Tuesday, 28 March 2017

A Spring Wedding in...

 …Moscow.  The spring flowers are in full bloom and showing off their brightly coloured petals in the rockery and across my garden and I am always reminded of Moscow...

Basilica, Red Square, Moscow
I was there at the beginning of March for a wedding and I remember there being daffoldil yellow and crocus mauve flags hanging from every available lampost throughout the city to acknowledge the first day of Spring.

The day of the wedding was cold, there was snow on the ground and the heavy morning clouds threatened yet more.  But, at the home of the bride, the groom had to pay a ransom otherwise there would be no ceremony.  To my modern and highly independent mind such an act seemed wrong, but it’s hard to argue with an amusing tradition.  Armed with flowers and gifts the groom arrived and when the ransom was satisfactorily paid, the couple were given a blessing by the bride’s father and the whole wedding party removed to the appropriate municipal building for the civil ceremony.

It was what happened next that mesmerised me.  The whole wedding party took to the streets of Moscow to have photographs taken at historic or meaningful locations.  I was lucky enough to be driven around the city in a Zil, a large square of a car in black and I remember thinking that it was an unusual choice.  One of the stops for photos had to be Red Square. The colours of St Basil’s Cathedral stood out like beams of light against the dull sky.  Built and added to between the 12th and 16th centuries, it’s properly called Intercession Cathedral and was erected to commemorate the Russian conquest of the Khanate of Kazan.  Standing in its wake, I was introduced to small bread rolls filled with something akin to mortadella and a sweet but piquant pickle sauce that set my taste buds zinging.  Alas, I never did get that recipe!

One of the many churches around Red Square
It was whilst we were all waiting for the photographs to be taken that I was approached by a man selling tickets for the Bolshoi.  I’d tried to get a ticket before leaving the UK, but every performance for months was fully booked.  I was suspicious at first, but the more the man kept talking and telling me about the theatre, the more I had to have that ticket.  So, I handed over the roubles.  ‘No, no American dollars,’ he said. ‘American dollars are good.’  The following evening, still wondering whether I might have broken the law or not, I sat in the Gods at the Bolshoi and watched a performance of Eugene Onegin.  The opulence, the artistry of the ceiling above my head and the vastness of the auditorium, have to be witnessed to be believed.

Around Red Square there are a number of churches.  All stunning with their traditionally shaped gold cupolas and magnificent murals and decoration inside.  I can understand why any bride would want a photograph with such a building as the backdrop.

The wedding party moved on and I had the chance to see the vastness of the river Moskva, the wide streets, the GUM department store, the English book shop and much more besides.  But it was the reception next and I remember the table groaning under the weight of food and vodka.

And there was another little tradition to be witnessed.  The bride and groom are presented with bread and salt.  The bread is a beautifully decorated circular loaf into which a small dish is placed and filled with salt.  The two are placed on an embroidered cloth and then given to the bride and groom to taste.  You break a piece of bread and dip it in the salt and eat.  This signifies a long and happy life together.  

Then there are the toasts.  I have only one tiny drop of vodka in the bottom of a shot glass just to be polite.  The rest of the evening is spent eating, drinking, singing Russian folk songs and dancing as course after course is brought and empty plates are taken away again.  An incredible experience that has remained with me.  And the bride and groom... just in case you were wondering, they lived happily ever after!

I will be taking you on some strolls through fascinating places in France over the next few months, so watch this space.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Stephanie Cage, who is returning to my page to talk about the serialisation of her latest story on her own blog...
AW  You say The Crash is going to be a difficult fit for a standard publisher - is that your only reason for serialising this story on your blog?
SC  It’s the reason I haven’t tried to publish The Crash sooner.  I couldn’t work out how to pitch a book which one friend describes as belonging to the category of “novels about bosses you love to hate”.  That’s a pretty narrow category!
I tend to think of The Crash as belonging to the category of ‘didactic novels’, which get a bad press nowadays, but which I’m quite fond of reading. Apart from being partly inspired by Dickens, it also came out of my experience in business. I’d helped to write some books and reports about Internal Communications, and around that time I also read Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal, which tries to teach business theory through a story, and I thought it would be fun to dramatise some of the lessons I’d learned during my research.
AW  Goldratt’s The Goal, great book and I’ve used the principles in there many times, myself.  But, I’m interrupting…
SC  I wrote the novel quite quickly as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge, and then I put it away because I couldn’t imagine what I’d do with it.  But friends who’d read snippets kept asking me about the rest of Jason’s story, so in the end I decided I needed to put it out there, one way or another.  Blogging it seems like a good way of doing that, as it means I can keep making changes as I go, and test out readers’ reactions.  It’s all a bit of an experiment really, but at the end I do plan to turn it into a book and e-book as well – if only so I can give my Mum a copy as she’s a bit of a Jason fan!  I’ve got as far as having a cover designed now, so keep reading to get a sneak preview of what the finished book will look like.

AW  Dickens did it, Collins did it, as have many other authors, so serialising a book has a long and well established history.  Is it now a bit old hat, do you think?
SC  I have to admit that Dickens was part of the inspiration for this story, but of course the tradition of serialising stories goes back a lot further.  In particular, Scheherazade comes to mind.  She certainly grasped the power of suspense and the need to keep an audience hanging so that they’ll come back.  Writers of soap operas and other TV dramas continue to use the same techniques today and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  As long as people value stories and want answers to the question ‘what happens next?’ then the serial will continue to thrive – what changes is not the structure but the content and the presentation of the stories.
Scheherazade, from my C19th
edition of The Arabian Nights 
For example, in the time I’ve been writing, e-books have gone from a puzzling novelty to part of the mainstream, a change which has affected readers and writers in all kinds of ways.  One effect I’ve noticed is that electronic publishing has removed the economic and practical restrictions on the sizes of books so it’s now easy to get hold of anything from short stories and novellas that can be read in a single sitting to vast tomes (often, but not always, in the sci-fi and fantasy arena) that would have been unpublishable a few years ago.  I think e-books make experimentation a lot easier, but ultimately, it’s hard to come up with anything entirely new when it comes to stories, because they’re so much a part of human nature and so ingrained in us.

AW  You introduced your central character to us here on my blog in September last year and I re-ran the post, how has he developed and/or changed since then?
SC  That’s an interesting question as character development is a major theme of the story, but actually Jason arrived in my head pretty much fully formed and has changed very little.  The changes I want to make to the story are less about him, and more about the detail of the events that occur later on in the story.  I haven’t made many changes to the chapters I’ve published so far, but as the story goes on I’m aware that there are things I want to tweak, so it’s likely that towards the end I’ll have to do some work to stay ahead of my weekly publishing schedule.  It’s a good thing I enjoy a challenge almost as much as Jason does!

AW  Can you share a little outline of the whole story with us or are you going to keep us all on tenterhooks from week to week?
SC  Well, I’ve already mentioned that the story was partly inspired by Dickens’ Christmas Carol so I don’t suppose it will surprise you to hear that some events will take place which cause Jason to rethink his attitudes.  He doesn’t get any visits from the ghosts of business past, present or future, though – Jason’s comeuppance is much more of his own making.  As far as the details go, you’ll have to wait and see.  

AW  Lastly, Stephanie, with your romances in e-form and print, I know you've dabbled with Sci Fi, you like Fantasy and you are starting to look at crime as a genre in which to write.  What would your eight-year-old self, make of you today?
SC  I guess my eight-year-old self might have been a little disappointed – I think I was about eight when I decided that my life’s ambition was to win the Booker prize, and I certainly haven’t done that!  In some ways, my aims have changed a lot, in other ways not so much.  At eight I knew I wanted to write good books, but I hadn’t yet given a lot of thought to what that might look like, so I seized on something that sounded impressive, and involved going to a televised awards dinner and wearing a pretty frock.
Although I loved studying literary fiction (I have a degree in English Literature from Trinity College, Oxford), after a few years in the working world I realised that I wanted to write books that more people would read, and that wouldn’t be too taxing to settle down with after a hard day at the office, so I switched to writing romance. 
I’ve been lucky enough to be published by two fantastic companies, The Wild Rose Press (who published Desperate Bid, The Santa Next Door and Djinn and Tonic) and Crimson Romance (who published Perfect Partners and the fairy tale anthology Modern Magic, in which my Goldilocks retelling appears).  I’ve also made some great friends through the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), which hosts excellent awards dinners – posh frocks and all – but I’ve always read widely and ultimately, I didn’t want to be tied to just one genre, so I’ve been experimenting with others. 
You could say that with crime I’ve come full circle, as another of my passions aged about eight was Enid Blyton’s stories, particularly the Famous Five and the Castle of Adventure series.  I’ve also always been a sucker for moral tales (What Katy Did, Little Women and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series all made strong impressions on me, and I feel that each of those is very much a story with a message) so in a sense The Crash also has its roots in my eight-year-old interests too.

And now here’s the cover I promised to show you as a reward for reading this far.  If you have a moment, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below! 

You can catch up on The Crash on Stephanie's Blog

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Friend and author, Ailsa Abraham, requires...

… your attention, please...

AW  Thanks for dropping by, Ailsa, it’s nice to catch up with you again.  I believe you have a new book out, actually released on Friday.  Tell me more.
AA  Thank you for inviting me.  My new book is a departure from my previous series in magical realism.  Here I take off on a murder mystery.
AW  Mmm, that is different. Can you tell me why?
AA   Erm... limited attention span?  Love of variety?  But as you said ‘Attention to Death’ was released on 10th March and you can find it here on Amazon using this universal link  http://mybook.to/AttentionDeath  I’m also very pleased to say that it has received some fabulous comment already :

"In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn't have thought possible - a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next."
~ India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series

AW  Praise indeed, well done.  Can you give us some idea of what the story is about?
AA   Here’s the blurb.

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany.
The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.
Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?
The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.

AW  That must have taken a lot of research.
AA  I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men to research this book.  Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems that men who have to be “in the closet” and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it, although this doesn't stop them leaving reviews.  Me? I've never been too sure.  I'm gender-neutral which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people isn't “What do they do in their bedrooms?”
Read it for yourself and decide.  Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

About the author… Ailsa Abraham is the author of six novels.  Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014.  Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon.  She also writes mystery romance.
She has lived in France since 1990 and is now naturalized French.  She enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town.  Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family.  She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care and pirate gear is her favourite!

You can follow Ailsa on Twitter  Facebook  Website  and  LinkedIn

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Please welcome, author, voice actor and pianist...

...Maria Corley to my blog.  Thanks for dropping by and I know how busy you are so let's get straight to those questions...
Maria's current book
AW  What is your current release?
MC  Letting Go. There's also a CD, Music from Letting Go, featuring my performances of the music referenced in the novel, prefaced by me reading the passages in question.  I have a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance from Juilliard, and I'm also a professional voice actor.  Both are available on Amazon  Smashwords and the CD here Music from Letting Go

AW  What first got you into writing and why?
MC  I'm an introvert, and writing was always easier for me than speaking.  I've overcome that, but I still feel like I delve deeper in writing.  It's my way of processing reality, and creating alternate, interesting realities. I really like to explore people's emotions, particularly the messy ones.

AW  You write Contemporary novels.   Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
MC  I do research and draw from my experience, along with using my imagination.  I don't think you can create a realistic imaginary person without researching, even if that means paying close attention to how people—including I, myself--behave.
I deleted romances, although my books tend to have male/female relationships at their centre.  I'm not devoted to the idea of happily ever after, though I do like a positive spin at the end; real emotional and mental growth qualifies.
I'm just beginning to work on a book that is taking much more research.  The protagonist is a famous animal, so I have to learn about her world.  I'm excited about getting time to write this story, although having to stay somewhat closer to actual events means the project will take longer to complete.
Maria relaxing at home

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
MC  I want to write a short story because I think it would be a good way to improve my skills.  I'm naturally very long-winded!  Or maybe I should say, given to detail. :)
I wrote poems until junior high, then stopped.  Last summer, I joined an online writing group that was full of poets, so I tried my hand again.  Two of my poems got a lot of attention, which was a big shock.  One was about my son, who is autistic.  I ended up presenting that at a national autism conference.  The other was a short love poem which came second in a contest and got published in a magazine.  I keep saying I'll try writing more poems—my focus on doing so lasted maybe two months—but it's tough to find the time.  Actually, that's my theme song!

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?
MC  Nope.  Most of it takes place at my kitchen table, but I'll write anywhere I can take a laptop.  On airplanes, during my son's appointments and activities, in bed...if I needed particular surroundings, I'd be in trouble.
Maria on stage

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?
MC  Wow, a whole afternoon to myself with no pressing projects?  Let me wrap my head around that for a moment!  I hate to be cliché, but I'd talk to my dad.  And my brother.  I'd ask them about the other side.  I'd also really, really love to spend some time with Prince.  Maybe we wouldn't talk much—maybe we'd just jam.  And if MJ (Michael Jackson) and Whitney (Houston) were around, so much the better.  And I'd invite Jimi Hendrix.  And Bob Marley.  And Nat King Cole.  And Amy Winehouse. And...I could go on forever!
If I could hang out with any living people, I would definitely call up the Obamas.

MC  Thanks so much for this!
AW  It's been an absolute pleasure, Maria, and best of luck with the book. You can follow Maria here Maria's website