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Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Blog Tour: Shiva by Simon Sloane

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Today I'm on the blog tour for Shiva by Simon Sloane. Keep on reading to find out more about the book!

About Shiva

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When disgraced scientist Hugo Hyde is abducted by Secret Service agent Diana Holborn, they pick up the trace of a powerful artificial intelligence that is bound to annihilate humanity within twenty-four hours. Fighting their way to Mumbai, Hyde and Holborn must unveil the secrets of an ultraconservative dynasty and their Shiva temple before facing the indestructible AI. Led astray by heiress Maya Singh, will Hyde unlock Shiva’s mystery before the clock runs out?

About Simon Sloane


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Simon Sloane resides in London at the moment but has previously lived in seven countries on three continents and visited dozens more - including a highly insightful assignment in India. These places have helped to inspire his books. Shiva is the second book in the Hugo Hyde Thriller series.

Shiva is available to buy now. For more about Simon and his writing, check out his website.

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

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Why Do I Write About the War?

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I think that the first thing that I would say is that At the Dark Hour is not really about the war at all. It happens to be set in the Second World War but it is not about the war. The war is a crucible for what happens. The war makes things happen. It “accelerates things” to paraphrase what one of the characters says.

But, essentially, the war is a backdrop. It is the curtain at the back of the stage. It is a story about ordinary people caught in an extraordinary situation where death could be waiting around the corner for any one of them. But the war remains a curtain at the back of the stage. Every era has its curtain and some of them are darker than others. I don’t think that I can think of a darker scenario than living in London through the Blitz.

So, it is not about the war as such although the war is a central character. The war is a catalyst as well as being a crucible. It accelerates things. It leads to Julia breaking off her affair, without proper explanation, with Adam Falling. The reason she does so is the evacuation of her children after the declaration of war against Germany. This is always understated in the novel. You have to work it out for yourself.

However, she loves her children so much that the enforced separation from them makes her realise what will happen if her husband were to succeed in divorcing her. She will lose them and she will lose any financial support (at a time when women were not expected – or often allowed – to work). She has to make a choice between Adam, whom she loves, and her children. She loves her children more.

Adam has been carrying on a happy affair with Julia and no one appears to have noticed. Not even his wife, Catherine, who is more intelligent than he is. But in the period between the evacuation of the children and Julia’s ending of the affair, she has noticed a difference in him. She concludes that the war brought this on and gets as far as pinning the time of the breakdown of their marriage to the evacuation of the children (their child included) but she cannot work out why. All she knows is that Adam has become “detached, uncoupled, disengaged”.

So, the war is responsible for that acceleration of things but this does not make it a novel about the war.

Of course, we learn all about the blackout, food rationing, bombing raids, the massacre of all the pets and the imminent threat of sudden death. But that does not make this a story about war. It is instead a story about love and redemption. It is about the nature of love. Can one love two people at the same time? Well, yes, I think that you can. However, on the other hand, when it comes to that sticking point you will realise that you love one person more than you love another person. And you will make a choice based upon that realisation. So, the question inevitably becomes: did you ever love the other person at all?

Why Do I Write? 

I have been pondering this particular question. I have always written. I spelt my first word (“shell” actually) at the age of 18 months and, with the aid of my mother and grandmother, I was reading before I was four. I have always written or imagined poems and stories. I have written hundreds of poems as well as songs, short stories and novellas.

I remember, under exam conditions when I was 14, being given a picture of a frozen lake and being asked to write a story about it. I imagined a fox hunt in the dead of winter. I imagined the fox being cornered by a pack of hounds and the only way the fox could go was out onto the lake. I imagined the fox venturing carefully onto the lake with the hounds baying behind him as he went further towards the middle. I imagined the ice beginning to fissure and crack. But still the fox went on further. Behind the fox the baying hounds were getting closer. Then, just as the fox felt that the ice was bound to break, he tip-toed away from the creaking surface and found a different way back to solid ground. The hounds, following the scent rushed after him. The ice broke and they all fell in and drowned. I hadn’t thought about this essay, really, until I was asked the question “why do you write?” I thought of another essay that I wrote at about the same time. The theme was based on the poem by Philip Larkin 'Why should I let the toad, work, squat on my life?' I wrote a story about a Japanese commuter taking the Bullet Train from Tokyo back to Osaka in the 1960s and making the decision to give up working on financial things in the city to become a pearl fisherman in Osaka in the knowledge that he would not ultimately do so and would have the same conversation with himself on the commute the following day. My English teacher said that it was the best story he had ever read.

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I continue to write almost in spite of myself. I write songs with various collaborators (I write the lyrics whilst I leave the music to them), I have written hundreds of poems. I have never really got round to trying to get them published although I did submit a poem on the death of Orwell which was published in the Literary Review. I have written a novella, A Short While, which my god-daughter, Hannah Sharp, and I are turning into a screenplay – about cancer in the home counties. I am writing another novella which begins with a hundred mechanical parrots squawking “Give me your money” in a garden in Gipsy Hill. I have written a series of children’s short stories about two female wombats, Wallis and Wendy, who escape from the circus on their tandem with their ukeleles to perform at the Ayers’ Rock Country and Western Music Festival (“sometimes it’s hard to be a wombat”) which my good friend and great artist, Candida Spencer, is illustrating for me. So, I am always writing and it is an uncontrollable urge that I am not sure how to satisfy. I think that I look into my imagination, see what is there and then write it down.

I had an unusual education and so I never actually studied English literature. I studied law instead although the stories and poems and the rest of it carried on coming into my head. Various writers from that time were very important. Chief amongst these were Evelyn Waugh, Herman Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Graham Greene and George Orwell. Particularly, George Orwell. I read nearly everything that he wrote. A seminal moment for me was reading his essay “Why I write”. It struck a deep chord. He described how, as an individual, he would walk into a room and see the sunlight slanting down over the table and a box of matches sitting there. And how he would see that scene, simultaneously, in words. And I thought that this was exactly what I had been doing for all of these years. He also wrote, in that same essay, that literature should be like a transparent pane of glass. That you should be able to look through the prose to the action beyond the prose. I knew exactly what he meant and I have strived to do that with my writing. I think that I feed off my imagination, let the images develop and then write down what I see. Sometimes I feel as though I am almost an observer on my own imagination. The other thing that Orwell said in that essay was that:
“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.”
I’m afraid that I associated with all of those comments as well.

I particularly liked his comment that at the bottom of any writer’s writing there is a mystery. The writer wants to show off how great he is but at the same time, he (or she) wants to remain a mystery. If a writer can achieve Orwell’s “transparent pane of glass” then the writer’s own life can remain a mystery. I like that. The writing is ultimately about the story and not about the writer.

I think that most writers, ultimately, want to remain hidden.

There was another theme. This novel is set in 1940 and 1941 and it concerns a love affair that began in 1936. Well, that is 82 years ago. Some of the characters were already in their fifties. The younger characters were in their thirties. The youngest child was born in about 1935. So, basically, every character in this novel, with the possible exception of Julia’s daughter Agnes, is dead. I thought that it was interesting to write about love, passion and deception for characters who are no longer with us and, let’s face it, we won’t be around that long either.

I think that the readers expect the writer to provide something of a firework show. I agree with that notion. I think I am paraphrasing Don Simpson, the late and legendary Hollywood film producer, who said that he liked his films to start with a massive explosion and then build up to a climax from there. As a novelist, I disagree. I think that the reader wants to have a firework show but, also, that he or she wants to wait until it gets dark before it starts. One has to build up to it. The kindling has to be put in place, In addition, one needs to be sure that everyone who needs to be there is there. Then one has to find the right moment to strike the match. And after that one has to find the right moment to light the fuse. If you can time it right, as a writer, then you will have a very good firework show and that should please the reader which is, of course, the most important consideration.

I think that, although I have written much that I am proud of, At the Dark Hour is the greatest thing that I have ever written. I hope that your readers will also like it.

Originally from Wigan, John Wilson is a QC at 1, Hare Court, London who was called to the Bar in 1981. He has written or contributed to a number of academic textbooks, written very many articles and is a published poet. Wilson drew on his many years of experience of family law (and in the early days criminal law) and upon the misogyny and homophobia which were characteristic of the law at the time the novel is set. When not working in London, Wilson spends as much of his time as possible in the South of France, where the novel was written, and travels extensively.

At the Dark Hour is available to buy now. For more information about John and his work, you can visit his website.

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

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Interview: Michael Stephenson

Today I am thrilled to be welcoming author Michael Stephenson to The Writing Greyhound for a chat about his novel The Man On The Roof.

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
I am Michael Stephenson, author of the new psychological mystery thriller The Man On The Roof. I have written at least eight books currently on sale at Amazon. Also, I have released two serials: The Writer currently in season 4, and Extraordinary currently in season 2.
How did you first become interested in writing?
I wasn’t so much interested in writing as I was in storytelling. It was through film that I came to writing. I’ve always wanted to be part of the film/TV industry but I discovered that some of the stories I wanted to tell had too great of depth and detail for the screen alone. Also, I realized that to be the ultimate creator and not just the curator of an idea (movie directors, actors, producers) you had to be at the genesis of a story. You had to be the writer. So I became what I thought was necessary to entertain, challenge and create art.
Tell me about The Man On The Roof.
The Man On The Roof was written to be an experience rather than just a novel. On the surface, it is “about” a 17-year-old boy’s murder. It happens at the end of a quiet lane in suburban Ohio. The suspects: The five couples of varying ages that live in the houses in front of the murder scene. Someone is hiding a secret worth killing for, and the victim knew that secret. 
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I designed The Man On The Roof to be a re-readable challenge to mystery lovers who often either guess the twist or know who did it after a few chapters. It has a slew of mysteries that it beckons you to solve before the reveals begin to pile on at the end of the novel. And in doing so, it briefly explores some of the darker themes we encounter in society on a daily basis. Everything from self-harm to racial tension to ageism is touched on in the book. It’s a novel that, regardless of how you feel about it, once you read it, it will stick with you, and quite possibly in unsettling ways. I would actually compare it to Gillian Flynn's work. Fans of Gone Girl or Sharp Objects should find it engrossing.
What drew you to the psychological aspect?
I’m fascinated not by why people decide to do bad things, but by why other people are so fascinated with someone else’s bad nature. For instance, why is the world obsessed with true crime stories right now? Why do we want a villain we can identify with or why do we foolishly believe that villains are always the heroes in their own stories? Note that the latter doesn’t tend to apply to real-life villains. The majority of killers, serial killers especially, know they’re sick and doing wrong but continue to do it anyway because of some compulsion. Rarely do we get a Son of Sam who was convinced that he was saving people by killing them because his dog told him to. We usually get a Ted Bundy or insert mass shooter, someone who has suffered a past pain so they want to inflict pain on others. There’s no “hero in my own story” there. Yet, people are fascinated by the bad and want to make sense of other’s evils. To me that is the main reason why one would write a psychological novel, not to explore the killer(s) mind but to look at the people around them. In my opinion, the reader’s opinion of each character in the book and how the plot unfolds says more about them than it does about the characters or even me as an author.
Did you have to do any research for the book?
Yes, I did a little. For starters, a lot of what’s in the book is in the news. I also crafted the book based around what I’ve seen from readers on popular book sites like Goodreads. I can’t go into it here because it would constitute a spoiler at the moment, but there’s a full layer of the novel that could easily be missed by readers who no longer dig into books for deeper interpretations. Hint: the book is very much about the reader and not just the story. But as far as research, I can’t reveal much of what I did regarding that either because it would constitute a spoiler. Funny enough, I crafted this into the structure of the novel: It’s nearly impossible to talk about without dropping some spoilers. If I say even one thing about a character, then the reader might look for it and figure things out too quickly. So I had to be extra careful in what wording I chose both in the novel and throughout this blog tour. I’ll say this: It has a small element of the #MeToo movement in it that widens the conversation.
How did you get inspiration?
It really just came to me. I’ve told the story about how I was originally going to write a short story that mimicked the Twilight Zone episode in which William Shatner’s character sees a man on his plane, and how that drastically changed into what The Man On The Roof is. Outside of that, there was no one strike of inspiration. I didn’t even start researching until after I had started to write the book. It was a moment of “this is a story that I can tell and this is the way I can tell it.” I did have to think consciously about all the layered ideas within the story. It’s dense with ideas that can be and most likely are missed. But as far as inspiration, there really wasn’t anything for me to feed off of at the time I first wrote the novel. It wasn’t until years later when I started coming up with comparisons. I think we sometimes get too lost in inspiration as both writers and readers. For me, there’s only true inspiration half of the time. Usually, a story just pops into my head for no reason. I’ll write it and sometimes I release it, sometimes I don’t. That probably sounds bad, but it’s really that simple.
What’s your writing process?
Chaotic, yet mentally organized. I start by building the character profiles which usually takes about a day or two. If I can’t fully envision a character from head to toe and see their past and their future from the start, then chances are high that the character is superfluous. Then I will usually know where I want to go, where I want to start and one or two scenes/circumstances in the middle and I will go from there. I’ll write the scenes that immediately come to me first, leave a few notes at the end of the day for the next time I write, then pick through those notes when I return to the keyboard. So long as what I’m writing gets me to the end how I originally saw it, I’m generally pleased. However, I have to say that I switch writing styles and processes depending on the project at hand. I feel I have to be a storyteller first, so whatever serves the story best is what I go with. For instance, on my two serials, I have a completely different process. Due to the structure and expansiveness of those narratives (they are written to mimic a TV series) I have to plot out every single beat of the story for the entire season. Each season is either 10 or 15 episodes, roughly three times the length of The Man On The Roof, which I’m told is a long read. So, it varies.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
My normal go-to answer for this is grammar, but in thinking about that question more critically, I’ll actually say that there isn’t anything that hard about writing, as there is about the process of being or trying to be an author. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I can go on and on about the setbacks I’ve experienced, about the harassment, about the deals that magically disappeared, about stolen work and the like. What I’ve learned over the years is that the hardest part about this pursuit is not being understood. Writers, true writers, only write for two reasons: either to understand or to be understood. Sometimes that “understand”ing is to understand one’s self and sometimes it’s an outward thing to understand the world. So when readers misinterpret things, that is what kills. That and not being read at all. I would say this: It is easy to write something false, difficult to write something true and even harder to understand truth without bias. That probably sounds like a puzzle or a rant into the void for your readers, but hopefully, it’ll make sense in a few years. I’ll leave it at that.
Which authors inspire you?
It depends on what you mean. If we’re talking about strictly through their writing, then I’d go with Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and Dean Koontz. If we’re talking about through their life and the way they lived, which I believe is definitely a factor when we look back on “the greats,” then I’d say Poe, King, and Emily Dickinson. Each one’s life represented/s varying forms of the struggle of being a writer. They also show how some work is not always ready to be received when it is written. As for the authors I chose solely on their work, I think that they all write in a way that is intrinsically creative and uninhibitedly free. Their narratives are truthful to their characters, and they really aren’t concerned with offending. They break the writing rules both narratively and grammatically and get away with it because the stories are so involved. I think that’s what most writers want to do but either don’t have the fanbase to do it or aren’t fully brave enough to put themselves out there like that.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Don’t always ascribe to the advice you get in your creativity classes (creative writing, writing, drama, other art classes). I think because we’ve all taken the same classes that say the similar things about art critique it’s started to heavily influence how we consume something BEFORE we’ve even consumed it, which is going to lead to bad entertainment. I think this is what’s happening in the film industry right now. We’re going into films with too many expectations about what that particular film is supposed to be and what it should be doing at every beat. The moment it doesn’t hit that, we’re ready to crucify the film without greater thought. We’re concerned with what we think a piece of entertainment should have accomplished as opposed to what it was actually trying to accomplish. It all boils down to writers writing the story first and foremost. Don’t try to write to expectations because the story will come off as bland. Don’t just “write what you know” because no matter how much you think you know about something, whether it’s being a junky or being a neurosurgeon, someone will always say they’ve had a different experience. Don’t feel like you just have to write how you see the world. 
It’s similar to as Gillian Flynn once said. Most murder writers are actually optimistic, well-adjusted people. Just because a book is dark doesn’t mean that’s how she sees the world. No, above all write the story as it comes to you. Writers, especially ones who haven’t written much, often battle with their stories because they won’t let the narratives come to them naturally. They try to force-think the story down a certain road and then get writer's block when it doesn’t follow that path. They're allowing their own expectations to muddle the narrative. Write the story without thinking about restrictions. Worry about those later if you must.
What are you currently working on?
I actually had to take a break and do some reassessment of my career. I sometimes go through these bouts of what I call writer’s apathy, which is worse than writer’s block. Writer’s block implies that you can’t think of what to write next. I know exactly what I should write next, but I’m having a hard time gathering the conviction to do it. Right now, I’m (sorta) still working on the edits for my next psychological mystery thriller The Ones That Stare (is it number 4? People who have read The Man On The Roof will get that question). I originally had it planned for a December release but that may be pushed back to January or February of next year. It’s another book that, hopefully, breaks the normal mold of what people are used to in these kinds of novels. It’s a much simpler narrative than The Man On The Roof. We’ll see if I can gather the strength to finish these revisions from my editor and get it out for review.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently not reading anything fictional. I was reading a short horror story by Dicey Grenor called Along Came a Killer. That was good if you are a fan of the wider novel series. She’s an independent author in the romance-horror genre.  
Anyway, right now I’m reading a book on aerodynamics and another book on engineering and researching articles on graphene. Have to get my research at some point.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
You know, someone else asked me this same question and I might have given a book by Stephen King or something. I’ll always prefer the Bible over most other stories, non-fiction or fictional. I’d have to say that I don’t have a favourite book. I love story too much to choose just one. I think this question is made even tougher because I’m not a sentimental person, so I don’t bond with stories as much as others. But I guess if I had to pick one, I’d say Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (I picked this book as the one I would write if I could). It’s always fascinating to see the lengths that people will go to fulfil a dream or desire, which the book perfectly shows.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I want to get back to writing film and television. I know some novelists and readers cringe at that and want to dissuade from writing novels as some springboard to write film but I had written for film before, so... Plus, I think that in order to stay relevant these days many writers are trying to vertically integrate so that they are writing on all levels of the entertainment and art spectrum. I’d like to release a book of poetry, but that will probably be far down the line. I’d like to explore new and different ways to tell a story, something which I have already ventured into doing with my serials Extraordinary and The Writer. And I want to explore whatever theme may come to mind. I want to infuse more artistry into my writing than what is maybe in a lot of the stuff that we read today. And I definitely want to entertain. I, unlike a lot of writers, don’t want to be the next great American writer or the next Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway, I just want to write with purpose and actually be read.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Outside of writing and film, I’ve always enjoyed hiking and biking. I also love swimming. I’ve wanted to hike one of these long trails throughout the US for so long. We have a few here, but I think most people know of the Pacific trail. It was chronicled in the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and again in the Reese Witherspoon/Jean-Marc Vallee film of the same name. Unfortunately, I have severe back issues that require I not be on my feet or vertical throughout most of my day. Hopefully, I’ll get surgery soon.  
I also dabbled in inventing in my younger days. I had a few good ideas but I got sidetracked by my first love of storytelling, so I haven’t revisited my inventions. I’m thinking I might have to revisit a few now that technology has caught up with my imagination and original inventions. Unfortunately, the name Michael Stephenson might be better known in another forum first, before people know me as a writer and entertainer.
The Man On The Roof is available to buy now. For more about Michael and his writing, you can check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

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

Monday, 23 July 2018

5 Unmissable Places to Visit in Croatia

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Croatia is a wonderful destination for a holiday, providing the perfect blend of culture, history and heritage and that all-important warm weather! Although there are endless things to do and places to visit, there are a number of must-see attractions and destinations that are sure to feature on any round-up list. Therefore, I've compiled a few of my favourites to share with you below!

Plitvice Lakes National Park

If you fancy taking some time away from the coast, head inland for a visit to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Officially designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979, Plitvice Lakes is Croatia's premier National Park. Take a relaxing stroll through the wonderful landscape or alternatively, get a bit more adventurous with a hike through the Park. Don't miss the outstanding terraced lakes and waterfalls that Plitvice Lakes has to offer.

Diocletian's Palace

This ancient palace was originally built in the fourth century AD for Diocletian, the Roman Emperor at the time. This fascinating example of ancient history and architecture remarkably still remains in use today, breathing life into the modern-day town of Split. Offering a splendid mixture of homes, businesses, shops and eateries, this stunning wonder is undeniably well worth a visit.

Dubrovnik

Of course, no trip to Croatia would be complete without a visit to Dubrovnik. One of the most frequently visited and best-known cities in southern Croatia, Dubrovnik lies along the coast and offers a wealth of attractions and sights for tourists. Take a walk in the footsteps of countless others by strolling along the ancient walls of Dubrovnik, originally built as a means of defending the city. Alternatively, embrace the more modern side of the city and tour the filming locations used in hit TV show Game of Thrones, or simply step back and relax against the blissful backdrop of the Adriatic Sea.

Zlatni Rat

Also known as the 'Golden Cape', the Zlatni Rat is situated on the southern coast of the island of Brač. Boasting impressive coastal views, clear waters and beautiful white sand, this humble spit of land is the ultimate picture-postcard destination. For the more adventurous holidaymakers, watersports like windsurfing are also popular here.

Srđ

If you are planning a trip to take in the sights and sounds of Dubrovnik, don't miss your chance to also pay a visit to Srđ. This mountain flanks the city and offers the perfect opportunity to escape the city walls and get back to nature. Take a walk on one of the mountain's trails and make sure to check out Fort Imperijal, a defensive military fort built during the Napoleonic Wars.

In addition to its wide variety of exciting things to do, Croatia is sure to offer visitors an unforgettable holiday featuring stunning scenery and a rich local culture. If you are interested in booking a trip to Croatia, look no further than HolidayGems for an affordable, memorable summer break.

So, whether you are planning your next fun-filled getaway, searching for the perfect honeymoon destination or simply researching where to visit next, consider Croatia for your upcoming travel plans. With so much to offer, there really is something for everyone in this wonderful part of the world.

* This is a sponsored post

Have you ever been to Croatia? Do you have any additional attractions or destinations to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Poetry Block: The Long Body that Connects Us All by Rich Marcello

Poetry Block is back, hip hip hooray!

If you missed out on the last edition, featuring Erin Geil, don't forget to skip over and check it out!

In this latest edition of Poetry Block, Rich Marcello is joining me to share an exclusive poem and let us know all the details about his new collection, The Long Body that Connects Us All.

--

Porchwork

You come home from work
with metal pieces in need of straightening,
the result of an earlier errant production run.
For ten dollars, I spend my Saturday
on the front porch running thousands
of bent rods, of scrapworks,
through a straightening machine

On occasion, I gaze outward
into the woods, aware
that my increasing sense
of accomplishment
mirrors the rise of the sun.
Finally, when it’s dusk,
you come to the porch
to see me, your nine-year-old son,
to offer payment, but it’s the warmth
on your face that stirs me the most

I know you’re proud of me
for sticking with the cogs
and crooked metal.

I know you love me.
I know I’ve somehow taken
a step toward you

Today, building a Lego set on the floor
with my son, I realize I’ve been trying
to duplicate that moment on the porch
over thirty years now, my entire work life

--

About The Long Body that Connects Us All

the-long-body-that-connects-us-all, rich-marcello, book, poetry

Provocative and profound, Rich Marcello's poems are compact but expansive, filled with music as seductive as their ideas, and focused mostly on how to be a good man. This is a collection of deep passion and wisdom for fathers, husbands, and sons, but also for mothers, wives, and daughters, many who began with a longing for the things they were taught to desire by their forefathers, only to later discover a different path, one lit by loss and welcoming of the vulnerable, one made of the long body that connects us all.

The Long Body that Connects Us All is available to buy now.

About Rich Marcello

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Rich is a poet, an accomplished songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.

For Rich, writing and art-making are about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher. Rich lives in Massachusetts on a lake with his family and two Newfoundlands, Ani and Shaman. He is currently working on his fourth novel, The Latecomers.

If you want to keep up with Rich and his writing, check out his website.

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

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Interview: Coleman Alexander

between-the-shade-and-the-shadow, coleman-alexander, book, illustration

Today I am welcoming fantasy author Coleman Alexander to The Writing Greyhound for a chat about his life, writing, and his novel Between the Shade and the Shadow. Welcome to the blog!

Firstly, please could you introduce yourself?
My name is Coleman Alexander. I’m a dad, a husband, a writer, a hiker, a photographer, an explorer, a creator and a dreamer. I read too much news and not enough fiction. I’m a natural night owl who goes to bed early in order to rise and write. I like good coffee, good beer, good friends and good travels. The further from the nitty-gritty, the better. I try and meet everyone I see with a smile, because why not be polite. My friends used to call me a hurricane and now I’ve gone and bred a three-year-old tornado. He’s the joy of my life and calls me baba.
How did you first become interested in writing?
Right around the time I graduated high school, I wanted adventure in my life. I had a job that drove me insane, and I spent the whole time daydreaming about the books or movies that I had read or seen recently. One day, I started to think of a story and a world I wished I could live in (with a thinly-veiled representation of me as the hero, of course). I sat down at my first ever laptop and rattled out six pages of drivel. I had never felt that excited in my life. I loved it and was convinced I needed to write a book. It was like magic, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years continuing to chase that feeling.
Tell me about Between the Shade and the Shadow.

About the Writing
Between the Shade and the Shadow is the first novel that I’m releasing, but it’s not the first book I’ve written. It takes place in the larger world of Galadore, which is the land where all my books take place. Interestingly enough, I knew the ending of Ahraia’s story before I knew anything about her or her culture. I ran across her while writing another story and she left me wondering about her for years. Eventually, she convinced me that I needed to know more. I had a vague idea of where she came from, and I knew where she ended up, and then one day, on a flight to a friends thirtieth birthday, the first line came to me. 
Midnight had come and gone and Ahraia still hadn’t found a shadow. If she didn’t find one soon, she was dead. 
That’s the point the story began to crystallize. The story took about six months to write and another two years to edit. It fully came together when I realized it was an exploration of self and society, a way for me to look at my own struggles with conforming to expectation.
between-the-shade-and-the-shadow, coleman-alexander, book

About the Story
I think the easiest way to get a feel for the story is through the blurb, which I included below. 
In the deep heart of the forest, there are places where no light ever shines, where darkness is folded by pale hands and jewel-bright eyes, where the world is ruled by the wicked and kept by the wraiths. This is where the Sprites of the Sihl live. 
But Sprites are not born, they are made. On the path to Spritehood, spritelings must first become shades. They do so by binding a shadow: a woodland creature, who guides them through their training. Together, they keep from the light and learn to enchant living things, to bind them, and eventually, to kill them. 
Ahraia is a shade who has bound a wolf for a shadow, as strong a shadow as there has ever been. But while her wolf marks her for greatness, Ahraia struggles with the violent ways of her people. Illicit as it is, she would rather be running wild beneath the moons. But a test is coming, and the further she and her shadow wander out of the darkness, the deeper they wander into danger. Ahraia’s time is coming and what awaits her at the end of her test will either make her or kill her...
Why did you decide to write fantasy fiction?
Fantasy, to me, has always been my favourite genre. It’s full of wonder and magic, and yet, it allows a writer or reader to explore every possible conflict imaginable. From microscopic character pieces to multi-world epics that explore society, humanity, and nature. I love the scope, and I love how it allows you to consider the world in ways you might never have thought before.
Why do you think it’s important to portray strong female characters in the fantasy genre?
This is my favourite question in the interview. It’s my favourite because I never considered this my goal, and yet, it’s a fundamental belief that I hold. We do need strong females in fantasy, and in all genres. I didn’t set out to write a strong female character. It never occurred to me that I should. I set out to write about a strong person (technically a sprite, but you get my point). The fact that she is female just is. Ahraia is someone I liked and wanted to spend a lot of time with, and it had nothing to do with her being a female. But that is exactly why I love this question. 
I think that is a natural transition in thought that is occurring from one generation to the next. Equality should be one of the bastions of society. I think our heroes and heroines should take many forms and should inspire all aspects of society. My childhood was spent admiring Frodo and Matthias and Luke Skywalker. I hope this next generation has Harry and Katniss and Ahraia and all manner of heroes or heroines. To get there, we need more diversity in writing. And we need books that portray females in that heroic role just as much as we need males in that role. To me, it was just common sense she is my heroine.
How did you get inspiration?
I get inspiration from all sorts of places, but none more so than just sitting down and forcing myself to write. Steven Pressfield has a great take on this in his book The War of Art. Essentially, it comes down to the idea that if you have to put the work in if you want to be graced the muses. I also listen to a ton of music and try and hike as much as possible. Being surrounded by nature and moving helps my brain relax and do its thing.
What’s your writing process?
My process is always evolving, but right now it consists of two parts. The plan and the execution. I used to just write, and after twelve years of aimless wandering, I realized I needed direction. 
I generally try to know the major points of the novel, a good deal about the main character and his or her motivations. Once I have a rough outline, I walk through the scenes that got me interested in the first place. After that, I begin to ask myself what moments exist between those scenes, trying to create a scaffolding to write from. Once the scaffolding is up, I jump in and let loose. I generally fly in the beginning, writing at a breakneck speed to try and get to the ending. I never do. There’s always a catch. And I usually get blocked around the 60% mark. So far, I’ve had to step away every time.  
My second draft is where I get the story right, and it always takes the longest. After a few weeks or months, I return to my first draft and decide that each of my scenes are somehow simultaneously the singular worst pieces of writing in the universe. After wallowing in self-doubt for a while, I put on my gloves and start from scratch, careful to put something together that is whole. This process takes me the longest. Once I have that cohesive draft, I read, then listen, then read aloud. Then I usually will let someone read or hear it (usually my wife, my mom, and my sister), correct it again and then off to the editor. 
The other part of my process is my action. I wake up every day at 5 to write. It used to be four, but with a little guy at home, that wasn’t sustainable. I do that seven days a week, on vacations and holidays. I find a few spare moments most days and have a few scheduled sessions.
coleman-alexander, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The process is sometimes brutal. And there are points where it feels like absolute hell. I hate the sixty per cent mark in a first draft. Every time I’m flying along, planning my red carpet walk down the movie premiere before I look up and realize I’m in a wasteland of characters and plot. A single issue can topple me, and sometimes it takes months before I realize the answer. Now I get that it is part of my process - but damn if it doesn’t suck the life out of me.
What do you love most about writing?
Flow. The flow of a good scene makes it all worth it. Sometimes a scene plays out in my mind from the muses. It’s not me, but when that type of magic happens, time and existence transcend into something far beyond this world.
Which authors inspire you?
This question made me laugh. My favourite authors do not inspire me. Not one bit. Most of the time, they actually derail me. I admire Patrick Rothfuss, J.K. Rowling, and Pierce Brown to name a few. They are masters of the craft, and I revere them but they are too good. it’s the bad authors that get me going. The worse the author, the more inspired I am. Awful writing makes me think, “Hey, I’m not doing so bad.” 
As far as artistic inspiration, I take a lot of inspiration from musicians, mostly those who are independent and have ground their way through the obstacles in the name of art. I try to emulate that drive.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
I have three things I wish I would have understood when I was younger. I heard them many times, but it wasn’t until years had gone by that they finally got through to me. 
First, don’t worry about what anybody else thinks. For ten years I wouldn’t write if anyone was in the same room as me. I was so particular about my environment, my energy, the conditions, my inspiration... and then I found out that none of that matters. No one cares - so don’t be embarrassed. Most people will actually encourage you, and it doesn't matter if you’re not good. Do it. And keep doing it. 
Secondly, learn to have a workman’s attitude. You have to be a workhorse. You have to show up every day. It’s the only way to get better, the only way to stay sharp. If you’re always waiting for inspiration, you might be waiting your whole life. Don’t do that. 
Third listen to Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (I love the audiobook). My first time through, I don’t think I thought that highly of it. I liked parts, but other parts didn’t resonate. Now, it’s my creative bible, and it never fails to inspire, enlighten, strengthen or even humble me. If you listen, and if you hear what he says your on the right path. You can’t help but grow from the lessons hidden within.
What are you currently working on?
Oh man. Don’t get me started. 
I’m always working in My World. I lump all my works under the umbrella of The Realmless because that is the name of the central series that started this all fifteen years ago and continues to drive all other stories forward. The world is called Galadore and ties all the stories I write together. 
Within that world, I’m in the process of editing a Middle-Grade novel called The Footprints Beneath the Window. Set in the same world as Between the Shade and the Shadow, it is the story of Pippa, a farm girl whose family is struggling with a Tompte, a nisse-like creature that for generations has taken care of the farm. It explores tradition, family, guilt, and giving. It’s a story about winter and the hardships of life on a farm. 
I’m also in the middle of a trilogy called The Depths Below which I haven’t taken the time to boil down into a brief sentence. It follows Lyre Augustine’s journey into adulthood. He’s a sailor among the graced (magical) peoples of Galadore, but the trouble is, his grace never came. It’s an exploration of values and desires, those we can control and those we can’t. It’s a hell of an adventure, and I can’t wait to share it with the world. 
And all the while, I continue to sharpen the series master plan, which currently calls for eight books and which I think of as my crown jewel. I write around it, building the world, solidifying characters, motivations, and conflicts. My goal is to attack this one once writing is at least a part-time gig. Right now, it’s too much to tackle in my spare hours of the mornings.
What are you reading at the moment?
Currently, I’m reading Morning Star, the third book in the epic Red Rising Series. Like all good writing, it makes me wonder why I waste my time. By the time you read this, I’ll probably have moved on. You can check out what I’m reading over on Goodreads.
Between the Shade and the Shadow is available to buy now. For more about Coleman Alexander, you can check out his website.

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

Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Backstreets of Purgatory and Caravaggio

the-backstreets-of-purgatory, helen-taylor, book, blog-tour

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about The Backstreets of Purgatory is how I came up with the idea for the novel. Caravaggio showing up in Glasgow? What’s all that about?

To answer I need to go back in time. Not all the way back to Caravaggio’s time but to about ten years ago when I first encountered his work on a trip to Italy. I’m no art buff but his paintings jumped out at me from among the hundreds of others in the art galleries and museums that we toured. Dark, complex, beautiful paintings that spoke to me in a way that most of the others didn’t (even if I didn’t always understand their meaning). When I discovered more about the artist’s life story, the unsettling undercurrent in the paintings seemed to make sense.

Rome in the late 16th and early 17th century was a dangerous, unstable city. Violence was normal and Caravaggio wasn’t exempt. When he wasn’t painting, he was hell-raising - arrested multiple times and a frequent jailbird. His bad behaviour culminated in the murder of his enemy and rival Ranuccio Tomassoni. It was after I read Andrew Graham-Dixon’s biography Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane that the idea for The Backstreets of Purgatory came to me. All the best characters are tortured by conflict and full of contradictions and, in this respect, Caravaggio was perfect.

the-backstreets-of-purgatory, helen-taylor, book

Caravaggio might have been a troubled man but he was also extremely ambitious and extraordinarily talented. For most of his life he was too poor to pay for models for his work, so he used his impoverished neighbours and local prostitutes instead, but his astonishing paintings, the realism, the exceptional use of dark and light meant that gradually he made a name for himself among wealthy patrons and influential clergy. But his character seems to have been a terrible mix of artistic zeal, arrogance, and contempt for his fellow men, coupled with an unwillingness to compromise and a pervading persecution complex.

Perhaps it was the rejection of one of his most exquisite paintings, The Death of the Virgin, that proved to be the catalyst, or maybe it was lead poisoning from the paints he used that made him so temperamental, or maybe it was an argument over a woman, but whatever the reason something prompted him to fight the duel with Tomassoni that ended in disaster and marked the beginning of the end of Caravaggio’s reputation and life.

It seems pretty clear that despite his petulance and hissy fits, Caravaggio regarded himself as a hard man. Glasgow prides itself on its tough reputation and its inhabitants are not ones for tolerating nonsense, and I imagined him down the pub in Partick trying to impress the locals with his tough guy routine and wondered what sort of trouble he would bring upon himself. I reckoned it wouldn’t be long before he wound someone up so much they belted him. Either that or he’d be mercilessly mocked for his pretensions. The Caravaggio in The Backstreets of Purgatory might not be exactly like the one from the history books but what I hoped to do in the novel was echo the duality of his character and work.

Helen Taylor is a writer living in France. The Backstreets of Purgatory is her first book and is available to buy now.

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

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Are You Ready to Dive into the Wonderful World of Freebies?

freebies-samples

Who doesn't like a good freebie? People will do just about anything to get some freebies - from queueing for hours to get free doughnuts or doing the unimaginable for a lifetime supply of chicken nuggets, certain individuals will go to extremes for freebies. If you are planning on making it big in the freebie club, you have to know the rules of the game. If you have already played the game, stick around, you may learn a couple of tricks! 

If it Sounds Too Good to be True...

It happens to the best of us - we hear about something so incredible being offered for free that our good sense goes out the window. There is the thought that all transactions have an upside and a downside, but when it comes to freebies, many of us can think of no downside. After all, when we hear the word 'free', it creates such a strong emotional response that we consider it much more valuable than it actually is. The truth is that many of us are guilty of forgetting our common sense when in pursuit of a good freebie. 

There are many companies that are willing to sell your first born in exchange for a tiny sample, so you need to have some protection in place. It is important that you make sure the freebie is truly genuine and that you have fully read the terms and conditions of the offer before you sign on the dotted line, so to speak. 

Lower Your Expectations

It is rare that you are ever going to get a full-size sample; it is always best to expect a tiny package or envelope. The company's main goal when offering a freebie is to see if you like the product enough to make a future purchase, not to help you stock up your kitchen on the cheap! 

Similarly, you should never sit there eagerly awaiting the arrival of every single freebie you sign up for. As a rough estimate, you will actually receive about 70% of all freebies you sign up for - as a generous estimate. As a reminder, it takes some time for the freebies to come rolling in, so keep applying and before long you should get some samples arrive through your letterbox. A handy trick is to read the terms before you fill out the form. This way, you can easily see how many samples are actually being given out and ensure applying is worth your time.

Speak Up

You are never going to know if a company offers free samples if you don't ask, so don't be afraid to take the initiative and ask for samples. It is not uncommon for companies to send out a big box of samples or coupons to those who simply contact them, ask, and let them know how much they enjoy their products. Remember, sometimes it is just as important to let companies know when you don't like something. Many companies are more than willing to send out replacements with freebies and coupons if you are less than satisfied.

Avoid the Guilt

Some people feel bad for asking for freebies from their favourite companies. However, they are benefitting from sending out samples more than you may realise. In fact, with every sample that they send out, they may be making one or more customers. In the end, if you get a product you really enjoy, you will more than likely buy it in the future, as well as tell others about it.

Prepare With a New Email

As WOWFreeStuff advise, this step is perhaps one of the most important aspects of beginning your new freebie-hunting hobby. You do not want to be spammed with emails, which is why it is so important to create secondary social media accounts, emails, and possibly even a phone number which will allow you to claim freebies in peace. You will be glad you took the advice!

* This is a sponsored post

Are you a freebie hunter? Share your story in the comments below!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Why I Can't Resist a House of Secrets

the-secret, katharine-johnson, book, blog-tour

A central character in Katharine Johnson's novel The Secret is Villa Leonida.
Villa Leonida stared back at Sonia, coolly defiant, battle-scarred but intact, daring her to come closer. The lemon trees on either side of the door had died in their pots. Grass had sprung up waist-high amid the stone chippings of the forecourt. The shutters were closed and skeletons of geraniums were all that remained in the window boxes. The sign tied to the rusted curlicues of the gates confirmed the rumours: Vendesi. For Sale.
If you’ve read The Silence, which came out last year, you’ll recognise the house in Tuscany as the one Abby stayed in as a teenager in 1992 with dire consequences, a secret which she has maintained to the present day but which now threatens to explode into her comfortable English life.

The secret that’s harboured by Villa Leonida in The Secret is very different and goes back to a betrayal in wartime Italy, although there is also a connection with the events in The Silence.

Making the House the Main Character

The reason I’ve chosen to make the house the central character in both books is that I love old houses and the stories they hold about the different generations that pass through them. Although The Silence is usually described as a psychological thriller and The Secret is more of a historical novel, they are both about a house of secrets where everybody is hiding something.

I’ve always been drawn to stories where a house plays a central role.

My favourite of these has to be Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – from that very famous opening line, “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again,” I was hooked.

In Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, the reader is seduced alongside Charles as he falls under the spell of Sebastian’s eccentric family. The crumbling and sinister Hundreds Hall is a main character in The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, another of my favourite books. I love the gothic mystery surrounding Angelfield and the mysterious sisters that are brought up there in The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I’m a huge fan of Barbara Vine and one of her novels that stands out the most for me is The House of Stairs with its shabby Georgian house in 1960s London, the hedonistic characters and the way the story is set up so that throughout you know something awful will happen there. And for similar reasons I found The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly a real page-turner – you know something will happen that’s bad enough to get one of the characters imprisoned but until the end, you can’t be sure how it will happen.

I’m certainly not pretending that my books are on the same literary level as these but because I’ve enjoyed reading them I’ve written the books I wanted to read – different stories connected by a house of secrets.

Katharine Johnson has been a journalist, magazine editor, school dinner lady and stately home room guide. She writes about ordinary people in extraordinary situations and loves old houses, flawed characters and cake. When she’s not writing you’ll find her reading, playing netball, drinking coffee or walking her dog around the lake near her home while plotting her next story.

The Secret is available to buy now. For more about Katharine and her writing, follow her on Twitter.

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

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Interview: Kevin Arnold

the-sureness-of-horses, kevin-arnold, book, blog-tour

I am excited to be on the blog tour for The Sureness of Horses by Kevin Arnold - a wonderful story that I just can't wait to share with you all! For my stop on the tour, I am chatting with the author - keep on reading to find out more.

Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m transplanted from Barrington, Illinois, living in northern California since 1976. Although I had a 28-year career with IBM, I’ve never stopped writing. 
How did you first become interested in writing?
As a teenager, I read Winter Dreams, a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and was so taken with it I wanted to do something similar. I published my first story in 1982, a book of poems in 2010, and now this novel, which seems to be catching on.
Tell us about The Sureness of Horses.
It’s semi-autobiographical, like the French notion of a Roman à clef. On a more intellectual level, I wanted to explore a what happens to Wade Middleton, ‘in the middle,’ a modern-day Everyman, when he makes one mistake that turns his world and the world of others upside-down. His actions kick off a murder-suicide that leaves a five-year-old girl an orphan. How can he live with himself?
the-sureness-of-horses, kevin-arnold, book, blog-tour

Why did you decide to write a romance?
I tried to avoid genre fiction, but when I told my novel writing class at Yale the last thing I wanted to do was write a romance, they told me (correctly, I now believe) if it doesn’t work as a romance, it won’t work as a novel. That inspired many re-writes.
Horses are a key theme in the book – are you a big animal lover?
Yes, I feel particularly drawn to horses, dogs, and even an occasional cat. My wife has been a nationally-ranked equestrienne, and I qualified on horseback, including jumping three feet fences, for my “Hunt Colors,” or as the Brits say, “Colours.”
How did you get inspiration?
The hardest part of writing is to keep pushing on. Jack London said, “You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” If I’m writing, the inspiration comes. If I’m not writing, I’ve learned tricks to push myself back into the process.
What’s your writing process?
My most creative ideas come to me as I’m waking up. Once I’m up and about, the trick is to carve out some time to see how my creative ideas work out on paper. It helps to teach a bit and belong to a strong writing community. I enjoyed running a Poetry Center, which I did for thirteen years.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
The world gives very few writers positive feedback it does to more commercially viable or politically correct activities, so one must push oneself. That’s the hard part.
What do you love most about writing?
I’m somewhat addicted to repetitive improvement. That I can continually improve is something to be loved, but also feared. I continually ask, “When should I let go?”
kevin-arnold, author

Which authors inspire you?
Oh, my, I sure miss Galway Kinnell’s presence on the earth. I loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Victor Hugo. I knew Raymond Carver and wrote about him. Although she’s currently considered too commercial, it would be wrong to ignore Edna Ferber.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
If I’m in a long dry period, I revert to pasting a gold star on a calendar for every hour-and-a-half worked on writing. I’ve found that’s a blank page that can get a writer going. Writers who are ‘blocked’ can support other writers by going to readings and hanging out with writers. Critique groups are great for support and deadlines.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve just started a sequel to The Sureness of Horses, set five or six years later. Wade and Diana, married, run into new problems surrounding ageing and illness. So many couples seem to have to deal with caretaking, so I find writing about that worthwhile.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Julia Glass’s A House Among the Trees, re-reading Updike’s Rabbit series, and keep up with Journals such as Threepenny Review and Kenyon Review.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
I’ve always pointed to Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald, although it’s garnered some competition over the years. 
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I have another novel virtually completed, one that touches on the subject of race. And I’ve just begun the new sequel to The Sureness of Horses. And I’ll always write poems - I finished a new one this morning!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I play tennis and duplicate bridge. I travel, mainly to Europe, where I was a Naval Officer in the Mediterranean. And I have three kids, of whom I’m immensely proud.
The Sureness of Horses is available to buy now. For more about Kevin and his work, why not check out this article?

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

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Why I Write and Where I Write

garage-band, adam-alexander, book, blog-tour

I started writing my very first novel when I was still at university and didn’t own a computer. It was back in the day when computer screens were made of green text. I wrote it by hand, on my university notepad. It was about a homeless guy who survives a hit and run, almost by miracle, and post-recovery turns from rags to riches on the tennis circuit. I showed the first chapter to my girlfriend, who later became my ex-wife. She read it, slated it, told me how little I knew about the tennis circuit, and how much research I needed to do before I could write a novel, and I made the worst mistake ever. I listened to her. As a result, I stopped writing for fear of not knowing enough about what I was writing.

An entire lifetime passed between those timid moments of sharing my unfinished, raw thoughts with another person and now. I graduated, got married, had two kids, started and closed a multitude of businesses, got divorced, and forgot about writing until I did an MBA, oddly enough, where I realised I’d let some of my dreams fall by the wayside.

I remarried, and Annie, my wife has been my inspiration for all my writing. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, I would never have gotten over that 28-year writer’s block. I woke up from a dream one morning and told Annie what I’d dreamt, and how it would make a great opening scene for a book. She virtually demanded the book from me, and pushed me, chapter by chapter until the book was done.

garage-band, adam-alexander, book

Of all the books I’ve written (five titles to date), Garage Band is her absolute favourite. She no longer gets my novels chapter by chapter now. Even Annie has to wait until the entire book is complete before I let her have the first draft. My favourite reward for my writing is to listen to her laugh as she reads the pages and to be the cause of her losing sleep because she can’t put the book down. I’ve been responsible for depriving her of her Sunday afternoon nap because the story was too exciting. I’ve also been in so much trouble for the way I ended one of my books that she called my mother to complain.

I write because I love to tell stories. Stories captivate people, move people, and in the process of telling a story, I get to take your emotions on a journey. My best stories are the ones that make you laugh and cry but leave you feeling good. I don’t do hard-hitting and gut-wrenching. There is enough shock, horror and sadness in the world. When you enter my world, you’re going to be entertained, and you’re going to walk away feeling a rush, and a smile.

Why read Garage Band? It’s a fresh take on the age-old theme of revenge. It’s been described as “raw, gutsy and entertaining”, with witty dialogue that has the reader in stitches. It has no shortage of suspense and plot twists that keep you guessing right to the end.

My favourite place to write is on the patio table, overlooking the pool, to the sounds of the water feature, alongside Annie while she works her own magic colouring. Between my words and her colouring, we pass hours together. If I didn’t have to work, that would be where I spent all my time – doing what I love, with the person I love, and bringing a smile to you, even if just for a moment, in this world where we’re so desperately hungry for goodness.

Adam Alexander is a multi-talented writer who has demonstrated his skill across multiple genres. His characters are just real enough to fall in love with, and just dark enough to doubt. His books have begun to gather international acclaim. Garage Band was among only a handful of titles to be nominated as runner-up in the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book of the Year competition, and the same title received a glowing Readers Favorite five stars.

Garage Band is available to buy now. For more about Adam Alexander and his writing, check out his website or follow his latest updates on Twitter.

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

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: Shoal - A Thanet Writers Anthology

Thanet Writers is honoured to present a handpicked collection of some of the finest short stories by the authors of Thanet, edited by Alice Olivia Scarlett and with a foreword by David Lee Stone. Dealing with family and belonging, outsiders and outcasts, this anthology is the voice of Thanet's writing community. Some of the stories are mournful. Some are grotesque, some are funny, some are magical. Each one has something to say. Welcome to Shoal.

shoal-thanet-writers-anthology-book

Although, on the whole, I prefer to read longer stories, sometimes it is beautifully-crafted short stories that really manage to grab my attention and make me instantly sit up and take notice. Plus, after living in Kent for three years while at university, I am always up for supporting writers in my second home county. Perhaps it's fair to say that I sometimes do miss Kent, its landscape and the university lifestyle, but it is small connections like these that help me remember the good times and everything I've learned along the way.

So, when offered the chance to get involved, review and help promote an anthology featuring short stories from Thanet writers, there was only ever going to be one answer!

First and Last by Catherine Law

Undeniably a strong start to the anthology, powerful emotions and a wonderfully poignant twist are captured brilliantly in this war-time story.

Rating: 4 stars

The Pigeons by J.A. Dumairier

Although it was full of description and rich symbolism, I felt this story sadly lacked an engaging plot.

Rating: 2 stars

Another Hot Chocolate by Lannah Marshall

I enjoyed this story, particularly learning more about the characters' past as the conversation developed, but I did feel it felt more like a scene borrowed from a longer book rather than a stand-alone short story.

Rating: 3 stars

Loose Ends by Sam Kaye

Simple and to the point, this story follows a traditional idea of the thriller genre yet adds its own unique twist.

Rating: 4 stars

The Old Man by Ghillie

I don't know what it was about this story, perhaps just its sheer simplicity, but it really tugged at my heartstrings and made me get all emotional!

Rating: 5 stars

Stray by Seb Reilly

This story has so much scope and potential - it's one of those vivid stories where the words just leap off the page. Twisting and turning, this multi-faceted story is well worth a read.

Rating: 4 stars

Misjudged by Stephanie Upton

Although I applaud this story for highlighting important issues, it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Rating: 2 stars

The Year the Flamingos Came by Maggie Harris

Out of all the stories in the anthology, this was the one I was most looking forward to reading. I mean, that title is amazing! Although I felt the rich description and vivid yet subtle imagery were absolutely spot-on, it was the plot that prevented this story from rocketing to a five-star favourite.

Rating: 3 stars

Looking for Robert by Roger Jefferies

This story felt too rushed for my liking - with such a sweeping plot, it definitely could have done with a longer word count to really do it justice. Kudos to the author for a fantastic twist at the end though!

Rating: 3 stars

The Second Floor by David Chitty

It was quirky and definitely different, but sadly just not to my tastes. 

Rating: 1 star

Paint Me by Connor Sansby

Speaking of different, I absolutely loved this story! Somehow managing to be both simple and complex at the same time, it's a definite gem in the collection.

Rating: 4 stars

The Child's Story by Charles Dickens

Who doesn't love a bit of Dickens? Classic and thought-provoking, this story is Dickens at his finest.

Rating: 5 stars

All the Postcards Never Sent by Rosie Escott

Oh, but this story is utterly heartbreaking. What else is there to say?

Rating: 3 stars

The Face by John Mount

I loved this story from the outset, but sadly, it just didn't live up to its initial promise.

Rating: 2 stars

Chisel by Rebecca Delphine

Quite possibly my favourite story in the entire anthology. It combines all my favourite elements into one remarkable story - don't miss it!

Rating: 5 stars

A Weekend Away Retold by James Souze

Although I had no problems with the story itself, it just didn't suit my personal reading preferences, sadly.

Rating: 2 stars

Cuke by Luke Edley 

Well, this one was certainly an eye-opening read! Who would have guessed some of the things that teenage boys get up to? Although humour isn't my first choice in fiction, this was still an enjoyable read.

Rating: 3 stars

The Lickspittle Leviathan by David Grimstone

This kind of vivid fantasy would usually be right up my street, but here, I felt the constraints of the short story held the idea back somewhat.

Rating: 3 stars

Black Frost by Alice Olivia Scarlett

Utterly unexpected and totally captivating - fantasy at its finest. I just would have preferred a longer story to delve further into the backstory and consequences following this story!

Rating: 3 stars

Laid Bare by Kirsty Louise Farley

A thought-provoking read, yet one I'm still not sure what to think about as I come to write this review. To give it its due, it's certainly different to anything I've ever read before.

Rating: 3 stars

Life and Times of a Zombie by Matthew Munson

Definitely one to get you thinking! A zombie apocalypse tale with a quirky twist, this story combines the classic tropes of the genre with an overriding atmosphere of melancholy.

Rating: 5 stars

Thanephant: An Elephantasy by Janet Gogerty

I loved this story! It's quirky, it's inventive - in short, it's everything a short story should be.

Rating: 4 stars

Lucy by Sarah Tait

What a way to round off the anthology! Unexpectedly thought-provoking, this story is one that will stick with you long after you read the final words - an excellent choice to be placed last in the collection.

Rating: 5 stars

Shoal contains a whole host of stories across almost every genre you can think of and told in a variety of different styles and voices. It's diverse and clever, but most of all, it's the perfect way to showcase the work of the talented writers of Thanet.

* I was provided with an ARC of this anthology in exchange for an honest review

Shoal: A Thanet Writers Anthology is available to buy now.

Will you be getting a copy of the anthology? Which story is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below!