Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Friend and author, Stephanie Cage.. .

Author, Stephanie Cage
...introduced her character, Jason Jackson-Jones to the world here on my blog in September. Her story, 'The Crash' is now being serialised on her blog and I thought you might like to catch up with him again...

SC  Hi, Jason, thanks for allowing me to visit you here at Triple-J.  What should we know about you?
JJJ  I’m Jason Jackson-Jones.  At school I got the nickname Triple-J, so when I started my own company, the name was an easy choice.  I own and manage Triple-J Autos, the most profitable car parts manufacturer in Sheffield.  I’m the president and a founder member of the Association of Car Parts Manufacturers.

SC  I guess you must be very proud of that achievement.  I see your membership certificate there, above your desk, and a photo of you being invested as president.  But all that is your professional biography.  What about the ‘real’ you?
JJJ  That is the real me.

SC  OK, I’ll rephrase the question.  What about your personal life? 
JJJ  I’m married and I live in the Peak District with my wife and teenaged daughter. 
SC  That’s it?
JJJ  That’s it.  I like to keep my private life private. 

SC  Okay, let’s get back to work, then.  You have been likened to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  What do you have to say to that?
JJJ  I take it as a compliment.  Scrooge was a practical man.  He was all about making money and that’s what a business is for.  Of course, he changed when those ghosts came along, but I don’t believe in the supernatural.  If you can’t see it, measure it and put a price tag on it, it doesn’t exist.  So don’t expect any changes around here. 

A view of the Peak District
SC  We’ll see about that.  I hear there’s a big change coming up at Triple J Autos.
JJJ  What do you mean?
SC  I’ve heard your PA, who’s been with you since you founded the company, just quit. 
JJJ  That’s hardly a big change.  Support staff are ten a penny.  I’ve already got a call in to the agency now for a new girl.  In fact, there’s the door buzzer now.  It might be her, or my new engineering manager.  No rest for the wicked.  I’d best get back to work now.  The receptionist will see you out. 

SC  Thanks for agreeing to see me today.  I know you’re a very busy man, but just before I go, do you have any comment on the other rumour?
JJJ  Which other rumour?
SC  The rumour that Triple-J has been cutting corners to save money and manufacturing substandard parts.
JJJ  Have you been talking to that evil journalist?  His entire purpose in life is to undermine legitimate business owners.  He’s just jealous of my success and wants to put a spanner in the works for me.  Let me say again, everything’s going on exactly as usual at Triple-J, and will be for a long time to come. 

SC  OK, Jason, you carry on believing that.  As author, of course, I know what’s coming for you, whereas you’ll just have to wait and find out, along with my readers, when ‘The Crash’ is released!

About the Author… Stephanie began writing at an early age, and her first published short story appeared in a local newspaper while she was studying for her A-Levels.  She earned a degree in English Literature from Oxford University and then gained experience as a business writer while working for a communications consultancy in Berkshire.  After studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she moved to Yorkshire, where she lives with her husband and a rather large collection of books.  She now works in business administration and writes mainly romantic fiction.  The Crash is a contemporary fable, inspired by Charles Dickens (as mentioned above), as well as the likes of Mitch Albom and Cecilia Ahern.
Follow Stephanie...   Stephanie Cage Author  Facebook  Stephanie's Blog  Twitter

And Stephanie will be making a return visit to my blog on March 21st, be there!

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Dogs and the Wolves'...

... by Irène Némirovsky

The story begins in the Jewish quarter of a city in the Ukraine in the early years of the twentieth century and then moves to Paris in the twenties and finally, to eastern Europe on the brink of war.

Ada Sinner is a small Jewish girl who is born into a poor family who are living in a ghetto and scratching an existence together by whatever means they can.  Ada’s mother is dead and when her Aunt comes to live with the family and brings her son Ben and daughter Lilla, Ada finds herself totally displaced in her own home.

It being Russia, these people are maligned and discriminated against and in trying to escape a pogrom and charging Cossacks on horseback in the streets Ada and her cousin Ben find their rich relatives house on the opposite side of town and are taken in.  The rich Sinners are snide and patronising and out of duty rather than genuine concern for their less fortunate cousins they clean up and feed the two children and then send them packing.  But Ada has now met her rich cousin Harry and begins the long and difficult quest to win him and marry him.

In Paris, Harry is now married to the daughter of a rick banker, Ada is married to her poor cousin Ben – it’s a marriage of convenience - and working as an artist.  Ben is working as an agent for the international bank that Harry will inherit from his elderly father and uncle.  Ada begins to draw Harry towards her and to come between him and his wife.  Ben sees what is happening and seeks his own revenge.

Avenue des Champs Élysées 
The title is interesting in that it echoes a French saying – entre chien et loup.  Translating literally to ‘between a dog and a wolf’ but meaning dusk – the time of half-light when it is difficult to distinguish between similar shapes.  In addition, dogs and wolves are from the same genus of animal, one domesticated the other not.  The Sinner family have two halves, the rich half and the poor.  There is no appropriate equivalent expression in English for ‘entre chien et loup’, unless you want to use ‘between a rock and a hard place’.  But, for me, that does not convey the underlying sinisterness of the French expression.  And that sinisterness is a theme that emanates throughout the whole story.  Nothing is quite what it seems and happiness is caught between the light and the dark.

Némirovsky’s own life was tragic. Born in Kiev in 1903 to reasonably wealthy parents, she and her family fled Russia at the end of the 1914/18 war.  Settling at first in Paris, she lived and worked as a writer.  ‘The Dogs and the Wolves’ was published in France in 1940, a few months before the occupation of the country and the subsequent creation of the Vichy government.  Occupied Paris was very different and Irène and her family moved to rural France.  She was subsequently interned and died in Auschwitz in 1942, along with so many others.  An incredible talent that was cut short way too soon.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

An interview with…

Gendarme Jacques Forêt from the village of Messandrierre.

AW  Hello Jacques and welcome to my blog.  Would you like to tell us a little about yourself and your family?
The Seine, central Paris
JF  There’s not that much to tell.  I was born in Paris.  My father worked at a large printing firm and my mother trained as a teacher.  I grew up in Paris with my sister Thérèse.  She’s married now and has two sons.  I joined the police in Paris and worked in investigation until I came to Messandrierre.

AW  So why did you leave your job in investigation in Paris?  Surely the pay must have been a lot better and why choose Messandrierre - it's a long way from home and very small?
JF  Yes, the village is a long way from home and I do miss my sister and the boys and papa.  I needed to recover from a serious injury.  Police work can be dangerous, you know, especially on some of the investigations I handled whilst in Paris.  It was Vuillard, my old boss, who suggested this area as a good place to work and Messandrierre needed a new policeman.  Everything just seemed to fit into place at the time.

AW  And how is the work here in comparison with Paris Jacques?
JF  Slow.  Very slow.  It's a very different kind of work, but there is less stress.  However, there is not quite so much enjoyment, in the same way that there used to be when I knew I had to resolve a complex case.

AW  And the serious injury you sustained.  Are you able to tell us anything about that?
JF  Not really.  It was a gunshot wound and I was on duty at the time, which is why I can't really say much about the circumstances.  The case still has not been fully resolved and there are no convictions yet.  Afterwards I needed some time to recuperate and it caused me to think very seriously about my role in investigation.

AW  It can’t have been easy coming from Paris to a tiny mountain village, Jacques.  How did you find the transition?
Lac Charpal
 JF  The villagers are very nice people…but it’s true, they all kept their distance to begin with.  I think, I hope, I haven’t made any enemies whilst I’ve been here because all I want is to do a good job and to keep everyone safe.  Yes, I have differences of opinion with some of the Farmers but that's it, really.  They have their faults.  We all do.  I think you have to take the time to get to know people and I know I have gained their trust now, but I think, deep down, I will always be the Policeman from Paris to them.

AW  You say you miss your family and your nephews…do you have any plans for a family of your own at some point in the future?
JF  Hmm...that’s a difficult question.  I would like to have someone to share my life with and I would like a son of my own…but…

AW  Are you saying there is no one in your life at the moment Jacques?
JF  Not exactly.  Just that it’s complicated.  I met Beth for the first time a year ago and I don't know if she will be back this summer or not.  But I hope so.

Eiffel Tower, Paris
AW  OK, my last question Jacques.  If you could bring one thing to Messandrierre from Paris what would it be?
JF  Le Tour Eiffel!!  It's a magnificent structure and when I was a child my papa told me that if I wanted to be a policeman I would have to grow as tall as the tower!  I haven't, of course, but I could see it in the distance from my bedroom window as I was growing up.

Thank you Jacques.  You can read more about Jacques’ life in the village in the novel ‘Messandrierre’, published by Crooked Cat Books and available as a paperback or in e-format using this link : http://authl.it/4ws

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Valentine’s Day…

… and I have some of my favourite romantic pieces for you…

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
W B Yeats

Love has had his way with me.
This my heart is torn and maimed
Since he took his play with me.
Cruel-well the bow-boy aimed,

Shot, and saw the feathered shaft
Dripping bright and bitter red.
He that shrugged his wings and laughed-
Better had he left me dead.
Dorothy Parker

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimmed;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
                                                                    Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
                                                                    Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade
                                                                   When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
                                                                   So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
                                                                   So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
                                                            William Shakespeare

Absent from you – absent from sight and sound – 
Clouds are but clouds and the ground is only ground;
Say you that birds yet sing? Or that the heart is boundless?
Mervyn Peake

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Please welcome author...

... Alison Morton to my blog today.  Thanks for being here, Alison and time is precious, so I'll get straight to the questions...

AW  Alison, tell me, what is your current release?
AM   INSURRECTIO is the fifth in my Roma Nova alternative thriller series which imagines that a tiny part of the Roman Empire survived into the modern era.  We go back to the early 1980s where the rivalry between two strong-willed characters, Aurelia Mitela and Caius Tellus, plays out as he launches his power grab.  Both characters have appeared in previous books, especially in AURELIA, essentially a crime novel which set up the rivalry.  However, I write all my books as standalones.  Nothing more annoying for readers than a cliffhanger!

Here's the blurb... Caius, a distinct bad hat, becomes the charismatic leader of a rising nationalist movement that threatens to destroy Roma Nova.  Aurelia, an ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor, attempts to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability.  But whether she can save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy is the question…

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
AM   I’ve written most of my life in one form or another: the first play at age seven, later, government papers, academic theses, corporate documentation, nine years editing a local magazine and my last twenty years in the UK as a business and legal translator.  But novel writing was triggered when watching a particularly bad film.  I whispered in the darkness to my husband, ‘I could do better than this.’  He replied, ‘Well, why don’t you?’
The Roma Nova stories had been bubbling away in my head for years – a combination of a lifelong fascination with all things Roman and a desire to write the adventures of a strong female hero.  All they had required to burst out onto paper was that trigger in 2009.

AW  You write alternative history thrillers.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
AM   A lot of research!  At the one extreme, alternative history can be plain silly; at the other serious counter-factual work.  I position Roma Nova very firmly at the historical end of the scale.  AURELIA, the fourth book, which I set in the late 1960s, was one of only four finalists in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award.
In alternative history, the historical timeline splits from the history we know and goes off in a different direction.  Well-developed backstory and thoroughly researched world building are essential.  The TV series The Man in the High Castle based on Philip K Dick’s story, is a recent example where this has been done well.  We know the ‘point of divergence’ from our timeline, the world is built in understated but clever detail and the characters are perfectly integrated in their sinister world.  To them it’s natural and for us completely plausible and credible.
Rome of the past...
For Roma Nova, the divergence was fifteen hundred years in the past in AD 395, a pivotal point when the last imperial edict banning all pagan religious practice was issued; the penalty was death.  This drove my pagan Romans to leave Italy and set up a secluded colony in the mountains.  Roma Novans passionately defended their core traditional cultural values like service to the state, the rule of law and the importance of trade and engineering throughout the centuries, but had to modify their social structure in the face of nececessity. In the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life.  Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s status and roles.  Today’s Roma Nova is an egalitarian society where women have the upper hand.  You can read the full story here.
The last known solid facts for me as a writer are those relating to Roman life in AD 395.  From that point on, I used historical logic coupled with a good general knowledge of European and world history to take the story of Roma Nova forward.
As well as the historical aspects, world building is crucial; how does that world sound and smell?  What does it look like?  What do its people do?  Who holds the power?  I wanted to keep many things in the alternative timeline similar to those in ours.  Hence I found myself researching everything from old technology like telex and fax, how to organise a coup d’etat, what people wore in the 1980s, the weapons and signals technology the armed forces would use and agricultural practice to name a few areas.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
AM   Yes, ‘dabble’ is the right word!  I find short stories quite challenging; distilling the essence to one or two characters with a single plot is difficult for a long-form writer who loves multiple twists and turns, multi-layers and a host of complex characters!  But I was highly commended once for a short story in Writing Magazine and last year asked to contribute to an alternative history anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down where I had a generous 5,000 words’ allowance!

Alison's writing 'shed'
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?
AM  When we moved to France, we converted part of our basement into an office and had the luxury of designing it from scratch.  My husband, Steve, and I have our own workstations along with printers, cupboards and even a writer’s sofa!

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?

AM Julian the Philosopher (called the Apostate), Roman emperor in the mid fourth century whose life was cut short when he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Samarra in AD 363.  Julian was a complex character living at a point of change in history: a successful military commander, theosophist, social reformer, and man of letters, the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. He wanted to bring the empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to, as he saw it, save it from dissolution.  Quite an inspiration for Roma Nova! I don’t think we’d run out of discussion topics…

About the author...A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation.  Armed with an MA in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.
Represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for overseas and ancillary rights.
Alison now lives in France with her husband, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine.
You can follow Alison using the links below
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying link for Alison’s latest book INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats):

INSURRECTIO book trailer: https://youtu.be/eXGslRLjv6g