Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

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My enormous thanks to Poppy North at Penguin Random House for a copy of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller in return for an honest review. Swimming Lessons is published by Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books, today 26th January 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Not only am I reviewing Swimming Lessons, but I am delighted to have the opportunity to interview Claire Fuller about her writing too.

Swimming Lessons

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‘Gil Coleman looked down from the window and saw his dead wife standing on the pavement below.’

Gil’s wife, Ingrid has been missing, presumed drowned, for twelve years.

A possible sighting brings their children, Nan and Flora, home. Together they begin to confront the mystery of their mother. Is Ingrid dead? Or did she leave? And do the letters hidden within Gil’s books hold the answer to the truth behind his marriage, a truth hidden from everyone including his own children?

An Interview with Claire Fuller

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Claire. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest book Swimming Lessons in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thanks so much for inviting me! I’ve been writing short stories and novels for about ten years now. I never intended to be a writer. I did my first degree in fine art (sculpture), and then worked in marketing for many years. I found myself writing short stories almost by accident, and then decided to do an MA in creative writing, and my first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days came out of that.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Swimming Lessons?

Swimming Lessons is the story of Ingrid Coleman who writes letters to her husband about their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he’s collected for their marginalia and the things previous readers have left behind. After Ingrid has written her last letter she disappears from a Dorset beach. Twelve years later, her daughters, Nan and Flora return home to care for their father. Flora still believes that her mother could be alive and starts asking questions without realising that the answers are hidden in the books that surround her.

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

Not until ten years ago when I was forty. And it wasn’t so much that I was going to be a writer, but that I was doing some writing. I still had a full-time job in marketing and children at home. It was some time after my first book sold to Penguin and to several other publishers around the world that I decided to take the leap and write full time. I still can’t quite believe that this is my job.

You studied for an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. How has this influenced your writing?

I’d only written a handful of short stories before I went on my MA, so it’s hard to say whether the MA changed my writing. People sometimes say they can spot a writer who has been on a creative writing MA, but that isn’t my experience, especially since we weren’t taught to write in any particular way. I knew I wanted to write literary fiction before I went on it because that’s the kind of fiction I read. The best thing I got from the course (amongst many great things) was meeting other writers and forming a critiquing group. Five years on, we’re still meeting every month.

The Swimming Lessons cover suggests water, motion and light and shade to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The cover was designed by the Art Director at my US publisher, Tin House. There’s an article about it on my blog here. I loved it as soon as I saw it, and luckily when it was shown to my publishers in other countries they decided to use it too – although most times with a slight tweak. I think it could be Ingrid or Flora on the cover, and they could be dominating the water, since the head is a different, vibrant colour, or they could be drowning, since the head is under the top of the sea. Either way I think it’s an arresting image.

I find your prose mesmerising. How conscious of style are you as you write and how much do you edit?

I’m not at all conscious of my writing style in my first draft. I just write, but I do edit a bit as I go along and then when I’ve finished the first draft of a novel (after about a year and a half), then I edit and edit and edit. I’m trying to write in a way that flows, maybe like poetry (although I don’t write it) – where every word and its position in a sentence has been considered. Is it the right word? Is it in the right place? I love this part of the work; the agonising bit is getting the first draft down when I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

I also think your writing is very poetic. Do you ever write poetry?

I’ve answered this above!

There’s an almost allegorical, fairy tale element to your writing. How has this come about?

Again, if this is the case, it isn’t conscious. I knew the major fairy tales as a child, but I don’t remember being particularly drawn to them. And allegory…perhaps this appears in my books because of the layers I try to put in; it’s not so much that I believe that extra meaning can be read into things in real life, but that it makes for a more complex read.

Swimming Lessons has so many literary references that I loved. How easy was it to find the right books in which to hide Ingrid’s letters?

Some of them came very easily because they are books I know and love, while others took more research, and I certainly haven’t read them all. The idea for Ingrid to hide her letters in Gil’s books came about accidentally. In the prologue of Swimming Lessons Gil finds a letter in the novel, Who Was Changed and Who was Dead by Barbara Comyns. I love this book and I chose it without really thinking, but then considering what happens – that Ingrid disappears and we don’t know how or why – it seemed appropriate, and I decided to continue with her hiding the letters inside Gil’s books. Small Dreams of A Scorpion by Spike Milligan, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson for example, are books I know well and love, while others such as Hand Crocheted Creations for the Home: Bedspreads, Luncheon Sets, Scarfs, Chair Sets by Bernhard Ullmann isn’t a book I own and probably won’t ever read, but was appropriate to the subject of Ingrid’s letter. I had a lot of fun choosing them.

You’re an artist as well as a writer. How much does this impact on your writing as I find your descriptions very visual?

It’s hard to say, because I only know the way I think, and the way I write, but lots of people have said they find my descriptions very visual, so perhaps the two are linked. I sometimes will draw a map of a location or a plan of the house my characters live in, but I don’t draw their faces or scenes from the book. However, when I’m writing a scene, the picture of it – the movements of the characters and the space they inhabit does roll out in my mind like a piece of film.

Gil made me think of Jay Gatsby. To what extent do you feel the reader should sympathise with Gil or blame him for the events in the story?

That’s interesting, although I think Gil is much more difficult character to like. I do believe that things like this are up to the reader to decide – there isn’t a right or a wrong way of seeing him. But the feedback I’ve had from early readers is that they can understand why Ingrid falls in love with Gil, but gradually they come to dislike him intensely, with some feeling a little sympathy return when he is old. I also think that the characters are responsible for their own actions and how these actions affect others. Gil’s behaviour is very bad, but Ingrid was warned about him by Jonathan and chose to ignore his advice. She could have changed her life and those of her daughters at an earlier point than when she decided to finally do so, but who knows whether the outcome would have been better for their daughters?

(I think you might have summed up my own experience of reading Swimming Lessons there!)

In both Our Endless Numbered Days and Swimming Lessons you explore family secrets and frailties. What draws you to these themes and how far do you think those elements are an essential part of the human condition?

I’m probably drawn to them because those themes are nearly universal. Most of us have families, and most of those families will have secrets, or at least things that go unsaid. And none of us are completely resilient. Stories that cover these themes can allow the reader to put themselves in the situation and think, what would I do?

You won the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize for Our Endless Numbered Days. How was that experience?

It was so unexpected. Also on the shortlist were Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, and A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray, both wonderful books. The awards ceremony was on the hottest day in London in 2015, and my husband and I crazily came back from the middle of our holiday in Sweden for just one night. I honestly didn’t know that Our Endless Numbered Days was going to win until Louise Doughty made the announcement at the ceremony, so it was certainly worth coming back for.

(Well congratulations again, Claire.)

And finally Claire, when you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I read a lot, at least a book a week. I regard it as part of my writing work – not just to read books for research, although I do that too, but to read novels. I prefer contemporary literary fiction of all sorts. The best books are those that make me pause and think. These will often help obscurely with whatever I’m writing. I’m not sure how the process works, but a really wonderful book by someone else will fire off all sorts of ideas, and so I do a lot of writing in the margins (like Gil in Swimming Lessons). The last book where this happened was actually non-fiction: The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, which I’d really recommend.

My Review of Swimming Lessons

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Gil, Flora’s Father, has had an accident having seen his dead wife, and when Flora rushes home to be with him events from the past will reverberate and affect all their lives.

I so loved Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (reviewed here) that I couldn’t wait to read her next book. Swimming Lessons is, in my opinion, even better.

Everything about Swimming Lessons fits its themes so perfectly, from the light and shade watery image of the cover to the eloquent, fluid and moving prose within its pages. Claire Fuller’s attention to detail is so assiduous and so erudite that I’m sure, as a reader, I haven’t appreciated enough some of the elements that fit the watery distortions and refractions of memory she explores. The writing is stunning. I loved, for example, the concept of smell as a colour and knew instantly exactly what the author meant when she employed this technique.

The construction of the novel is fabulous. Whilst there is actually little present day chronological plot, there are so many wonderful layers to the experiences related that the reader is drawn in completely. At times I felt as if I was holding my breath under water, especially in those passages in the letters written in the first person by Ingrid, because I didn’t want to spoil the intensity and atmosphere of reading. The Prologue and Epilogue profoundly affect the novel and I experienced an overwhelming feeling of poignancy reading them.

I loved the references to literature through Ingrid’s letters and the Gatsbyesque nature of Gil’s personality with his D H Lawrence style of writing. Some of the books mentioned I knew, and understood the connection to Claire Fuller’s narrative, and some I didn’t, but when this happened it didn’t affect my enjoyment at all – as a reader I have complete faith in the author so that Swimming Lessons felt natural and wonderful to read. There’s such skill in writing intricate, graceful prose and then making the reader gasp with a pared down sentence that moves on the plot with bang and Claire Fuller understands exactly how to employ this technique.  I found the idea of tucking Ingrid’s letters into Gil’s books so tantalising and was delighted to find an item in my copy of Swimming Lessons too.

Swimming Lessons is essentially an exploration of flawed humanity through family relationships, marriage, sibling rivalry, grief and love and (literally in a way – read the book to see why!) skeletons in the cupboard. I found it hard to like Gil but couldn’t help myself feeling overwhelming sadness for him too. He, like Flora, Ingrid and Nan was so human and real to me I felt as if I were reading about people from my own life whom I knew really well.

Swimming Lessons is beautifully written, melancholy and moving. I thought it was perfect writing personified and I urge you to read it.

About Claire Fuller

claire-fuller

Claire Fuller was born in Oxfordshire, England, in 1967. She gained a degree in sculpture from Winchester School of Art, but went on to have a long career in marketing and didn’t start writing until she was forty. Swimming Lessons is her second novel. Her first novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won the Desmond Elliott Prize. She has an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester and lives in Hampshire with her husband and two children.

You can follow Claire on Twitter and visit her blog.

An Interview with John Marrs, author of The One

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I’m thrilled to be interviewing John Marrs, author of The One as part of the launch celebrations. Previously titled A Thousand Small Explosions, The One is published by Del Rey, an imprint of Ebury, in e-book tomorrow 26th January 2017 and in paperback on 4th May 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

I was lucky enough to receive an early reader copy of The One and you can read my review here.

The One

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How far would you go to find THE ONE?

One simple mouth swab is all it takes.

One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for.

A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love.

Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…

An Interview with John Marrs

Hi John. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and The One in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi Linda, and thanks for having me! I’m 46, I live in Northamptonshire and work in London and my day job is working as a freelance journalist. Most of the time I am based at Express Newspapers and there, I write for publications including the Daily Express’ S Magazine and Saturday Magazine, OK! Magazine and the Star’s TV Extra. Elsewhere I write for publications like GT, Total Film and Guardian’s The Guide. Most of the people I interview are celebrities in the fields of television and music. I live with my partner, also called John (just to confuse matters) and our dog Oscar, in a small village with no shops, two pubs and a country park right on our doorstep.

(Sounds like the village I grew up in!)

And tell us a bit about The One (without giving away the plot of course).

It’s set in the present, when science has discovered a way of finding your perfect match by testing your DNA. But please don’t think it’s a sci-fi book as it’s much more about relationships. Every one of us has one Match out there and they are the person you are destined to be with. But they could be any age, religion, sexuality or live anywhere in the world. The One follows five people who discover who their Matches are, and they aren’t quite what they had in mind.

I love the cover to The One. It hints at DNA, blood and lipstick and a less than perfect heart! How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

Thanks but alas, I can take no credit for this. The book was originally self-published last year under the title A Thousand Small Explosions and had a very different cover. Penguin Random House label Del Rey discovered the book, asked if I’d consider letting them taking it on, and six months later, it has a new title and a new cover, both of which I absolutely love. The cover with the smeared bloody heart and DNA code in the background sums the theme up quite wonderfully.

I know you’ve been a journalist for a long time. When did you first realise you were going to write for a living?

When I realised I wasn’t very good at anything else! I was okay at school but awful at exams – I failed my Maths O-level and then GCSE four times! English Language and Literature were my favourite subjects by far so I stuck with writing and ended up working on a local newspaper when I finished my A-Levels. I worked on several more over the years before gravitating towards London and starting work on the News Of The World’s Sunday Magazine, interviewing – and not phone hacking! – celebrities for a living.

(That makes me feel so much better – took me three goes to get a C at O’Level maths!)

You’ve interviewed several celebrities in your journalistic career. How far has that world seeped into The One and into Ellie’s character in particular?

As a journalist I know what I’d want from an interview with her, if she existed in the real world. And I understand that after being burned in the past, she wouldn’t want to give much away. She would see journalists as untrustworthy and out to get a good angle at her expense. So I used my knowledge in choosing which publications she’d talk to and the subjects she wouldn’t be willing to talk about with them. Towards the end of her story, I could predict the media reaction to her predicament and which publications would be on her side and which would tear her to shreds. I do feel a little bad in giving my fellow journalists a short shrift in this novel though…

How different do you find fiction writing to non-fiction writing, or are there more similarities than we might think?

I write for mainstream publications. It’s my job to get the best out of an interview subject and an angle the reader will find interesting. So I’ll always think of my audience. Likewise with fiction writing, I know who I am aiming my stories at so I’ll making them relatively easy to access with relatable characters and hopefully throw in a few twists and turns in there to wrong foot the readers. The latter, I can’t do with my non-fiction work or I’ll likely get sued…

All your novels seem to have identity as a theme. Why has this concept so attracted you?

Wow, what an interesting question as it’s something I have never actually thought about! But yes, you are right. Subconsciously that’s exactly what I have done. I guess we all question ourselves as we get older – from have we accomplished what we had hoped to by a certain age to are we happy right now? My characters have yet to find out who they are and I like to take them (and the reader) on a journey to discover if they are where they ought to be.

How keen would you be to use your DNA to find a partner?

If I was single I would probably take the test. But by the time you read this, I’ll have been married for four months and am very sure I have found my Match.

(Oh, congratulations to you both x)

Travel has impacted on your writing too. If you could go anywhere in the world to research a book, where would you choose and why?

I’d like to explore more of South of America and Eastern Europe. I’d also like to see more of some of the lesser known small towns and cities in the US as they could make interesting backdrops for future stories that are currently rattling around my head.

How did you manage the different narrative strands in The One? I wondered whether you wrote each chapter consecutively, or each person’s story first and then ordered them later or planned the whole thing or…?

I can’t do anything methodically, from washing a car to panting a wall to writing a book. So it depended on what mood I was in that day as to whose story I concentrated on. I can’t even remember which character I finished writing first; I think they all came together at about the same time, give or take a day or two. The last part of the job was working out in what order to place the characters and their stories.

The Dark Web plays a pivotal role in The One. What are your views of the way in which modern society uses social media and technology?

We – and I include myself in this – spend way too much time on social media looking for approval. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, I’m often checking to see how many ‘likes’ or shares my posts have received. Some of it is necessary in the promotion of myself as a new writer, after all, I want people to read my books. But on other occasions I’m as guilty as anyone for seeking approval in a personal opinion I give or a photograph I post . My New Year’s resolution is (book publicity aside) to spend less time online.

(I think we could all benefit from less time living virtually.)

Christopher has an ‘interesting’ bookshelf. What might we find on yours?

Ha! Yes, much of his collection is somewhat limited to infamous serial killers. I flit around when it comes to books; one day I’ll be reading The Miniaturist and the next, Grace Jones’ autobiography. I love a good thriller like A Kind Worth Killing and Orphan X but I also enjoy stories as varied as Wool, Santa Monica Suicide Club and The Humans.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

The Internet is a very useful tool and can answer most of my questions. As is Facebook’s THE Book Club. As a member yourself, Linda, you’ll know people there come from all walks of life. I’ve had a police officer telling me how to clean up a murder scene, a Cambridge DNA expert informing me of how to make the science part of The One more realistic and members based in Australia helping me pick out suitable locations.

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

Draft one is the hardest. When you’ve completed 5,000 words and you know you have around another 95,000 words to go, it seems an impossible and depressing task. I find the re-writes more fun than the first version. The hardest bit is having to read it after it’s been edited or proofed because by then, I am sick to death of the story.

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

My commute to London is around an hour on the train, so that’s two hours a day of solid writing I can complete without the distractions of friends, family, the dog or the internet. If I’m on a roll, I’ll spend some time at night writing and also at the weekends at home in my office. But I won’t spend all my time doing it – it’s important to keep a balance.

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

I find I have less and less time to read as the years go on. I got through maybe half a dozen books last year and that was it. A full time job as a journalist plus this second job writing books, a new husband and a new house that requires redecoration which means I have precious little time to read.

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

Not really, my ideas to date all come from different sources. Book one, The Wronged Sons, was inspired by an article I read in The Guardian’s Family section, book two, Welcome To Wherever You Are, was inspired by my youth backpacking around America, and The One was inspired by a London Underground escalator!

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

My partner and I moved into our house a couple of years ago and we’ve gradually redecorated it from top to bottom and remodelled the garden. So I get to be creative planning bathrooms, kitchens, sanding down floorboards and digging up dead tree roots!

(I love a bit of gardening myself…)

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

I think I’d pick Nick, the heterosexual husband-to-be who is talked into taking the test by his fiancée, only to discover he’s matched with a man. His match, Alex, is a good looking chap!

If The One became a film, who would you like to play your central characters and why would you choose them?

Urban Myth Films, the production company behind Merlin, Atlantis and Crazy Head have optioned the rights to turn the book into a potential TV series. There are ten central characters, so it’s quite the ensemble cast. My favourite actors include Keeley Hawes, Katherine Parkinson, Natalie Dormer, Emmett Scanlan, Tom Hardy, Tom Hiddleston, Kit Harrington and Ben Whishaw. Wishful thinking, eh?

(Let’s hope it’s more than wishful thinking. The One would make a cracking series.)

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

It’s different, it’s unpredictable and I guarantee you’ll ask yourself if you’d take the test.

(Ha! You’re absolutely right – I did ask myself that question and readers will need to read my review here to see what I decided!)

Thank you so much, John, for your time in answering my questions.

It’s been a pleasure. My journalism job involves spending all day asking celebrities questions. It makes a nice change to be on the receiving end of them!

About John Marrs

john-marrs

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last 20 years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. He has written for publications including The Guardian’s Guide and Guardian Online; OK!Magazine; Total Film; Empire; Q; GT; The Independent; Star; Reveal; Company; Daily Star and News of the World’s Sunday Magazine.

His debut novel The Wronged Sons, was released in 2013 and in May 2015, he released his second book, Welcome To Wherever You Are.

You can follow John on Twitter and find him on Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

john-marrs-blog-tour-poster

An Interview with Victoria Blake, author of Titan’s Boatman

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I’m so pleased to welcome Victoria Blake, author of Titian’s Boatman, to Linda’s Book Bag today to celebrate publication. Titian’s Boatman will be published in hardback by Black and White on 26th January 2017 and is available for purchase here and on Amazon.

Titian’s Boatman

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It is 1576 and Venice is in chaos, ravaged by plague and overrun by crime.

In the midst of the anarchy we find those brave souls who have chosen not to flee the city. Titian, most celebrated of Venetian painters, his health failing badly. Sebastiano, a gondolier who is the eyes and ears of the corrupted and crumbling city. And Tullia, the most notorious courtesan of the age, who must fight to retain her status as well as her worldly possessions.

In the present day, the echoes of what happened centuries earlier still ripple as the lives of ordinary people as far distant as London and New York are touched by the legacy of old Venice…

An Interview with Victoria Blake

Hi Victoria. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest book Titian’s Boatman in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello and thank you so much for having me on your blog. I’m honoured! I’m the author of eight books. Four crime novels figuring PI Sam Falconer set partly in Oxford and partly in SW London. Two true crime books written for the National Archives and Far Away a Second World War novel which was short listed for the Historical Novel Society (HNS) Indie Award 2016. I’ve worked in law, publishing (Gerald Duckworth) and bookselling (The Silvermoon and Bookcase) and I live in London.

far-away

And, without spoiling the plot, please tell us a bit about Titian’s Boatman.

I might steal from Rory Clements here because he gave me a lovely quote: “From the squalid glamour of the 16th century Venice to modern-day London and New York, Titian’s Boatman demonstrates the power of art to bridge the years and transform lives.” Thank you Rory – a very good summing up!

Your father was the eminent historian Robert Blake. How has his interest in history impacted upon your own life and writing?

What a juicy question! The study of history runs through my family. My grandfather was a history teacher who taught my father and wrote history text books. My mother and my older sister both studied history at Oxford, as did I.  Having an eminent parent is a strange business there were obvious privileges to it. My father was the Provost of Queen’s College in Oxford and I grew up in the college but there was also a certain degree of fighting to get out of his shadow. I actually wanted to study English at University but both my parents were very hostile to the idea. They viewed the teaching of English (in the early eighties)  as having been taken over by Marxists like Terry Eagleton! I’m not sure that was altogether true but  I didn’t have the confidence at that time to go my own way. I actually loathed writing academic History essays but found an enjoyment of history when I wrote two true crime books for The National Archives – one on Ruth Ellis and one on Florence Maybrick. I think it partly had to do with getting my hands on original documents, having more time to study them, and finding the subject matter compelling. After that I found that when I can combine historical research with my fiction writing imagination (making it up!) it’s a sort of perfect blend for me.  Another influence from my father was the importance of readability. My father wrote a great deal of journalism in his life and I think he was very conscious of being both readable and entertaining not just when he wrote for newspapers but in his books as well.  He was a distinguished academic but there is nothing dry about his books.  His biography of Disraeli is a very long book but was so successful because it was engagingly written. When I write I am very conscious of the importance of entertaining  the reader.

(I loved this answer – especially as I was one of those 1980’s English teachers influenced by Terry Eagleton!)

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

I came to that conclusion fairly late on. In my twenties I remember reading Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and there was something transcendent about that book for me. She had taken quite unsettling  material and transmuted it into something magical and comical and she was very young when she wrote it. That book had tremendous chutzpah and style. And it’s also very tender.  It was clearly not a ‘gay’ book in the sense that it would be only of interest to gay people; it was a book that had a universal appeal. Any human being could identify with it. It was about first love, a very potent theme.  All writers are readers first and I think it is because they are touched deeply by other writers that they are drawn to writing in the first place. That’s how it was for me anyway. The hope is that you can go on and do that for other people.  That’s the dream. Then you realise how very hard it is!

So, what are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I managed to write my first four books at home but then I went through a phase when I felt rather depressed and thought I really must get out more. I write most days other than weekends. Mornings are more productive than afternoons. I don’t obsess over word count and I’m better than I used to be at trusting the fits and starts of the writing process.  I usually  spend a certain number of days working away from the flat where I live. There are a few Caffè Neros near me which I use one or two times a week. I don’t often work in libraries because I find them disconcertingly noisy. Sit me in a cafe with children crawling round my ankles and music booming out while coffee beans are being ground and I’m fine. Sometimes I work at home but I try not to do that two days in a row because I start to fester slightly. The effect of going out is that my books take slightly longer to write but I’m happier while I write them.

(That sounds like great advice too as I know writing can be a lonely and isolating experience.)

You’ve worked in publishing and book selling. How much has this influenced your approach to writing?

I think it’s made me very conscious of the immense privilege of being published and filled me with a strong sense of gratitude towards both my publisher and booksellers.  For a brief disastrous period I contemplated being a lawyer and it was while I was an articled clerk I remember, in my lunch hour, going into a Books etc  and leaning against the books and pining with every cell in my body to have a job that involved books.  I think I knew the world of books was my natural home and that I had strayed a very long way from it. It wasn’t that long after that I started working for the publisher Gerald Duckworth in their warehouse. It was quite funny because when I left the law everyone asked me what I was going to do and  the truth was I didn’t have a clue. However,  I was clear about one thing, that whatever the job was I’d be able to wear Doc Martens. They became a symbol of freedom and self-expression and DMs were very useful footwear when it came to the warehouse! For a time I had some red patent leather ones and I would look down at them and think these shoes are leading me where I want to go and it is far, far away from a City law firm!

You’ve written non-fiction in the past as well as your current fiction. Which do you find most challenging or rewarding  to write and why?

Writing non-fiction is much easier for me – you research, marshal your facts, think about your structure and get on with it. Obviously you have to write entertainingly but if you’re interested in your material that should come naturally. Fiction is both a torment and a delight. When it’s working and you’ve got momentum there’s nothing quite like it but there are times when you’re just staring into the abyss thinking what on earth made me think I could ever do it. The level of self-doubt I experience in writing fiction is much greater than in non-fiction. It’s because you are creating it from the ground up, every breath of it is you. In non-fiction you’ve got the facts to lean on; it’s more intellectual. With fiction you’re leaning on air! And the whole thing can feel like a pack of cards that is just on the verge of tumbling down. Despite the torments, my heart really lies in fiction because there is this immense creative freedom which is both exhilarating and terrifying.

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

A quick glance behind me presents me with: The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant, Francis Spufford’s Golden Hind, Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, Now is the Time by Melvyn Bragg.  On my desk is a 1930 pocketbook version of The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett and on a side table is a copy of a Simenon in French, L’assassin – a wildly optimistic purchase to try and revive my extremely dormant French skills.  This last year I’ve been reading more books in translation influenced by bloggers I follow like Stu at Winston’s Dad and Tony at Tony’s Reading List. I suppose the simple answer is that I like to read pretty much everything apart from Sci Fi, Fantasy and Romance.

Titian’s Boatman is a departure from your Sam Falconer crime books. How did that come about?

I had very much enjoyed writing crime but I wanted to spread my wings a bit and try something different and to be perfectly frank, much as I had enjoyed writing them, no one was queuing up to ask me for another Sam Falconer book! There’s a much stronger tradition of crime books featuring private investigators in the US than in the UK. But I’m glad because Titian’s Boatman used different writing muscles and extended me in an entirely different way creatively.

What made you choose Titian and his painting The Man With The Blue Sleeve for the basis of your novel as opposed to any other artist and painting?

I just love the painting. I was between books (always a tricky time because I get a bit antsy when I’m not writing) and went for a wander in The National Gallery in London and there he was and I realised that I always ended up in front of him when I was in a certain kind of directionless, fretful  mood and then I noticed when he was painted and how young Titian was when he painted him – 20. That was the trigger for the book. I think there’s something really compelling about him. He’s such a sexy, sardonic, arrogant looking man. What’s not to like about that spectacular sleeve combined with those very neatly plucked eyebrows! And once I started writing about him and was telling people, an enormous number ended up saying things like ‘Oh yes, isn’t he lovely?’  At first I was rather miffed since I had viewed him as a sort of private obsession but then I thought well maybe there’s a sort of secret cult of The Man with the Blue Sleeve (fingers crossed) and they’ll all buy my book.

(Let’s hope so!)

How did you go about researching C16th Venice for Titian’s Boatman?

I sort of followed my nose. A very important source for me was Pietro Aretino’s letters. He was Renaissance Venice’s gossip columnist, trend setter and political diarist and also wrote pornography. He was a great friend and supporter of Titian. He wrote enormous numbers of letters, to a wide range of different people: Kings, Dukes, Doges but also to courtesans and his own gondolier (advising him not to marry.) He even wrote letters thanking friends for sending him salad! He’s incredibly readable, vivid, warm and playful. I read histories of Venice. Peter Ackroyd doesn’t know how to write a dull sentence.  I also read up about the courtesan Veronica Franco and I based my character Tullia loosely on her. Franco was encouraged by her patron to write poetry which he then published. I found Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities useful.  That is such a weird and wonderful book about imaginary cities, it sort of set my imagination free to engage with Venice in a more fluid and lyrical way. Oh, and I mustn’t forget Sheila Hale’s magisterial biography of Titian.

(Ooo. Invisible Cities takes me back to my own university days!)

How easy or difficult was it to balance the two time frames in Titian’s Boatman?

I think I would have to say that there was nothing about this book that I found very easy to write and that would include handling the time-frames. You try to make the narratives and characters compelling in different ways so that the reader isn’t jarred by the transitions but you also know the nature of the beast is that readers will prefer certain parts of the book to others and may well go, ‘Oh no’, when you move between them.  That’s how it is for me as a reader. As a writer I’m never satisfied with my books. If I read through Titian’s Boatman today I would probably start changing it as I read it but you have to draw a line sometime or you’d drive yourself mad.

(Do you know, I’ve never thought of authors reading their own books as readers after publication before!)

Given the theme of art in Titian’s Boatman, does that mean you’re a painter too or was there another reason for choosing this subject?

That’s interesting. I don’t paint but when I was first exploring the idea of being a writer I did Julia Cameron’s creativity course, The Artist’s Way, with my friend the painter Francesca Howard. She wanted to be a painter and I wanted to be a writer. And I think some of her passion for colour and painting must have rubbed off on my creative process. I find looking at paintings very restful when I’ve overdone the writing. I suppose it’s because no words are involved but often there is a story there that I can receive visually.

If you could choose one painting from Titian to hang on your own wall, which would it be and why?

I think it would have to be The Man with the Blue Sleeve or there’d be hell to pay. He’d definitely haunt me. Mind you if he was on the wall he would probably haunt me as well!

I love the art canvas on the cover of Titian’s Boatman. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

Isn’t it wonderful? My editor asked me what sort of idea I had for the cover and all I could come up with was The Man with the Blue Sleeve and then B&W came up with the jacket and I loved it on sight. What was fantastic is that it was much cleverer than anything I could have thought of. I was at the HNS Conference in the autumn and people were talking there about how it was about time that the covers of historical novels got a re-think. I think we were trying to convey a mystery and that also the book wasn’t a straightforward historical narrative. It’s a bit more of a mixture than that. At the end of the day the aim of a cover is to entice someone into picking it up, it is to make the book stand out from the crowd and I think it’s a spectacularly successful piece of design and succeeds magnificently. Since James Daunt took over at Waterstone’s there’s been a big revival of the hardback as a beautiful object – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry is a very good example of that. As an ex-bookseller and a compulsive book buyer this jacket of Titian’s Boatman would make me pick it up. I also love the frames round the chapter headings and that comes courtesy of Chris Kydd B&Ws production director.

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

I love theatre, cinema, sport and politics. My father taught politics and so there was always a lot of conversation at home about what was going on in the world. He’s no longer alive but over the last couple of years I have spent a great deal of time having conversations with him in my head about amongst other things the Scottish Referendum, Brexit and Trump. He was an expert on the British Constitution and would have been fascinated and probably appalled by what has happened! Sport I find compelling because there is an inbuilt  drama – who will win and who will lose. Then there is the whole question of how people respond to winning and losing. People’s characters are exposed. Roger Federer glides through tennis matches barely sweating whereas Andy Murray looks like playing is akin to an act of self immolation. Both fantastic players but such different personalities displayed when they play. As a writer I’m more of  a Murray than a Federer I can tell you! I also work one day a week in a charity second hand bookshop and that appeals to the magpie in me. Bookshops are an extremely good source of ideas.

If you could choose to be a character from Titian’s Boatman, who would you be and why?

I think it would have to be The Boatman, Sebastiano, his is the guiding voice of the novel and the voice I heard first and last. I think it would be fascinating to be a gondolier in Renaissance Venice. If not him then maybe the stone-throwing nun, Sister Maria – in her youth! That kind of wild rebelliousness is very appealing.

If Titian’s Boatman became a film, who would you like to play Sebastiano and Tullia and why would you choose them?

I love Romola Garai and still have not recovered from the TV series The Hour being axed by the BBC so I would have her as Tullia. She has the beauty, intelligence and the force of character to play her. As for Sebastiano I think maybe Benedict Cumberbatch.  He can act a bit.

What can we expect next from Victoria Blake?

My next book is again historical fiction set in the 1930s and is about one of the first female war correspondents who goes to report on the Spanish Civil War. I have always found women war correspondents fascinating, the epitome of courage, integrity and glamour. How do you go into those dangerous situations, keep it together, and come away without being emotionally destroyed by all the things you have witnessed. It has been a great privilege to watch Kate Adie, Lindsey Hilsum, Orla Guerin and Lyse Doucet over the years. I think they are incredible women.

And finally, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Titian’s Boatman should be their next read, what would you say?

Stone throwing nuns are involved and Francesco da Mosto says it’s compelling. He never lies!

Thank you so much for your time, Victoria, in answering my questions with such vivid and entertaining responses.

Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

About Victoria Blake

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Victoria Blake’s love of Italy and history was inspired by her father, the historian Robert Blake, famous for his pioneering biography of Benjamin Disraeli. She grew up in Queen’s College, Oxford where he was the Provost. After studying history at Lady Margaret Hall she subsequently worked in law, publishing and bookselling. She is the author of an Oxford-based crime series featuring the PI Sam Falconer and has written two true crime books for the National Archives, one on Ruth Ellis, and one on Florence Maybrick. Her historical novel Far Away was shortlisted for the Historical Society Novel Indie Award 2016.

You can find Victoria on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and visit her blog.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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An Extract from The Mask of Command by Ian Ross

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I’m a little bit obsessed by Roman history so it gives me great pleasure to be sharing an extract from The Mask of Command by Ian Ross with you today. The Mask of Command is the fourth in the Twilight of Empire series. Published in e-book and hardback on 12th January 2017 by Head of Zeus, The Mask of Command is available for purchase from all good booksellers and by following the publisher links here.

The Mask of Command

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When a treacherous act of murder throws the western provinces into turmoil, Aurelius Castus is ordered to take command of the military forces on the Rhine. But he soon discovers that the frontier is a place where the boundaries between civilisation and barbarism, freedom and slavery, honour and treason have little meaning.

At the very heart of the conflict are two vulnerable boys. One is Emperor Constantine’s young heir, Crispus. The other is Castus’s own beloved son, Sabinus. Only Castus stands between them and men who would kill them.

With all that he loves in danger, Castus and a handful of loyal men must fight to defend the Roman Empire. But in the heat of battle, can he distinguish friend from enemy?

An Extract from The Mask of Command

PROLOGUE

Campus  Ardiensis,  Thracia, January ad 317

The plain was covered with the wrack  of war.

Many  times the opposing armies had clashed,  drawn back,  and  then  clashed  again,  arrows and  javelins flickering beneath winter  clouds  that  boiled  like dark  smoke.  Now  the coarse and frost-stiffened grass and the ice-rimed pools bristled with  spent  missiles and  shattered shields. The bodies  of men and horses clogged the bloodied turf. Iron gleamed dull in the fading light, and the wind made the battle cries and the trumpet calls indistinguishable from the wails of the dying.

On  a low ridge to the north of the plain,  a group  of men crouched below  a stand  of twisted  black  hawthorns, gazing out over the battlefield. The banners and shield blazons  were lost  in the  gathering murk, and  for  a few long  moments it was impossible  for the observers to say which army fought for Constantine and which for Licinius. Impossible to say who was winning, and  what  had  been lost. But already  the first snow was whirling in from the south, and the men on the ridge knew that  few of the wounded left between  the battle  lines would survive the night.

The youngest of the group, a supernumerary centurion with a wind-reddened face, threw out an arm suddenly and pointed.

‘I see it!’ he cried. ‘Just to the right of the centre – the imperial standard! Constantine must be there…’ He turned to the big man beside him, who knelt,  impassive,  wrapped in his cloak.

‘Dominus,’ the centurion said.  ‘Should  we give the order  to advance?  The track  will take us straight down  onto  the plain – we can reinforce  the battle  line at the centre…’

The senior officer unlaced his gilded helmet and lifted it from his head. He squinted, and his coarse heavy features  bunched as he seemed to sniff the breeze.

‘No,’ he said. The word  steamed  in the frigid air.

‘But, dominus… why delay any longer? Surely the emperor needs us…?’ The centurion was young,  untested in war  and eager to prove himself. Behind them, on the track, five thousand soldiers waited  in column  with their baggage and equipment. Two days’ forced march  had brought them here – surely now they could turn  the tide of the battle?

‘I said no.’

The big man rubbed a palm along his jaw, through the rasp of stubble and the ugly scar that knotted his cheek. He studied the battlefield before  him,  and  the young  centurion saw the calculation in his eyes. He put his helmet back on.

‘The army’s strong  enough  at the centre,’ he said. ‘There’s another track  to our left, running along the rear of this ridge. It should  take  us down  onto  the plain  to the east. We swing around that  way and we can hit the enemy on their flank.’

The centurion blinked, and then stared at the land ahead of him. Snowflakes  whirled  in the wind, almost  hypnotic.

‘Well, what are you waiting for?’ the commander said curtly.

‘Get down there, find the emperor and report our position! Tell him that I intend  to outflank the enemy lines on the left. Go!’

‘Dominus!’ the centurion said, saluting  as he leaped to his feet. He turned and  ran  down  the slope to where  the horses were tethered. The commander watched the young man vault into the saddle, then spur his horse into a gallop down the trail towards the distant standards at the centre  of the battle  line. He exhaled, breathing a curse  as he recalled  the old adage. War is sweet to the untried.  An experienced man fears it with all his heart.

About Ian Ross

authorianross

Ian Ross was born in England, and studied painting before turning to writing fiction.

He has travelled widely, and after a year in Italy teaching English and exploring the ruins of empire reawakened his early love for ancient history, he returned to the UK with growing fascination for the period known as late antiquity.

He has been researching and writing about the later Roman world and its army for over a decade, and his interests combine an obsessive regard for accuracy and detail with a devotion to the craft of storytelling.

Ian Ross now lives in Bath.

You can visit Ian’s website and follow him on Twitter. You’ll also find him on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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Giveaway of Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie

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I’m very pleased to be part of the paperback launch celebrations for Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie. Burned and Broken is published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown and is available for purchase directly from the publisher and on Amazon as well as from other retailers like Waterstones.

To celebrate Burned and Broken I’m delighted to have a UK Only paperback giveaway at the bottom of this blog post.

Burned and Broken

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A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

The charred body of a policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found in the burnt-out-shell of his car on the Southend seafront.

To DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell of the Essex Police Major Investigation Team, the two events seem unconnected. But as they dig deeper into their colleague’s murder, dark secrets begin to emerge.

Can Pearson and Russell solve both cases, before more lives are destroyed?

About Mark Hardie

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Mark Hardie began writing full time after completely losing his eyesight in 2002. He has completed a creative writing course and an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, both with distinction.

You can follow Mark on Twitter.

Giveaway

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UK only I’m afraid! Click here for your chance to win a paperback copy of Burned and Broken by Mark Hardie. Giveaway ends at UK midnight on Monday 30th January 2017.

Problems and Solutions, a Guest Post by Ruchira Khanna, author of Choices

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I’m pleased to welcome Ruchira Khanna, author of Choices, to Linda’s Book Bag today to tell me about the links between life and writing for her. Choices is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Choices

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Leonardo is a young man who is standing on a crossroad of life, facing choices. He has a few questions, questions that all of us have faced when facing choices that can change our lives.

Does fate make a man, or do his desires?

Do ambitions and desires actually lead a person to true happiness and fulfillment, or does providence and life changing events actually show a person the true path to follow?

Choices raises these questions, and attempts to answer them. It is a slice-of-life, a book written from the heart.

One Life, Many Challenges

A Guest Post by Ruchira Khanna

One life, many challenges…

All humans endure this problem as we breathe in deep and exhale with a cold sigh and continue to trudge along this planet, Earth.

Many of us leave this world without a thought of solving it, as our minds are so muddled up with the daily activities thus avoiding to complete the full circle wherein lies confused relationships, grim expectations and a foul taste with regards to the other person’s loyalty.

But, honestly, all problems have a solution!

Be it changing the tyre of one’s car to modifying the direction in one’s life. The only thing constant is the “I.”

If I am keen on the change, even the Universe will comply with my wishes. Such is the power of positive thoughts.

That’s how my books come into life … I choose themes for my books that are related to man and his daily grudges. For instance, in Choices, my first novel, I talk about what makes our life. Is it the choices we make or is it predestined?  Do ambitions and desires actually lead a person to true happiness and fulfillment, or do providence and life changing events actually show a person the actual path to follow? Choices raises these questions, and attempts to answer them via a fiction tale.

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My second novel, Voyagers into the Unknown has a theme of happiness, and I show via my fantasy novel how and why travelers travel thousands of miles to get happiness in their lives.

It is a vibrant story of transformation from an unlikely source: a local tour guide of historical Agra, India where the Taj Majal still sways those who behold it. Seeped in educational philosophy, this novel is an uplifting read.

The problems these characters face is just like you and me thus, most of us can relate to it.

My readers have given me a tag line, “Books that make me ponder.” The proof lies in the reviews on Amazon.

America is a country of immigrants with most of us breathing two cultures, and the challenge lies when life envelops you with an individual situation. There is always the confusion to either go left or right over it.

My upcoming novel, Breathing Two Worlds talks about balancing life between two cultures. Being mindful of decisions to make when in a certain environment. I have tried to showcase the two cultures my protagonist experiences, and via a fiction tale, I try to clear the cobwebs in her mind.

For me, my inspiration is the society that I live in. Being conscious of the problems around me, and penning it down via a fiction tale allows me to make the reader ponder over the solutions that the character in the novel tries to display thus, allowing the person who reads to take a take-home message in a subtle way.

I remember my Math’s teacher used to give importance to even the seconds in our lives. She would compare it to diamonds.

“Each second is like a diamond!” would be her Mantra and I have taken forward that quote by giving importance to my readers and their valuable time by making sure they benefit from the time spent in reading and purchasing my books!

About Ruchira Khanna

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Ruchira Khanna, a biochemist turned writer, left her homeland of India to study in America, where she obtained her Master’s degree in Biochemistry from SJSU and a degree in Technical Writing from UC Berkeley.

After finishing her studies, Ruchira worked as a biochemist at a Silicon Valley startup for five years. After the birth of her son, Ruchira took a job as a technical writer, so that she could work from home. Soon, she began freelance writing work as well.

Her love of writing grew and she started working on her own books. After four years of freelancing, Ruchira published her first book, a fiction novel for adults called Choices.

Then came the children’s book The Adventures of Alex and Angelo: The Mystery of the Missing Iguana. 

Since then Ruchira has published Voyagers into the Unknown, about the quest for happiness.

In addition to writing books, she also maintains an inspirational blog of daily mantras on Blogspot, called Abracabadra. Ruchira currently resides in California with her family.

You can visit Ruchira’s website and find her on Facebook. Ruchira’s books are all available here.

An Interview with Alex Martin, author of The Rose Trail

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I was lucky enough to win a copy of The Rose Trail by Alex Martin recently and so I decided to ask Alex if she would mind being interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag. Luckily she agreed. The Rose Trail was published on 11th December 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Rose Trail

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Is it chance that brings Fay and Persephone together?
Or is it the restless and malevolent spirit who stalks them both?
Once rivals, they must now unite if they are to survive the mysterious trail of roses they are forced to follow into a dangerous, war torn past.

The Rose Trail is a timeslip novel set in both the present day and during the English Civil War. The complex story weaves through both eras with a supernatural thread.

An Interview with Alex Martin

Hi Alex. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest book, The Rose Trail.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Linda.

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

I live in south Wales but grew up in Wiltshire, where many of my stories are set. I worked as a secretary in my youth but didn’t find it that fulfilling. I always had a yen to write but some health issues took me down the path of complementary medicine and I still run a private practice, although only part time now, from my home. I had always wanted to write, ever since I learned to read and discovered the joy of being lost in a story. When it became obvious the Government would postpone my State Pension age to 66, I decided I had better get serious about writing. In a way, I’m glad that happened, as I probably would never have got up the courage to publish otherwise. Necessity is the mother of invention. Now I’ve published 5 novels and have reached the modest financial target I set myself all those years ago. It is very satisfying but more importantly, I love doing it and have many more fictional ideas I can’t wait to realise.

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

Do you know, I think it was when I was a child? I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t feel that writing was my ultimate destiny. Now, I wish I’d had the discipline to write seriously much, much earlier, but hindsight is ever a marvellous thing.

You say you came late to publishing if not to writing. How has this impacted on your experience as an author?

Good question. I think it makes me more driven, knowing how much time I’ve wasted.

You write historical fiction. What draws you to that rather than a more contemporary setting?

I think the past can teach us so much. There are patterns in collective human behaviour that we can recognise and learn from. Hopefully we can select the positive and chuck out the negatives. Certainly in researching WW1 I was shocked, saddened and surprised at the ingenuity and courage of that generation. I find it fascinating to research how everyday living was managed in different time periods. What people wore, ate, how they lived and what they believed in. I think studying history helps us understand the path we all travelled to arrive at today’s world.

Many of your titles have reference to plants. Is this to do with writing in a garden shed?

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Haha! Well spotted. No, it’s not because of The Plotting Shed but to do with my previous career as a herbalist and aromatherapist. I simply love plants and they are part of who I am.

 

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

My previous career had its creative side – building a website, writing handouts about foods/health issues and plants. I also took people on herbal walks and talked about plants, taught them which plants to pick and what they could make from them and also did soap-making and bath-bomb workshops. Plus I do love to cook. I almost opened a restaurant years ago with a previous husband but ended up leaving him instead! But that’s another story – maybe it’ll turn into one anyway!

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

It’s much easier these days with the internet. When I researched Daffodils, there was very little on the web about WW1 but since the centenary there’s loads, so I’ve revised the book a couple of times as I’ve learned more. I also have shelves of books on the subject. I enjoy research trips too. Great excuse for an escapade. For instance, I went to both Beaulieu Motor Museum and Brooklands Racing Museum for Speedwell. The latter now stock the paperback in their shop, which is gratifying. The picture on the cover is a real shot of a race held there in the 1920’s when the book is set.

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

The easiest bit is getting the ideas. They often appear in a dream with utter clarity and I scribble them down the minute I wake and the story builds from there. Then I do an outline of the story arc. The hardest bit is avoiding the soggy middle and keeping it alive and tight all the way through, despite what life might be throwing at you at the time.

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

No routines but rather I have phases. Sometimes I love to get up in the early dawn, or even before it is light, and write in that special quiet time before the day begins. Other times, when I’m on a roll and the story has me in its grip, I’ll write for 18 hours a day. I love those days; although it is exhausting, it’s also thrilling. I write in my Plotting Shed. It was built by my husband and I from a kit (unlabelled and in howling gales) for the purpose. It sits at the end of my long, thin cottage garden and I can see the sun and shadows playing across the Welsh hills from the window in front of my desk. It’s good to have a distant perspective when you need to dream and think.

The Rose Trail has a supernatural thread which seems a departure from your other fiction. Was this a conscious decision or did your writing evolve naturally to include this element?

Such excellent questions! I would say it was a natural evolution. I decided to do straightforward historical fiction as I thought it would be a safe bet to start me off but I love the thin, almost transparent veil that I believe exists between time zones. This awareness came about through healing work and I want to weave it into my writing more.

I think there’s a feeling of opulence in the cover of The Rose Trail. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

Oh good! As The Rose Trail is so different from my other books, I wanted the cover to be equally distinct. It’s a darker tale (although you can’t really get much darker than WW1) so I wanted the cover to be black. The artist, Jane Dixon-Smith, worked her usual magic from my disparate ideas. The pomander is central to the plot, and ideally should have been older by a few hundred years but I couldn’t get a picture of one without copyright issues. The roses too figure largely throughout the story as the ghostly master of ceremonies bears that name.

(Readers can see more about Jane Dixon-Smith’s design work here.)

If you could choose to be a character from The Rose Trail, who would you be and why?

Fay Armstrong is loosely based on me but only in part. She can do mathematics.

If The Rose Trail became a film, who would you like to play Fay and Persephone and why would you choose them?  

I wish! Hmm, that’s a hard one. Persephone would have to be someone utterly gorgeous and glamorous, say Cameron Diaz, with that slight ambiguity to leave people guessing if she really is a bimbo. Fay is more difficult but I think Renee Zellweger, seeing as she’s happy to put weight on for a part, might carry it off. She’d have to have a crap hair-do as well, of course, which might be a bridge(t) too far?

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

Usually research books these days! But I love reading all sorts of books. I enjoyed The Light Between Oceans recently and am currently reading All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

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

Everything gives me ideas for writing! It could be some natural inspiration on a walk, an overheard conversation, a knotty problem from my own life, something I’ve read or watched. The hard thing is converting these into print!

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

“Fay slips unwillingly between now and a war torn past, lured on by a restless and malevolent ghost.”

I know readers signing up to your newsletter here will receive three free short stories in Trio. How far do these stories reflect the style of your novels?

These short stories are quite different. Two are contemporary and bittersweet. All are exposures of different frailties in people.

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Thank you so much Alex for your time in answering my questions and in providing such interesting answers.

Linda, it’s been a real pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog.

About Alex Martin

alex-martin-plotting-shed

Alex Martin can mostly be found, scribbling or tapping away in her garden shed, indulging her passion for writing, as the wind and rain lash at her little refuge.  Her debut book, The Twisted Vine is based on her own grapepicking adventures in the 1980’s in France when she, like Roxanne Rudge, was running away from life.

The Katherine Wheel Series, Daffodils, Peace Lily, and Speedwell cover the time between WW1 and the roaring twenties. Alex is currently working on the fourth and final book, Woodbine and Ivy, set in the second World War.

Her latest novel, The Rose Trail, is set between the English Civil War and the present day and was inspired by a real battle that took place in Devizes, where Alex used to live. It is a ghost story woven with a supernatural thread.

You can catch up with the launch of new books, reviews, discussions and discount offers on Alex’s blog and you can follow Alex on Twitter. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

All of Alex’s lovely books are available here.

An Interview with Carol Wyer, author of Little Girl Lost

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It gives me great pleasure to be helping to celebrate the launch of Little Girl Lost by Carol Wyer. Little Girl Lost is the first in the Detective Robyn Carter crime thriller series, published on 19th January by Bookouture, and is available for purchase on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

To celebrate publication of Little Girl Lost Carol has kindly agreed to an interview on Linda’s Book Bag.

Little Girl Lost

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A perfect family hiding disturbing secrets. A killer who wants the truth to be told.

A teacher is found dead, close to the school where he works.

A millionaire is murdered at a local reservoir.

For Detective Robyn Carter, there’s no obvious link between the victims. Apart from one thing. The bodies both have the same grisly trophy beside them – a bloodstained toy rabbit.

As Robyn starts to delve into the lives of the two dead men, her investigations lead her to Abigail, perfect wife and mother to beautiful little Izzy. What was Abigail’s connection to the victims? And why is she receiving threatening messages from an anonymous number?

But as Robyn starts to inch closer to finding the killer, Izzy is abducted.

Unless Robyn gets to the twisted individual in time, a little girl will die …

Gripping, fast paced and nailbitingly tense, this serial killer thriller will chill you to the bone. Discover Carol Wyer’s new series – at a special launch price.

An Interview with Carol Wyer

Hi Carol. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and your latest novel Little Girl Lost in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I hate talking about myself but here goes: I became a full-time writer in 2010 when I turned my attention from writing children’s educational books as a hobby, to the adult market.

My first two novels Mini Skirts and Laughter Lines and Surfing in Stilettos won several awards for humour and much attention from the media. Since then, I’ve appeared on numerous BBC radio stations, several international radio stations, NBC television and BBC Breakfast television, and Sky television, discussing age-related subjects such as ‘Irritable Male Syndrome’ and ‘Grumpy Old Menopause’. In 2015 I won the prestigious People’s Book Prize Award for Grumpy Old Menopause.

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I’ve written articles for, and featured in, several national women’s magazines, including Take A Break, Choice, Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Own who also wrote about my journey to becoming a best-selling author.

Having written ten humorous books –three non-fiction and seven fiction, I changed direction this year, and am writing a series of psychological thrillers, and published by Bookouture, featuring DI Robyn Carter. The first, Little Girl Lost released in January 2017, has had some rave reviews and shows I have found my true niche.  (Pause for an evil laugh.)

(I’m finding that laugh slightly unnerving!)

And tell us a bit about Little Girl Lost (without any spoilers please!)

It’s a psychological thriller told from the points of view of three people: Robyn Carter, Abigail Thornton and a murderer. The opening is very gritty and made me wince writing it, but is essential to the plot which twists and turns. I’m going to use a recent review which describes it far better than I can, as I tend to give away too much. This is from Penny For My Thoughts Blog:

DI Robyn Carter is drawn into a search for a common denominator in a series of seemingly unrelated murders. Were the murders revenge for an act committed years ago and if so, who is the killer? When a husband goes missing and his wife discovers that he may not be the person she thought she married, she turns to a private detective rather than the police. Robyn returns to the police force after a leave of absence and discovers that her first assignment crosses paths with the missing husband and everyone involved has secrets and something to hide. Which secret leads to death and who has the most to lose if their true identity is discovered? Is someone setting up Abigail to be a victim or is she battling postnatal depression and seeing and hearing things that don’t exist?

(That sounds fantastic!)

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

Although I’d written educational books for children, I didn’t consider writing as a career until my son left home and I converted his bedroom to an office. That was in 2009.

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

I’d have definitely been an actress or show presenter. I love the limelight!

How far do you think teaching English has impacted on you as a writer?

Teaching set texts to GCSE and A-Level students that required analysis certainly had an effect on my writing. I can’t put pen to paper without dissecting my plots and chapters and ensuring they do not fall short. This is particularly true of the series of thrillers. I am paranoid that I have made an error in my timeline, or introduced an inaccurate piece of information that someone will spot. I enjoy playing about with descriptive words or juxtaposing scenes to heighten suspense which is something I got from studying Literature and teaching it too. As for the grammar, well, I’d love to say being a teacher of English has ensured I make no errors but sadly, with failing eyesight, those pesky typos creep in.

(As an ex-English teacher myself, I know exactly what you mean.)

Little Girl Lost marks a departure from your other writing. How and why did you decide to try a different genre?

The real answer is lengthy but suffice to say, like many people who write humour or who do stand up, I have a dark side that first emerged when I wrote a series of short stories entitled Love Hurts. Some tales were amusing, all had a twist, and one was shocking. The reaction to that first story was surprising. People loved it and said I should write more ‘sinister stuff’. That gave me the confidence to explore that possibility. I wasn’t short of ideas. Thrillers have always been my go to choice of book to read. I have been playing about with surprises and twists in my novels for some time, along with darker moments that I sneak in, and Life Swap had the daddy of all twists. After I wrote that book, I decided I was ready to change direction and add as many twists and turns as possible into my books.

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How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

Months and months of research on the Internet and then, phoning people who are in the know to make sure facts are correct, or chatting to them on Facebook.

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

Thinking up the plot is the easiest part for me even though it takes months to get it right. Typing is the worst part. I can only type with two fingers, (I know…I know) and given I write out every book longhand first, it takes me forever to type it up.

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

Once I start writing, I don’t stop. I suffer from insomnia, so I go and go and go until my batteries run out and I conk out for a short while, or until Mr Grumpy yells at me to stop.

You frequently refer to your husband as Mr Grumpy. How does he respond to that epithet?

He loves it. Ever since he discovered he has a fan club he has relished being Mr Grumpy and even produces videos on YouTube with me to do with travel. (The Grumpy Travel Show).

How did you create your new protagonist Robyn Carter?

I met the woman who inspired Robyn Carter while filming for a television show – Masterpiece with Alan Titchmarsh. We spent an entire day with fellow competitors in a stately home, and I found out a lot about this one in particular. She was such a strong character and looked astonishing. I discovered she was not only into fitness but had won many contests and modelled underwear even though she was my age. I got the idea then for Robyn’s attributes and some of her character, and began writing her backstory into a notebook, as I do with my main characters. Each one has a history and Robyn’s is a very interesting one. There are some clues in the first book, however her character will develop throughout the series. She may not have had much luck, yet she has backbone. She is also flawed, as she should be if she is to come across as human.

Once I began writing Little Girl Lost, I had yellow post-its all over my wall with essential details of the main characters. As for her name; it came to me one night, or I should say at three in the morning, as is so often the case when I am thinking up the plots. I have no idea why I chose it and to my knowledge, I have never met anyone called Robyn.

Little Girl Lost is the first in a new series and I know you’re already writing book three. How difficult has it been to retain ideas for future projects and not reveal everything in this first novel?

I haven’t had any problem with that as each synopsis is in front of me on my wall, when I write. I made sure they were all separate so that didn’t happen.

You’re not afraid to tackle issues like ageing in your writing. How important is it for writers to reflect the society in which they live do you think?

I have always believed that Literature reflects society’s thoughts, fears, and arguments, and as writer’s we need to keep abreast of those to retain integrity.

I know you’re keen for those of a certain age (like me) to age disgracefully – what plans do you have to do so?

I have been ageing disgracefully for the last decade: quad biking, flying helicopters, scuba diving wrecks, ziplining, and facing challenges like diving with sharks, and taking up stand up comedy. Unfortunately, I came a cropper last year and my spine which was in a bad way from my youth, gave up on me, so I am now limited to less wild antics. I haven’t had a chance to work out what I’ll get up to next, but it will involve some wacky project, that’s for sure.

You’ve recently created a Street Team. How important are bloggers to writers?

Totally essential! I would not have enjoyed any success had it not been for all the many bloggers and reviewers who have helped me since I began writing. I cannot stress how important they have been to me and how grateful I am.

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

Thrillers and since I speed read, I’ll read several a week when I get the chance.

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

Travelling and people-watching always give me ideas for books. At the moment, given my penchant for murdering folk, it’s probably a good idea if I don’t carry out too much real research.

The cover of Little Girl Lost makes me think of Hansel And Gretal with the juxtaposition of innocence and evil. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The lovely team at Bookouture produced the cover. It was designed by the same man who has worked on Wilbur Smith and Bernard Cornwell’s covers. Peter Augustus has done an incredible job and captured the atmosphere perfectly. In my mind, the whole idea of being lost can apply to more than the child who is taken and when you read it, you’ll understand what I mean.

If you could choose to be a character from Little Girl Lost, who would you be and why?

I ought to say Robyn, but I when I was writing the book, I became obsessed with Alice. I don’t want to be her but I loved writing from her point of view. Maybe part of me is Alice!

If Little Girl Lost became a film, who would you like to play Robyn Carter?

Jennifer Leann Carpenter who played Debra Morgan in the Dexter series.

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

A recent tweet summed it up perfectly: It’s dark and messes with your head, you can’t be sure who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. Oh bother, that’s eighteen words.

I’ll let you off! Thank you so much, Carol, for your time in answering my questions.

About Carol Wyer

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Carol E. Wyer is an award-winning author whose humorous books take a light-hearted look at getting older and encourage others to age disgracefully. More recently she has chosen to write for the “dark side” and embarked on a series of thrillers, starting with the gripping Little Girl Lost.

Her book Grumpy Old Menopause won The People’s Book Prize Award for non-fiction 2015.

Carol has been interviewed on numerous radio shows discussing ‘Irritable Male Syndrome’ and ‘Ageing Disgracefully’ and on BBC Breakfast television. She has had articles published in national magazines ‘Woman’s Weekly’ featured in ‘Take A Break’, ‘Choice’, ‘Yours’ and ‘Woman’s Own’ magazines and writes regularly for The Huffington Post.

Carol is a signed author with Bookouture and Delancey Press.

You can follow Carol on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook. All of her books are here.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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Relativity by Antonia Hayes

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I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback launch celebrations for Relativity by Antonia Hayes which was released by Corsair, an imprint of Little Brown, on 19th January 2017. Relativity is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

Relativity

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Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.

His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.

Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.

Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

My Review of Relativity

Ethan lives with his Mum Claire in Sydney. But Ethan isn’t an ordinary little boy and his past is just one element that makes him who he is.

I thought Relativity was astonishing. How can it be a first novel? Relativity is heart rending and wonderful. It’s so beautifully written that I’m going to struggle to do it justice in a review. Reading Relativity felt like someone had my heart in their fist and the more I read, the more they squeezed, until I was almost overwhelmed by the intensity of feeling the story evoked.

I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to anything scientific but I loved the way in which Antonia Hayes relates physics to human life and emotion. It was as if a whole new world had opened up to me in the same way the world is being studied by Ethan. I’d never appreciated the importance of physics for the individual, but everything about Relativity, from the chapter headings to the technical language felt aligned and perfect for the narrative. Just the smallest touches to the writing, such as Claire being called Mum in the chapters concerning Ethan, even though the narrative is still in the third person gave a simultaneous sophistication and somehow a rawness to the writing that I adored.

Essentially there only three main characters, Ethan, Claire and Mark with some minor additions like Alison. This reduced number means that we get to know them intimately so that they are living beings with a real history. I didn’t always like Claire, despite her fierce love for Ethan and I’m still undecided about Mark but I think it’s illustrative of how they have been created that I still find myself thinking about them after I’ve finished reading and I desperately want to know what happens to them all in the future. I felt I understood them completely, flaws and all.

There isn’t a particularly fast paced plot – very often Relativity is actually about the mundanity of everyday life but seen through the perspective of three exceptional people in Ethan, Claire and Mark . It also encapsulates themes and considerations that reverberate through relationships, families and society from bullying to extramarital affairs so that there is something to appeal to every reader.

Relativity is exceptional. It packs an emotional punch that hits you right in the solar plexus. I really recommend it.

About Antonia Hayes

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Antonia Hayes, who grew up in Sydney and spent her twenties in Paris, lives in San Francisco with her husband and son. Relativity is her first novel.

You can follow Antonia Hayes on Twitter and visit her website.

There’s more with these other bloggers:

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A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

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It gives me great pleasure to be on the celebratory tour for a book, A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart, that I’ve adored reading. Published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown. A Boy Made of Blocks is available for purchase here.

A Boy Made of Blocks

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MEET THIRTY SOMETHING DAD, ALEX… He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

MEET EIGHT-YEAR-OLD SAM… To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

When Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other… When life starts to tear one family apart, can they put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

A Boy Made of Blocks is a beautiful, funny and heartwarming story of family and love inspired by the author’s own experiences with his autistic son.

My Review of A Boy Made of Blocks

Sam Rowe is autistic and his parents’ separation is not aiding his progress.

I found the self deprecating and honest first person narrative in A Boy Made of Blocks totally convincing so that it felt as if I knew Alex personally. The more I read, the more he had my empathy and sympathy even though I thought he’d been selfish and unhelpful towards Jody in the time before the novel actually begins. Here is a man with flaws and struggles so many of us can relate to.

I felt Keith Stuart balanced the challenges of dealing with Sam with the use of wry humour very effectively, giving a realistic and touching narrative in which I became so immersed I forgot I was reading about characters in a book and not real people. I’m not sure if that experience for me was because Keith Stuart has lived a similar life to Alex or because the writing was so skilful and effective but either way I absolutely loved this book.

Having no experience of dealing with children like Sam, I have no idea how realistic this portrayal is, but it felt thoroughly honest, convincing and authentic to me. It also taught me to be less judgmental of other people’s children when I’m out!

The allegory of the Minecraft game works incredibly well as a device to illustrate Sam’s life as it is invariably scary and also an adventure. I appreciated the multiple meanings of the title as Sam uses blocks to create his Minecraft world and suffers blocks in his actual life – from society, school, his father and his own perceptions of what he can achieve. However, I felt actually this was not a story so much about a boy made of blocks as a man, Alex, building a wall of blocks around himself. Both narrative elements are wonderful.

I thought the plotting was so stylish as the story is really about the quotidian events many families face, but I found it held my attention so thoroughly that I couldn’t bear to put the book down to do other things. I was completely engaged by the sub-plots involving Alex’s wife Jody, his sister Emma, his best friend Dan and Alex’s mother too. This isn’t just a novel about autism, it’s a novel about humanity, relationships and our insecurities and triumphs.

I honestly adored this book. I cried, as I often do with affecting reads, but A Boy Made of Blocks had an emotional intensity for me from despair to joy that I found extremely touching. I usually pass on copies of books to others to read. I’m keeping this one as it’s too special to part with.

About Keith Stuart

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In 2012 one of Keith Stuart’s two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing videogames together – especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and PC Gamer then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel.

You can follow Keith on Twitter and there’s more with these other bloggers too:

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