Tag Archives: chapters

Getting to Know You: Daniel James

Over the last couple of years, I’ve got to know Daniel James, author of ‘The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas’. I’ve been lucky enough to host him at Noir at the Bar a few times as well as being invited by Daniel to read my own work at his ‘After Dark’ event for Books on Tyne. 

Daniel will be in conversation with Jacky Collins at Waterstones, Newcastle, on Wednesday 30th January. Tickets are £3 and I’m reliably informed that there are a few left – reserve your space now!

My thanks to Daniel for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

daniel james, zurich, october 2017Tell us about your book.
The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is based on the real life story of Ezra Maas, a British artist who became famous in the late 1960s, but who turned his back on fame and created his greatest artworks from the shadows, before eventually disappearing altogether in mysterious circumstances in the early 2000s. I became interested in telling the true story of Maas’s life and presumed death, but nothing could have prepared me for the truth that the book uncovers.

It quickly occurred to me that in searching for the true story of Maas’s life, travelling around the world to the cities he lived, visiting the galleries where he created his work, and interviewing those who knew and collaborated with him, that my role as biographer was essentially a kind of literary detective. As such, I consciously decided to write these chapters of the book in the style of a detective story, a page-turning mystery thriller through a postmodern, existential lens. However, the book is also very much a biography and there are chapters dedicated to documenting Maas’s life from 1950 onwards in a more journalistic style, accompanied by reproductions of authentic archival material and correspondence, including news clippings, letters, emails, phone transcripts and more. If one half of the book is like a detective story, the other half is a biography written by an investigative journalist. There are a lot of different styles and techniques being employed throughout the text, but they come together to create a new kind of book where readers are challenged to become detectives themselves, following in the footsteps of my investigation, as I attempt to separate fact from fiction and history from myth, page by page, chapter by chapter.

What inspired it?
Ezra Maas’s incredible life story was the inspiration. In 2011, I received an anonymous phone call suggesting the true story of Maas would make an interesting biography and everything led from there. It didn’t take long for my research to reveal a number of contradictions and inconsistencies in the authorised version of Maas’s life, and naturally, the journalist in me began asking questions. The more I asked, the more secrets I uncovered, and I soon found myself being warned off the story. Of course, as soon as that happened, I knew I had found something special and there was no turning back.

Alongside that, I’ve always been interested in the relationship between truth and fiction, the self and reality, as a writer. And in many ways, Maas’s life was the perfect gateway into those subjects and themes. His life, and my interests as a writer, were perfectly aligned and the phone call that set me on the path to writing his biography couldn’t have come at a more ideal moment. I was in the right place at the right time.

I recently read an interview with a writer who described her latest work as ‘existential noir’ because of the way it used the structure of a traditional mystery story to explore unanswerable questions of being and knowing – what can we ever know with any real certainty, about ourselves or the world – and that’s very much the territory I like work in – crafting stories around questions of identity and reality that lead us down the rabbit hole, and force us to confront our deepest subconscious fears.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I’m happiest when I’m writing regularly because it feels like I’m fulfilling my potential and doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my time. Kafka supposedly said that ‘a writer who isn’t writing, is a monster courting insanity’ and I completely understand what he meant. Whenever I’m not writing, I feel like I should be, and when it’s going well, it’s like electricity flowing through me – it’s a serious high, but more than that, it also provides a deeper sense of purpose and satisfaction.

And on a lighter note, it’s great fun. Who doesn’t want to make up stories and let their imagination run free? I love the freedom that writing gives me. I can create entire worlds, people, and histories. I’ve always been a daydreamer and writing allows me to share my dreams and imaginings with others.

I don’t really dislike anything about writing itself, but like any physical or mental endeavour, there are days when it can really feel like hard work. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to listen to my body and not force myself to write when it isn’t flowing. You can still work on your book without actually writing. You can read for research, visit a location, watch a film, listen to music, take a walk. Professional athletes warm up before an event, they stretch, eat and drink the right things, and get their bodies ready to perform. Writers need to do the same with their minds. Sometimes it’s about clearing your mind to allow space for the ideas to come in, other times it’s about tuning into a certain frequency, atmosphere or mood, and channelling a particular character or scene.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I love reading. It’s one of my great pleasures in life and it’s ultimately the reason I wanted to become a writer myself. I try to get through a novel every couple of weeks if I can. The books I return to the most are detective novels – Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, James M Cain to modern greats like James Lee Burke – and also postmodern works. At university, I specialised in fiction from 1940-1990 and that’s the era I find myself returning to the most when I’m looking for something new to read. I read a lot of comic books and graphic novels too (I practically grew up on Marvel Comics in particular). I’m a fan of Science Fiction and many other genres, and I read quite a bit of non-fiction, mostly literary and cultural theory, but it depends on what I’m working on at the time. I read a lot of books on contemporary art history, biographies and journalism when I was researching Ezra Maas, and I can imagine I’ll do the same with future novels. 

Currently sitting at the top of my to be read list currently are two excellent new novels – Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash and The Study Circle by Haroun Khan. The last book I bought before those was by the late, great Mark Fisher, a cultural theorist who blogged under the name K-Punk. I highly recommend his work to anyone who has yet to come across it. Mark’s writing introduced me to the concept of Hauntology, which I touch on in my own book.

Earlier this year, I also read the Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer after being intrigued by Alex Garland’s adaptation of the first in the series, Annihilation. I’ve got a huge stack of books waiting to be read though. I love buying books and I love reading, but I do take long breaks when I’m actively writing myself, so this has resulted in an increasingly expanding To Be Read pile that I’ll probably never get through!

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Paul Auster. Raymond Chandler. Samuel Beckett. James Joyce. Thomas Pynchon. Philip Pullman. Philip K Dick. Jorge Luis Borges. Alasdair Grey. Flann O’Brien. David Lynch.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Everywhere. My life. Other people’s lives. History. Dreams. Music. Films. Ideas are all around us, all of the time. You’ve just got to open your eyes, listen and be in the right frame of mind to be inspired.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
Well, the novel is the best piece of work I’ve written so far and Ezra Maas is probably the most complex character I’ve brought to life, not just because he is a real person, but because there are so many conflicting stories about him. I’ve tried to reflect this in the book by capturing the multiple, overlapping narratives and descriptions, allowing them to coexist alongside each other so that the emphasis is on the reader of the book to play detective themselves and separate fact from fiction in Ezra’s life.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m about halfway through a second novel, which I hope to finish within the year. I actually started working on it in 2013, but Ezra Maas took over my life , so I put the other book on hold temporarily. Now that the Unauthorised Biography’ is out, I can focus on new projects, including returning to my work-in-progress second novel. Once that’s completed, I plan to work my way through the other novels I have planned, although I wouldn’t rule out one of those new ideas becoming my second novel – it just depends which idea excites me the most.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
“Write the books you want to read.” 

Philip Pullman said that to me when I met him at the Durham Book Festival in 2015. It was very reassuring advice to receive from such a master storyteller, particularly as that’s exactly what I’ve always tried to do. I’ve been writing stories since the age of four or five and have always written for myself. If the story excites and interests me, if I want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next, if I find myself disappearing into the world of the book and thinking about it every waking second, then I know I’m on the right track.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m somewhere in between. Generally speaking, I like to follow my intuition and let the story guide me, rather than plotting the entire book out in advance. I have a destination and a road map in my mind, but it has enough wide-open space to allow me to go off on unexpected adventures and detours as and when I need to. I might be the author of the book, but it’s a process of discovery for me too. An author is almost like a pioneer heading off into the wilderness. They discover the trail and share it with the readers who follow them.

Of course, The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is based on real events, so it required several years of research, travel, interviews, and quite meticulous planning. At the same time, I remember the moment when I decided to write the book very vividly and I could already see the story fully formed in my mind. It all came to me in an instant. It was a Big Bang moment. One second there was nothing and then… everything. I knew where to start, how I wanted to present the story, with letters and emails and phone transcripts, and I knew exactly how it would end. But it also surprised me on multiple occasions. It kept me guessing all the way through with its twists and turns. It genuinely had a life of its own, sometimes in quite scary ways, almost as if the story couldn’t be contained on the page and wanted to bleed out into the world. Perhaps because it’s based on a true story, it has a special kind of power that makes it dangerous. I may have written it, but I don’t think even I know the book’s true potential.

This book, more than any other idea I’ve ever had, felt like it had already been written in a strange way and I was simply receiving it, like a transmitter, from somewhere out in the ether and it was my job to put it on the page; bring it to life.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
If writing books is really what you want to do, if it’s genuinely your dream in life, then don’t ever, ever give up. Keep going, keep believing in yourself, and keep writing, no matter what. You can and will make it happen, but only if you keep believing and keep writing.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
The moment I found out the book was going to be published will always stand out in my mind. I didn’t tell anyone – not a single person – for about a week as I was worried I would jinx it somehow. It was something that I wanted so much and so badly that I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise it. About two years after that, I walked out onto the stage at the Newcastle Book Festival in front of a crowd of about 80 people, including my family and friends, and I read an extract from the book for the very first time. I was introduced on the night by Professor Brian Ward, we premiered a documentary video about Ezra Maas featuring the award-winning writer and artist Bryan Talbot, and we finished up with a Q&A where I was interviewed by Dr Claire Nally. Everything went as planned and afterwards we celebrated with cocktails created especially for the book at a late night after-party in a speakeasy-style basement bar called The Poison Cabinet in Newcastle. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night and it was definitely one of my proudest moments.

The long-awaited launch of my novel with a trio of fantastic events in the North East, featuring guest authors and speakers and more than 150 attendees in total. This included a return to Books on Tyne and a special late-night event afterwards entitled Fiction After Dark with cocktails, live music and readings by Elementary Sisterhood. And of course, there was the launch itself at the wonderful Forum Books in Corbridge. It was a really lovely evening and a special moment for me. I can’t recommend Forum Books enough and I think it’s really important to support independent bookstores and local businesses

My next event will be at Waterstones Newcastle – the biggest bookstore in the North East – on Wednesday 30 January at 7pm, so that will be another proud moment. I’ll be reading an extract from the book, answering questions from the brilliant Dr Jacky Collins, and signing copies of my novel at the end. Tickets are £3 and on sale now.

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**The Silk Road Blog Tour** #LoveBooksGroupTours @Mark_Leggatt @FledglingPress

silk-road.jpgI’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mark Leggatt’s latest release: ‘The Silk Road‘, the third book in the Connor Montrose series. I’ve known Mark for a couple of years and it’s a pleasure to have him on the blog to chat about how his day job has influenced his writing. 

Mark Leggatt was born in Lochee, Dundee and lives in Edinburgh. A former specialist in Disaster Recovery for oil companies and global banks, his career has taken him around Europe, especially Paris, where he lived for a number of years. History and modern global conspiracy lie at the heart of his work, and are the backdrop for the adventures of CIA technician Connor Montrose. Leggatt is a member of the Crime Writers Association in the UK, and the International Thriller Writers in the USA. 

Before that, though, allow me to whet your appetite with a little bit about ‘The Silk Road’:

Ex-CIA technician Connor Montrose tracks two suspected terrorists to a deserted mountain village in Tuscany, where he witnesses an attack on a US Air Force troop plane, using a ground-breaking portable Surface to Air (SAM) missile. Unaware that the CIA were also monitoring the suspects, Montrose is blamed for the attack and narrowly escapes. The CIA receive orders from Washington to shoot him on sight, and a shadowy organisation begins to track his every move.

Then a spate of terror attacks threatens the fabric of NATO and the entire Western alliance. Civilian airlines are the new target, and the overwhelming evidence points to a CIA false flag plan to bring down aircraft and blame it on Moscow-backed terrorists. Montrose’s investigations lead him to underground arms sales on The Silk Road, the secret marketplace of the internet, hidden deep in the Dark Web. Montrose must assimilate himself into the society of the European aristocracy and the ultra-rich fascists, assisted by Kirsty Rhys, to pose as a middleman for the purchase of arms on The Silk Road and find the remaining cache of missiles. Montrose uncovers the layers of duplicity between governments and arms dealers, leading first to the CIA in Rome, and eventually to the palaces of the last Russia Tsar and the new oligarchs. Montrose must discover the remaining cache of missiles before the CIA catch up with him, and before carnage is unleashed over the skies of Europe.

My thanks to Mark for taking the time to chat to us, and to the lovely Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group for allowing me to be part of the tour. 

Vic x

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I am, at heart, a very disorganised person. If I had to describe my normal thought process, it would be me on a unicycle, going down a steep hill, while juggling cats, while the cats are on fire, and heading for a fireworks factory at the bottom of the hill. Next to the orphanage.

I need order in my life, and in my previous role as a Project Manager, that’s exactly what I got. It’s a bit ironic that the kind of person, who when asked to describe his job as a Consultant Project Manager in Technology for global banks and oil companies would instantly reply “Spanner, cheese and monkey wibble”. But if I am prepared, and planned, I can answer in a much more professional manner, which prevents people screaming and running from the room.

I am not short of imagination. But I am short of organisation, and I know it. Therefore, all the planning and delivery skills I learned as a project manager, become very useful when it comes to writing a book. It’s all very well to start a story where a man is outside a bank with a gun, but if that chapters ends up with fourteen clowns from Fife naked from the waist down on the back of a lorry in New Orleans singing ‘Delilah’ then the story may have deviated slightly from what you had originally had in mind.

This is my dilemma. This is how my day job helps me to rein in the excesses of my imagination, and stick to the bloody story. It’s a man outside a bank with a gun. He doesn’t have a space hopper. He’s there to rob the bank, and not rub himself against the windows while reciting his own, dreadful haikus. 

So, I’ll never give up the day job. I’ll be a project manager to myself, or chaos will ensue. And I’ll never get any bloody books written.

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Review: ‘Cut to the Bone’ by Alex Caan

Ruby is a vlogger, the heroine of millions of teenage girls. In the world of YouTube and social media, Ruby’s profile couldn’t get much higher but now she’s missing and a video showing Ruby begging for her life is uploaded for the world to see. 

Detective Inspector Kate Riley, head of a new team of policing superstars at the Met, and Zain Harris, the face of multiracial policing, are drafted in to try to find Ruby. Has time run out? Can Kate trust Harris? And more importantly, can she trust herself? As pressure from fans and the media builds, Harris and Riley find out just how dark the web can be. 

After hearing Alex Caan talk about his characters Kate Riley and Zain Harris at Newcastle Noir, I had to read ‘Cut to the Bone‘. 

Alex Caan has written an up-to-the-minute technocentric thriller which will simultaneously terrify and excite readers. This may be a traditional crime book but I have never read anything quite so of its time. It’s clear a lot of research went into Caan’s premise. ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is an intelligent, modern crime novel that covers a number of themes that are relevant to today’s society. 

Combining short chapters with cliffhanger after cliffhanger, Caan manages to keep the reader holding their breath pretty much for the duration of the novel. The intertwining narratives work well to keep the reader engaged. 

Both Kate Riley and Zain Harris are complex characters and I can see them featuring in  book after book. Riley’s backstory, in particular, was very intriguing and original. 

If you’re looking for a fresh, fast-paced police procedural to get your teeth into, ‘Cut to the Bone‘ is for you.

Vic x

**The Gilded Shroud Blog Tour** Author Interview

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It’s my pleasure today to have Elizabeth Bailey, author of ‘The Gilded Shroud‘ on the blog.

Elizabeth Bailey says she feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. 

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

Elizabeth has kindly taken the time to answer my questions so we can get to know her, and her writing process, better. My thanks to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. If you fancy getting in touch with her, you can tweet Elizabeth

Vic x

Elizabeth Bailey (002)

Tell us about your book(s).
The Gilded Shroud
 is the genesis of Ottilia, Lady Fan, who turns by chance into sleuth extraordinaire and, incidentally, meets the love of her life in the process. It’s a murder mystery set in the late 18th Century, with a dollop of upstairs downstairs and a touch of romance too.

What inspired them?
My original idea was Ottilia as a potential heroine for the first in a series of sweeping romantic historicals which never materialised. My brother one day suggested it might make a detective story, and that set me off thinking. When I finally took the plunge, I intended at first that Ottilia, a wispy retiring sort of female as I thought, would be the brains in the background behind the apparent showy male sleuth, but the moment she set foot on the page she took centre stage and refused to be dislodged. So that was that.

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What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I love the way it surprises me with turns and twists I never expected, and I like finding creative ways to express things rather than turning to clichés. I like the process of watching it unrolling as I write what I see, like a film reel projecting onto a screen somewhere in the air around me. 

I hate what we writers call treacle books, when the words won’t flow and you just have to drag them out one by one, sticking with it as you really feel as if you are wading through a sticky sea. You learn to keep at it, and quite often find you do good work in spite of the stop/start nature of the writing. Fortunately, readers can’t usually tell if a book was treacle to write. There’s always the editing process to fix it.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I can’t not read. I started as a reader and reading feeds my imagination. My reading time is an hour or so before I go to sleep – assuming I’m not so hooked I can’t put the book down. I’m just finishing Tarquin Olivier’s book about his famous father, and I’ll be starting on Jodi Taylor’s latest St Mary’s Chronicles, to which I am addicted. My TBR pile is pretty eclectic as I read all sorts of genres, as well as biographies and books that add to my knowledge of my period and other history.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Primarily Georgette Heyer – of course. Also Daphne du Maurier, who does dark with panache and beauty; Rumer Godden, who is both lyrical and cryptic, as she doesn’t tell you everything. And Dean Koontz, who is so good at surprising twists. Finally, PG Wodehouse for humour. He has the one-liner gag down to a fine art. But I can learn from almost any writer – a turn of phrase, a twist, a different voice. It all goes into the maelstrom and comes out somewhere without my realising it.

Where do you get your ideas from?
They tend to leap out from nowhere. I might catch a rhythm, a fleeting glimpse of some image, song or dream, a snippet in a news item or programme, a phrase or word in a social media post even. The spark might not even reveal itself because the idea wafts in and before I know it the what-if game is on. I do jot ideas in notebooks. If I’m stuck for a plot, I can sift through to see if anything catches my imagination. I think most writers have more ideas than they know what to do with, or will ever write up as stories. The ones that gel will hopefully roll into fodder for readers, if the process goes well.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
My current completed book is usually my favourite. Not the one I’m writing because that’s in too much upheaval to be loved. Though I am usually falling in love with my characters in the work in progress. But the one that’s done and dusted, that’s the one I can afford to love until it gets superseded by the next. I do have a few that are perennial favourites and I am rather in love with Lord Francis Fanshawe. As for scenes, when I have occasion to re-read a book, sometimes I find one that really pleases me, and I will wonder how I managed to make it that good.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am writing another Lady Fan mystery, in between my traditional Regency romances. Mysteries take more thought, more time and energy as one must tie everything in together and half the time I don’t know what’s about to happen.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
Funnily enough, it was my mother, who is a poet rather than a novelist and my beta reader in my early days, who gave me the best piece of advice. She said one day that she thought I was ending my chapters in the wrong place by running a scene to a conclusion rather than keeping it back. She woke me up to cliffhangers.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
When I began writing I plotted extensively, but was forever having to adjust the plot as new ideas sprang up. Now I’m a total pantster. Apart from the opening springboard, I have no idea where the story is going and must trust to my inner writer. That is not to say that ideas don’t float about in my head, but when I sit down to write I never know what words are going to come out through my fingers. Still less do I know who committed the murder!

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Keep at it. We all say that. Get the words down any way you can. You can’t edit a blank page. Being a writer is all about persistence. Not just keeping going against the rejections. But keeping going when life throws brickbats at you; when you think you’ll never get to the end; when the deadline is looming and panic strikes; and when you’d honestly do anything – take out the rubbish, clean the car, walk the cat – rather than sit down and write. Successful writers work through every pit stop and drive through to the end. Every time.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Apart from my very first acceptance which sent me to the ceiling where I remained for days, I think it’s the review of The Gilded Shroud that said: “Georgette Heyer lives – and is writing mysteries as Elizabeth Bailey”. That accolade said it all for me. I grew up on Heyer and still consider her the greatest writer in the Regency genre she spawned. We all wish we could write at her level, so this was to me the best compliment ever.

 

 

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!

**The Last Day Blog Tour** Guest Post and Review

Last Day Blog Tour

I am absolutely delighted to welcome Claire Dyer to the blog today as part of her blog tour for ‘The Last Day‘. 

Claire is here to chat to us about Beginnings and Endings today which, given the subject of ‘The Last Day‘, is very apt.

Thanks to Claire, and The Dome Press, for allowing me to be a part of this tour.

Vic x 

Claire Dyer

Beginnings and endings
By Claire Dyer

Every ending starts with a beginning …

One of the creative writing classes I teach at Bracknell & Wokingham College is on beginnings and endings. We start by talking about some of the most notable beginnings from the literary canon: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier); ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens); ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,’ (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare) and we analyse what has made them memorable. It’s not an easy exercise because everyone has their own take, their own set of memories and expectations.

What’s also interesting in this section of the class is when I tell my students that most writers will not keep the original first few sentences of their novel; they will go through many iterations and, in some cases, whole opening scenes and chapters will be deleted.

We then look at endings and again, I pick a few favourites: ‘Reader, I married him,’ (Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë); ‘So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.’ (The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald), etc.

And we talk about why these endings work. Is it because they bring the story arc to a satisfactory conclusion? Or, is it because they don’t? Do they leave the reader alone with their own emotions, casting their gaze into the future lives of the books’ characters with their own take on hope, regret, sadness, joy? Or, as in the case of one of my favourite recent reads, Together, by Julie Cohen, the ending is the beginning?

Again, it’s hard to tell. Whatever the case, there is a certain alchemy at work with both beginnings and endings and I’ve learned a lot about this particular type of magic from working on poems. One brilliant piece of advice I’ve been given is to look carefully at the first and last stanzas of a poem and ask whether they are necessary. Do they serve a purpose for the poem or are they just a frame in which the poem sits? This discipline has, I hoped, helped me with the beginnings and endings of my novels.

So, we can study the theory and practise our own but, in the end, our beginnings and endings are at the mercy of our readers, all we can do is make them the best we can.

And so, I try. The first paragraph of The Last Day came very late in the writing process. The ending crept up on me and when I realised I’d got there I had to step away from the keyboard and not risk that last, lone brushstroke which may have ruined everything. Whether my own attempt at alchemy will work will, of course, be up to others, but I have loved every minute of trying.

Review: ‘The Last Day’

by Claire Dyer.

Boyd moves back into the family home with Vita, his estranged wife, to get his finances back on track. Accompanying Boyd is his beautiful, young girlfriend, Honey who is running from her past. The unlikely housemates manage to make their living arrangement work despite all the odds but memories are never far away and the ghosts of the past threaten to derail the new normal in Albert Terrace.

When I first read the premise, my interest was piqued because of the unusual situation of a man living with his estranged wife and new lover.

Claire Dyer manages to make the reader suspend their disbelief and accept this peculiar situation by creating nuanced characters that readers can empathise with. Everyone is afforded a compassion and understanding which is often lacking in fiction and in life. 

The language used in this book is beautiful and adds to the poignancy of the storyline. It’s obvious why Claire Dyer is an award-winning poet thanks to her thoughtful turn of phrase and rich descriptions. 

Long after I’d finished reading ‘The Last Day’, I found myself thinking about Vita, Boyd, Honey and Boyd’s mum. This beautifully written, observant novel will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. 

Vic x

Review: ‘I Did It for Us’ by Alison Bruce

Emily tells herself that her best friend Joanne’s new boyfriend is trouble, worrying that he will hurt Joanne – and Joanne’s children. But her friend is in love and can’t see what Emily is worried about so Emily decides to watch and wait. But Emily’s past isn’t as straight-forward as she’s led Joanne to believe – is she as good a friend as she claims to be? 

 

Although I recently read ‘Cambridge Black‘ by the same author, ‘I Did It for Us‘ is a very different novel – they’re both very good but in different ways. ‘I Did It for Us‘ is a twisty story featuring a questionable narrator. 

Throughout the novel, I was unsure who to root for and second guessed myself until the final chapters. I genuinely didn’t know who to trust – Alison Bruce has created a cast of characters so layered that any of them could genuinely be misleading the reader but at the same time may be completely innocent.

This unsettling thriller tackles a number of subjects which make ‘I Did It for Us‘ a dark, edgy read.

I whipped through ‘I Did It for Us‘ in a couple of days because I was so desperate to see what would happen. I honestly didn’t want to put this novel down. 

Vic x