Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Please welcome, author...

Lizbeth Meredith to my blog this week. Hello Lizbeth and thanks for giving up your valuable time to be here all the way from Anchorage, Alaska!  So, please tell me, what is your current release?

LM  Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters by She Writes Press is about my two year struggle to recover my internationally abducted daughters, taken from Anchorage Alaska to Thessaloniki, Greece, an effort that was fueled by the aftermath of my own childhood kidnapping. While the book is focused on the monumental effort that relied on the kindness of both friends and strangers across the globe, it also covers glimpses of my past as a child impacted by family violence and child kidnapping who promised to be a very different kind of mother one day, only to repeat the very patterns I had so despised being subjected to as a kid.  Pieces of Me also covers my daughters and my long journey to recovery to reach our Happily Enough Ever After.

AW  What first got you into writing and why?
LM  When I was a little girl, trying to shield myself from some of the chaos and shenanigans that were happening in my home, I would take paper outside and write tragic poetry while perched on my swing set.  In each poem, I died at the conclusion. J  But I found that if I wrote about what was happening, I viewed life as a story rather than something I wished would end.  It helped me detach enough to compartmentalize experiences and then be able to manage them.

AW You write nonfiction.  Do you also undertake research?
LM  I kept a journal when my girls were missing, and made voice recordings upon the girls’ recovery upon my arrival home so I’d have my details in order when writing the book.  Still, I was fortunate to have an amazing fact-checking editor, who caught errors when I described, for example, the population of Greece at the time my daughters were kidnapped.  She also helped me clarify legal matters better so the typical reader wouldn’t struggle to understand my story.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
LM  I’ve written a book of fiction that I’m presently revising.  I hope to complete a children’s book I’ve toiled over on and off for several years, and I’ve written essays, one that was published in the UK in an anthology A Girls Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson.

Kaladi Brothers Coffee Shop where Lizbeth writes
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
LM  Sadly, I do not have one of my own.  I live in a thimble-sized townhouse in Anchorage, Alaska. I drive up to my local coffee house and write there, sometimes for hours.  Kaladi Brothers Coffee is my shed.

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
LM  I’d love to meet with the songwriter Leonard Cohen and ask him about his incremental transformation in middle age to reach a period of contentment instead of chasing happiness.  I once saw an interview of him in which he spoke about reaching an acceptance of that gap between what he had always hoped for his life and what actually happened.  I was in a low-grade depression at the time, and his words resonated with me.

About the author...  L.A. Meredith LLC is a writer based in Alaska with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in psychology.  She has worked as a domestic violence advocate and a child abuse investigator, and with at-risk teens as a juvenile probation supervisor.
Her memoir, Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, published by She Writes Press in October, 2016, recounts Lizbeth’s struggle to bring home her internationally abducted daughters from Greece to Alaska.  It’s the story of a 29 year-old woman whose own life was marked by family violence and childhood kidnapping who then faced her own $100,000 problem on a $10 an hour budget.  It’s the story of the generous community in Anchorage, Alaska, and of a welcoming community in Greece who joined Lizbeth’s efforts to make the impossible a reality.

Lizbeth has published When Push Comes to Shove: How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused on Amazon, and is a contributor to A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson.

Follow Lizbeth...  Website  Twitter  Facebook

Buy link for  Pieces of Me

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Birth of a novel...

La Flèche
... Since being a teenager I’ve spent as much of my spare time in France as I possibly could.  This has meant that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the country and then some!

From, more or less, the same time I’ve always wanted to write.  I can recall – now with mortifying and cringing embarrassment – once telling an elderly aunt that I wanted to be the world’s next Shakespeare.  My only defence in making that incredibly rash statement was that I was very young at the time!  So, put those two things together and it seems to me that a novel about my most favourite place was on the cards long before I even consciously took up my quill – sorry, I mean biro - and made that very first brief note about an odd idea that had been circling my mind.

I’m often asked why I set my novel, Messandrierre, in France – there are many reasons.  The country is vast; geographically about 6 times the size of GB, but the population is similar.  There are some really remote places and the scenery is very varied and, in some instances, absolutely spectacular.  France also has a fascinating history, which is inextricably linked with ours.  Then there is the weather.  Need I mention the cuisine, the wine, and the culture?  But, above all, it’s a place where I always feel completely at ease and safe whenever I’m there.

Crossing the Col, September 2007
The very first idea for Messandrierre came whilst I was travelling in the Cévennes in September 2007.  Overnight the weather changed dramatically and the next morning the village where I was staying and the surrounding countryside where covered with snow, so I jotted down a note.  That note was scribbled on September 29th, 2007 if you want me to be precise and it was that white covering that kept my mind exercised until I had formulated the idea of using snow to cover someone’s misdeeds – and the first page of my story was born.

But then life got in the way and it was three years later, whilst I was staying in the Charente before I made any progress.  In the supermarket, I met a lovely couple who lived locally and who invited me for tea and cakes – and who can turn cakes down?  During the course of conversation, a single innocent remark stayed with me and kept circling at the back of my mind.  That was when I finally worked out who the body was, how the death had occurred, who the killers were and who my hero was going to be.  All of which meant a lot of scribbled notes.

It's hard not to be inspired by scenery like this!
The really hard work began at the end of 2013 when I started to actually write the story that had been haunting me.  Some 50 pages in and I realised I didn’t know enough about my central character, Gendarme Jacques Forêt.  I did my further thinking in the Cévennes, Aude and Hérault.  Jacques soon became a fully formed character in his own right along with the other villagers and my heroine, Beth.

Finishing the story was one thing, but getting published was the greatest surprise of all.  Since then I seem to have been propelled on a wind to who knows where and it’s kind of hard to believe, that one year later, I’ve got book 2 (Merle) almost finished and that I’m already making notes about, and jotting down specific phrases and sentences to use in, book 3 (Montbel).


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Please welcome author, journalist...

... and much, much more, Christina Hoag, to my blog today...

AW  Welcome Christina, and I can see that you are a very busy lady, so tell me, what is your current release?
CH   It’s called “Skin of Tattoos,” a noir thriller set in the gangland underbelly of Los Angeles.  It’s a crime novel that takes the reader inside the criminal world, in the manner of “The Queen of the South” by Arturo Perez Reverte or “The Cartel” by Don Winslow, or even Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather.”  Here’s the official blurb:

Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shot-caller in Mags’s absence.  Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment.  Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach.  Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice of everything – and everyone - he loves.

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
CH   I won a prize for “writing interesting stories” when I was six years old so I guess writing was always there.  It came out as soon as I literally learned how to put pen to paper.  I discovered journalism in high school so I knew that’s what I wanted to do as a career.  I’ve always been a voracious reader so that made me want to write books when I grew up.

AW  That's my kind of research, Christina!
AW  You write thriller novels.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
CH   I think there is some level of research in any genre of novel that mixes in with the imaginative stuff.  Often, research material is the fodder for the imagination, the seed, if you will.  Research is actually one of my favourite parts of the process and having the internet makes it so easy to look things up as you go along.  Reportage was the inspiration, for example, for "Skin of Tattoos."  I covered a lot of gang issues as a journalist, interviewing gang members and people who worked in that milieu, and ended up writing a nonfiction book about gang intervention, "Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence," as well as the novel.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
CH   I’ve written a bit of everything: numerous short stories, some poetry, creative nonfiction, two screenplays.  My career has been in journalism so I’ve written plenty of newspaper and magazine articles over the years.  I currently do a lot of corporate communications writing: speeches, press releases, blog posts, executive bios and such, which is a nice change of pace from fiction.  But I love writing novels, above all, presumably because that’s what I love to read. 

AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
CH   Alas, my garret is currently just a desk in my bedroom, located at the rear of my condo.  I write there because it’s quieter.  My goal is to one day have an official garret!

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
CH   I think it would be William Shakespeare.  I’m a Shakespeare nut.  Last summer I saw eight of his plays!  I find it astounding how many of our expressions in English come from his works.  I’d love to ask him about his creative process, his philosophy of life and human nature, and try to figure out the source of his marvelous, timeless wisdom, plus if he’s surprised how his works have endured for 400 years.
AW   And, as one Shakespeare nut to another, I would so like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation!  Please do let me know when you have that afternoon arranged, and thank you for being here today.

About the author... Christina Hoag is a journalist who’s been threatened by a death-row murderer, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, suspected of drug trafficking in Guyana, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, gunmen, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories.
Fluent in Spanish and French, Christina grew up as an expat around the world and has had four different accents in English. When she’s not travelling the globe, she can generally be found in Los Angeles.
About her books... Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” in her debut novel Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a gangland thriller.  Her YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice, 2016) was named Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA.  She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities.

You can follow Christina on her website http://www.christinahoag.com/
Buy link for her book  Skin of Tattoos

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

'Keeping On...

Cover from 'Keeping on Keeping On'
Keeping On' is the title of Alan Bennett's latest tome about life, theatre, diaries and film.  Read on for my thoughts on this book...

Last month I had the wonderful pleasure of hearing Alan Bennett read from his new book, speak about his writing and answer questions from an auditorium full of people.  Naturally, I bought the book – an early Christmas present to myself - and having that rather precious gem in my sticky little mitts, I could not stop myself from delving straight in.
It’s a very substantial book containing extracts from his diaries, pieces about his work in film and theatre, some musings, details from his day to day life and it is peppered with his incredible Yorkshire wit.  I was captivated – as I always am with his work – from the very first page.
Sitting in the playhouse in Leeds – where else would you expect to have an audience with Bennett, I ask myself – I listened intently as he read some pieces about trains and I was immediately back on that train from Kings Cross to Yorkshire with Mr Bennett in the seat immediately behind me. At the time, I was directing a production of his 1971-set play ‘Getting On’, which he describes himself as ‘not a good play (and far too wordy)’. Yep, agree with you on that point as I seem to recollect making some cuts myself.  However, the wordiness also provided me with the inspiration for my set.  The action takes place in the home of the central character, George, a ‘verbose Labour MP’ who hankers after ‘the style of the old middle-classes.’  As such George works in a place of words.  The play is about words and incorporates plays on words.  I created for my characters a house that bled words.  As Bennett says – this play is about class and style, but the story so wittily told!
In ‘Keeping On Keeping On’ Bennett also shares snippets from his time on set during the filming of ‘The History Boys’.  Understanding how he makes changes to his scripts and how he, the director and the other actors all work together is an absolute revelation to someone like me who has worked in theatre from being a child.  Yet again, this story is told with his usual turn of phrase and his impeccable sense of timing to juxtaposition apparently random thoughts with great aplomb and comedy.
A wordy poster for a wordy play!
As a surprise at the end of the book are two scripts ‘Denmark Hill’ and ‘The Hand of God.’  I didn’t recognise the titles so I was immediately intrigued when I found them.  According to Bennett both of these scripts are ‘casualties’ of his ‘own way of working’ and they both ended up being ‘put into a drawer’ whilst he ‘got on with something else’.  So there you have it, even one of our greatest living writers hides stuff in drawers.  As a bit of a scribbler myself, I happen to find that revelation particularly encouraging!
If you want a brilliantly observed and witty read, then you’ll enjoy this fabulous book, and, like 'Untold Stories', 'Writing Home' and 'The Uncommon Reader', I know that it won't sit on my bookshelf for long before I pick it up again and start re-reading it.
Oh, and if I had had the courage to turn round and talk to you on that train journey, Mr Bennett, I can honestly say that I would never have complimented you on your paintings!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year...

...... welcome to another year of blogging.  Read on to find out what's in store for you...

January brings the snows and the snowdrops and here on James et Moi you will be able to meet new authors and find out about newly published books.  There will also be reviews and author interviews.  The first post of the year will be on January 10.

February brings frozen lakes and rain and thaws, whilst March brings sharp winds and the first spring flowers.  On the blog you will be able to enjoy some strolls with me around the streets of Paris and perhaps a wander or two through some art galleries.

May and June will bring some sunshine and some great news - more of that later.  Following on from last year when I took Robert Louis Stevenson and you around the Cévennes, I will be strolling through Averyon with it's fabulous medieval villages and castles and old fortified towns, such as Villefranche du Rouergue. You can get the most delicious nougat here! 

In the summer and through to September I will be taking you to the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon with another author as our guide.  We will be travelling further afield too, perhaps to the Dordogne and maybe even to one of the best road races for classic cars in Europe - but we'll see!

Naturally, all of this will be accompanied by some fab photos. I hope you will be able to join me and that you will enjoy the journey!