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Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Interview: Vic Cavalli

This week's author interview comes in the form of an exciting Q&A with Vic Cavalli. Chatting about literature, music, inspirations and his novel The Road to Vermilion Lake, it's a pleasure to have Vic aboard The Writing Greyhound!

Welcome to The Writing Greyhound, Vic!
Thank you for welcoming me to your blog, Lorna. 
Please could you introduce yourself?
My name is Vic Cavalli. I studied the visual arts and photography as a young man, and later in life discovered the potential depth and force of literature. In graduate school, I concentrated on the complex interpenetrating relationships between literature and the visual arts. I have been teaching Creative Writing at University level in Canada since 2001.
How did you first become interested in writing?
As a young man, I fronted a couple of rock bands in my hometown of Vancouver, BC. Writing song lyrics was my introduction to poetry that was real. The idea of producing lyrics based on their commercial potential didn’t even occur to us. In a sense, we were beautifully innocent and sincere.
the-road-to-vermilion-lake, vic-cavalli, book

Tell me about The Road to Vermilion Lake.
The Road to Vermilion Lake is my contribution to West Coast literary fiction here in Canada. As a literature professor, I love literary fiction that rewards repeated readings. I respect the reader’s valuable time and hope that each reading will be increasingly satisfying as layer upon layer and strand woven with strand explore the themes of memory, love, healing, and hope in our post-modern world. It’s a book about the environments of the heart.
What drew you to writing this book?
Most artists eventually long to work on a large canvas, a larger scale, whether it is literally a large painting, a long poem, or the novel form. All of my early publications are poetry. Then as I noticed my poetry was becoming increasingly narrative in structure, I thought I might as well try writing some short fiction. My first fiction publication was in The New Quarterly, one of the most prestigious literary magazines in Canada, and that publication inspired me to continue writing fiction. For years, I percolated ideas about a possible novel, and after my 18th short fiction publication, the time was right. I was ready for the large canvas.
Did you find writing it a challenge?
I was brimming with ideas and eager to write the book. The biggest challenge was the lack of time. Then in the summer of 2012, I was unemployed and the time was right. I just holed up in my study with my computer and worked 8 hours a day until I had a complete rough draft. That draft was the foundation I worked with over the next five years until I reached something like draft #47 and it was ready to submit to publishers. I was thrilled that Harvard Square Editions accepted the manuscript. I knew that if anyone would understand the book, Harvard graduates would understand it. And they allowed me to further perfect it up to a 60th draft, at which point I could honestly say, “This is the best I can do.”
How did you get inspiration?
I am a romantic with a vivid memory and I have passionately enjoyed the Canadian wilderness from my youth. Those two features combined with my interest in music, the visual arts, photography, and Funny Car drag racing, fuelled the writing process. Also, this is a book about suffering, beauty, and hope. In this broken world we live in, I know there is hope and true love. That inspires me.
What’s your writing process?
Now that the book is finished and I’ve received numerous reviews responding to the book in strikingly different ways, I realize how much my background in the visual arts has affected my writing process. Just as a painter applies layers of colour and washes of paint, similarly I apply layers of narrative to create a palimpsest text. Medieval, pioneer and contemporary layers are overlapping and hopefully luminously visible simultaneously.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
For me the hardest thing about the long form of the novel is the anxiety of closure, that is to say, not knowing if you’ll actually be able to finish the book as you hoped, and if you do, if it will be accepted by a good publisher. Any project that takes years to perfect creates this sort of stress.
What do you love most about writing?
Because I am only interested in writing sincere literary fiction, I love the honesty and chance at the original vision. My goal is to see with my own eyes and feel with my own nervous system. Writing allows me to analyse what is derivative vision and feeling, and chose to be myself.
Which authors inspire you?
I love writers who have distinctive styles. You read a sentence and say, “No one but O’Connor could have written that.” Some of the writers who have inspired me are Flannery O’Connor, Franz Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and J.M. Coetzee’s early short parabolic fictions.
vic-cavalli, author

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Short answer: Write what you love to read. Write from your deepest self. Be honest. 
Long answer: To aspire is to have hope, in this case, hope of success as a writer. If you believe you have a gift to develop, my honest opinion is that you should study English Literature to get a clear sense of what has been done and the various styles that writers have developed over the centuries. This will help you to avoid what I call "Pioneer Syndrome," which is the belief that you're a pioneer breaking new ground when in fact your style or strategy has been used before; it's nothing fresh or original. 
Then study Creative Writing as an academic subject. Take courses in a good academic community and acquire the tools you need to express yourself. As a Creative Writing teacher, I can honestly say that I've seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of students' work once they've taken university-level courses. Also, I highly recommend aspiring writers try to follow a trajectory from poetry to short fiction to longer fiction to the novel form. I always flinch when a student tells me that they have written several novels. My response is usually, let's begin by helping you to write an effective scene. 
Once an aspiring writer has acquired a significant foundation, then I recommend that they reread the best writers slowly, slowly. Pay close attention to how they create their effects. Carefully observe their sentences, diction, punctuation, rhythms. Notice the unique hand-polished wood-grain of their individual styles. Note how some writers use thousands of modifiers while other writers use almost none. Note how they totally disregard the tastemakers of their times. Note the risks they take to be loyal to their personal visions. If they crash and burn, they crash and burn, but they don’t bend to the formulas of commercial product. The soul is all that matters. 
Then create your own style; see with your own eyes and feel with your own nerves. Write sounds and images that can only come from you. Once you’ve published around 10 short stories in literary journals, you’ll probably be ready to tackle a full-length novel. This may sound like the long way, and I can appreciate your impatience, but it seems more rational than writing a novel prematurely and then spending a fortune getting advice from people regarding how to fix it.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a stand-alone sequel to The Road to Vermilion Lake. Ten years have elapsed since the final chapter and the point of view has shifted from first-person to omniscient. Tom Tems, the narrator of The Road to Vermilion Lake, has now become one of many characters in a universe of hearts.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m a University professor, and right now it is hurricane season for research essays and final exams. Other than that, I’m reading Leesa Dean’s Waiting for the Cyclone: Stories.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Music, the visual arts, photography, nature. I love fishing for steelhead in the winter. The colder the weather the better - snow, wind, ice forming on the edges of the river. Those harsh elements keep all but the true devotees from the rivers and the resulting experience is a wild flame-like solitude. The ultimate contrast with my office desk at the university.
The Road to Vermilion Lake is available to buy now. If you would like to keep up with Vic and his writing, you can check out his website.

Are you planning to read the book? What do you think about Vic's advice for aspiring writers? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Book Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life - and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe - a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

scythe, neal-shusterman, book

Right from the very start, I was intrigued by the idea and concept of this book. When it comes to dystopian fiction, it takes only the most special premise to really grab me and make me pay attention, even more so to make me want to pick it up and start reading. Scythe was one of these rare books.

Billed as the next Hunger Games and raved about by book bloggers and the publishing industry alike, it's certainly clear that I wasn't the only one to have enjoyed reading Scythe. And to me, there definitely wasn't much wrong at all with this book.

Featuring the perfect blend of true-to-life realism and dystopian sci-fi elements, Shusterman expertly crafts a story that grips you right from the very start. Although I wouldn't go so far as to call the plot fast-paced, it's undeniable that a sense of urgency is cleverly woven into the story - it's this that keeps you reading page after page, long after you vowed to set down the book for the night!

Similarly, it is this realism and a sense of a world that is like our own but not our own that really sets the book apart. Yes, the concept is clever, the prose on point and the characters engaging, but the care and attention taken over world-building are what stole the show for me.

Right from the start to the finish, I was undeniably hooked - I had to find out what happened and I was kept guessing all the way through the book. Packed full of action, adventure, twists and turns, there is always something unexpected lurking across the page!

Even with such a brilliant premise, there are still certain other factors which must be top-notch in order to warrant a five-star review from The Writing Greyhound. Each character was fully-developed and engaging, with a multi-faceted approach to their role in the story and complex relationships and dynamics creating intriguing avenues to be explored later. Of course, let's not forget that the quality of Shusterman's writing is second-to-none - is it just me, or does a story simply work so much better when the words seem to flow naturally and bring each page to life?

As soon as I finished the last page I was online, checking out the sequel and adding it to my ever-expanding tbr list. Now, I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

Scythe is available to buy now.

Rating: 5 stars

* I was given an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review

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

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Interview: Janet Elizabeth Croon

This week, I am happy to be sharing an insightful Q&A with you on behalf of author Janet Elizabeth Croon. I'm delving into the past and getting reacquainted with some history as I learn all about Janet's book - The War Outside My Window.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
My name is Jan Croon and I have been an advanced history teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia, since the 2000-2001 school year. I’ve recently retired for health reasons. I was born in Mobile, Alabama but grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I have two grown daughters who are the lights of my life!
How did you first become interested in writing?
I have always been a voracious reader and taught myself to read before Kindergarten. I read a book on the Civil War in my area of Virginia and felt that an unexplored story had been dropped into my lap. Having grown up in the Chicago area, I was totally unaware of how the war impacted Northern Virginia. The book got me asking questions that I thought were left unanswered, and so I started researching. Because of gaps in the extant historical narrative, it has turned into a work of historical fiction. It’s getting rather large, and I still have research and writing left to do.
the-war-outside-my-window, janet-elizabeth-croon, book

Tell me about The War Outside My Window.
The book is the edited transcription of a set of seven journals written between 1860 and 1865 by LeRoy Wiley Gresham; he was 12 when he began writing and the journals end with his death shortly after the end of the Civil War. LeRoy was the incredibly bright middle child of prominent parents in Macon, Georgia, and lets us in on not only the course of the Civil War, but the political, economic, and social changes in Macon and the South. Tragically, the journals also trace LeRoy’s health issues that culminate in his death. LeRoy read any newspaper he could get his hands on, gave insightful opinions on the issues of the day, and provided insight into the daily life of a privileged but disabled teen in the middle of the 19th century. He also gives us some enlightenment on the role slavery played in his life, one of mutual dependence that might surprise many readers.
What drew you to writing about the past?
As a teacher of history, I have long believed that it is important that we know how our society developed. I was a kid during the Cold War and had a hard time digesting the vast differences between East and West. During my last years of teaching, I would begin the first day of class by looking at the crisis in Syria, which all stems from unsolved problems and unintended consequences of the First World War. In a school with many students from all regions of the world, it was a way to show how the past impacts the present. Now I am “reinventing” myself from a classroom teacher to a writer... which I feel is teaching through a different medium.
Did you find writing the book a challenge?
There were some definite challenges that I had to get through! Some of it was technical; LeRoy’s handwriting is simply beautiful (another argument for teaching cursive in schools), but sometimes his abbreviations were mysterious and some terminology obscure. I had to override my tendency as a teacher to correct misspellings, although I thought it was amusing that he did not spell McClellan’s name right until after Lincoln had fired him for the second time! Occasionally, his pen would not be that good and it wouldn’t write clearly so I would have more difficulty deciphering his writing. Reading aged cherry juice ink is also not easy!  
The hardest part was figuring out his relatives! These were large Southern families – his grandmother had six sons fighting in the Civil War in various regions, not to mention grandsons, sons-in-law, nephews, etc. – and LeRoy wrote the journals knowing who these people were. I had to not only figure it out for myself, but for the reader! For example, who was “Jenks” Jones? Which Aunt Sarah was he referring to (and there were many)? How was Cousin Eliza related to her and to LeRoy? I ended up with an Ancestry.com family tree with 1700 individuals on it, and still could not find all the people I was looking for! I also had to figure out the status of the plantations that the family owned in Houston County, Georgia. It took a while, but with the guidance of some wonderful librarians, I was able to figure out where they were located, what they were called, how many slaves each held, and who the overseers were.
How did you get inspiration?
I got inspiration from LeRoy himself. I really wanted to tell his story. He is an amazingly intellectual young man, but still a teenager who could probably easily identify with the teenagers I have taught! That kept me immersed in transcription or revision, and occasionally I would end up working through the night without realizing it. Making a new discovery, finding a connection, or just simply viewing history through his eyes made it all worthwhile.
What’s your writing process?
I tend to write best at night, and so I would get settled with my laptop, cat by my side, and begin working on the next task, whether it was transcribing from the digitized journal pages that the LOC has online or searching in Ancestry.com for a new person. This work, unlike my other project, is very linear, and LeRoy drove how I approached it because I went along with his work from hopeful beginning to tragic end.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
For me, it was limitations of space. There are two letters from his parents in the book, acting as foreshadowing and then aftermath and there are so many more that I wish we could have included! For example, we know from a few of the letters that LeRoy’s mother suffered a miscarriage about the time that LeRoy had his leg accident when he was 8. However, no other mention is made anywhere of this. We also felt that two and a half years of daily weather temperature readings three times a day took up space and could be cut, leaving LeRoy’s generalizations about weather unless the temperatures were unusual that day.  
There are also striking incidents that we did find room for. The Gresham family were staunch Presbyterians and entertained the father and grandfather-in-law of future president Woodrow Wilson. I also discovered that LeRoy’s interest in railroads came from his Uncle LeRoy (his mother’s oldest brother) and that Abraham Lincoln began his railroad trek to inauguration in a train with the engine named after this uncle! Some of my initial footnoting was too lengthy, and fortunately, Ted was able to use his expertise in cutting this down so the book was not too overwhelming.
janet-elizabeth-croon, author

What do you love most about writing?
With this book, it is bringing a very significant primary source to life for people who are conversant in the Civil War and readers who are not but want to be; this book will appeal to those who want to read a non-fiction story of another era. I would tell my students that primary sources like this are the closest that we can get to “being there.” (And my love for reaching back as far as one can had them calling my pre-Smart phone cell “the Artifact!”) Reading this book will bring the antebellum and wartime South to life, and hint at the coming Reconstruction era. I find this truly exciting!
Which authors inspire you?
Jane Austen (I’ve read ALL of her novels several times) and Leo Tolstoy (I can’t count the number of times I’ve read Anna Karenina and I’ve read War and Peace twice). Both of them allow the reader to become immersed in their era, and if you read their work, you will find out what the challenges for English women at the beginning of the 19th century were, and discover what some of the inherent weaknesses of Russian upper-class society were that later contributed to the Russian Revolution a century or so later.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Tell the truth, or as Austen would say, “Write what you know.” This may mean a lot of research, organization, and attention to detail. But if you can accomplish those things, your writing will not only inform the reader but pull the reader into the story.
What are you currently working on?
I have been working on a story that I feel almost fell into my lap, although not as obviously as LeRoy’s journals did. It tells the story of western Fairfax County, which was occupied in one way or another for the entirety of the Civil War. It includes people such as Jeb Stuart, John Mosby, and local civilians who worked with them against the Union. The frustration with it is that the “heroine” left no written account of her own involvement, although she lived into the 1920s.  
While it is historical fiction, I am approaching it as if Austen or Tolstoy were looking over my shoulder. I am researching both in reading and in going to the actual places (where they still exist – the field where the Battle of Chantilly took place is gone now) where the events took place. It’s important, as I feel it is a way to get the people of the Washington, DC region to see what happened here 150+ years ago. Sometimes historical interest is not formed through academic writing but through a well-tailored tale. Diana Gabaldon has done this with her Outlander series, to give a modern example.
What are you reading at the moment?
I need to take a break from the Civil War on occasion, and with my background in the 20th century and Soviet history, I have picked up a book called 1917: Lenin, Wilson, and The Birth of the New World Disorder by Arthur Herman. I loved teaching students not only about the events but the personalities behind them and how these people came to have their viewpoints. I’m curious about these “contemporaries.”
What’s your all-time favourite fiction book?
Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It was her last and her most complex novel.
What’s your all-time favourite non-fiction book?
I totally enjoyed the three-volume series on Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. As I wrote earlier, learning about the backgrounds of both Roosevelt and Wilson helped my students understand the two main paradigms of American foreign policy in the 20th century and how other presidents would lean in one direction or another as the situations demanded.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I would like to be able to publish my next project, which like LeRoy’s journals, will have something for Civil War buffs and those who like detailed historical fiction. I would also like to bring LeRoy’s journals into the educational market, as I think it can be a very effective and multidisciplinary way to teach multiple levels (middle, high, undergraduate) about the Civil War.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I am a former military spouse and have travelled a great deal and lived in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down; I went to Azerbaijan in 2002 but with a democracy education program, not the Air Force. I have been a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan since I was eight, and love to knit, quilt, cross-stitch, and cook. My daughters, even though they do not live locally, are still an important part of my daily life thanks to the ease of social media.
The War Outside My Window is available to buy now.

What do you think? Are you interested in reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Five Things You Must Do Before You Get On the Property Ladder

for-sale, sign, house, buying, flickr

In case you are thinking about owning your own home, instead of renting or living in your parents’ house, you have a hard work ahead. Your chances of securing a mortgage that allows you to buy your dream home are much worse than people in your parents’ generation. You will need to have a solid financial history and plan ahead to get the rate you can afford and the amount you need. To improve your chances, below you will find a few tips.

Have a Steady Job (Or Income)

You must have a steady job or a good employment history to get accepted for a mortgage. Even if you can prove that you are earning a lot of commissions, and have been in the past year, this is not enough for banks. You will have to have a long-term job, or - if you run your own business - a steady regular income. Self-employed people often find it harder to get on the property ladder, especially if they have only started their venture a few years ago.

Build Your Credit History

It is also important that you make the lender trust you. Without any credit in your name, they will have no idea if you are able to make the monthly repayments. It might be a good idea to take out a credit card a year before you apply for your first mortgage or have a car loan, a mobile phone contract, or car insurance so you can prove yourself.

Consolidate Your Debt

You should also avoid applying for a mortgage with loads of outstanding credit. If you have credit card debt or multiple loans, it might be a good idea to sort out your finances first. Check out debtconsolidation.loans to find out more about the options available. It is always better to have one account you make regular repayments on than credit all over the place.

Learn to Budget

Buying your first home will change a lot of things about your budget. You will have to prioritise your regular payments, and this might mean you have to cut back on eating out or partying. You have to grow up to the responsibilities of homeowners and make sure that you have savings to cover emergencies, such as a broken down boiler or an electrical fault.

Save Up for the Deposit

Today, first-time buyers need at least 5-20 percent deposit. The more you can save up for the deposit the lower your monthly repayments on the mortgage will be. You should look at online mortgage calculators and create a saving plan so you don’t pay back more on the amount you borrow than necessary.

First-time buyers have a hard job securing a mortgage and making ends meet. You can increase your chances of getting accepted for a mortgage if you follow the above steps. Learn to be responsible for your money, start saving up early, budget carefully, and you are one step closer to your dream home.

* This is a contributed post

Have you managed to get on the property ladder? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Researching Dreaming of St Tropez

dreaming-of-st-tropez, ta-williams, book

Those of you familiar with my work will know by now that I always like to write about lovely places. The Dreaming of... series has already included Venice and Florence, so St-Tropez seemed like a fitting sequel to those two magical Italian cities. By the way, I can reveal that the next one after this will be set in a gorgeous five-star hotel in the Austrian Alps so you can see a pattern developing here – I like nice places. I also have a rule that I must visit these places before starting to write. They say you should always write about what you know and, great as Google Earth is, it can’t give you the scents, the sounds, the people or that indefinable thing – the atmosphere.

So this time last year, my wife and I headed across to visit St-Tropez to see for ourselves. If anybody is inspired to do the same after reading Dreaming of St-Tropez (and I highly recommend it) here’s a tip: don’t stay in St-Tropez (it costs an arm and a leg). Stay in Ste-Maxime, a fifteen-minute boat ride across the bay. It’s a lot cheaper and, while not as atmospheric as St-Tropez itself, it has its own charm (and a load of great restaurants).

We were fortunate to have sparkling warm dry May weather – justifying St-Tropez’s claims to have more sunny days than anywhere in France – and the first impressions were terrific. St-Tropez is set at the mouth of a delightful bay and the tree-covered hills behind the town have been designated a national park. Considering it is on the highly populated Côte d’Azur, the area is remarkably unspoilt – and that came as a surprise. As a result, there are delightful wildflowers all over the place and the woods are rich with fauna from wild boar to the somewhat less appealing large snake I discovered on the path in front of me one day. They say snakes are more scared of you than you are of them, but I don’t buy it. This thing gave me a “Make my day, punk” look before reluctantly slithering into the bushes, nonchalantly leaving its tail still on the path. I was never much good at the long jump at school but, believe me, I vaulted that bit of path like an Olympic athlete.

The other big surprise I got in St-Tropez was the fact that it wasn’t just stuffed full of rich people. I hope I manage to convey this impression through Jess’ eyes in the book. Yes, the quayside is lined with spectacular yachts (most registered in the tax havens of the world), yes, there are more designer clothes shops in just one street than in the whole of the West of England and yes, I saw more Ferraris there than anywhere else on earth. But, beneath the veneer of the rich and famous – did I mention, I saw Brigitte Bardot? – the place is still a French fishing port. The people we met in the shops, restaurants and cafés were normal folk, just like the rest of us. The feel of the place was refreshingly ordinary.

Research is vital to my work (and I keep telling the Inland Revenue that) and there is no substitute for going there and seeing it for yourself. Now then, how about Dreaming of the Seychelles...?

ta-williams, author

T.A. Williams lives in Devon with his Italian wife. He was born in England to a Scottish mother and Welsh father. After a degree in modern languages at Nottingham University, he lived and worked in Switzerland, France and Italy, before returning to run one of the best-known language schools in the UK. His hobby is long-distance cycling, but his passion is writing.

Dreaming of St Tropez is available to buy now. For more about the author and upcoming books in the series, you can follow him on Twitter.

Have you ever been to St Tropez? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Interview: A.K. Amherst

This week I am pleased to welcome author A.K. Amherst to The Writing Greyhound!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Andrea. I'm an Austrian writer who loves to travel the world. Whenever I get the chance I spend some longer time abroad. I lived for three months Down Under, another time I spent a year in Sweden. Living with people from other countries and experiencing their culture really helped me to broaden my horizons. I wouldn't trade those experiences for anything in the world. 
My interest in foreign countries also shows in my writing. My books usually pick up one or another historical or cultural topic. By telling my characters' journeys I want my readers to experience a life different from their own and relate to it one way or another.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I started writing my first short story when I was nine. I used the characters of my favourite kid's book and put them into my very own adventure. It took me about six months to develop and write the story. I remember how proud I was when I finally finished it. Then I made a huge mistake: I showed it to my German teacher. He took the story home with him and read it. In the next lesson, he made me read it out loud in front of my classmates. I was so nervous. I asked him to read it for me but he pointed out: No, a writer always reads her work herself.
belfast-central, ak-amherst, book

Tell me about Belfast Central.
Belfast Central tells the story of the young and idealistic paramedic called Ryan. In order to work in his dream job, he neglected a career in the company of his family who made a fortune with producing and selling guns. 
When Ryan gets shot on duty at Belfast Central, he has a hard time dealing with what happened. A welcome distraction is the search for the stranger who saved his life. But the more he finds out about this stranger's past and his involvement in the shooting, the more dangerous it gets for Ryan. 
In order to stop those responsible for the shooting Ryan might be forced to let go of some of his deepest values and deal with the consequences...
What drew you to writing in the thriller genre?
To be honest, when I sat down and started writing this story 13 years ago (yes 13!) I didn't intend to write a thriller. I had the character in mind and the topic, everything else came with the writing. Ryan is very driven to find out why the shooting at Belfast Central took place and he is more daring than I ever could have imagined. I like what he has become, what he made of his own story.
Did you find writing about history a challenge?
Yes, it was challenging. Since I don't live in Northern Ireland I had to do a lot of research from afar. I read a lot about the history and checked each fact multiple times. It was important for me to have the story set up before travelling to Belfast myself. Once there, I didn't want to waste time with basic research but dig as deep as possible. Travelling to the settings of my book was also very fulfilling. It was the last step of a very intense and fun journey.
How did you get inspiration?
I draw a lot of inspiration from music. I love listening to ballads and country, but also pop – everything that catches the mood or feelings of my characters in a certain moment. Most of my key scenes are linked to songs with strong messages. Whenever I rewrote a scene I made sure I have the adjoining tunes in my ear.
What’s your writing process?
I have the worst writing habit you could imagine. I just start randomly in the middle – from there I go wherever my imagination leads me. With Belfast Central being my first book this approach cost me a lot of time. But I learned from it, I'm approaching storytelling a bit more structured now. Still, I don't like to know where my story ends when I start. I want the characters to lead me. It's much more fun that way.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
To get your message across. Knowing what you are on about is one thing, making a reader – a total stranger from probably another part of the world – understand your point, is a completely different thing. 
I never really had thought about that until I started reading to my writers' group. When one scene created completely different emotions and interpretations among a group of ten people I understood the scope of the challenge. But the solution was quite simple: I took the feedback, rewrote the scene and made the message clearer. 
This was an important lesson for me. The art of good writing is to hint a certain direction but to never limit the reader in his own opinion or imagination. As a writer, I need to be aware that they will have their own interpretations of my text and accept that. Telling my readers what to think would be the worst I could do. So I won't. EVER.
ak-amherst, author

What do you love most about writing?
The ability to touch readers with my stories. Storytelling is very powerful. I find it interesting that in marketing – the branch I work in - this is a rather new concept. Companies and brands are trying to tell stories in advertisements and on social media more than ever. But this is nothing new. Writers have used the art of storytelling for centuries. It's the means of choice to get a message across, to make it stay in someone's mind. 
After all, I could spare myself the trouble of writing a book about friendship and simply post on Twitter: Friendships can bridge any difference. - Nice statement but probably forgotten the moment I post it. Having two characters, on the other hand, who come from different backgrounds and embody such an unlikely friendship is much more powerful and memorable.
Which authors inspire you?
I take a lot of inspiration from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – his Sherlock Holmes is brilliant but what I admire even more about him is his versatility. Besides crime stories, he wrote adventures like The Lost World or (slightly) supernatural stories like The Mystery of Cloomber
For Belfast Central, my inspiration came from Joan Lingard who wrote the Kevin and Sadie series. My English teacher in school first recommended those stories and I was hooked immediately.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Keep going. It gets though that's normal. And it might get even tougher but if you keep holding on the result will be priceless.
What are you currently working on?
Well, there will definitely be a sequel to Belfast Central. It's half-finished and I'm very eager to give those characters the wrap that I have been working on for years. 
Parallel to that, I'm crafting a story that addresses The Lost Generation in Australia. I came across the topic while living there and ever since I feel the need to write about it.
What are you reading at the moment?
I usually read at least three books at the same time and I continue with the one that best fits my mood at the very moment. Currently, I pay much more attention to independent authors than I used to. I started reading the Shelby Nichols series by Colleen Helme and I love it.
What’s your all-time favourite fiction book?
I really liked Tess Gerritsen's The Surgeon – the first part of the Rizzoli & Isles series. The book really gripped me because the medical background of Gerritsen shimmered through. The surgery and coroner scenes were so real. I felt like I was standing next to the doctor the whole time... and I know more about sewing material for dead bodies now than I ever wanted to know.
What’s your all-time favourite non-fiction book?
I don't read a lot of non-fiction book, to be honest. If I do it's usually connected to a book research. But the one non-fiction book I bought and read out of pure interest was written by a former Australian police officer. She was one of the first female detectives back in the 1980s and came across a lot of corruption. In the book she described her journey and what made her become a whistleblower.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?

My ambition really is to keep writing, to keep being inspired. A writer friend once told me that publishers consider the average lifetime of a writer to be 10 years – then they have written everything they had to say. I can't imagine this happening to me and I really hope that my curiosity and my travelling will spare me that fate. I can't imagine my life without writing.

What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Well, travelling is one. And trying new hobbies. I want to live as many lives as possible, make as many experiences as possible in order to keep my mind and my writing fresh.
Belfast Central is available to buy now. 

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

Thursday, 10 May 2018

4 Cute Gift Ideas for Friends

friends, quote, love

"What do you want for your birthday?"

My birthday is coming up and this is the question on everyone's lips at the moment. From friends and family to my partner, no matter who is asking, my answer is always the same - I don't know.

This year, I haven't a clue what to ask for and have resorted to the safety net of the bookstore gift card. A fail-safe option, but not exactly what people are hoping to hear when they want to give a more personal gift.

Personal issues and gift-related confusion aside, this got me thinking and before long, I was on the hunt for some cute gift ideas for friends, family members and loved ones.

I've picked out a few of my favourite ideas to share with you - perfect gifts for when you're struggling to find the right present for a friend!

Pins

You may be forgiven for thinking that pins are a bit of a fashion throwback. While they may not be the newest kids on the style block, there's no denying the fact that pins are making a comeback and this humble accessory seems to be here to stay.

From novelty favourites to striking enamel pins, there are plenty of options out there to suit every preference - just do a little research and you're bound to find one they will love! If you're still struggling for inspiration, the Old English Company are currently running a giveaway where you can enter to win a set of gorgeous enamel pins, so don't miss out!

Photographs

What could be better than memories of all the good times you've spent together? Every friendship deserves to be treasured, so take the opportunity to show them how much you appreciate the bond you share by highlighting some of the best bits.

Whether it's a collage of photo prints, a scrapbook or memory book or a canvas of your favourite picture of the two of you together, these are all great ways to celebrate a fantastic friendship. If you prefer to keep things simple, pick out a classy frame and fill it with a picture of you both - gift; sorted.

Stationery

Everyone loves stationery! From multi-coloured pens to colouring pencils, journals, notebooks and more, there are certainly plenty of options to choose from when it comes to this idea.

After all, stationery is both useful and fun - why not pick a personalised pen or a notebook with a cute design on the cover and add stylishness to the mix? If your friend is a real stationery addict, you could even try getting them some handy accessories like a stationery drawer organiser or fancy pen pot instead - they're bound to appreciate the thought!

Sweets

Although sweets and chocolates are hardly innovative birthday presents, there's no reason to just grab a bargain box of chocolates from your local supermarket. Instead, if you do want to indulge your friend's sweet tooth, why not take the opportunity to get creative with the idea?

Create your own pick'n'mix selection filled with all their favourite sweets or alternatively, hand-pick a few luxury chocolates and present them in some gorgeous packaging, complete with ribbons, bows, confetti - the works!

No matter how you choose to celebrate your loved ones' upcoming birthdays, take inspiration from these cute gift ideas for friends to do so in style. Don't forget that sometimes, it's the little things that really can make the biggest differences.

* This is a collaborative post

Do you have any good gift ideas for friends? Share them in the comments below!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Interview: Kelly Wittmann

This week's interview comes courtesy of Kelly Wittmann, author of An Authentic Experience. Interested in finding out more about the author behind the book? I've got a full Q&A to share with you, below!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
I’m an author and educational writer who lives in Chicago. I love the diversity of this city; getting to know people from all over the world (and getting to know foods from all over the world, too) is wonderful!
How did you first become interested in writing?
Well, I wanted to become an author from a very young age, but I finally became one out of necessity: I was unknowingly living with a brain tumour for many years and was repeatedly misdiagnosed as being mentally ill. It got to the point where I couldn’t even really hold down “real” jobs. Trying to work in a loud, crowded office or restaurant was a nightmare for me. I just couldn’t do it anymore. But I could write.
an-authentic-experience, kelly-wittmann, book

Tell me about An Authentic Experience.
I wanted to write about how a brain tumour changes the life of the individual who has been diagnosed, but also about how it affects those around them. By making the protagonist the teen daughter of the patient, I was able to get a little space and distance from my own tumour and not turn this into an autobiography. It’s the story of a family, not the story of a brain tumour.
Why did you decide to write for Young Adults?
I’ll be blunt: Because I knew I needed to get into a genre if I were ever to have any success in writing fiction, and I wouldn’t know how to write in any other genre. I couldn’t write a SciFi or Fantasy novel if you offered me a million dollars for it.
What drew you to writing contemporary fiction?
I love realism and writing about “little people.” My writing is very character-driven; I love taking tiny bits and pieces of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people I’ve known (or known of) and creating my own, completely new human beings.
Did you find writing the book a challenge?
Yes. I have found every book I’ve ever written, whether fiction or nonfiction, to be a challenge, for the simple reason that I am a perfectionist. To a fault, probably.
How did you get inspiration?
Through my recovery. It is amazing, what the human body can recover from, and that inspires me every day.
What’s your writing process?
The first thing I do is write very detailed character descriptions. Not for every character, of course, but for maybe the most important five or six characters. I have to have a “feel” for them before I even start writing the actual novel. Then I’ll write the first, oh, maybe eight chapters and send it off to my agent to see what she thinks.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Starting. Starting a book, starting a chapter... It’s like you’re at the bottom of a mountain and you just don’t see how you can climb it. But the good part is that it gets better every day, and as you near the end, it is a truly awesome feeling.
kelly-wittmann, author

What do you love most about writing?
I guess I shouldn’t admit this, but I like it when I make myself laugh over a crazy/weird/strange character or situation. I just hope readers will laugh, too.
Which authors inspire you?
Edith Wharton, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Alice Walker, Ba Jin, George Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, Boris Pasternak... I could go on and on. The YA authors who influenced me the most as a young person were Judy Blume (of course), M.E. Kerr, Norma Klein, and Rosemary Wells.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Getting an agent is harder than ever these days, but… Get an agent. It’s possible if you work hard at it.
What are you currently working on?
A novel about a young man who sees the world differently after becoming temporarily disabled.
What are you reading at the moment?
Doctor Zhivago. Not for the first time, but it’s been a long time. What a beautiful novel.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
The Age of Innocence.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I would love to be a successful Young Adult author, so we’ll see how that goes.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Food! The restaurants here in Chicago are amazing! I also love doing cardio workouts (which are quite necessary because of said food) and yoga.
An Authentic Experience is available to buy now. For more information about Kelly and her work, you can check out her website.

Will you be reading the book? Got an author in mind for next week's Q&A? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Film Review: Avengers Infinity War

marvel-avengers, infinity-war, thor, loki, groot

Regular readers of The Writing Greyhound will most probably already know that I am a big Marvel movies fan. Although I don't read the comics, I enjoy watching every instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when released and accordingly, joined fans across the world eagerly awaiting the latest and most intense film yet - Avengers: Infinity War.

Rumours about this movie have been swirling for months, with everyone wanting to share their own thoughts and theories about their favourite characters. And there was certainly plenty to choose from - almost every Marvel superhero you can imagine was part of the star-studded line up for Infinity War. However, much as it was great to watch different parties come together and interact for the first time (offering ample opportunities for fun, games and humour) the reality was that it felt a little stretched at times.

With such a large cast of A-list actors and actresses, not to mention a list longer than your arm of larger-than-life characters all demanding a fair share of the film, it isn't difficult to understand why it felt like many of the characters ended up fighting for screen time.

Understandably, this meant many different intersecting story arcs, often progressing simultaneously, and a whole heap of jump-cutting between them all. Fast-paced, yes; difficult to keep up with; sometimes.

Characters aside, the overall plot of the movie comes as no surprise to MCU fans and those who have done their homework. Our main villain and the antagonist of the film is the Titan Thanos, who is intent on collecting all six Infinity stones which will then enable him to wield unimaginable power. We have already been introduced to Thanos in previous instalments and the whole concept of the Infinity stones has been ongoing throughout many separate MCU films - Infinity War is the final chapter which ties the main overarching plot threads together.

Of course, it is difficult to mention much about the plot for fear of spoilers. To avoid them, all I will say is that this is a film which should really be watched multiple times to ensure you don't miss anything important. At 2 hours 40 minutes running time, it can seem a long film, especially during the rare slower moments, but anything shorter and the storyline would definitely have struggled to be condensed any further.

Featuring an awe-inspiring mix of top-class action sequences, comedic gags and a few tender moments which take you by surprise, it's no wonder why Infinity War is already a record-breaking film. At the time of writing, the movie had already enjoyed the biggest global box office opening - ever. Not bad for a humble superhero movie!

As for what will happen to our much-loved heroes in future films, this remains to be seen. However, one thing is for certain - this chapter may be over, but the MCU is far from finished yet.

Have you seen Infinity War? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Poetry Block: Podunk Moon by Erin Geil

It's been a little while, but I'm thrilled to bring my Poetry Block feature back to The Writing Greyhound with a brand new instalment featuring the lovely Erin Geil.

If you missed the last feature from Rhea Arielle, you can catch up with that here.

Erin Geil is pleased to share an exclusive poem with TWG readers, titled 'Limbo of Us'. You can find her work below!

--

Limbo of Us

Waiting for words
Of something
Meaning more
There is weight
To my breath
Holding me
Down inside, an
Anchor
Plummeting
To a place
Never touched.
The way his
Fingers moved
Into my hand,
Marking me,
But not with
His scent, or his
Body, but with
His spirit.
A spiritual marking.
Waiting for words
To quiet the stirring
Of the shadows
That pass through
The north of me,
To the east
Of that center
The south
Of my wandering
And into the
West of thoughts.
Waiting for words,
Limbo of us.

--

About Podunk Moon

podunk-moon, erin-geil, poetry, anthology

Podunk Moon is an anthology of mostly non-fiction free-verse poetry starting in 2016 and time travelling back through the years ending in 2003. A time capsule of heartache, depression, and the overall state of confusion that comes with being in your twenties. An excerpt from the suspense thriller novel, The Great American, follows after, leaving the reader with a taste of something that is altogether a darkly different breed of beast.

Podunk Moon is available to buy now.

About Erin Geil

erin-geil, poet

Erin Geil started creating poetry before she was able to hold a pencil in her hands or make much sense of the alphabet. A very patient and kind mother played secretary to a very insistent four-year-old who wanted to rhyme about the ins and outs of bathroom behaviour. She evolved over the next three decades and graduated to more appropriate poetry topics such as sex, depression, and love gone horribly wrong. Currently, she is hard at work finishing up several projects. A prompt book entitled, The 30 Something’s Guide: Abandoning Baggage Through Writing; her prized “child” of thirteen years, a suspense thriller novel, The Great American; and finally, a poetry book entitled, Rooted.

If you are interested in keeping in touch with Erin, you can follow her musings over on Instagram.

Are you a poet and would like to be featured in the next edition of Poetry Block? Get in touch if you are interested!

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Book Review: Trio of Lost Souls by Jack Remick

Bill Vincent is a killer but in the name of justice. Not that the law would see it that way. With one murderous act of retribution for terrible violence inflicted on his wife, he leaves behind a respectable calling as a prize-winning investigative journalist and hits the road. On the run, he ekes out a living in California's Central Valley as a box-maker, a turkey debeaker, a truck driver's assistant, and finally a field hand. In this last job, he meets Jim Garret, a like-minded spirit whose thirst for justice equals his own. They join together to beat the corrupt bossmen at their own political game.

trio-of-lost-souls, jack-remick, book

Make no mistake, this is a novel of grand proportions and one which is fully prepared to sweep the unsuspecting reader firmly off their feet. Taking you on a swift journey across America, back-of-beyond towns, gritty crime and political statements are all ten-a-plenty in this book.

Trio of Lost Souls is a tale which, I feel, would be better suited to the big screen than the pages of a book. Of course, books are one of the best modes of storytelling that we have available to us, but this tale feels somewhat hampered by its ink and paper housing and instead, it aches to be played out scene by scene in front of an array of enthralled viewers.

Sweeping tales such as this one are always tricky to pull off; it is all too easy to end up losing the reader in amongst a cloud of confusion or technicalities about one thing or another. Indeed, with this being the fourth in a series (although I confess I didn't know it at the time) I was left incredibly confused about the events which must have happened in the first three books. Throughout the first half of the book, in particular, I was left scrambling to pick up the pieces and reacquaint myself with facts the author seemed to assume every reader would already know.

Feeling as though I was on the back foot from the very start, I struggled to really get into the story for a good chunk of the book - a shame as I feel I could have enjoyed the story under different circumstances.

Instead, I found it tricky to get to know the characters and understand them and the motives for their actions. Why did a certain character behave a particular way? I had no idea; guesswork was my sole reference point for much of the story. 

Similarly, not being a US citizen, I only have a very rudimentary grasp of the American political landscape - a fact which definitely did not help me to progress my understanding of much of the later parts of the story. 

However, one thing I did think was particularly well done was the short introductions to many of the later chapters. Almost mini-narratives in their own right, these little snippets provided fascinating snapshots into the culture and mindset of the town and its people, something which really added that all-important extra dimension to my perception of the story.

Rating: 2 stars

Trio of Lost Souls is available to buy now.

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

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

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Interview: Sage MacGowan

For this week's author interview, I have the charming Sage MacGowan stopping by The Writing Greyhound to chat about life, work, writing and her novel Through Fire.

Hello! Please could you introduce yourself?
Hello, everyone! I'm Sage. Thank you very much, Lorna, for having me!
How did you first become interested in writing?
I didn't really get into writing until about eight years ago. Until then I was perfectly satisfied letting my little scenarios dance in my head. One night that changed. For some unknown reason, I felt I absolutely HAD to get my thoughts down, and the pull hasn't left.
through-fire, sage-macgowan, book

Tell me about Through Fire.
Through Fire is the third manuscript I started, but the only one (to date) I've finished. The overhanging emotion is guilt - the belief that one has committed unforgivable acts - and the damage that does emotionally, physically, and socially. It's about how the people in our lives "prop" us up and convince us to forgive ourselves.
Why did you decide to write for New Adults?
My late teens and early twenties were a very "angsty" time for me, as I assume they are for everyone, and it seemed like the proper age range to deal with the issues and situations I wanted to write about.
What drew you to writing romance?
I read for escape, and what better place to escape to than a world where there is a wonderful person to share your life with? Sure, there are bad things that happen, but you're not alone. Someone's got your back, and in the end, everything is back on an even keel. I wanted to be a part of that.
Did you find writing the book a challenge?
No, not overly so. There were times my muse left me high and dry, and then there was all the research on artificial arms and mountain biking and psychology. It went through quite a few iterations, but I'm glad I didn't just throw my hands up and scrap it. I'm very happy with the way it turned out.
How did you get inspiration?
I'm not sure where my inspiration for this particular story came from. I was just sitting in my car on lunch break (I used to work full-time as a veterinary nurse) and the opening scene in the gym popped into my head. Basically, my muse said to me, "This is what happens." 
In general, my inspiration for my stories comes out of the frustration I felt reading other books involving disabilities. Over and over again, the characters were "magically cured" by the end, and that really bothered me. It was as if the writers were saying it was impossible for them to have a happily ever after as is.
What’s your writing process?
For Through Fire, I was a total pantster. There was no outlining whatsoever. My scenes were all out of order and there were A LOT of changes before I felt it was right. Complete rewrites in many sections. For my current WIP, I thought I'd try plotting instead. I thought if I outlined, it would come together easier, but so far I'm mostly banging my head on my keyboard, trying to come up with scenes.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Coming up with ideas. For a while after that fateful night years ago, story ideas flooded my brain. It was like I couldn't type fast enough. Then the plots started dwindling; my muse was leaving me on my own more and more. It took me six and a half years to write Through Fire. Pathetic!
What do you love most about writing?
The work environment and the hours. Any time, day or night, I can plunk away at the keyboard (when I'm not dealing with the more mundane aspects of my life). I love that I can "go to work" in my pyjamas. I love that I have the option of packing up my fully-charged laptop and going off into the woods to write. I finished the storyline for Through Fire sitting by the river on a tranquil August evening.
sage-macgowan, author

Which authors inspire you?
I'd say at the top of the list is Danielle Steel. She's so prolific, and she had the cojones to write Palomino when other authors were afraid to write - or thought no one would want to read - about a romance protagonist with physical challenges. I like to think she paved the way for me. 
I also admire Diana Gabaldon. If I recall, Outlander was her debut novel, and it is SO freakin' good. She's amazing.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Do it for yourself. Don't feel like you have to follow all the rules. Give them a happy ending, for sure, but other than that, let your imagination be free. Write what's in your heart.
What are you currently working on?
It's not a sequel, but it is related to Through Fire in that both couples show up in future novels. My current work-in-progress deals with trust issues on his end, and her being "pushed out of the nest."
What are you reading at the moment?
The Best Medicine by Tracy Brogan. She's a plastic surgeon with no inclination to date, especially not a man who is eight years her junior and who crashed a stolen Jet-Ski. It's great so far and I'm loving the humour.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
There are just too many! But I have a feeling when I finally get around to reading The Princess Bride, it will be my very favourite.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing! And to keep enjoying it. I don't care about the money; I just want to make people think.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Well, I don't get the chance to go anymore, but as my picture hints at, I love renaissance faires. I also love animals and have parlayed that into the paying gig of petsitting. I am a nature worshiper and crave the hiking trail, as well as a warm beach.
Through Fire is available to buy now. For more information about Sage and her writing, you can check out her website.

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