Pages

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Reading Round-Up: May/June 2018

reading-round-up, books, the-writing-greyhound

I don't know about you, but I can't believe we're halfway through 2018 already! After a good start to the year, my reading hit a dramatic slump around March and April when we were moving house. But did things pick up again in May and June? Read on to find out!

What is Reading Round-Up?

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

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

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

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



In
  • Pen & Xander by Laekan Zea Kemp
  • When I Find You by Emma Curtis
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer
  • Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
  • Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
  • The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien
  • The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen
  • A Single Journey by Frankie McGowan
  • Everything's Not Okay by Laura Tucker
  • The Freedom Club by Cindy Vine
  • Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler
  • The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances
  • The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Eve of Man by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher
  • No Place for a Lady by Gill Paul
  • Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris
  • Love's Cruel Redemption (The Ghost Bird Series #12) by C.L. Stone
  • James 516 (London Carter #1) by B.J. Bourg
  • Proving Grounds (London Carter #2) by B.J. Bourg
  • Silent Trigger (London Carter #3) by B.J. Bourg
  • The Woman Who Met her Match by Fiona Gibson
  • A Cross to Bear (Jack Sheridan Mystery) by Vince Vogel
  • Summer at Coastguard Cottages by Jennifer Bohnet
  • Touch the Silence by Gloria Cook
  • Edgar Allen Poe and the Jewel of Peru by Karen Lee Street
  • The Darkness by Ragnar Jonasson
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver
  • I Never Lie by Jody Sabral
  • Moments of Time by Gloria Cook
  • The Cornish Village School: Breaking the Rules by Kitty Wilson
  • The Killing Time (Inspector Danilov #4) by M.J. Lee
  • No Ordinary Killing by Jeff Dawson
  • Confetti & Confusion by Daisy James
  • Boundary by Mary Victoria Johnson
  • The Adults by Caroline Hulse
  • The Secret by Katharine Johnson
  • Malibu Motel by Chaunceton Bird
  • Release by Patrick Ness
  • And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott
  • The Fourth Monkey (4MK Thriller #1) by J.D. Barker
  • The Fifth to Die (4MK Thriller #2) by J.D. Barker
  • Roman's Having Sex Again by Nikki Ashton
Out
Wishlist
  • Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase #3) by Rick Riordan
  • Imposters (Uglies #5) by Scott Westerfeld
What have you been reading recently? Have you read a book I should know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 29 June 2018

My First Experience Watching Anime

full-metal-alchemist, brotherhood, anime, flickr - mobu27

Confession time - up until very recently, I didn't know the difference between manga and anime.

(For anyone else reading this who is unsure of the difference, anime is an animation whereas manga is usually a comic or graphic novel).

My tastes are usually pretty varied when it comes to entertainment (for instance, just look at the sheer variety of books I read and genres of music I enjoy) but when it comes to film and TV, there are certain genres that I know I enjoy and therefore don't often stray from.

When we first got together, my partner and I adopted an unofficial policy of taking it in turns to choose TV shows to watch. Among others, we made our way through Game of Thrones (my choice), Scrubs (his choice) and Firefly (my choice). Until for his next choice, he picked Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. 

Prior to watching Full Metal, I had never seen an anime before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, nothing in the same genre to compare it to and certainly no initial preference when faced with the 'sub or dub' question.

However, although I quickly got informed that it is an entirely different thing to anime, I have previously dabbled with manga.

As a child, I absolutely adored W.I.T.C.H. I began collecting the books (before quickly running out of money) and bought as many issues of the magazine as I could afford. I loved the girls, I loved the idea and the storyline, and above all, I loved the artwork. I would read the books and magazines and do my best to replicate my favourite scenes in black pen and felt tip.

Much later in life, I dipped my toe into the world of manga once more when I borrowed volume one of Bakuman from my then-boyfriend. I passively enjoyed the story and liked the concept of it being a manga about manga, but it was far from my favourite read.

Apart from those few incidences, I was completely in the dark about the entire world of manga and anime... Until we began watching my first ever anime.

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Full Metal Alchemist is widely regarded as the 'perfect' anime, making it the ideal choice for my first foray into the genre. As one of the best animes out there, Brotherhood was probably a good choice to get me into anime!

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood tells the story of two brothers, Edward and Alphonse Elric, who (as the title suggests) have the powers of alchemy. After a misguided attempt at alchemy goes wrong, the story follows the brother's journey to find a way to restore order and reclaim what was lost. Along the way, the pair find themselves caught up in the crossfire of a much bigger power play and must use every ounce of their alchemical studies and knowledge to join forces with their allies and emerge victoriously.



Despite my initial misgivings, it only took a few episodes before I properly got into the story. With my partner as my trusted guide, anything I didn't get was immediately explained to me and it wasn't long before I was well and truly hooked - as we neared the end, we were watching it every night!

The story had everything that I look for - likeable yet flawed characters, three-dimensional villains, complex relationships, a cracking storyline and a healthy dose of magic! From the world-building to the artwork, near enough everything about this anime was flawless.

Although it took a while to adapt to the cultural differences and customs associated with anime, watching Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood was an experience that was certainly worth it.

If you're looking for something a little different to binge on Netflix, give it a go - you will be hooked before you know it! Plus, if you need a little something to sweeten the deal, Brotherhood has an absolutely outstanding soundtrack (Period by Chemistry is my personal favourite).

Are you an anime fan? Have you seen Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Inspiration for Writing the Haunting of Mount Cod

the-haunting-of-mount-cod, nicky-stratton, book, blog-tour

I found my grandmother’s Women’s Voluntary Service badge in an old oriental box she left me. When I told my mother about it, she said, ‘Meals on Wheels’ and showed me her own badge – by then it was the WRVS. I joined my local branch, now plain RVS, and delivered meals for over 10 years until it was taken over by the local authority and so now I have a collection of 3 badges.

During my time volunteering, I met a huge range of mostly elderly and always incredibly grateful recipients and the thing I noticed was that while the food was disgusting, they were always delighted to see me. They were all stoic, delightful, humorous but lonely.

It was this that gave me the inspiration to write about oldies. I wanted to give a perspective on old age that was upbeat and funny. I often delivered to residential homes and here too and somewhat surprisingly I came across isolation – particularly amongst the men who felt alienated amongst the overabundance of females all chattering wildly and bossing each other about over raffle tickets. It was this that got my imagination going as I pondered the idea of a romance. The dating agency Ancient Eros that features in the book is a concept I should like to think is a viable concern.

The setting of my novel in an up-market home is idealistic but through its escapism, I hope it brings a smile to the faces of old and young alike as they read of the antics of the characters who inhabit the world of Wellworth Lawns.

the-haunting-of-mount-cod, nicky-stratton, book

There has been so much in the press of recent years about poor conditions in care homes and of loneliness and so I gave my heroine, Lady Laura Boxford, a dog as her companion – she has plenty of love interest too, don’t worry.

Parker, her pug, was inspired by my own mother’s recalcitrant Jack Russell, Midge. Midge has been the faithful companion to my mother for 15 years. She didn’t ever meet my father – probably a good thing as he was particularly averse to badly trained dogs – but Midge was witness to the second marriage of my mother who at the age of 74 remarried my stepfather, then himself aged 76. Midge was also was there when he died after 10 happy years with my mother. So now her position is paramount as my mother’s trusty companion and she continues to bring joy even though she is now stone deaf and extremely badly behaved.

Then my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She kind of knew it was coming and manages through levity to get through the constant anxious making barriers the disease throws up. ‘I’m confused dot com,’ she says and while she also says, ‘old age is not for sissies’, she makes light of the fact that she is ‘going batty.’

Laura’s best friend in the Book is Venetia. Her character, while obsessed with TV shows, some of which are highly inappropriate, hints at her having some form of dementia, but it does not hinder her in her creative endeavours.

My mother too takes comfort in the regularity of daytime TV and I can only admire the producers of such shows as Pointless and Homes under the Hammer for getting their format so absolutely spot on. Now that my mother cannot really read – she looks at my father’s published memoir but really only sees the pictures and she thinks my first book is called The Sound of Music (would that it was) these TV shows are a lifeline and the fact that she has instantly forgotten what happened means their repetitive formula never tires.

My mother’s life has been one of great adventure. She was an accomplished horsewoman and jockey, a surprising achievement being the winning of the Kuala Lumpur Town Plate in 1958. She also held the record for catching the largest Marcia fish and for many years the famous London fishing shop, Farlow’s, had a photograph of her with the catch behind their cash desk. During her life, she also collected a huge range of friends. Many of them are now dead but they were characters so rich in humour and compassion that I have to say that I have stolen some of them and while sadly my mother no longer remembers much after her idyllic childhood in India, they remain as a testament to a long and varied life. I hope I have done them justice in some of my portrayals in The Haunting of Mount Cod. I’m sure all of them would have enjoyed the idea of a murder mystery in the spirit of a good game of Cluedo.

nicky-stratton, author

Nicky Stratton came second in a short story competition when she was twenty; the prize was a brown typewriter called The Underdog 2000, but rather than become a novelist, she embarked on a thirty-year career as a copywriter. Alongside work, Stratton raised two children plus a veritable menagerie of animals, including a hawk; she also took an Open University degree in Humanities, graduating at the age of fifty with a 2.1. She finally published her first novel, The Weight of Death, in 2016. Nicky Stratton lives in Stratford upon Avon with her partner Myles.

The Haunting of Mount Cod is available to buy now.

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

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Book Review: Dead... If Only by Heather Haven

A man who should be dead isn’t and Lee Alvarez’s very pregnant sister-in-law, Vicki, is about to be charged with a murder he recently committed in the Big Easy. Aided by the rest of the Alvarez Family, Palo Alto’s favourite P.I. kicks the Voodoo in the Who Do throughout New Orleans. With only three days to clear Vicki’s name, a child is kidnapped, two more people wind up dead, a hurricane hits, and the clock never stops ticking...

dead-if-only, heather-haven, alvarez-family-murder-mystery, book

Dead... If Only is a fast-paced murder mystery set against the backdrop of class, wealth and status. It's unusual for a detective to be part of a whole crime-solving family, yet even more unique is the fact that said crime-solving family are extremely upper-class. 

This is the fourth book in the Alvarez Family Murder Mystery series and I do think the story could have done with a little more explanation for those (like me) who had not previously read the rest of the series to date. The feeling of being confused and left in the dark is the exact reason why I purposely make a conscious effort not to accept books from series for a review without having first read and enjoyed the rest of the series!

That issue aside, the story was quick and relentless, marching onward at a constant pace and barely giving you time to catch your breath before being thrown into another situation! From luxury fashion and opulent properties to hurricanes, voodoo and buried family secrets, Dead... If Only is certainly far from a boring read.

However, on a personal level, my biggest issue with the book was the main character. I found Lee to be pretentious, whiny and arrogant - not exactly the type of heroine you find yourself rooting for. Of course, the trope of the flawed anti-hero is not a new concept, but when your heroine has very few redeeming qualities (save love for her partner, her family and her pets) it can be hard to get fully invested in the story. Plus, that's not even mentioning her obsession with clothing - I don't know about you, but I signed up to read a murder mystery, not attend a fashion show!

On paper, the concept for the plot is pretty good, but when it comes to fleshing it out and making everything more three-dimensional, the reality is that there is just too much going on, not enough explanations and too many questions left unanswered.

In most cases, I usually do enjoy a good detective mystery story and I tried my hardest to like this one, but unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that it just wasn't for me in the end.

Rating: 2 stars

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

Dead... If Only is available to buy now.

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

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Interview: Jennifer L. Cahill

one, jennifer-l-cahill, book, blog-tour

It's my stop on the One? blog tour today and I'm welcoming author Jennifer L. Cahill to The Writing Greyhound!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
I live in Notting Hill, in West London. I have a couple of business degrees and a BA in Spanish, which is where I really honed my writing skills. I write a lot in my day job, usually change communications for large business transformation programmes. I specialise in the people side of change and helping people work through it. I also coach individual clients to help them navigate and master change.
Tell me about One?
One? is about relationships and finding the one in a world that is changing as fast as technology will allow. I think there is a need for expectations and relationship models to shift as the role of women in modern society changes. Above all, it’s fun and funny, and I try to capture the highs and lows of living in a city like London, and what a delight it is to live in Clapham if you are in your twenties. I absolutely loved living in Clapham, and I was very reluctant to leave when I eventually did, but like life, my story moved on, and I’m living in Notting Hill now, which I also absolutely love.
How did the idea for the book come about?
I was on a project abroad and a confluence of events conspired to make me start the book. I found myself alone in my hotel room. Back then, which wasn’t that long ago, we didn’t have wifi, FaceTime, iPhones etc, so hotel rooms abroad were very lonely indeed. This negative experience provided the exact conditions for me to start writing. One? had a different name first, and then the actual title came to me in a flash of inspiration once the story was well on its way. As soon as I wrote the first sentence the book came out of me like a torrent, it was almost an addictive process, it was fantastic. So it wasn’t planned in advance, it was purely creative flow.
one, jennifer-l-cahill, book

The book is set in London, but what is your favourite part of the city?
This is quite a difficult question for me to answer because I love so much about London. Some of the key things would include the diversity and constant stimulation. Life is never boring in London. The fact that everyone is welcome here and all sorts of people just get on and get on with life is very inspiring. I have very much a ‘live and let live’ attitude, and I like equality, so I fit right in in London. The other thing I really like about London is that it allows people to really be themselves. So many people are held back by their friends’ or family’s expectations and opinions of them. London really allows people to spread their wings and fly as they move here and start afresh. London is also very rewarding if you are good at what you do and want to work hard, there are no limits put on you if you work hard and have a good attitude. 
If you want to know about physical places in London, I wrote about Clapham, so I definitely love that. I now live in Notting Hill, which is one of the most interesting places that I’ve ever lived. My favourite place to visit in London is definitely the V&A, I have been a member there for years and I go as often as I can.
How did you get inspiration?
For this book, in particular, I was inspired, if not annoyed, by the expectations and limitations put on me and women in general in the modern world. Things like having to be married by the time you are thirty, I find that literally ludicrous in this day and age. I was also inspired by the amazing experiences and people that I have met in London. As a writer, everything you see, hear and experience goes in and gets processed in the creative process. The slightest thing can inspire a full plot line or a character from scratch.
What’s your writing process?
It’s an organic process for me. I don’t have a set timetable. I write as the information comes to me. I often get inspiration when I’m in the middle of something else, like while I’m walking the dog, so you’ll often see me typing into my phone, juggling the lead while out and about in Notting Hill. 
What I would say though, is that the two most important things about writing are ‘space’ and ‘time’. So I would say that these are the two essential parts of my writing process. You need to organise your life so that you have time to write, be that a bit each day, or taking a few months off a year. The second essential ingredient is having space. I have a small writing room in my flat, and it would literally have been impossible to get this book out without my writing room. It now looks like a literary bomb has exploded with all of the drafts of the book, notes, post-its etc. everywhere as I’ve just finished the final edit. It’s happy kind of a mess though, even though I normally like a tidy living space.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The edit for sure. You start going slightly mad as you re-read your own work over and over again. Even though I had an editor, I really wanted to make sure it was perfect. I’ve read the book, word for word about 20 times in the last few months.
jennifer-l-cahill, author

What do you love most about writing?
Writing is like breathing for me, I can’t not do it. I love forming new characters, and I love the fact that, hopefully, people will enjoy my books and learn a little. I love helping people and imparting knowledge, I try to do that in my books. I love learning and sharing what I’ve learned. I want the readers to see themselves and their friends and exes in my books….maybe some of what they see might bring them a bit of closure.
Which authors inspire you?
I have a Spanish degree, so I have real love for Hispano American Fiction. Gabriel García Márquez is one of my favourite authors. I love magic realism and the way he captures the essence of the characters in his books. I find that his characters have stayed with me ever since I started reading his books when I was in University. That is very powerful writing indeed!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I would recommend that anyone who wants to write gets a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It is literally life-changing if you are looking to write or be creative in any way. 
Again, the two key ingredients for aspiring writers are ‘space’ and ‘time’ you need a writing space that works for you, and time to write. I would also add that the writing space should be ideally in your home so that you can write at any time of the day or night. Inspiration strikes when it feels like it and you need to be able to drop everything and go and write it down. 
I also would advise aspiring writers not to worry if they get blocked. Sometimes the timing isn’t right and you just have to go with the process. Once it starts flowing again…don’t worry…it will be unstoppable.
What are you currently working on?
I have three books that I’m working on concurrently. My second book is half written, the third one is begun as is the fourth. I’ll keep working on them all at the same time and the first one to get finished will be my second book.
What are you reading at the moment?
I read a book a month as part of the book club that I’m a member of. This month’s book is Codex 1962.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
100 years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I would love to continue to make people laugh and learn a little through my writing. I’m already working on my next books, so I’m hoping to be able to continue doing what I’m doing.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I’m a super busy person, and that doubles up as inspiration (thankfully). I rarely have to research books, my life and the experiences I stumble upon are often stranger than fiction. I have lots of different types of friends, and that makes life very interesting. I’m naturally curious and I love learning new things, which also helps with the writing process. 
I like to travel, I speak a few languages, and I go to Spain as often as possible. I like yoga and meditation and any ‘self-improvement’ activities like healthy eating, exercise etc, I also love fashion, art and film.
One? is available to buy now. For more about Jennifer and her writing, follow her on Twitter.

Will you be picking up a copy of One? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 25 June 2018

Gig Review: Ed Sheeran at Wembley Stadium

ed-sheeran, wembley-stadium, divide-tour, the-writing-greyhound

With three chart-topping albums under his belt and an MBE to his name, Ed Sheeran is arguably one of the biggest musicians in the world right now. Coming to his Divide tour straight off the back of the album of the same name, Suffolk-raised Sheeran has every right to be pleased about his musical success - something which is certainly not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon!

Named as 2017's bestselling global recording artist, 2018 has continued to be another outstanding year for the 27-year-old singer-songwriter. Sheeran's eagerly-awaited Divide tour, the tour accompanying the hit album, officially kicking off in March 2017 in Turin, Italy.

Returning to the UK for the second British leg of the tour (the first taking place in April/May 2017), the sell-out stadium crowd at iconic Wembley were waiting with baited breath for Sheeran to take to the stage. Heading along for the final night of Ed's four-night residency at the stadium, spirits were high and the air of anticipation among fans heading to the venue was tangible.

This was my first time visiting Wembley Stadium for a music event. Although I've previously been multiple times for American football games, the feel is completely different when the hallowed Wembley turf is hidden away! Although the large capacity is handy and the atmosphere undeniably electric, it's clear that the stadium wasn't designed to maximise sound quality. Wembley's circular design almost seemed to distort the sound, bringing waves of music and crowd noise all around you in an inescapable whirlwind of audio overload. It's just as well that everyone was too engrossed in dancing and singing along to mind!

Before the main event, we were treated to not just one, but two support acts. The first was Jamie Lawson - a personal favourite of mine and an absolutely lovely guy. The second was popular English singer-songwriter Anne-Marie. Although I like some of her songs, her music isn't really my cup of tea, but luckily, it wasn't long before the stage was set and the crowd were poised ready and waiting for Ed to begin.

A post shared by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on


Unceremoniously arriving on stage with a short behind-the-scenes live video, Sheeran was immediately greeted by an ear-splitting roar of sound. Fans who had queued up for hours outside the stadium, standing in line to secure front-row spots, screamed their adoration and appreciation at the top of their lungs. Even high up in the stands where I was sitting, anticipation for what was to come filled the air.

Despite being just one man armed with a guitar and a loop pedal, Ed Sheeran truly managed to fill the impressive venue of Wembley Stadium. Sheeran is renowned for his one-man-band approach to gigs and famed for his dedication to performing solo on tour dates. In his own words, "if it isn't broke, don't fix it!"

The setlist featured a carefully pieced together mixture of old classics and new favourites, with long-standing crowd favourites like Lego House, Sing and Thinking Out Loud, the most well-received song of the night, performed side-by-side with Divide tracks including Galway Girl, opener Castle on the Hill and, of course, Shape of You. Effortlessly flicking between emotional heartstring-tuggers and bouncier floor-fillers, the arrangement of the setlist was a real work of art and a surefire credit to Sheeran's skill as a songwriter.

Leaving the stadium and seeing Wembley's infamous arch lit up in Divide blue, there was a real party atmosphere as the crowds dispersed and headed home. Since fighting to get our hands on these tickets, we waited almost a year to see the icon that is Ed Sheeran performing live at one of the most recognisable venues in the country, if not the world, and it's pretty safe to say that 17th June 2018 is an evening I will not forget any time soon!

Have you seen Ed Sheeran live? Did you head along to see him on the Divide tour? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 22 June 2018

Meet Sandra: A Hero Behind the Scenes of Disco Sour

disco-sour, giuseppe-porcaro, book, blog-tour

Disco Sour is a novel that explores how technology is changing why we vote, who we love and how we live. Set in a parallel timeline where Europe is hit by a civil war, it revolves around the story of Bastian, a dating app-addicted politician, who embarks on an existential odyssey to save democracy.

One of the perks of writing I enjoy the most is to build characters from scratch, dig into their motivations, their backstory, and many other aspects that don’t necessarily appear in the final text. It’s what makes these people alive, and real.

Bastian monopolises the attention. But there is Sandra, her deputy. Despite not being that visible, she is key to the novel. In this post, I’ll walk through her backstory, based on my scratch notes during the writing. No spoilers presented, but you may read the book with a different perspective while getting to know more about her.

disco-sour, giuseppe-porcaro, book

Sandra Müller used to work as Human Resources advisor for Volkswagen at the Export Processing Zone of Wolfsburg, before the civil war. The factory was mainly exporting cars to the United States. But because of the closure of the USA market by President Sarah Palin (yes, in this universe she became the President), the export zone stagnates and it is difficult to reroute to other markets the huge number of cars ready to be sent overseas.

In the imagined economic and political scenario of the book, the European markets are declining. Only China and the Middle East are growing, but there are VW factories in China producing for these markets. With Sandra’s factory closing, a wave of protests sparks among workers while riots happen in Greece, Italy and Spain paving the way for the civil war. A new legislation is passed, allowing the use of private military contractors against the protesters and the Export Zone of Wolfsburg becomes a battlefield.

As the human resources manager, Sandra is torn between the workers she has been recruiting and closely accompanying in their professional paths, and the management, which she is part of. She is at her desk when the military contractors start shooting at the workers, and she sees the horrible scene from the window. That’s when she promises to herself that she would do everything in her power not to make such things happen again.

She gets stuck in the factory with colleagues for two days, during the battle. Finally, the company evacuates all the management via helicopter. The Insurance company of Volkswagen selects based on a randomly discriminating algorithm to fly people to different places. Sandra is assigned to an abandoned Special Economic Zone of Mut in the desert in Egypt, which is transformed in a refugee camp managed by Emirates Airlines.

Overcrowded, the special economic zone camp is hell, and forgotten. From time to time, they get the slight attention of Egyptian media when someone wants to escape and they shoot them. In this fictional universe, there are many anti-refugee xenophobic people in Egypt.

In her new situation, Sandra gets angry with the algorithm that randomly chose her to go there. In the refugee camp, there is a mantra. People blame algorithms for anything that goes wrong, from the lack of water in the showers, to food rationing.

As she knew a bit of coding, Sandra finds an old computer and a terminal in one of the abandoned labs of the special economic zone. She uses it to hack the distribution system and increase her deliveries, food and convenience products. It is a survival strategy, but it turns out to be lucrative when she decides to start selling the goods and creating a black-market business.

Eventually, from her outpost in the Egyptian desert, she also plays a role in the civil war ravaging back in Europe. She breaks the algorithm of Lukoil, the private contractor who had troops deployed in Wolfsburg, Naples, Toulouse and Rotterdam harbour. She hacks the codes of the mapping system linked to the wearable devices of the soldiers, and by changing street names and few other data about their geolocalisation systems, she manages to confuse the private troops and give a competitive advantage to the rebels to fight back.

She never claimed to work for one faction or the other. She just wanted to contribute to end the bloodshed she had witnessed for the first time from her office desk, and free herself.

She’s repatriated when the war is over, and hired by the Federation as deputy of Bastian, the protagonist of the novel.


While everyone else in the book is speaking about big scenarios (Bastian has that grand scheme to contribute to a post-nation democracy; Nathan, the villain, has a new kind of revolution in mind, saying that he would buy democracy to transform it) Sandra's primary drive is to “normalise” the world she’s living in. She feels committed to Bastian’s trust and mission, but she doesn’t fully believe in his methodology. So, she pursues her own way.

I had great fun bringing Sandra to life, and it was an interesting character building process. In the beginning, she was simply an accomplice of the protagonist, but the more I was digging into her personality and how she survived the war, the more she became a kick-ass individual in her own right.

I could imagine even the possibility to write a parallel novel to Disco Sour, where she would be the protagonist and we would follow her whereabouts more closely. But, as Michael Ende used to write, that is another story and shall be told another time.

As a political geographer, Giuseppe Porcaro has always been interested in how the intersection between technology and politics is moving towards uncharted territories in the future. He has recently published a series of scientific articles about how the internet of things and algorithms will change policymaking. Disco Sour is his first experiment with fiction. Giuseppe currently works as the head of communications for Bruegel, an international think tank specialised in economic policy. During his free time, he DJs, reads, dreams and writes. 

Disco Sour is available to buy now. For more information about Giuseppe and his writing, you can check out his website or follow him on Twitter.

Do you think Sandra deserves to star in her own spin-off series? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Interview: Jeff Dawson

no-ordinary-killing, jeff-dawson, book, blog-tour

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

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

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

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

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

Along with an Australian nurse, Annie Jones, and an escaped diamond miner, Mbutu, Finch finds he has stumbled on a terrifying secret, one that will shake the Empire to its core...
no-ordinary-killing, jeff-dawson, book, blog-tour

What drew you to this era of history?
A few years ago, in St Albans, I lived on a street called Ladysmith Road. It joined another one called Kimberley, both thoroughfares of solid, red-brick terracing. Show me any British suburb, built around 1900, and I will give you roads called Ladysmith and Kimberley, Mafeking too — named after towns besieged, then jubilantly relieved, during the Boer War of 1899-1902.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Interview: Dawn Barker

more-than-us, dawn-barker, book, blog-tour

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

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

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

Friday, 15 June 2018

Living with Glandular Fever

the-writing-greyhound, pen-y-fan, wales, brecon-beacons, travel

Last summer, I got glandular fever.

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

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

What is Glandular Fever?

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

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

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

My Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treatment and Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 June 2018

An Open Letter from Fantasy Author Mark Morrison

two-spells, mark-morrison, book

Hello readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warm regards,

Mark