Ardent Justice by Peter Taylor-Gooby

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I’m delighted that Peter Taylor-Gooby, author of Ardent Justice is returning to Linda’s Book Bag today. After the publication of his first novel, The Baby Auction, Peter previously wrote about dystopian fiction here.

I have my review of Peter’s latest novel, Ardent Justice, but also today Peter is explaining why he writes novels with a social conscience. Indeed, the profits from Ardent Justice will be going to support the housing and homeless charity Shelter.

Ardent Justice was published by Matador on 16th December and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Ardent Justice

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Ade is a tax-inspector. She believes the money she raises pays for a decent NHS and adequate public services. She hates the City of London, the endless corruption, the bland assumption that tax is for the little people. She hates the casual sexism, the smug self-assurance, the inviolability of the men she deals with, and the cold certainty that nothing you can do will ever touch them.

She meets Paul, an Occupy activist who works with homeless people. As their love for each other grows, they find real fulfilment in fighting for the rights of ordinary people, such as Gemma, a homeless single parent. Then she has a chance to do something of permanent value, but at great cost to her own integrity.

Writing Novels with a Social Conscience

A Guest Post by Peter Taylor-Gooby

From Dickens’ Bleak House, to Orwell’s Coming Up for Air to Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, there are plenty of great novels that deal with social issues. But why do they succeed as novels? A novel with a social conscience sounds a bit of a contradiction in terms. Surely novels are about imagination, fun, engagement, building characters and seeing what they do; social conscience is about analysing the facts: who’s bad and who’s good, who suffers and who gains.

Novels start out from a problem or a situation and expand outwards. They take the reader somewhere that they didn’t expect to go. Reading them you learn more, about the world and other people, but also about yourself. Social conscience narrows down. It takes a part of the world and scrutinizes it. It deals in social facts. Somehow it’s confining not liberating.

My day job is as a social scientist and I wanted to write novels to find a different way of thinking about the social issues I study. As you might imagine, I started with the issues I wanted to talk about and thought that the problem in writing a novel was to find a way to dramatize it. I was interested in the issue discussed in my academic text Reframing Social Citizenship of how market society erodes trust between people. The modernisation and privatisation of many aspects of our lives has generated a huge increase in resources, but there is evidence that as the market takes over more and more of our lives and our relationships we tend to become less caring, less empathetic and more individualist.

Through writing my first novel The Baby Auction I came to understand how limited my ideas about novel-writing were. The whole point about novels is that they work through character. I created a group of people and laid down the pathways on which they were supposed to travel to make the plot work. I was amazed and frustrated to discover that they developed minds of their own. My characters got out of control and did things I didn’t expect and certainly didn’t intend and the whole thing had to be rewritten three times, each time taking more of myself out and putting more of the characters in.

Novels are about characters, about people and people don’t always do what they’re told. To put it pompously, people have free will. Just as we don’t know everything about our friends (or even our children) and what they are going to do, we don’t know what characters we’ve created will turn out.  I’m sure everyone else who reads this blog knows this already, but for me it was a discovery, slightly scary but immensely liberating.

My new novel Ardent Justice is set in the world of tax-cheating financiers and street homeless people who live cheek by jowl in the City of London – the wealthiest square mile in the world, a city within a city with its own local government and its own police force. But the novel is not directly about greed and poverty or about scams and parasites or about how the wealthy manage their affairs and keep them well away from the rest of us out.

It’s about Ade the tax-inspector, who hates her job, who hates the city fat-cats she has to deal with every day and who’s frightened by what she sees on the street if she has to walk home late from the office. It’s about her life and how hard it is for her to live it, and how she does. Ade came to me from somewhere, I don’t know where, and I started writing about her and her struggles and triumphs and disappointments and that’s the story.

I’m sure that at one level it’s a novel with a conscience. It has things to say about how people live in our world and how they ought to live and how they should treat each other, but it’s not a novel with a message and it’s far distant from what I do in my day job. First and foremost it’s about people and about what they do. I find it exciting to be able to approach issues I think about analytically in a completely different way. I got a lot out of writing the book. I hope you enjoy it.

My Review of Ardent Justice

Ade audits big business accounts, but when she encounters Webster, her life is dramatically changed.

What a thought provoking read Ardent Justice is, especially as, by the end, I’m not convinced justice has really been severed morally. I’ve been thinking hard about the issues raised and have had to reassess my own views about society as a result. In Ade’s place I’m still not sure what I would do and some of my assumptions about what is morally right have been challenged by reading Ardent Justice. One response that reading Ardent Justice raised in me quite acutely was a feeling of ignorance. I wondered just how much of the story could really be happening right under our noses. Truth is, after all, stranger than fiction.

Whist potential readers may feel they will be getting a somewhat dry read in a book described as having a ‘strong social message’, they would be wrong. Certainly there are uncomfortable themes of abuse, corruption at all levels and violent behaviour, but these are all presented within dramatic scenes, in a well plotted narrative and offset by friendship and romance so that there is much to enjoy as a very entertaining story too. The sociological aspects are well blended in the narrative so I didn’t feel I was being preached to.

I only had one small issue with the characterisation. With Ade’s education and position in the city, occasionally I found her grammar incongruous. However, this may well have been deliberate with Ade modulating her language better to fit in with those around her. I found Ade feisty and convincing otherwise.

Peter Taylor-Gooby’s style is a pleasure to read. He manages to balance complex compound sentences that build description or Ade’s thoughts, for example, with simple phrases that add a drama that almost startles the reader. There’s a poetic feel in some of the phrasing too and I really enjoyed this aspect. I thought the appeal to the reader’s senses was especially good.

Part thriller, part sociological tract, Ardent Justice is, above all else, a really good story and an entertaining read.

About Peter Taylor-Gooby

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When he’s not writing Peter enjoys hill-walking, riding his bike, holidays and looking after his grand-daughter (not in that order). Peter became interested in social policy issues after working on adventure playgrounds, teaching, claiming benefits and working in a social security office in Newcastle. He has worked in the UK, most European countries, Canada, the US, China, Korea and Japan, Australia and South Africa.

You can follow Peter on Twitter. Peter will also be speaking at Malvern Science and Faith Weekend and tickets for that event are available here.

The Singalong Society for Singletons by Katey Lovell

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I’m so grateful to Katey Lovell for a copy of The Singalong Society for Singletons in return for an honest review. I’ve previously enjoyed Katey’s Meet Cute series and you can read my review and a smashing guest post from Katey here.

Published by Harper Impulse The Singalong Society for Singletons is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Singalong Society for Singletons

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Monique and Issy are teachers, housemates and lovers of musicals! Their Friday night routine consists of snacks, wine and the Frozen DVD. So when Monique’s boyfriend moves to America for a year and her sister Hope moves in because of her own relationship woes, Friday nights get a new name… ‘The Singalong Society for Singletons’!

It’s a chance to get together, sing along to their favourite tracks from the best-loved West End shows, and forget the worries of work, relationships and love (or lack of it). But when Issy shares the details of their little group further afield, they get some unexpected new members who might just change their opinions on singledom for good….

My Review of The Singalong Society for Singletons

When Justin heads off to America to work, girlfriend Monique (Mon) is left to start a mini-club where single friends can sing out their woes to a Friday night musical DVD.

I have to confess that I had wondered if The Singalong Society for Singletons would be rather saccharine, but not a bit of it, as it’s a charming story of hopes, fears, friendship and making the most opportunities.

Aside from a well-plotted narrative that revolves around the films that are watched, there are some intense themes explored in an enlightening and fresh way. Linking the films with the lives of the Cast (as they are presented at the start of the book), Katey Lovell provides a supportive and interesting commentary on relationships in many forms from sibling bonds and parental influence to lesbian love and heterosexual desire. The need to make the most of life is sensitively woven into the story so that the reader feels they have learnt a life lesson. I felt quite inspired and uplifted by reading The Singalong Society for Singletons. Whilst I think the reader will gain more from the story if they are familiar with the films too, The Singalong Society for Singletons works, without such knowledge, as a romantic and entertaining read.

Katey Lovell’s makes very good use of the senses in her descriptions so that I could easily picture the scenes, especially those in the flat. Indeed I have a criticism of The Singalong Society for Singletons arising from the quality of Katey Lovell’s prose – it made me very hungry! I also really enjoyed Mon’s first person perspective. It made me feel as if I also belonged to the Friday night activities as it was as if I was being spoken to directly. It’s good too that the characters aren’t perfect, but have their human flaws making them realistic.

The Singalong Society for Singletons is a smashing read and if you’re a film lover, all the better!

About Katey Lovell

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Katey Lovell is fanatical about words. An avid reader, writer and poet, she once auditioned for Countdown. Getting the conundrum before the contestants is her ultimate thrill.

She loves love and strives to write feel-good romance that’ll make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

Originally from South Wales, Katey now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and son. When she’s not writing she’ll most likely be found reading or watching musicals.

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

Extract and Giveaway: One Last Wish by Ella Harper

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I’m delighted to be helping celebrate publication today, 27th February 2017, of the gorgeous One Last Wish by Ella Harper. Published by Canelo One Last Wish is available for purchase in e-book here.

To celebrate today’s launch I also have to opportunity further down this blog post for a lucky person to win an e-copy Of One Last Wish.

One Last Wish

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Rosie and Nate are facing the unimaginable. Their relationship is under strain with the devastating news their daughter Emmie has incurable brain cancer. They must do everything to support their child, but can they stop their marriage falling apart before it’s too late?

Unbeknown to her parents, Emmie is on a mission. Teaming up with her Aunt Lily, she is determined to make them see what brought them together in the first place – and make her parents fall in love all over again.

An Extract from One Last Wish by Ella Harper

Prologue

2012

‘There is no easy way to say this. I’m afraid your daughter has terminal cancer.’

Rosie’s breath caught in her throat. No. Something had just shifted. In the way things did when they were terrifying and irreversible.

Rosie squeezed Nate’s hand. Harder than he had squeezed hers when she had given birth to Emmie. Because this was far, far worse. The surgical consultant in charge of Emmie had just said terminal cancer. Cancer. That was terminal. Terminal meant… it meant…

Barely aware of anything else but the heavy weight of those horrific words, Rosie realised she didn’t quite know what to do with herself. Apart from screaming. Rosie knew she felt the urge to scream, at the very top of her voice. Like a banshee.

Until her throat bled and until no more noise came out. It was either that or she might have to pummel the surgeon’s chest. Slap him hard around the face. Hurt him. Because even though it wasn’t his fault, Mr Hobbs had just told them that Emmie was going to die.

Nate cleared his throat and squeezed Rosie’s hand equally hard.

‘I’m so sorry, Mr Hobbs. Forgive me, but I don’t understand what has happened here.’

Rosie stole a glance at Nate. His expression was earnest and Rosie’s heart twisted torturously because she knew exactly how he felt. Nate wanted to have hope. He wanted to believe there might be a tiny shred of optimism that might take them out of this hideous reality.

Nate carried on, clearly struggling to form his words. ‘Emmie has had chemo. Chemo, at her age. She’s only five, Mr Hobbs. Five years old. She was sick day and night and all her beautiful hair fell out.’ Nate’s voice cracked. ‘She’s had radiotherapy. You operated on her. On her brain. You cut her head open and… and…’

Feeling desperate, Rosie helped Nate out. ‘It’s just that our daughter has endured more than most adults could cope with, Mr Hobbs. And now this. You’re telling us…’

‘That it’s terminal. Yes. I’m so terribly sorry. I’d give anything to be telling you different news.’ Mr Hobbs looked regretful. Sympathetic. Agonised.

Nate stared at him, only seeing an impassive face. Did Mr Hobbs have children? Did he know what it was like to go through something like this? To watch the most precious thing in your life endure pain and distress and ghastly treatments that had so many side-effects they had barely been able to keep up with them? And now… this? Nate felt impotent with rage. He felt weak and helpless and so full of fury, he could barely choke it down. In the distance, he heard Rosie yelp and Nate realised he’d been clutching her hand so hard he had nearly crushed it.

‘Sorry,’ he whispered, letting go and putting his arm around her shoulders instead. He held her fiercely and turned back to Mr Hobbs. ‘Are you saying we have to sit our daughter down and tell her she’s not going to make it? That at some point, that massive tumour could grow and squash her brain and… and kill her?’

Mr Hobbs looked pained. ‘I’m afraid so.’ He pointed to the scan on the wall behind him. ‘Emmie’s mass is a malignant primary tumour, as you know. We’re dealing with what’s called a medulloblastoma here. It has developed at the back of the brain. And unfortunately, this type may spread to other parts of the brain and into the spinal cord. The position of it…’ Mr Hobbs tailed off, regretfully. ‘It’s too large and it’s too dangerous. We could sever the spinal cord… damage Emmie’s brain beyond repair. It’s highly probable, not just a possibility. I’m so sorry. There is nothing more we can do in terms of surgery.’

Rosie swallowed. No more surgery sounded like a good thing. But it wasn’t. She knew that it wasn’t. Because no more surgery meant that the tumour was too large and couldn’t be taken away.

‘More chemo?’ Nate suggested. ‘More radiotherapy?’

‘Emmie could have more chemo but she will need breaks from it,’ Mr Hobbs said gently. ‘Think about the quality of life Emmie has had during chemo. Ultimately we’re talking about prolonging her life, not saving it. I’m incredibly sorry.’

‘Jesus.’ Nate slumped in his chair. He didn’t know what else to say. There was nothing else to say.

‘Are there any other tests we can do?’ Rosie said. She knew the answer. But she had to try. Because otherwise she was literally giving in and accepting that there was no hope whatsoever.

Mr Hobbs reached for Emmie’s file. ‘I’m absolutely certain we have covered everything with the tests we’ve done. MRIs, brain angiograms, lumbar punctures. Blood tests, biopsies. There isn’t much else we can do now because we know what we’re dealing with and we know that we have tried everything possible to cure or remove this huge tumour.’

Rosie’s lip trembled.

Mr Hobbs closed the file. ‘We have counsellors who can help. You’re not alone…’

Rosie felt the tears blocking her throat. She had never felt so helpless in her life. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t Emmie was their world, she was everything. Rosie finally broke down completely and she turned into Nate’s shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. Nothing had made them happier than when Emmie had arrived. They had been so lucky to have each other, so lucky. The feelings they had for one another, the relationship that was so full of magic. And Emmie had completed that; she had completed them. They couldn’t lose her. It was unthinkable.

Nate clutched Rosie to him. ‘She’s a baby, she’s just a baby…’ he said wretchedly. Nate worked hard to get control of himself and after a few minutes, he dug deep and kissed Rosie’s tears away, his hands shaking as he held her face. ‘It’s OK, darling,’ he was saying, not even sure what words he was uttering. ‘It’s OK. We’ll be OK. Emmie will be OK.. She can’t die. She won’t. OK?’

Giveaway

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For your chance to win an e-copy of One Last Wish by Ella Harper, click here. Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Sunday 5th March 2017.

About Ella Harper

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Ella Harper learned foreign languages, and imagined she might eventually get a glamorous job speaking French or Russian. After climbing her way up the banking ladder, Ella started idly mapping out the beginnings of a novel on an old laptop. When she realised her characters were more real to her than dividends and corporate actions ever could be, she left her job to become a writer.

You can follow Ella on Twitter, find her on Facebook and visit her website.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugand

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My grateful thanks to Kathrine MacPherson at Atlantic Books for a copy of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin -Lugand and translated by Sandra Smith.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee will be published by Allen and Unwin in paperback on 2nd March 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

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Diane, owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cosy coffee shop turned library in Paris, seems to have the perfect life. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, her life is overturned and the world as she knows it disappears. Trapped by her memories, Diane closes her shop and retreats from friends and family.

One year later, she moves from Paris to a small town on the Irish coast, determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone, without anyone’s help or pity – until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody Irish photographer. Along windy shores and cobbled streets, Diane falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance. As she works to overcome her painful memories, Diane and Edward’s once-in-a-lifetime connection inspires her to love herself and the world around her with new-found inner strength and happiness.

But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland, and Edward, for good?

My Review of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

Still in the depths of despair a year after her husband and daughter died after a car crash, Diane leaves her Paris home for Ireland.

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee tells the emotional story of Diane’s grief and recovery and her relationship with Edward, but somehow it didn’t touch me in the way I expected. I wonder if there may be more affecting prose in the original French. I found the dialogue quite script like and would have liked more description to get a sense of place more thoroughly. I also found the use of semi-colons peculiarly distracting.

I didn’t warm to Diane despite her grief and I think this says more about me as a reader than it does of the quality of the writing. Diane smokes continuously, as do Edward and Felix and I abhor smoking with a passion so I think I had slightly detached myself from the read as a result.

Edward is very reminiscent of Edward Rochester with his taciturn personality and even his dog, Postman Pat, is huge like Rochester’s Pilot. He’s certainly the mean and moody type but I wasn’t convinced that every disagreement had to be settled by violence. I would have liked greater depth to the characterisation and more exploration of the psyches presented.

It sounds as if I didn’t enjoy Happy People Read and Drink Coffee and I did. I think it just didn’t quite meet my expectations, feeling more like a Young Adult novel to me and perhaps I ought to have approached it more that way as a reader.

About Agnes Martin-Lugand

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After six years as a clinical psychologist, Agnes Martin-Lugand now devotes herself to writing full-time. She is also the author of Happiness Slips Through My Fingers (Entre mes mains le bonheur se faufile) and the sequel to Happy People, Don’t Worry, Life Is Easy (La vie est facile, ne t’inquiete pas).

An Extract from Because I Was Lonely by Hayley Mitchell

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I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Because I was Lonely by Hayley Mitchell. Because I Was Lonely will be published by Red Door Publishing on 2nd March 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

Today I have a gripping extract from Because I Was Lonely for you to read.

Because I Was Lonely

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Meet Rachel. She is caught in a spiral of endless crying, dirty nappies, and sleepless nights. She fears for her sanity and the safety of her children.

She’s lonely.

Meet Adam. Suffering from the pain and trauma of a terrible accident that he blames himself for, he stays at home, unable to bring himself to leave the house.

He’s lonely.

So when Rachel and Adam rekindle their long lost friendship online, what starts as a little harmless flirtation, soon becomes an unhealthy obsession, and slowly the threads of their lives unravel before them.

Four lonely people . Two unhappy marriages . One dangerous, but inevitable climax.

An Extract From Because I Was Lonely

David avoided looking at her. ‘I did my best, Rach. I’ll take those drinks to the kids,’ he said, grabbing the small plastic cups so quickly that juice slopped over the sides. Rachel watched him through the kitchen window as he hurried down the garden. He couldn’t get away from her fast enough, as if standing too close for too long would make him catch the misery. She felt diseased, and the fog hung above her like low cloud.

Rachel had isolated everybody. Unable to deal with the everyday problems of the rest of the world, she couldn’t cope with the deterioration of her dad’s mental health as well as her own. With David unable to even stay in the same room as her, she had never felt so alone. The kids still adored her, though, and her response was to love them more than she thought possible. Their behaviour was deteriorating; she spoiled them all the time with small surprise presents and failed to check their appalling behaviour. Maisie was turning into a complete brat and more than one letter about her behaviour at school had already been sent home. Rachel burnt them in the fire, didn’t respond, and didn’t tell David. Jamie’s constant crying had given way to tantrums, and to keep him quiet Rachel just gave him whatever he wanted. The dark suppressed anger, the panic and the confusion had left, but they had been replaced by complete listlessness. There seemed no point in anything any more. Rachel just wanted to disappear into her virtual world and leave her own reality behind.

The nights were the loneliest. Although sleep had returned to a degree, Rachel still slept alone. Sometimes she would reach out to the cold pillow beside her and bring it close, her arms around it, holding it in the same way that she hung on to a vague memory of hope from the past. The pillow smelt of washing powder, not of the warmth of a person. The room was dark, a blackout blind at the window to block out the warm orange glow of the nearby streetlight. Sometimes in the night Rachel would roll up the blind and sit and stare at the world outside; the occasional late-night reveller or early-morning shift worker would walk by, and she would watch them until they disappeared round the corner. At other times, she thought about shouting ‘help me’ out of the window, just to see if anyone would. When she climbed back into the cold sheets, what she missed most of all was the warmth of someone there. If someone had been there to touch, it might have stopped her never-ending circle of confusion. There was no one to reach out to. No one who would make a soundless whisper in their sleep: ‘Hang on, it won’t always be this tough.’ Rachel missed being in love. When she couldn’t sleep she wished she had an old-fashioned clock so she could count the ticking beat until morning.

By August things were a little better than they had been, on and off; the heat sometimes dissipated the fog of misery. Days no longer seemed eternal; the house was not much cleaner or tidier, but the shopping got done, clothes laundered if not ironed. The kids were OK, but they had suffered. Rachel now found it easier to hug, and they responded by clinging to her; she felt it was just in case she let go of them again.

The voyeurism of Facebook continued, less intense now but she still checked her news feed several times a day. She had started to make occasional comments on Facebook to people she knew well. In September, she made what she hoped was a humorous comment on a ‘public’ post made by a boy, now a man, whom she had once had a bit of a crush on. Well, actually a lot of a crush on. The boy, now a man, was called Adam, and at the time he had been a close friend. They used to talk and there had been an obvious connection between them, but Rachel had had a boyfriend, who later dumped her and for a brief time had broken her heart. Adam had had a girlfriend whom he said he would one day marry if she stuck around long enough or if he could get her drunk enough to accept his proposal. There were a few distant and blurry photos of the grown-up Adam on his timeline, some kids in the distance and an attractive woman who could have been the college girlfriend, even at a distance though she looked too young – maybe she was Adam’s daughter, but time had made it hard to tell and Rachel couldn’t for the life of her remember her name.

Rachel posted a photo of herself and the kids, and liked it so much that she decided to make it her profile picture. An hour later, he sent her a friend request, and from that day life became a little more interesting.

About Hayley Mitchell

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Hayley Mitchell spends most of the time writing books in her head and was finally able to put finger to keyboard and capture some of the words in the form of her debut novel Because I was lonely. A law graduate, she has spent most of her life working with people and much of her career as an advice worker for charities. Always fascinated by people and their relationships, she began to write fiction. She is very lucky to live in Wiltshire with her husband whose support has been invaluable and their two children who amuse, inspire and exhaust her everyday. She now divides her time between her family and writing her second novel.

You can follow Hayley on Twitter and visit her website. There’s also a Because I was Lonely Facebook page here.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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Artist vs Author, A Guest Post by Alice May, Author of Accidental Damage

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One of my great regrets in life is that I have no artistic talent. So when I realised that Alice May, author of Accidental Damage, is both a writer and an artist I had to ask her a bit more about those roles and I’m delighted she agreed to write a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag.

Accidental Damage is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Accidental Damage

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If you think the normal school run on a Monday is entertaining you should try doing it from a tent in your back garden surrounded by the jumbled up contents of your entire home. It is vastly more diverting.

Our heroine has survived the sudden collapse of her home – or has she?

Certain events two and a half years ago led her to deliberately destroy an important piece of herself, hiding away all remaining evidence that it ever existed.

What happens when she decides to go looking for it? Does she really deserve to be whole again?

Inspired by a true story, this is an account of one woman’s secret guilt and her journey in search of forgiveness!

Artist vs Author

The Similarities and Differences of the Two Creative Processes

A Guest Post by Alice May

As an exhibiting artist for over a decade before I embarked on my fledgling writing career, I hadn’t thought particularly about the similarities and differences associated with the two creative processes until Linda asked me about it. She wondered if the painting process ever informed the writing or were they two totally separate entities.

From the point of view of my first novel Accidental Damage I would have to say that art has been a massively integral part of the whole development of the main plotline. The story is written retrospectively from a mother’s point of view. She is an artist who is using her painting as a security blanket to help her work through the feelings of guilt she has about her role in events two years previously that lead to her and her family (husband and four children) suddenly becoming homeless. In a series of flashbacks we learn exactly how they became homeless and how they coped with the situation. At the same time we see the mother, in the present, reacting to each stage of the remembered story with a new piece of art.

The concept of art as a therapy for emotional and/or psychological trauma is an intrinsic part of the story.

Although Accidental Damage is mainly a work of fiction, it was inspired by true story (yes, we really did live through a home-collapse disaster) and so the artwork described in the book actually does exist. This fact significantly helped to lend the writing authenticity as there is a very deep connection between the paintings and the emotional journey that the central character takes throughout the story. It was also a nice touch to be able to use one of those pieces of art for the design of the cover for the book.

On a more theoretical level though, while the development of either a painting or a plotline seems to follow a similar path, there is not often an opportunity for one to actually overlap with the other. This is probably what made writing Accidental Damage such fun.

With the art, I frequently see ideas around me in day to day life that I know I need, but at the time I often don’t know why they are important. For example a particular shape, texture or colour combination might catch my attention. It’s a bit like discovering the pieces of a puzzle. I keep these elements on a mental mood board until I know what I want to do with them. It may be days, weeks or even months before the final piece of my little puzzle presents itself (often most unexpectedly) and then, like a catalyst, this triggers the whole concept to evolve and I find myself running to my easel to start throwing paint around. It gets messy very quickly!

In a similar manner, with my writing I find I am constantly making mental notes. Sometimes real notes too – I am often to be found scribbling frantically in a jotter in strange places. I will acquire character traits, accents, places, colours, music or events and store them away for later. At some point, over time, these different elements coalesce into the plotline and substance of the next book. It is a fascinating process and very exciting as I never quite know what is going to happen next.

In both cases, eventually the painting or the plotline that is inspiring me will take over my brain completely as the whole picture or story starts to develop. All else fades into the background until the piece in progress is finished.

The only real issue I have it with it all is the fact that I haven’t yet worked out how to paint and write at the same time. Writing about painting in Accidental Damage was probably about as close to doing that as is possible.

I guess we can’t have everything can we?

About Alice May

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Alice May is a working mother with four not-so-small children.

She says she is fortunate enough to be married to (probably) the most patient man on the planet and they live in, what used to be, a ramshackle old cottage in the country where her conservatory is always festooned with wet washing and her kitchen full of cake.

Alice loves listening to the radio in the mornings.

You can find out more about Alice on her website. You can follow her on Twitter and you can find her on Facebook.

Hallelujah for Choirs, A Guest Post by Jennifer Ryan, Author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

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I’m thrilled to welcome Jennifer Ryan, author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir to Linda’s Book Bag today to help celebrate the publication of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir with a guest post all about the importance of choirs!

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir was published on 23rd February 2017 by Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins and is available for purchase here.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

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The village of Chilbury in Kent is about to ring in some changes.
This is a delightful novel of wartime gumption and village spirit that will make your heart sing out.

Kent, 1940.

In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.

But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.

Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.

Uplifting and profoundly moving, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.

Hallelujah for Choirs

A Guest Post by Jennifer Ryan

When I was growing up, we had a jovial grandmother who we called Party Granny, and she loved nothing better than a good sing-song, telling us frequently that without her trusty choir they’d “never have made it through the Second World War”. They sang through the Battle of Britain, through the heartbreak of separation and death of husbands and sons on the front, and through the days after the town was bombed to smithereens, taking several much-loved locals with it. It wasn’t a large choir or, for that matter, a terribly good one.

“We made everyone laugh we were so awful,” Party Granny would chortle. “But it was the trying that counted. It made us feel better, knowing we were together. Knowing that if anything happened, there’d be a chorus of women backing you up, offering warmth, support, and a jarringly off-kilter rendition of ‘The Lord’s My Shepherd’.”

But how? I found myself asking. What exactly was it in Party Granny’s choir experience that made it such an uplifting, bonding experience? I decided to dig around and find some answers.

The first answer I found in my search was, of course, hormones. I say of course because I feel that I already knew that, mostly from singing along to the radio in the car. That feeling of a wonderful buzz of, well, what is it?

Endorphins. They’re the ones produced in the pituitary gland as a form of uplifting reward, making us feel on top of the world. They are usually released to stop us from feeling pain when, for example, we are running a marathon, providing a euphoric high not unlike opioids—in fact, the very term endorphin is made out of the words endogenous and morphine: a morphine made by naturally by the body.

Oxytocin is another hormone linked with singing. It lessens anxiety and enhances social bonding, making us feel at one with the world. But hold on a minute! Where have I heard that word oxytocin? Isn’t it the drug used to induce labor during childbirth?

Yes, that’s the one. It’s the hormone produced during labor and breastfeeding, which explains the social-bonding element: mothers need to bond with their babies. A number of scientific studies have found a rise in oxytocin in choristers’ saliva after singing, which might explain why choir members bond as easily as they do.

In contrast, Cortisol—the stress hormone—has been found to decrease with song. Every time we feel that fight or flight reaction, a surge of cortisol is produced, along with adrenaline, causing our body to stop everything and prepare for the fight. This, of course, is rather disastrous for all the other bodily processes, which have to wait until the cortisol wears off to get back to normal. Singing helps to take us out of fight or flight mode, letting our bodies get back to their usual business and making us feel a lot better along the way.

Odd as it may sound, another study found that, after group singing, the singers’ heartbeats become synchronized, like a type of guided group meditation. No wonder singing together makes us feel bonded.

“I thought it was about breathing, all that oxygen surging through our bodies,” Party Granny would ponder.

There is that, and the physical workout it gives your lungs, back, and posture.

So it’s not surprising that people who belong to choirs get a positivity boost. Studies in the UK and Australia have found that if you sing in a choir you are less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness. Having an hour or two focusing on a creative outlet is well known to be beneficial in reducing stress, and learning new songs and techniques gives the brain a good workout too.

The music itself can be uplifting too, the chords and soaring notes reminding us of life’s ups and downs, according to musical theorist David Teie. Beautiful choral music can bring us out of everyday problems and help us to feel the joy of being alive.

“We all had such a good laugh,” Party Granny told me. “We weren’t even good singers. It was all about cheering ourselves up. Showing everyone that whatever happened, bombs or death of a loved one overseas, we’d always be there, singing.”

And perhaps that is the unscientific part: that feeling that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves. Something big enough to help us through our own wars and heartbreaks.

About Jennifer Ryan

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Jennifer Ryan worked as an editor for nonfiction books in London, but once she had married and moved to Washington, DC, she began to write voraciously, and having taken time off work to have children, she found the space and time to write her first novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. It took five years of hearty researching, writing, and reworking, and Jennifer hopes that you enjoy reading it as much as she loved creating it.

You can follow Jennifer on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

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