Tag Archives: characters

Getting to Know You: Caroline Roberts

Next month, I will be interviewing Stephanie Butland and Caroline Roberts at Berwick Literary Festival. Today, I’m warming up by getting to know Caroline.

Thanks to Caroline for taking the time to speak with us today. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novels.
I have 4 published novels all set in Northumberland:

The Torn Up Marriage is about love, loss, betrayal and family – a story about ‘messy’ love, and how hard relationships can be when we tear our own worlds apart.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle and The Cosy Christmas Teashop, its sequel, are romantic comedy novels set in a quirky Northumberland Castle inspired by the wonderful Chillingham Castle near to where I live. My friend ran the tea rooms there for seven years. It’s a story about striving for your dreams, finding your identity, with a host of delightful characters and of course  lots of tea, cake and romance.

My Summer of Magic Moments is a love story about rediscovering those special moments in life, especially after a gruelling time. Claire has recently finished breast cancer treatment and escapes to a cottage on the Northumberland coast. I particularly love the setting at Bamburgh which is one of my all-time favourite places. It’s a story about love, healing, and finding your way through life.

I think through all my books I’m trying to explore love in words, not just romantic, sexual love, but the love between family and friendships too.

What inspired them?
My interest in relationships sparks it all off – things I see in real life, read about in magazines or newspapers. And the settings are very much inspired by my wonderful home county of Northumberland where I have lived for fifteen years, its rolling hills, castles and stunning coastline.

Where do you get your ideas from?
My ideas come from things I have seen, read, overheard, experienced, then I let my imagination take over. A real place can start me thinking about what might happen there. I knew I wanted to set a book at the cottages I used to jog past, nestled right beside the beach between Bamburgh and Seahouses – that became My Summer of Magic Moments.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite novel is my latest, My Summer of Magic Moments. It is particularly special to me as it was informed by a wonderful lady who herself had gone through breast cancer. It also has lots of real moments included from my family and friends. This book carries a little piece of my heart, and I feel so thankful to have had it published.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was
from?
“Don’t get it right, get it written”, a friend from the Romantic Novelists’ Association told me that (I think originally it may have been from Dorothea Brande’s book). It’s so true and stops you procrastinating about getting it perfect first time, which I think can cripple many a writer. Just let the creative juices flow and get the story out. Later is the time for editing.

What can readers expect from your books?
A really good love story, with fun, family, friends and food, set against something sad such as loss, grief and betrayal – the hard stuff that affects us all at times in life, all in a beautiful Northumberland setting.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?

  • Write what you are passionate about. If you love what you write this will make the writing process so much easier, and it will come through to readers (and hopefully publishers/agents if you are looking to be published) and spark their imagination and interest too.
  • Finish the book! Don’t pressure yourself that it has to be perfect. Just keep going forward and get the story out. Make time to write regularly, and you will get there. Editing is for later.
  • Submitting – If publication is your aim, finish the book, polish up your first 3 chapters, spend time on your synopsis and cover letter, and only then start sending it out. Try and be as professional as possible. Do your research on who you are submitting to – and send exactly what they ask for. Do try and personalise your cover letter to show you have spent time finding out about them/their company.
  • Persevere – the submission process can be long and hard, and rejection is never easy. Try not to take it too personally – easier said than done, I know – but keep going and try and learn from any critical feedback you might get.
  • Link up with other writers. Look for local groups, or link with groups in your genre. The support and friendship within organisations such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association is invaluable. It was only by taking a deep breath and pitching at the RNA Conference that I got my book deal offers.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love the creative process – getting lost in my imaginary worlds where the scenes unroll and the characters seem so real. I also really like meeting and chatting with readers.
Dislikes: Deadlines, writing a novel to a short deadline set by the publisher can feel somewhat stifling. Marketing and publicity can also be challenging and time-consuming too, I really didn’t have a clue how much the author is expected to do of this themselves before I got published, though I’m much more comfortable with this side of things now.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m on the final edit stage of my next book, The Cosy Christmas Chocolate Shop,  a romantic comedy set in a fictional Northumberland harbour village that’s a mash-up of Craster with Warkworth plus a few tweaks of my own. I had great fun researching all things chocolate for this book, and was inspired and helped by two fabulous local chocolatiers.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Holding the first paperback copy of my debut novel, The Torn Up Marriage, in my hands. That was such a special feeling. I had spent over ten years trying to get my novels published and it was a real ‘I Did It!’ moment. A dream come true.

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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: ‘This Family of Things’ by Alison Jameson

Bird Keegan, a lonely farmer, and his two sisters have lived an isolated existence in the same community their whole lives but when Midge O’Connor – a young woman abused by her drunken father – appears, his world is disrupted beyond his wildest imagination. By taking in Midge, Bird is mocked by his sisters and neighbours. Despite bringing one another consolation, the pair’s relationship is thrown into doubt by the influence of others.

Alison Jameson’s prose captures the reader’s attention with this story of love and redemption. The lives of the three siblings are explored with sensitivity. The isolation and misery are represented skillfully. Jameson’s writing features some very powerful imagery as well as excellent descriptions. I could really imagine the setting thanks to the author’s florid language. The multi-layered characters are examined in a thoughtful manner.

Fans of Kate Kerrigan will like ‘This Family of Things.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Matthew Crow

Today, I’m delighted to have fellow Geordie writer, Matthew Crow, on the blog. His latest novel, ‘Another Place‘ was published by Little Brown earlier this month. Thanks to Matthew for taking the time to chat to us. 

Vic x

Tell us about your novel.
Another Place book is about a girl, Claudette, who is released back into her hometown after being hospitalised due to depression. It’s the story of her recovery and re-acquaintance with her old life, whilst an investigation into a missing schoolgirl rages on in the background, and Claudette’s slow determination to help find out what happened to her friend, despite its negative impact on her own mental health.

What inspired it?
Location, to a large degree. The title is taken from Gormley’s sculpture – Another Place – with the cast iron bodies staring out to sea, which I think is one of the greatest works of all time. I wanted to write about the sad, strange beauty of a fallen seaside town. Depression has always been an interest of mine, as it’s been something I’ve long lived with, and am fascinated by how it affects other people. In terms of literary influence, I suppose it was all those great novels that are ostensibly mysteries and yet seem to envelope and expose the communities in which they’re set – Donna Tartt’s oeuvre, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, In Cold Blood, To Kill a Mockingbird etc.

Where do you get your ideas from?
Characters. People. I could never start with an idea of a theme or a narrative. It seems too huge to me. I always start with a character and a voice and the rest sort of builds from there. So Claudette came first, then came Sarah and their mutual stories emerged later.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
In this book? Probably anything between Claudette and Donna, her best friend. There’s a scene in Young Adult, one of my favourite films, where Mavis – the Charlize Theron character – overhears two girls chatting and rushes back to ‘repurpose’ their dialogue for her own literary endeavours, as the encounter has broken her writer’s block. I totally get that. I think there is something so glorious about two girls chatting away – the wit and wisdom and potted histories and shrouded resentments etc – that to capture it accurately, even to a degree, always works well in text. I enjoyed writing those passages and I enjoy reading them back, too.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Probably from Broo, my agent, who said ‘Just fucking finish it’ or something to that degree. The world at large is not waiting for your next book. In the first instance, you’re writing only to do the best you can, so fannying on and getting hung up on the minutia is redundant. Do not talk about how hard writing is. Do not tweet your progress. Do not assume that yours is a heavy cross to bear. Nobody asked you to do this. Write because you love it, finish it quickly, and edit it slowly. Nobody can do anything with a blank page so the first hurdle is your own.

What can readers expect from your books?
Wank jokes and Geordie idioms. Strong characters with flaws. Humour. Heart. Darkness.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Stop banging on about it and get it done.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I don’t dislike anything about writing and don’t understand those that seem so constantly focused on its difficulty and awfulness. If I don’t enjoy something I stop doing it, and fortunately writing has never been anything but a pleasure to me. It’s where I’m happiest. I like the sense of control, and the sense of showmanship. As someone who never excelled at sports or anything like that, the fact that I can sit at my kitchen table and turn a tidy one-liner which can make a whole day feel like a success is a total joy and one I hope I never tire of.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
At the moment I’m editing a book that is coming out next year called Baxter’s Requiem. It’s set between Heaton, in Newcastle, Tynemouth, and France. And I’m very excited about this one.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
It’s the little things. Writing is just rearranging, really. It’s taking a ‘fact’ and titillating it into something equally true but also, hopefully, beautiful. To happen upon a sentence or a passage that hits its mark without losing anything in the process is a total thrill. Every book feels like your first, I find. So to get a passing break where you realise that you’re in charge and know your shit is priceless.

Review: ‘Cragside’ by LJ Ross.

DCI Ryan may have been expecting a sedate summer with his fiancée in the run-up to their wedding, living within the grounds of Cragside, a spectacular Northumberland mansion surrounded by forests but where would the fun be in that?

Despite his misgivings, Ryan attends the staff summer party – a Victorian murder mystery evening – but when the lights go out and an elderly staff member is found dead, Ryan and his team must undertake a new case on his own doorstep.

Taking her DCI Ryan series in a slightly different direction, LJ Ross has written ‘Cragside‘ in a similar style to crime novels of the golden age but manages not to alienate readers of her past works: no mean feat. The ensemble cast of characters reminded me of a modern-day Poirot and I think a Bavarian-style mansion is one of the few contemporary settings where readers will believe you still have a butler, chauffeur, maid and a variety of other staff. Ross also uses facts about Cragside (as with all of her previous novels, this is a real place in the North-East) to strengthen her story.

LJ Ross skillfully builds up mystery alongside police procedural as well as romance, appealing to many readers. ‘Cragside‘ can be read as part of the ongoing DCI Ryan series or as a stand-alone – you will be able to read this without reading the previous ones although I highly recommend that you read the whole series.

Vic x

Review: ‘I Know My Name’ by C.J. Cooke

A woman is washed ashore on a remote Greek island without knowing who she is or how she got there. Meanwhile in London, a mother of two is missing but her passport, mobile phone and cards are still in the house. During the investigation, police uncover lie after lie but seem no closer to working out what happened to Eloise.

I Know My Name‘ is a compelling read with a shocking ending. With interesting characters and an intriguing mystery at its heart, ‘I Know My Name‘ gripped me from the outset. C.J. Cooke has managed to create realistic, flawed characters without the reader ever losing sympathy or interest.

I love a twist and C.J. Cooke did not disappoint. A must-read.

Vic x

Review: ‘Reported Missing’ by Sarah Wray.

Reported Missing is a fantastic debut that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Sarah Wray expertly builds up tension from the very first page of this thrilling novel.

The reader can’t help but empathise with Rebecca, the wife of a man who went missing on the same day as teenager Kayleigh. Having said that, Rebecca is such a realistic character that I found myself really frustrated with her at times – the same way her friend Jeannie would be. To build nuance like this is a real skill. I really loved that Wray depicted her characters as flawed humans – rather than saints or sinners.

I would absolutely recommend this novel. I can’t wait to see what Sarah Wray writes next!

Vic x