Category Archives: Writing

**Half a World Away Blog Tour** Extract

It’s my pleasure today to share a sneak peek from ‘Half a World Away‘ by Sue Haasler. I really hope this extract whets your appetite. 

My thanks to Dome Press and Sue Haasler for allowing me to be a part of the blog tour for this brilliant book.

Vic x

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HALF A WORLD AWAY

As he reached the door of his flat, out of habit, he glanced down the stairwell and something caught his eye. Picking up the coal bucket he’d left by the door, he walked down the next flight of steps. The paper was lying crumpled in a corner, kicked and trodden on by various passing feet. He picked it up, glanced at it, and dropped it into the bucket as if it was toxic. He walked quickly back up the steps and almost forgot to breathe until he was safely inside the flat, door double-locked.

He took off his scarf, folded it neatly and placed it on the polished surface of the old hall table. Opening a drawer in the table he took out a notebook. The Yellowish pages were ruled in faint grey squares. Picking up a pen, he entered the date – April 17th 1987 – and the name of his elderly neighbour, Frau Bergman. Next to that he noted the time and the word COAL. There was nothing else to add, so he picked up a ruler, drew a neat line and then made another entry for her neighbours. Flicking back a couple of pages, he found he already had quite a few entries about these neighbours, the Schmidts. The son: who came and went at all hours of the day and had recently adopted punk clothing. The mother: who occasionally flaunted carrier bags from Western supermarkets. The father: who seemed overly fond of drink. 

The piece of paper lying at the bottom of the empty coal bucket made him feel uncomfortable. He picked it out with a thumb and forefinger and placed it on the table. Who had brought such a thing in to his house? He’d bet it was that Schmidt boy from upstairs. He looked just the type to go round with his pockets full of this kind of rubbish. Peace? Disarmament? It was nothing but thinly-disguised propaganda against the state. Very poorly printed, too. He placed it between the endpapers at the back of the book, closed the book and replaced it in the desk drawer. Behind it were five other identical books, all full of information. Each little entry on its own was nothing. It was all about the patterns, the trends. It was about being observant and meticulous, ensuring nothing was missed. It was about safety. 

Hearing the voices on the stairs, Detlef Ohm returned to the peephole and softly brushed the cover aside.

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About ‘Half a World Away

East Berlin, 1987.

Alex is a talented saxophonist, flirting with ‘Western’ jazz as well as girls. When he meets Nicky – a beautiful English girl visiting East Berlin as an au pair – she makes him feel that his dreams could become reality.

Detlev’s love for his country has always been enough for him, until Alex makes him feel things he never thought possible. But what use is his passion when its object doesn’t even know he exists?

As Alex meets a new group of musicians, he moves closer to influences considered subversive by a state that has eyes and ears everywhere – and Detlev’s unrequited feelings threaten to endanger them all.

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Sue Haasler was born and brought up in Co. Durham and studied English Literature and Linguistics at Liverpool University.

After graduating, she moved to London and worked for three years as a residential social worker. Since then, she has lived as an administrator for a disability charity, which recruits volunteer carers for disabled adults.

Many of the volunteers are from abroad and this is how she met her husband, who is from the former East Berlin.

Sue has written four books, ‘True Colours‘, ‘Time after Time‘, ‘Two’s Company‘ and ‘Better Than the Real Thing‘. ‘Two’s Company‘ was optioned for film by Warner Bros.

She has been commissioned by the BBC to write an authorized tie-in to ‘Holby City‘. She is married with an adult daughter and lives in London.

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Review: ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae’ by Stephanie Butland

For many people, including me, a stand-out read of 2017 was ‘Lost For Words‘ by Stephanie Butland so it was with excitable trepidation that I began reading ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘.

I needn’t have worried. Stephanie’s latest novel surpassed my expectations – I did not want to stop reading this heart-warming tale of Ailsa Rae, a young woman who, following a lifetime of illness, has to learn a new way of navigating her way through the world while struggling with grief and survivor’s guilt.

Once again, Stephanie Butland has created inimitable characters that I’d happily be friends with. One of Butland’s skills is to make her characters rounded, creating light and shade in both the narrative and within the characters.

Ailsa, in particular, seems completely real to me. After suffering from a heart condition since birth, Ailsa finally undergoes a heart transplant and afterwards feels somewhat lost – her identity no longer revolves around being ill, but she’s not sure what it should revolved around. Despite her apparently hard exterior, it was lovely to peel back Ailsa’s layers and see a more vulnerable side to her. Stephanie Butland really seems to have a talent for creating seemingly tough characters with soft centres.

It was easy for me to fall into this story, I was totally invested in the characters – Seb was particularly appealing to me. The once-close relationship between Ailsa and her mum is portrayed sensitively and realistically as both mother and daughter struggle to come to terms with their new roles.

I felt that having a novel revolving around organ donation was a bold move and it absolutely works. The amount of research undertaken by Butland shows but it’s the human element of this story that makes it utterly compelling.

Although it’s an enjoyable read, ‘The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae‘ has a very important message behind it – the incredible difference organ donation can make to someone when your organs are no longer of use to you.

Vic x

**The Dark Web Blog Tour** Author Interview

As part of ‘The Dark Web‘ blog tour, I’d like to welcome Christopher Lowery to the blog. ‘The Dark Web‘ is the final part in ‘The African Diamonds Trilogy‘. 

My thanks to Christopher for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books.
My first three books comprise The African Diamonds Trilogy, an adventure/thriller series, featuring a principal female protagonist, Jenny Bishop, and a number of other key characters who appear in more than one book. All of the stories have multiple plots and take place in many countries all over the world.

The Angolan Clan begins in Portugal at the time of the 1974 ‘Revolution of the Carnations’, a bloodless overthrow of the fascist regime by the army, which was then hijacked by communists. This had devastating consequences for Portugal and its colonies, Angola, Mozambique etc, and led to bloody civil wars which lasted up to 25 years. An event occurs which creates a series of murders 40 years later.

The Rwandan Hostage is based upon the genocide of one million Tutsis by the Hutus in 1994. A raped Tutsi girl dies while giving birth to a child. The consequences manifest themselves 15 years later, when a boy is abducted in Johannesburg.

The Dark Web is the story of a political power play in the form of a devastating cyber-attack by a malicious, corrupt foreign power aimed at neighboring countries. A young computer scientist discovers the conspiracy and risks his life to prevent it and avoid a global conflict.

What inspired them?
All the stories are based upon my own life and career experiences and those of my family over the last 40 years and are semi-autobiographical/historical/factual. Together we have lived through a number of world-changing events in many countries around the world. 

What do you like most about writing?
Creating fictional stories from factual and often personally witnessed events. Extensive research to refresh/enhance personal knowledge.

What do you dislike (if anything)?
Typing. 

Do you find time to read? If so what are you reading at the moment?
I read very few modern books and still enjoy reading old ones.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Wilkie Collins, Frederick Forsythe, JRR Tolkien, Tom Clancy, Neville Shute, Ken Follett, H Rider Haggard, John Buchan, PG Wodehouse.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My life and my imagination.

What is the favourite scene, character and story you’ve written?
In The Angolan Clan; at the diamond mine when Olivier and friends turn the tables on Gomez and his army bodyguards.
Lord Arthur Dudley, from The Rwandan Hostage, a brilliant, amoral, ruthless, but likeable villain.
I think The Angolan Clan is a successful example of twin stories, which finally converge at the climax.

What are you working on at the moment?
The Mosul Legacy
, about the retaking of Mosul by the coalition forces in 2016. Again a twin story contrasting the comparative ease with which terrorists can cross the Schengen Zone to commit atrocities in Western Europe and the dreadful obstacles and dangers facing innocent refugees seeking peace and safety. 

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
My daughter, Kerry-Jane: ‘Make your books shorter.’

Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I’m a jigsaw builder. I envisage the overall picture/plot, then I let my characters find the pieces to complete it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Ensure you have another means of earning a living.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
When Matthew Smith, at Urbane Publications agreed to publish The Angolan Clan.

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About ‘The Dark Web

The tentacles of the Dark Web are tightening their grip around the world. From Moscow to Shanghai, Washington, UK, the Middle East and Europe, nowhere is beyond their reach.

When a computer scientist dies mysteriously in Dubai, Jenny Bishop’s nephew, Leo Stewart, is hired to replace him. Leo’s life is soon in danger, but he is the only person who can find the key to prevent an impending global cyber-attack. With the help of Jenny and old and new friends, he must neutralise the threat before the world’s vital services are brought to a halt in a flagrant attempt to once again redraw the borders of Europe and Asia. Can the deadly conspiracy be exposed before the world is thrust into a new Cold War?

Christopher Lowery delivers a gripping final chapter in the bestselling African Diamonds trilogy, with a thriller that is powerfully resonant of today’s global dangers, hidden behind the ever-changing technological landscape.

The perfect read for fans of Gerald Seymour, Wilbur Smith and Frederick Forsyth.

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Cathie Devitt

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

My guest today is Cathie Devitt who will be telling us all about how her working life inspired her writing. Cathie’s final novel in the Bernice O’Hanlon trilogy, ‘Don’t Break the Circle’ is due out later this year. Thanks to Cathie for being part of this series.

Vic x

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My working life began at the tender age of 15, I lied and said I was 16 to get the weekend job). 

The children’s clothes shop I went to work in was owned by the female half of a wealthy Italian family for whom the men’s business was ice cream. Yup. Ice cream.

The clothes were all imported from Italy, designer label and very expensive. Parents all want their little angels to look their best, even if it meant paying for the outfits on credit. That, and the regular visits from celebrities and football stars, kept the business going. There were loads of interesting characters to draw on from that experience.

My full-time work varied from working in National (yawn) Savings (yawn) Bank to working in a bakery putting the jam into doughnuts. Mis-shapes were a perk of the job as was overfilling said doughnuts and slurping hot jam as it dribbled down my hand. The characters I have worked with in catering have given me great one-liners and insight.

Life chuntered on and I worked as a waitress, cleaner, in a supermarket, as a civil servant and for youth charities. I was a housing officer for years working in one of the poorest areas of Scotland. Most of the housing was flats within closes, so 8-12 flats in one building. Have you ever seen a tank housing Iguanas fill an entire living space? The fact that the tenant fed them live crickets didn’t go down well with his neighbours who found the critters in their cornflakes and were wakened by a morning chorus of crickets rubbing their legs together. 

I have travelled extensively on high class airlines courtesy of my sister’s staff travel perks and have seen “trolley dollies” in action. Believe me, their lipstick is a badge of honour. Strong characters, strong stomachs. Watching the crew and the travellers was a gift for a writer.

Some people say they long to write full time as a career. For me, with the retirement age going up, I am likely to expire before I retire, but I feel that writers benefit from interaction with other people and what better way than working with the general public?

I currently work in local government and see first-hand the issues faced by people, the way politicians handle situations and the press coverage that can make or break policies. 

I have never blatantly characterised a real person in my writing, but my current trilogy, the life of Bernice O’Hanlon, is loosely based on my friend who is a High Priestess, Wiccan witch. The plot is based on some true events, some are total fiction. That is the power of the pen. I wouldn’t want to expose someone or hurt anyone’s feelings so my characters are all patchwork.

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**The Ice Swimmer Blog Tour** #giveaway

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The Oslo Detectives are back in another slice of gripping, dark Nordic Noir…

When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort.

Dark, complex and nail-bitingly tense, ‘The Ice Swimmer‘ is the latest and most unforgettable instalment in the critically acclaimed Oslo Detective series, by Kjell Ola Dahl, the godfather of Nordic Noir.

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To celebrate the publication of ‘The Ice Swimmer‘ I’m delighted to be able to offer two sets of ‘Faithless‘ and ‘The Ice Swimmer‘ by Kjell Ola Dahl to give away thanks to Orenda Books. 

To be in with a chance of winning these brilliant books, please leave a comment to enter – preferably with a swimming-related story or memory. This competition is open until Sunday, 22nd April, 2018 at midday.

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**Friends and Traitors Blog Tour** Getting to Know John Lawton.

Today it’s my pleasure to welcome John Lawton to the blog. His latest novel ‘Friends and Traitors‘ is available now. 

Many thanks to John for taking the time to answer my questions today.

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
I really don’t know. I’ve written most of my life. Certainly since 1957 when I first encountered Shakespeare’s history plays. And in the years that followed, since you can’t imitate Shakespeare’s dialogue unless you’re Tom Stoppard (and whoever watched or read him for his plots?), I came under the influence of writers who were writing stunning dialogue. My first sight of a Pinter play about three years later is still vivid.

Peter Cook’s EL Wisty monologues were compulsive and when the Dagenham Dialogues with Dudley Moore came along … well, I think I learnt as much from them as I did from Pinter. The really odd thing is the switch from writing drama to writing novels, which happened about 1983 … cause? … failure. Wasn’t getting anywhere as a playwright. That said, much of what I write, certainly in earlier drafts, strikes me as reading like a two-hander play. That’s how most of my books begin  … two voices talking in my head.

A taste for dialogue, a course in Russian at University, reading Gorky Park, watching Ian McEwan’s The Imitation Game (not the recent film of the same name) all fuelled the plot line that became my first Troy novel.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Dunno where they come from, but I know where they arrive. Usually in trains, and almost as often out walking. I do a lot of walking.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I think my favourite scene might be towards the end of A Little White Death, when Tara Ffitch takes about a page to slam the morality that put her in court. I stand by every word of that. And I’m quite partial to the scene in Friends and Traitors when Guy Burgess rattles off the list of things he misses in his Russian exile. My favourite characters would be among the minor figures … Fish Wally in two or three novels, and Swift Eddie in most of them — a part I wrote hoping Warren Clarke would play him one day.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not sure I quite understand the question, but I usually have a plot fully worked out in my head before I write a word. Only book I’ve ever plotted on paper was Black Out.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes. But not books by anyone doing what I’m doing.

I spent last autumn on a Mick Herron binge, and I think I’ve just begun a Timothy Hallinan binge. Neither of them write historicals.

I keep picking up and putting down Illusions Perdues. I think I might have to wait for a new, better translation, but if that theory works why do I have six different translations of Ovid?

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
“Write a book a year and take control of your life” – Gore Vidal. Somewhere I still have the letter.

I’ve never been able to do that of course. Come to think of it, I turned down a book-a-year offer from Penguin ages ago. I’m a fan of Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series which appears very regularly and I don’t know how he does it. My ‘mentor’ Ariana Franklin got up to a book a year in her seventies, but I honestly think it was exhausting for her. With hindsight I wish she’d slowed down. So good advice as yet unheeded.

What can readers expect from your books?
Writer vanity prompts me to say that I hope I can shatter expectations with the odd surprise, but a running character creates expectations otherwise she/he would be rather inconsistent. So expect politics, romance, a touch of mayhem. Do not expect a who-dunnit, as my books can bang on for another fifty pages after the who of dunnit is obvious. I cannot change Troy’s character, he will change only as the time-setting of the novels change (and I’ve never liked the idea of fiction existing outside of time …  Troy ages and hence changes) but I quite deliberately move the locations around. Black Out is set entirely in London, with Old Flames I went rural and in Friends & Traitors has a lengthy continental journey before settling back in London.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yep. Abandon all social media. Leave it to Trump, he’s welcome to it. I am looking forward to his ‘Twitts from Prison’. Shut down your twitt and bookface accounts, resign from your readers & writers group, bin your iphone, stop talking about writing and write.

If anyone asks why they haven’t seen much of you lately tell them you’ve been studying for the civil service entry exam and are hoping for a job with the ministry of [fill in blank as appropriate]. My usual choice is the ‘White Fish Authority.’ Such a wonderful name for a government ministry, alas it shut up shop in 1981. I wonder if there was ever a ‘Chips and Mushy Peas Marketing Board’?

What do you like and dislike about writing?
Like … the doing of it. One of the best narcotics around and it’s free.

Dislike … promoting a book. Best regarded as a necessary evil. I hate being photographed. (Sorry, Ali Karim.)

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yep. Third book in the Wilderness trilogy. And another game of with Zoë Sharp. All done by email as we live in different countries.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Dunno. I live by writing, which I consider most fortunate, but to say my moment was the first time I received a fat cheque would be both crass and untrue. I’m not interested in prizes, the gongs and daggers, and winning one didn’t engage with me much. I think it has to be ‘finishing-summat-that-had-me really-foxed’  … which has happened from time to time, but I’m not saying which book or books it was.

Getting to Know You: Charlie Laidlaw.

Today it’s my pleasure to host writer Charlie Laidlaw on the blog. My thanks to Charlie for sharing his time and experiences with us. 

Vic x

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Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
My first book, The Herbal Detective (Ringwood Publishing) was inspired by the seventeenth century witch craze. Back then, it was a crime not to believe in witchcraft. What, I thought, would happen now if someone still did believe in witchcraft? That said, to make this improbable tale work, it had to be a bit of a Benny Hill romp. It’s a fun book.

My second, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead (Accent Press), while a gentle comedy, is darker. It’s really a reworking of The Wizard of Oz – young woman gets knocked on the head, remembers her life in flashback, and emerges from the experience as a different person. It’s a book about the power of memory and how, if we remember things in a different way, we can be changed by that experience.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Good question because I have no idea. The basic inspiration for my second book came on a train from Edinburgh to London, which was apt as Edinburgh is the only city in the world to have named its main railway station after a book. When I got home, I wrote the first and last chapters. The first has changed beyond all recognition, but the last chapter is pretty much the same.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Not really, no. I tend to be something of a perfectionist and am constantly editing and rewriting. I hope that, for the reader, it comes across as effortless. From my perspective, everything is hard work – so I tend to like most of the stuff that eventually makes it into the final cut!

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Not entirely sure what you mean. But I think that good books need good characters, a good plot, and good narrative and dialogue. Those are at least some of the basics. However, as I’ve mentioned the word “plot” I suppose I’m a plotter.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I’m always reading because I take inspiration from other writers, and the world and the characters they create. You can’t write if you don’t read.  Simples.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
I can’t remember who gave me this advice but, like most advice, it’s both blindingly obvious and wise. Simply: you can’t edit a blank page. In other words, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing gibberish. You can go back to it later and turn it into English. The important thing is to keep writing.

What can readers expect from your books?
I hope, to be entertained. But also, maybe, to be taken on a slightly mad thought-provoking journey. I like books that are not too deep, entertain me, and make me smile. I hope that’s what mine do.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing and don’t give up. I honestly believe that some of the best books ever written will be mouldering at the bottom of landfill because their authors received one too many rejection. If you genuinely think that what you’ve written has merit, stick with it.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I like the way that one idea can lead onto another and then another. I dislike it when those ideas turn out to be bad ideas, and I’ve wasted days or weeks of my life. I try now to plan well ahead, with an ending in sight.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
It’s complete and provisionally entitled The Space Between Time. While (again) a gentle comedy, it’s also about mental illness and how we can grow up with false impressions of the people closest to us. It was a difficult book to write, because it has to balance lighter elements with tragedy and poignancy.  It will be published late this year or early in 2019.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’d like to say, putting in the final full stop. But that just provokes me to go back into the manuscript and edit, edit, edit. So, perhaps the best moment is when your editor and proofreader tell you that no further changes can be made!