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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Interview: Jeff Dawson

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It's my stop on the blog tour for No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson and I'm super excited to be sharing an exclusive interview! Keep on reading to discover more.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hi there, I’m a writer – thirty odd years’ experience as a journalist. I was, for many years, the main feature writer/interviewer for the Culture section of The Sunday Times (I still write for them occasionally). I existed, in a previous incarnation, as the US Editor of the film magazine, Empire. I’ve written for everybody over the years – most of the broadsheets (quite a lot for The Guardian at one point), a few of the tabloids and magazines like Elle, Entertainment Weekly, Marie Claire, The Radio Times, Word magazine. I’ve also had brief forays into writing for film and TV.

I’ve penned three non-fiction books - Tarantino (Applause Books, 1995); Back Home: England And The 1970 World Cup (Orion, 2001), which The Times called "Truly outstanding"; and Dead Reckoning: The Dunedin Star Disaster (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), nominated for the Mountbatten Maritime Prize. No Ordinary Killing, the first of the Ingo Finch historical crime series, is my first novel. It’s already been number one in Amazon Kindle Historical Thrillers, which is very nice!
How did you first become interested in writing?
I’d always enjoyed writing stories from the earliest days and I loved, as a kid, reading things like Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm books and Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, alongside a heavy diet of comics! A huge influence as a teenager was the New Musical Express (NME) which, in the late Seventies, played host to some quite radical punk-inflected journalism and made me realise how writing could have a cultural impact.

I suppose I got the bug with an intent to perhaps do it professionally when I was at university (the then University College of Wales, Aberystwyth). The minute I copped hold of the university magazine, Courier – this outrageous pamphlet, part NME, part Private Eye, part Pravda – I just had to be involved. By the third year, I was its editor. I never did a media degree of any sort. Back then you either went to postgrad journalism college and served your apprenticeship on a local thunderer or chanced your arm with Fleet Street. I chose the latter course.
Tell me about No Ordinary Killing. 
No Ordinary Killing is a historical crime thriller set in the final days of 1899 and the turn on the new century. It takes place in South Africa during Britain's last great, and almost completely forgotten, colonial conflict, the Boer War, in which half a million men from Britain and the Empire poured into this far-flung, southern outpost. The book is not about the Boer War but is a murder mystery set against its backdrop. Away from the military action, Cape Town here is a heaving, exotic port, with thousands of soldiers passing through, either on their way up to the Front, or on leave from it, and the local police hard-pushed to cope. Behind the genteel veneer, it is a city of bars, bordellos, conmen and a crime wave, with a lid clanging on a simmering pot of ethnic tension.

My story gets going when a British Army officer is found dead one night, killed under seemingly strange circumstances, his body dumped on the veranda of his guesthouse. Which is where Captain Ingo Finch comes into the picture. A doctor with the newly formed Royal Army Medical Corps - with the army, but not of the army - he is summoned to sign off on a post-mortem, the officer’s death falling between the jurisdictions of the over-burdened Cape Constabulary and the Military Foot Police. The identity of the victim and the swift, too-tidy resolution to the case, prompts Finch to do a bit of amateur sleuthing. Pretty soon our unwitting hero is caught in a web of deadly intrigue and espionage as the machinations of military intelligence click into gear around him.

Along with an Australian nurse, Annie Jones, and an escaped diamond miner, Mbutu, Finch finds he has stumbled on a terrifying secret, one that will shake the Empire to its core...
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What drew you to this era of history?
A few years ago, in St Albans, I lived on a street called Ladysmith Road. It joined another one called Kimberley, both thoroughfares of solid, red-brick terracing. Show me any British suburb, built around 1900, and I will give you roads called Ladysmith and Kimberley, Mafeking too — named after towns besieged, then jubilantly relieved, during the Boer War of 1899-1902.

There’s evidence enough that the Boer War was deeply etched into late-Victorian/early-Edwardian society. The reminders live on - in those steep “Kop” ends at football grounds; in the good old Boy Scouts, set up by a general (Baden-Powell) to improve army recruiting. At the war’s peak, as I say, a staggering half a million men – half a million – had flooded into South Africa from around the Empire, the then-biggest military expedition in history. It was the Vietnam War of its day, in which the might of the world’s pre-eminent Superpower was brought to bear upon a vastly outnumbered, supposedly ragtag foe – in this case, a bunch of upstart, Dutch-descended settlers. And yet, for all its enormity, it has pretty much disappeared from the history books.

There are good reasons. Firstly, it was an embarrassment, one internationally condemned – a lop-sided affair in which a vaunted brief victory ended up taking a brutal two-and-a-half years, with thousands of Boer women and children perishing in that brand new construct, the “concentration camp”. Secondly, just twelve years later, came the Great War, a conflict so cataclysmic, and so much closer to home, that this colonial rumble in a far-flung corner of the British Empire became irrelevant.

That should not mask its enormity. News of the relief of Mafeking prompted scenes of national celebration unmatched till VE Day. It was also the first mass media war, with embedded reporters (like Winston Churchill) filing dispatches daily. As a by-product, it was also the first conflict in which you had something amounting to an anti-war movement. And significantly, it was a proxy war, the British and Germans testing out their kit – a dress rehearsal for the Armageddon to come.
Why did you decide to write crime fiction? 
Good question. I have no idea really, other than I enjoy reading it. I think one of the great things about crime fiction is that you’re not only exercising the literary muscle but also getting to solve a puzzle at the same time – three-hundred-page sudoku! One thing I had learned through being a journalist, continued through my non-fiction work, and honed with screenwriting in particular, is the technique of paying out information. It’s an enjoyable challenge – setting up a chapter and then closing it by posing a question, making you want to turn the page and give yourself another fifteen minutes with the Horlicks before putting the light out! 
The book is set in South Africa – have you ever travelled there?
Yes, but not extensively. I had been there a few times in researching my last book, Dead Reckoning, about a shipwreck that occurred off the coast of Namibia in 1942 and found it a very intriguing country. I hope I’ve been there enough to give a flavour!
How did you get inspiration?
Gosh, well... as I say, I had been to South Africa a few times and there was the name of the street I was living on. In South Africa, unlike here, it is immediately apparent that the Boer War was a huge event that shapes society still. It’s a bit like being in the American South today when they talk about “the war”, meaning the Civil War (a conflict with which the Boer War shares many similarities). It’s still living and breathing. Anyway, it got the cogs whirring.

I love stories not necessarily about war, but ones using its heightened reality as a backdrop – Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms is one of my favourites. I also love crime/spy thrillers, especially stories where the protagonist is an unwitting pawn in a bigger game, trying to figure out the rules on the hoof – I'm thinking of things like Hitchcock’s film version of The 39 Steps and North By Northwest. All these things just sort of came together in an almighty collision. By the way, Hitchcock (with his screenwriter Ernest Lehman) has been as much an influence on me as any author.
What’s your writing process?
People always ask me how long it took to write something. My standard response is that the writing bit didn’t take long, it was the thinking beforehand that took forever. So it’s not so much about the writing process but the thinking process. That comes from staring for hours and hours at my laptop screen, going off to have a cup of tea (Earl Grey brewed 3mins minimum, a splash of milk), a quick noodle on the guitar, or doing some exercise. I was a very keen runner until I did my knee in. Running was always good thinking time. Hopefully, it will be again. A very learned fellow once told me that you can't write a book until you have the book inside you. Someone else, an esteemed writer, said something about an author being pregnant with an idea – all these terrible female analogies drawn by male authors! So anyway, whatever it takes to get yourself mentally pregnant.

I once met the crime writer Jeffery Deaver (we signed each other’s books “Jeff D”). He told me that he plots everything out scientifically, his walls covered with notes and timeline charts like a police incident room. He actually referred to himself as a “technician”. I wouldn’t go that far, but with a plot-driven novel, you definitely have to have produced a comprehensive plan, a breakdown of what you want to say and achieve in each chapter before you get into the nitty-gritty.

As for the actual physical process, I used to sit at a desk in my office at home but I find these days, and as a tall person, conventional chairs play havoc with my back. I haven’t quite graduated to the Michael Morpurgo method of lying on the bed propped up by pillows, probably with handmaidens coming in to waft silver salvers of Turkish Delight, but the solid leather sofa downstairs with a firm cushion thrust behind the lower lumbar region is as good a place as any to write. I used to go to my local Starbucks a lot but it’s gone a bit downhill. Plus I hate it when they ask for your name (and no, I don’t want to cough up an extra 50p for your new house blend). Anyway, once you’ve got your template, the writing is really the end process.
What’s the hardest thing about writing? 
Knowing when to stop. You can go on perfecting forever. At some point, you have to say, “That’s as good as it’s going to get.” Sometimes you can over-correct things to the point where something just doesn’t make sense anymore. It’s that thing of being so close you can’t see the wood for the trees. Musicians will tell you that, when recording, Take Two is always the best. Why? Well, on Take One you were just warming up. And from Take Three onwards, you’re losing the spontaneity. You can sort of apply that to writing in a way. A good technique (which I’ve just employed on the next Finch book) is when you’ve finished, put it down for a month. No matter how much it may call out to you, go cold turkey on the damn thing, slam yourself in purdah. Then you can appraise it with a fresh set of eyes when you pick it up again. It’s like packing for a holiday. Shove what you need in a suitcase then go back and throw fifty per cent of it away. There’s a lot to be said for Faulkner’s “kill your darlings” thing. One of the things I learnt as a journalist is that every word, every sentence must count. You can’t have any deadwood. Same with a novel. If it doesn’t serve the plot, get rid of it. I cut No Ordinary Killing down by a third on its final draft. There was some beautiful stuff I sacrificed, but it was a wise decision. 
What do you love most about writing?
Someone once quoted something to me that I’d written in the newspaper without realising it was me. It was like that scene in When Harry Met Sally (if you know it). “Hey… I wrote that!” Quite a nice feeling. I spoke at book club recently where they had been discussing No Ordinary Killing. Now I have spoken about my books before but they had always been non-fiction, so in a sense works of extended journalism. It was quite surreal to have people discuss in depth characters and scenes that were the figment of my imagination… and so passionately!
Which authors inspire you?
Well, I love Hemingway, as I’ve already mentioned – those terse, muscular, economic prose. Alongside Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls is just a work of genius. Another tremendous war story. Not that Papa is beyond reproach. Measuring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s penis in A Moveable Feast? Hmmmm…

There are few authors whose name alone immediately conjures a whole sub-genre. I have had the good fortune to meet a number of authors as a journalist –Michael Morpurgo, James Ellroy (who would rather die than use an adverb), Jeffery Deaver, Sam Shepard, Jay McInerney, the late Elmore Leonard. But, amongst them, one stands out as a legend, the also late Michael Crichton. I met him in Washington DC in 1994 while promoting the film of his book Disclosure. He was in the middle of writing his Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World. That freaked me out (in a good way). A blockbuster novel was not only right there inside his head but up there in his hotel room on his primitive brick laptop, hopefully backed up on some steam-driven “floppy disk” (Pet hate – the bit in a film where a novelist has their novel destroyed and it’s always the only copy!) Behind his eyes there were actual dinosaurs!

Crichton was a strange, detached bloke, and extremely tall, I remember, but considering all that he has created, including things like TV’s ER, and even Westworld, which has been re-jigged – wow! – what a brain. Just the sheer high concept of everything and the beautifully explained “science” behind his “fiction”. I’m re-reading Jurassic Park with my 10-year-old daughter. Not just a great story but highly educational to boot. We’ve just been discussing DNA.
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I suppose we’re talking here about authors in terms of their bodies of work rather than individual books or one-hit-wonders. In which case let me say I’m a huge fan of crime writer Michael Connelly. Just the seeming ease with which he transports you into Harry Bosch’s Los Angeles and how effortlessly he simplifies the judicial process and police procedure for each case he takes on. Whenever I’m amassing a stack of holiday reading, you can rest assured there’ll be a Michael Connelly or two in there. You know exactly what you’re going to get and be very satisfied with it. But I am biased. I used to live in LA, so it’s always like a little trip down memory lane.

Related to that, I suppose my real love is hard-boiled noir. I’m a sucker for Jim Thompson. The Grifters and The Getaway are just grimly fab. Of course, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett – no need to even explain. But of all that crowd, the one I revere is James M. Cain. The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity and, my favourite, Mildred Pierce – that’s a hell of a CV.

Of the modern authors, I love the sort of magical mysticism that Paul Auster manages to bring into seemingly everyday New York stories. Again, he’s an author I’ll buy on the strength of his name any time. Gosh, we need more Brits – Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd… and mustn’t forget Ian Fleming.

I have to say, as someone who has worked alongside the film business for many years, do not underrate screenwriting and screenplays as a readable form either. If you’ve never read a screenplay, grab any early Quentin Tarantino – Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction. You won’t put them down, I guarantee.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I don’t think anyone sets out to be a novelist. It’s not something your school careers officer will have a brochure on. Aside from the obvious things (spelling, grammar), if you, my friend, can write a story, of whatever length, and someone enjoys reading it, then you are a writer. And don’t be put off by some notion that it’s some exclusive highfalutin business where everybody’s read all the classics and twirls olives in their cocktails and has PhDs in the inner narrative of George Eliot.

I did an interview the other day where someone asked me about the transition in No Ordinary Killing from “crime fiction” to “thriller”. Don’t get me wrong, the chap was a delight and full of praise and has helped publicise the book and I’m very grateful, but, honestly, I had no idea! There are so many labels to be slapped on everything, everything shoved into a box. I ask you this, is Romeo & Juliet a Romance or a Tragedy? …And does anyone give a tinker’s cuss? One of my favourite books of all time is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. It’s about a POW’s experiences during the fire-bombing of Dresden – and it features time travel, aliens and a trip to a distant planet where he is exhibited in a zoo. Fantastic! I suspect if dear old Kurt were writing that today his agent would put their head in their hands. But, hey, a great book is a great book. So yeah, don’t be put off by all the jargon… or the snobbery. I don’t care what anyone says, The Da Vinci Code is a brilliantly constructed potboiler… and Thomas Pynchon is unreadable.

I was once in a car in Copenhagen with the maverick film director Lars Von Trier. In his pig-sty of a vehicle, he pulled out a talking book CD of Finnegans Wake and slammed it into the player. He had purchased it at great expense and wanted to ask me, as a native English speaker, whether there had been some mistake in the recording as to him it seemed utterly incomprehensible. No, I said, that just the way it is. To which he ejected it and threw it out of the window, with the exclamation, “James Joyce… You fuck.” To all aspiring writers, I say take that as your motto.

The good news is that in the digital era there are so many more outlets for creativity than there were in the not so distant past. There are 200,000 books published a year in the UK. Yours can easily be one of them. But as with anything, you only get good at something with practice. Just stick at it. Don’t limit your imagination. But bear this in mind too, told to me by the great Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Sam Shepard – “Nobody ever made any damned money as a writer.” (He’s dead, too. The police are going to be knocking on my door.)
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished the first draft of the next Finch story. It’s set two years after the Boer War and he’s back in England trying hard, but failing, to slip back into everyday small-town life. Again, it’s a bit like the Vietnam War in a way. These men returned from the war not necessarily to be treated as heroes. They have to find a way to deal with some bad things that were conducted in their name. I’m not suggesting they grow their hair and start dropping acid, but there’s definitely some dark nights of the soul and some drinking going on. But that’s just the set-up. Another mystery soon presents itself.
What are you reading at the moment?
People assume because I’m an author that I read lots. I love reading and there is no greater pleasure than losing oneself in a book. There is nothing finer than the prospect of going on holiday with a stack of paperbacks and Kindle downloads to be devoured (all Canelo, naturally). On holiday in the South of France each year (in a caravan, I hasten to add, not some plush villa), my wife, Clare, and I guzzle books almost as quickly as the red wine. On a daily basis at home, unfortunately, it’s a case of squeezing in chapters here and there. I’m actually re-reading something at the moment – Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. For me, it’s a forensic exercise in deconstructing his marvellous prose. Published in 1953, I love the contrast with The Big Sleep (1939). Marlowe’s still the same old gumshoe, chasing the same old tired cases but increasingly out of his time.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Blimey. Well, of course, there are several, some of which I’ve already mentioned – Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls; Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. Books are like records in that they tend to be as reflective of what you were doing in life at that particular time as much as for what they say. I Greyhounded around America as a student reading Kerouac’s On the Road. Would that book mean the same to me if I read it now for the first time on a wet November night in St Albans? Probably not. But then…?

I know it’s not fashionable to say Nabokov’s Lolita these days, but that’s one hell of a provocative and brilliantly-written book, one that lived with me a very long time. Likewise, a cult-ish book that actually made me think about how we make choices in our everyday lives is Luke Reinhart’s The Dice Man. Because I go to Cornwall a lot, there’s an extra-special place in my heart for Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

I read as much non-fiction as fiction but we’ll park that for the moment (special mention, though, to Truman Capote’s crossover, In Cold Blood). There are just so many novels… And I’m sure after this I will think of loads more. Oh, Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City. And I’m sure I’m supposed to mention some of the classics.

On my shelf at home, I’m proud to say I have a signed copy of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, in my opinion, the greatest war novel ever written (despite what I said about Hemingway) – and penned when he was just 25! And how about Joseph Heller’s Catch-22?

I suppose, and this may seem really studenty, but one book that absolutely gripped me and prompted endless late-night discussions with kindred spirits back in the day is John Fowles’ The Magus. I heard the recent BBC radio dramatisation and, I tell you what, it grabbed me all over again. There’s an interview that Woody Allen gave once. They asked if he had any regrets in life. His answer? “That they ever made a film of The Magus.” If you’ve read it (and seen it), you’ll understand.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
This is like the bit when they interview Miss World contestants and they all wish for world peace. Well… I don’t know. Of course, I’d like for the Finch series to become well-known. Not for any ego trip on my part, but to be appreciated as an entertaining and (hopefully) well-written series of stories that brings people some small amount of pleasure. Other than that… yeah… world peace!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Like anyone with a family, wife, kids and home account for nearly all one’s time! Otherwise, I am pretty active. I’m back to running a bit. I swim, cycle and am a recent convert to tennis (largely on account of my 12-year-old son, who plays at quite a high level and delights in thrashing me, though I did take him to a tiebreak the other day). I used to be a decent club runner until the knee injury.

Perhaps my biggest indulgence is that I play guitar in a covers band (it’s my middle-age equivalent of the “red sports car”). We started out as a bunch of dads putting together something for a school summer fayre but we turned out to be way better than we thought and have evolved into a pretty decent act, gigging here and there. I just stand to the side trying to be cool while the singer jumps all over the place. We’re playing at a music festival to 3,000 people this summer on a big Glasto-type stage – the sort of thing I should have been doing in my twenties, not my fifties. My wife, Clare, loves it though. She’s a pushover when I’m a “rock star”. Hey hey, rock and roll!
No Ordinary Killing is available to buy now. For more about Jeff, you can check out his website.

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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Interview: Dawn Barker

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It's my stop on the More Than Us blog tour and I'm stoked to be welcoming author Dawn Barker to The Writing Greyhound!
First of all, thank you for having me on your blog today! 
My pleasure! So, let's get started. How did you first become interested in writing? 
I have always loved reading and writing; in fact, my mum recently sent me a copy of my ‘first book’ which I wrote with my pen pal when I was about nine! I loved English at school and considered studying Literature at University but ended up choosing to study Medicine. When I was working as a junior doctor, I enrolled in an evening course at the local University on creative writing, and also started writing non-fiction articles on parenting and mental health (as I work as a psychiatrist now) and then finally, when my first child was born, and I was on maternity leave, I began writing my first novel, Fractured! More Than Us is my third novel, and I’m so pleased that I get to do what I have always loved.
Why did you decide to write women’s fiction?
It wasn’t a conscious decision. All of my novels have been based around issues that I’ve been confronted with in my life, either personally or professionally, and so I just write about topics that make me feel unsure or intrigued. That has been postnatal mental illness (in Fractured), surrogacy (in Let Her Go) and now, addiction, and mental illness in children in More Than Us.

I also know that men read my books too, despite my books usually being described as women’s fiction!
What’s your writing process?
When I start writing, I aim for 500-1000 words per day, Monday to Friday. I don’t plan what I’m going to write, I just start with an idea, or a character, or a setting, and write. I don’t read back what I’ve written or allow myself to edit anything until I feel that I’ve reached ‘the end’ of that first, messy, chaotic draft. And then, I start at the beginning and begin rearranging scenes, writing more, deleting others…I usually write at least six drafts before I turn it in to my publisher, though each draft gets quicker and easier!
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
For me, it’s definitely finding the time. There’s so much about writing that is incredibly hard; it’s a year’s full-time process for me, with lots of frustration, doubt and tears involved! But that’s part of the process of any job and makes the great moments greater. I am now working as a psychiatrist again and have three young children, so find it increasingly difficult to protect some daily writing time. A large writing project like a novel is never ‘finished’ and so when I’m in the middle of a project, I struggle with feelings of guilt that I should be writing!
What do you love most about writing?
I love the satisfaction of jumbled ideas in your head coming together on the page. There’s nothing like the feeling when your fingers are typing fast and trying to keep up with your thoughts as a story is forming. It’s a fascinating process!
Which authors inspire you?
David Vann is one of my favourites; I always rush out to buy his books. He writes such dark family tragedies. I also love Lionel Shriver for her bravery in writing about confronting family issues, and Margaret Atwood for her dystopian imagination! 
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I would just say that you must have perseverance. When I started writing, I spent (wasted) many hours researching things like getting an agent and publisher, when I should have been writing! Keep writing and finish your project to the best standard that you can before you send it out; you might not get a second chance to get in front of that publisher. And of course, read lots! There’s no better way to learn what works and what doesn’t than by reading others’ books.
What are you currently working on?
My day job and family! It’s been a very busy few years with the release of three books in five years, and for now, I’m just enjoying that fact that More Than Us is out there! I’m sure it won’t be long before I feel the itch to write again though; I have some ideas forming already!
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading some Australian friends’ books. There is a great writing community here in Western Australia and I love to support them. I’ve just read Michelle Johnston’s Dustfall and now I’m reading Natasha Lester’s The Paris Seamstress.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
That’s a hard one! I’d have to say that it’s Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin. It was a book that shocked and inspired me. I knew that I wanted to write about a difficult topic in my first novel, Fractured, and this gave me the confidence to know that you can write about difficult topics in a way that makes people want to read them.
More Than Us is available to buy now. You can stay in touch with Dawn over on Twitter!

Are you planning to read the book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, 15 June 2018

Living with Glandular Fever

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Last summer, I got glandular fever.

Now, almost a year later, I've decided to share my experience of the illness in the hope of raising awareness and helping out anyone else reading this who may also be suffering from it.

Before I get into the post, I should first point out that I am not a doctor or qualified medical professional - all I can do is share my own thoughts and experiences. If you are worried about your health or think that you could have glandular fever, I'd urge you to book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.

What is Glandular Fever?

So, first things first, some of you are probably sitting there reading this and wondering what exactly glandular fever is.

Glandular fever is also known as the kissing disease because it is spread through saliva and is most common in teenagers and young adults. It is an infectious viral disease characterised by swelling and tenderness of the lymph glands (hence the name) and can cause extreme fatigue, lethargy and a lack of energy. Although glandular fever manifests differently in different people, the symptoms can last for weeks or even months and it is likely to make you feel very run down.

Irritatingly for sufferers, there is no cure for glandular fever. Although there are certain things you can do to aid your recovery, you just have to wait it out.

My Diagnosis

I had been feeling under the weather for a little while prior to getting my diagnosis, but I initially put the symptoms down to unremarkable factors like colds and working too hard and thought little more about it. However, as the symptoms got worse, I began paying more and more attention.

The first time I fully realised that something wasn't right was a Friday afternoon in July. It was a hot day and we had been given the afternoon off work to go to an escape room for a team bonding experience. Locked in the small, stuffy room with three of my colleagues, I found myself dizzy, overheated and struggling to focus.

Things only got worse from then on. Most of the following weekend passed by in a blur - I was spending the weekend with my boyfriend and I only remember snippets of it. I remember going for a meal with his family and having absolutely no appetite. I remember snapping at people for no particular reason. I remember sitting on the kitchen floor with my head between my legs and my eyes closed, just trying to stop the dizziness.

By late Sunday afternoon, it was clear that my symptoms were getting worse and I really wasn't well.

I phoned in sick on Monday morning and booked myself the earliest possible appointment I could get with my GP. During the appointment, the doctor checked my symptoms, took my temperature, looked at my throat and felt the glands in my neck, which were swollen and very painful. It didn't take long for him to produce an unconfirmed diagnosis of glandular fever.

I got sent straight up to the hospital for a blood test to confirm the diagnosis. Unfortunately, it was another roasting hot day and the stuffy environment and stale air of the waiting room did nothing to help my dizziness. I sat on the plastic chair in the waiting room for well over an hour as a procession of little kids and elderly people went in for their tests - finally, it was my turn.

The next day, the results were back and the test confirmed the presence of the virus in my blood. I was officially suffering from glandular fever.

Treatment and Recovery

As there is no treatment available for glandular fever, the only advice I got from the doctor was to rest up, take it easy and drink plenty of fluids. I was off work ill for the entirety of that week - I couldn't even summon the energy to get up out of the chair and make a cup of tea, let alone consider making the hour-long commute to work.

I don't think I was really with it for the majority of that week. I did very little, save for following the doctor's advice, and towards the end of the week, I began to experience a few short periods a day where I had a little more energy for a short amount of time.

In the whole week, I only left the house twice - once for my initial doctor's appointment and blood test, and once to go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for a spray to ease the soreness of my throat.

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you want to look at it) I had already booked the following week off work for a holiday with my partner. We were planning a tour of Pembrokeshire and the Brecon Beacons, including camping, walking and plenty of hiking. When I received my diagnosis the future of the trip was thrown into question, but I was determined to go as we had been looking forward to the trip and it was our first holiday together. I vowed that no matter what, I would make it to Wales!

I think having that goal in mind was a great way to speed my recovery. Although my body wasn't entirely willing, my mind was strong enough to encourage me to push past my limits and achieve the things I wanted to. In the end, we did have that holiday. Although we weren't able to be as active as we had planned, we still had a fantastic trip and I don't regret going for a second.

Of course, we did have to adapt our plans to suit me and my illness. Drinks were carted everywhere, we took frequent rest stops and I had a few naps here and there along the way. On the second day, we stopped to rest on a clifftop walk and I fell asleep right there in the sun - hello, sunburn!

That's another thing about glandular fever - you can fall asleep literally anywhere. I consider myself quite lucky in that I've never really had major problems sleeping, but ever since I first contracted the illness I have turned into one of those people who can fall asleep in minutes and will stay in bed, fast asleep, well into the following day.

My biggest achievement by far that week was managing to climb a mountain. I had been psyching myself up for most of the week to do it and I wasn't going to let myself down. Although Pen y Fan is not the most difficult mountain to climb, for me, it was the symbolic representation of conquering my illness and showing my strength. It was difficult, it was tiring and it took a lot out of me, but I know I will always be proud when I look back on what I managed to accomplish, despite the disease.

Although the fever itself is long gone, even now I am still suffering from this illness. Glandular fever left my immune system weak and defenceless - I have lost count of the number of colds and coughs I have had over the past year. Plus, every new cold I get now goes straight to my throat - my glands swell up again and my throat gets sore and scratchy.

Despite this, the most long-lasting effect that glandular fever has had on me is the lethargy. You might think that a lack of energy isn't so bad, but when you literally cannot summon the energy to move at all, you will begin to see it in a different light. I have always enjoyed my sleep, but it's safe to say that for several months, tiredness took over my life. My blog, freelance work, hobbies and social life all suffered drastically as it took all my effort and energy to keep up with the demands of my day job while I fully recovered.

For most people, glandular fever is a disease that will eventually fade away. However, there are lots of common misconceptions about this illness and few real-life accounts of glandular fever from people who have actually lived with it.

By sharing my story, I hope that I will be able to help other people out there who also have glandular fever. Things may be tough at the moment, but now, a year down the line, life is definitely looking brighter for me.

Have you ever had glandular fever? Do you have any experiences to share? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 14 June 2018

An Open Letter from Fantasy Author Mark Morrison

two-spells, mark-morrison, book

Hello readers,

I'm Mark Morrison, first-time author of a young adult fantasy action adventure. It's titled TwoSpells, a fantastically magical tale involving teenage twins, Sarah and Jon. They find out that they're heirs to an ancient magical realm built around an enchanted library created for their special kind, Irregulars. All the books on its shelves can transport a reader to anywhere or anytime the author has written into that particular story. The children quickly learn that travelling the uncharted inner-sanctums of multidimensional worlds may not be the safest nor wisest of choices.

I've just begun my long journey into the treacherous extortion of ideas from my innermost fantasies. This first story in the TwoSpells series is merely the key to opening a floodgate of bizarre thoughts and twisted characters from unheard of outlandish places or maybe right next door. Readers will be entertained and enthralled by their ability to interact with these previously secretive worlds kept hidden under bewitching spells and wicked incantations.

As a gracious guest to The Writing Greyhound, I think it only fair that I re-introduce myself in a more informal way. I'm from a small town in Ohio called Salem where not much seems to happen beyond the passage of time. Our family moved to Florida when I was a young boy. We immediately experienced a cultural change that could be best described as shock and awe!

We noticed that in Florida there's a massive mix of diversity demographically unlike the quiet country atmosphere we had precociously experienced. It hit us like an out of control freight train, derailing our field grown, bumpkin-like personalities. We could either embrace the reality check or retreat to the sanctity of a rural lifestyle wedged between the windblown corn fields and the red brick auction houses. Thank goodness my parents chose the former because I absolutely love multiculturalism.

On a personal level, how would I classify my own attitude? Am I an optimist or a pessimist? An optimist believes the glass to be half-full. A pessimist believes it to be half-empty. I've decided on a third category - realist. I believe the glass is twice as big as it should be, therefore it's full. There you go. I'm a realist who can twist the finite rules of physics into my own distorted circular logic.

If I may pass on a few powerful words of wisdom to other aspiring writers, or any choice of vocation or hobby for that matter; make a difference. Life's far too short on this particular planet - don't leave any of your wishes or dreams on the table. Regrets have a nasty way of creeping up on a person as they get older. They'll strangle your conscience while you're reminiscing about your life's too few achievements.

I'm so grateful for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you and do appreciate this open format to blather on about myself and my first born novel, TwoSpells.

Warm regards,

Mark

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Book Review: Generation One by Pittacus Lore

It has been over a year since the invasion of Earth was thwarted in Pittacus Lore's United as One. But in order to win, our alien allies known as the Garde unleashed their Loric energy that spread throughout the globe. Now human teenagers have begun to develop incredible powers of their own, known as Legacies.

To help these incredible and potentially dangerous individuals - and put the world at ease - the Garde have created an academy where they can train this new generation to control their powers and hopefully one day help mankind. But not everyone thinks that's the best use of their talents. And the teens may need to use their Legacies sooner than they ever imagined.

generation-one, pittacus-lore, book

Having recently read and enjoyed the Lorien Legacies series thanks to a rare bookish recommendation from my other half, I was thrilled to learn about the new spin-off series in the pipeline.

Generation One is the first novel in this exciting new series and focuses on the events that take place after the final battle which closed the original series in United as One. I bought the book as a Christmas present for my partner then quickly snuck in to steal it and read it myself – once he had finished reading it, of course!

Although Generation One is billed as a stand-alone novel, I do think that the prior experience and knowledge gained about the characters and the world they inhabit went a long way towards boosting my enjoyment of the book. Although many of the familiar faces pop up in Generation One, many of our main group of cast members are newly-introduced heroes and heroines, members of the ‘Earth Garde’.

Fans of the original series will perhaps be disappointed to learn that there are very few appearances from the original Garde (with the exception of Nine and a flying visit from Four) although certain fan favourites do drop in from time to time.

As the first book in this new series, it is understandable that a large chunk of the storyline is devoted to setting up the characters, the new world and environment, and outlining the basic story arc. However, this is achieved in such a way that it does not detract from the overall storyline of this individual book.

Filled with plenty of fun, action and adventure, this is a fast-paced story that keeps up the suspense throughout the entire duration of the book and continues to keep up the interest from each page to the next.

Ideal for fans of the original series and newcomers to the series alike, Generation One is a strong start to an exciting new Young Adult series!

Rating: 4 stars

Generation One is available to buy now.

Have you read the book? Did you enjoy the original series? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Interview: Cy Young

For this week's author interview, I am pleased to welcome Young Adult author Cy Young to The Writing Greyhound. Keep reading to learn more about Cy and Onions, his novel.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
My name is Cy Young; I’ve been a performer on Broadway, in clubs around NYC, have sung on numerous recordings for the Painted Smiles records, co-starred in a musical at London’s Globe Theatre, co-starred with Buster Keaton in Once Upon A Mattress, Howard Keel in On A Clear Day, have a song on Streisand’s third album, Draw Me A Circle, have three plays published by Samuel French, a short story published by Twit Publishing which won best short story in the Oklahoma City Writer’s Group, and many other credits.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I started writing songs in high school and continued at Northwestern by writing for their yearly musical presentation, The WAA MU SHOW. I wrote and had produced other musicals in New York, then spent some time in L.A. where I learned to write plays. I returned to NYC to have my two-character play, Jump I’ll Catch You, produced at Riverwest Theater, later to be published by Samuel French.
onions, cy-young, book

Tell me about Onions.
I wrote Onions first as a screenplay which has not been produced. It’s partially autobiographical as I began playing the trumpet in fourth grade to help improve my breathing condition, which it did. I entered contests movie theatres were having in those days between features and continued my study in Chicago while attending college. I identified with Onions’ alienation from society as I’ve always been a loner and have found it difficult to adjust to social mores. 
What drew you to writing for Young Adults?
I’ve dealt with young people in teaching Sunday school and working as a substitute teacher. Their lives have grown increasingly complex due to the influx of scientific marvels such as iPads, texting, computers, media exposure, Facebook, etc. This is a very rich emotional field to explore and write about.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
Yes. Although I lived through it, I researched the period, comic books of the generation, old cars, circuses, ultralights, court procedures in declaring an elderly person incompetent, Spanish Architecture, Indian folklore in the southwest, corrupt politicians and their methods, and jet aeroplanes used as icons in front of public buildings. 
My understanding is that inspiration comes from one source and my job is to listen and write down what that source unfolds to me.
What’s your writing process?
I work best in the early morning. I once arose at 3:30 a.m. to work on my book, The Kings Of October, a book about the first World Series in 1903. I like to have the ending worked out before I proceed into the heart of the narrative. As for plays, I used to precede each play with a breakdown of the principal characters, their emotional, physical, societal backgrounds, but I abandoned that as I wrote further. I often visualize my characters and their actions as I wrote many screenplays. This helps to fill out the description of who, what, where, when, and why, as well as scenery, time, place, etc.
cy-young, author

What do you love most about writing?
Losing myself in a new world, in exploring the characters, their actions and motivations, creating such idiosyncratic people that they take the story away from me and write the narrative themselves.
Which authors inspire you?
Shakespeare, Moliere, Gene Perrot (comedy), Herman Melville, Salinger, Simon & Garfunkel, O’Henry, Sherlock Holmes, Maughm, Hemingway, Roald Dahl...
What are you currently working on?
Turning Kings Of October from a screenplay into an ebook, and then doing the same thing with another ten screenplays.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Longbow, a well-written historical novel, Jack Messenger’s short stories, I want to read Brenda Stanley’s book, The Treasure of Cedar Creek, and many others.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Have twenty ebooks, paperbacks, and audio books all up and running on Amazon.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Performing, preparing my Children’s Crusade musical for house concerts this summer, overcoming bad habits, keeping my singing voice active, yoga, and spiritual growth.
Onions is available to buy now. For more about Onions, you can check out the website.

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

Monday, 11 June 2018

Chocolate Puns in the Post with Morse Toad

morse-toad, chocolate-puns-post, the-writing-greyhound

Chocolate, puns and gifts - it's a winning combination guaranteed to put a smile on that special someone's face!

Whether it's a friend, family member, colleague or loved one, sometimes we all need to express that all-important sentiment in an extra special way. Luckily, that's where Morse Toad come in.

Morse Toad offers a wide range of quirky, unique gifts that are the perfect size to fit through your letterbox - ideal for any occasion where a few words just aren't enough. From birthdays and anniversaries to good luck messages, new home or new baby congratulations, there are endless opportunities to show the people in your life how much you care.

I was recently offered the opportunity to try out Morse Toad's latest product - chocolate puns in the post!

Exciting and completely different from anything I'd tried before, I was intrigued to give it a go and see what would arrive on my doormat!

Although there are currently five different puns available for you to choose from, the company have said that they will soon be releasing more to allow customers a greater selection. Despite this, it's clear that the combination of comedy and chocolate is a winning formula. After all, what better way to cheer someone up or put a smile on their face than with these two things?

morse-toad, chocolate-puns-post, the-writing-greyhound

As my partner was just about to head into another week of exams, I decided I would take advantage of the opportunity and create a fun little gift to surprise him with after the last exam. He's always coming out with puns of his own so really, this was bound to be a hit!

Browsing the available designs on offer, I eventually settled for a fun design bearing the message, "You Nailed It." Short, simple and to the point, yet still funny and endearing.

During the design process, there is also the option to add your own photo and message to be delivered alongside the chocolate slab. Costing an additional £1.25, I think this is a great way to add another level of personalisation to the gift to really make it extra special. I took advantage of this feature and decided to include one of my favourite photos of us together, taken on our Welsh holiday last summer. After the inclusion of a personal message, my order was complete and ready to hit the post!

All of Morse Toad's chocolate pun gifts are post-friendly and will fit through your letterbox - ideal for busy people who are often out and about. Similarly, this also makes them perfect gifts for sending directly to your loved one - the packaging is lovely (ours came in gorgeous shiny gold packaging) and it will certainly be a nice surprise!

I proudly presented my other half with his very own chocolate pun to enjoy the evening after his final exam of the week, and it's pretty safe to say that it was a surefire success. He liked the idea, enjoyed the chocolate and was particularly taken with the cute little card that the photo and message were printed on - smiles all around!

The whole process was a dream from start to finish. In fact, my only slight gripe is that the packaging seems as though you should open it upside-down. Don't make the same mistake we did - the writing should be on the bottom of the box!

With such a wide range of gifts on offer, I'm definitely going to use Morse Toad again!

Chocolate puns in the post from Morse Toad cost £6.95 including free shipping. Personalisation is an additional cost of £1.25. Morse Toad is currently running a giveaway to celebrate the launch of the new range. You can enter here for your chance to win!

* This is a collaborative post

Would you consider ordering a chocolate pun in the post? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Interview: Rachel Burton

the-things-we-need-to-say, rachel-burton, book, blog-tour

It's my stop on The Things We Need to Say blog tour and I'm thrilled to be welcoming author Rachel Burton to The Writing Greyhound! Keep reading to find out more about Rachel, her writing and the book.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Hi, I’m Rachel and I was born and grew up in Cambridge, UK before moving to London in my 20s. I moved to Leeds with my fiancĂ© in 2016. I’ve got a degree in Classics and another one in English and I’ve worked as a waitress, a paralegal and yoga teacher. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember (my mum always says that I was writing as soon as I learned to hold a pen) but wasn’t until 2013 when I first started writing what was to become my first novel, The Many Colours of Us, that I wrote my first full-length book.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I think I’ve just always enjoyed stories and storytelling – I’ve always had a head full of characters and the weird situations they get themselves in and I needed an outlet for the people who chatted away to each other in my head.
the-things-we-need-to-say, rachel-burton, book

Tell me about The Things We Need to Say.
The Things We Need to Say is the story of a marriage, a strong and mostly happy marriage, and about what happens to that relationship in the aftermath of a traumatic event. It’s an exploration of grief and hope and the enduring power of love and friendship.
What’s the best part of writing fiction?
For me, creating characters is definitely my favourite part. I don’t really write classical heroes and villains – I prefer to show the multifaceted, grey areas of all my characters. I love how we’re all good and bad, how we all make mistakes and I love exploring the consequences of those mistakes and the journeys involved in forgiving yourself and others.
Why drew you to writing for women?
I think, because I read primarily women’s fiction, it was almost inevitable that I ended up writing women’s fiction, although I never set out to write in that genre particularly. I just love exploring the everyday things that women have to face in the world and the different ways they have of journeying through life.
Did you undertake much research for the book?
There was quite a chunk of medical research needed for this book which, as you’ll see from the acknowledgements, I had a lot of help with and for which I’m very grateful. Part of the book is set in Catalonia on the coast between Tarragona and Salou, an area my fiancĂ© and I have visited many times. We did enjoy a fun research trip out there last summer just to get our facts and geography right (and also to eat paella and drink sangria!!).
How did you get inspiration?
I’m never really sure how to answer this one because I often feel as though my characters appear in my head and start telling me their stories. Which makes me sound mad. But I suspect I overhear conversations on the train or in coffee shops and subconsciously store them for a later date. I often find that inspiration strikes when I’m doing something rather mundane like cleaning the bathroom. 
Each book so far has begun with a Beatles song – Penny Lane for The Many Colours of Us, Ob-La-Di for The Things We Need to Say and Eight Days a Week for my current work in progress.
What’s your writing process like?
It involves a lot of procrastination such as making a playlist and a Pinterest board and writing character profiles. Once I actually get down to writing I just write whenever I can. I still have a day job so it really is a matter of carving out time but I try to write 500-1000 words a day, five days a week.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
All of it. There is nothing easy about writing a book. You have days when the words flow, but just as many when they don’t. It’s brilliant and rewarding and makes me happy, but writing books is also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
What do you love most about writing?
All of it! But I particularly love copy edits – when the pages of your book are sent to you and they finally start to look like a book and you just get to polish each sentence to make it the best version of itself that you can.
Which authors inspire you?
I get a lot of inspiration from my writing friends – Sarah Bennett, Victoria Cooke, Laurie Ellingham, Katherine Debona, Rachel Dove, Katey Lovell – they are an endless source of support and humour and I couldn’t do any of this without them.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Keep writing – get to the end of that manuscript and then edit like hell. And make sure you have a finished book before you start subbing to agents. I sent my first submissions out when my book was about 80% written and one agent wanted to see a full manuscript within an hour of me emailing her. That was a difficult afternoon!
What are you currently working on?
My third novel – The Pieces of You and Me – which begins when a woman with a mysterious illness bumps into her childhood sweetheart again after many years.
What are you reading at the moment?
The sixth Poldark novel (I love the books more than the TV show).
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I would just like to keep writing contemporary women’s fiction novels and see where they take me. Also, I’d really like Richard Curtis to make The Many Colours of Us into a film... so if you’re reading Richard...
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Yoga and meditation – I qualified as a yoga teacher in 2006. I’m also a reiki practitioner.
The Things We Need to Say is available to buy now. For more about Rachel, you can check out her website to keep up with her writing. Alternatively, give her a follow on Twitter or Instagram!

Will you be grabbing a copy of the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Getting to Grips with Blogger Outreach

hey, lightbox, the-writing-greyhound

Blogger outreach is a means of linking brands, bloggers, and consumers with the goal of creating content that is relevant, insightful and meaningful for all three parties. Although it may initially sound complicated, the truth is that more and more brands and businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of blogger outreach and the essential role that influencers can play when it comes to the online success of businesses and organisations in the digital age.

Over recent years, general knowledge and awareness of the blogger outreaching process has grown considerably - today, social influencers and bloggers are more important than ever before.

To an outsider reading this, it may sound as though I am understandably biased when it comes to blogging. However, in my day job, I work with a variety of bloggers, website owners and content creators on an extensive range of campaigns across a number of different sectors. I am in the position of knowing both sides of the coin - working with brands as a blogger and working with bloggers on behalf of brands.

So, with that in mind, I've put together a few top tips, hints and tricks.

Working with a Brand as a Blogger

  • Be wary of selling yourself out. Although a boosted paycheck may sound great, is it really worth selling out your blog and your integrity as an influencer? Try to avoid accepting collaborations from brands that clearly are not relevant to your blog just to gain extra cash - your readers will spot it a mile off!
  • Remember that you are the one in control. If a brand has approached you asking to work together, you are the one who is in the driving seat. If they really do want to work with you, they will be willing to compromise and accept a collaboration on your terms
  • Do your research and look around for the best blogger outreach opportunities. Although big-name brands are likely to be more desirable, sometimes smaller brands can actually offer more personalised, meaningful collaborations. Don't immediately discount them because you don't know their name or they don't have the large budget of a bigger business
  • Set realistic expectations. Although no-one should be expected to work for free, at the same time, brands simply will not pay ridiculous prices to work with you. Communicate with the brand to find a sensible collaboration at a price that suits both of you
  • Don't be scared to ask for fair terms. This point links to a few I have already made, but I feel it is worth remembering and reiterating. Fairly paid blogging is your right - don't be afraid to say so!
  • And last but certainly not least - avoid being rude. It is easy to forget that behind a computer screen, another human being will be reading your messages and talking to you. Although this one should be simple common courtesy, rude and sometimes downright nasty messages still appear in my inbox weekly

Working with a Blogger as a Brand

  • If bloggers don't reply to you, don't take it personally and don't let it dishearten you. Some bloggers don't accept collaborations or your brand may not fall within their niche. Instead of giving up, simply seek out different bloggers who are more relevant to your business
  • Be flexible. Every blogger is different and every blogger will approach content creation, sponsorships and collaborations in different ways. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to successful blogger outreach
  • Don't expect bloggers to work for free. While we all have targets to meet and budgets to stick to, it's simply not fair to expect bloggers to work for free, especially if you are asking them to spend their own time creating content for your brand
  • Get to know the individual behind the blog. Take the time to check out some of their recent posts and read through their About page. It is useful to know their personality, likes and dislikes, and the type of content they post, but above all, it is common courtesy. Similarly, always use their name (if it is shared on the blog) in messages as it is so much more personal than a generic email!

Of course, not every collaboration or partnership is created equal and sometimes, things just don't work out. However, speaking from my own personal experiences, blogger outreach is an incredibly useful, versatile and adaptable tool.

As more and more businesses begin to recognise the importance of online promotion and developing a strong online presence, bloggers and social influencers must look to shape the future of digital marketing together.

* This is a sponsored post

Have you ever tried blogger outreach? Share your experiences with me in the comments below!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Interview: Justin Enos

Will you join me in welcoming fantasy author Justin Enos to The Writing Greyhound? Here to chat about his writing, his inspiration, and his novel From Wrath to Ruin, Justin has plenty to share with you all!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Sure, I’m Justin Enos, a self-published fantasy author from the United States. Currently working as a retail manager though I hope to eventually be a full-time writer.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I guess it was in middle school that I first started to write. I was always a fairly creative kid, I drew constantly, and writing became another avenue to explore my very active imagination. Throughout the rest of my school years, I had plenty of opportunities to put my creative writing skills to work. I have always enjoyed writing, though it wasn’t until a few years ago that I actually gave serious thought to writing for a living.
from-wrath-to-ruin, justin-enos, book

Tell me about From Wrath to Ruin.
From Wrath To Ruin is an adventure story that feels more medieval than fantastical. The main character, Tijodrin, is a mercenary who is in exile from his homeland, for reasons that he is not wont to explain. In this story, he arrives in the capitol city of Hohvenlor where he is hired as a bodyguard for a powerful merchant who is feuding with a rival. Tijodrin finds himself caught between these two houses, his loyalty, his morality, tested. He is no epic hero saving the world, just a man trying to do what he thinks is right while at the same time seeking solace, seeking escape, from the sorrow and the loneliness which his exile has caused him.
What drew you to writing in the fantasy genre?
It's the genre I most commonly read growing up and it was the fantasy worlds that most captivated me. When I began to write in earnest, creating my own fictional worlds was the obvious choice.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
Not exactly. The medieval time period has long been my favourite, so I have read and studied that era quite a bit. Though I guess for most people, pouring over maps of medieval towns and castles, or choosing to read books about daily life in medieval villages, for example, would seem like research. For me though, I did it because I enjoyed it. Gaining knowledge and insight that would eventually help me in my writing was just a bonus!
How did you get inspiration?
It comes from so many different directions and usually over a fairly extended period of time. It may be some random thing I see, hear or read on a given day that sparks an idea for a specific character or a particular storyline or event within a story. Just sitting at my desk or whatever and trying to brainstorm ideas works as well, but not as effectively. Sometimes these ideas fit into the story I am currently working on, but just as often they are tucked away for future stories.
What’s your writing process?
Haha! I don’t think you could exactly call what I do a process. I rarely write any outlines, and if I do they are very vague. I will read through my chaotic notes before and while I write for reference, but generally, I will just let my thoughts flow (or not) as I write. Sometimes this results in the details of certain characters or the plotline as a whole diverging, drastically on occasion, from my original ideas. I think it’s fun when this happens!
Which authors inspire you?
As a fantasy writer, Tolkien must take my top spot. Others include Neil Gaiman, Bernard Cornwell, George R. R. Martin and Anne Rice.
justin-enos, author

What are you currently working on?
The second book in my stand-alone series featuring Tijodrin titled Under A Shadow Of Sorcery.
What are you reading at the moment?
Two books actually, Persian Fire by Tom Holland and The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti.
What’s your all-time favourite fiction book?
I have never been able to pick an all-time absolute favourite anything, so here are a few books not written by the authors I listed above that I would consider great. Gates Of Fire by Steven Pressfield, Land Of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll, The Life Of Pi by Yann Martel, Rise To Rebellion by Jeff Shaara, Pride Of Carthage by David Anthony Durham, House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
What’s your all-time favourite non-fiction book?
Likewise...Guns Germs And Steel by Jared Diamond, Band Of Giants by Jack Kelly, Genghis Khan And The Making Of The Modern World by Jack Weathorford, Over The Edge Of The World by Laurence Bergreen.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I would love at some point to have no other job besides being a writer. However, successful or not in my writing career, I will continue to write because it is something I very much enjoy doing.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I love to travel and love the outdoors. Whether warm or cold, sunny or snowy, I hike quite a bit. Skiing is also a favourite activity of mine - been making tracks since age five!
From Wrath to Ruin is available to buy now. For more about Justin, you can check out his website.

Will you be reading the book? Are you a fantasy fiction fan? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 4 June 2018

What Summer Means to Me

summer, wales, the-writing-greyhound

How has it been three months since I last did a seasonal update? Spring has come and gone and before we know it, we'll be halfway through the year. Maybe it's just because I've been so busy, but 2018 seems to be absolutely flying by!

So, now that summer is here at last (or as much of a summer as the great British weather will allow us this year) it's time for another of these updates. Each changing season will mean different things to everyone, but just what exactly does summer mean to The Writing Greyhound?

Summer means long days and even longer nights; a paradox that may not make sense logically but makes plenty of sense when you really stop to consider it. Summer means those hot, hazy days spent outdoors enjoying the weather or sheltering inside, trying in vain to find a non-existent breeze. Summer means doors and windows flung wide open, attempting to coax cooler air into overheated buildings.

Summer means a lapse of concentration and a fall in productivity. Summer means warmth and drowsiness; contentment and thoughts of bright, happy days. Summer means spending more time outside than in - walking, exploring, visiting and remembering. Summer means memories and feelings, thoughts that will verge on the edge of consciousness but never be quite forgotten.

Summer means lunchtimes on the school field, laughing with friends and feeling included. Summer means bike rides and woodland walks and picnics in the park. Summer means days out, weekends away and holidays. Summer means escaping the humdrum reality of daily life and indulging in the life of a traveller for such a short, sweet amount of time.

Summer means quenching thirst with ice-cream, gulping down mouthfuls of water to soothe your parched throat and trying not to rub your itchy eyes. Summer means hayfever, bites and stings; the constant plague of wasps, ants, and other creepy-crawly insects. Summer means panting dogs and tired pets, animals too hot and too lazy to do little else than flick their tails, twitch their ears and do their best to discourage the relentless swarm of flies surrounding them.

summer, venice, italy, the-writing-greyhound

Summer means the sea and the beach; the blissfully cool sea on your sweaty, hot feet and digging your toes into the sand. Summer means relaxing on the beach, finding sand in every fold of your clothing, getting salt in your eyes and splashes of water up your jeans. Summer means sandcastles and fish and chips, doughnuts in the evening and sticks of rock, enjoyable, sticky, but never quite finished.

Summer means sitting in the caravan listening to rain drumming down on the roof, amplified throughout the metal and lulling you to sleep at night. Summer means sudden downpours and morning dew - the necessity of carrying a raincoat and sunglasses with you wherever you go.

Summer means driving with the windows down and the stereo cranked up, tunes with those summer vibes rolling out of the car and across the landscape, announcing your arrival as they go. Summer means sunburn and tanning, the gradual process of fading from red to brown. Summer means little puffs of dust rising from the trail with each footstep, chalk and sand coating your summer shoes and constant blisters from cheap sandals, hot feet and ill-fitting summer shoes.

Summer means family and friends, entertainment, relaxation, travel and some of the best memories the year can bring. Summer is a season unlike any other; a season that brings a wholly different sense of melancholy and sadness when this all-too-brief annual escape from reality comes to another end.

Interested in finding out my thoughts about autumn? Keep checking back to discover the final post later in the year!

Which season is your favourite? What's your favourite thing about summer? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Friday, 1 June 2018

The Reality of Becoming a Homeowner at 23

I have been a homeowner for two and a half months and have lived in the house I own for almost two of those months.

Although it's a big sense of achievement to me personally, that statement is unlikely to be anything particularly special to those who don't know me. However, when you consider my age, things seem to change.

Yes, that's right, I became a legal homeowner at the age of just 23.

homeowner, property-ladder, the-writing-greyhound

These days, it seems like there is always something in the news about rising house prices, the proportion of people renting versus buying and, perhaps most worryingly, the statistics which suggest that increasing numbers of young people will never be able to afford the deposit for a house.

In amongst all the doom and gloom spun by the media, I am here to tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Although everyone's personal circumstances are different, there is no reason why young people cannot work hard to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder.

Of course, there is no denying that access to affordable starter homes is more difficult for 'Generation Rent' than it was for our parents and grandparents. This isn't the time or the place to get into the politics of the matter, but it is clear to see just how difficult many young people find the prospect of becoming a homeowner.

How Did I Do It?

So, how did I manage to overcome the hurdles I faced in order to sign the documentation and collect the keys?

Short answer - dedication and unwavering belief.

Throughout the process, ups and downs alike, I believed in the idea of becoming a homeowner and proving all the naysayers wrong. I had a picture in my mind of what life as a property owner would be like, and although the two are not the same, I am proud that I can sit back and know that reality isn't too far from that dream I harboured.

I was also lucky enough to have generous support from close family and friends throughout the process. In particular, living with my parents gave me the opportunity to boost my savings and avoid the pitfall of rent and bills eating away at my house deposit fund. When we did get the keys, our incredible team of family and friends were amazing, helping us move in and get settled, donating furniture and household items and helping us decorate. An extra special shout-out to the three friends who were down here painting and doing DIY almost every night after work for weeks on end!

Similarly, feeling secure and confident enough to co-sign the mortgage paperwork with my partner was another big step and an even bigger help. Cards on the table, I simply could not have even considered owning a property on my own. Finding someone willing to sign away years of their life to live with me was a real testament to the strength of our relationship.

Of course, it is undeniable that luck played a big role in getting this house. What would have happened if my partner hadn't walked into that particular estate agent on that particular day? What if the estate agent had chosen to showcase a different property? What if another buyer had placed a more attractive offer on the house before we even had a chance to view it? The entire process is riddled with 'what ifs,' but it is the course of action which led to me sitting here penning this post in this house right now.

Difficult Truths

As a younger homeowner, I noticed several things during the buying process (and I am still discovering things now) which I feel are worth sharing. Here are just a few:

  • People will not take you seriously. Telling someone that you are buying a house is met with the same response as "I'm going to the shop" and even when you do collect the keys, people will still ask if you really bought it yourself
  • You will frequently get patronised. When we were still looking at houses and exploring our options, one property sales representative, in particular, was incredibly patronising, verging on downright rude. Although we didn't have any further dealings with the lady in question, she was far from the only person to talk down to us throughout the process
  • The strength of your relationship will get questioned a lot. No matter whether you have been together for six months or six years, be prepared for people to question your commitment to one another. The line, "but you're still so young," will be frequently over-used and it will be incredibly difficult to convince people that you are ready to spend your life with your partner. Even after you do buy your home, very few people actually believe you!
  • You will learn who your true friends are and you will come to value them even more. I know I've already mentioned this, but there is nothing more important than having the right people around you in a time as stressful as when you are in the middle of buying a house. Fake friends will be jealous or will try to capitalise on your success; real friends will support you and, most of all, be genuinely happy for you
  • People expect you to survive off pot noodles and baked beans and live in a pig-sty. Cooking? Cleaning? Surely a young person doesn't know how to do that properly! Although we may not be fastidious neat-freaks or the next Jamie Oliver, our house is clean and tidy and we enjoy a balanced diet, thank you very much
  • You will regularly be told that you are doing everything wrong. Older homeowners love nothing more than telling younger homeowners that they are doing things wrong. Whether it is choosing the 'wrong' shade of paint for the walls or spending too much money eating out, "this isn't how they did things in my day" will become your new quote of the week

While I think it is important to share an honest, realistic account of my own home-buying experience, the last thing that I want to do is dissuade my fellow Generation Rent-ers from buying a house. Although it can be scary, there is honestly no better feeling than getting that long-awaited phone call and heading down to pick up the keys to your brand new home.

I strongly believe that age should never be a barrier to success. Whether you are 23 or 73, I hope my story will be an inspiration for you to go forth and chase your dreams!

Are you a homeowner, or do you have hopes of owning a property in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below!