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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

scythe-neal-shusterman-book

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!

In
  • 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
Out
Wishlist
  • 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!

Thursday, 8 February 2018

How to Find the Perfect Prom Dress

prom-dress, the-writing-greyhound, lorna-holland

Prom - it's such an American event, but it's undoubtedly one that's gained a firm foothold here in the UK.

Bloggers such as myself are often asked to write about dressing for special occasions like weddings, but how often do you see bloggers posting about proms? It may not be a particularly big event in the grand scheme of things, but when you're a teenager about to finish school and head off into the big wide world, your school prom is a way of saying goodbye and finishing that chapter of your life before moving onto the next one. It's easy to forget just how scary leaving school can be, but it's something that we have all been through and everyone experiences at some point in their lives.

So, even if you think that proms are just an unnecessary waste of money, perhaps it's time to see things from a different perspective.

When I was at school I attended two proms - one after I finished my GCSEs; the other after I finished my A levels, before I left school for good. Our proms were themed (chosen by the prom committee) and we each had to purchase tickets and prepare ourselves for the occasion - it was the talk of the year for a good few months before the big day arrived, despite the looming threat of exams and deadlines on the horizon.

While there are a number of things you need to sort out before your prom, for girls, one of the most important decisions you will make surrounds your choice of dress. A prom dress should be comfortable yet stylish, displaying your personality and helping you to look amazing. Many girls see it as a precursor to choosing their wedding dress later in life - after all, how often do you get to really dress up and make believe that you are a real-life princess?

For my first prom, I went all out. I'm not usually a girly girl, but I must have been taken over by some kind of prom mania because I elected a floor-length, silky pink dress with a hoop skirt and hand-stitched detailing on the bodice. It was elaborate and extravagant, but wearing it, I felt like a princess rather than a socially-awkward teenage girl. My dress was second-hand yet still not exactly cheap; made even more expensive by the fact that I needed to get it altered and taken up to ensure it fitted me right. Still, it was worth it - for one night only I lived that dream and became my very own real-life princess.

Prom number two was a much more laid-back affair. We dispensed with the fancy cars and extravagance, opting for simplicity and budget-friendly options in stark opposition to the no-holds-barred approach to the first prom. My dress for this occasion was a short, strapless, royal blue number with glitter detailing and a ruched, ruffled skirt. It sounds lavish when described here, but when you compare it to my first prom dress, the two couldn't be more different.

At the end of the day, the perfect prom dress is all about your personal tastes and individual style. Just like choosing any other outfit or addition to your wardrobe, this dress should suit the occasion while displaying your individuality - who wants to blend in at their prom?

If you do know someone who is currently preparing for their prom, the key is to get organised and make sure that you are prepared with plenty of time to spare. Rushing around last minute never works well, especially when you have exams to be revising for - something which should definitely take precedence over outfit choices! Make sure to do plenty of research on colours, designs and trends, as you never know when something might catch your eye. If you are still struggling or looking for further inspiration, you can always search specifically in order to find a prom dress to suit you. Dress to suit your body, add a splash of colour and personality, and you're guaranteed to feel much more happy, confident and comfortable when prom night arrives.

* This is a sponsored post

Have you ever been to a prom? How did you find your perfect dress? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Book Review: Beck by Mal Peet

Both harrowing and life-affirming, the final novel from Carnegie Medal-winning author Mal Peet is the sweeping coming-of-age adventure of a mixed race boy transported to North America.

Born from a street liason between a poor young woman and an African soldier in the 1900s, Beck is soon orphaned and sent to the Catholic Brothers in Canada. Shipped to work on a farm, his escape takes him across the continent in a search for belonging. Enduring abuse and many hardships, Beck has times of comfort and encouragement, eventually finding Grace, the woman with whom he can finally forge his life and shape his destiny as a young man. A picaresque novel set during the Depression as experienced by a young black man, it depicts great pain but has an uplifting and inspiring conclusion.


beck, mal-peet, book

As a big fan of Mal Peet, I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to review his last ever book. Tamar will always hold a firm place in my heart as one of my favourite books of all time, so I was understandably excited to find out whether this final novel, Beck, would live up to my expectations.

Beck is a sweeping story of grand proportions, following the life of a young orphan boy (the eponymous Beck) as he journeys from England, over the sea, and across the length and breadth of North America. With a story such as this, Beck is nothing short of an epic - a modern-day version of the typical types of grandiose tales that become timeless, read again and again over the years.

While it may be set in the past, some of the issues raised within the book are ones which are still highly relevant today. With the ongoing protests and debates in America around race and skin colour, some of the abuse that Beck faces purely because of the fact that he is not white really is eye-opening. However, this isn't the only difficult issue that this novel tackles head-on.

Child abuse, especially of a sexual nature, is another topic which has been hitting the headlines recently. The abuse that Beck and the other boys face at the hands of the men who are supposed to be caring for them is truly horrific - not least because of the way that we see how much it continues to affect Beck in the months and years after the events took place. This ongoing emotional and psychological problem, brought about as a result of the abuse, is something which is still as relevant today as it was at the time when the book was set.

As always, Mal Peet doesn't shy away from discussing such difficult, contentious and painful topics - history and real life are shown in all their glory, good and bad, and this is one of the reasons why I admire him so much as an author. With this tale of a lost orphan boy heading through life, discovering the world and eventually finding his place and becoming a man, it's clear that this is the perfect final tale for such a talented, renowned author.

Rating: 3 stars

Beck is available to buy now.

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

Have you read any of Mal Peet's books? Are you a fan? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Interview: Rebecca Rosenberg

This morning, I'm happy to be welcoming author Rebecca Rosenburg to The Writing Greyhound ahead of the release of her latest novel The Secret Life of Mrs London. Read on to find out all about her writing process, inspiration, research and, of course, the book itself!

How did you first become interested in writing?
My friends and I started a writing club where we would each write scenes and share them. Something caught fire with me; I kept writing, couldn’t stop. I went to as many writing workshops and bought as many writing books as I could to hone my words. In the end, I believe what Jack London said - just write your thousand words a day and keep going. The story gets better!
the-secret-life-of-mrs-london, rebecca-rosenburg, book

Tell me about The Secret Life of Mrs London. 
The novel starts in San Francisco, 1915. Just as America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, struggle under the strains of marital discord. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband. But Jack doesn’t see it that way. Until Charmian is pulled from the audience at a magic show of the beguiling escape artist, Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own troubled marriage. And suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her, and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.
What’s the best part of writing fiction? 
Escaping into another world, where part of it exists, like the location and historical crumbs left by the characters, but the other part exists only in my mind. The trick is to breathe life into it so readers experience it too.
What drew you to writing about the past? 
I write biographical historical fiction, telling the stories of real people who lived remarkable lives. I don’t want their stories to die with them, or become a caricature or stereotype of who they were. There are clues left behind in history, and if one pays close attention to them, they paint a picture a person with complex feelings and thoughts far deeper than history has portrayed.
Did you undertake much research for the book? 
Research is the fascinating part, where you don’t have to work, just be observant and enjoy! I visited the Houdini Museum in New York, walked the street where the Hippodrome Theatre and the Flat Iron building where MacMillan Publishing was, saw Houdini’s brownstone. I read the letters and diary excerpts of Charmian, Jack, and Houdini. I watched Houdini’s escapes online. I watched Jack London’s original movies and read at least half of his fifty books. And, of course, I read and reread 5-6 biographies of Houdini and London. The most telling was Charmian London’s two-volume biography, Jack London. Lastly, I wrote The Secret Life of Mrs London at Jack London Park, Beauty Ranch, on the steps of their cottage and at the ruins of the burned lodge-mansion, Wolf House.
What’s your writing process like? 
I write by candlelight before anyone is awake, usually from four to noon. That way, my own life does not intrude with the story and I can lose myself in the character.
rebecca-rosenburg, author

Which authors inspire you? 
I love Daphne Du Maurier, the mystery she creates. I am endlessly inspired by Gone With The Wind, the depth and detail, the drama. Wow. I read a wide variety of authors: Martha Conway, Patricia V. Davis, Barbara Davis, Camille Di Maio, Kay Bratt, Patricia Sands, Joy Jordan-Lake, M. K. Todd, Jodi Piccoult, Ian McEwan, Martin Cruz Smith.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? 
Write every day to get into the flow. If you have trouble with the flow, or everything is too predictable, start a free-writing session, and let your character tell you what you are missing that is disturbing, complicated, not expected. Never write a scene where things end on an even keel. End with a troubling, unresolved feeling, or something worse. Your characters never agree. If they do, you don’t need two characters. Each character has a distinct goal at opposition to every other character in the room.
What are you currently working on? 
My new novel is Champagne Widows, based on the five widows from 1800 to 1932 that made champagne the worldwide phenomenon it is today.
What are you reading at the moment?
Do you ever get overwhelmed by the number of books to read? I have a book club and a writing group so I read their recommendations. Right now, for Champagne Widows, I am reading Demons of the Night, tales of the fantastic, madness, and supernatural from the nineteenth century; Fashion Victims, about fashion that kills; and several histories of Champagne.
What are your ambitions for your writing career? 
My ambition is to write fascinating stories. I am in drafts of three at the moment. And I have a fourth in mind, which I won’t let myself think about.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading? 
I travel to France to drink champagne. I play Mahjong with friends every Friday afternoon and drink champagne. I volunteer and support a Culinary Apprentice program for at-risk young adults and the Valley of the Moon children’s home, reading the kids bedtime stories. I drink champagne in my lavender fields and take in the peace of Sonoma Valley. Oh, and did I say, I love champagne?
The Secret Life of Mrs London is available to buy now. For more information about Rebecca 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!

Monday, 5 February 2018

Magic and Mob Mentality

Sorcery, wizardry, magic... call it what you will, but such powers are rarely subtle in the realm of fiction, unlike the realm of reality where almost everything is hidden and obscured by misdirection. A powerful wizard with bristling beard and tall staff will rain fire from the sky. A street performer in a top hat will conjure flames from his fingertips. These are the polar ends of a gradient of effects, of course. Nothing prevents a stage act from being bombastic or a wizard’s staff emitting a quiet glow in lieu of crackling flames. The result is the same among the gathered mob: awe and the persistent question, what just happened?

This awe is in part sparked by the unnatural quickness of the street performer’s nimble fingers or the wizard’s vicious attack. Much of the shock during and after magic arises as a result of the illusion of speed. People tend to fear what their eyes cannot follow, what their mind cannot perceive. One of the most fearsome creatures on the planet, but hardly the most deadly, is the viper. The coiled animal strikes with astonishing ferocity. Blink and you’re dead.

the-knights-secret, jeffrey-bardwell, book

With their capes flaring like the hood of a cobra and poison magic dripping from their fingertips, wizards are the human vipers of their world. Such is the perception. But just like you can strike the head from a viper with astonishing ease, magic often has tremendous liabilities and disadvantages that lead to the ‘squishy wizard syndrome.’ A wizard caught unawares or temporarily bereft of magic is like an uncoiled viper: a weak and pitiable being.

To the weak, defenseless mob, ruled by their emotions rather than logic, the perception of danger is more powerful than reality. In the real world, this draws respectful crowds. The illusion of danger is titillating. In the realm of fiction, this draws fearful crowds. Let us examine a case study: magic - thunderous flames from the sky magic - is real and disturbingly close to home.

What if you suspected that your neighbor was a mage: a powerful being, a snake hiding in the grass? To an individual, this may be cause for reasoned response: empathy or introspection or caution. You question yourself. Surely this friend across the street whom you’ve known for years whose children frolic with your own could not pose any danger? But the fear gnaws on your mind. Suppose you tell your other friends. Whispers spread. The mob gathers.

To the mob, the accusation of magic is enough to stir fear. The perception of danger is enough to stir a response, and this is no reasoned response. Reactions are primal and instinctual and vicious. A mass of human snakes whose minds are more venomous than their fangs descend upon the nest of vipers. The mage is killed. The mage’s mate and brood are slaughtered, whether they share his powers or not. The mob is in a frenzy. The mage’s house is likely destroyed with torches. The raging flames are no less destructive for all that they do not rain down from the sky.

The mob is safe. It disbands. Only individuals remain to question themselves and kick the debris. Were these smoldering ashes really a threat to me and mine? Was he even really a mage? Did I dare assume otherwise?

Did I just make an entire family... disappear? What just happened?
jeffrey-bardwell, author
Jeffrey Bardwell wrote his first fantasy epic when he was seven: a thrilling single page adventure. Subsequent stories have matured alongside their author. He devours fantasy and science fiction novels and is most comfortable basking near a warm wood stove. When not writing, Jeffrey enjoys cooking, gardening, and shooing baby dragons from the compost bin. For more about Jeffrey and his writing, or to order any of his books, you can visit his website.

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