Getting to Know You: Sara Sheridan

When I read at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh earlier this year, Sara Sheridan was also on the bill. Reading from her first ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mystery’, ‘Brighton Belle‘, Sara had the audience in the palm of her hand.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ have been optioned for TV and Sara has been named as one of Scotland’s 365 most influential women, past and present, by the Saltire Society.

My thanks to Sara for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to chat with us today. 

Vic x

Hi Sara, tell us about your books.
Oh God. Where to start? I write the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ – there are six of them now and they are set in the 1950s on the south coast (except for number four when Mirabelle ends up in Paris.) I also write historical epics – my latest On Starlit Seas was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Award.

What inspired them? 
My dad was hugely influential. He was brought up in London and Brighton in the 1950s and the series started when I wrote a short story for his birthday, which then turned into the beginning of Brighton Belle, the first in the series. I love the 1950s – I’m drawn to everything about it. The music. The artefacts. The end of the British empire. It’s fascinating politically and culturally and the stories in the series reflect real-life issues of the day. I’m as interested in social history as I am in crime.

Where do you get your ideas from? 
I am a magpie and ideas could come from anywhere. I mean anywhere. A charity shop find. Something I have seen. A conversation I have overheard. An article on a particular subject. A real-life crime case. There is a fascination in how things come together – I’ll come up with a particular issue out of the blue, write it in and before I know it, suddenly everything coalesces around that. It’s extraordinary.

 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I like Delia who is chapter nine of Brighton Belle – an upmarket hooker on a mission. I’ll say no more. I also enjoyed writing the scene where Mirabelle, my main character, gets assaulted by a psychotic Masonic Scotsman in England Expects (Mirabelle number 3). There is, I realise, as I write this answer, something very wrong with me.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Dinnae Fash. Which is Scots for don’t fuss. It’s so easy to get caught up in a drama over writing but it doesn’t help. Roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

What can readers expect from your books?
Miss Marple with an edge. That’s not me – that was an early review. But it was RIGHT.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Get it down on the page. That’s it. Once you have a draft, then you can work on it, but at the start, just get it down. Also read. Always. Loads. Especially anything in the genre you want to write in.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 
I like doing it. I like editing it. I like reading it. I like talking about it. But there is some pressure involved – and I’m not so keen on that. I’m shy, I suppose.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 
Lord. Always. Currently writing the 8th Mirabelle Bevan mystery. But I am about to leave that aside for another project that’s coming up. I also write historical epics. My schedule is pretty full for the next year or so.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing a woman reading my book on a train once. That was a thrill. I spent ages figuring out which bit she was at. If you’re the woman who got freaked out cos of the weird girl staring at you, I apologise. At least now you know why.

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Review: ‘The Last Plantagenet?’ by Jennifer C Wilson

 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ begins with a reenactment at Nottingham Castle in 2011. Kate is enjoying the jousting when she is mysteriously transported to 1485 just prior to the Battle of Bosworth.

She quickly catches the eye of a certain Richard III so she not only has to traverse the intricacies of romance in the 15th Century but Kate must navigate this unexpected adventure without giving her peers reason to suspect her of witchcraft. 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ is an interesting take on the time-slip genre merged with historical fiction and romance. Combined with Jennifer C Wilson’s intricate historical knowledge and her passion for Richard III, ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fascinating romp in many senses of the word. 

The descriptions in the novella are thorough and ensure the reader can imagine a very vivid picture of the action. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ certainly gives an alternative depiction of Richard III to the one presented in popular culture, making him an unlikely sex symbol. 

Although not a history buff myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Jennifer C Wilson provides enough information to ensure that the story is accessible to those of us without her level of knowledge. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fun and informative read.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job – Neil Broadfoot on Working with Words.

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’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, Neil Broadfoot is here to talk to us about how his work life has inspired his fiction.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed in ‘The Bookseller‘ that Neil had signed a three-book deal with Constable for a new crime series set in Stirling. The first in the series, ‘No Man’s Land‘ is due out in hardback in July 2018. 

Vic x

I always wanted to be a writer. Since the day my primary school teacher passed me an empty jotter with a scalded-pink cardboard cover (which I’m sure my mum still has) it’s all I ever wanted to do. My mum was convinced I would be a doctor or a lawyer. My teachers in high school advised a career in history or IT. But, no, I knew. Writing. That was where my future lay.

It was that certainty that led me into journalism. I wanted to write, I wanted to work with words until the day came when I could do a Stephen King (my childhood literary hero), get a deal and write full-time. It hasn’t quite worked out like that – I’ve still got a day job and I write mostly at night – but you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why? Because journalism taught me how to write. And, more importantly, it kicked the ego out of me early on.

Let me explain. I get asked a lot about how I write a book. How do you start? Where do you get your ideas? How do you find time? The truth is there’s no magic formula, no muse waiting to sprinkle fairy dust on you and set you on the way. Writing is a job. OK, for me it’s a job that never feels like work, but it is a job. You have to sit down, and hammer out the words. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day. In newspapers, there’s no time to sit and stare blankly out of the window seeking inspiration. A page lead (the main story on the page) might run to 500 words. And you need to write three of them. To a tight deadline. A splash (front page)? That’s 800-1000 words (more if it spreads over multiple pages in the paper). And you have to write it. The single best thing I got out of being a journalist (other than my wife, but that’s a different story) was the ability to see writing as a job. You have a word count and a deadline and you hit it.

But there’s more. Working in newspapers is also a masterclass in the mechanics of story telling. All stories should address six key points – who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. In my first novel, Falling Fast, I had nothing more than the what and the where when I started. I was walking through Princes Street, saw the Scott Monument and had the idea that someone should fall from there into the crowds below (what can I say, I was having a bad day at work).

That was it. I wrote the opening chapter, sat back and thought “What next?” I didn’t have a clue, so I approached the story like a journalist: asking questions, following leads, filling in the what, when, how and who. I didn’t get to the why until about 65,000 words, and I can still remember writing the sentence that unlocked the whole story. Writing Falling Fast was a voyage of discovery, and I loved every minute. It’s why I write the way I do and hate plotting; if I’m trying to work the story out as I go then it keeps it alive and fresh for me. And hopefully that comes through in the work.

I don’t work in newspapers any more, the cuts imposed by accountants and directors who don’t understand newspapers reduced the job I loved to a simple act of reheating other people’s work and slapping it into a pre-made template on a page. But I still work with words every day in communications. And at night, when it’s just me and the keyboard and the story, I’m still there, reporting back what I’ve found for myself and the readers.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Guest Post: Paul Bassett Davies on How to be a Writer.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I recently readDead Writers in Rehab‘ by Paul Bassett Davies – and loved every second of it! 

In his own inimitable style, Paul is here today to share some “tips” on how to be a writer. 

Caution: this man writes comedy – take his advice lightly. 
If you appreciate the sentiment behind these brilliant suggestions, more writing advice will be coming soon in a series of podcasts. Details will be appearing on his blog

Vic x

How to be a Writer.
part one: Getting Started.

So, you want to be a writer? Great! Wait until you’re sober, then read the following essential guide to what you will need.

Somewhere to write.
Try to find a large, quiet space with natural light and a nice view. If you do, sell it immediately. Forget writing, and go into property. Make some real money. Otherwise, settle  for somewhere reasonably quiet, comfortable and clean. So, obviously not your place. Maybe a friend with a nice house has a spare room you can use. Which would be a mistake. Having friends is a sign you may not be a serious writer. Don’t worry, you’ll soon lose them. Meanwhile, try at least to position your desk near a window. But don’t look out of the window in the morning, or you’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon.

 

Something to write with.
Use whatever you’re comfortable with: a pencil, a typewriter, a computer, or perhaps an expensive fountain pen you bought because you were convinced it would somehow make your writing more stylish and sophisticated. And sure enough, you were wrong. But everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. Myself, I need to have seven freshly sharpened pencils beside me when I begin work each day. I don’t write in pencil – I use a computer like everyone else, but I need to have exactly seven freshly-sharpened HB pencils beside me, no more, no less. Some people might say this seems obsessive. These are undoubtedly the same people who say I’m paranoid and vindictive. But I know who they are, and where they live, and I know what their deepest fears are.

Someone to help.
It’s said that one famous author employed a butler whose job was to leave the house before the author woke up, taking all his trousers with him. This cut down the author’s scope for displacement activities like “popping out to buy some milk” for several hours. If you can’t afford a butler, throw your trousers out of the window yourself. If you haven’t got the willpower to do that, most writers find it takes very little to provoke a spouse or partner to throw all their clothes out of the house. All you have to do is say something like, “Hello darling, how was your day? I’m exhausted, because creative thinking is much harder work than your teaching job, even when I do it lying here on the couch all day.” That should do the trick. If you can’t afford a window, hide your trousers and get drunk, so you don’t remember where they are in the morning. If you can’t afford trousers, congratulations; you’re already on the way to becoming a truly committed writer.

Time.
Writing is a full time job, even when you’re not doing it. Much of your most valuable work is done when it looks as if you’re just taking a nap, or lying in a bath. But it’s important to be disciplined, otherwise those precious hours can just slip away. So, organise your day, and waste time according to a strict schedule.

Money.
All writers deserve to have an independent income. Many writers have incomes that are so fiercely independent they never see them.

Coffee.
Plenty of coffee. Especially in the morning. Personally, I like my coffee the way I like an amusing analogy I’ll be able to come up with when I’ve had some coffee.

Something to write.
This is covered in part two, How to Have an Idea, including the advanced modules: How to Have the Same Idea Again, and How to Have Someone Else’s Idea.

*Fox Hunter Blog Tour* Guest Post: Zoë Sharp on Keeping a Series Fresh.

2017 Book Tour Blog.pdfWhen I first joined Twitter in 2011, one of the first people I interacted with was Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox crime thriller series.

Since then, Zoë and I have met at several events – including her reading at a few of the Noir at the Bars I’ve presented. Zoë’s prose is like her love of fast cars and motorbikes – fast-paced – and she always gets a great reaction from the audience when she reads her work. Having been privy to an advance copy of Zoë’s latest novelFox Hunter, I can understand why. 

Zoë is a joy to be around and I’m delighted to have her on the blog today to talk about how to keep a series fresh – and she would know having written twelve novels in the Charlie Fox series.

When she’s not chipping away at the word-face of another book, Zoë can usually be found international pet-sitting or renovating houses so I’m very humbled that she found time to write this brilliant post.

Vic x

Photo by Nick Lockett

KEEPING A SERIES FRESH
By Zoë Sharp

One of the hardest things when you write a long-running series is keeping it fresh. Not only for the reader, but for the author as well. I think that’s one of the reasons I never really gave Charlie Fox a regular job in law enforcement. So, she doesn’t get summoned from her bed to go and inspect the body at the latest crime scene—in fact, she’s more likely to be asked to prevent there being a body in the first place.

This constant search for a new challenge for Charlie is why her career has evolved throughout the series, and is still doing so. When we pick her up in the early books she is a self-defence instructor, someone who’s been a victim of violent attack herself and is now determined to teach others to look after themselves.

I know some people build hugely successful series around such an amateur sleuth, but I knew from the start I was going to take her in the direction of personal protection in a more professional guise, even if she wasn’t sure.

When she agreed to go undercover into a bodyguard training school in the third book, Hard Knocks, she didn’t fully appreciate that she was going to follow that path, first working for her former army mentor, Sean Meyer, in the UK, and then moving with him when he became a partner in Parker Armstrong’s prestigious agency in New York City.

Now, as the latest book, Fox Hunter, closes, the future is looking a lot more uncertain for Charlie, and I have some choices about where she goes next. I’d already laid in some strands for her future in previous stories. If I know something like this is going to come up, I try not to make it unbelievable when it does. Inevitably, she’s met some interesting people along the way—some of whom may want to kill her, and some of whom owe her their lives. It’s not unreasonable that their paths may cross again occasionally. After all, she’s been moving in a small and exclusive world.

Charlie has changed quite a bit as a character as the series has progressed. Keeping her static and unchanging would have been difficult as she faced different challenges with every book, and her personal and emotional life swirled around her.

In particular, exploring her capacity for violence has always been fascinating for me. She’s very familiar with it in all its forms, and can be utterly ruthless when the occasion demands, but she’s not without conscience. If you threaten her—or someone she cares about, or feels responsible for—she’ll kill you without a second thought. But she’ll go a long way to avoid a confrontation if she can.

That much hasn’t changed about Charlie. Right from the first book, Killer Instinct, where she plays the clown to side-step proving her self-defence abilities to an aggressive club doorman (thereby proving them by another means) up to Fox Hunter, her twelfth outing, where she gives someone who tries to forcibly detain her two chances to step aside before she takes him apart.

Perhaps because she is ever-changing, I try hard not to repeat myself, either in storyline or action sequence, or in her interaction with the recurring characters. Madeleine Rimmington, whom Charlie dislikes on first meeting in book two, Riot Act, is slowly becoming a friend.

And as she enters the next phase of her life, Charlie may find she needs all the friends she can get…

Guest Post: Jennifer C Wilson on ‘The Last Plantagenet?’

Today, my friend Jennifer C Wilson joins us on the blog to talk about her first foray into self-publishing with her upcoming novella ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ which is available to pre-order now. 

Having the opportunity to edit this novella, I’ve had a sneak peak and I recommend that you seek it out immediately. 

Vic x

Hi Victoria, thanks for kindly asking me to visit your blog again today, for the launch of ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘, my new time-slip romance novella. As well as being my first foray into time-slip (and romance, for that matter), it’s also the first time I have self-published anything.

It’s been a nerve-racking experience, getting everything ready in time for my self-imposed publication date of 2nd October, to tie in with the birthday of my leading man, Richard III (obviously…). I’m really lucky to have had beautiful artwork, from Soqoqo Design, and of course your good self to review and edit the content, but I’ve still been having nightmarish visions of people opening the ebook on the morning, and finding blank pages, every other word missing: the usual frets!

But it’s still been fun, and definitely an experience I’m not afraid to repeat, if another idea strikes me.

The Last Plantagenet?‘ follows Kate, as she goes out for a relaxing day at a joust re-enactment at Nottingham Castle. All is well, until the rain starts. Here’s the opening scene, to whet your appetite…

2nd July 2011, Nottingham Castle

The fireplace hadn’t looked like a time-portal. Of all the things flying through Kate’s mind as she gazed around the chaos that was the medieval kitchen, that was the one that stood out.

It was meant to be just an ordinary Saturday. A blissful day, enjoying the pounding of hooves cantering around the grounds of Nottingham Castle. Kate had relaxed for once, watching a re-enactment of the Wars of the Roses, celebrating the town’s part in King Richard III’s fateful final few weeks, as he travelled to Leicester to meet Henry Tudor, and his fate at Bosworth. As an avid fan of the period, it was Kate’s perfect Saturday, watching the actors in their armour or fine costumes. She meandered between the stalls, ate her fill of food from the time, and absorbed the atmosphere, enjoying a break from the drudgery of real life. Now, full of roasted chicken and mulled wine, even in the middle of summer, Kate was casually forgetting the accounts she knew she had to settle when she returned to the office on Monday morning. So few of the re-enactments Kate had watched featured Richard III as the hero of their piece, and yet, here he was, taking centre stage, just where he belonged in Kate’s opinion. Too many documentaries, plays and other works cast him as an evil, power-grabbing, child-murdering maniac; today, he was just as she had always pictured him – a man doing his best, no worse than any other medieval monarch, who fell foul of Tudor propaganda. Kate had always supported the underdog, she thought as she wandered around the tents, and Richard was certainly that.

But then the rain started. A summer storm, Kate decided, ignoring the gathering clouds for as long as she could, but once the heavens opened, they refused to close, drenching everyone to the skin as they ran for cover. Ducking inside, Kate found herself standing in front of the former kitchen’s grand fireplace, flickering away with fake, LED flames, fake meat roasting on fake spits. A clap of thunder made Kate jump, causing her bag to slide off her shoulder and in amongst the ‘burning’ logs; she leant in to retrieve it, just at the moment the first bolt of lightning struck.

In a heartbeat, the world went black.

*

It’s been fun spending time with a version of Richard III who’s actually alive for a change, rather than a ghost. I’ll be having an online launch party on the evening of 2nd October to celebrate the release – visit my Facebook page for more details, and to get involved.

And now, it’s back to my ghosts, as I’m working on what I hope will at some point become the third Kindred Spirits novel, exploring the ghostly community of Westminster Abbey. With over three thousand people buried or commemorated in there, there’s a pretty large cast of characters to choose from!

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consulting since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, with Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile following in June 2017. She can be found online at her website, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s website. Her time-slip historical romance, The Last Plantagenet? is available for pre-order, and on sale from 2nd October 2017.

*Chasing the Traveller Cover Reveal*

‘I’ve fled from my husband and the only life I’ve ever known. I’m terrified that if he finds me, I’ll never find myself.’

Kat is trapped in a world where she has never belonged. As a traveller, she has always felt lost, especially since the death of her parents in a fire when she was fourteen years old. Having been taken on by the Denton family as their own, Kat falls in love with their son, tearaway Jimmy. His charm soon wears off and Kat finds herself married to a controlling and violent thug.

Sixteen years later, Kat decides enough is enough and begins plotting her escape from a lifetime of abuse.

Stripped of her personality, Kat has no idea how to start again but she finds an unlikely ally in her sister-in-law Ellie who shows Kat that she is not alone.

Kat and Ellie Denton begin their venture into a new world, where they meet new people and build new lives. But Kat still wants to know more about her parents’ past and when she seeks the location of an address on the back of a family photograph, Kat begins to uncover more than she expected including a revelation that will lead Kat back to the traveller site she had been so desperate to escape from.

Will she find the answers she is looking for, or will she fall prey to the violent Jimmy Denton once more?

*

Chasing the Traveller is due to be released on 25th November, 2017 and is available for pre-order now. 

Alex Kane has been kind enough to share the fantastic cover with us, and a small sample to whet our appetites.

I’ve had the privilege of reading this story and it’s an engaging portrayal of a woman’s desperation to free herself from domestic abuse and find her own way in the world. A full review will be posted here on 26th November. 

Now, here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for – the sneak peak: 

*

He grabbed my face, digging his filthy nails into my cheeks. I wrapped my hands around his wrist, willing myself to push him away.

“Let me go!” I screamed but he only tightened his grip. I glanced back up at the sky but no longer could I see that single star; the clouds were no longer lined with a white shimmer. I was alone, as always, fighting the demons I could never defeat.

I heard the familiar sounds of the Allen key opening the entrance to hell. The belly box, which matched the width and breadth of the wagon, was cold at this time of year. I was thrown to the ground because he needed two hands to open the entry. It was my chance to escape but I had nowhere to run to. Fear rooted me to the ground which I wanted to open up and swallow me. Hell itself would be better than what was ahead of me. Another set of hands held on to my shoulders and my heart sunk. Two against one just was not fair.

*

Alex Kane is from Glasgow and writes psychological thrillers. Her newest novel, set to be released late 2017 is set in several towns and villages in and around Glasgow, an area which she is familiar with. Alex loves to read whenever she can, favouring psychological thrillers and crime. She loves something that will get under her skin and make her think about the story long after she has finished it.

Her inspirations are BA Paris, Lisa Hall and Paula Hawkins. Alex is currently working on her new novel. You can follow Alex on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t forget to check back on 26th November for my review of ‘Chasing the Traveller‘. 

Vic x