Author Spotlight – Susanna Bavin

This month, it’s my very great pleasure to welcome my writing friend and fellow RNA member, Susanna Bavin, to my blog for my Author Spotlight feature. Susanna’s debut novel, The Deserter’s Daughter, a 1920s saga, was published earlier this year and I can thoroughly recommend it as a cracking good read!

The Deserter’s Daughter – Susanna Bavin

1920, Chorlton, Manchester. As her wedding day draws near, Carrie Jenkins is trying on her dress and eagerly anticipating becoming Mrs Billy Shipton. But all too soon she is reeling from the news that her beloved father was shot for desertion during the Great War. When Carrie is jilted and the close-knit community turns its back on her as well as her mother and her half-sister, Evadne, the plans Carrie nurtured are in disarray.

Desperate to overcome private shock and public humiliation, and with her mother also gravely ill, Carrie accepts the unsettling advances of well-to-do furniture dealer Ralph Armstrong. Through Ralph, Evadne meets the aristocratic Alex Larter, who seems to be the answer to her matrimonial ambitions as well. But both sisters put their faith in men who are not to be trusted, and they will face danger and heartache before they can find the happiness they deserve.

Amazon

*****

And now for my interview with Susanna:

1. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book and how you went about your research?

The Deserter’s Daughter is set in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, to the south of Manchester, and I’m enormously proud of readers’ and reviewers’ comments about the strong sense of place. My second saga for Allison & Busby, A Respectable Woman, is set in the same area and readers will recognise one or two landmarks.

As for the research – well, Chorlton is where I grew up, as did several generations of my family before me, so I know the area very well. I studied old photos to make sure that I got the details right about how the various buildings, roads and landmarks looked 100 years ago. I also used the maps drawn by my late father. Dad was very artistic and he used his skills with watercolours and calligraphy to produce beautiful maps of Chorlton as it was when he was a boy. He even made notes about the shops he remembered and who lived in which house in his road.

2. Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

Hard to think of ideas? Never! But the way I go about developing ideas has changed. Gone are the days of knowing how the story ends and then letting the plot and characterisation develop and find their own way there.

When Allison & Busby bought The Deserter’s Daughter, they also wanted to see the synopsis for a second saga. It was news to me that you could write a synopsis before you wrote the book. Didn’t you have to finish the book first so you knew what to put in the synopsis? Apparently not. I wrote a detailed synopsis and A&B bought A Respectable Woman on the strength of it.

My agent and my editor both told me I didn’t have to stick to the synopsis if the story took off in another direction during the writing, but – aside from a couple of minor plot details – I did keep to the synopsis.

3. How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many drafts will there be after that?

I don’t think there is a single answer to that. The first draft of The Deserter’s Daughter was written while I was a teacher. It took 15 months of writing at the weekends and in the school holidays, but it wasn’t until I had produced the fourth draft that I attracted an agent and the published version is the fifth draft.

Being a member of the RNA New Writers’ Scheme was a big help. That August 31st deadline certainly worked for me. The two novels I submitted after The Deserter’s Daughter were both written in under a year. I respond to deadlines! Of those two books, one has now had two drafts and needs a third to finish it off; while the other has had three and needs a fourth.

4. What is the hardest part of writing for you?

All I need is the right first line and off I go; but sometimes I spend ages agonising over that perfect first line. I know I shouldn’t do that. I know I should just get writing and change it later if needs be.

5. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

There are many answers to this, so I will take the first three that sprang to mind.

Firstly, I love the physical act of writing. I love putting pen to paper. I am more creative with a pen in my hand than I am composing straight onto the screen. Also, writing by hand makes the writing completely portable and I can take it anywhere, such as…

Secondly, I love writing on the train. Is that weird of me?

Thirdly, I love the way ideas develop simply by being written. Writing can surprise you and take you down unexpected paths. I once wrote a scene in which the heroine went to her friend for help. I started the scene fully expecting the friend to say, “Yes, of course I’ll help. Tell me what you want me to do,” but instead she said, “No – and how dare you ask it of me?”, which came as a big surprise to me as well as to my heroine.

6. Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

One theme that fascinates me and that I particularly like to explore is the legal position of women in the past and the social impact this had on their lives. The most obvious and basic example of this is a woman’s marital status. To be single was to be an old maid and therefore looked down on, and probably dependent on your father or brother to look after you; while all aspects of marriage were weighted heavily in the husband’s favour. I have a book of Victorian documents – letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings etc – and one is about a lady whose stolen handbag was recovered by the police, but when she went to the police station to claim it, she wasn’t allowed to have it. Her husband had to go and claim it, because technically it was his.

Something I have never forgotten from Anne of Avonlea was one of Anne’s friends – Jane, I think it was – saying she wanted to be a widow. A spinster was an object of pity or scorn; a wife could be pushed around by her husband; but a widow, as well as being an object of respect, could do as she pleased. The perfect solution!

7. I know you have finished your next novel. Can you tell us anything about it?

With pleasure. It is called A Respectable Woman and is a story of second chances – in life, in work and in love. The respectable woman of the title is Nell Hibbert, a young back-street housewife in 1920s Lancashire. When she discovers that her husband is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours and fellow-workers believe she is a respectable widow. Nell realises various things about herself in the course of her story; that she is ambitious and highly capable; that love can sneak up on you; and, hardest of all, that the past is difficult to run from.

There have been various happy moments this year, starting with signing with Allison & Busy in January; but possibly the most surprising moment was when I found A Respectable Woman available for pre-order on Amazon a whole year before it will be published.

8. What does success as a writer look like to you?

As a former librarian, and coming from a family of library users, I am thrilled that The Deserter’s Daughter is in public libraries. One of the high-points of this year was finding it in my local library catalogue. The paperback edition won’t be published until next spring, so I hope that any readers who are interested will request it from their library. Can I also say how chuffed I am to see my book as a hardback? Many books go straight into paperback these days and I’m proud that mine is starting life in hardback.

I’m also delighted that The Deserter’s Daughter has recently been released as an audio book. I have listened to audiobooks for years and always have one on the go. I used to have a job that involved a lot of driving and being paid to drive round while listening to stories felt like a great perk. Now other people will be listening to my book, read by Julia Franklin, and the thought of that is just wonderful. If anyone would like to listen to a snippet, here is the link:

Thank you, Julie, for inviting me onto your blog. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions.

*****

And thank you, Susanna for a lovely interview!

*****

About Susanna Bavin

Susanna Bavin has variously been a librarian, an infant school teacher, a carer and a cook. She now lives on the beautiful North Wales coast with her husband and two rescue cats, but her writing continues to be inspired by her Mancunian roots. The Deserter’s Daughter is her first published novel. Her second 1920s saga for Allison & Busby, A Respectable Woman, will be published in June 2018.

 

 

Find out more about Susanna here:

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Author Spotlight – Margaret Johnson

Welcome to my latest Author Spotlight. This time, my guest is Women’s Fiction writer, Margaret K. Johnson. Margaret is also a member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association and her latest book Taming Tom Jones will be out in October.

TTJ Cover

Taming Tom Jones – Margaret K. Johnson

Jen’s partner Michael has never been in a relationship for more than four years, so with their fourth anniversary coming up, she’s getting understandably nervous. Especially as she’s just discovered she’s pregnant, and she knows Michael doesn’t want any more children other than Kyle, his teenage son. 

Jen means to tell Michael about the baby right away, but then he comes home on a brand new motorbike, having traded in his sensible car, and the moment is lost. Is Michael having an early mid-life crisis? 

Jen decides to do some detective work about Michael’s exes in an effort to save their relationship, and embarks on a journey that will take her as far afield as North Norfolk and Cuba. But she has no idea of the can of worms she’s about to open. 

Why do all Michael’s relationships break up? And what’s the big secret he’s hiding?

Taming Tom Jones is available to pre-order now:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords

 

Excerpt

I’m in the ladies toilets at my local superstore. Inside the one functioning cubicle, sitting fully clothed on the toilet seat, surrounded by overflowing carrier bags, a peed-on plastic tester stick clenched in my hand. Waiting for my fate to unfold.

Two minutes. The time it takes for Michael to go to sleep after we’ve made love if I don’t do anything to stop him. The pee on the plastic stick is asking a question, and the chemicals inside it are working out their answer. And in two minutes I’ll know whether their answer agrees with my instinct.

“I’m crazy about you, Jen,” Michael said three months after we first got together. “I want us to be together. But I’ve got to be totally honest with you, if you want kids, you’d better find someone else, because I’ve already done all that. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a father to Kyle, but it’s enough for me.”

Michael. We met at a fancy dress party nearly four years ago – my mate Rick’s thirtieth birthday party. The theme was Pop Icons of the Twentieth Century, and the room was stuffed full of Elton Johns, Donny Osmonds and Mick Jaggers. I was Madonna, complete with pointy bra, and Marcia, my best mate, was Diana Ross.

“You look fantastic with all that long hair,” I told her as we propped up the bar, preening ourselves and pointing out funny sights to each other.

“Thanks. I could get used to this glamour.” She ran a hand over the sea-green sparkles of her dress. Perhaps we should start a band.”

“Yeah, right.” I hadn’t forgotten our last spectacularly bad attempt at karaoke on holiday in Spain, even if she had.

Marcia never has liked to be reminded of her failings, even at school. “Your bazoomers aren’t level,” she told me stonily, jabbing an accusing finger in the direction of my breasts. “You need to go up a bit on the right.”

I yanked dutifully at my right cone, wondering if Madonna had experienced the same trouble.

“Anyway,” Marcia said, “who are you going to get off with tonight?”

“I’m not going to get off with anybody. It’s only been three months since I split up with Luther.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “Three months of freedom and so far you’ve done zilch to celebrate.”

“I don’t feel like celebrating.” I was hurt by now, but Marcia never has been a girl to let my hurt feelings stand in her way when she’s telling me something for my own good.

“Well, you should. Luther was a prize tosser. You are far, far better off without him, Jen.”

“I loved him.”

“You thought you loved him. That’s about as different as Ibiza and the Isle of Man.”

Marcia stood on diamanté sandal tip-toes, peering into the crowd, the dark river of fake hair flowing all the way down her bare back. “Him,” she said, pointing. “That’s who you’ll get off with if you get off with anybody.”

“Who?”

Marcia pointed again. “Him,” she said. “Tom Jones.”

*****

And now over to Margaret for a bit about the inspiration for her latest book, Taming Tom Jones.

The Leopard-Spotted Hero

In the run up to the publication of my novel Taming Tom Jones by Crooked Cat Publishing on 2nd October, I’d like to share a bit about the writing process behind it, and some of the very personal experiences that were my inspiration. I dug deep for this novel, but it was worth it!

I’m sure you’ve all come across women – or men – who seem to want to constantly change their partner. It’s as if they fell in love with them for one specific reason, but then feel compelled to do their best to change that very quality. In such circumstances, love is likely to be doomed to failure, a fact I try to keep in mind with my current relationship. After previously being in relationships with men who were charismatic and exciting, but exhaustingly unpredictable, I was ready for someone more dependable. So I can’t complain – okay, I shouldn’t complain – when he’s reluctant to be in the slightest bit impulsive, or takes ages to make a decision that affects our future.

In my view, based on hard-won experience, anyone entering a relationship thinking they can change someone, is going to end up disappointed. After all, would I want someone to set out to try to change me? No! Except maybe, on a very superficial level. For example, I no longer put plates and cutlery to soak in the washing up bowl, as it seems to annoy my partner so much – don’t ask me why. Washing up foibles or not, I love my man, and the fact that he accepts me pretty much as I am means a great deal to me. What’s more, I don’t always have to live in his shadow the way I did with those other illusive, party animals.

When Taming Tom Jones opens, Jen has just discovered she’s pregnant with her partner Michael’s child. She’s thrilled about it, because she’s always wanted children, but she’s anxious too, because right from the start of their relationship, Michael was honest with her about not wanting any more children. He’s a good father to his teenage son Kyle, but that’s enough for him.

Michael’s lack of desire for more children isn’t the only reason Jen’s nervous. Michael’s never stayed in a relationship for more than four years – he’s something of a serial monogamist, and their four year anniversary is looming on the not-so-distant horizon. Will Jen’s news tip the balance?

Crazy about Michael as she is, Jen takes the brave decision to keep her pregnancy secret for now and to investigate his exes. If she can find out why those past relationships went wrong, then maybe she can stop the same thing happening to them.

A while back, I shared the first seven chapters of my first draft of Taming Tom Jones with the Women’s Fiction Crit Group on the now sadly defunct site Authonomy. Their feedback was very positive, but several people didn’t like Michael and his serial monogamist ways. Having been on the receiving end of men like him in my own life, I could appreciate their point of view. Back in those days, I was supremely good at deluding myself that it would be different with me; that these men would end up loving me so much they would magically transform themselves, and a trip down the aisle with me would become their longed-for goal. Unsurprisingly, I was proved wrong several times, and yet I could never really hate these heart-breakers. They were popular, out-going and fun to be with, just as Michael is in Taming Tom Jones.

But that feedback from my Authonomy colleagues got me thinking. For Jen to enjoy a ‘happy-ever-after’ with Michael, he would need to change a lot, otherwise the reader would just think Jen had settled for someone not good enough for her. I was stuck for quite a while, as I grappled with this. Should Jen end up with someone new? Possibly, but that would mean the child she’s carrying wouldn’t ever live with its father, and while that might often be the case in real life, I didn’t want that to happen to Jen and her baby in my book. So I decided to try to make Michael’s transformation believable, and searched for a way to do it. Finally, I had what I thought was a good idea. What if the reader got to know substantially more than Jen does about exactly why Michael is the way he is? While Jen’s busy carrying out her investigations, we know she’s getting a very distorted view of the truth and wonder how they’ll ever sort things out. Yes, that seemed like an intriguing way to go.

So, why does Michael never stay in a relationship for very long? Is there some secret he’s hiding? Ah! You’ll have to read the book to find out!

You can pre-order it here, and you’re more than welcome to join the online launch party on 2nd October. There will be fun, games, music and a question and answer session about writing. Click JOIN to take part. See you there!

Facebook Party

_DSC2255_ppAbout Margaret

Margaret K. Johnson began writing after finishing at Art College to support her career as an artist. Writing quickly replaced painting as her major passion, and these days her canvasses lay neglected in her studio. She is the author of women’s fiction, stage plays and many original fiction readers in various genres for people learning to speak English. Margaret also teaches fiction writing and has an MA in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) from the University of East Anglia. She lives in Norwich, UK with her partner and their bouncy son and dog.

 

 

Find Margaret at:

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Author Spotlight – Michael Cairns

Today, it is my absolute pleasure to welcome my friend, Michael Cairns to ‘My Writing Life.’ Michael writes science fiction, horror and fantasy novels.

13 Roses 1-Before

Thirteen Roses Book 1: Before – Michael Cairns

The flower seller sets up his stall on Embankment every day. Every day, he will serve only one customer. That person will be on the edge, teetering between heaven and hell, and it is up to him to steer them in the right direction.

But this week, it will be different. Because this week, someone is screwing with the flower seller. While he struggles to figure out who it is, and why they are doing it, something far bigger is occurring, something that will change the world forever.

A plague is about to strike mankind that will reduce them to mindless zombies, bent on nothing more than the regular consumption of flesh. The flower seller is charged with the task of saving humanity, a task he neither wants, nor cares about.

Without him, mankind is doomed. With him, they might just be worse.
But who is the flower seller? Why does he try to save the subjects? And how the hell is he going to save the world?

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

*****

Please read on to find out more about how Michael has built his amazingly productive writing habit.

Julie and I met through Twitter and she’s been lovely and super supportive of my challenge – no surprise there – so I jumped at the chance to guest on her fabulously useful and practical blog. I have some strong opinions about creativity and art, but I’ll try to rein them in today and just stick to the useful stuff.

First, a teensy bit of background. In the latter part of 2014, I met for coffee with a friend of mine. We both write, though she struggles with the first draft and I struggle with the editing. I mentioned, in passing, that I had 15 unedited manuscripts at home, idling away on my hard drive. Once she’d finished kicking my butt, she suggested I do something with them.

Over the following month I came up with the entirely suicidal idea of releasing all fifteen of them in 2015. It would mean a great deal of editing and a complete shift in my writing and publishing systems, but I decided to give it a go. To make things interesting, I decided I’d also write a million words of original fiction, publish a short story every week on my blog and vlog every day throughout 2015 to track my progress.

I’m still alive. I’m still sane, mostly, and progress so far, is good. But the challenge has only been possible because of my habit. No, not that sort of habit, though I’ve felt driven towards one a few times this year 🙂

Today I’m going to share my process for becoming a successful writer and creator.

This all begins with one simple step: Build the Habit.

I cannot stress enough how important this is. Habits come in many guises. Some authors will tell you to put aside a safe period of time in which to write. Others will assert the necessity of writing every day. I agree with both of them, but writing things like that down on a piece of paper doesn’t make them happen. Just like trying to get my four year old daughter to clean her teeth, I can ask her a hundred times but it won’t happen spontaneously until it becomes a habit.

So, begin with one month. You don’t have to choose the same time every day. You don’t have to choose a certain amount of time every day. All you have to do is sit at your keyboard/typewriter/cave wall and write something. You have to do it every day. For a month.

Easy, right?

Below are four key steps to making the above happen.

1. Enjoy it: So you begin to build the habit, but something’s getting in the way. Every time you sit at your keyboard, you want to bang your face against the desk until the blessing of unconsciousness relieves you of the terrible burden of writing.

There’s a really simple way to get around that. Write something you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be serious. It doesn’t have to be ‘literature’. It doesn’t even have to make sense. It can be that cosy murder mystery you’ve been secretly dreaming of. You won’t always be writing it. You’ll write many things in your life, but while you’re building the habit, make it fun. Enjoy it. There’s a hidden upside to this as well. You might have your heart set on a romance – sorry, couldn’t resist – but discover that you love writing something completely different. If all you write is romance, how will you know?

2. Start small and be persistent: As authors, most of us have grown up reading books, paper bound and of a certain thickness. We all dream of creating something similar. Few of us, upon deciding to write, have simply finishing as our greatest goal. And yet, for so many people, finishing is where it goes wrong. So, in this first, habit forming, month, start small. Start simple. Two people. A conflict. A deeper conflict. A solution. A resolution. Maybe a dragon. Okay, so the dragon isn’t strictly necessary, but the rest is all you need. That might take 1000 words, or 10,000 words or 100,000 words, but I’d aim for making it at the small end. Get to the end, even if what you’ve written feels slight and breezy. You’re forming a habit, not writing “Gone With The Wind”. And hey, if you do, you probably don’t need to worry too much about the habit.

So start small and finish it. The habit will be cemented through the sense of completion. ‘I have a habit and it’s led to me creating this.’ That’s a much more powerful statement than ‘I have a habit and it’s led to a bunch of half-finished short stories and the first three chapters of this mad Victorian/cyber punk mash up that’s gonna be awesome in a couple of years…’

3. SMART targets: Boring perhaps, but essential. Just in case you’ve missed the wonders of SMART targets, you’re looking to create a target that is:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant and

Timebound

You have a month, so your time limit is already set. As for the rest, my advice would be to remember point three. Start small. This isn’t NaNoWriMo. It’s a great idea, but for me it fails in execution. Why try to write a novel in a month? You’ve got all the time in the world. What NaNo should be instilling is a writing habit, but because everyone’s rushing so hard to reach that magic 50K figure, the joy is swamped by the pressure.

So how does 500 words a day sound? That’s just over a page in Word. It’s achievable, you can measure it simply enough, it’s specific and it’s entirely relevant. You’re writing every day and you have something clear to aim for.

I’ve plucked 500 words out of thin air. You can set your own target. I do somewhere between 4 and 5K each day, but I’ve been writing every single day since 1st Jan 2013. Every. Single. Day. I don’t have superhuman powers, I have a really militant, wonderfully fun, creative habit. That’s all.

4. Be militant: I know you have the willpower to achieve this habit, but do you have the necessary cruelty? 🙂 I’m kind of joking. What do you do when someone comes into your bedroom/workspace/classroom/cave and says ‘Can I just check something with you?’ How about when your child comes and says ‘Please play with me, I’m wasting away from a total lack of fun.’ That’s a tough one, but I say to them the same thing I say to everyone. ‘Can’t play, creating.’ Actually, I don’t say that at all. I normally manage a strangled cry accompanied by much hand waving. It’s that or, ‘I need a name, give me a damned name, any name that isn’t Dave.’

The point is, this is writing time. If they don’t get the message, lock the door. If they come at it with axes, flee to a coffee shop. Or the park. Or your car. Anywhere you can be undisturbed. That goes for phone calls, texts, tweets, Facebook, all social media, too. Be antisocial and write! Just to give you an idea, I write 500 words in about ten minutes, so it’s not long. To begin with, it’ll take you much longer, but not that much longer and it’ll get quicker. Be militant, be strong. Buy ear plugs if necessary. I couldn’t honestly argue against the purchase of a scary clown mask and a chainsaw as well, though maybe that’s just me…

Those are the key points. This will work for any form of creativity. Whether your dream is to be an author, a painter, a musician or anything else, building that habit is key to success. I hope it’s helpful, and thanks again, Julie, for having me.

I’d love to know what you think of these points and if you have any to add. Also, if you decide to start the process now, please let us know so we can cheerlead and send you virtual chocolate.

Cheers

About Michael

Michael-Cairns-headshot-low-resMichael Cairns is a science fiction, horror and fantasy author, teacher and musician. He was born at a young age and could write even before he could play the drums, but that was long ago, in the glory days – when he actually had hair.

Michael loves pineapple, chocolate, playing gigs and outwitting his young daughter (the scores are about level but she’s getting smarter every day).

Michael is currently working hard on writing, getting enough sleep and keeping his hair. The first is going well, the other two…not so much.

You can join his mailing list here: http://cairnswrites.com/sign/up

 

Find out more about Michael here:

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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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Author Spotlight on Jennifer Young

My guest in the Author Spotlight this week is Jennifer Young, author of romantic fiction. Welcome to ‘My Writing Life,’ Jennifer.

Looking_For_Charlotte_by_Jennifer_Young_500

Looking for Charlotte – Jennifer Young

Divorced and lonely, Flora Wilson is distraught when she hears news of the death of little Charlotte Anderson. Charlotte’s father killed her and then himself, and although he left a letter with clues to her grave, his two-year-old daughter still hasn’t been found. Convinced that she failed her own children, now grown up and seldom at home, Flora embarks on a quest to find Charlotte’s body to give the child’s mother closure, believing that by doing so she can somehow atone for her own failings.

As she hunts in winter through the remote moors of the Scottish Highlands, her obsession comes to challenge the very fabric of her life — her job, her friendship with her colleague Philip Metcalfe, and her relationships with her three children.

Excerpt:

She walked alongside the rutted track on the springy heather. This was where Ally had driven in his hired car, alone and knowing himself to be his own daughter’s murderer. How must he have felt? Lonely, of course. Even in the best times of his life Ally was always lonely, resisting all attempts to understand him and his problems, fighting against his perceived failures, his mental weaknesses. She knew them well. She had loved Ally, for a long time. She’d dedicated years of her life to making him happy and then she’d realised that she couldn’t do it. And by then she had a baby, another helpless being, but this time one who couldn’t do anything for herself. So instead of living her life for Ally, she’d lived it for Charlie. And now she had no-one to live it for but herself.

She stopped at the edges of the digging, looked down reluctantly. The house lay a few hundred yards beyond; a dog barked, but no-one came out. She was alone. Perhaps Ally had killed Charlie because he was jealous of the attention lavished on her. Perhaps he felt emasculated by a helpless child. And if he had, then that made it her fault.

‘It wasn’t my fault,’ she said aloud. ‘I did everything I could. I won’t be blamed.’

His silence — of course he was silent, he was dead and she was glad — accused her. She clenched her hands in her pocket and looked down at the non-grave where tiny white flowers had already begun to re-colonise, reaching out into the wet earth from the overturned clods. ‘Ally, you bastard!’ she shouted. Her voice disappeared in the wind but she believed he’d hear her. ‘You selfish, murdering bastard!’

As the tears welled up, she dug a hanky out of her pocket and suppressed them. Her phone was in there, too, so she fished it out and tried again. This time there was a signal, though faint. She rang her mother, but there was no answer and she didn’t leave a message, because everything had changed and she knew she would cry.

She tried Karen, not expecting an answer, but got one. ‘Hi Sue. All right?’ ‘You’ve got your phone on.’

‘Bad form during a wedding, I know, but I thought you might ring. I switched it off during the service, though. Where are you?’

‘I’m up where they found Ally.’

‘Oh God. You poor girl. Do you feel better?

Suzanne looked around her. ‘I don’t know. I can feel Charlie. Is that silly?’

‘Oh, Sue.’

‘I don’t mean I think she’s up here. I just think she’s with me. I always think she’s with me.’

‘Sue…’

Suzanne didn’t want to talk any longer. She held the phone face down and shouted to it, ‘I’ve hardly got a signal, Kazzy. But I’m fine. I’ll ring you tomorrow, okay?’ And she ended the call and slipped the phone back in her pocket. Then she began to walk back down to the car. It was true; it was as if Charlie was with her, walking beside her with her tiny toddler’s steps, stooping to touch the flowers and reach out for the butterflies. She would have loved this place.

She reached the car, got in, pulled down the mirror again and looked at her sad, old face. Love? What was love? And where was it, buried, deep and lost forever?

*****

Please read on for more detail from Jennifer about the setting of Looking for Charlotte

Books come with standard disclaimers. “Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

Um. I must have had my fingers crossed behind my back. The persons (living or dead) in my latest book, Looking For Charlotte, are indeed the products of my own imagination. So are the events, although I fully admit that they were inspired by things that actually happened. Those things happened, as my all-time real-life hero Christopher Marlowe put it, in “another time, another place, another country.”

Ah. Places. This is where I have my fingers crossed.

In another life I am a scientist. An Earth scientist to be correct. Facts, to me, are sacrosanct, so much so that I tiptoe round scientific near-certainties garlanding them with caveats in case some new evidence turns up or that 1% uncertainty is enough to bring the whole edifice crashing down. But the important thing is that, as a writer, I love places.

Looking For Charlotte is the story of one woman’s quest to find another woman’s dead child, lost and buried somewhere in the wilderness. The original (true) tale on which it was based came from the eastern US, a place I’ve never been and so a place my conscience won’t allow me to write about. As my heroine, Flora, tramps up and down the highland glens, in increasingly desperate weather and increasingly lonely places, she’s walking in the wilderness of my imagination.

I’m a deep hypocrite because when I read a book I like to do it with Google Earth to hand. But if you try and use Google Earth to track Flora’s progress you’ll fail. You’ll find her home town of Inverness easily enough, and you might even think you’ve found the part of town where she lives; but you won’t find her house. Nor will you find her office. And when she gets lost in the deep dark heart of the mountains and stumbles upon a friend, you won’t find that either. Because I made that whole chunk of the Highlands up.

But the broad brush picture is real. The real-life landscapes of the highlands reflect Flora’s quest just as the big themes of the book reflect the real-life themes that affect you and me — themes of loss and redemptions, of mistakes made and good deeds done in secret. Only the detail is different.

Because that’s how writing works. Even fantasy, even complete new worlds, have something in them that is real to us all and to which we can all relate. (Think of Harry Potter.) In my case, it’s the places. But I’m afraid I’m not enough of a scientist to let reality get in the way of (I hope) a good story.

Don’t judge me for that…

 

Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Jennifer and for writing such an interesting post about the inspiration and setting for Looking for Charlotte.

Looking for Charlotte is available to buy now using the following links:

Tirgearr Publishing

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords

Jennifer YoungAbout the Author I live in Edinburgh and I write romance and contemporary women’s fiction. I’ve been writing all my life and my first book was published in February 2014, though I’ve had short stories published before then. The thing that runs through all my writing is an interest in the world around me. I love travel and geography and the locations of my stories are always important to me. And of course I love reading — anything and everything.

 

Find Jennifer at:

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Author Spotlight on Helen Pollard

This is the first of my Author Spotlights and my guest this week is contemporary romance author, Helen Pollard. Welcome to ‘My Writing Life,’ Helen.

HoldingBack - cover

Holding Back by Helen Pollard

The last thing they’re looking for is love …

Laura Matheson is a natural at avoiding romance, so when she is drawn to mystery guest Daniel Stone while helping out at her friends’ hotel in Portugal, she assumes all she needs is a little extra willpower.

Daniel is at the hotel on business. The demands of work and a manipulative ex-girlfriend mean he doesn’t have the time or energy for romance, but Laura is a distraction he finds hard to ignore.

As they negotiate a minefield of misunderstandings and mutual attraction, will they both continue to hold back? Or will they finally allow love into their lives?

Excerpt from Chapter One:

“Excuse me. You’ve picked up the wrong bag.”

Deep and decisive, the voice startled Laura from behind as she loaded her luggage onto her hard-won airport trolley.

“No, I don’t think so.” She swung round to confront the voice’s owner. Unnerved to find him towering over her, she took a step back, stumbling over her trolley in the process.

With lightning speed, he reached out to catch her arm, his grip strong as he helped her regain her balance. When she was upright again, she took in piercing blue eyes, thick dark brown hair, a hint of stubble on a tanned face—and felt an immediate jolt of attraction.

Laura ignored it. “I can manage, thank you,” she snapped, thinking she wouldn’t have tripped if he hadn’t surprised her like that.

He released his hold and raised an eyebrow. “As I said, you have my bag.”

Pushing away long strands of chestnut-brown hair that had dared escape their ponytail, Laura returned his gaze.

“No, this is definitely mine.” She was hot, harassed, and late. The last thing she needed was a futile argument over her own luggage!

“Would you mind if I check?”

“Help yourself.” Unable to disguise her impatience, Laura waved at it, adding, “But I am in a hurry.” She winced at the hostile tone in her voice, but she really didn’t have time for this. Tapping her foot in irritation, she waited to be proved right as he crouched over her trolley.

“Would you care to look?” he asked.

Laura’s foot stopped tapping. Recognising undisguised triumph on his face, she read the label over his shoulder with trepidation, but there it was in black and white—Daniel Stone, London Gatwick to Porto. The heat that rose in her cheeks seemed to burn right through her skin.

“But it’s the same as mine!” she blustered, watching with embarrassment as he hoisted the heavy bag from the trolley with ease.

“It’s hardly a unique design,” he commented, shrugging broad shoulders. “If you weren’t in such a tearing hurry, you might have spotted your own on the carousel.”

Laura spun around to see her bag riding forlornly around with the few that were left. Mortified, she opened her mouth to apologise.

But he spoke first. “Personally, I would advocate that old saying ‘More haste, less speed.'” His tone softened a little as he added, “I’m sorry, but you’re not the only hot, tired person whose flight was delayed, you know.” And off he strolled through the terminal, his bag flung over his shoulder, without a backward glance.

*****

And now for my interview with Helen:

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?

I visited the area of northern Portugal where the book is set a couple of times. It was so beautiful and friendly there, it stayed with me until my imagination came up with the characters and story to go with it.

2. When choosing your setting, how important do you think it is to have been to the place yourself?

For me, it’s very important. Or put it another way – I wouldn’t have the courage to write about a place I’d never visited. I know it’s possible to research everywhere on the internet nowadays, but I like my stories to be as realistic as they can be, so if I hadn’t been somewhere, I wouldn’t have the confidence to know if I was being accurate enough. I’d always worry that I’d made some awful gaff!

Plus, it’s not just a question of describing the facts. If you’ve actually been there, you can give a real sense of the place – sights, sounds, smells, the whole experience. Your characters can convey what strikes them most about it, what they like best or least.

To be honest, it’s a good few years since I went to northern Portugal, but I wrote a rough draft of Holding Back soon after, so I knew that what I wrote back than would deliver the feel of the place. I did do a little internet research to make sure nothing I described had changed drastically, though.

3. Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

At this stage, I have plenty of ideas whizzing around in my head … it’s finding the time to work on them that’s the problem! For me, a story usually starts with a singular thing, something specific that strikes me – a place or a scene – and then I weave something around that.

For the novel I’m working on at the moment, I had the opening scene in my head for years, but for some reason I couldn’t do anything with it until I came across a possible setting … and then suddenly everything clicked into place. Once I started writing that opening scene, because I could picture the setting so clearly in my mind, all the characters just seemed to come to life and do their own thing!

4. How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

Like many writers, I have a day job, family, elderly parents … so I would say six to nine months for a first draft.

How many more drafts after that? Don’t ask! I’m a compulsive edit-and-polisher and can spend months honing it. It drives me mad if a sentence niggles at me because it doesn’t sound quite right. I’ll tweak and tweak until it screams for mercy! The up-side is that by the time I send it off, I know it’s in as good a shape as it was ever going to be.

5. What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Getting started – the first page, the first chapter. It’s so important to get it right, because you need to hook the reader straight away.

And then knowing when to finish polishing. I need to learn to step away and leave the poor thing alone!

6. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

The unexpectedness of it. I don’t do a detailed outline at the start – I’ll have a basic premise in mind, and certain points or events that I definitely want to get to, but beyond that, I tend to allow my characters to take me where they want to go. It’s more fun and certainly more interesting that way … unless they get too out of hand!

7. Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

The two books I’ve had published so far are romances, but they are very different in season and setting, and the characters are different in personality. I wouldn’t necessarily hold myself to romance as a main theme in the future, but I suspect an element of it will always tend to creep in.

8. Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, where will that one be set?

At the moment, I’m polishing up a manuscript that I actually wrote before my two published romances. It’s set in the Loire region of France (and Birmingham, but that doesn’t sound as exotic, somehow, does it?) This one isn’t a straightforward romance – I guess it’s contemporary women’s fiction with humour, and just a hint at romance … which makes it more difficult to find a home for. But I personally love it, so I’m going to keep trying.

Thanks so much to Helen for being my first guest and for answering my questions so thoughtfully 🙂

Holding Back is available to buy now using the following links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble

Kobo

Smashwords

Helen Pollard author picAbout the Author:

Helen Pollard writes contemporary romance with old-fashioned heart. She believes there will always be a place for romantic fiction, no matter how fast-paced and cynical the world becomes. Readers still want that feel-good factor – to escape from their own world for a while and see how a budding romance can blossom and overcome adversity to develop into love … and we all need a little love, right?

A Yorkshire lass, Helen is married, with two teenagers and a psychotic cat. When she’s not working or writing, it goes without saying that she loves to read. She also enjoys a good coffee in a quiet bookshop, and appreciates the company of family and close friends.

Find Helen at:

Website & Blog: http://helenpollardwrites.wordpress.com  

Facebook: http://facebook.com/pages/Helen-Pollard/372986142839624

Twitter: http://twitter.com/helenpollard147

Goodreads:  http://goodreads.com/author/show/8647878.Helen_Pollard