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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Interview: Kate Birdsall

This morning I'm absolutely thrilled to be welcoming the charming Kate Birdsall to The Writing Greyhound! Kate is here to chat about her life, her writing and, of course, her latest novel The Flats, the first book in her gripping new police procedural series.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Here’s my bio - Kate Birdsall was born in the heart of the Rust Belt and harbours a hesitant affinity for its grit. She's an existentialist who writes both short and long fiction, and she plays a variety of loud instruments. She lives in Michigan's capital city with her partner and at least one too many four-legged creatures.
How did you first become interested in writing?
In the third grade, my reading teacher identified that I loved to write. She tasked me with writing an illustrated story about my experience in elementary school, and the rest is history. Honestly, it’s always been something that I’ve done, in addition to various other creative pursuits.
the-flats, liz-boyle, kate-birdsall, book

Tell me about The Flats.
It’s the first in the Liz Boyle series of police procedurals. It opens with the death of a child, which is especially difficult for some readers but that needs to be addressed as a societal problem, and takes us through twists and turns until we found out whodunit - and why. It’s set in Cleveland, which to my mind serves as the perfect, gritty backdrop for murder mystery.
Did you have to do a lot of research during the writing process?
Oh, yeah. I’m pretty sure my search history would send a red flag to law enforcement, and I also got some pretty creepy books out of the library. I’m fortunate to have a friend who is a cop, and she helped me with some of the procedural details.
What draws you to writing mysteries?
Two things. One, they’re cerebral. There’s a kind of thrill, as a reader, in following along and trying to piece it together. Two, it’s a hopeful genre - in most cases, the social order is restored in the end, which is awfully optimistic in a chaotic world.
What’s your writing process?
It’s a mess (ha!). I start with an idea, and then I start writing. I’m much more of a cook than a baker - what I mean by that is that cooking is “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” until it tastes good, whereas baking requires a recipe. This makes revising more difficult, but I find that I have all kinds of stories in my brain that I just need to let out onto the page.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Everything about writing is hard. I’m only half-kidding. In mystery, plotting is challenging, because it has to be TIGHT. I write character-driven books, and knowing the characters is the easy part - moving them through a murder investigation is much more challenging.
kate-birdsall, author

What’s your all-time favourite book?
This is an impossible question! I read and write for a living, so it’s too hard. But if I have to narrow it down, I’ll say The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It’s an absolute classic in speculative fiction.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’d like to gain readers. I don’t plan on becoming rich and famous - though I certainly wouldn’t turn down fame and fortune. I really just want to know that people are reading my work and appreciating it.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Well, I’m a writing teacher, so there’s a lot of writing and reading. I’m a big, big music person, and I watch all kinds of shows on Netflix. I like spending quiet time at home, too, and exploring my neighbourhood with my dogs.
What are you currently working on?
The second Liz Boyle mystery! Stay tuned.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I liked it a lot.
The Flats is available to buy now. For more about Kate, you can check out her website or catch her over on Twitter.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 15 January 2018

What to Consider When Buying Your First Home

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There's no easy way to sugarcoat it - buying a home is a tense, stressful thing to do. Although the rewards may be great, the journey is a long and arduous one, particularly for first-time buyers who are unused to the process.

Now, I am by no means an expert, but what I lack in professionalism or technical details, I can more than make up for in first-hand experience. My boyfriend and I are currently in the process of buying our first home together (exciting times!) so what better time than the present to share my thoughts, tips, tricks and hints about the journey towards becoming first-time buyers?

Here are a few things to keep in mind and consider during the initial stages of searching for your ideal home and starting the buying process.

Research

You can never do enough research! As we keep being repeatedly told, buying a house is one of the most important financial commitments we will ever make, so it's important to do things right rather than rushing into a snap decision you may end up regretting later on down the line. Check out the area you want to live in and keep checking property sites on a regular basis in order to assess any newly-listed properties which match your criteria.

Viewings

Once you've decided on a property you like, it's time to book yourself a viewing. This is the perfect opportunity to assess the look and feel of the house and really get a feel for the atmosphere of the property. While the majority of us aren't going to be property experts, make sure to check out every inch of the building, both inside and out. Look out for anything that looks dodgy or in need of repair and do your best to take note of things which could be big red flags further down the line. Signs of damp, asbestos and structural damage are the big ones to look out for. It's also best to try and look past the current inhabitant's personal belongings and imagine your own furniture and possessions filling the room - can you imagine yourself living there?

Estate Agents

While it is likely that you won't get a choice when it comes to estate agents as a buyer, it's still important to make sure that you are happy with the agent in question. While big-name services might seem like the best way forward, sometimes you can find smaller independent estate agents in your local area which could provide a better level of service - you will be spending the next few months in contact with the agent you go with (at least!) so it's important that you are happy.

Offers

Found a house that you are happy with? Then it's time to consider taking the next step and submitting a formal offer on the property. When you are ready to submit an offer, contact your estate agent who will be able to take your details and help you set up the next few steps. While it's still uncertain whether or not your offer will be accepted at this stage, it's still a big step, so it's vital to ensure that you are absolutely sure before you commit to putting an offer in.

Mortgages

Once your offer has been put in and tentatively accepted, it's time to think about how you will finance your intended purchase. There are a number of schemes out there designed to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder but to be honest, we decided not to use any and simply went our own way. While you need the amount of your deposit to be readily available, most people choose a mortgage to finance the remainder of their purchase. The world of mortgages can be an incredibly complicated and confusing one and there are seemingly endless lenders and options out there, so in the end, we opted to employ the services of a mortgage broker recommended by the estate agent in order to ensure everything was sorted in a timely, professional manner.

Solicitors

One thing we didn't realise when we started the process was that we would need to appoint a solicitor so early on. Don't fall into the same trap that we did - instead, do plenty of research, contact a number of reputable solicitors in your local area and get some quotes to help you make your decision. Remember - legal jargon can be confusing at the best of times, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to carefully read the small print before you sign anything!

Possessions

As first-time buyers, it's likely that you won't have much in the way of furniture to go into your new home. Instead of leaving everything to the last minute then having to panic-buy the entire contents of a house in one go, it's best to try and pick things up throughout the process. Not only will this ensure that you are better prepared, it will also spread the cost and help you budget more efficiently. Keep your eyes peeled and be on the lookout for bargains - Facebook selling groups and sites like eBay can be a great way to find some real gems at bargain prices, but there are plenty of sales in-store and online at the moment too. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask around and enquire if any of your friends or family members have any furniture or essentials they don't need. We acquired a vast amount of our furniture thanks to the generosity of people we know, so it's always worth giving it a try.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that this is by no means a comprehensive guide and, similarly, no two property purchases are the same. From a personal standpoint we still have a long way to go before we finally get to move in together, but for the time being, I hope this mini guide proves to be at least some help for those of you out there who are in the same boat as me.

First-time house buying is never going to be a walk in the park, but by making sure that you are fully prepared and well-informed, there's no reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.

* This is a sponsored post

Are you looking to buy your first home? Do you have any helpful hints or tips? Share your advice in the comments below!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Interview: Linda Ferreri

the-matter-of-the-crown, linda-ferreri, blog-tour, book

It's my stop on the blog tour for The Matter of the Crown by Linda Ferreri and I'm pleased to be sharing an interview with the author herself!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I am both an art historian and a lawyer, an American who lives as much as possible in Italy. My novels use all of that and more of me, thoroughly. I teach art law and lecture all around the world about important monuments and their histories.
How did you first become interested in writing?
When I was a child, I entertained myself by trying to write “books” and I relished in the stories my parents told me at bedtime, particularly my father. I was fascinated, actually, with the physical book itself. Folding paper and drawing pictures on the pages. Now, I know that my father’s grandmother told lots of stories to him and his siblings. I suppose it runs in the family. I studied languages in school, lots and lots of Latin, and then became a lawyer where each word counts. One client referred to me as a “wordsmith,” and I think that did it.
Tell me about The Matter of the Crown.
The Matter of the Crown is the second of two thrillers that I have written about the Crown of the Andes now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (The two novels do not have to be read in order, by the way.) 
The Matter of the Crown opens with a puzzle about the whereabouts of a single woman living in a small hill town in Le Marche, Italy, the magnificent territory that inspires all of my writing these days. Quickly, however, the story turns to the comings and goings of an American woman named Claire Bliss and the Crown of the Andes. 
The book is what one reviewer described as an “erudite thriller,” a description that I think fits. The reader goes, with the characters, back into the history of this amazing object made of Andean gold and emeralds, and forward again into its fictitious travels through the plot. Its history is critical to solving the crime involved. 
I can safely say that the story is neither crude nor gratuitously violent. But it grabs the reader and won’t let go, all the way to the exciting end.
What’s the best part of writing about crime?
The characters are deep and the plot is the ultimate satisfaction for the intelligent reader. I find that the brightest people I know enjoy mysterious fiction. They need it, I think, and so do I.
Why drew you to the thriller genre?
Two things in my life, actually, drew me to writing these thrillers. First, I love reading them, the good ones. Dorothy Sayers’ books lured me in decades ago. Second, however, I think it was my own career in the art world and the real mysteries that artworks carry around with them. They can’t talk, you know.
Did you undertake much research for the book?
For this particular novel, the research was not difficult because I have spent years researching the history of art and I know the Crown of the Andes exceptionally well through my own personal adventures with it over the course of 25 years. In fact, for future books, the research is just like being back in graduate school in art history. Fun for me!
How did you get inspiration?
The true story of the Crown of the Andes itself, to say nothing of the stories in these two novels, is exciting enough to provide me with stories to tell for years to come. I was inspired by some events in real life to write the first novel, One Sacred Crown, and then to carry the characters forward into The Matter of the Crown in a plot that begged me to be written. Its theft.

As a part-time professor of art law, I talk about art crimes all the time. These days, everybody reads about them in the newspaper and loves them. They have sizzle, I am sorry to say.
What’s your writing process like?
I jump onto my computer and go. I do not outline first. I start writing and my characters go where they want my fingers to take them. But at night, I often ponder what they will do next and how. Occasionally, they surprise me. I am quite fond of them now, a few of them, and I very much enjoy the time I spend with them. 
Our time together is almost always in the first half of the day because I am freshest then and so are they.
linda-ferreri, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
I worry a lot about whether my work is good enough. I don’t want to produce something that is superficial. That is I want it to fully satisfy and that means fully engage the reader and cause him or her to care about the hero and fully enjoy the way the story goes. As I show rather than describe, I worry that I have left something important out that I, the author, see in my characters but that I have forgotten to show the reader.
What do you love most about writing?
I adore the characters and their exciting adventures. Do I live vicariously through them? Sometimes. Have I been there myself? Oh yes, but I can’t tell it all in public.
Which authors inspire you?
Dorothy Sayers’ writing is wonderful. But I spent years in love with Thackery’s books. And Henry James and Jane Austen, the two great psychological writers.
What are you currently working on?
The book I am writing now is one of my all-time favourites, I have to say. Two of the characters from The Matter of the Crown are back, but the story is entirely different. It too was inspired by events and characters in my own life, rather unfortunate ones, but like the two books about the Crown of the Andes, it involves a spectacular work of art and more than one crime.
What are you reading at the moment?
A Margery Allingham mystery, one in the Campion series. Classics, all of them!
What’s your all-time favourite book?
That has changed from time to time. Like many people, Pride and Prejudice was right up there for a long time. And so was Portrait of a Lady.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I want to go right on producing novels because I enjoy doing it. But this particular book, The Matter of the Crown, absolutely belongs on the silver screen and I want to see it there. The story is so strong visually, so beautiful because of the Crown of the Andes itself and the hills of Le Marche, and so strong in characters and plot that it really must be seen. If I were a filmmaker, I would want it immediately. I think the world craves a juicy story that is not vulgar, and this is one.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I am an avid knitter and rose gardener and quite the traveller. I must add that I draw and paint quite a lot and have published several illustrated witty little iBooks. They really are pictures with words more than the other way around. Sometimes the urge is to draw things rather than put words to the thought.
The Matter of the Crown is available to buy now. For more about Linda and her work, you can visit her website.

Will you be reading the book? Have you been following the blog tour? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Review: Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle

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Before I get stuck into my review, cards on the table - I've never seen the original Jumanji film.

Of course, I knew about it; it's a classic, after all. However, as the majority of my regular readers will doubtless already know by now, my education is significantly lacking when it comes to classic movies. I have my favourites and, with very little free time (or money) available to watch films or go to the cinema, I have to pick what I want to watch very carefully.

I saw the trailer for the recent reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, several times over the last few months when making trips to the movies. However, opinions seemed to be divided among people I spoke to about it. Some said it would be a poor imitation of the original - "you can't beat a classic," was mentioned several times - whereas others thought it could be a modern refresh of a classic film.

So, going into the screening with a mixed reception yet an open mind of my own, I sat back, enjoyed the show, and allowed myself the freedom to form my own opinions about the film.

Quickly becoming one of 2017's top-grossing films in the global box office, it's clear that Jumanji is more than just your average remake. Although the movie does rely extremely heavily on the talent of its lead cast members, the concept is just as unique and quirky as ever, only further added to by the up-to-date backdrop.

Speaking of the concept, if you aren't familiar with the basic story, the whole narrative of the film can be summed up as follows: four teenagers are sucked into a video game and become the on-screen avatars they chose, forced to work together and overcome their fears in order to beat the game and attempt to win their passage home. Put like that, it's an incredibly simple idea, yet it's undeniably innovative and still just as exciting as it was back when the original Jumanji movie was released.

However, it's not just the action-packed sequences and adventurous element that keep you glued to the screen. Strip away all the fluff and its core this is a coming-of-age story, where the characters must grow and develop, working alongside one another and becoming better people as we progress through the film.

Of course, there is also a liberal dose of humour, largely related to the scenario the teenagers have found themselves in. Jack Black undeniably steals the show as Bethany/Professor Shelly Oberon, somehow managing to perfectly portray all the emotions of a selfie-mad teenage girl who suddenly finds herself trapped in the body of an overweight middle-aged man.

That being said, it's no secret that this whole movie is held together by its stellar line-up. Jack Black is joined by the powerful trio of Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart to complete the main quartet, yet Nick Jonas' Alex provides the perfect finishing touch.

Fresh, exciting and exhilarating, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is certainly no shoddy remake.

Have you seen the film? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Interview: John Biscello

This week, I'm sitting down for a chat with author John Biscello to learn all about his life, his writing and, of course, his latest novel Raking the Dust.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I was born-bred-and-raised in Brooklyn, New York. I moved to the dusty wonderland of Taos, New Mexico in 2001, where in many respects I’ve become quite “de-cityfied,” though I’ll always remain a Brooklyn boy at heart. I’m an author, playwright, poet, performer, and I teach drama at an arts-integrated charter school.
How did you first become interested in writing?
Hard to say the exact moment, as I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved entering other worlds and realities and at some point, writing became my primary way of doing that or the way which felt very right for my soul. Or another way of saying that, there was an ease of fluency that allowed much of my soul to enter into stories and language.
raking-the-dust, john-biscello, book

Tell me about Raking the Dust.
Raking the Dust is inspired by my experiences in Taos, of various things I went through, of internal journeys I undertook which were very much brought on by the hardscrabble spiritual challenges of life in a town that will break you down and force you to confront some of your core issues. Some of my own core issues are at the heart of this book: addiction, obsession, alienation, a sense of being haunted by the past. All of those elements form the crux and backbone of the novel’s character and explore it through a mirror darkly. And also comically. Darkly funny, starkly funny, autobiographical surrealism, the spirit of carnival, the writing life: I would say all of those terms apply to RTD’s flavour.
What’s the best part of writing fiction?
Getting to explore different, hidden, overlooked realities, other pockets of existence, other selves you may possess or be possessed by that don’t always appear in the light of day, and experiencing them not necessarily as “fiction,” but as a different reality. Not less real, just different from the commonly accepted and agreed upon notion of reality.
What drew you to this tale?
It was one that built up inside me, one that I “lived through,” during my time in Taos. I always wanted or expected to write my “Taos book,” the one that flushed out my impressions, experiences, speculations, etc., rooted in the juxtaposition of being an outsider, a city-boy who randomly wound up moving to (and staying) in a place that was radically different from where and how I grew up. Also, I’ve always been drawn to tales of writers-trying-to-make-it, that heroic, almost child-like effort of trying to make one’s work and mythology a basis for existence, following one’s bliss come hell or high water kind-of-deal. In a sense, RTD is also a homage to those types of novels.
john-biscello, author

What’s your writing process like?
I have a schedule and I do my best to follow it consistently. To me, it’s a routine, a ritual, and if I stray too far from that routine/ritual, I will lose warm, vital contact with whatever it is that brings us the gift of stories and ideas.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Having patience and faith in regards to the publishing industry, or the publishing process.
What do you love most about writing?
That deep sense of felt-connection when you are snugly inside a story or poem or whatever. To be alone in that moment, and yet to have this very human and profound sense of connection, is very soul-satisfying.
Which authors inspire you?
Jane Mendelsohn, Simon Van Booy, Dr. Seuss, Henry Miller, Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Paul Auster, Julio Cortazar, Jean Rhys, Hermann Hesse, Sylvia Plath, Knut Hamsun. Those are some.
What are you currently working on?
A novel titled No Man’s Brooklyn, which is set in Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighbourhood where I grew up. And I just finished the text for a children’s book based on a story about Franz Kafka. It’s titled The Jackdaw and the Doll, and it will be illustrated by a very talented and wonderful artist, Cris Qualiana.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Wow, just one, that’s tough. Okay, I’m going to cheat and give you three: Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, and Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Movies, dancing, sports, hiking, daydreaming, meditation, yoga, travel, kissing, and love.
Raking the Dust is available to buy now. For more information about John and his work, you can pay a visit to his website.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, comments and opinions in the comments below!