Tag Archives: chapters

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

CL bandw.jpg

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.

the herbal detective COVER.jpg

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!

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**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

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

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 on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Getting to Know You: Ian Skewis

Today on the blog is Ian Skewis. Having met Ian at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh earlier this year, I can tell you that his writing may be dark but he is an absolute joy to be around. I’m hoping to lure Ian to Newcastle to appear at our Noir at the Bar at some point! 

In the meantime, we’ll have to content ourselves with getting to know him on the blog! Thanks for taking the time to be involved, Ian.

Vic x

Photo by Pablo Llopis

Tell us about your book.
A Murder Of Crows is a dark tale about a detective who is on his final case. He is in search of a young couple who go missing in the woods during a violent thunderstorm. As the clues unfold he discovers a serial killer who is just getting started…

What inspired it?
I found the dead body of a man hanging from a tree when I was nine years old. The story is not based on that event, but the haunting atmosphere from that day is very much prevalent throughout this book.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Most of my ideas stem from everyday situations, which I then turn on their head and transform into something darker. I talk a lot when in company but often I will simply watch and listen – to what people don’t say, which is usually far more interesting! Jack Russell, the detective in this story, turns this particular trait into an art form.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I really enjoyed writing Alice Smith’s chapters. She was the most challenging character to create because she suffers from dementia and I had to write it from her perspective. She’s one of the most popular characters in the book and was my personal favourite to write for.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
It was probably when Michael J Malone told me to accept my publishing deal. I had spent so many years procrastinating that even when a publishing deal was laid out on the table, as it were, I still couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m now very glad I did!

What can readers expect from your books?
My work is dark, haunting, almost verging on supernatural at times. There is a wry sense of humour there too. And a great deal of drama!

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
It seems obvious, but the most important thing is to just write. Don’t procrastinate like I did. Write even if it turns out to be nonsense, because you will be learning the craft whether it’s good or bad. Secondly, have courage. It’s a huge undertaking to write a novel, particularly for the first time. Lastly, an inner critic is healthy, but don’t let that voice inside you get too loud. Make sure you get good advice from professionals too. Your friends and family will love whatever you write, so always pursue a proper honest opinion from elsewhere.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love creating entire worlds. That’s a very liberating palette to work from. I dislike editing, but it is very important, and has to be done. I also dislike the lack of time I have.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Always! At the moment I’m writing the sequel to A Murder Of Crows. I am also working on two other novels and have just finished a short story for a forthcoming anthology called Borrowed.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Probably seeing my book in print, especially that moment of unboxing it and seeing it in all its glory. Having it hit the high street book shops was such a thrill too. And I enjoy public appearances. I’m appearing at Bloody Scotland next, which is the biggest event I’ve been invited to speak at so far. I’m very excited about that!

Review: ‘Block 46’ by Johana Gustawsson

The mutilated corpse of a jewellery designer is discovered in a harbour in a Swedish marina while a young boy’s body is found in London with similar wounds around the same time. Emily Roy, a Canadian profiler on loan to Scotland Yard, begins to investigate the case alongside French true crime writer Alexis Castells. As the story continues, Roy and Castells uncover evidence to suggest that there may be a link between these murders and the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

Written by Johana Gustawsson, and translated into English by Maxim Jakubowski, Block 46 is a tense thriller which unravels slowly but masterfully. The chapters are choppy and keep the plot moving along nicely. The language used throughout the book is beautiful which juxtaposes the violence of the murders well.

The plot is utterly intriguing and I can see how the partnership of Roy and Castells could be turned into a successful series – there are plenty of narrative strands that could be explored further.

When I saw Johana Gustawsson talk about Block 46 at Newcastle Noir, I saw that the subject had deeply affected her and I couldn’t wait to read this book. The fact that Gustawsson has weaved present-day narratives with an historical element makes this a really unique novel. A must-read.

Vic x

Guest Post: Anne Coates on Writing a Sequel.

Having worked with Urbane Publications, I’m happy to host one of their authors – Anne Coates – on the blog today.

Anne’s here to discuss her process for writing a sequel. Thanks to Anne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

Vic x

Anne Coates

Writing the sequel to ‘Dancers in the Wind’.
By Anne Coates

The manuscript for my second book had to be with Urbane Publications on 1 October – thirteen days before the launch of ‘Dancers in the Wind. So as I was writing guest posts for my book blog tour, I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Death’s Silent Judgement, which continues Hannah Weybridge’s story a few months after the conclusion of book one.

dancers in the wind

Dancers in the Wind was conceived and written some twenty years ago – then left for dead. Last year, I completely rewrote it and found a published who was willing to take it on as part of a trilogy. I had written three chapters of book two all those years ago but it wasn’t really much to go on. I knew who had been murdered and where but not why.

The victim had been mentioned in ‘Dancers but had been working abroad. There were characters I had grown fond of in the first book that I wanted to keep but once in a while I came up with the problem of names. I have two characters named Sam in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement – one had a small but key role in the first book, to be developed in the second. The other was the name of a friend’s son who wanted to be a character in the book. So two very different men named Sam but in life there are often people of the same name in one’s office or social circle.

An added challenge was to ensure that characters were consistent so I had my blue book with descriptions of everyone from book one, which I added to as I wrote the sequel. There is a whole set of new characters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement plus some from book one have come to the fore while others have taken a back seat. Some are gearing up to play more dominant roles in book three. I love the way characters take over, give me clues and nudge me along the way. One character, in particular, led me to a dramatic revelation which I’d had no idea of at the beginning.

One dominant factor which perforce must undergo changes, is that the Hannah of book one is fairly naive. By book two, almost everything she does is tempered by her earlier experiences, she has had to sharpen up. The events of the first book have left her feeling vulnerable and at risk. What she encounters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement does nothing to alleviate this.

Dancers in the Wind has some of the action at King’s Cross and quite by chance, ‘Death’s Silent Judgement is centred in Waterloo, another London rail terminus. I’m not sure if railway stations will be a recurring theme in later books!

As I approach book three, the reviews I’ve had for ‘Dancers in the Wind have given me more confidence. Then I think, “What if I can’t pull it off again?” But I know I’ll keep on writing…