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Category: Writing

Author Spotlight – Elise Abram

This week, the author in the spotlight is Canadian science fiction author, Elise Abram. Her latest book, The Revenant, is a young adult zombie horror fantasy and that’s what she’s going to be talking to us about today. You have been warned!

front coverThe Revenant – Elise Abram

He wears neither cape nor cowl, but Zulu is a superhero, nevertheless.

Raised from the dead as a revenant more than a hundred years ago, Zulu possesses Spiderman’s stealth, Superman’s speed, and Batman’s keen intellect. His only companion is Morgan the Seer, an old man cursed with longevity and the ability to see the future in his dreams. Zulu has spent the last century training with Morgan in order to save the people in his nightmares from certain and violent death. Branded a vigilante by the Media, Zulu must live his life in the shadows, travelling by night or in the city’s underground unless his quest demands otherwise.

Kat is an empath, someone who sees emotions as colourful auras. Relentlessly bullied by her peers, and believing her life amounts to nothing but a huge cosmic mistake, she finds purpose in her abilities when she is recruited to help Zulu and Morgan complete their missions.

Malchus is  Morgan’s long dead twin brother. A powerful necromancer, Malchus manages to find a way to return to the living, and he has a score to settle with Morgan. Believing Morgan responsible for his death and out to seek revenge, Malchus begins to raise an army of undead minions and use them to hunt Morgan down. As Malchus closes in on Morgan and his charges, the trio soon realises the people most in need of saving are themselves.

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Excerpt

Barb grunted a low grunt.

Malchus heard something that sounded like cracking bone. He stood and walked slowly around to face Barb. She was working to frantically shove the remnants of whatever she had in her hands into her mouth. Blood covered the lower half of her face and her hands and dripped down her forearms, off her elbows, and had begun to pool on the floor. The sleeves of her sweater, rolled up her arms and above her elbows, were saturated.

Having pushed the last of whatever it was she had been eating into her mouth, Barb set to licking the blood off her fingers and then from her forearms. She rolled down her sleeves until they covered her hands, and then placed the material into her mouth and sucked the blood from them as well.

“Barb!” Malchus said, sickened in spite of himself.
Barb looked up at him, eyes wide with fear, the cuff of one of her sleeves still between her lips.
“What are you eating?” he said, sounding calmer than the thump of Hal’s heart would indicate.
“Rat.” The sweater cuff fell from her mouth when she spoke. She licked her lips, and as if realizing there was still blood to be had on her face, wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand, looked at it, then pressed it against her mouth and sucked.
Afraid she might eat her own hand next, Malchus said, “Why?”
“Hungry.” Her answer was garbled as she said it with her lips still against the back of her hand.

*****

And now over to Elise for a bit more background about her latest novel.

Beware The Coming Zombie Apocalypse!

But that’s not…real, right? I mean, zombies are a construct of our popular culture. Surely zombies exist only on celluloid, in books and as digital files on someone’s eReader?

Maybe for now.

The term “zombie”, according to the Google Dictionary, is of West African origin and has been around since the nineteenth century, but didn’t become popularised to mean the undead having risen for no other purpose but to feed on the brains of the living until George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Online sources agree this is probably when the genre of zombie horror originated. It has featured in our popular culture ever since, especially since the introduction of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

So zombies have become a mainstay of gory fictional horror. That doesn’t make them real.

Not in humans. Not yet.

Articles online abound, describing all sorts of parasitic infections that zombify insects and animals once they’re infected. One such article, published within the last year by Sarah Griffiths, science and tech reporter for The Mail Online, reports how the Toxoplasma parasite infects the brains of mice rendering them unafraid of cats. The cat eats the mouse and the parasite multiplies in the cat’s intestinal tract, infecting the cat as well. Because the mice brains are re-wired by the parasite, scientists claim they are effectively turned into zombies.

Medical journalist Jerome Burne reports on a number of parasites infecting the brains of insects. When the Camponotus ant, native to the Brazilian rainforests, is infected with the Ophiocordyceps fungus, it adopts an unsteady walk, wanders from its usual pathways, clamps its jaw on a leaf, and dies around six hours later. Burne explains the reason parasites take up residence in the brain is because they are sheltered there from the immune system. Joanne Webster, professor of parasite epidemiology at Imperial College London adds that in the brain, the parasite is given “direct access to the machinery to alter the host’s behaviour.”

Though scientists assure these brain-hitch-hiking parasites will not survive in humans, it doesn’t stop disaster preparedness sites and organizations from using zombie apocalypse scenarios in their studies. For example, Delaware County emergency-management officials staged a zombie emergency drill for Halloween 2011, as did Quebec’s pubic security department in 2013. The CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response website is uses zombie preparedness as a platform to measure if people are prepared for an emergency. Still reeling from the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s, a recent discussion in the Canadian House of Commons urged Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird to think about an International Zombie Strategy because “zombies don’t recognize borders.”

So while a zombie apocalypse is not imminent, experts believe it is possible.

The only remaining question is: will you be ready?

author photoAbout Elise

Elise is a high school teacher of English and Computer Studies, former archaeologist, an avid reader of literary and science fiction and student of the human condition. Everything she does, watches, reads and hears is fodder for her writing. She is passionate about Second Cup lattes, cooking, writing and language, differentiated instruction and ABC’s Once Upon A Time. In her spare time she experiments with paleo cookery, knits badly, and writes. She also bakes. Most of the time it doesn’t burn. Her family doesn’t seem to mind.
Find Elise at:

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My First Audiobook Experience – The Girl on the Train

AudibleMy husband recently took the plunge and decided to sign up for a free trial of Audible. As he had read an early review in The Times of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins which had got us both intrigued, it was an easy choice for our first audiobook. We had decided that we would listen to it together to share our thoughts as we ‘read’ something at the same time. We started it on the plane journey to France in the middle of August, listening on and off during that week and then on the way back. We just finished it, a month and a half later, on a long car journey to Oxfordshire and back.

This was the first shock for me. I am a fast reader. My husband is not. If it had just been me, I would have finished it much more quickly and at first, the slower pace drove me a bit mad. Not only the pace of our ability to listen to it at the same time on any kind of a regular basis but also the pace of the actual narration. There are actually three female narrators in this story and I found at the beginning that I kept forgetting little details that I couldn’t easily go back and check. We did get used to the narrators and the pace though and in time, we came to enjoy the whole experience.

GOTTThis had a lot to do with the quality of the story as well, which was one of the best psychological thrillers I have ever ‘read.’ As a writer myself, I found I was constantly listening to the vocabulary and to certain turns of phrase in a way that maybe I don’t take the time to when I’m reading as quickly as I usually do. The constant twists and turns of the plot kept us guessing until we were almost at the end…when my husband guessed and told me what he thought. Hmmm. We enjoyed listening to the story together though and over the time we were doing so, we listened on a plane, in the car, while making dinner and even in bed…but we both fell asleep! I’m not sure if we did ever listen to it on the train but the options are endless 😉 It is an excellent story and one I wish I could have written 🙂

I have already considered whether to have an audiobook created for From Here to Nashville but not gone any further with it than that. First of all, after your free trial runs out, your subscription costs you £7.99 a month and for this, you have one credit, equal to one book. This is a fair amount of money – for a fair amount of work, I know – but compared to an ebook, it’s a lot more. As I don’t drive anywhere long distance on a regular basis, I don’t think I would prefer it over actually reading a paperback or an ebook. For those who do, I can see it certainly would have its benefits, especially when you’re stuck in traffic, although it could easily be a distraction at times. However, how many people would be prepared to pay that amount of money for an audiobook by an unknown (still!) author? Paula Hawkins was also unknown at the time but she’d already got her book deal and as I said, we read a review of her book in The Times. I’m still waiting for them to get back to me about the one they’re writing for my debut 😉

It was interesting to note that in The Girl on the Train, the male voices are all narrated by the female narrators. This made for an interesting take on the sound of different men’s voices from the different female characters’ perspectives. For me, this would be tricky. I have a British woman and an American man, from Tennessee so I would have to have at least two narrators which would undoubtedly be difficult to find and also would affect the cost dependent on which path I chose – a one-off payment to the narrators or a share of any subsequent profits. As a new author, the cost would be prohibitive to pay them upfront before any sales, so I would probably go with a share of the royalties option. There is a lot more information about this whole process on Joanna Penn’s helpful website, The Creative Penn if you would like to read about all the options in more detail.

So while I enjoyed the experience as a reader, I don’t think it would be my preference in the future. This makes me reluctant to do it for my own books, especially when I am still so new to all this self-publishing lark. This is another job to add to an already very long list of jobs to do as an indie and one that can perhaps wait a while.
How about you? Fan of audiobooks or not? Do leave me a message in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading.

Picture Credits: Amazon and Doubleday Publishing.

Author Spotlight – Sam Russell

Today, I’m welcoming fellow contemporary romance author, Sam Russell, into my Author Spotlight. Sam and I met via social media and we are both members of The Alliance of Independent Authors too. Sam’s debut novel ‘A Bed of Barley Straw’ came out earlier this year and she is hard at work on the sequel.
frontcover
A Bed of Barley Straw – Sam Russell
Hettie Redfern tends the stables on Lord Melton’s English estate and makes no secret of her feelings – she prefers dogs to men. Dogs don’t lie. They don’t manipulate, and when they love, they love unconditionally. Men, as the petite, copper-haired beauty has previously discovered, are rarely so loyal.

Alexander Melton, the son of Hettie’s employer, returns home from Afghanistan bringing with him the stray dog he adopted during his tour of service. He is immediately attracted to Hettie but finds her past distasteful – and Alexander is as suspicious of women as Hettie is of men.

The attraction between the two ignites a firestorm of emotions, but their growing passion struggles against suspicion and mistrust. Can Hettie and Alexander put aside the past in order to look to the future? Or will these two fight it out until the very last breath?
Amazon.co.uk
Amazon.com

Excerpt from the middle of Chapter One
Alexander? No, she hadn’t met him, the middle brother of the three Melton sons. She had met the youngest son, Edward, several times. Everyone had met Ted. Sociable, good fun, and popular, he had often been the local gossipmongers’ topic for his antics in the past. The village took a special kind of pride in Ted for his numerous misdemeanours, and he was enthusiastically welcomed at the Fox and Hounds Pub when he visited home. James Melton (good, kind, responsible James) was the eldest, heir to the estate, and Hettie’s boss for the last five years since taking over the hall from his father. Hettie couldn’t wish for a better boss (Lord Melton had been eccentric and unpredictable, to say the least), and she had become close to his wife, Grace. She was even fond of their children: Artie, Fred, and little Georgia, although as a rule Hettie didn’t “do” kids. But the elusive Alexander had rarely been at Draymere in the six years Hettie had worked there. Grace had mentioned he was coming back, something about his career in the army ending.

Awkward, she thought, to be meeting him for the first time when he returned her errant terrier. “Thanks, Doris,” she muttered to herself as there was a thud on the cottage door.

The words tumbled out as she greeted the man in the doorway. “Hi, thank you so much! I am so sorry you had to drag down here; it’s evil out there tonight—”

Christ, he’s bloody gorgeous.

The thought stopped her mid-sentence. She stared up at the best-looking bloke she had ever seen in her life. Tall and swarthy, with dark tousled hair and piercing blue eyes, he had a strong, chiselled face and the body of a god. Hettie’s stunned stargazing was interrupted as Doris, on the end of a length of bale twine knotted to her collar, hit her legs like a crazy champagne cork and scrabbled in a frenzy of excitement. There go the clean jeans, Hettie sighed to herself, squatting down to take Doris’s head in her hands. “You naughty pup,” she said and laughed. “What am I going to do with you?”

“Keep her on a lead?” Alexander drawled sarcastically. He held the twine out, and the smile on his lips didn’t make it to his eyes. “Yours, I believe?”

Hettie stood up abruptly. How rude. She felt annoyance prickling at his tone. Rein it in, Hettie, she scolded herself. He’s your boss’s brother; be polite.

“Thank you, I will bear that in mind,” she told him snootily. “I would have been happy to collect her myself, you know. But I’m sorry if I’ve wasted your time. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going out. Nice to meet you, by the way.”

Alexander stared for a second. When he spoke, his voice was low and even. “It’s not a matter of who brought her back. This is a working farm, not a park. She shouldn’t have been running around loose in the first place. She’s only a pup.”

He bent to ruffle Doris on the head. Doris squirmed and simpered in pathetic adoration as Alexander barked an abrupt, “Good night,” and headed back up the track, leaving Hettie open-mouthed with a writhing Doris on the end of the string. “Traitor,” she muttered at Doris through her teeth, untying the lead and closing the door with her foot before Doris could make a run for it in pursuit of her new best friend.

Hettie was still simmering as she climbed into the Land Rover. What an arrogant prick—telling me it’s a working farm when I’m the one who bloody well works here, and he hasn’t been seen around the place in years. Strutting about like lord bloody muck when he’s only been back five minutes. Throughout the drive to her mum’s house, she allowed her righteous anger to smother any guilty thoughts that he might be a little bit right.

Doris was only a puppy. It was a working farm and not her land, even if James and Grace were generous enough to allow her unlimited freedom around it. Just goes to prove, she concluded the tirade in her head as she pulled up outside her mum’s, good looks count for nothing.

 *****

And now for my interview with Sam:

1. As I write romances from around the world myself, I’m interested to know what inspired you to choose your setting for your latest novel?

The Cotswolds are so quintessentially English! When I began writing A Bed of Barley Straw my youngest daughter was studying in Gloucestershire. My visits with her reignited my love for the gentle countryside and honeyed buildings. They form the perfect setting to reignite the love in my characters! (I should also confess that Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire may very well have played a part in the decision!)

2. When choosing your setting, how important do you think it is to have been to the place yourself?
I have visited the Cotswolds, and part of my book is set in Norfolk which I know quite well, but I don’t think it is essential. Draymere Hall is an imaginary place, and when the writing requires facts I have to research anyway. I think I would have to do so even if a novel was set in my home town.

We are blessed with the internet and Google maps to carry us anywhere in the world. Having said that, I do think that visiting a place is inspirational and adds depth to my description of settings. I do need a vibrant picture in my head. Part of the book I am working on now is set in an area of North Wales which I have never been to. I am hoping to get there to ‘sniff the air’ before I complete the novel. (Plus any excuse for a trip to that beautiful part of our Isles is good enough for me!)

3. Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?
I didn’t find it hard when writing A Bed of Barley Straw but that was my debut novel which I wrote because the story was asking me to. When I had completed the manuscript I admit that I was worried that no further ideas would be forthcoming! In fact, I had notions for two other works buzzing in my head. The difficulty for me was putting those concepts on hold to complete the sequel to Barley Straw. I had laid the foundations for new plot lines in the first book, and so far it’s going well, but hey I’m a novice at this! Time will tell.

4. How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?
I wrote the first draft manuscript in under four months, but I had recently left work so had time (and obsession) on my side. Of course draft one was followed by numerous re-writes, it was two further months before I felt ready to send the manuscript for editing. I didn’t actually count the number of drafts because, for me, it was more of an on-going process. To be honest there is a risk of it becoming perpetual! Even when I read a passage now (particularly out loud) I will find parts that I would like to tweak. But you have to put that full stop somewhere!

5. What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
The times when you go off your own work. It is so dispiriting. Writing is such a roller-coaster, at times I love it and yet a few days later I can be despairing. With no apparent reason for this swing in motivation. I must say it is easier this time, knowing that I will be frustrated and disenchanted at times, and that these feelings do not mean as much as I think they do at the time. Thankfully the love rolls around again.

6. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
Oh golly – I love this question! When you are in the flow it is like reading the best novel ever with the added joy of choosing the outcomes yourself! And feedback from readers never fails to thrill me.

7. Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?
A Bed of Barley Straw and the sequel are contemporary romance, but if there is a recurring theme I would have to say it is the development of my characters and their reactions to life events. I like to dig deep into characters’ minds. Future books may or may not be romance, but I think this stripping bare of a characters’ psyche will always feature.

8. Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, where will that one be set?
I am mid-way through the first draft of my sequel which, like the first book, will be set around Draymere Hall in the Cotswolds. (There will be forays to London and North Wales!) Of the two books which are harrying me, one begins in London and spreads around the world. As for the other…I may revisit to Wales but I’m open to suggestions!

Thanks so much to Sam for being my guest today and for answering my questions so well.

IMG_1321 - Rev 2 (800x533)About Sam
Sam Russell was born in London but moved with her family to rural Essex at a young age. It was in the village that Sam grew up that she developed a life-long love of the countryside and horses which shaped her future, and now nurtures her writing.

Sam left school at 16 to train as a riding instructor and worked with horses for several years before marrying a farmer. Raising three children and running a livery yard on the family farm kept her busy for the next twenty years. Having always written for pleasure, it wasn’t until the youngest of her three children left home that Russell sat down to pen her Debut romantic novel – “A Bed of Barley Straw”.

Described as ”passionate, rural romance” and “delightfully frustrating” the story unfolds on an English country estate. The scenic pastoral surroundings; the village, the horses, the dogs, and the characters who live there form a backdrop to the fraught, tension-filled relationship which begins to develop between Hettie and Alexander.

When not writing, Sam can be found out and about on the farm, doing the farm accounts or buried in a book! She shares her farmhouse home with her husband two dogs and a cat, and thoroughly enjoys tempting her grown-up children back with hearty family meals.

Find Sam at:
www.RussellRomance.com

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A Summer of Reflections

DSCN0738As you may remember, I finished the first draft of my second book, Where My Heart Belongs at the end of July and I’m patiently waiting for the report on it to come back from the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association). Since then, I’ve been having a break from all things writerly, giving me some time to reflect on what I hope to achieve during the next few months. More on that soon but for this post, I want to tell you about the research I did whilst on my holidays to Alsace this summer.

We were staying just outside Colmar, where my main character, Fran is originally from. We hadn’t been there for nearly twenty years but it was lovely on our first evening to find it pretty much the same.

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The area around this canal is known as Petite Venise and is so picturesque, especially on a lovely sunny evening. The bridges are always full of people taking photos of the Hotel Romantik and there are lots of lovely restaurants to choose from around the canal and the surrounding old town.

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My character, Fran, hardly visits the town at all, except to arrive and depart from the station and it got me thinking about including it in more detail somehow so I’m going to give that a bit of thought.

DSCN0791The next day, we visited the Jardin des Papillons which features in my book. According to my husband, we visited this Butterfly Garden the last time we were in Alsace too but I can’t remember it! It’s quite a bit smaller than I was thinking from the research I’d done beforehand and so I can’t imagine Fran and her friends staying there all day after all.

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There was a lot to do in the local area though so
perhaps she’ll go on to the Montagne des Singes, which we visited the following day.

AfteDSCN0863r the Butterfly Garden, we went to visit the fortified medieval church at Hunawihr which you may have seen in some of my pictures on my Facebook Author page before I left. This is the village where my character, Fran bumps into her former lover, Didier at the wedding of mutual friends. It is such a beautiful church and village that I feel tempted to move the action there, away from the Strasbourg area, where it’s set at the moment. I’m giving lots of thought to this while the manuscript is away. There is so much history here as well, which I know I could use to add depth to my story.

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The church was just as beautiful on the inside and as we were alone, I took a quick photo to remind me for the future. What a lovely place to get married!

DSCN1011We did spend a wonderful day in Strasbourg later in the week, renewing our memories of our time spent there nearly twenty years ago. We ate a wonderful lunch sat next to the canal, enjoying Tarte Flambée, just as Fran does when she goes home.

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Of course, we washed it down with a lovely glass of wine…or two 🙂 If you fancy having a go at making this yourself, I found a good recipe here.

DSCN1101We went back to the Château de Haut-Koenigsbourg for another of our days out. This is a medieval castle which you can see from all around the Colmar area because it is haut in every sense of the word. The castle was built in the 12th century and occupied a strategic position overseeing various trade routes until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 when it was reduced to ruins by the Swedes and then abandoned. It wasn’t until 1899 that Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany decided to rebuild it to celebrate its return to German ownership and to turn it into a museum. It has been beautifully restored and is a wonderful place to visit. Sadly, the castle doesn’t feature in my book but I don’t need any excuse to visit a good castle!

The final day of our holiday was spent indulging my husband as it was his big birthday while we were away (you may remember I spent mine in Nashville earlier in the year!) This meant that we spent most of the day eating and drinking…so no change there!

I hope you’ve all enjoyed a wonderful summer, with at least some good weather wherever you are. Next week, please look out for my ‘Author Spotlight’ feature on indie author, Sam Russell and as always, if you have any comments for me, please do leave me a message below.

All photos © Copyright, Julie Stock.

Author Spotlight – Anne Goodwin

Today, in the last of my Author Spotlights before my summer break for August, I welcome Anne Goodwin to ‘My Writing Life.’ Anne and I met on Twitter and have come to know each other fairly well over the last couple of years so I am especially glad to be able to focus the spotlight today on her debut novel, ‘Sugar and Snails’ published just last week by Inspired Quill.
sugar-and-snails cover
Sugar and Snails – Anne Goodwin
The past lingers on, etched beneath our skin
At fifteen, Diana Dodsworth took the opportunity to radically alter the trajectory of her life, and escape the constraints of her small-town existence. Thirty years on, she can’t help scratching at her teenage decision like a scabbed wound. To safeguard her secret, she’s kept other people at a distance… until Simon Jenkins sweeps in on a cloud of promise and possibility. But his work is taking him to Cairo, and he expects Di to fly out for a visit. She daren’t return to the city that changed her life; nor can she tell Simon the reason why.

Sugar and Snails takes the reader on a poignant journey from Diana’s misfit childhood, through tortured adolescence to a triumphant mid-life coming-of-age that challenges preconceptions about bridging the gap between who we are and who we feel we ought to be.
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Excerpt from Chapter 6
“I’m sorry, Di.” Venus closed the dishwasher with a thud. “Of course you’d be furious when I tried to set you up with Simon. In fact, the signs were there from the day we met.”

I almost preferred her being cross with me. At least I knew where I stood. “I haven’t the foggiest what you’re on about.”

Venus turned on the tap above the sink with her elbow. “Of course I’m a tad disappointed you didn’t come out and tell me already.”

Sweaty palms and a sinking feeling in my stomach: symptoms of the fight-flight response reporting for duty. I counted five paces to the outside door. I could grab my bike and be home in under an hour.

“Come on, Di, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Venus plunged her hands under the gushing tap. “It’s obvious you’re gay.”

The idea was so preposterous, I had to laugh. “What?”

“Homosexual. Lesbian. What do you want me to call it?”

Ever since I was tiny, I’d hated to be categorised. Long before being introduced to labelling theory, I’d understood the tyranny of if you’re this you can’t be that: “What on earth gave you that idea?”

Venus rubbed her hands on a chequered tea towel and flung it into the washing machine. “One, the passionate friendship with – what was her name? – Geraldine, never mentioned, even in passing. Two, the football. Three, the fact that you haven’t been out with a man in nigh on twenty years…”

“Mu-um.” We both jumped as Josh poked his head round the kitchen door. “We’re waiting for dessert.”
Icy mist wafted from the freezer as Venus reached inside for a tub of ice cream. “Take that. We’ll be along in a minute.” As soon as the boy moved out of sight, she edged closer to me. “In fact it’s quite common for folk to repress their true sexuality. Of course, you’re brought up to think there’s only one way. If you don’t fit the norm, it takes a humungous amount of courage to admit it. You could waste your entire life contorting yourself into a mould that’s not for you. But, Di, isn’t it time to admit that it’s making you unhappy?” She turned away, embarrassed perhaps by her rambling homily, and unloaded a stack of gaudy painted ceramic bowls from the pine dresser. “You let him go without fixing up another date already?”

Two minutes earlier she was convinced I was gay. It was all very well for her. A married woman didn’t have to worry about making a fool of herself if she invited a man in for coffee. “It’s not easy, you know. Not at my age.”

*****

Please read on to find out more about why Anne set part of her novel in Cairo.

At a key point in my novel, Sugar and Snails, I needed to send my main character abroad for something that was unavailable in Britain. My research suggested Casablanca was the place, but I’d never been to Casablanca. I had been to Cairo, however, and while I didn’t think North African capitals beginning with C were interchangeable, I crossed my fingers and sent the Dodsworth family there.

Like my character, I’d been intrigued by the ancient Egyptian cult of the immortal since childhood. After seeing the Tutankhamen exhibition in Edinburgh, I was resolved to go to the Valley of the Kings and see the tombs where the treasures had been found. I saved up my annual leave, packed my rucksack and set off alone to travel around Egypt for a month.

Although I took plenty of photographs, and even kept a diary of my impressions, I never envisaged this as a research trip. My visit was twenty years prior to beginning my novel. Would my memories be enough?

There were further complications. I’d seen Cairo in the late 1980s, but my characters had to be there in the early 1970s. How different would the city be fifteen years apart? Furthermore, in 1973, as an early peer reviewer, Safia Moore, was to remind me, Egypt was at war with Israel. Although short lived, with military action limited to the Sinai, even moving the action forward a year (as I did) might reduce the novel’s credibility.

I put these anxieties aside as I absorbed myself in the writing. The story unfolded through three points of view: mother, father and troublesome child. Most of the Cairo scenes were written from the father’s perspective: a mixture of my own experience, internet searches and flights of imagination that suited his character. I saddled him with the bureaucratic frustrations of transferring money from home to an Egyptian bank. I had him jolted from sleep by the call of the muezzin and pestered by street urchins for baksheesh. I made him sweat in his bri-nylon shirts. For light relief, I led him into a cool café to drink mint tea from a glass without a handle and breathe smoke through a traditional water-pipe. I took the family for a celebratory dinner at Felfela’s, a famous Cairo restaurant popular with tourists and locals alike. Leonard’s Cairo became extremely vivid to me, and tremendous fun to write.

And then I edited out most of his scenes. In my final rewrite, I scrapped the parents’ strand of the novel and told the story solely from Diana’s point of view, moving back and forth between the present and her childhood memories. Although they still went to Cairo as a family, the bank, the restaurant and the smoky café all had to go. I was left with an office scene that could have been anywhere; another in the bazaar, shopping for souvenirs and a floor-length galabeyah, the traditional Arabic dress; and a pre-dawn excursion to Giza to watch the sun rise over the pyramids, which, although much discussed, was sacrificed on the final edit.

Yet I don’t see those cut scenes as wasted. Writing them helped me connect with the Cairo of the novel. Of course, it’s up to the reader to decide whether there’s enough left to convince them the trip to Cairo was real.
As to the question of whether my too-long-ago yet too late visit was sufficient research, there’s a view that there’s no need to go to a place at all to create a convincing setting. As David Nicholls said in an article in the Guardian, “research is as much about reassuring the author as persuading the reader”. As for the Yom Kippur war, I had it come up in a conversation that moved the plot along and hopefully doesn’t read as clunky.

In dedicating my novel to the coast-to-coasters and old school friends (the subject of my post on Norah Colvin’s blog later this week), I wasn’t conscious of any connection with people I’d met in Cairo. But on my visit there I enjoyed the generous hospitality of a former schoolmate who had married a Cairene as well as forging a new friendship with a woman from London I met waiting for the bus to the Sinai. It’s in celebration of similar friendships that I’m having two launch parties for Sugar and Snails. Unfortunately, the budget doesn’t run to holding a third in Cairo.

Have you ever visited Cairo? Have you ever made use of a setting you don’t completely remember?

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**Note from Julie: Interestingly, I have also written a guest post about the importance of setting on Susanna Bavin’s blog this week.**

4504662About Anne
Anne Goodwin grew up in Cumbria and studied Mathematics and Psychology at Newcastle University around the same time as the narrator of Sugar and Snails. She loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and has been scribbling stories ever since she could hold a pencil.

During her 25-year career as an NHS clinical psychologist her focus was on helping other people tell their neglected stories to themselves. Now that her short fiction publication count has overtaken her age, her ambition is to write and publish enough novels to match her shoe size.

Anne juggles her sentences while walking in the Peak District, only to lose them battling the slugs in her vegetable plot. As a break from finding her own words, she is an avid reader and barely-competent soprano in an all-comers choir

Catch up with Anne on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist. You might also like to follow Anne on the rest of her blog tour.
blog tour week2
 

Author Spotlight – Heidi Swain

Today I am welcoming my good friend, Heidi Swain to ‘My Writing Life.’ Heidi and I met through The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and have been firm friends ever since. Heidi has just published her debut contemporary romance, ‘The Cherry Tree Café.

Cherry tree cafe green coverThe Cherry Tree Café – Heidi Swain
Cupcakes, crafting and love at The Cherry Tree Café…
Lizzie Dixon’s life feels as though it’s fallen apart. Instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again.

Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little café and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening. And Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs.

With a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…?

For everyone who loves settling down to watch Great British Bake-Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, or curling up to read Milly Johnson or Jenny Colgan, The Cherry Tree Café is a coffee-break treat.
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Please read on to find out how Heidi’s Publication Day went:

Publication Day Dawns
When fellow author and friend Julie Stock asked me to write her a little something about my first ever publication day I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be the easiest blog post in the world to write, that the words would simply flow out of my fingers and it would be landing in her inbox within seconds of me sitting down to write. Not so.

Turns out publication day brings with it a complicated range of emotions and to be honest it is probably just as well I am out of sight of the world today because I feel sure others would fear for both my sanity and my safety!
Here’s a little glimpse at the range of emotions so far. There have been some tears, much laughter, a little hysteria, an episode involving a brown paper bag, uncontrollable giggling, some sobbing, a rapid drop in blood sugar and an overwhelming, immense feeling of sheer joy. And all that before nine fifteen in the morning. Not bad eh?

I would say to my author chums, you could have warned me but actually, I wouldn’t have wanted you to. I’ve been chasing this dream for literally years now so it’s only right and proper that I experience all this first-hand and raw, rise and fall with the peaks and troughs as it were.

I don’t know how this day will have ended by the time you read this, whether or not my fingers will have fallen off from struggling to keep up with all the social media madness but one thing I do know is that I wouldn’t be here were it not for the continued support, encouragement and faith of so many people. Family, friends, fellow authors and bloggers have all gone out of their way to champion and support both me and The Cherry Tree Café and for that two emotions shine through; love and gratitude. I love you all to bits and thank you wholeheartedly for helping me get here.

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me to share my scattered thoughts with you today. It’s been emotional.

About Heidi
image1 (1)Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters.

She joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 and is now a full member. The manuscript she submitted for critique, The Cherry Tree Café, is her debut novel published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015.

She lives in Norfolk with her wonderful husband, son and daughter and a mischievous cat called Storm.
Find out more about Heidi using the links below:
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Writing Your Second Book

DSCN7835Well, as many of you will know if you’ve liked my Facebook Author Page, I have been stuck in my writing cave for some time now trying to finish writing my second book. For those of you that don’t know, this is the one that I wrote during NaNoWriMo in November 2013. I had no problem writing my 50,000 words that month and was so pleased that I’d got a second story on the go, even while I was still editing From Here to Nashville. In April 2014, I came back to Book 2 and while I was a bit unsure about the story so far, I was still pretty happy with the idea and so I wrote another 30,000 words. Yay!

Then From Here to Nashville  took over and I had no time to look at book 2 again until much later in 2014. When I did, I was certain that I no longer wanted to tell this story. I liked my main characters and a few of my minor characters but apart from that, not much else. I couldn’t even contemplate scrapping it so the only other option was to rewrite it, picking out what I liked from the 80,000 words already written and dumping what I didn’t like. Having made that decision, I then buried my head in the sand for the best part of the following five months because I couldn’t face the prospect of sifting the right words from the wrong ones.

As an indie author, I can make my own schedule so you’d think that this decision was a sensible one. I thought I could take my time, publish and promote From Here to Nashville and when things were a bit quieter, I could just go back to book 2 with a clear head. However, in the meantime, I signed up for my second year on the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme which meant that I could submit this second book for a professional report just like I did with From Here to Nashville. The only problem being that the deadline for submission is the end of August. In January, that seemed like loads of time. At the start of May, it seemed like a hair’s breadth.

It was at this point that I realised it was make or break time. So after our Nashville holiday, I made myself a plan. I would finish working through all the old material by the end of May and then I would commit to writing at least 1,000 words every day with a deadline of completion by the end of July. This would give me time to at least read it through myself before sending it off.

Suddenly, I felt set free to just write, even though I still hadn’t written a detailed outline. I had got something in place though and I just kept refining it as I went along. I am very pleased to say that I have been able to write a minimum of 1,000 words a day, sometimes, as many as 3,000 words in a day and I feel exhilarated to have reached this stage. I finally broke 80,000 words yesterday, something I honestly thought might never happen when I decided to rewrite. Still, I have made it and I am steaming towards the end now, well ahead of schedule.
I had hoped that I might finish the first draft before attending the RNA’s annual conference next weekend and it is still possible but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I still have plenty of time 🙂 When I read Michael Cairns’ guest post for my blog last week, I realised that this is what writing professionally is all about: building a habit. If you can do that, preferably (in my case) with an outline along side while you write, it can only get easier to write more.

Once the report comes back from the RNA and I have dealt with those edits, I will begin my editing process going through the drafts which I hope will be a bit quicker this time round. Then it will be time once again for professional editing, proofreading and cover design!

Thank you so much for reading as always and if you have any tips for the writing of your second book, do let me know in the comments below. Have a great writing week!

P.S. You can now buy signed paperback copies of From Here to Nashville from me directly! Just click on the sidebar 🙂

Why I’ve Gone Back to my Free WordPress Site

bald-eagle-489080_640The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that although my website looks quite similar now to the self-hosted one I created just a few weeks ago, it is in fact my good old WordPress.com site with a few tweaks. If you read my previous post (now deleted) about my migration to a self-hosted WordPress site, you’ll know that it was relatively painless in terms of moving the content from one place to another. I spent a lot of time faffing around with the design, choosing a new theme, installing a header and then loading the widgets but that too, was quite straight-forward.

However, I soon found that in order to change even the slightest thing about the design, I was often having to get to grips with coding. I am lucky in that I am quite good at the technical aspects of most things and I’m also lucky enough to have a husband who knows a lot about all that stuff too but although I was enthusiastic at the beginning, it really did start to wear me down. For example, I wanted to centre my Twitter feed box and my Facebook likes box. For this, I had to submit a support ticket to WordPress.org and wait for them to come back to me with the CSS (Cascading Style Spreadsheet) code. They did come back with it and once I had it and knew where to put it, it was easy but when I found myself having to do this for every little tweak, it soon became dull.

The main issue I encountered though was with transferring over my social share counts, by which I mean, the figures underneath each blog post showing how often they’d been shared on social media. After a lot of querying, I found out that it just isn’t possible to transfer them from one URL to another because Twitter and Facebook will only associate the shares with the original URL, even though my site was redirected from the old URL to the new one. I did come across a coding fix but it was so complicated that even my husband couldn’t get his head around it. I therefore decided to go back to my old site before I write too many more posts and lose the counts on them! When you are a small blogger/author, your social proof is so important and I’ve spent so long building it up that I don’t want to lose it. I have kept the domain name but I can’t see any way that I can realistically use it now sadly.

One of the other things that tipped the balance for me, was that last Monday, my web host company was ‘attacked’ by some technical force or other (clueless!) and this meant that my site was down for a large part of the day. Of course, this never happens with WordPress.com and all at once, I started to see all the things they are doing for me behind the scenes. You don’t normally see all that because they’re dealing with it. Spam? Don’t even notice it but if you’re self-hosted, you have to set yourself up with Akismet or someone else and for that you need an API key and when you’ve worked out what that is, another day has gone by. I cannot complain at all about Tsohost’s customer service, they were great but I don’t want to have to deal with my site going down and all the associated messages that go with that.

So I reversed all the steps: I exported my content and then imported it again to WordPress.com. Then I cancelled my site redirect with no charge as it had been less than a month since I put it in place. I used the Jetpack plugin to migrate all my subscribers back again successfully. I had no idea that the Jetpack plugin was one of the WordPress ones until I was ‘speaking’ to a WordPress ‘Happiness Engineer’ (that really is what they’re called). I was speaking to them because I had left a message about my disappointment in finding that I couldn’t transfer over all my social shares. I wrote that I thought I had read somewhere that this was possible so they got back to me to ask me where I’d read it. We discussed it a bit further and then, quite out of the blue, they sent me some upgrades free of charge because of my useful feedback. I told you they were called Happiness Engineers and by the way, there are about 50 of them tending to the needs of over 80 million subscribers 🙂

So, it’s back to normal for me and I have got my life and my writing time back. The moral of the story is that you should either self-host from the beginning with a domain name or you really shouldn’t bother, not if you care about your social shares anyway. If they were to sort that issue out, I would try again but otherwise, I’m going to concentrate on what I set out to do two years ago – my writing life 🙂 Thanks so much for bearing with me. Oh and if you need any coding done…

Author Spotlight – Kate Foster

My guest in the Author Spotlight this week is Kate Foster, author of middle grade fiction. Welcome to ‘My Writing Life,’ Kate.

Winell Road cover 2

Winell Road – Kate Foster Twelve year old Jack Mills lives at 5 Winell Road and probably has the world’s weirdest neighbours. Like freakishly weird. And to top it off, he lives with Mum (nosy, interfering and a hideous cook) and Dad (unsuccessful inventor of the Camera Belt and Self-Closing Window). All in all, it’s a boring, embarrassing, dead-end place to live. So when Jack arrives home from school one day, a close shave with a UFO is the last thing he expects. But the fact it doesn’t abduct him, and that no one else – not even Mum – sees the gigantic flying saucer hovering over the street, adds a whole new layer of strange. Soon after, an alien encounter threatens Jack’s life and he becomes embroiled in a galaxy-saving mission. With the assistance of his new neighbour, frighteningly tall Roxy Fox, he discovers Winell Road is hiding secrets – secrets Jack might wish he’d never uncovered.

Excerpt

From Chapter One – The Encounter

He noticed the darkness first, a large shadow cast over him.

Then he felt it.

Something behind him. Close. Too close.

Jack Mills turned his head to look. The football slipped out from under his arm and rolled away.

There, a metre or two above him; it was vast, silver and circular with intricate markings, and a flawless grooved spiral that finished at a black, central disc. Four enormous legs were spread evenly and bright lights shone from the base of each one. It was deafeningly silent, no wonder he hadn’t heard it lowering down.

Now it hovered, frozen in mid-air. Just … Just looking at him.

Jack stood, his jaw unable to drop any further. He didn’t blink. Or move. He couldn’t. He didn’t even know if he was breathing.

Why wasn’t he running away? It was like he had two bricks in his shoes and the soles of those super-glued to the ground.

The disc began to spin. Slowly at first but soon picking up speed. The wind from it flattened Jack’s scruffy brown hair to his scalp like a helmet. His eyes stung from the force.

He lifted his hands up to protect his face and, squinting, he took a few steps back.

Faster it spun. Harder and stronger the wind blew.

Jack gasped for air. He turned his face away and crouched to the ground. Nearby branches bent in the opposite direction in their own attempt to escape the gale, whilst flowers lost their battles to remain upright.

He caught sight of his football disappearing into the trees.

He had to run. Whatever was about to happen, he didn’t want to find out. This was huge. Massive. Ginormous. Ginormassivous.

One word ran through his mind, over and over.

Abduction.

*****

Please read on to find out more from Kate about middle grade fiction and what inspires her to write it

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me on to your blog today!

My first book, Winell Road, was published last month! Yippee! It’s middle grade fiction; sometimes referred to as books for middle readers or simply MG. For anyone unfamiliar, these are children aged between 8 and 12 years, but, of course, this is a guideline. Plenty of children either side, and a fair number of adults, me included, can read and enjoy MG books. Think Harry Potter, which although the later books were shelved as young adult to account for the characters becoming teenagers, started life as MG. Think Wonder by RJ Palacio, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, Skellig by David Almond. 

Despite having been big on books from a very young age, it was probably during these years that my love for words was truly born. The passion, the magic, the escapism; a spell was cast. So, I guess, MG chose me, rather than me actively choosing MG, and I am sure there are many authors who found the same. The more books I’ve written, the more my natural voice has developed, and the more I know how well suited it is to middle readers.

MG, often separated into upper and lower to allow for the wide maturity levels and reading abilities, is definitely not the same as chapter books or young adult fiction. Yes, the lines might be considered fine, but children of this age should most certainly be respected for the tough transitional period they’ve entered.

They’re beginning to make their own, often important, decisions that not only affect themselves but others around them; they’re realising life isn’t quite as peachy once they climb out from beneath their parents’ wings; they’re experiencing and recognising more complex emotions. But fundamentally they are still babies that need a cuddle and a hand to hold, because they aren’t fully prepared to deal with life’s harsher side.

So serious issues can be addressed in MG books. Going back to A Monster Calls: this deals with the big C and how a young boy overcomes the impact it has on his family. If you haven’t read it, then you should. It’s a tearjerker for sure, but so beautiful. From the choice of language, to the level of detail included, it allows children to ‘see’ as much as their minds can accept and digest. It’s an MG masterpiece and well deserved of its awards and accolades.

My books are in real contrast, however, as I can’t help but write adventures, often a little dark, but always with a splash of humour, as a way to offer a small window for children to climb out of when needed. Perhaps, again, this reflects what I leaned toward reading as a child, and has simply hung around in my brain somewhere waiting for me to tell my own stories. I write for enjoyment, which is precisely what I want readers to get from my books. 

Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Kate and for writing such a great post about your inspiration for writing middle grade fiction and especially for writing Winell Road.

Winell Road is available to buy now using the following links: Jet Black Publishing Amazon UK Barnes and Noble

WIN_20150424_110815 (3)About the Author

Kate is a freelance editor and proof reader, and an author of middle grade fiction and picture books. Originally from a small village in the UK, she emigrated with her husband and three sons to the Gold Coast in Australia in 2014. She’s an active tweeter, a regular judge of writing competitions, and writes articles for online magazines and blogs. Her first book, Winell Road, was recently published with Jet Black Publishing, and 20% of all sales are donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. 

 Find Kate at:

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Expanding Distribution of your Novel

amazon-logo_blackThis weekend saw the end of the first three months of my debut being on sale on Amazon. I signed up to the exclusive KDP Select programme, partly because it was the easiest thing to do in the first instance and also because the thought of trying to get my head round uploading to other sites at that point in time filled me with dread!

By the time the end of my first three months was in sight though, I felt ready to think about expanding the distribution of my novel to other online sites. I have learnt a lot about it during those three months, mainly through the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and its members, and I decided not to sign up for another three months of KDP so that I could dip my toe in the waters elsewhere.

There are an awful lot of other online retailers but the main ones to consider are Smashwords, Kobo, Nook and Apple’s iTunes. I still feel as daunted now about uploading my book to all those sites, not to mention the time it would take when I’m desperately trying to get on with book two! Thankfully, there is a way round this.

Afterd2d-logo-dark-sm a bit of research, I came across an aggregator called Draft2Digital who will upload to all the main sites mentioned above, with the exception of Smashwords, and they will also upload your book to a whole host of other sites as well. For this, they take 10% of your sale price but only when you sell. There’s no charge for the service. It was very easy to upload to them, especially as I write using Scrivener so all I had to do was to upload the epub version of my book and they’ve done the rest. All in all, this took no longer than half an hour.

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Smashwords also distribute to the other three main sites but for now, I’m using Draft2Digital for that. I have managed to upload my book to Smashwords as well and I’m using them for the retailers that Draft2Digital don’t distribute to as yet. I’ll have to see what happens in terms of sales before deciding whether to leave it like this or to change. One thing I’ve noticed is that ALLi members differ in their views on what the best process is. Some feel it’s worth uploading directly to the main sites; others have used Draft2Digital and others have used Smashwords for their distribution to other sites. So, it will be an experiment, as everything is for the indie author and who knows, it may be that selling through Amazon only is the only viable option but if I don’t try it out, I’ll never know.

The other thing I’ve done since expanding the distribution is to try a new price for a while. So ‘From Here to Nashville’ is now for sale at £1.49 as an ebook. It is still only available through Amazon as a paperback, priced at £8.99. I have ordered my own paperback copies through a UK printer as well and I’ve been doing a roaring trade with those at my workplace! I’ve also been able to offer signed copies to them, as well as one of my limited edition guitar magnets because I’m selling face-to-face.

I am planning a giveaway soon through my Facebook site so if you’d like to take part, keep your eyes peeled over there. Here’s the link: Julie Stock’s Author Page.

Thanks for reading as always and look out for my next Author Spotlight feature next week!