light tone and some gentle humour as well as plenty of romance and some bigger issues such as those raised by Sam and Nessie’s father’s past behaviour. There is also a real sense of community in the village.

Reading Valentine’s Day at the Star and Sixpence has introduced a new author to me and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the characters. I’m looking forward to finding out more about them in the other stories.

I think Valentine’s Day at the Star and Sixpence is a super read for a wet afternoon, a commute or when the reader just needs a heartwarming story in their life.

You can follow Holly Hepburn on Twitter and visit her web site. You’ll also find Holly on Facebook.

For more romantic reads follow Books and the City on Twitter.

 

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The Ballroom

I’m hugely indebted to Alison Barrow at Penguin Random House for an advanced reader copy of The Ballroom by Anna Hope in return for an honest review. The Ballroom will be released in hardback and ebook by Doubleday on 11th February 2016.

The Ballroom

The Ballroom

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one  bright evening every week they come together and dance.
When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

My Review of The Ballroom

In the unlikely setting of the weekly dance in the ballroom at Sharston asylum, Ella and John meet and change the course of their lives.

Every so often there comes a book that touches your soul so deeply you know it will affect you for a very long time. Anna Hope’s The Ballroom is one of those books. Indeed, I can hardly bring myself to write a review as I don’t feel I have the vocabulary to express how it made me feel. My heart was genuinely thudding as I read and I felt a claustrophobia, desperation and hope that will remain with me for a very long time.

The narrative revolves around a few main characters; a doctor Charles and two patients Ella and John with a fourth, Clem, who acts as a catalyst for much of the action. Each is so wonderfully crafted that we see into their very hearts to the extent that I couldn’t bear what was happening to John and Ella in the first half of the novel, before the dancing began.

Disturbingly historically accurate, Anna Hope’s writing shows the brutality and harrowing actions of those supposedly caring for the mentally ill – or feeble-minded as they were known. The lack of humanity is astounding. Initially I felt Charles was as much a prisoner of circumstances as the patients and that his life echoed that of Ella and John far more than he would ever admit to himself so that I was sorry for him. Paradoxically though, as more of his nature and mental state was revealed and the more perhaps he deserved our sympathies, the less I liked him and empathised with him. He was a real person to me and I couldn’t bear him because of his effect on Clem, Ella and John.

Anna Hope so blurs the lines between madness and sanity that she shows just how arbitrary life can be. The plot devices are so intelligent, subtle and natural. Small touches such as the swallow feather, the reference to Lear’s ‘nothing becomes of nothing’, the intensity of the heat of 1911 all create a longing, loneliness and despair that resonate with and move the reader. However, at the centre of all the madness, the brutality and the desperation there is also love and hope – described with equal intensity and beautiful prose. I found the quality of Anna Hope’s writing reminded me of the best of D H Lawrence, particularly when she was describing nature and the underlying homosexuality of Charles.

As the plot progressed I hated being away from The Ballroom when real life encroached, and towards the end I was holding my breath. Frequently I found myself speaking aloud to the characters as if I was with them. This is powerful writing indeed.

The prose is absorbing, claustrophobic, moving and brilliant. I defy anyone reading The Ballroom not to be affected by the experience. It’s a book that is going to be difficult to beat for me this year.