Tuesday, 18 September 2018

William Golding...

...was born on September 19th in 1911.  As a writer he is a great favourite of mine and, this week - the 107th anniversary of his birth - seemed as good a time as any for me to celebrate his work...

Born in Cornwall, he served in the Navy and worked as a teacher before he became a full-time novelist and poet.  Say the name William Golding and everyone thinks of 'The Lord of the Flies'.  This book, perhaps his most well-known, was rejected 21 times before it was finally picked up and published in 1954.  It didn't sell particularly well, to begin with, either, but has now become a classic.  And yes, I've read it more than once, and have my own copy.  Alas, not a first edition - you can pay anything from £1,000 and upwards for one of those!  Mine is a much later and more affordable copy.
But it's one of his other works that I particularly want to mention today.  In 1967 Faber and Faber published 'The Pyramid'.  I came across my copy by accident, as I have a great deal of my collection of books.  As I was browsing through a second -hand bookshop in Ripon, the title caught my attention rather than the author.  I had recently returned from an extended trip to Egypt and the experience and the country were still very fresh in my mind.  When I looked inside I found this:

'If thou be among people make for thyself love, the beginning and end of the heart.'

It's from an ancient Egyptian text written by the vizier, Ptah-Hotep who lived during the 5th dynasty (around 4,500 years ago).  What struck me about the quote was how relevant it still was.  I bought the book, still not totally aware that the author was Golding.  It was a couple of years before I got round to reading it and I have recently re-read it.
Set in the fictitious and small town of Stilbourne, it is a story in three chapters.  Perhaps that should be three parts, as the different scenes are delineated within each part, but the narrative in each separate section remains continuous.  From a writer's perspective, the format is interesting.
The story surrounds a selection of characters in Stilbourne - a quiet place by an equally quiet and unsubstantial river. It is an acutely accurate presentation of life in a small town.  As the reader delves into the world of Oliver, the story becomes an interlacing and overlapping of the human dynamics between the inhabitants of Stilbourne.  The characters - from Miss Dawlish, the music teacher to Evie, the girl everyone wants, Ewan with his motorbike and Mr de Tracey the director for the Operatic society - are all wonderfully drawn and each mesmerising in their own,  and sometimes tragic, way.  And there's Stilbourne itself.  Not just a backdrop to contain the action and the characters, but an unobtrusive and beautifully presented character in its own right.
This story is sensitively told using elegant and flowing prose. The ending was unexpected and something that I was not prepared for.  An excellent read that I will pick up again and again.

William Golding died on June 19th, 1993.  His work includes not just his novels but his poetry - firsts of these are as rare as hen's teeth! - essays, a play and 'An Egyptian Journal'.  Look out for my review of his journal in a couple of months.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Finding a Place to Write...

 ...friend and author Tom Halford joins me today.  Thanks for being here, Tom, and tell us a little about how and where you write?

TH  Writing can happen anywhere at any time.
A person might not be physically writing something down, but they might be planning out a character arc or a plot twist.  It helps, however, to have a space specifically for writing.
Virginia Woolf famously wrote about this in “A Room of One’s Own.”  It would be fair to say that Woolf astutely argued for the importance of a physical room but also for intellectual room to value women writers.
Some writers have more than a room. I recently heard that famous Canadian author, Lawrence Hill, has his very own shed.
Some writers take it even further.  I’ve heard of authors who have their own writing cottages. 
I have had quite a few different writing spaces.  When I was a kid, I used to sit at my parents’ kitchen table and scribble into a notebook.  As I got older, my mom and dad bought me a leather-bound journal, which looked very professional.  I worked from my bedroom, and I probably envisioned myself as something equivalent to Ray Bradbury in the opening credits of The Ray Bradbury Theater.
When my wife and I lived in South Korea, I usually sat on the floor and worked at a coffee table that was purchased by the company we worked for.  From there, we went to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and I built my own coffee table to work from.  I had found scrap wood just outside of our apartment and screwed it all together into something resembling a desk.  It was a hunk of junk, but I still think about that desk.  It reminds me that if you want to write enough, then you’ll make space for it.
From St. John’s, we moved to Plattsburgh, New York.  My desk didn’t survive the move, but I found an old, plastic card table.  It was behind a door and it had an unidentifiable brown stain that I still haven’t been able to remove.  I unfolded that and got to work whenever I had free time.  That table has been good to me for roughly six years now.
I packed it up in the U-Haul when we left Plattsburgh to come back to Canada.  I have it set up in my basement just outside of the laundry room now.
I was once lucky enough to meet one of my favourite writers, Michael Winter.  He saw that I had one of those leather-bound books for journalling.  He pulled a couple of tiny, tattered pieces of notepaper from his pocket.  I think he’d gotten them from a bank machine.  He told me that was all I really needed.
I think he was right.  A physical space for writing is a clear advantage to those who have it, but the mental space and need to write is what I think keeps a writer working.

... about the book  Effie Pitts is not your typical hero of a crime novel.
Looking for her husband who disappeared during a bachelor trip across the border, Effie stumbles onto a hidden connection between a series of crimes plaguing the citizens of Plattsburgh, New York.
Tourists and shoppers have been disappearing for four years, and locals are certain a serial killer is prowling the streets of the small border town—that is until a mysterious cult known as The Pure White Hand surfaces.
Effie travels to the United States looking for answers, but she only finds more questions.
Where is her husband? Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

You can follow Tom on Amazon  Twitter  and on  Goodreads   

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Reality and imagination...

... working together...

Lac de Charpal
I'm often asked if the places in my books are real or not.  The straight and completely accurate answer to this question is both yes and no.  My response often prompts a look of confusion on the face of the questioner.  I've also noticed a few comments from reviewers too and I thought I would take this opportunity to clarify the matter. 
My village of Messandrierre and its inhabitants are entirely fictitious, as is the name.  To give the village something of a French feel I derived the name from that of a real village that sits some way north-west of the actual location that I use as the model for my imaginary place.  Messandrierre is based on the real village of Laubert in the Cévennes.  It's a place that I have visited many times over the years.  Using a real village that I know means that I can visualise where my characters are at any one moment as I'm writing the books.  It means that I can also call on my real experiences of the weather there - and it can be extreme at times - and recreate it as a backdrop for scenes in the stories.  However, the real village of Laubert didn't quite meet all of the needs of my plot for the first book.  So, I changed one or two things.  For example, I've moved and ruined the chateau.  I planted a dead oak at the side of the top road and I felled a few of the surrounding trees.  I also built Beth's hunting chalet and placed it in the location that I would have chosen for myself. 
 Notre Dame et St Privat Cathedral, Mende
The city of Mende features in both Messandrierre and Merle - the second book in the series. Mende is very much a real place as are the streets that I mention.  It's a very old city with a colourful history and one that I have written about before and you can read my musings Here.  The sister buildings of the Vaux Group... they only exist in my imagination, but I know exactly where on Boulevard Théophile Roussel they sit.  Just as I know precisely where Beth's photographic studio and shop is situated.  The suburb of Merle is a figment of my imagination but is roughly situated towards the north of the modern town.  Of course, the name Merle has some significance in its own right.  The word translates as blackbird and Jacques is considering buying an apartment in a newly built block called Hirondelle (Swallow). But Merle is also used as a girl's Christian name and was the surname of a Huguenot soldier called Capitaine Matthieu Merle.  Living in the 16th century, he was something of a tyrant!
Decorated house, Le Puy-en-Velay
In Merle, Jacques follows one suspect to the city of Le Puy-en-Velay.  A real place that I love to visit whenever I am in the area and there are a couple of detailed posts about the times I've spent there.  Again, it is a place with an amazing history, a fabulous city centre and an imposing geography.  You can read my thoughts Here.  
The third book in the series, Montbel, is due for release on November 13th.  It is a real and small village about 8 kilometres from Laubert.  The description of Jacques' route to Montbel is exactly the same journey I've taken many times.  It is a typical mountain village surrounded by high pastures and the description in the book is recalling the scenery as it was the last time I was there.  Although the location is real, the crime comes entirely from my own imagination.  The property that Jacques visits is imaginary and, as with Laubert, I've had to make some changes to the village to support the plot.  But telling you now what those changes are, would be giving the game away!

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

I'm reviewing No Place to Lay One's Head...

... by Françoise Frenkel and published by Pushkin Press

First published in France under the title Rien où poser sa tête by L'Arbalète Gallimard in 2015, this book has finally been translated into English and other languages.  And not before time in my view.  
This little tome has had something of a chequered history.  The very first edition appeared in Geneva and was published by J-H Jeheber in 1945.  There is only one known review of the book dating from 1946.  And when you take that into account, it is remarkable that this text is still available to us today.  Had it not been for a discovery of an original edition of the book at a flea market in Nice a few years ago, this little gem might never come to my, or anyone else's attention.
Françoise Frenkel, born in Poland in 1889, was of Jewish extraction.  She studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and, following her marriage, worked in Berlin as a bookseller.  She set up her shop in 1921 with the intention of selling only French literature, periodicals and newspapers to the ex-pat community.  Her small shop was remarkably successful, to begin with.  But as the politics within Germany changed through the 1930's, as the rise of Nazism began to take hold, her business and her own life came under threat.
She travelled to France in her search for safety, but under the occupation and the divisive Vichy regime, she found no real security.  This book, written when she finally made her escape to Switzerland, is an account of her life during France's darkest period of history - Les Années Noires.
It's a beautifully written journal, that leaves you in no doubt about the difficulties of living under the Nazi regime - the constant questions and interviews; the constant worry of what or who might be around the next corner; forever looking over ones shoulder and never being sure exactly who you can really trust.
I found the narrative compelling and I was swept along in the ebb and flow of emotion as Françoise recounted her experiences.  At times I had to stop and think and, on other occasions, her story brought tears to my eyes.  It's a gripping personal account and I am especially pleased that one copy was found in that flea market.

Françoise Frenkel died in 1975 in Nice.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

What Price Good Manners...

My brother James and me have recently returned from France.  Our journey home was mostly uneventful apart from one particular campsite where we had the dreadful misfortune to meet Mr and Mrs Insulting.
Let me explain.  Having arrived at this particular site, we were only staying the one night, Monsieur very kindly showed us where to park.  And, clearly having taken account of my delicate skin, he put us in a lovely shady spot under a large tree.  What a nice man!
Now the passports were in their usual place under the camping equipment so, after James had put up the tent, I had to trot down to the office to register properly.  As I got there I noticed that a campervan with English plates had arrived and that the occupants were inside the tiny room.  Naturally, having impeccable manners myself, I waited outside.  When their business was complete the couple emerged and I wished them a hearty 'good afternoon.'  For which I received nothing other than a look of disdain.  I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed that they had probably had a difficult journey.
My business completed I emerged from the office to hear Monsieur directing the new arrivals to their spot.
“You see the English car over there on your right, you can park on the far side of—”
“Oh, we don't want to be near the English,” said Mr Insulting.
Monsieur glanced at me and realised I had overheard.  He nodded to me and I began to walk back to the tent.
“You own a campervan,” said Monsieur. “I own a camping site. Let me decide.”
I had to agree with him. What a very nice man!  Back at the tent, I mentioned the incident to James.
A few moments later, when I was settled with my book under our lovely shady tree, I saw the campervan heading our way.  Mr Insulting pulled into the spot next to us.  Now, I can do disdain myself, exceptionally well, when I have to.  And this was one of those occasions, for which only the tent flap flip, delivered with complete and utter disdain will do.  I executed the move perfectly and returned to my book.
As Mr Insulting came round to where we were sat to plug in his electricity cable, James said, “You’ll be all right parked next to us.  We’re not English, we’re from Yorkshire. Just like you are.”
It was then that I looked at their number plate carefully.  
So, Mr and Mrs Insulting from Scarbrough, I hope your manners will have improved by the time you return to the UK.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Author and friend, Nancy Jardine, makes a welcome return...

... to the blog this week. Hello Nancy and thanks for being here and I believe you have some tips for us about writing using multiple points of view (POV)...

NJ  My first contemporary mystery, Monogamy Twist, was very basic – hero and heroine, with very minor secondary characters supporting the quirky Dickensian-style plot.  My first historical novel, The Beltane Choice, was similar though there were a couple of very strong secondary characters. However, in terms of POV across the novels there were only two each time. By the time I had gone through some gruelling rounds of edits for those two novels, I felt I had largely cracked the writing of different viewpoints.
Just after The Beltane Choice was published, a reviewer asked when the sequel would be published.  I was stunned! I hadn’t considered a sequel, or even a series for that matter.  However, I’d given secondary character Brennus of Garrigill a raw deal in The Beltane Choice.  He then became the focus of Books 2 and 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series since his story is a convoluted and fairly long one.  Across Books 2 and 3, Brennus is joined by two other main characters: fellow-Brigante Ineda; and an Ancient Roman officer named Gaius Livanus Valerius (Ineda’s captor).  Leila is a strong secondary character in Book 4, but I decided three POVs were enough to handle, so her part in the tale is told via the POV of Brennus.
As I wrote Books 2 and 3, I needed to come up with something that saved me from confusing the POVs.
Ø      One simple strategy was to use the common tactic of having one character’s POV last for a complete scene, or a complete chapter.
Ø      A second, and it’s probably not original – I used a different colour of font for each character throughout the typing of the manuscript.
Seeing each chapter in a particular colour also meant that when I minimised the pages to a 10% or 25% view, I could see how the balance of viewpoints was going across the whole story.
From that point forward, my manuscript writing life has been one of COLOUR. 
Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the series, is told across five different viewpoints. My Garrigill clan members Nith and Enya are balanced by the main character of General Agricola, Commander of the Roman legions.  Two other Garrigill clan members, Ruoridh and Beathan, play smaller though still main character roles.  I’ve used five different font colours in my manuscript which have hopefully kept me straight regarding the consistency of POV as I created the story.  I’m now eagerly awaiting editor feedback on how those five viewpoints have worked out.  Look out for Book 4 being published soon with Ocelot Press.
Book 5 is on the drawing table and will be the full story of Beathan.  He’ll be joined by other main characters, the number as yet, undecided.  What I can say is that Agricola will re-appear in Book 5, though his role will be less than in Book 4.  Those two will be joined by a mystery Garrigill clan member. Whatever the number of main characters, I’ll be using different font colours to keep my POV straight!
My POV tip is a simple one, but perhaps the readers of this post can suggest other useful techniques?

... about the author Nancy writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure.  Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland, an engrossing pre-history era because her research depends highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings.
A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.
She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband but life is never quiet or boring since her young grandchildren are her next-door neighbours.

You can follow Nancy on her Blog  her Website  Facebook  Time Travel Page  Twitter  and on  Goodreads   You can find her books Here


Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Please welcome, friend and author, Jane Bwye...

... who is Going It Alone with a new business-like approach.  Thanks for making time in your busy schedule to be here, Jane.  But I have to say I'm intrigued...

JB   Thank you for having me, Angela, and for providing me with food for thought.  You told me that when you got your first book contract, you “very stupidly” thought that was the end of the story.
AW  Hmm, that is so true.
JB   I, too, made that mistake, before feeling guilty for sitting back and savouring the moments instead of trying to show my appreciation to my publishers for investing their time and money in me.
For years I’d dreamed of having a book published.  For years I struggled to write one, learning as I went along. Writing a novel is very different from producing articles and short stories for magazines.  And after 72 rejections, I very nearly gave up.  Then I landed a contract with the Crooked Cats.  I don’t think we can blame ourselves too much for wanting to take a breather.
AW  No, you're probably right.  But, 72 rejections!  I would have given up!
JB   But now is the time to (temporarily) put aside our creative talents and focus on a new, business-like approach to life.  Completely out of our comfort zone.  It’s a whole new direction, but a vital move, if we want to do ourselves justice.
It’s not all that difficult once you decide to commit and learn to take one step at a time.  It’s never too late to learn.  And once you start, you will most likely realise that you have already taken some of those steps.
My latest challenge has been to change direction to non-fiction.
Going It Alone follows the basic structure of a simple business plan, applicable to any type of business, anywhere.  And because I love telling stories, it is illustrated with anecdotes taken from the experiences of my clients.
If we stick together, we authors will never feel alone, and if you read the book you will realise that we have a head-start on most run-of-the-mill businesses because we’re natural dreamers.  I show you how to “dream” in a business-like way at the beginning of the book.
I have been a business start-up mentor for the past fifteen years and I intend to practice what I preach when it comes to price:

Don’t Undersell Yourself!

However, advantage can be gained by making an introductory offer.

You can buy Going It Aone for £$0.99 if you pre-order the book by following this Amazon universal link:  Going It Alone

You are welcome to join in the online launch celebrations on Wednesday 15th August 2018; click Here to say you’re going.

...about that author  Jane Bwye lived for 55 years in Kenya.  She has been an intermittent free-lance journalist for most of her life and has written several books.  Her large family, scattered over three continents, are a good excuse for her to indulge in travelling.  A former teacher, and owner of several small businesses over the years, she works as a business mentor for small business start-ups.

You can follow Jane on her Amazon Author Page and on her  Website