An Interview with Jane Lythell, Author of Behind Her Back

Behind Her Back

It’s wonderful to have Jane Lythell back on Linda’s Book Bag today. Author of Behind Her Back, Jane previously wrote a fabulous guest post all about creating vivid settings when her previous book, The Woman of the Hour was published. You can read that post here.

Today I’m thrilled to be able to interview Jane about her writing.

Published by Head of Zeus on 10th August, Behind Her Back is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

Behind Her Back

Behind Her Back

Liz Lyon is a television producer and busy single mum to a teenage daughter. She works at StoryWorld, the UK’s favourite morning show. As both confidante and team leader, she is the person tasked with controlling the conflicts and tantrums that flare up off-air. Having just started dating again, she’s also having to deal with a few conflicts and tantrums at home…

Following a blissfully peaceful two-week holiday in Italy, Liz has returned to find a new colleague has joined the station. Lori Kerwell has been brought in to increase the show’s profitability. But Liz is not sure that’s the only thing on Lori’s agenda.

As Lori builds her power base with the bosses, Liz finds herself wondering what’s really going on behind her back…

An Interview with Jane Lythell

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jane. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Behind Her Back in particular. Firstly, can you tell me, why do you write?

That is such a big question. I was a passionate reader from quite young. I read my way through the fiction shelves of Sheringham library and writers were my heroes. At some point I realised I had stories I wanted to tell.

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

When I was seven or eight I wrote a story for my younger sister about Sally Dumpling, a fairy with curves. She lived in a yellow rose and polished the walls till they shone like gold and her best friend was a robin. My sister loved it! When I was older I wrote a few short stories. I knew I wanted to write but it took me an age to get down to the business of completing a novel.

(I love the sound of that early story!)

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

I write in the mornings and I write standing up. I’m a morning person and my brain seems to work so much better before one! I’ve rigged up a wooden tray on legs on top of my desk and this gets my laptop to the right height. I would recommend doing this. It works for me and makes me feel more alert.

(I’m going to try that as I write anything slumped over my desk.)

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Behind Her Back?

Liz Lyon the heroine faces work and home conflicts many of us can relate to. It’s about backstabbing colleagues at work and about a secret Liz has to keep which would result in a scandal if it got out. A new Head of Sales arrives at the TV station and she tries to undermine Liz at every turn. Meanwhile at home Liz has started to date again but her fifteen year old daughter deeply resents the new man in her life. So there is a lot of conflict which drives the story.

You’ve worked in television like Liz. To what extent do you agree with the advice to new authors to ‘write what you know’?

I don’t think you have to do this literally. What I think this means is write about the emotional truth of your experiences. You can put your characters into a completely fictional environment and let them act out your own emotional history.  But certainly in Behind Her Back I have drawn on a world I know very well as I worked at TV-am and later WestCountry TV. Both places offered a lot of colourful material to draw on.

How far, then, is it your intention in your writing to uncover the world of television and how far simply to write a great story?

Always to tell the story first and foremost because that is what keeps me, as a reader, turning the pages. I also have to believe in the characters and care for at least one of them so I enjoy creating characters and trying to portray them as rounded, flawed and authentic as possible.

You belong to a group of authors called The Prime Writers. How has belonging to that group impacted on you as a writer?

It’s great for moral support and encouragement. We have a private Facebook page and it’s a place to go to share our highs and our lows. I’ve made some good friends in the group and would recommend joining a group of people doing the same work as you.  I am sure as bloggers that you will have such a forum.

(Yes indeed we do.)

You write very visually. How do you go about creating setting in your writing?

I do see things very visually before I write them down. For example I had to know what Liz’s flat looks like – French doors into a courtyard garden, squashy yellow sofa; what colours she likes to wear – all shades of red; what the TV studio looks like. For the StoryWorld TV station I made a rough sketch to get the geography of the offices and dressing rooms right.

In my novel After The Storm I had a head start because I’d sailed the route I describe and I’d taken lots of pictures which were so useful.

BRIGHT After The Storm cover

In Behind Her Back Liz is quite feisty. How did you create her as a character in advance of writing the novel?

What I do is I create a sheet for my main characters and think about what food, clothes and music they would like. What is their greatest fear and the worst thing that has happened to them? Even if not all of this makes its way into the book it helps the characters to live in my mind. With Liz Lyon I wanted to create a strong and capable woman who is also subject to guilt and self-doubt. Liz is divorced and worries about being a working mum with a full-on job. But she is feisty too. She will fight back when attacked and I particularly enjoyed writing those scenes. I wanted to reveal how Liz reacted under pressure because that is when a sense of a character emerges most strongly.

If you could choose to be a character from Behind Her Back, who would you be and why?

I would have to be Liz Lyon because I worked as a television producer and always said that I would far rather work behind the camera rather than in front of it. People often think it’s glamourous to be a presenter but in my experience presenters are insecure and need constant reassurance. I would not like to be in their shoes.

That’s interesting because in many of your books there is a contrast between the image people present to the world and the truth underneath. How far do you think this is part of the human condition?

There is always that split I think. We are social creatures and know that in our interactions we need to be diplomatic and make compromises, but I’m sure most of us sometimes carry on a different conversation in our heads. First person is particularly effective with characters who don’t or can’t say what they mean, characters whose inner voice is different from their outer behaviour.​ This is certainly the case with Liz who has to bite back words a lot.

If Behind Her Back became a film, who would you like to play Liz and why would you choose them?

Suranne-Jones-as-DC-Rache-008

I think Suranne Jones would be perfect as Liz as she has the right mix of strength and contained emotion. Liz is controlled at work and emotional at home and Suranne Jones would do this very well.

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

All kinds of things. I have just started Watership Down by Richard Adams because I have never read it. My favourite novel is Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News. I love John le Carre’s and Charles Cumming’s espionage novels. Funnily enough I rarely read psychological thrillers even though I wrote two.

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

A relateable heroine battling big egos, conflicts and betrayals at work and trouble at home!

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

About Jane Lythell

13 Oct 2014 Author pic

Jane lives in Brighton, UK and is a sea-lover, star gazer, film and football fan.She worked as a television producer for fifteen years. Jane then moved to the British Film Institute as Deputy Director, did one year as Chief Executive of BAFTA (miserable) followed by seven years at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (interesting). Jane now writes full time.

You can follow Jane on Twitter and find her on Facebook. She also has a blog.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Behind Her Back Blog Tour

All About Eve: A Guest Post by Kate Fitzroy, Author of the Wine Dark Mysteries

A fine racy wine

It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Kate Fitzroy to Linda’s Book Bag. Kate has six books in her Wine Dark Mysteries series and I was interested to find out how she had created and sustained her protagonist, Eve, through the series. I’m delighted Kate has agreed to tell me more today.

A Fine Racy Wine, the sixth book in the Wine Dark Mysteries, is available for purchase with all Kate’s books here.

A Fine Racy Wine

A fine racy wine

In the heart of the quiet county of Suffolk, there is a Tudor manor house surrounded by a well-manicured, leafy vineyard. Perfect? Is life there as good as it first appears?

Then, on the very border of this gentle county, lies the racy town of Newmarket. Here life is always on the edge. Jockeys, trainers, owners and punters all sharing the thrills and spills of the race course.

When Eve Sinclair, wine critic and TV celebrity, travels with Adam and Bernard to write the final chapter in her book she hopes to make it a quick visit… she hopes but then… is that love that is smouldering in the damp Suffolk air?

All About Eve

A Guest Post by Kate Fitzroy

When I decided to move genre from thrilling romance to romantic thriller, I was determined to create a heroine that was not too syrupy. I decided that Eve should walk along the tough path of riches to rags.  She is a reverse Cinderella, a spoilt young woman who meets her comeuppance even before the story really begins. I nearly named her Ella, but then decided on Eve, as she falls out of the paradise of an ideal life in her Provençal villa.

I wanted her to be strong enough to hide her vulnerability and to be likeable to the point where my ideal reader would identify with her.  Selfish and yet, in extremis, loving and caring. Educated to a ridiculous level of uselessness with her Master’s degree in English literature and a tendency to while away her time writing obscure poetry under an olive tree in Provence… until reality strikes. Vaguely arrogant and yet scared of falling in love but by Wine Dark Mystery Book 6… is it inevitable? The next title may tell all… or maybe not. Friends tell me that Eve is my alter-ego but I don’t agree… she  is merely a fig-leaf of my imagination.

About Kate Fitzroy

Kate Fitzroy

Kate Fitzroy has two lives. One in a flinty Victorian cottage in Newmarket, where she awakes to the clatter of horses’ hooves as strings of racehorses pass early each morning. Kate’s other life is played out in a Napoleonic manor set in a sleepy village amongst the vineyards of the Loire valley.
Her life has not always been so blissful. Widowed at the age of twenty-one, already with two children to love and protect, she fought her way up as hard a path as any of her heroines. Now happily married and surrounded by a large, loving family, Kate enjoys every moment of every day… CARPE DIEM… TEMPUS FUGIT…. or should that be CARPE MOMENTUM?

You can follow Kate on Twitter @KATEFITZROY36 and find her on Facebook.

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

stella bain

I rather ashamedly have to confess that I haven’t read an Anita Shreve book before so I’m grateful to the members of my U3A reading group for choosing The Lives of Stella Bain this month.

The Lives of Stella Bain is published by Abacus, part of the Little Brown Group, and is available for purchase here.

The Lives of Stella Bain

stella bain

Hauled in a cart to a field hospital in northern France in March 1916, an American woman wakes from unconsciousness to the smell of gas gangrene, the sounds of men in pain, and an almost complete loss of memory: she knows only that she can drive an ambulance, she can draw, and her name is Stella Bain.

A stateless woman in a lawless country, Stella embarks on a journey to reconstruct her life. Suffering an agonising and inexplicable array of symptoms, she finds her way to London. There, Dr August Bridge, a cranial surgeon turned psychologist, is drawn to tracking her amnesia to its source. What brutality was she fleeing when she left the tranquil seclusion of a New England college campus to serve on the Front; for what crime did she need to atone – and whom did she leave behind?

Vivid, intense and gripping, packed with secrets and revelations, The Lives of Stella Bain is at once a ravishing love story and an intense psychological mystery.

My Review of The Lives of Stella Bain

I can’t believe that The Lives of Stella Bain is my first Anita Shreve book and I can’t wait to delve into more of her writing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the sense of mystery in the early part of the novel when Stella is trying to regain her identity. I found her initial reason for fleeing to France an interesting premise for the novel and although I didn’t find her actions, because of her feelings of guilt, entirely convincing, I found the event that precipitated her being in France very effective.

I’m always fascinated by the setting of the First World War but, whilst I am thoroughly aware of the devastating effects it had on young men, I am ashamed that I have never really thought too much about the effects on the women working there too. This was a compelling and thought provoking element to The Lives of Stella Bain and I enjoyed this first part of the novel particularly because I was educated as well as entertained as I read.

Usually preferring a novel with a linear time scale, I actually loved the structure of The Lives of Stella Bain and the uncovering of the mystery surrounding Stella. Anita Shreve has magnificent insight into the human psyche so that Stella, as she is initially known, is a compelling, human and believable woman. I thought all the characters were engaging and I enjoyed the way in which the novel ultimately resolves itself around them.

As well as being well written and entertaining with some wonderful descriptions that give a dramatic sense of place, I thought The Lives of Stella Bain had great depth too. Anita Shreve considers the place of women in marriage and society, the role of motherhood and who judges (literally in this case) what it means to be a woman and mother. She raises the questions of identity and self, and of love and hatred, so that I was made thankful for the life and love I have.

The Lives of Stella Bain may be my first Anita Shreve read but it most certainly won’t be my last. It’s a highly appealing story.

About Anita Shreve

Anita shreve

Anita Shreve is the acclaimed author of seventeen novels, including Rescue, A Change in Altitude, Testimony, and The Pilot’s Wife, which was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. Her latest book is The Stars Are Fire. Anita first began writing when working as a high school teacher. She lives in Massachusetts.

You can find Anita on Facebook and visit her website.

Just Where You Left It… and other poems by David Roche

Just Where You Left it

I don’t read and review enough poetry so when a copy of Just Where You Left It by David Roche dropped into my inbox unexpectedly, I thought I’d dip in straight away.

Published by Unbound on 24th August 2017, Just Where You Left It is available for purchase here.

Just Where You Left It

Just Where You Left it

Just Where You Left It is a collection of humorous poetry about how to survive school, parents and everything else that’s unfair in life.

From David Roche come these simple and charming rhymes designed to make parents and children alike fall in love with poetry again… or maybe for the first time. It all started with a poem about the agony of poetry recitation, written by David for his son.

In fact, all of these poems were written for his three sons, touching on everything they might encounter growing up: exams, school meals, bullying, sports days, embarrassing Dads and nagging and know-it-all Mums were fair game.

These are poems for parents, poems for children and poems for parents to read to their children, offering a witty and charming take on life for every stage of growing up. If you grew up in a world of Ogden Nash and Shel Silverstein, then this is the book for you.

My Review of Just Where You Left It

If at first you don’t succeed keep trying until you win your children’s school poetry reciting competition. Family life laid bare through rhyme!

I’m going to begin by saying that I am not normally a fan of adult rhyming poetry. However, in Just Where You Left It David Roche has produced a wry and witty insight into family life with our reliance on social media, wifi and emojis, and with familiar anxiety dreams, holidays, food and so on.

Before commenting on the poetry, I must just mention the brilliant illustrations from Dave Cormell at the start of each poem. They made me smile before I’d even read the humour in the verses themselves.

Some of the rhymes in Just Where You Left It are almost tortuous at times, adding to the charm of the poems – especially in We Have Ways of Making You Eat where I really enjoyed the homage to Churchill.

My favourite poem was The Poetry Recitation as it took me back to the days of performing at Oundle music and drama festival when I stumbled my way through the Ducks’ Ditty from Wind in the Willows as a nervous 8 year old. It also reminded me of poems I’ve loved and not revisited for far too long. There are many social, historical, literary and political references peppered throughout the collection which adds an extra layer of enjoyment.

I was less keen on Thank You, Baby Boomers as it made me feel quite guilty, being of a certain age! It also made me think and ponder whether David Roche was right in the messages the poem contains.

I think Just Where You Left It will appeal to slightly older readers (like me), more than to youthful ones, as we can all remember the kinds of experiences described and can read this collection with a fond nostalgia that transports us back to our youth. The poems are great fun, highy entertaining and if nothing else, I recommend you follow the advice in The Best Advice!

About David Roche

david roche

David Roche was born in London, got a faintly grubby degree in Psychology at Durham University, and then got married far too young. He has been married for 30 years to his Finnish wife and they have 3 sons in their twenties. David has worked, for what seems to him an inordinately long time, as a director of HMV, Waterstones, Borders, Books etc, and also in publishing at HarperCollins. He now lives in Kingston upon Thames and has several roles related to books and writing. This is his first book.

You can follow David on Twitter.

Celebrating Non-fiction Books with Karen Williams, Author of Book Marketing Made Simple

Bookmarketing made simple

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to attend an event of bloggers, publishers editors and other bookish folk held by Bookollective. One of the people I met and chatted to was Karen Williams, author of Book Marketing Made Simple, from Librotas whose enthusiasm for supporting authors shone through to the extent that I had to invite her on to Linda’s Books Bag to tell me about her passion for non-fiction.

Book Marketing Made Simple is available for purchase through the following links.

Book Marketing Made Simple

Bookmarketing made simple

There has never been a better time for coaches, consultants, and therapists to write and publish a business book. With a great idea, a clear strategy, and a well-formed marketing plan, your book will help you to build your business and attract more clients.

Your book may be a manual, textbook, how-to guide, self-help book, anthology, parable, memoir, or any type of book that you hope will be a marketing tool and credibility builder.

In Book Marketing Made Simple, you’ll get easy to follow strategies to market your book at all stages of your journey – from the day you start to write a book until after your book launch.

Celebrating non-fiction books

A Guest Post by Karen Williams

When was the last time you picked up a self-help guide, business book or memoir? Or indeed any non-fiction book.

Although we all love a good story and a bit of escapism, there’s certainly merit in learning from the experiences and knowledge of others. In a world where fiction outsells non-fiction, go into any good bookshop, and you’ll see a range of non-fiction books on sale to motivate and educate readers.

So why are non-fiction books becoming more popular?

Many business experts and celebrities write in the non-fiction arena. To get noticed in this fast-paced and competitive world, writing a good book enables them to stand out from the crowd. A book is a great way for them to inspire others, build their community, and develop their credibility and expert status.

Many authors use their personal experiences to inspire their readers and provide practical advice. They can reach more people in this way, rather than simply replying on their website or social media presence.

Some readers will find that a good non-fiction book can help them when they’re going through a trauma or difficulty. For example, one of my clients, Emma Heptonstall, is the author of How To Be a Lady Who Leaves, a self-help book aimed towards women who are considering getting divorced. Emma’s book gives them valuable advice to help them to make the decision to stay or go, and then guidance on what to do next. This is an easy purchase for those who want help and are unsure where to go for this support.

how to be a lady who leaves

Real life stories will often support this learning. One client is sharing her experiences of her father who went through gender reassignment to become a woman 30 years ago, and the impact it had on her and her family. Another client is writing a book to support childless women, and a third is using her book to help those who have gone through cancer. They are all using stories to give hope to those going through similar experiences.

In addition, many people seek out non-fiction books to help with their learning and development. My clients are currently writing on a wide range of topics including visualisation, time management, retirement, confidence, happiness, raw food, and business.

An example of this is Kevin Stansfield, who has recently published The Big DipperHow to Survive the Rollercoaster Ride of Business Ownership,which is loosely based on his father’s story of buying a business off a guy in a bar. Parable in style, he shares the story in the book, interspersed with lessons that will inspire and educate small business owners.

The Big Dipper

One of the reasons why non-fiction books are becoming more common is that the publishing industry is changing. With the rising trend in self-publishing and hybrid or partnership publishing, it’s easier than ever before to write a book and get published. The downside is that anyone can say they’re a published author and this can impact on the quality of some books on the market.

That’s why I work with non-fiction authors who have a passion to share their experiences, stories and learning to make a bigger difference with their knowledge. As the author of five non-fiction business books myself, including my personal memoir, I know the value of supporting these authors to create a valuable, helpful, and marketable product that impacts positively on the lives of readers.

About Karen Williams

karen williams

Karen Williams is the Book Mentor at Librotas. She works with business experts who want to write and publish a book that grows their business, raises their credibility and attracts higher-paying clients.  She is the bestselling author of Book Marketing Made Simple, The Mouse That Roars, Your Book is the HookHow to Stand Out in Your Business and The Secrets of Successful Coaches.

Karen loves to speak, and she does some crazy stuff too like jumping out of planes and helping people to walk on hot coals too!

Find out more by following Karen on Twitter @librotas and on the Librotas website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

A Message From The Other Side by Moira Forsyth

a message from the other side

I was delighted to be asked by Sandstone Press to be part of the launch celebrations for A Message from the Other Side by Moira Forsyth. Moira has agreed to write for Linda’s Book Bag about a message she’d like to receive from the other side and in the spirit of collaboration, I’m writing a short piece too alongside my review.

A Message from the Other Side was published by Sandstone Press on 20th July 2017 and is available for purchase here.

A Message from the Other Side

a message from the other side

When Catherine moves several hundred miles away from her sister, Helen says phone calls aren’t enough, but they make it easier to edit the truth. Helen can dismiss Gilbert and his enchanted Factory as weird when she’s never met him, and Catherine thinks Helen foolish for loving the unreliable and dangerous Joe. Neither sees the perils concealed in what they have not told each other, or guesses at the sinister connection between their separate lives.

A Message from the Other Side is a novel about love and marriage, but even more about hatred and the damage people do to each other in the most ordinary of families.

The Message I Want to Hear

A Guest Post by Moira Forsyth

I didn’t always have an easy relationship with my mother. She grew up in a farming community in the North East of Scotland, at a time when it was the boy in the family who was educated. My uncle became an architect; my aunt and mother learned shorthand typing and became secretaries. When my sister and I were born, my mother stayed at home to look after us. She said she always loved doing that, but she knew she had missed out. If she had been given the chance, she said, she would have been a lawyer. She also wrote stories, quietly, never sending them anywhere.

For my sister and me, there was no choice: we were bound for university. When I muttered something about Art School, that was swept aside. University. A degree. Then, she anticipated, I’d be a teacher. I got my degree, but I didn’t want to be a teacher. I was going to write. For ten years I moved from job to job, none of them paying well or providing me with much satisfaction, while I wrote several unpublished novels. When I had my son, I felt for the first time wholly approved of. ‘He’s beautiful, Moira,’ she said. Of course he was, and so was my daughter, two years later. For a long time, my mother and I got on very well.

I was not so popular when my marriage broke up. Divorce was not what people did, in my family. In the end, after a difficult few months, we talked, properly, for the first time for years. We became close, and when she grew frail in old age, I felt enormous pity and love, that someone so bright and clever, so quick in her thinking, had lost the ability to think coherently at all.

After her death, she still seemed near. I wondered what message she had for me ― that there was something, I was sure.

My daughter now has a sixth month old son of her own. She’s rather like her grandmother, knowledgeable, intelligent and intuitive. Yet all through these early baby months she has asked my advice, because she’s in uncharted territory, and as anxious as I was more than thirty years ago, to do her best. I want to advise her and say the right thing, but hesitate. If only I could ask my own mother! I’d say, what do you think? You always knew what to do. Whatever was wrong with the children: a crying baby, a rash, a fever, a niggling worry ― you knew the answer and could reassure. Whereas I feel I’m making up being a granny just as I made up being a mother. I desperately want to be good at both – to be as good as you were.

So I want that last message from you, I want to know how you knew so much, and were so wise. And I want to know – how am I doing? Am I good enough?

(I’m sure you are Moira.)

My Own Message I Want to Hear

I’ve had these questions in my mind for as long as I can remember, so today I’m going to ask my Grandfather for some answers. Here goes:

Although I never met you, as you died when my mother was 16, there is so much I want to know. I’m going to keep this simple and just list my questions to you.

What had been happening in the past that meant you married again six weeks after my grandmother died as a result giving birth to my Mum?

Why did you parcel Mum out as a 12 week old baby to live with relatives and not keep her and her siblings?

Why didn’t Mum know she was fostered and that her Mum and Dad were really her aunt and uncle until she was 8?

What happened to your son, the brother Mum never knew?

Are you aware of the impact your actions have had in making Mum insecure for the whole of her life?

I hope so.

My Review of A Message From The Other Side

Very different sisters Catherine and Helen have more in common than they might imagine, including men.

Initially I didn’t understand A Message From The Other Side at all. I wasn’t sure where it was headed and why it was going to be divided into the time frames it has. It puzzled me.

However, as I realised that A Message From The Other Side isn’t a psychological thriller or a supernatural read or women’s fiction where I was trying to place it, but rather a narrative that explores relationships in exquisite detail I understood what Moira Forsyth was doing and loved the read. I moved from being uncomfortably puzzled to intrigued and ensnared.

This is character driven writing at its best. I absolutely loathed Kenneth throughout, regardless of any redeeming features he has, or actions he makes. He repulsed me completely both physically and emotionally. And yet he’s just human. This is what is so skilled about Moira Forsyth’s writing. She doesn’t make judgements but she presents her characters in such a way that it is impossible not to respond as a reader. I would have loved to have met Hugh and found Catherine and Helen flawed, foolish and utterly understandable. I railed at both Helen and Catherine for their relationships with Kenneth and Joe. Reading A Message From The Other Side made me quite uncomfortable too as I have a horrible feeling I would have a very snobbish and condescending view of Rose were I to meet her.

Moira Forsyth presents relationships and all their complications in intense, beautifully written prose. I found an underlying sadness behind the writing as Moira Forsyth explores how half truths and omissions can affect our lives. There’s a pared down plot so that even though there is a mystery surrounding Catherine’s seeing dead people from the beginning of the book, this isn’t the roller coaster read some might expect. It is, however, an emotional exploration of humanity, of loneliness, love, fear hatred and the glorious intricacies of relationships.

About Moira Forsyth

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Moira Forsyth is the author of four novels, and a published poet and short story writer. She has been a registrar of births, deaths and marriages, sold hotels and catering properties, been a bookshop manager, a lecturer and schoolteacher, and taught in a Young Offenders’ Institution. Moira is now an editor, and has worked on a wide range of fiction and non-fiction books. Moira has two grown-up children (non-resident), two cats (resident), and lives in the Highlands of Scotland.

You can follow Moira on Twitter.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

poster

Mussoorie, A Guest Post by Merryn Glover, Author of A House Called Askival

Askival paperback

Although I’ve travelled the world from Antarctica and Australia to Zanzibar and Zambia I am desperate to visit India, so I’m thrilled that, until my planned trip next year, I can visit vicariously through a fabulous guest post by Merryn Glover, author of A House Called Askival. Merryn writes so evocatively about Mussoorie that I’m there already!

Published by Freight, A House Called Askival is available for purchase here.

A House Called Askival

Askival paperback

James Connor is a man who, burdened with guilt following a tragic event in his youth, has dedicated his life to serving India. Ruth Connor is his estranged daughter who, as a teenager, always knew she came second to her parents’ missionary vocation and rebelled, with equally tragic consequences.

After 24 years away, Ruth finally returns to Askival, the family home in Mussoorie, a remote hill station in the Northern State of Uttarakhand, to tend to her dying father. There she must face the past and confront her own burden of guilt if she is to cross the chasm that has grown between them.

In this extraordinary and assured debut, Merryn Glover draws on her own upbringing as a child of missionary parents in Uttarakhand to create this sensitive, complex, moving and epic journey through the sights, sounds and often violent history of India from Partition to the present day.

Mussoorie

A Guest Post by Merry Glover

When I decided it was time to fulfil a life-long dream and write my first novel, I knew immediately where I wanted it set: Mussoorie, a hill-station in the Himalayan foothills of North India.  It was where I attended boarding school for nine years, becoming a significant home base that I still visit whenever I can.  Quite apart from my own history, it is story gold.

Askival Site

Askival Site

Scattered across a steep range at roughly 7000 feet, the busy town started life as a handful of shepherds’ huts in deep forest.  During the British Raj, that hill area was seized by the feisty warriors of Nepal, triggering the Gurkha wars that saw the British in the undignified position of needing a large army and several canons to defeat a far smaller force with little more than knives, superior mountain skills and their legendary courage.  The upshot was that the Gurkhas returned the land, resisted colonisation and won everlasting respect, being recruited into the British army to this day.  The military men who led the victory were given land on the ridge for hunting lodges and thus, in the 1820s, the hill station of Mussoorie was born.

Hill stations developed across India because the high altitudes gave the British an escape from the heat, mosquitoes, crowds and diseases of the plains.  They were ideal locations for hospitals, boarding schools and military cantonments and even the whole government of British India, which moved to Simla every summer.  And they rapidly became popular holiday destinations, swelling during ‘The Season’ and filling the growing number of hotels, cinemas, ballrooms, shops and skating rinks that sprung up on the steep slopes.  At their height, hill-stations teemed with the serried ranks of the Raj, taking tea on their balconies, cavorting at themed dances or parading down the Mall, often in hand-drawn rikshaws.  What’s more, with deep forests, cool air, rain and mist, the hill stations were rather like home and nostalgia abounded.  Houses were named Scotsburn and Tipperary, Strawberry Cottage and Ivy Bank, and in Mussoorie, a whole string were named after Sir Walter Scott novels: Waverley, Ivanhoe, Kenilworth and Woodstock, which became my boarding school.

Like much of British India at the time, it was a largely segregated world, with only Maharajas and their ilk getting a foot-hold on the social and property ladders, while most Indians serviced the enterprise.  All of this was upended with the coming of Independence in August 1947 and the departure of the colonial powers.  Since then, Mussoorie has grown and changed and is now as popular with the new Indian middle-classes as it was with the British, though it still carries many vestiges of the Raj in the stone bungalows, the boarding schools, the cemeteries and old shops, and in the quaint traditions still fiercely upheld by older residents, ex-pat and Indian alike.  I love discovering remnants of this bygone world: the crumbling grandeur of the Savoy Hotel where a moth-eaten stag glares from one glass eye; an antique shop creaking with Willow-pattern china and rusting snuff boxes; a collection of sepia photographs of ladies in sedan chairs and moustachioed gents trussed up as Egyptians.

mussoorie in snow x

Mussoorie in Snow

But what has never changed about Mussoorie is its beauty.  Looking south from the hillside, you can see the Dehra Dun plain with the Ganga and Jamuna rivers curving across it like serpents, and looking north, you might see the Himalayas in their jagged splendour.  On the hills themselves, the protected forests are cathedrals of life, full of fragrance, wildflowers and small creatures, threaded with the sounds of birds and the wind through pines; and this high up, the air is clear, the sunsets vivid and the nights rich with stars.  In the monsoon – a season that inhabits my novel like another character – moss and ferns spring from the ground and tree trunks, and mist moves across the ridges like a brooding spirit.

All of this beauty and history are the stage for A House Called Askival, an epic story spanning 70 years from pre-Independence to the new millennium, through the lives of an American family who, like me, are deeply bonded to Mussoorie and forever changed by it.

(And doesn’t that post make me want to get on the plane to India even more!)

About Merryn Glover

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Australian by passport, Merryn Glover was born in a former palace in Kathmandu and brought up in Nepal, India and Pakistan.  Her writing has won awards and been published in anthologies, magazines and newspapers and her fiction and drama broadcast on Radio Scotland and Radio 4.  A House Called Askival is her first novel and she is currently working on a second, set where she lives in the Highlands of Scotland.  Two days a week she works in a high school library where she works hard to get young people and books together.  Much of her writing explores themes of culture, identity, belief and belonging.

You can find out more about Merryn on her website, on Facebook, on Goodreads and by following her on Twitter @MerrynGlover.