Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Guest Post: How to Write Scenes by Steve Catto

I was never any good at school, especially not at English. I found it boring and I never understood the purpose behind reading a book and then taking it to pieces to see how it worked. To me, that spoilt the story, it destroyed the magic. I did like to read stories, just not the ones that the school wanted me to.

Perhaps the story books I read in my childhood gave me the ability to visualise and create. I don’t know, it might have been the television programs, but whatever it was I always visualise as part of the creative process, and I visualise the story as scenes in a movie. That means I see each scene in my mind, and the task then is to convert that to words, and that is where I find that the artistic part comes in. Perhaps it’s easier to describe that process using a specific scene from Snowflakes.

So, let’s take the scene at the start of the ‘Many Worlds’ chapter and see how it pulls to pieces and goes back together again.

What I want to describe is a scene where a little monkey is watching the four main characters who are lying beside the fire after dinner, and one of them is going to tell you about her dreams. The monkey has its eye on some of the food.

Okay, well I could just say that, in fact I have just said that, but it doesn’t sound very good to me and it doesn’t allow me, or my reader, to conjure up any real visualisation of the scene and the characters that I see in my mind. On this occasion I’ll start by telling the reader what is happening as the scene opens. So, let’s write:
"Sparks from the fire crackled upwards into the night sky and disappeared." 
That gives the reader a description of something that is currently taking place, it’s a description of something that is moving as well, which I find somehow powerful. At this point in time they’re finishing off dinner, so let’s make that a past tense thing and say:
"It had been a good evening, and the food had been especially tasty."
So far so good. We’ve said they’re finishing off dinner without actually saying ‘they’re finishing off dinner’. It doesn’t seem enough to leave it like that. Let’s write something that talks a bit about the dinner and about Sam’s hunting skills, just to reinforce what I’ve said elsewhere. How about:
"Sam had fetched something back the previous night that looked like rabbit." 
No, it still doesn’t sound enough. More needed:
"and it seemed to tear apart and cook so well, despite not having been hung."
An improvement, but still not enough because that sort of floats with no ending.
"Meat on the bone usually did cook nicely, and he seemed to have the knack of bringing back a wide variety of different things."
Yes! That’s better. Let’s read it back again as a complete section.
"Sparks from the fire crackled upwards into the night sky and disappeared.
It had been a good evening, and the food had been especially tasty. Sam had fetched something back the previous night that looked like rabbit, and it seemed to tear apart and cook so well, despite not having been hung. Meat on the bone usually did cook nicely, and he seemed to have the knack of bringing back a wide variety of different things."
Nice! So I’ve started by describing something dynamic about the current scene, then I’ve gone to past tense and told the reader that they’ve just had a nice dinner which Sam had caught, and I’ve reminded the reader that he’s good at it. This means I’ve said something and then pulled the reader off to something else, but not for long. So now in their brains there are two things going on. I’ve also told the reader roughly what it is that they’ve been eating, which is important if the monkey wants to steal it.

Now what?
"Now the four of them were all laid on the grass around the pit."
Yes, but again not enough.
"watching the last of the fire die away, and enjoying the warmth."
Great, that’s better because it tells you what they were feeling as they laid by the fire too. What about this food that the monkey wants to steal? At some point I’ll have to describe it, and now seems like a good place.
"A few morsels of meat on a discarded bone sat on one of the stones that surrounded the fire."
Good, because I said it was like rabbit so it’s small and it has bones. And the monkey? Well, I could just say that there was a monkey up a tree, but let’s not give away the fact that it’s a monkey yet:
"From a safe vantage point a few feet away up a tree, a pair of eyes was watching them with great interest."
Read it all back. Yes, it sounds good, and now the character is going to talk about her dream and I can be direct about that, so let’s just change the subject now.
"'I had a dream,’ said Tilly."
Sounds OK, but this is the evening and they are tired and lazy and chilled, and the world is slow, so let’s make it:
"'I had a dream,’ said Tilly eventually, watching a particularly large spark float upwards."
That sounds a whole lot better, and it sounds dream-like too.

Read it all back yet again.

I notice that the eyes were watching and Tilly was watching, so I’ve said watching twice in two sentences. I’ll say that the eyes were observing them. That sounds more mysterious and I’m not repeating the word watching.

Put it all together and read it yet again:
"Sparks from the fire crackled upwards into the night sky and disappeared. 
It had been a good evening, and the food had been especially tasty. Sam had fetched something back the previous night that looked like rabbit, and it seemed to tear apart and cook so well, despite not having been hung. Meat on the bone usually did cook nicely, and he seemed to have the knack of bringing back a wide variety of different things. 
Now the four of them were all laid on the grass around the pit, watching the last of the fire die away, and enjoying the warmth. A few morsels of meat on a discarded bone sat on one of the stones that surrounded the fire. 
From a safe vantage point a few feet away up a tree, a pair of eyes was observing them with great interest. 
‘I had a dream,’ said Tilly eventually, watching a particularly large spark float upwards."
Now take it apart again:

I’ve described what is currently happening in the scene using the sparks from the fire because that’s a movement in what would otherwise be a fairly static picture. Then I’ve gone to the past tense and told the reader what the characters had been doing, which was having dinner, and I’ve told them what they were eating and reminded them that Sam fetches back a lot of nice things.

Then I’ve returned to the present again and told the reader what the characters are doing now, and how they are feeling, and described some of the remains of dinner, which I’ll need later.

I’ve then told the reader that the characters are being watched by a pair of eyes, but the characters don’t know that and, at this point in time the reader doesn’t know what they are. That’s a bit of pending suspense, which I can return to during the chapter and resolve later, so it provides an additional element of ongoing interest.

Now I can get down to business because the scene is set, and I can cut to Tilly, who we know is lying by the fire. I want to make it clear that she is probably on her back looking up, so that can be done by referring to the sparks. That seems to close the little loop quite nicely because we’re now back to visualising movement again, which is where we came in.

I’ve read it through at least half a dozen times, so any obvious typos are fixed, I’ve spotted that the word ‘watching’ was repeated in two adjacent sentences and fixed that because it sounded wrong, so it’s pretty much done now.

Now I’ll read it through aloud so that I can get the commas in the places where I need to pause, and make sure that one or more complete sentences can be read properly in one breath. That helps when I narrate the audiobook because I know it will read well and sound nice. I don’t want to change it at all for the narration because then the published text won’t match the audio.

At some point, probably after a few days, I’ll return to that chapter, read the end of the previous one as a run-in to it and check that they join together without sounding odd. By then I’ll have lost the immediate memory I had of the scene when I was writing it, so that exercise will tell me whether the words rebuild the image of the scene properly in my mind, or whether there are things in the picture that need to be there but which I didn’t describe.

I enjoy the process. There’s enjoyment in the thinking and the writing, and satisfaction in reading back the finished fragment of work. It’s an odd situation to find myself in, for someone who failed English and didn’t like analysing books.

About Snowflakes

snowflakes, book, steve-catto
Image: Steve Catto
Two lost girls become involved in a love triangle with Sam, a hunter, after setting up house in an abandoned old cottage near a river. Life appears perfect, until one of the girls discovers what Sam really does when he goes out hunting at night, and then the fabric of their dream world begins to unravel. 

Can following their dreams take any of them home, and what does that mean anyway? Who is the girl that never speaks, and what are the strange shapes that appear in the half-light? Is their existence being shadowed by a darker force and, if so, why does it seem determined to help them? 

A journey involving secrets whispered on the riverbank under Arcadian skies, evenings around the fire and deep introspection about the meaning of life. Also mystery, suspense, swords, guns, assassinations... and a small monkey.

Snowflakes is available to buy now.

Have you found Steve's advice useful? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Interview: Nico Lee

This morning I have comedy author Nico Lee on the blog for a chat about writing, books, inspiration and his novel A Good Lie Ain't Easy.

To start off, tell me a little about your background.

At the moment my background is Leeds Bus Station, which tells you all you need to know about the life of a successfully published author in 2017. At least it’s National Express and not the Mega Bus - one must maintain standards. After all, I am solidly working class. Although I’ve now found, after many years, that accessing my inner Cockney can be a daunting task; it seems the accent just drifted away from me… and now I sound like I should be advertising a cure for some woefully embarrassing medical condition on late night local radio. This is what happens when you go to university. That and a newfound inability to pronounce quinoa the way it’s actually spelt. In fact, looking at artisanal bread and knowing what spelt is, is another symptom.  
My father had no time for such loafing about. He was a refuse collector, my mother a cleaner. We come from dust… and then we attended Kent to study English & Philosophy in that brief window of time when you could come from a background of having no flippin’ cash and still be able to do so. God bless the full grant. Since then? Other than the hideous inconvenience of having to pay the rent, I’ve spent most of the rest of my adult life singing in bands, and generally lollygagging around.

How did you first become interested in writing?

I guess it may be something innate, but mum did read to me quite a bit as a nipper. I spent a lot of time back then writing little plays, in my head, for my Action Man, which never did seem to include him being ‘the greatest hero of them all’ as it said in the adverts - more a despicable rogue. This jaded approach found a mirror when I started to read the comic 2000ad in the late 1970s. I never wrote S.F. though, more stuff that was just… I dunno, wrong? A bit odd?  
One of my most vivid memories was finding a copy of Playboy in a hedge when I was a wee lad - strangely for a precocious little tyke, it wasn’t just the nudes that stayed with me. Back then they were still attempting to legitimise the magazine by commissioning articles by various famous writers. Reading William Burroughs and the cartoons of Robert Crumb when you are 9 years old is bound to inspire you. Probably to get arrested… but, fortunately, I internalised these influences and allowed them rarely to escape. I learnt my lesson after I wrote a short story at school where someone is murdered using a trouser press and my teacher marked it down for being ‘fantastical, made up’- at the time I argued isn’t that what a story is? Bloody kids, eh?

Tell me about A Good Lie Ain’t Easy.

It’s a novel about not staying true to yourself and all the joy that can bring to family and friends. Set on the road somewhere between the cheap ache of nostalgia and the numb regret of last night, it charts the trajectory of four young drifters set to wandering, in a time so primitive that Grindr was just a really bitchin' Death Metal band, and... well, that’s roughly what is says on Amazon, so it must be true.  
A Good Lie Ain't Easy, Nico Lee, book
Image: Nico Lee
It’s had a few reviews so far - one of which very kindly said that if I continue to write in this vein I will surely garner a cult following, one that said it was a roller-coaster of a debut and another described it as a gem. I wanted it to sit somewhere between it being a solid piece of well written and emotionally affecting literature and on the other hand… well, I wanted it to be funny, amusing at least, as I can’t see why you can’t do both - and that’s certainly how I believe life to be. A veil of tears that obscures one’s vision on a path that leads inexorably towards the inevitable banana skin.

How do you get inspiration?

I think generally it comes and gets you. When the desire to write is flowing, it is an unstoppable beast and a pain in the neck. Rising at god-forsaken hours, your fingers smashing the keyboard in a flurry of two-fingered desperation. Or, if out walking, you’re writing endless notes in half legible biro on the back of train tickets. A Good Lie Ain’t Easy, which is your standard 63,000 words in length, was written in a week and a half. Which means that I owe the person I was on holiday with at least half a holiday’s worth of apologies. I’ll admit it took a lot longer than that to, somewhat sporadically, edit it, but I’m definitely not one of those who rise every day at 9am and writes x number of words - I write instead when I am compelled.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Getting people to read it. I lucked out in getting published because a friend of a friend of a friend of a… was looking to publish fiction for the first time (Mega Dodo Press generally publishes music biographies) and they found the first few pages of the book, when I submitted it, hilarious. Now all I have to do is get reviewers to review it and people to buy it. It’s a long haul and I’m useless at social media… however I’m even worse at knitting, so I might as well, you know, give it a go.

What do you love most about writing?

It isn’t knitting. Or maybe it’s the hours? Is it the hours? Sometimes they let me touch the yellow crayons? Really, I love that they don’t have to put my dumb face on the cover of the book. When you’re singing, for instance, a lot of how you are judged has everything to do with your personal image - which is irrelevant. I guess if you just released albums and hid on an island… with writing, individuals either get what you’re doing or not - they judge you just on this. What you’ve thrown on the page. It’s unrestricted access to someone else’s head, both ways. Here try these words. Do they smell good to you?

Do you find it difficult to write comedy?

I think you either are the kind of person who has offended people all your life or you don’t write comedy. If in any given situation you sometimes find your mouth racing for the joke so fast, you have no idea what you yourself are about to say and you laugh at the same time the room does and also sometimes when the room is looking at you like, ‘what kind of an animal would say that, five minutes after his mother died?’ then you are probably the rube for the job. Difficult doesn’t enter into it. You are driven to it. Whether anyone else laughs is a different matter.
author, Nico Lee
Image: Nico Lee

Which authors inspire you?

Nabokov. Nabokov. Nabokov. Say his name three times and he appears in the patterns of your wallpaper. References aside - actually does he inspire or just make me want to give up? Damn, he’s so good. He’s very wittily dry on occasion too, but you’d never guess from most reviews. Then I guess, Thomas Pynchon. Proust. I respect Joyce but he just doesn’t quite ‘do it’ for me. Then it’s odd books rather than an entire particular author’s oeuvre. 

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

I have only just been published. Given my age? That is indicative of how lazy I have been, at least up until fairly recently. So my first advice is carpe piggin’ diem. This question I’m guessing isn’t so much about how to become a writer, how to write - as that is a personal, random thing - so much as how to get published, or taken on by an agent. I was lucky, but not lucky enough to have attended the same school as the head of Harper Collins. Also, I’m a bit old school. I tend to think that what makes a great writer may be antithetical to what makes a successful one.  
It seems the only way to grab attention, especially now, is by building social networks - something that shouldn’t be normal for someone who chiefly should have their head in a book, learning the craft or be observing rather than partaking in life. That is a little specious. You do need to live. Engage. I mean, observation is essential and even Facebook/Twitter et al are tools that can facilitate that but learning from other writers combined with your own real world experience, that is what makes an author, in the main, I guess… Also listen. Listen all the time. Listen to your friend’s stories. Again, live some of your own. Of course, nothing would beat being related to a mainstream publisher - unfortunately, I’ve yet to work out how to arrange that, after the fact.

What’s your all-time favourite book?

I think the best book ever, ever, ever… ever, ever written may well be The Gift By Nabokov, (I may have read Tolstoy, but I haven’t got round to War and Peace yet, so what do I know… and I’ve only read Ulysses once, a shocking admission) but my favourite? That’s Ada by the same author. It’s often accused of being over-blown. But I would argue that this a deliberate ploy which comments on the moral bankruptcy of the central protagonist - in much the same way that Humbert in Lolita is allowed to hoist himself with pretension as well as his reprehensible tastes.  
I’m looking forward hopefully to that moment where I get a review which conflates this author with his creation just so I can fume too. That is the disadvantage of writing non-fantasy. No-one asks J.K. Rowling what it’s like being a twelve-year-old boy that rides brooms. Although I have heard from a reliable source that Stephen King was covered in pig’s blood on his prom night.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?

I think ‘being’ a writer is not dependent on being published. So unless they are going to ban paper - which, hey, given the way this world is going is not without possibility, I will always be a writer. I will always sing too. Can’t stop it. I get paid for it now as well, better than I do for writing, anyway - so some buffoons… I mean discerning audiophiles, must like it. My 1920’s band The Devil’s Jukebox just played the National Laurel and Hardy Convention - and you have not lived, my friend, until you have led in song a packed ballroom full of grown men in fezes through ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’.

What are your interests outside of writing and reading?

Man, I love to dance. Dance like a maniac. That’s not very authorial - although Virginia Woolf could apparently do a mean foxtrot. I also like pina colada's and getting caught in the rain… no, wait a minute that’s not me, that’s Jimmy Buffet. Er… Film. I love film. Fellini. Jodorowsky. Svankmajer. Jarmusch. Stranger Than Paradise and Withnail and I are the two biggest non-literary influences on my novel.

What are you currently working on?

A novel set in 2035 in Japan. But it’s more Big Lebowski than Ghost in the Shell. It has the working title of Tokyo-yo but we will see.

A Good Lie Ain't Easy is available to buy now. For more information about Nico and his writing, you can hop on over to his website.

What do you think? Are you a fan of comedic fiction? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Guest Post: The Writing Process by Richard Abbott-Brailey

The inspiration for this book came from a history documentary about the retreating Spanish Armada, and how much of it was dashed upon the rocks during the worst storm in around 100 years. I tried to imagine what it might have been like to observe these ships being thrashed against the rugged coastline of the west of Ireland; perhaps looking at the bodies washed up on the shore. And then Azarias Tor was born – an accidental time traveller, whose father lived in a future some 170 years ahead. And the rest is history - or is it? I then developed the idea that a corrupt body is designing their present day world, our distant future, by manipulating the past, our history, and their history, to suit their own needs.

As for the characters, I wanted them, in this world anyway, to appear fairly normal, on the surface, yet have their demons, and the baggage of their history, weighing them down. In the future, the characters appear much more self-assured and confident, though their weaknesses are exposed later in the story. Aside from exposing the weaknesses of the main characters I wanted to portray the inner strength which most of us possess, wherein we would go beyond the call of duty to help other, even if that means making the ultimate sacrifice! With regards to research, I went out of my way to ensure that all details regarding weather on particular days, in certain locations, and that all music and fashion was appropriate to the time.

The biggest challenge, when writing the book, involved the use of time – finding time to write when I was working full time as a teacher. However, I managed to overcome that obstacle.

The whole experience of writing the book has been a journey but I think the fact that I have developed characters that deserve to live on in other books has been very rewarding. I have also enjoyed the many hours lost in the worlds invented in my mind, living with these imagined characters. More than that, though, has to the fact that the pub, with the mobile phone collection, does exist, though the people are fictitious. I used to wait in the bar for my wife to collect me, and I decided to incorporate the bar and the phones into the story. Finally, here, I would give consideration to the joy I experienced when I declared that I had finished, reached the end, only to later realise that I had more to write, and much to edit.

I suppose, initially, my target market is people who like to read for the sake of reading, and want to read. Beyond that my target audience would be anyone who follows the like of Dr Who, looper movies and stories, science fiction addicts – young adult upwards, though the book does contain themes of an adult nature, and scenes that some readers might find distressing. I wrote the book, with a view to producing a series, and developed the character, with ordinariness in mind, where the protagonist, in spite of his past, is living a fairly ordinary life, wherein he discovers the extraordinary within himself. I like to think that we all have this element, to be able to exceed our own expectations and rise to meet the occasion in moments of need –when others need our help. With that in mind I also wanted to explore the idiosyncrasies that make us tick, and the pain of loss, grief, and sacrifice, in the hope that readers may empathise, even sympathise, with the character’s malaise. Finally, I want the reader to believe that time travel is possible, or feasible!

About Azarias Tor

azarias-tor, book, richard-abbott-brailey
Image: Richard Abbott-Brailey / Austin Macauley
Do we make history or does history make us what we are? Do we allow our lives to be dictated by history or do we attempt to make our history the ‘new' future; do we have an impact in history, and the future, or do we allow ourselves to be the ‘victims' of the impact of history upon us, having the future shaped for us by others?

Imagine that there are people out there who will make us part of their history, and make their future our future; world leaders, artists, authors, and scientists. But what of the ordinary people - in the neighbourhood, or that person in their car, passing you on the road? Is that person harbouring secrets that you could not begin to comprehend? What if that person had secrets that they are not aware of; secrets that could have a major impact on the lives of everyone, everywhere, throughout the whole of time?

Azarias Tor is available to buy now.

About Richard Abbott-Brailey

richard abbott-brailey
Image: Richard Abbott-Brailey
The author was born in London and attended school in Watford having moved there with his family when he was aged eight. After spending some years working in the retail sector, and in sales, he returned to education as a mature student, obtaining a BA (Hons). Following a spell working in theatre, in lighting and stage management, he qualified as a secondary school teacher. An alumnus of The Central School of Speech and Drama, Richard now lives in Northumberland with his wife, Hilary, and two cats.

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

Friday, 7 July 2017

Book Review: Surrender by Sonya Hartnett

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am dying: it's a beautiful word. Like the long slow sigh of a cello: dying. But the sound of it is the only beautiful thing about it.

As life slips away, Gabriel looks back over his brief twenty years, which have been clouded by frustration and humiliation. A small, unforgiving town and distant, punitive parents ensure that he is never allowed to forget the horrific mistake he made as a child. He has only two friends - his dog, Surrender, and the unruly wild boy, Finnigan, a shadowy doppelganger with whom the meek Gabriel once made a boyhood pact.

But when a series of arson attacks grips the town, Gabriel realises how unpredictable and dangerous Finnigan is. As events begin to spiral violently out of control, it becomes devastatingly clear that only the most extreme measures will rid Gabriel of Finnigan for good.

surrender, sonya-hartnett, book,
Image: Lorna Holland
I've got to continue the trend begun by other bloggers when reviewing Surrender, and begin my review by saying how hard it is to review this book.

As a general rule of thumb, I try to steer clear of other blogger's reviews before I pick up a book, as I'm reading it, and until I have written my own review. But with books like this, it's difficult to stay away. You need to read other people's takes on the book and the events that unfold within its pages like wings from a bird's back (see, even I'm starting with the poetic imagery now!)

You need to see what others thought in order to at least try and obtain a coherent understanding of the wild ride of twists and turns that Surrender takes you on.

That is the precise reason why books like this one are so difficult to review. I can reveal very little of the plot unless I want to spoil it for you - and with a book this good, that's the last thing that I want to do.

However, twists, turns, surprises and unexpected reveals aside, it is the stunning writing that really sets Surrender apart. Every last detail is explained in perfect poetic prose, right from the start. It takes a chapter or so to get into the style, but once you do, it seems to fit the story like a glove. The story and the style are so closely linked; it would be impossible to have one without the other. 

But aside from that, the writing is just so beautiful. Hartnett's descriptions instantly transport you to the remote rural town of Mulyan - every sentence has a tale to tell about this forgotten outpost hidden away in the back of beyond. 

The characters join in, with the tale hinting but not telling about their lives, deeds and actions, all falling together into the melting pot of gossip, suspicion and close-mindedness that characterises small-town life. It's raw, it's honest, and it's unflinchingly close to believability. 

Dreamy, whimsical prose combined with a gritty, hard-hitting story and packed full of twists and turns, all confined to the boundaries of small-town life; Surrender truly is a novel like no other, and one which I'm sure will stick with me for many years to come.

Rating: 5 stars

Surrender is available to buy now.

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

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Guest Post: Who Gets to Write What in Fiction by Andrea Jones

Image: Pixabay 
The shadowy, shape-shifting possibilities of Brexit and the Trump administration have had some positive effects – in publishing at least.

Diversity is in demand. Agent and editor calls for ‘own voice’ narratives are at an all-time high.

Some observers call it a trend, and that’s the wrong word. The movement is more well-intentioned than ‘trend’ suggests.

More likely it’s a way to resist. To prove that we don’t live in a monochrome, monosyllabic world. We have vibrancy, colour and nuance. And we want to hear, see and read these things in people’s own words.

It's right and important.

But, as a fiction writer (whose job it is to put themselves and their readers into worlds they can never experience) ‘own voices’ presents some heavy existential questions:
  • Can/should you write what you don’t know?
  • And if you do, is it cultural appropriation?
I struggled with these questions for years.

Because I had two stories that I equally needed to tell.

One narrative was familiar: about a bitterly frazzled career woman, leaning out of the relentless and toxic 9-5 culture that we're told defines us here in the West.

The other narrative was about a Syrian refugee. A Middle Eastern male. Someone with the kind of psychological fault lines I hope to never, ever know.

Ostensibly, he couldn’t be further away from my culture and experience, and so I told myself: you can’t do this. You shouldn’t do this. Why the hell are you doing this?

The answer was simple. I wanted (needed) to humanise beyond news spin and statistics; to create empathy in an increasingly dark world. But as much as I wanted to document, I was aware of the political tension on my page. I was scared to misstep, or screw up, or cross that fine, fine line between exposition and exploitation.

My character only came good when I pushed through doubt and learned this lesson: as writers, we need to focus on our common humanity, rather than the identity markers that separate us.

Research and verification are the foundations of documenting what we don’t know. But it's digging deeper, hunting for the common threads, that gives us the confidence to write outside our own worldview.

And what you don’t know, you can almost surely extrapolate.

I’ve never been forced out of my home, for example. But I have voluntarily immigrated, and I know what it feels like to have to start again.

I don’t know what it feels like to be in detention. But I do know what it feels like to be trapped in a cubicle for forty precious hours a week; my bones itching with the knowledge that I should be being and doing something else.

There are realities common to us all. Whoever we are, and wherever we come from.

So if you're doubting your project, but can't let it lie, just write it out.

Balance research with your humanity and you might just have fiction for our times.

About Offshore

offshore, book, andrea-jones
Image: Andrea Jones
Kate Maddison 'Leaned In' and now she's Burned Out. Lost and disillusioned, she volunteers in a Channel Island detention centre and meets Abra, a displaced Syrian detained after he's caught trying to enter the UK in the post-Brexit age.

Two damaged souls meet and mend – or at least begin to. Because the secretive offshore camp they find themselves in isn’t what it appears to be.

But that's fine.

Neither is Abra.

Or even Kate herself...

Offshore is available to buy now.

About Andrea Jones

Andrea Jones is a British journalist, author and outlier. She looks at the status quo and instead of just saying, sure, asks: why?

The question that usually follows is: what if...?

What if everything dark and destructive in our society could be challenged by the power of subversion and storytelling...?

What do you think? Should writers push boundaries or stick within their comfort zones? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 30 June 2017

Reading Round-Up: May/June 2017

Although the weather may seem to say otherwise (farewell, brief summer of 2017) summer is now in full swing, meaning it's time for another Reading Round-Up!

If you missed the last edition, you can catch up here.

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on

What is reading round-up?

Reading round-up is a simple way for me to keep track of everything book-related, and a fun way to show my readers what I've been reading over the last few months!

Out are the books I've read in May and June.

In are the books I've acquired during that time.

And wishlist are the books I've found out about and want to buy but haven't managed to get my hands on yet!

  • Searching for Steven (Whitsborough Bay #1) by Jessica Redland
  • Born Bad by Marnie Riches
  • Perfect Remains (D.I. Callanach #1) by Helen Fields 
  • The Secret Wife by Gill Paul
  • The Big Little Wedding in Carlton Square by Lilly Bartlett 
  • Cesspool by Phil M. Williams 
  • The Turning Point by Freya North 
  • The Secret of Orchard Cottage by Alex Brown 
  • The Amulet Thief (The Fitheach Trilogy #1) by Luanne Bennett 
  • Summer at Conwenna Cove by Darcie Boleyn 
  • Surrender by Sonya Hartnett 
  • I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • Obsession by Amanda Robson 
  • The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley
  • The Girls by Lisa Jewell 
  • I Do Not Sleep by Judy Finnigan 
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • The Girls by Emma Cline
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
  • The Stranger in My Home by Adele Parks
  • Killing Floor (Jack Reacher #1) by Lee Child
  • Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
  • Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 
  • The Salvation Project (Soterion Mission #3) by Stewart Ross 
  • Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner
  • Truth or Dare by Non Pratt
  • Beck by Mal Peet
  • Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
  • Black and Green (Ghost Bird #11) by C.L. Stone 
  • Felicity at the Cross Hotel by Helena Fairfax 
  • We Have Lost the Coffee by Paul Mathews 
  • Forgotten Reflections by Young-Im Lee
  • Revenge of the Malakim by Paul Harrison 
  • The Fall Of Five (Lorien Legacies #4) by Pittacus Lore 
  • The Revenge of Seven (Lorien Legacies #5) by Pittacus Lore 
  • The Fate of Ten (Lorien Legacies #6) by Pittacus Lore
  • United As One (Lorien Legacies #7) by Pittacus Lore
  • Revenge of the Zeds (The Soterion Mission #2) by Stewart Ross
  • The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace
  • The Girl in the Ice by Robert Bryndza 
  • The Gift by Louise Jensen 
  • The Teacher by Katerina Diamond 
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman 
  • We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman 
  • Island by Jane Rogers 
  • The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell 
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild 
  • Before You Go by Clare Swatman 
  • Exquisite by Sarah Stovell 
  • The Sewing Machine by Natalie Fergie 
  • Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys 
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Guest Post: A Few of My Favourite Things by Paul Mathews

we-have-lost-the-coffee, paul-mathews, blog-tour

As my main character, Howie Pond, is such a culinary connoisseur, it seems appropriate to start with food. And be prepared... your stomach will be rumbling by the time you’ve read this.

Cheese is one of my great loves. It’s always there when I need it – in the fridge, usually. One of my favourite meals is a Czech speciality called smažený sýr. It sounds exotic... but it’s not. It’s a block of cheese – Edam being the most popular – fried in breadcrumbs and served with tartar sauce or mayonnaise. It’s best eaten with fries and washed down with half a litre of black beer – another of my great loves (it’s a little like Guinness but sweeter, and not so thick and creamy).

I’m also a big fan of Polish pierogi. They are often described as dumplings but they are more like giant ravioli. They are best served lightly fried. They actually taste a little like pancakes, if you allow them to burn a little. Traditional fillings are cheese & potato and mushrooms and cabbage. You can eat them with salad, yoghurt and/or mayonnaise. Yummy! (Or ‘Mniam mniam!’, as they say in Poland.)

Chocolate-covered plums are another Eastern European delicacy that I can recommend. Everyone who tries them absolutely loves them. I have an emergency bowl of chocolate on my desk at home and I can see one right now. And, in fact, I’ve just eaten it. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

In terms of non-edible things, I love my cat, Lulu, who stops me spending too much time at the computer by demanding attention, food or play time. She’s actually very good at hide-and-seek and enjoys being found and then chased around the flat. It’s good exercise for me, as well.

Finally, after twenty years of commuting into London and working for other people, I love being an indie author who works for himself – it’s very much like running a small business. And I love not switching on a computer and being bombarded with emails.

Five-star reviews on Amazon are also quite nice, obviously. If you’ve read any of my books, feel free to give me one. Thank you.

About We Have Lost The Coffee

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Image: Paul Mathews / Emma Mitchell PR
London, 2045. Three months into the Coffee Wars and Britain’s caffeine supplies are at critical levels. Brits are drinking even more tea than usual, keeping a stiff upper lip and praying for an end to it all. 

A secret government coffee stockpile promises to save the day... but then mysteriously disappears overnight.

One man is asked to unravel the missing-coffee mystery. Hs name is Pond. Howie Pond. And he’s in desperate need of a triple espresso. Meanwhile, his journalist wife, Britt, is hunting royal fugitive, Emma Windsor, on the streets of the capital.

Can Howie save the British Republic from caffeine-starved chaos? Will the runaway royal be found? And just what will desperate coffee drinkers do for their caffeine fix? Find out, in Paul Mathews' latest comedy adventure set in the Britain of the future...

We Have Lost The Coffee is available to buy now.

About Paul Mathews

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Image: Paul Mathews
Paul Mathews is a 40-something British guy who's given up his 9-to-5 job in London to become a full-time comedy novelist. His two decades working as a Government press officer gave him an invaluable insight into all the key elements of modern government: bureaucracy, bungling, buffoonery, buck-passing and other things that don't begin with the letter 'b' - such as politicians with huge egos and very little talent. He's now putting that knowledge to use by writing about a British Government of the future - where, believe it or not, the politicians are even bigger idiots than the current lot.

Before becoming a PR guy, he was an accountant. But he doesn't like to talk about that. And going back further, he went to Cambridge University and studied philosophy. Despite thousands of hours of thoughtful contemplation, he still hasn't worked out how that happened. The highlight of his university years was receiving a £300 travel grant to visit Prague and 'study philosophy'. It was a trip which ignited his love of Eastern Europe where he spends a lot of time writing and drinking black beer.

Other interests include wearing sunglasses and having his photograph taken. Visit his website for more info on this (allegedly) humorous man.

Why not share a few of your favourite things with me in the comments below?

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Reflections on Losing a Pet

Image: Lorna Holland
Some people just aren’t animal people. They’ve never had pets and they don’t see the attraction of having a pet. Put simply, they don’t bond with animals. However, other people are the complete opposite.

Far from the crazy cat lady stereotype, being an animal lover is all about caring for your pets and forming a deep, long-lasting connection with them. From childhood right throughout life, pets can provide unconditional love and companionship – is it really a surprise that many people prefer spending time with animals rather than people?

So when you have a trusted pet that you have spent a good proportion of your life with, it can be hard when that inevitable day comes and you have to say goodbye.

This is exactly what my family and I were faced with a few weeks ago when we made the difficult decision to say goodbye to our dog.

Image: Lorna Holland
Max was a member of our family for eleven incredible years, arriving just before Christmas in 2006. To say he was an unexpected arrival would be a bit of an understatement, to say the least, but little did we know that that nervous, worried rescue dog would be the best Christmas present any of us ever received.

He fit into our family seamlessly, as though he was meant to be our pet and we were meant to be his family. In fact, if ever there was something to make you believe in fate, Max was it.

Wherever we went, Max came with us. We had a running joke that he must be one of the most well-travelled dogs in the country, judging by the amount of caravan holidays he accompanied us on. We could never leave him in kennels – he always loved holidays and all the extra walking, treats and attention they entailed far too much for that.

Max was always so firmly engrained in almost every aspect of our lives that it is difficult now to pinpoint a family memory that doesn’t include him. As I sit here now writing this, memory after memory is flooding into my brain. If nothing else, Max certainly managed to enrich every single day with his quirks and unwavering affection.

He certainly knew he had landed on his feet when he arrived on our doorstep, as we couldn’t have asked for a more loving, docile pet. You could have done anything to Max and he wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – throughout the duration of his life, he never intentionally hurt anyone, and to be able to confidently say that about a dog is an incredibly rare feat.

Every pet owner says that theirs is one in a million, but with Max, he really was.

Image: Lorna Holland
Stubbornly independent to the last, in the months leading up to June, he began losing more and more of his control and freedom to move. He was never in pain, but seeing a once-lively, active dog reduced to slithering around the house and barely managing to drag himself out into the garden was a sight to slowly break your heart. Despite frequent trips to the vet and a cocktail of pills and medication (eagerly awaited in their disguise of meat or cheese each morning), there was nothing anyone could really do to halt the progress of the debilitating degenerative condition that affected the nerves in his spine.

We worked to adapt our lifestyle in order to cater to his new needs as best we could. We shortened his daily walks, bandaged up his paws to stop him scraping them red-raw against the pavement, and even obtained a ‘dog on wheels’ walking frame to hook him up to, courtesy of a kind-hearted neighbour. However, there comes a point in every older pet’s life where you have to make that call – are you keeping them alive for their own benefit or for yours?

When that heart-breaking moment comes, you know their time has come.

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on

We said goodbye to Max on Saturday 10th June 2017.

I’m told he passed peacefully, in the company of his family. I wasn’t able to go to the vets and accompany him on his final journey, but I don’t regret not being there when he gained his wings.

It might sound strange to say that, but here’s why.

On my 11th birthday, I got my very first pet. My mum took me to the local pet shop after school and let me pick out an adorable little hamster all of my own. I immediately knew which one I wanted – I called her Scamper because she scampered up and down the cardboard box I was transporting her in all the way home.

Scamper wasn’t exactly the most sociable of animals, nor the most active – I think I only remember her actually using her hamster wheel twice throughout her whole life. However, that still didn’t stop her from being the cutest thing I’d ever seen.

Max and Scamper’s lives briefly intersected; Scamper remained aloof towards Max whereas he maintained a strong sense of curiosity towards her.

One morning, I came downstairs to get ready for school and discovered Scamper sitting shivering in a corner of her cage (by this point, she had grown considerably and taken to living in only the bottom storey of her vastly extravagant hamster palace). She remained unresponsive when I picked her up and held her. A few hours later, my first pet passed away in my hands.

The next day at school, a classmate came up to me and asked where I’d been the previous day. When I answered, their response was thus, “I wish I had a hamster so I could have a day off when it died”.

That heartless, throwaway remark has remained with me to this day.

Image: Lorna Holland
Some people’s attitudes to other people’s pets still amaze me, even now. I’m a firm believer in the fact that pets are a real part of the family, so when people are negative about your pets or your relationship with them, it can be a real eye-opener.

On the other hand, the majority of people simply couldn’t be nicer about it. People you barely speak to or people who never even met your pet will share their condolences – losing a pet is a shared grief that all too many of us experience.

While the wounds may still be raw and the grief hides just under the surface, it is important to sit back and reflect on a life which influenced so much of my own.

Goodbye, Max. No words will ever truly do you justice, but here I offer you my best.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Review: The Salvation Project by Stewart Ross

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


Humanity’s hope of salvation lies within a single laptop…

A mutation in human DNA means no one lives beyond nineteen. Scientists working to reverse this pandemic died before their Salvation Project was complete, leaving behind the results of their research in a sealed vault – the Soterion.

122 years have passed. The civilisation of the ‘Long Dead’ is almost forgotten, the Soterion has been burned to ashes, and communities of Constants are tormented by brutal tribes of Zeds. Cyrus, Miouda and Sammy flee their burning city with a laptop rescued from the inferno. They believe it contains the key to the Salvation Project. But its batteries are dead, there is no electricity to power it, and murderous Zeds will stop at nothing to get it back…

Image: Faye Rogers PR
I haven't written a review in quite a long time (especially for a supposed book blogger) so when I was invited to participate in the blog tour for the final instalment of The Soterion Mission trilogy, I jumped at the chance. 

For those who don't know, the author, Stewart Ross, was actually one of my lecturers at university. Even more strangely, I was approached for this tour by the lovely Faye Rogers, meaning that the fact I already knew Stewart was a complete coincidence!

I always find it difficult to review books by authors I know off the page. All the way through the book I find myself imagining the author writing the story and when it comes to writing up the review, don't even get me started. What if I don't like it? Or, worse, what if I end up offending them?

Most authors are used to negative reviews, but taking it on the chin becomes that little bit harder if a scathing review comes from someone you personally know.

However, luckily, this isn't going to be one of those reviews.

Having followed the trilogy right the way through from the first book (cue all the memories of reading The Soterion Mission as an assigned book, followed by group discussions during the writing of the subsequent two books) I was already familiar with the storyline. Just as well, really, as I think you have to read the entire trilogy if you want to really understand all the nuances behind the events of book three. To that end, a quick word of warning - The Salvation Project is definitely not a stand-alone novel.

One thing I've always admired about this series is the fact that it is marketed as children's fiction yet is unapologetically unashamed to deal with a wide range of serious, deep and complex issues. Ranging from violence and death to sex and much deeper psychological concerns, these are topics most children's books either sugarcoat or skip right over. This provides a refreshing change from the norm - even if sometimes certain passages do leave you a little shell-shocked!

All our favourite key characters return again in The Salvation Project, from the stalwart Cyrus to Miouda and the loyal Sammy. Throughout the book, you find yourself constantly willing them to succeed and finally manage to complete the mission, overcoming their enemies and achieving their common goal. Of course, hardships and perils are encountered along the way (what good is a story if everything goes smoothly?) but it is the ending that really manages to pose the biggest questions of all. This whole series has a strong undercurrent involving questioning the modern world and the values and principals of Western society. Definitely one which leaves you with food for thought.

Rating: 3 stars

The Salvation Project, the final novel in The Soterion Mission trilogy, is available to buy now.


If you fancy getting your hands on a copy, there is currently a giveaway running on Goodreads where you can win yourself a copy of your very own - just head on over to enter. Good luck!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Salvation Project by Stewart Ross

The Salvation Project

by Stewart Ross

Giveaway ends June 30, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Have you been keeping up with the series? What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Spotlight: Gallowglass by Jennifer Allis Provost

Karina didn’t set out to free the Seelie Queen’s gallowglass. Now she’ll do anything to keep him.

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Image: Jennifer Allis Provost / Bewitching Book Tours
After Karina and her brother, Chris’, lives fall apart in separate yet equally spectacular ways, they leave New York behind and head to the UK. Karina buries herself in research for her doctoral thesis, all the while studiously not thinking about the man who broke her heart, while Chris - who’d been a best-selling author before his ex-fiancée sued him for plagiarism - drinks his way across the British Isles. 

In Scotland, they visit the grave of Robert Kirk, a seventeenth-century minister who was kidnapped by fairies. No one is more shocked than Karina when a handsome man with a Scottish brogue appears, claiming to be the Robert Kirk of legend. What’s more, he says he spent the last few hundred years as the Gallowglass, the Seelie Queen’s personal assassin. When they’re attacked by demons, Karina understands how dearly the queen wants him back.

As Karina and Robert grow closer, Chris’s attempts to drown his sorrows lead him to a pub, and a woman called Sorcha. Chris is instantly smitten with her, so much so he spends days with Sorcha and lies to his sister about his whereabouts. When Chris comes home covered in fey kisses, Karina realizes that the Seelie Queen isn’t just after Robert.

Can Karina outsmart the Seelie Queen, or is Robert doomed to forever be the Gallowglass?

Gallowglass is available to buy now.

About Jennifer Allis Provost

Image: Jennifer Allis Provost / Bewitching Book Tours
Jennifer Allis Provost writes books about faeries, orcs and elves. Zombies too. She grew up in the wilds of Western Massachusetts and had read every book in the local library by age twelve. (It was a small library).

An early love of mythology and folklore led to her epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Parthalan, and her day job as a cubicle monkey helped shape her urban fantasy, Copper Girl. When she’s not writing about things that go bump in the night (and sometimes during the day) she’s working on her MFA in Creative Nonfiction.

For more information about Jennifer and her books, please visit her website.

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

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Spotlight: Where On Earth? by David H. Minton

Dan Richards, an Iraq war vet, is a surveyor for the mining company, looking to open a new silver mine. Scrambling to establish his helicopter charter business in the wilds of Alaska, while trying to stay connected to his teenage daughter, his world soon turns upside down when he rescues a woman and her dog sledding team after an avalanche. 

Samantha Bettencourt, an environmental engineer, is eager to begin her first project with the University. A spokesperson for an environmentalist group intent on preserving the wilderness, she is on the path to saving the wild, but when Dan walks into her life things start to change.

Sparks fly between Dan and Samantha as they find themselves running for their lives - from the good guys as well as the bad guys out to ruin the things they long to protect. Will they be able to escape before it’s too late? Will they get a chance at love or will they lose everything... including their lives?

Image: David H. Minton / Bewitching Book Tours
Where On Earth? is available to buy now.

About David H. Minton

After graduating college, David spent two tours in the United States Military Assistance Command Republic of Vietnam, before beginning his career as a nuclear engineer, then electronics engineer, telecommunications engineer, and software security engineer. He has previously published three non-fiction books, several poems, and many non-fiction technical and historical articles.

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

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Interview: Cristina Hodgson

For my stop on the blog tour for A Little Bit of Chantelle Rose by Cristina Hodgson, I have an interview with the author to share with you all today.

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Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.

Just a little bit about me, without boring you all! I’m a mum to two cheeky monkeys, who brighten up my day, every day! They are also the proud creators of a few silver streaks in my hair!

A Little Of Chantelle Rose is my debut novel. Amazingly, despite graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in PE and sports science, the novel has nothing to do with running!

How did you first become interested in writing?

I've always loved reading. I never thought about writing myself. Then one day, pretty much out of the blue, I just sat down with a vague idea in my head and three months later, I'd completed my 90 k novel. I think I was more startled to finish the novel than anyone else.

What draws you to writing romantic comedy?

They say “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” This is so true. I find myself crying my eyes out when writing sad scenes. I don't think I could handle writing a whole novel sobbing away, which is why I opt to write, at least for the time being, comedy. I'm not going to contemplate writing thrillers right now either, I have no need to freak myself out on a daily basis. And forget hauntings!

Tell me about A Little of Chantelle Rose.

My debut novel is based on a young woman living in London who is looking to change her life. In the novel, Chantelle, after becoming an extra in a “seedy crime film” is offered the chance of a lifetime, a role to play with a million dollars to win and seemingly nothing to lose; she accepts without thinking twice.
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Image: Cristina Hodgson / Neverland Blog Tours

Little does she know that the role she's been given to play may strip her of everything. Simultaneously, two men seem set on winning her heart, but someone also seems bent on scaring her away. The novel is suitable for young adult readers who enjoy romantic comedies.

How do you get inspiration?

Life in general, and for this, my debut novel, I got inspiration from something that actually happened to me. After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in Sports Science, I travelled and worked in various jobs. One of which was as an extra in a British-produced gangster film which was filmed in Nerja, Spain. It goes without saying that my sports mechanics and kinetic energy knowledge wasn't put to maximum potential in this part-time job. But it was certainly a fun and unique experience, but most importantly it gave me an idea. A year later I sat down and Chantelle Rose was born.

What’s your writing process?

As in whether I'm a panster or a plotter? Panster. I begin with a vague idea which then propels me off to a journey into the unknown. Which, if you think about it, has to be a plus, because if I don't even know the ending to my novel until the last few chapters I should keep my readers guessing too!

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

You spend hours sitting in a chair without moving much, except your fingers as they dart across the keyboard, but it's so mentally draining it knocks you out, almost as much as marathon running. As I've already said, I graduated from Loughborough University with a degree in PE and Sport Science, so I know what I'm talking about. Then you have your internal doubts as to whether what you're writing actually makes sense, let alone if it's interesting or not! And then there's the dreaded writer's block, which is pretty much when all your imaginary friends stop talking to you.

author, cristina-hodgson
Image: Cristina Hodgson

 What do you love most about writing?

Living lives through my characters. It's an escapism really, whilst I'm writing I feel like I'm living another life through my protagonists.

Which authors inspire you?

I would have to say Enid Blyton, no so much that she inspired me to become a writer, rather she made me a reader. As a child, I read all her Famous Five books. She opened a magical world to me and a passion for reading that has accompanied my whole life. She inspired me to read and from the reader, the writer is born. 
I also greatly admire J K Rowling, a huge inspiration, not just for her incredible writing talent, but for her “rags to riches” life story. An amazing lady together with everything she's achieved.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Never give up, which can be applied to life in general. If you have a dream, go and make it a reality. You'll have to work hard because if writing was easy, everyone would be a published author. But the satisfaction of seeing your work in print compensates by far all the time and effort you've channelled into your project, whatever it may be.

What’s your all-time favourite book?

Hard one, but I'd have to go with The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I'm quite happy to live this experience without thinking too much ahead. To be able to pay off my mortgage with my writing would be incredible, but only a handful of talented authors achieve that. So for the moment, I'd be more than satisfied if I can make my readers smile and for them to enjoy my work.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing?

I wake up at 5.30 a.m. to write for an hour or so before the school run and the day job. So I guess if I wasn't a writer I'd be having a lie-in every morning.

What are your interests outside of writing and reading?

Having graduated from Loughborough University, I imagine it comes as no surprise for me to say that I love any outdoor sports activity. Triathlon, athletics, skiing, scuba diving and horse riding. Though nowadays I mainly find myself chasing after my two young kids. Which is more energetic than a lot of adventure sports!
What are you currently working on?

This is a bit of a secret at the moment, you'll understand if you read my debut novel.

What are you reading at the moment?

Never on Saturday by Sue Barnard, who actually happens to be my editor.

A Little of Chantelle Rose is available to buy now. 

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

Monday, 29 May 2017

Guest Post: The Journey Behind Writing a Book by Lainy Malkani

In September 2016, Lainy received a letter from Arts Council England informing her that she had been successful in her application for funding to write Sugar, Sugar. For the next six months, she set to work, researching and writing the stories that would eventually form Sugar, Sugar. But was the journey as smooth as she had first anticipated?

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I am still not quite sure what I was thinking when I wrote out my project plan for the Arts Council England Grants for the Arts fund. Once I received the news that I was successful in my bid, I immediately started researching the stories. I began to write two weeks later, that was in the first week of September and everything was going pretty well. By November, I had written the first drafts of four stories and then I hit a brick wall. I had plenty of opening lines, a paragraph perhaps and then nothing. I kept asking myself...and then? What happens next? Delete!

The Arts Council England funding gave me time to write the collection and to pay for a mentor. Jamie Rhodes, who had written his own collection of short stories, was always at the other end of the phone encouraging me to plough on and write. I allowed myself a week to redraft each story and while I was waiting for further feedback from Jamie I began researching the next story.

As a journalist I am used to writing to tight deadlines and continued writing and deleting for another month, desperately searching for the spark that would lead to a strong narrative. I confess that there were times that I wanted to give all the money back but I continued writing and deleting. By December, I had mapped out two more stories. 

Questioning why I was finding it so difficult to write I wondered if a change of scenery would help? 

Up until this point, I had been writing at home, in a make-shift office in my house. I tried writing in a cafe, in the British Library, in my dining room, and the hallway until eventually; I resorted to sleeping on my sofa, every night for the whole of January and part of February so that I could work at all hours of the night without disturbing my family. I rose at 5am and wrote until 1am, taking time out to have breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked by my husband and two children until finally on 6 February 2017, I submitted the first draft of the manuscript. 

Would I do it again? I know now that to write ten short stories in six months is a huge undertaking. If you would have asked me this question on 7 February, the day after I submitted my manuscript I would have said no! But now that I have Sugar, Sugar in my hands and can flick through the pages of my debut collection my answer would be probably followed by a maybe, followed by a definite yes!

About Sugar, Sugar

book, cover, sugar-sugar, lainy-malkani, hope-road-publishing
Image: Lainy Malkani / Hope Road Publishing
Sugar, Sugar is a contemporary collection of short stories which reveals a rich and culturally diverse history behind India's migrant workers and one of the most abundant and controversial commodities in the world.

Inspired by historical documents between 1838 and 1917, and the living memories of the descendants of indentured workers, Sugar, Sugar spans five continents, travelling through time uncovering inspiring tales of courage and resilience.

With sugar at its heart, this collection unveils lives rarely exposed in modern British literature and adds a new dimension to the history of sugar, post-emancipation, whilst sharing a previously untold strand in the story of the making of contemporary Britain.

Sugar, Sugar is available to buy now. 

About Lainy Malkani

author, writer, lainy-malkani
Image: Lainy Malkani / Hope Road Publishing
Lainy Malkani is a London-born writer, broadcast journalist and presenter with Indo-Caribbean roots. In 2013, she set up the Social History Hub to bring the stories of 'unsung heroes' in society to life. Her critically acclaimed two-part radio documentary for BBC Radio 4, Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, inspired her to create this collection of short stories. She has written for the British Library, the Commonwealth and the BBC. 

Lainy is married with two children and lives in North-West London. Her cross-cultural roots; from Britain, India and Guyana, in the Caribbean, have been a great source of her work, both as a writer and a journalist.

What do you think of the book? Let me know in the comments below!