Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Book Review: How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

It's the Salem Witch Trials meets Mean Girls in a debut novel from one of the descendants of Cotton Mather, where the trials of high school start to feel like a modern-day witch hunt for a teen with all the wrong connections to Salem’s past.

Salem, Massachusetts, is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the centre of a centuries-old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

how-to-hang-a-witch, adriana-mather, book

I was so stoked to receive a copy of this book to review - I mean, it has all my favourite elements all rolled up into one tempting read, so what's not to love? Young Adult, paranormal, historical influences, twists, turns and a dash of romance... it's almost as though this book was made from a recipe of all my own fictional favourites.

How to Hang a Witch follows the story of Sam, an NYC girl who finds she has some pretty major family history to live up to. Of course, everyone has heard of the Salem Witch Trials, but I have to admit that I was not particularly clued up about the real-life historical happenings. I didn't even know who Cotton Mather was, and at the mention of Increase Mather, I had to turn to Google to sort the facts from the fiction and satisfy my disbelief that anyone would be called 'Increase' (turns out, Increase Mather was indeed a real person).

Aside from the gripping story and nail-biting twists and turns, what made this book extra special for me was the author's personal connection with the tale. Author Adriana Mather is, in fact, a descendant of Cotton Mather - a unique claim to fame and one which must have undeniably put her in good stead during the writing process. I love discovering books and authors with quirky connections like this and the knowledge only made me fall in love with the story even more!

I found myself hooked on the tale right from the very start - I had to read on to find out what happened; this is definitely one of those unputdownable books. How to Hang a Witch is fast-paced and exhilarating, a wild ride which is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

An enjoyable read and a great fusion of historical facts and contemporary fiction, How to Hang a Witch is more than worthy of a spot on your tbr pile in 2018.

Rating: 4 stars

How to Hang a Witch is available to buy now.

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

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

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Interview: Leapfrogtown


Leapfrogtown is all about distinctive diversity - who said all music had to be the same? I sat down for a quick catch-up with Christopher Guard from the band to find out what their unique sound is all about.

How would you sum up your music in three words?
Dreams, drums, lyrics.
Tell me a little about yourself.
My birth took 36 hours. I was a child TV star. I learned piano to Grade 5 then bought a guitar. My mum is a published poet.
Where is your music career at now?
Busting to be back on festival stages with Leapfrogtown; looking at labels for acoustic subdivision What the Fox.
Tell me about your latest release.
One-take What the Fox recordings, jahon, vox, guitar - back to the songs. Leapfrogtown remixes on Soundcloud.

What can listeners expect from you?
Songs and wherever they take me; delicate like Nick Drake, raw like the Stones. Now not then.
Are there any particular musicians that inspire you?
Lennon; my daughter Tallulah.
What music do you draw inspiration from?
Silence; everything; I’m an ornithologist.
What are your musical guilty pleasures?
Musak in lifts if I’m lucky enough to be in a posh hotel.
What is your ultimate goal when it comes to music? 
Freedom without poverty.
You can find out more about Leapfrogtown and their music over on the website.

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

Friday, 9 March 2018

What Spring Means to Me


I can't believe it's been over three months since I wrote about what winter means to me. The last few months have flown by in an absolute blur - I've been so busy, I've forgotten to notice the passing of time.

Although recent snow and ice are still fresh in our minds, spring is slowly on its way. Flowers are beginning to bud, more and more animals are getting out and about in the countryside and, ever so slowly, temperatures are on the rise.

Since I enjoyed writing about winter so much, I decided to make my love for the seasons into a four-part series here on The Writing Greyhound. Winter may finally be on its way out, but spring is only just starting to begin. What does springtime mean to me? Here are just a few thoughts, memories and observations.

Spring means early blooming flowers, buds just beginning to show and fresh growth peeking through the cold, barren ground ready to start a brand new year. Spring means rebirth and awakening; all through the natural world, hibernation ends and another long winter passes. Newly-born lambs gamble in the fields, wobbling on unsteady legs and calling to their mothers for support and reassurance.


Spring means wildlife beginning to show its head once again, squirrels darting across the lawn and birds of all shapes and sizes pecking at the feeder and collecting twigs and moss to build their nests. Spring means tiny baby birds nesting in the small fir tree in the garden, hoping against all hope for survival and facing the harsh realities of life and death first-hand - the juxtaposition of home comforts and stark survival.

Spring means Mother's Day and giving gifts, sibling arguments and attempts at cooking dinner. Spring means days out and trips in the car, cold wind blowing in your face and hands stuffed in pockets to keep warm. Spring means family walks and trips to the farm park, following trails and learning about nature.

Spring means stress and exams, the need to study yet the lure of a sunny spring day. Spring means decisions and tough choices, symbolic endings and new beginnings. Spring means loss and heartbreak, the love of family members and walking in circles, sunsets fiery over water and the hope of better things to come. Spring means meeting new people and trying new things, discovering yourself and moulding into someone new. Spring means taking the leap and pushing back fears, a time for change and an opportunity for progress. Spring means out with the old and in with the new.

Spring officially begins on March 1st, and since we're now a good way into the month, it makes sense that spring will surely be here soon. Before you know it, the season will be in full bloom and thoughts of winter long gone. But then we will be onto the next season - summer.

Intrigued about what summer means to me? Interested in keeping up with the series? Keep checking back to discover the next instalment later in the year!

Which season is your favourite? What's your favourite thing about spring? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Book Review: Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck

Work to impress, dance to express.

It’s a long way to go to create a new life for yourself.

Classical ballerina, Flora Gatehouse, has no choice but to take a risk. Having failed an important ballet audition in London, she moves to a small cottage in a forest just outside Lisbon, Portugal, her only inheritance following her father’s death.

Soon, Flora is involved in village life, where fate takes a new twist when she becomes attracted to forest ranger, Marco. But they are off to a shaky start.

Can Flora find acceptance in a foreign land, in a magical place that harbours secrets and heartache?

forest-dancer, susan-roebuck, book

Having previously read and enjoyed Rising Tide, another of Susan Roebuck's novels, I was always going to say yes when asked to review this book. I loved the descriptive imagery and poetic ebb and flow of Susan's writing from the first story, so couldn't wait to start reading Forest Dancer!

Luckily for me, Forest Dancer certainly did not disappoint.

Although our main character, Flora, is clearly a privileged young woman from a wealthy background, you can't help but feel sympathy for her as things seem to keep going wrong. From her work problems to health concerns and, of course, the overwhelming sense of loneliness and separation from her family and friends, these are issues that we all face at one point or another during the course of our lives.

However, as Flora heads to Portugal and begins to get to grips with a drastically different but vastly rewarding lifestyle (helped, of course, by Roebuck's fantastic descriptions once again) you automatically find yourself rooting for her and willing her to succeed. There are so many different threads holding this story together that it could easily become too tangled and complex, yet each distinct subplot is carefully woven into the overall storyline with the utmost ease and consideration. 

My one gripe with this book is that I felt it lost its realism at certain points throughout the story. Of course, I'm always prepared to allow a little artistic licence and creative leeway in fiction, but surely a novel based in reality such as this should maintain its realism throughout? While this isn't to say that I don't enjoy fantasy (regular readers will know that certainly isn't the case!), I like to know what genre I am reading before I start so I can make sure I am fully prepared. Perhaps it's just my own personal opinion, but I did feel that we lost the path of sanity and escaped into ethereal, otherworldly lands at times. 

However, this didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book and my drive to get to the end of the story to find out what happened! I feel this novel deserves a solid three-star rating - although I personally enjoyed Rising Tide more than Forest Dancer, I still look forward to reading more from Susan Roebuck.

Rating: 3 stars

Forest Dancer is available to buy now.

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

Have you read any of Susan Roebuck's books? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Interview: Sandy Day

This morning I am thrilled to be welcoming the lovely Sandy Day to The Writing Greyhound! Read on to discover all about her life, her inspiration, and her novel Fred's Funeral.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hello! I'm a Canadian writer, semi-un-self-employed-retired. I live in a small town north of Toronto, Ontario where I have spent every summer of my life. It's wonderful to be able to devote myself to writing but on the side, I also sell dog halters to dog trainers.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I have been writing for as long as I can remember. As soon as I learned to read, I started writing. My first poem was published in the Toronto Humane Society's magazine, Fur and Feathers, when I was in grade 5. It was a poem about a cat. 
I studied English Literature at university but after graduation, I ended up buying a gift store and spent the next twenty years selling knickknacks and raising two kids. I got back to writing in 2008 following a miraculous change in my life, which is chronicled in my soon to be released book, Poems from the Chatterbox.
freds-funeral, sandy-day, book

Tell me about Fred’s Funeral.
Fred's Funeral was inspired by the life of my Great Uncle, a shell-shocked WWI veteran who lived a long and sad life. It is a fictional account - Fred is a ghost at his own funeral. The story is fuelled by the rivalry between Fred and his prudish sister-in-law Viola. She remembers Fred's life a little differently than he does.
What’s the best thing about writing literary fiction?
Literary fiction is what I love to read so naturally it's what I aspire to write. It's a tricky genre though, because what does literary even mean? Every work of literary fiction is also a story belonging to some other genre, unless it's very "experimental", i.e. unreadable. I suppose the definition is that literary fiction is not written to a formula, but even that seems farfetched to me. I think literary fiction is a style rather than a genre, and it just happens to be the style in which I write.
What drew you to writing about history? Did you undertake much research for the book?
I wanted to write a story about my Great Uncle. I didn't know anything about WWI so I needed to do a lot of research. I am drawn to writing about the past. I like to record little details that place a story in its time. The internet is an amazing resource for historical research. I don't know if I would have been able to write Fred's Funeral without YouTube and Wikipedia.
How did you get inspiration?
For Fred's Funeral, my Great Uncle's letters, found in a box in the attic, overwhelmingly inspired me. When I transcribed the letters, my Great Uncle's voice became embedded in my mind. When I wrote what he thought and what he felt, it was as though he was speaking to me. I was also inspired by the injustice I felt transpired for him; I wanted to correct the story.
What’s your writing process?
I cook up a story in my mind about a character or two and then I plot it out. I figure out what kind of story I am trying to tell and I make sure I include in the outline all the elements a reader wants to see. Every day, I spend time doing creative work, whether it's writing a first draft project longhand, or editing a piece. Little by little, the scribblings come together into books. 
That is not how I wrote Fred's Funeral. It was more of a quilting process. I took all the snippets and pieces I'd been writing since 1986 and sewed them all together. It took ages. I never want to work that way again. 
Poetry is different. Poems arrive like speeding torpedoes in my mind and I have to race to a notebook to write them down. If I don't grab them when they're mid-air, they're lost forever. I haven't had a poem come in quite a few months.
sandy-day, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The hardest part of writing is the blank page. Every time I work on a first draft, getting started is absolute torture. When people tell me that I must love writing, I think they're nuts. I love editing - writing is hard hard work.
What do you love most about writing?
I love when a piece works. I love when I write something and read it a few days later and feel delighted. I love when I'm in workshops and I write something that makes people laugh or gasp. Most of all, I love the revision process when all my skills come into play and I get to hone a piece to perfection, or some reasonable facsimile thereof.
Which authors inspire you?
I'm reading a book of poetry, Closer to Where We Began by Lisa Richter, and I have to set it aside because it inspires me so much. I think, not now, not now! I don't have time for this inspiration right now! 
When I wonder if I'm on the right track with my own writing I reread Alice Munro.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Write. That's the only advice I can give. Write and share your writing. Blogs are free. Facebook is free. Write and write and write some more. My only caveat would be before you publish, that is making something public, make sure it is EXACTLY how you want it to sound. Read it out loud to yourself, and fix up all your spelling. 
Also, I think all aspiring writers should look into self-publishing. There is no dearth of material on the www about how to do it and it is the way of the future. Don't waste your time trying to get traditionally published.
What are you currently working on?
I just finished the final edit on my soon to be released, Poems from the Chatterbox. And I am writing a new novel that I cannot talk about - I don't like to talk about a first draft in progress. In the spring, I will be putting together a book I wrote last summer and publishing it. Then I have a novel I've been writing for a few years that will become my editing project. Whew!
What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading an engaging YA novel, The Last Singer by Marjorie Lindsey, and the sweet romance trilogy by Penny Appleton (not sure how I feel about that yet, it may be a bit too sweet for me). I'm also reading the entire internet, it feels like.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
It's a toss-up between The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, or A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toewes. Both are writing perfection to me.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
As I head into my silver years, I hope to make a living from my writing. I will continue to be an indie-author and help others to publish their books. I think indie-publishing is the most exciting development in the book world now and in the foreseeable future.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I'm very interested in spirituality and spend a great deal of time pondering existence and non-existence. What is my purpose here on Earth and am I fulfilling that purpose?
Fred's Funeral is available to buy now. For more about Sandy and her writing, you can visit her website.

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Interview: Isabella Louise Anderson

cards-from-khloes-flower-shop, isabella-louise-anderson, book, blog-tour

It's my stop on the blog tour for Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop and I'm here to share a fun Q&A with the author, Isabella Louise Anderson, with you all. Enjoy!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself.
I'm the author of The Right Design, Cards From Khloe's Flower Shop, and the novella, The Hollywood Setup. My short story can be found in the Christmas anthology, Merry & Bright. I live in Dallas with my husband and our cat, Lucky.
How did you first become interested in writing? 
I grew up as an avid reader, so I would often try to create my own stories. I didn't start taking it seriously until January of 2010.
cards-from-khloes-flower-shop, isabella-louise-anderson, book

Tell me about Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop.
Cards From Khloe's Flower Shop is a book about three women who are at different points in their lives, career, and romance-wise. Khloe struggles with trust issues and running her business; Connie's an ugly duckling who is a beautiful soul, and Gabby is learning if it's possible to love again after losing her husband.
How do you get inspiration? 
Reading other books, watching TV or movies, and reading newspaper articles. Also, I pretend I'm the heroine in my book and put "myself" in situations I wish I were/could've been in.
As flowers are a strong theme in the book, what's your favourite flower? 
Circus roses!
What's your writing process? 
Every book is different. With my first book, I took notes like crazy, but with Cards From Khloe's Flower Shop, I just wrote. For me, it all depends on what the story idea is.
isabella-louise-anderson, author

What's the hardest thing about writing? 
Believe it or not, just doing it. You can tell as many excuses to yourself, so instead of saying that you can't, just do it.
Which authors inspire you? 
I'm honoured to know a lot of wonderful women author, but Meredith Schorr and Hilary Grossman. Whether it be for writing or in need of a good book, these are my go-to ladies.
What are your ambitions for your writing career? 
Right now, I'm a one day at a time kind of girl, so I don't know what the future holds, mainly because life is so unpredictable. In the meantime, I do plan on writing and publishing books that I hope my readers will enjoy as much as I like creating them.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading? 
Spending time with my husband, family, and friends, watching baseball (Go Rangers), and enjoying spicy Indian or Mexican food.
What are you reading at the moment? 
Write Smart, Write Happy by Cheryl St. John.
Cards from Khloe's Flower Shop is available to buy now. For more about Isabella and her books, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Reading Round-Up: Jan/Feb 2018


The last two months have flashed by - I don't know about you, but I still feel like it's 2017!

I'm determined to meet my 50 books in 2018 challenge this year, so I've been doing my best to read as much as possible and squeeze a few pages in whenever I have a spare minute. I'm always busy and life has been even more hectic than normal recently, but things seem to be going in the right direction so far!

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 January and February.

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!

  • Buy A Bullet by Gregg Hurwitz
  • The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz
  • Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
  • Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain
  • Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain
  • Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot
  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
  • The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith
  • Dark Visions by L.J. Smith
  • The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • Carrie by Stephen King
  • Proposal by Meg Cabot
  • Awaken by Meg Cabot
  • The Dark Divine by Bree Despain
  • Rapture by Lauren Kate
  • London's Strangest Tales by Tom Quinn
  • The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
  • Devil's Bargain by Rachel Caine
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia 
  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
  • A Reflection of Sophie Beaumont by L.M. Barrett
  • A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride
  • The Stranger by Kate Riordan
  • The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond
  • Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
  • Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck 
  • How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather 
  • Papiliones by Jonathan Bradley
  • Trio of Lost Souls by Jack Remick
  • Generation One (Lorien Legacies Reborn #1) by Pittacus Lore 
  • Dead... If Only (The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries #4) by Heather Haven 
  • Lullaby by Leila Slimani
  • Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch
  • Haunting the Deep (How to Hang a Witch #2) by Adriana Mather
  • Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon
  • Fugitive Six (Lorien Legacies Reborn #2) by Pittacus Lore 
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Magic of Magic

nature-of-the-witch, helen-t-norwood, author, book, blog-tour

When I was in the first year of primary school I remember myself and a group of friends spending our break-times trying to fly. We stood at the top of some concrete steps that lead on to the playground and then we jumped off and flapped our arms. Sometimes we got a little frustrated that it didn’t seem to be working. We decided that we weren’t flapping our arms hard enough or jumping high enough. As the bell rang to signal the end of break we would head for the classroom feeling slightly baffled that we hadn’t sussed it yet and vowing to try again at next break. I don’t remember it occurring to us that maybe it wasn’t working because it wasn’t possible. We assumed it was our own error and that we were doing something wrong.

As a child, I loved reading. My favourite books generally contained some element of magic. I would’ve loved to have stumbled across Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and met Moonface, or discover I had telekinesis like Roald Dahl’s Matilda. For children reality is blurred, anything is possible; our teeth are collected by fairies and Santa flies through the skies at Christmas.

Then we grow up, and no matter how hard we try to ‘Peter Pan’ our way through life, reality kicks in at some point. We start to realise that no matter how high we jump and how hard we flap our arms we are never going to fly.

nature-of-the-witch, helen-t-norwood, book

When we are trying to do the whole ‘adulting’ thing we lose sight of the magic. We are studying, working, having children and life is busy, and that element of wonder that we never doubted was real as children are lost to life and logic.

However, I think it’s a wonderful feeling to pick up a book, or watch a film, and lose myself in the kind of world I believed in as a child. I may spend my days now feeling a bit old and sensible, but there is still a side to me that is secretly waiting for my Hogwarts letter to be delivered (I’m assuming the owl has been delayed).

This is why I enjoyed writing Nature of the Witch so much. I was able to let loose that side of me and create a world within a world. Kiera and Jack are leading normal lives until witchcraft returns after its two hundred year absence.

However, I haven’t written the same story that I would have written if I’d had the idea as a child because I’m not that little girl anymore. I have different experiences now and I’m looking at magic from a different angle than I did back then.

nature-of-the-witch, helen-t-norwood, book, blog-tour

My dad died not long before I started writing the book. In the story, Kiera is in a similar position and is struggling with her grief. At the time of writing it seemed obvious that, once Kiera had her powers, she would try to use them to bring back her lost loved one. That is certainly what I would be thinking of doing. I believe Kiera and I shared that journey together as I wrote the book. Magic makes anything possible. Can it be used to cure heartbreak and grief and reverse death? Whether the answer to that is yes or no, it was still therapeutic to absorb myself in a world where there are those sorts of possibilities.

For me, stories with witchcraft and magic and unfathomable situations provide the ultimate form of escape. They open up a part of me that often gets lost in modern life. They remind me of the child I once was, who thought that if she flapped her arms harder she could fly. It’s good to be reminded of her sometimes. Reading or writing about magic provides a release from our usual, everyday pressures. There is certainly a real magic in magic.

Helen lives in the UK with her husband, two children and one diva-like cat called Tiger. Helen, like many others, was captivated in her childhood by books from the likes of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton and any books which took her to new worlds and showed her places of magic and mystery. She has enjoyed writing and creating her own magical worlds from a young age. She is currently writing the second book in the Nature of the Witch trilogy which will be out soon.

The Nature of the Witch is available to buy now. For more about Helen, follow her on Twitter.

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

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Book Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father - and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

love-and-gelato, jenna-evans-welch, book

Perhaps it wasn't the wisest choice to set about reading a warm, summery story in the middle of winter, but there we are - that's exactly what I did. While those lovely summer's evenings may still be a long way away, what better time to dream of warmer climes than in the depths of winter's grasp?

As regular readers of The Writing Greyhound will undoubtedly have realised by now, I am a massive lover of Young Adult literature. It's my favourite genre (if you can class an intended audience as a genre, though that's a post for another time) but one I don't get to read nearly as often as I would ideally like. So, I went into Love & Gelato with no expectations but a mind ready to devour some of my favourite type of fiction - a winning combination, as it turned out!

Sweet and romantic, Love & Gelato is an outstanding example of Young Adult writing at its best. The author has managed to completely capture the essence and spirit of her young protagonists, making it all too easy for the reader to see the world through their eyes. Even if you have never travelled to Italy, the sights, sounds and visions painted of Florence are clear to see, made all the more special by the fact that they are seen through a multitude of different perspectives.

The description in this book is stunning. It's not too out-there or ostentatious; instead, it is subtly done, weaving a picture of the scene in your mind's eye - it seems almost as real as though you are there yourself!

However, it's not just the impressive descriptions and beautiful setting that make this book a hit. The characters themselves are a real mishmash of conflicting emotions and hidden feelings, ensuring each individual is as three-dimensional and realistic as possible. From shy Howard to charming Ren and the infectious confidence of Elena, each character has their own set of unique traits to bring to the table. And, of course, we can't forget about our main character. Lina is a girl facing an impossibly difficult situation yet somehow, she still manages to make the best of everything that life throws at her. She takes everything in her stride and does her best to improvise and accommodate, something which I admire greatly.

Of course, despite all this, the real crux of the story focuses on one young girl's journey to discover her late mother's past. Alternating between achingly bittersweet and gorgeously romantic, Love & Gelato is a perfect summer (or winter!) read.

Rating: 4 stars

Love & Gelato is available to buy now.

* I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Have you read the book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Interview: Rob Campbell

This morning, I'm pleased to be welcoming author Rob Campbell to The Writing Greyhound for a chat. From life and writing to his latest Young Adult mystery novel Monkey Arkwright, there's plenty to discover in my latest author interview!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I’m a Mancunian born and bred. I live with my wife and two daughters, and pretty much everything that I do is centred on family. We all love holidays and try to get away as much as we can. When I’m at home, I enjoy reading, films, TV and music. I love music, particularly American singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but I also like some lesser-known artists such as Josh Ritter and Ryan Bingham. Basically, musicians who combine great music with thoughtful lyrics or a good story in their songs. I’m a life-long Manchester City fan (of the armchair variety). 
I’m a software engineer by day, and I think that writing all that code, and the documentation that goes with it, has given me the discipline that’s necessary to get on with writing my novel. My day job requires a lot of technical skills, and I think that some of those skills are transferable to the creative writing process; activities such as organising the plot, planning the chapters out, keeping track of the characters arcs have some overlap with software development process (but writing is a lot more fun, of course).
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’ve always tried to be creative. I was pretty good at art as a kid and in recent years, I’ve enjoyed making some amateur comedy videos based on family holidays at our favourite hotel in Spain. I love music and I can play a few chords, but in truth, I don’t think that I’d ever been able to write a decent song (unlike my daughters). But I think that I can write an interesting story and create some likeable characters. I’ve always enjoyed reading, and I love how you can lose yourself for hours in a story well told. So, trying to write something that would entertain others just seemed like a natural thing to do. A colleague and I wrote a comedy farce about twenty years ago, and we also wrote a couple of TV scripts, none of which piqued the interest of the literary or TV world. But the enjoyment that I got from the experience has always stayed with me, and the writing that I’ve done over the last two years, culminating in my debut novel, has been an immensely rewarding experience.
monkey-arkwright, rob-campbell, book

Tell me about Monkey Arkwright.
Monkey Arkwright is the name of one of the main protagonists in my debut novel of the same name. He’s the boy who loves to climb. The narrator of my story is Lorna, a budding young writer who is struggling to come to terms with the recent death of her father. In my earliest ideas for the story, I was going to cover Monkey’s life; documenting all the climbs that he made growing up. I’d have a secondary character (that became the book’s narrator, Lorna) who Monkey would tell these tall tales too. But rather than focus on Monkey’s upbringing, having fun describing more innocent times, I decided to craft a plot that would take Monkey and Lorna to darker places. Lorna is already in a dark place when the story starts; luckily, I never had to go through the experience of losing a parent when I was a young, but I tried to imagine what this would be like and how it would influence Lorna’s thought process. Monkey turns out to be the catalyst for change in her life, but together, they become embroiled in a black-hearted mystery that has its roots in some dark deeds that took place more than a century earlier. They meet in a graveyard at the start of the book, and I’m really proud of that opening scene; it sets up what is to follow beautifully.
What’s the best thing about writing for young adults?
I’ve been quite open about the inspiration for Monkey Arkwright. I set out with the intention of writing a coming-of-age tale in the spirit of Stephen King’s The Body (better known in its film version Stand By Me), but melding this with the type of mystery/adventure stories where a group of kids latch onto something strange that is going on in their hometown (again, using a film reference, think of The Goonies). These were the types of books and films that I enjoyed growing up, and I think that they have a timeless appeal. A young adult audience is prepared to open their mind to a bit of mystery and wonder; they represent a group of readers who are not always after a police procedural or a cold crime thriller – otherwise, how would book series such as Harry Potter or The Hunger Games have turned out to be such successes? I certainly don’t want to undersell my book, there’s a bit of grim reality in there as well, and I think that it’s this balance of reality and fantasy that makes the young adult market so fascinating to write for. Having said all of that, I would like to think that my book would appeal to anybody young at heart, not just teenagers.
What drew you to writing mysteries?
There are certain books that you can read where the plot is almost incidental; either it’s nothing new or it’s simply run-of-the-mill. But what makes it stand out are the characters. Some characters are so well written that you’d quite happily read 500 pages of them pottering about the house, being cynical or emotional or funny. Characters that leap off the page. However, I don’t think that I could write a book like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve put a lot of work into my protagonists, a couple of antagonists and even the minor characters – I hate it when a book is full of cardboard cut-outs that could have wandered in from any generic book of the same genre. However, I love the mechanics of building a plot; spending the first half of the book setting the wheels in motion and then having the characters untangle the web. Taking all of this into consideration, what’s better than writing a mystery? What’s in that box? Where did the box come from? Why does the one-armed guy want it? Why is the one-armed guy scared of mice? None of these questions applies to my book, but hopefully, you can see what I mean.
Did you undertake much research for the book?
Being honest, no. Any that I did do, I resorted to Google. At one point, I became obsessed with making sure that none of my character names were real people but quickly realised that this was a futile exercise. I think I managed that with Monkey Arkwright though! Without giving too much of the plot away, I did do a bit of research on a few famous people from history, and also a few myths and customs.
How did you get inspiration?
I’ve already mentioned a couple of films that have inspired me, but I also take great inspiration from music. Listening to the kind of music that I like - story songs, often played out against a backdrop of poetically-described landscapes and places – it’s hard not to be inspired. The odd lyric has sneaked into my writing here and there and quite often, a brilliant lyric, or even the music itself, can be the launchpad for a series of ideas that take root in my mind and keep me writing for paragraphs on end. I also find that going out for a walk is a good boost for the imagination; time to dream, when your eyes are not locked on a Kindle or a computer screen. The rocks next to that pine tree – what would happen if I discovered a hidden door there...
rob-campbell, author

What’s your writing process like?
I try to write at times that won’t affect family time too much. If they are all watching a two-hour episode of The Voice or Strictly Come Dancing, this is golden writing time for me, and I usually get two or three hours done at the weekend. I’ll spend half an hour here or there in the week. For Monkey Arkwright, I wrote three chapters at a time before handing them over to my beta readers (my two daughters and my friend) and getting their feedback. For future books, I think that I might hand over each chapter as it is written – taking feedback on board and editing three chapters together seemed a bit of a mammoth task at times. I write mostly in the autumn and winter – spring and summer are for dreaming up the next plot!
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Starting and stopping. After a hard day in front of my computer screen at work, sometimes the last thing that I want to do is sit in front of my computer at home and write. If I’m not careful, hours and days can go by, lost to procrastination, trying to decide if I should write something. Conversely, when I do manage to summon up the enthusiasm to write, I find it very hard to stop! Even though I know that I have to be up early for work the next day, that “just another paragraph, just another chapter” feeling that you get as a reader is amplified ten-fold as a writer.
What do you love most about writing?
Creating a story that I know is all mine. That plot that you’ve been working out for the last month or so, that character that you’ve dreamed up and tweaked until he’s perfect; getting those ideas down on paper is incredibly satisfying for me.
Which authors inspire you?
Surprisingly, given that I write for a young adult audience, most of my literary heroes write in either the thriller or fantasy genre. David Morrell, the author who originally created the Rambo character is, in my view, the finest thriller writer that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. His plots involving government spies and assassins twist and turn, yet his characters are never supermen, and there’s often a shady organisation lurking in the background. Scott Lynch (more on him later) is one of the recent stars of the fantasy world. Similarly, Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy books feature the finest set of characters that I have ever read, and I love the way that he takes well-established tropes and turns them on their head.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
If you get an idea, start writing. Don’t worry about literary conventions – write in your own voice. Just because somebody hasn’t written a novel in this style before, doesn’t mean it won’t work. Make sure that your characters are as interesting as your plot. As an independent author, prepare for a long, hard slog after you’ve released your book!
What are you currently working on?
Whilst I was developing the backstory for Monkey Arkwright, I realised that it was far too much to fit in one book. I could have written a longer book, but this didn’t feel right for the market that I was pitching my story at. I’m not out to extract money from of my audience ad-infinitum – it feels like the story will fit nicely into a trilogy. So, I’m currently in the planning process for the second book in the Wardens of the Black Heart series. I like to plan things for months before I start writing – you wouldn’t believe how many notes I have in notepad on my computer!
What are you reading at the moment?
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Mark’s written quite a few books in the fantasy genre in the last few years, but I’ve never got around to reading any. A friend recommended Red Sister, and given that it is the first book in a new series, this seemed like a good point to jump in at. It’s one of those books where a young apprentice goes to an academy (in this case, a convent) to learn a set of deadly skills. The characters are well written and I have high hopes for it.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Whatever I write in this short paragraph could not possibly do justice to this masterpiece – but I’ll try. It tells the tale of a group of orphans, trained by a Fagin-like character in the art of thievery, and is set in a fantasy world, specifically the city of Camorr, a medieval Venice-like city. As the story progresses, so do Locke’s skills, bringing him and his group into contact with ever more dangerous people. The descriptions in this book are beautifully written and the plot twists are of the jaw-dropping variety. Plus, Scott Lynch presents The Lies of Locke Lamora in an interesting way; the heart of the story is Locke and his band of brothers pulling off an elaborate con, but every few chapters, we get a short segment of backstory in which we learn about certain key events and characters from Locke’s past. Whilst this sounds like it might be jarring, trust me, it isn’t, and I love the way that Lynch cleverly segues from the present to the past and back (or is that forward?) again.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Modest if I’m being honest. I certainly hope to complete the Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy and pick up enough fans of the series to make this happen. I’ve said on my blog that I want to sell 200 copies in the first year and that’s my immediate target. When you look at the numbers, an independent author would have to sell a staggering number of books to be able to become a full-time author. I don’t believe that this will happen to me and to be honest, I’m not complaining. I’ve got a good day job and I’m quite comfortable with writing software by day and novels by night for the foreseeable future.
Monkey Arkwright is available to buy now. For more information about Rob and his work, you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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

Monday, 19 February 2018

A Sound, A Memory, A Place, A Time

seagull, bird, memory, sound

What does the sound of a seagull mean to you?

To me, this is the sound of many different things. From pain and sadness to nostalgia and childhood memories, it's undeniable that this one simple sound carries a plethora of emotions and personal memories.

Of course, it's been scientifically proven that being exposed to various different sensory stimuli can trigger memories, so this is definitely not anything new. We all remember seemingly random things and recall memories we thought lost when exposed to sights, sounds and smells. It's something that happens to everyone, although we all have different stimuli and varying degrees of reactions to each unique stimulant.

Similarly, it's important to remember that while our stimuli may be unique, the concept itself is universal. But with that in mind, there can be hundreds, possibly even thousands, of things which can cause a memory to unravel itself within our brains - many of which you don't even realise you remember until they are triggered.

So, we know that there is a link between the senses and the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and generating memories. I'm no scientist or expert by any means, but I still think it's important to discuss concepts like these and make them more approachable. After all, how many times has this exact same phenomenon happened to you? Too many to be able to count, I bet.

For many people, it is music that holds the power to be able to trigger the most memories. In any case, I know that this is how it works for me. There are dozens of songs that spark different memories in my mind, but I think that's a post for another time. Instead, for now, it's all about the seagull.

In themselves, I don't think much of seagulls. I find them intimidating, aggressive and even a little scary - especially the gigantic birds which haunted the streets of Folkestone, Kent, when I lived there. But when it comes to their cry, everything changes. For me, this is one of the most triggering sounds out there - especially irritating when it's such a common sound!

To put things into perspective, here are just a few of the memories that a seagull's cry can make me recall:
  • Seaside visits, summer holidays and trips to the coast
  • Sitting in the classroom at school just after lunchtime or morning break
  • The room I stayed in during my first year of University 
  • A few particularly aggressive seagulls divebombing my housemates as they returned home with a fish and chip supper
  • Cliffs, rain, sadness, crushing homesickness and the occasional ray of sunlight
  • Harbourside views
  • A series of short stories I once wrote
As you can see, that's quite a few memories to be triggered by just one simple sound. 

Isn't it amazing what the human brain can do?

Are there specific sounds that trigger memories for you? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Creative Reading: How We Find Meaning in the Stories We Love

books, jack-messenger

So many books, so little time.

Creative Reading and Creative Writing

The phrase 'creative writing' is part of our everyday vocabulary, but what does creative reading mean and how can it help us find deeper meanings in the stories we enjoy? What do we actually do when we read and how can we become better readers?

Many people (especially non-readers) think of reading as a process of passive absorption: writers write their novels, and it’s up to us simply to sit back and ‘listen’ to what we’re told. When the writing is good and we enjoy the story, that is certainly how it can feel. No matter what kinds of books interest us, most authors want us to read effortlessly and with pleasure. Reading is a pastime and a passion that can be challenging and provoking: genres like horror and crime can even provide vicarious thrills and fears. But they can only do that if we understand them in the first place.

Creative Reading

This photo of a disreputable-looking character illustrates how creative reading requires a combination of absolute concentration and complete relaxation – a rare and precious thing. It’s rather like meditation: a person has to try hard to be utterly relaxed, and his or her mind monitors and rebalances itself accordingly.

author, jack-messenger

Reading is a highly creative process, which is partly why avid readers enjoy it. And creative reading and creative writing go hand in hand: they need each other to be fully appreciated. So what do we actually mean by creative reading? Many readers will know this already, but for those who don’t, it’s not difficult to understand and it can soon become second nature. Keen readers are usually accomplished readers, so they will probably be highly creative, even if they don’t know they are.

Creative Reading Means Splitting in Two

Creative reading requires a reader to stop and think. Good readers stop and think all the time. Really good readers – creative readers – might not even have to stop; it’s as if their mind is divided into two parts.

One part is caught up in the story: entertained and delighted, it loses itself in the narrative, identifies with the characters and can’t wait to find out what happens next. The other part stands back from all this emotional involvement. Instead, it monitors and examines, questions and ponders. It watches the other half of itself enjoying the story. It stores away little snippets of information for future use. It notices unusual word choices, recurring images and patterns, character traits – the list is endless. It questions everything and waits for answers. Sometimes the answers arrive immediately, sometimes they arrive during the gaps between reading. Sometimes – if we’re lucky – they don’t arrive at all.

Why is it lucky not to have all the answers? Because the story has not given up all its secrets, that’s why. Which means it’s the kind of story that will keep on rewarding us no matter how many times we read it. We have in our hands a very good book – perhaps even a masterpiece.

Examples of Creative Reading

There are plenty of examples of creative reading that readers can learn to follow. Many of them can seem unimportant, but readers mustn’t be fooled. Even a single word in the right place can be charged with meaning; it can link up with other words in other parts of the story, creating an intricate web of associations and images that binds the story together. When readers notice these things they should be pleased with themselves: they have discovered another dimension to the story they love.

An Avalanche of Meanings

Look at this simple sentence, which is taken from the opening page of a novel:
‘I had no choice but to dodge through an avalanche of traffic and greet him.’
Ripped from its context, this sentence is neither good nor bad. However, let’s look at a couple of the words.

What really stands out is the word 'avalanche'. We all know what it means and it’s not an unusual word, although it is relatively uncommon (unless you’re reading an adventure in the Swiss Alps). 'Avalanche' is doing a lot of hard work in this sentence. It’s a French word, of course, and the novel is set in Paris, so it provides a little reminder – a nudge – about where we are. It also paints a vivid picture of the street. An avalanche is a mighty, unstoppable force, so we know far more about the traffic than we would have done without avalanche or something similar. It also tells us there must be an incline somewhere up the road because, as we know, the direction of an avalanche is always downwards before it flattens out.

What else does 'avalanche' tell the reader – nothing, surely? This is where context is crucial. A few pages later on, the narrator refers to the ‘mountain of bags dumped in his hallway’ by his unexpected guest. 'Mountain' links with 'avalanche' and shows us that this unwelcome guest is going to be pretty demanding. He’s already obliged the narrator to risk his life by dodging through an avalanche; now we learn that he’s burying his hospitality beneath a mountain of bags. This is the guest from hell!

This can be taken even further. Howard, the narrator, is a young man who wants to be successful and is working hard to climb to the top. The novel frequently reminds its readers of this ambition with scenes of literal climbs and unexpected falls. For instance, Howard and his guest, Eugene, have just had to climb six flights of stairs to Howard’s apartment because the lift is broken. Later on, Howard has to climb the stairs to a friend’s apartment, and he’s shown using the escalators upwards to some important encounters.

On the other hand, Howard also falls three times and is pushed down. He takes part in an important scene in a cellar. At one point he lies under his bed. Words like 'avalanche' are a link in the chain of these associations. It’s a chain that runs forward and back: the reader is led forward to the next link and is invited to recall the previous link.

Don’t Dodge Ambiguity

Here’s our sentence again:
‘I had no choice but to dodge through an avalanche of traffic and greet him.’
Why did the writer choose the word 'dodge' and not 'run', 'sprint', 'weave' or 'zigzag'? I don’t know, and I’m the writer! However, I do know why 'dodge' works best. Compared with 'weave' or 'zigzag', for example, 'dodge' is chaotic and unpredictable. It involves uncertainty and risk. In other words, 'dodge' adds to Howard’s peril as he crosses the road through the avalanche of traffic.

'Dodge' is also a link in a chain of associations and images that helps establish Howard’s character. Howard is a dodgy narrator. What he says about himself and Eugene isn’t always true or accurate. He doesn’t really know himself as well as he thinks he does. Later in the story he has to be evasive, dodging questions and pursuers, dodging small truths in order to discover larger ones. Howard may not be artful, but he is a dodger.

More Creative Reading?

Try to become aware of your reading habits the next time you pick up a book. Does your mind divide in the same way? Don’t force yourself into a particular frame of mind – that won’t work. Rather, gently encourage yourself and pat your own back when you identify something you might not otherwise have noticed. Your good books will get even better.

There is much more to creative reading than there’s room to describe here. Reading creatively may seem complicated, but in truth, it's something we all do every time we pick up a book. 

Jack Messenger writes literary and contemporary fiction. He also writes book reviews and blogs about writing and publishing. In addition, he works in publishing, both in-house and as a freelancer. 

You can find out more about Jack's novel, Farewell Olympus, where the above examples were taken from, here.

What do you think? Do you read creatively? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She's even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. 'Jess and Jason', she calls them. Their life - as she sees it - is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she's only watched from afar. Now they'll see; she's much more than just the girl on the train...

the-girl-on-the-train, paula-hawkins, book

This book's reputation preceded it. I mean, if you're a book lover and you haven't heard of The Girl on the Train, which rock have you been hiding under? Aside from being an incredibly popular bestseller, this book is also a top-notch thriller.

I was rather late to the party when it came to reading The Girl on the Train but I finally got my hands on a copy and was excited to begin. This is one of those slow-burner thrillers that take you in with the slow, creeping sense of dread and unease before changing tack and hurtling at a breakneck pace towards their startling conclusion. It's clever, it's engaging and it's incredibly well-crafted - a real testament to the author.

Paula Hawkins is clearly an expert storyteller, a fact which is shown time and time again in the quality of her writing. Right from the very start, we are sucked into the story, continuing to learn more about the characters, locations and events as we piece the mystery together piece by piece.

Packed full of unexpected twists and surprising turns, we are led this way and that on a thrilling journey through the pages of the novel. The best psychological thrillers have that all-important grounding in reality, something which makes them seem all the more believable. After all, the more plausible a tale seems, the more chilling the events of the book become. The Girl on the Train achieves this with great sincerity - right from the start where Rachel, our main character, makes up stories and daydreams about 'Jess and Jason' and their lives on the other side of the train tracks, through to the very end.

There's no doubt that Rachel is a highly flawed individual, yet it is her complexities and imperfections which make her such a relatable character. As she begins to uncover what happened and sets out on the path to finding the truth, we find ourselves rooting for her and willing her on to succeed. By no means is Rachel a hero - she is certainly no conventional heroine - but the way in which she is portrayed makes her seem all the more likeable.

Upon reading the final sentence and closing the book, I have to admit that while The Girl on the Train was undeniably excellent, it didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations. But then, perhaps that's the problem with touting a book as outstanding rather than leaving it up to each individual reader to determine their thoughts? Either way, this is a great book and a brilliant example of a modern-day psychological thriller.

Rating: 4 stars

The Girl on the Train is available to buy now.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Interview: Gregg Kuehn

Today I am thrilled to be welcoming author Gregg Kuehn to The Writing Greyhound for a chat about his life, his work, writing, and, of course, his novel The Seven Sorrows. Welcome to the blog, Gregg!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I'm 70 years old with a great wife, two sons and three grandchildren. They all live nearby and we spend a lot of time together. I've lived in Wisconsin my entire life except for my college years in Boston. I worked as a stockbroker for several years in Milwaukee then decided it wasn't a good career for me. My second time around at college I earned a degree in Landscape Architecture and practised for over 35 years.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I was the only person in my landscape company who really understood the economics of running a business. I decided that writing a short story about it would help the others in the company understand what it was all about. That resulted in my writing a "How To..." book for Entrepreneur Press in 2007 for their series of How to Start a Business books. I did two editions for them but declined to do the third because I'd been retired from the landscape industry for several years and had decided to transition into writing fiction.
the-seven-sorrows, gregg-kuehn, book

Tell me about The Seven Sorrows.
It's really an adventure about a chase for long lost tactical nuclear weapons. The good guys battle both the bad guys and lots obstacles in their search. It's also about a man overcoming a personal tragedy that has hindered his ability to have a strong loving relationship with a woman. While searching for the weapons he meets a fascinating but complicated woman who helps him overcome his fear of heights and enclosed spaces. And sparks what might be a long-term romantic relationship.
What’s the best thing about writing fiction?
It's great fun because you can just let your imagination run wild. You can go places and do things that you otherwise might never do. The characters have their own personalities and quite often their actions are very surprising - even to the writer. The research can also be fun because you can learn a lot of new things.
What drew you to writing thrillers?
Very simple: I love to read thrillers and mysteries. It's much easier to write about something matches your interests. I started our reading who-dunnit mysteries and enjoyed the plot twists and surprise endings. I also like solving logic problems. Writing thrillers is sort of like solving problems - complicated conflicting situations have to ultimately come to a final and successful conclusion. All the pieces have to fit together to make a believable and interesting story.
Did you undertake much research for the book?
A lot. The internet really helps. I wanted the book should be as real as possible so I researched all of the physical places where the action takes place. The beginning of the book takes place in Moscow, Russia so I purchased a huge street map of the city. I expect that some of my readers have visited Moscow. By including real places like the Bellorusskaya subway station the story becomes real and more personal to those readers. Most readers don't realize that the Davy Crockett nuclear weapons I wrote about in the book were real. They were actually built by the US Army in the 1950's. I researched boats and helicopters learned how fast they could go and about their configurations and other specifications.
How did you get inspiration?
That's harder to explain. Again, writing about something you know makes it much easier to come p with ideas. The island where most of the action takes place is real, but I changed its name. My family has spent a lot of time there and I got inspiration from some of the physical features on the island and the people who live there. Of course, I had to invent some places and events to make the story work better. When writing you have to be ready for inspiration from anywhere. It doesn't always come when you are pounding on the keyboard. You might be going to the store or having lunch with friends and something pops into your head. The light bulb goes on and you have the framework for your next scene. Be prepared for writing even when you are not sitting in front of the computer screen or putting pencil to paper.
What’s your writing process like?
I mostly wing it. I know where I am going to start and how the story will end but the middle will have a life of its own. I don't make a detailed plan of the plot in advance but have a general idea what will happen. I let the characters and the events dictate how the plot will develop. It really helps to write every day, even if for only five minutes, but that is often difficult. I'm constantly brainstorming.
gregg-kuehn, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
I think most writers tend to write too many words and then have a hard time during the editing process getting the book to a manageable size. I tend to underwrite and need to do a better job putting myself in the reader's shoes so they can better see what is going on. Sometimes I just have to slow down and take the time to set the scene, create more visual images for the readers, and help them see and feel what the characters are experiencing. As the saying goes, sometimes you have to stop and smell the roses.

I'm also my own boss so sometimes it's hard to get into a routine. Writing on a regular basis is the best way to write but can often be difficult to maintain.
What do you love most about writing?
Oh, the creativity. As a Landscape Architect, I enjoyed creating functional outdoor spaces that clients could enjoy. With writing, I can create places, people and events that the readers can enjoy - and maybe learn something too. I also like the fact that getting to the final product is completely up to me. Of course, a good editor and publisher are vitally important but getting to the point I need them is my responsibility.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Two things come to mind: Don't give up or get discouraged. I queried dozens and dozens of agents and got many, many rejections. But I kept trying until I found a publisher who liked my work. And get a good editor. Mine was excellent. There are things in the book that might make perfect sense to the writer but are really confusing to the reader. A good editor will not only find mistakes but will make the story easier to read and understand.
What are you currently working on?
Another book with the same main characters as The Seven Sorrows searching for a historic weapon hidden with a pirate treasure. In this book, the search is for the lost sword of the famous female pirate Anne Bonny (a real person). I like to include some true history in my stories so the reader might think "gee, maybe this could have really happened."
What are you reading at the moment?
Two books: The Demon Crown, a thriller by James Rollins. And In The Garden Of Beasts, a true story about the man who became America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany just before World War II.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
I don't have a single favourite. But The Exorcist, Jurassic Park, and The Hunt For Red October are the ones I've liked best. I still remember staying up until 3 a.m. to finish The Exorcist.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I write because it's both fun and challenging. My goal is to invent stories that will engage the readers, give them joy, and perhaps make them think about the challenges we all face as we travel through life.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I love to play golf and hunt grouse in Northern Wisconsin. I still downhill ski a bit. My wife and I enjoy travel and are planning on taking a river cruise later in 2018.
The Seven Sorrows is available to buy now.

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Friday, 9 February 2018

Interview: Sarah Bennett

It's my stop on the blog tour for Spring at Lavender Bay by Sarah Bennett, and to celebrate the occasion, I sat down for a chat and catch up with the author herself.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I am a military spouse who grew up in a military family. I have moved around pretty much all my life and had a variety of different jobs from working for a financial investment house to providing health and safety support for a construction company. I started writing full time about two years ago.
How did you first become interested in writing?
It started as a hobby, something to keep me occupied whilst my husband was on deployment and grew from there. I’ve always loved reading and getting lost in new worlds and series so I suppose my very first foray into writing was around the turn of the century when I used to write fanfiction based in the fantasy series The Wheel of Time.
spring-at-lavender-bay, sarah-bennett, book

Tell me about Spring at Lavender Bay.
It’s the story of two people who find themselves returning to their hometown for different reasons. Beth inherits an old emporium on the sea front at Lavender Bay and Sam comes home to help in the pub next door after his father becomes ill. They’ve known each other for years but for the first time they really notice each other and like what they see. I think we all have points in our lives when we reach a crossroads and I love exploring the emotions and conflicts when characters face life-changing choices.
How do you get inspiration?
I think everything in life is inspiring in one way or another. I try to ground my stories in the everyday realities we all face, but I always look for the hope behind the pain, the strength a character finds when they seize control of their destiny. Also, Pinterest!
Why did you decide to write chick-lit?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I had a story to tell and if that’s the box it fits in, then so be it. I think chick-lit has something of an unfair and invalid reputation. Reading stories which make you happy, that uplift your spirit and take you away from everything to a beautiful new location is about the best thing in the world. I cannot understand why people would ever sneer at that.
What is the single biggest influence on your own creative writing?
Wow, that’s tough. I read A LOT. I mean constantly. I try very hard to steer clear of the genre I am writing because I don’t want to unconsciously ‘lift’ something from another story. I do stick to romance though because I love a happy ending.
What’s your writing process?
*laughs* Watching a lot of box sets, trying not to eat too much and panicking about how many words I’m not writing on any given day. I use an online word count tracker to try and keep myself focused and to give me a manageable goal to chase. I also use music to help me concentrate and write with a group of other writers online. The shame of having to admit you’ve not done any work that day is very motivating!
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The beginning, the middle and the end. Seriously, the physical act of generating a full- length story is exhausting. Ask any writer and their dream would be an invention which could suck the words from our brain and throw it straight on the page. Typing hurts – your hands, your back, your eyes, your brain. And when you do it day after day it can be a real grind, just like any other job.
What do you love most about writing?
I am my own boss. I will succeed or fail by my own efforts. There’s a huge team behind me at my publisher, but there’s no safety net if I don’t create the product for them to edit, market and sell. It’s kind of exhilarating, and also terrifying!
sarah-bennett, author

Which authors inspire you?
So many. Nora Roberts is the absolute queen of romance. Her ability to craft exciting, readable stories, again and again, is incredible. I love lots of paranormal romance authors because their world-building is amazing – Nalini Singh, Thea Harrison, Kresley Cole, Patricia Briggs. They’ve all created places I want to go back to again and again.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Finish the damn book! The craft of writing is a learned skill, and editors and publishers are there to help teach you, but you have to be able to deliver a complete work. If you’re polishing your first three chapters over and over seeking perfection, just stop and write the rest of the book. This is a job, the same as every other and you have to be able to produce a product on time.
My other tip would be to ignore all those bloody ‘real writers do this’ advice memes! Your process is exactly that, your process. There is no correct way to write a book as long as you get to the end of it.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
No fair! At the moment it’s not a single book – The entire Psy-Changeling Series by Nalini Singh is one I can escape into again and again.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To meet my deadlines, grow my audience and have a sustainable income. The first book from my Butterfly Cove series is being released in paperback this year, which is something new and exciting for me. My publisher is also releasing my stories as audio books which I’m thrilled about because it’s a growing market and one I love as a reader/listener.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently writing Summer at Lavender Bay which is Eliza’s story.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading an ARC of The Things We Need to Say by Rachel Burton, which is a beautiful story about a married couple facing a crossroads in their relationship. I am a huge fan of audiobooks too, so I’m also listening to The Promise in a Kiss by Stephanie Laurens which is a great historical romance romp.
Spring at Lavender Bay is available to buy now. For more about Sarah, her writing and her books, you can keep up to date on Facebook or Twitter.

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