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**Sky’s the Limit Blog Tour**

Sky's the Limit Blog Tour Poster

Looking for a feel-good summer read this weekend? Check out ‘Sky’s the Limit‘ by Janie Millman. 

I’m delighted to be taking part in Janie’s blog tour today. She’s kindly agreed to answer my questions so that we can get to know her better. My thanks to Janie and Dome Press for allowing me to be involved. 

Vic x

Janie Millman Headshot

Tell us about your books, what inspired them?
We went on holiday to Marrakech and fell in love with the place. We met some amazing characters, stayed in a fabulously quirky riad with a beautiful but eccentric owner and gradually the germ of Sky’s the Limit was born.

I live in South West France in a town called Castillon La Bataille.  We are in the middle of one of the most famous wine regions of the world, so I guess it was only a matter of time before I incorporated that into a book too.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Locations inspire me. I love discovering new places and meeting new people. I guess subconsciously I am always thinking about stories and characters. They just seem to pop into my head – I’ve always had a very vivid imagination – sometimes too vivid for my own good!

I am also co-owner of Chez Castillon – we host writing & painting courses and retreats and when we are not hosting those we take in wedding guests from a nearby chateau – I have enough ammunition from the characters that pass through our door for the next ten novels!

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I don’t really have a favourite character – I really love Elf in Sky’s the Limit and I loved George and Drew – aka Miss Honey Berry – in my first novel Life’s A Drag.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
If by ‘pantster’ you mean flying by the seat of my pants then a bit of both really. 

I do have a rough idea of the plot. I like to know where the story is going, but I also like to be flexible – I like it when things suddenly happen – when new characters suddenly emerge and take me in a different direction.

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
Yes, I can read when I am writing but I usually choose something that is a million miles away from what I am working on – unless of course I am reading for research.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is: ‘you cannot edit a blank page.’ I cannot actually remember for certain who told me that, but I think it may have been the lovely author Jane Wenham-Jones.

What can readers expect from your books?
They can certainly expect the unexpected! 

I hope that readers will love my characters, and I hope they find themselves experiencing new locations, new sounds, smells and tastes.  

I hope they lose themselves in the plot, and I very much hope that they don’t want the book to end and that the stories and cast stay with them for a long while.

I want them to laugh and cry and I want them to think.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Just Write. Get words on the page – don’t be frightened – you need to enjoy the whole experience.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love it when the story starts to come together; I love it when the unexpected happens; I also love it when the characters misbehave  – although not too much!

I don’t like the solitude, the doubts that creep in and the frustration when the words don’t flow and the characters appear one-dimensional. But that passes…. usually!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes I have just finished my third book – well the first draft, so we are still some way from the finishing line. It is another dual location novel, set in Cambridge and Crete.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
When I wrote The End to my fist novel Life’s A Drag. I finished it in Bordeaux station when on our way to Arcachon for a few days holiday.

I remember crying because it was the first book I had ever written and I hadn’t really known if I could do it. My husband bought champagne and I spent the holiday dreaming of bestsellers and films… though, that was before the reality set in!

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Sky’s the Limit:
Review.

Sky is devastated when she finds that her husband is in love with her oldest friend Nick. Believing she has lost the two most important people in her life, she travels to Marrakesh on her own. During the trip, Sky meets up with Gail who’s on a mission to track down the father of her child. 

Sky’s the Limit is a great summer read. It takes readers to Morocco and France with an interesting cast of characters who jump off the page. Throughout the story, the vivid characters experience joys they didn’t expect to find which makes this a heart-warming read. 

The description of the places is evocative and atmospheric, and the Moroccan heat seeps out of every line. Millman’s descriptions are rich and her attention to detail is very strong. 

Sky’s the Limit is a light read that’s perfect for the beach. Even if you don’t have a beach, read this novel and prepare to be transported. 

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Getting to Know You: Roz Watkins

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Roz Watkins to the blog today. You can follow Roz on Twitter – and I strongly recommend that you do. 

Roz’s debut novel ‘The Devil’s Dice‘ is available now and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to reading it. I was gutted to miss the launch party in London a couple of weeks ago so I’m hoping to catch up with Roz soon to celebrate her success. 

My thanks to Roz today for sharing her experiences with us. 

Vic x

Roz Watkins

Tell us about your book. What inspired it? 
The initial impetus came from my dog’s foul habits. We were walking in the woods near to my house in the Peak District when I saw him running towards me with something in his mouth. It was swinging side-to-side, and from a distance it looked like a human spine. I thought, Oh Christ, the dog’s found a body! 

When he got closer, I could see it was in fact a hare (they are surprisingly large) but it got me thinking. What would it be like to come upon a body when walking the dog? And that’s what happens in my first book. A greedy Labrador sniffs out a corpse in a cave. 

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This is the day the dog found a hare. At least it wasn’t a corpse!

Where do you get your ideas from?
I mercilessly mine my life and the lives of those around me. My partner complains that he can’t now write the book he was going to write (when he gets a spare half hour) because I’ve stolen all his best stories. This is of course not true, but I do use my life experiences. I was previously a patent attorney so I enjoyed killing one in my first book. I trained as a hypnotherapist, so in book 2, a therapist has to deal with a girl who seems to be remembering the death of her heart donor. I’m an animal trainer, so clicker-trained killer pigs may feature in book 3. Or they may not. My mum was a GP so receives calls along the lines of, If you wanted to kill someone using… She loves it. 

Do you have a favourite story/ character/ scene you’ve written?
I do love the scene where I try to kill my main character in an underground labyrinth with water rising all around her. As I edited the book, the level of torture increased with each re-write, and it was fun! 

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
A bit of a mixture. I try to plot, but then it all goes horribly wrong as I start writing. I haven’t really worked out a system and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier! I write in a tiny room that’s impossible to keep tidy, surrounded by piles of paper and post-it notes and stray animals. But I fantasise about owning a huge loft apartment with acres of space where my mind would magically be clear and organised… 

Can you read when you’re working on a piece of writing?
I always read. At the moment I’m feeling guilty about all the authors who’ve said nice things about my book and whose books I haven’t yet read, because my TBR pile has become so huge! So I’m concentrating on reading proofs at the moment. Sometimes the style of a particular writer seeps into my writing, but not in a way which causes a problem. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who was it from?
That’s a toughie. I was struck by someone (it may have been Matt Bird) talking about how at the start of a book, we don’t care much about the characters so we’re not really bothered if they’re in jeopardy. You can dangle them off a cliff or throw them under a train and the reader doesn’t necessarily care very much. But we’re wired to want answers to questions, no matter how banal. On my local radio station, they have this thing where they say something like, 35% of men admit to doing this. And you have to carry on listening to find out what it is. Even though it’s a matter of total irrelevance to your life.  You have to listen. Do they not change their underpants every day? Do they pluck their ear hair? WHAT IS IT? I learnt a lot from that. Pose questions on page 1. 

What can readers expect from your books?
Hopefully a detective they can relate to because she’s a normal woman who worries about normal stuff and is a little bit fat and possibly has cat hair on her clothes. A few possibly supernatural goings-on and a touch of classic whodunit, plus a little bit of sardonic humour (I’m told!) 

THE DEVILS DICE

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write about what makes you angry or emotional, because it keeps you going when things get tough.  And treat writing a publishable novel as a learnable skill, rather than something you should just be able to do. I started off writing absolute junk, but I devoured books on writing craft and sought feedback all over the place. 

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I find the first draft feels a bit like pulling teeth, although I do love coming up with the ideas. I enjoyed the first draft of my first book (done without a deadline!) but now I get obsessed with word-counts and how behind I am! I like editing. 

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on book 3 (and behind where I should be…) A woman goes missing from an abattoir, and all the evidence points to her having been killed and fed to pigs. 

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve been so lucky there have been many over the last couple of years, but I’m going to choose standing in a piazza in Venice and receiving a call from my agent about a life-changing offer from a German publisher. 

 

**Twin Truths Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review.

Twin Truths Blog Tour Poster

Regular readers of the blog will know that Shelan Rodgers’s ‘Yellow Room’ was one of my favourite books of 2017 so I jumped at the chance to read her new novel ‘Twin Truths‘. 

I’m also thrilled to have Shelan with us on the blog to talk about how she creates a story that lingers with the reader long after they’ve finished reading it. My thanks to Shelan and Dome Press for having me on this blog tour. 

Shelan Rodger Headshot 2

Creating a story that stays with people
By Shelan Rodger

The idea for this blog piece came from Victoria and I loved it immediately. Creating a story (or a painting or a piece of music or a film) that stays with people is something I believe is at the heart of artistic aspiration. If a piece of art lingers and plays in our minds, it means that we have truly connected with it; like a pebble dropped into a pond, it sends ripples into our lives.

If I think of books that have stayed with me – books like Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, or Ruth Ozeki’s Tale for the Time Being – they all share certain characteristics associated with ambivalence and pushing the boundaries. If ‘creating a story that stays people’ were a recipe, I think I would identify six possible ingredients:

  1. Ambiguous characters – not just straight forward goodies or baddies, likeable or unlikeable, but complicated people with flaws that make them human. I believe that deep down there is a white swan and a black swan in us all and this multiplicity is intriguing and unpredictable, an ambiguity that makes it possible to empathise with the character on the page and enter into minds and places we might never normally go.
  2. Engaging in the character’s journey – if we connect to the characters, we feel their dilemmas and conflicts in a way that is intimate and yet safe at the same time. As we read, we slip in and out of our own experiences, relating them subconsciously to what we read – and this becomes a filter to look at our own world and ourselves in a different way, challenging what we have always taken for granted or hidden from the world or ourselves. The story, the character’s experience emanates outwards, rippling into our own life and reflections.
  3. Twists – their power to shock, to reveal, to make sense of chaos, or turn order upside down. By making us reevaluate what we thought was true, they challenge and push the boundaries.
  4. An ambivalence or openness in the ending – an ending which gives us a sense of closure and yet does not close doors completely, so that we feel satisfied and curious at the same time. There may be the hint of a future, or that things might not be as resolved as they seem and may continue to change and evolve, as life does. As a reader and a writer, I love last lines – and I think they are the most challenging thing to write of the whole book!
  5. Transformative power of the narrative – The Lovely Bones is a beautiful example of this: the almost transcendent way the author enables you to engage with an appalling subject matter (the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl); how she manages to convey the horror but also a sense of redemption, something beautiful and uplifting from the very ashes of what happened.
  6. The language itself – it is not all about plot and character, it’s also about the language, the images, the reaching for symbolism and connections. As a reader, I don’t want language that it is totally transparent; I want to be carried along by the current of the narrative, but I want to swim in it and feel its texture on my skin.

In Twin Truths, I have aspired to combine all these ingredients. Even the title is ambiguous and my hope is that you will come back full circle to it at the end of the book. Here’s to your journey and I hope it lingers with you!

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Review: ‘Twin Truths’
By Shelan Rodger.

What is the truth? And how do you recognise it when you hear it? Jenny and Pippa are twins. Like many twins they often know what the other is thinking but when Pippa disappears Jenny is left to face the world alone, while trying to find out what happened to her sister. But the truth can be a slippery thing.
In ‘Twin Truths‘, Shelan Rodger has surpassed herself with this bold, audacious novel about truth, lies and everything in between. 
Rodger transports her readers to Buenos Aires, Greece and London while exploring the nature of identity and how the stories we tell ourselves and each other influence our sense of self. 
Rodger’s prose is at times poetic but always beautiful. She doesn’t shy away from sensitive subjects and handles them with aplomb. ‘Twin Truths‘ is truly unsettling with a really shocking ending. 
Vic x

 

**Burnout Blog Tour** Author Interview.

Today, my friend Claire MacLeary is on the blog to talk about her new novel, ‘Burnout‘ which is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.

My thanks to Claire, Gordon from Grab This Book and Contraband for including me in the blog tour for ‘Burnout‘. 

Vic x

***

“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

***

Claire MacLeary

Claire, before we chat about ‘Burnout‘ can I ask you to introduce yourself for readers who have missed your previous visits to the blog?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.

Can you give us an indication as to what we can look forward to in Burnout?
The novel’s main theme is ‘white collar’ domestic abuse, a subject which, until recently, has attracted little coverage. Newspaper headlines have tended to concentrate on physical assaults, whereas controlling behaviour can take many and subtle forms, as recent legislation has acknowledged.

Burnout follows two women, both subject to abuse – in one instance sexual, in the other psychological – but readers can expect broadly the same cast of characters and the same balance of grit and humour.

With Burnout readers get an insight into how different couples in the story manage difficult relationships. Do you think this a crime novel that will cast light onto the secrets that couples keep?
I think Burnout is less about managing relationships and more a commentary on how attitudes have changed over generations. The ease of accessing contraception, the relaxation of divorce laws, the growth of the internet, have all contributed towards changing people’s attitudes to sex and marriage. In Burnout I’ve tried to highlight the chasm between two women of different generations, both in how they react to abuse and how they achieve very different outcomes.

Has the media focus on coercive control and sexual abuse in the home fed into the writing of Burnout or was the story always waiting to be told?
I started writing Burnout before the launch of Cross Purpose in February last year and delivered it to my publisher, Saraband, in August. The characters had been in my head way before that so, yes, it was a story that needed to be told. That it chimes with the Time’s Up and #Me Too movements against sexual harassment can only be positive in publicising ‘white collar’ abuse and changing attitudes to any form of abuse.

Both Burnout and Cross Purpose have harrowing and hard-hitting themes, however, there is humour running through both books too. Was that a difficult balance to achieve when you were writing?
I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. As I write, my characters take on a life of their own. Sometimes they take me places I didn’t intend to go. Too often I wake in the middle of the night with dialogue running through my head. However, I have had to consciously restrain Wilma’s wilder excesses, since she – like Maggie – will develop through the series and I don’t want her to come across simply as a figure of fun.

Away from the books, how do you spend your downtime?
What downtime? Seriously, if I’m not reading or writing, I love to travel. Over the past few years, in addition to a number of European cities, I’ve visited Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, New Zealand, Cuba, Jordan and Bhutan. My favourite holiday destination is India, where the colour and vibrancy of life never fails to stimulate.

**A Perfect Marriage Blog Tour** Extract

Today I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from ‘A Perfect Marriage‘ by Alison Booth. My thanks to Alison and Red Door Books for having me involved in the blog tour for this brilliant book.

Vic x

APM blogtour poster

 

Chapter 1

THEN

The body lay on a gurney in the middle of the room. When the coroner’s assistant uncovered the head, my heart began to knock against my ribcage and I could feel the thump-thump- thump of a migraine starting.

The assistant stood back and I stepped forward.

The body was his all right. They must have cleaned him up. I put out a hand to touch the pale forehead. It was icy cold from the refrigeration. There were ne lines around his eyes and his blond hair was tousled. He was beautiful still, in spite of what had happened to him.

I waited as the minutes passed by, almost expecting to see his chest rise and fall, almost expecting to see the eyelids utter open. I forgot about the coroner’s assistant until she gave a dis- creet cough. Turning away from the body, I nodded to her. As I walked past, she took a step towards me and lightly patted my forearm.

Outside, sadness and relief wavered through my head like paper kites tossed about in a high wind. I bought a copy of the Evening Standard from the newsvendor on the corner. On the front page there was yet another picture of that woman. Behind the piles of newspapers was a wire rack with yesterday’s headlines that I knew I’d never forget.

A blast of diesel fumes from a passing bus precipitated my migraine. I leaned against the mottled trunk of a plane tree. When the nausea came, I stood at the edge of the pavement and threw up in the gutter. No one appeared to notice, certainly no one stopped.

I carried on retching until my stomach hurt. After a while, a smartly dressed woman asked if I needed help. Her kindness made me weep, hot silent tears. ‘Is there someone I can call?’ she said, her arm around my shoulders.

I hiccoughed a couple of times and accepted the tissues she was holding out. ‘I’m ne, thanks,’ I said, after wiping my eyes. And I was. That part of my life was well and truly behind me now. I could do with a drop of water though. My mouth felt parched and I could barely swallow. But before I could get on with my life there was the coroner to deal with. She was waiting for me on the steps to the mortuary building.All I wanted was some peace for Charlie and me. But there was no guarantee that would come easily.

***

About ‘A Perfect Marriage‘: 

Sally Lachlan has a secret that has haunted her for a decade, although perhaps it is time to let it go. A chance meeting with the charismatic geneticist, Anthony Blake, reawakens her desire for love and at the same time, her daughter, Charlie, shows signs of wishing to know more about her father. Both the past and the future are places Sally prefers not to think about.

But if she wants to move towards a new love, she will first have to come to terms with her previous marriage.

Only then will she be able to be honest with Charlie. And herself.

***

Alison Booth Credit StudioVogue, Canberra, Australia

 

About the author:

Alison Booth was born in Born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney, She worked for many years in the UK. Alison is a published novelist with PRH (The Jingera Trilogy). Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and was also published in French and in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky and A Distant Land.

**End Game Blog Tour** Guest Post

 

End Game blog poster 2018.jpg

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for ‘End Game‘ by Matt Johnson. Matt’s debut ‘Wicked Game‘ was nominated for the CWA John Creasy Dagger award and his Robert Finlay series is shaping up to be a favourite of readers thanks to Matt’s real-life experience feeding into his writing.

My thanks to Orenda Books and Matt for allowing me to be part of this blog tour. 

Vic x

Matt Johnson Author Picture

Matt Johnson – Ten things you didn’t know about me.

1. I play the guitar. As a teenager I played in a band that gigged in local pubs. We mainly did David Bowie covers as our lead singer looked and sounded like Bowie. Deciding that we needed a second singer, we auditioned. The only applicant didn’t play an instrument and, at the time, didn’t sing too well. We turned him down. His name – Simon Le Bon.

2. I keep bees, having become fascinated watching a bee keeper at work and deciding five years ago to have a try myself. I enjoy the hobby, even if monitoring my sugar levels means limiting my consumption of the resulting honey.

3. I scuba dive, having done the PADI courses up to advanced level some years ago. I’ve now over 100 dives under my belt including in the Red Sea and Malta, as well us home waters off Cornwall and the south coast. One of my favourite dives was Lundy Island where we swam with the seals. A wonderful experience.

4. I walk every day – in the Welsh hills with my dogs. I used to have four but sadly, two passed away during the last year. I find walking to be very relaxing as well as good exercise. Now that I’m writing, it’s also the time when I mull over and come up with ideas, so I always carry a digital recorder to help remember thoughts.

5. My mother and father were great friends with Leslie Thomas, the author of Virgin Soldiers and The Tropic of Ruislip. I used to walk to infant school with Leslie’s daughter, Lois. Again, rather sadly, with both my father and Leslie now no longer with us, I won’t get the opportunity to celebrate my being published with them.

6. I once played rugby for London Wasps. I say once, as it wasn’t a great experience. I was at school when our PE teacher – who was Wasps fly half – took a few of us young lads to help as Wasps were short. We donned the black and gold kit and turned out, only to be smashed to bits when put up against men who were much stronger and more experienced than we were. It really was a case of men against boys. The next time we were asked, not a single one of us said yes.

7. With my former wife, I used to run an animal rescue specialising in cats and dogs. We started it after I left the police and, over the years, we found new homes for many thousands of abandoned and stray animals. Spiritually, it was very rewarding work but extremely demanding.

8. As a soldier and police officer, I trained in the use of many vehicles. I completed a number of driving courses for both cars and motorcycles and, even now, my love of them continues. For pleasure, I drive an old Jaguar XKR and a ’99 Harley Davidson Fatboy. Although trained and qualified to drive fast, I have a family reputation as a bit of a slug. I tend not to rush, following the adage that nothing is so urgent as to justify an accident. I’ve seen what happens to people when they crash at speed and that tends to have a sobering effect on your own driving.

9. I’m patron to two charities, The Armed Forces Bikers and Forces OnLine. Being a patron to them is an incredible honour and I’m more than happy to do what I can to help both of these fundraising charities.

10. And probably of least interest is the fact that I collect hats. And I’m not talking just a few. It started during my Army service and continues now. I even wear some of them. I include in my collection a Foreign Legion Kepi, a WWII Tommy helmet, an Australian Akubra and a Russian Submariner officer foxfur hat. Many of the hats used to be displayed on a wall until a house move confined them to boxes where many of them sadly remain.

End Game Vis 2

Review of 2017: Jane Risdon

I’m pleased to have Jane Risdon on the blog today to review her year. I worked with Jane many years ago on a charity anthology so I am pleased to hear her wonderful news but I’ll let her tell you all about that. 

Vic x

Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
My favourite moment professionally in 2017 was getting a copy of Only One Woman and holding it for the first time. Chuffed doesn’t cut it. Five years from writing to publication, although it was finished and in with our publisher in 2014. Written with life-long friend, Christina Jones has been a blast. It was published on Amazon on the 23rd November.

And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
My birthday at The Royal Albert Hall – my youngest brother and his partner treated me to a fabulous champagne dinner there and concert. It was amazing.

Favourite book in 2017?
Vengeance
by Roger A. Price – second of his two fabulous books. He has been a guest author over on my blog.

Favourite film in 2017?
Hidden Figures
– with Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson the black female NASA mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. Stunning film in so many ways.

Favourite song of the year?
I no longer listen to contemporary music, having worked in music all my life I cannot bear to listen to it as it is thrust upon us now. Sad but true.

Any downsides for you in 2017?
Not seeing our grandchildren either in person or via Skype more than once so far. 6,000 miles away might as well be a million at times.

Are you making resolutions for 2018?
Never make any.

What are you hoping for from 2018?
Health, happiness and huge success for Only One Woman when the paperback comes out in stores 24th May 2018. Also publication of my Crime/MI5 novel Ms. Birdsong Investigates: Murder in Ampney Parva, which is in with my publisher now.