Tag Archives: language

2018 Review: Kay Stewart

Today’s guest is my lovely friend, Kay Stewart, another member of Elementary Writers. Kay is a writer whose prose has extraordinary economy of language without losing any of its beauty or power. Kay is one of the kindest people I have ever met and it was brilliant to spend some time with her during our trip to Stephanie Butland‘s writing retreat at Garsdale Retreat

My thanks to Kay for taking the time to review her year.

Vic x

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Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2018?
I was really over the moon to be long-listed for the Writers Block North East development programme.

And how about a favourite moment from 2018 generally?
I loved the writing retreat run by Stephanie Butland at Garsdale. It made a huge difference to my writing and was a perfect few days in a whole range of ways.

Favourite book in 2018?
Educated by Tara Westover.

Favourite film in 2018?
Cohn Brothers, The Ballard of Buster Scruggs.

Favourite song of the year?
The Devil on the Wall by Miles Kennedy.

Any downsides for you in 2018?
Sad circumstances that meant I couldn’t get cracking with my writing like I wanted.

Are you making resolutions for 2019?
More writing … more putting myself out there and being tougher at handling rejections as a result.

What are you hoping for from 2019?
Finish my novel, at last 🙂

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jan Fortune

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

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jan Fortune to the blog to talk about how she managed to write a trilogy in the last four years while holding down a day job. My thanks to Jan for taking the time to share her insights with us.

Vic x

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Over the last four years I’ve been working on a trilogy of novels. A Remedy For All Things follows Catherine, who is in Hungary in 1993 to research on the poet Attila József, when she begins dreaming the life of another woman from a different time period (imprisoned after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956). Even more disturbing, she’s aware that the other woman, Selene, is dreaming her life. 

It’s a complex book that has taken a great deal of research as well as several edits, but like most contemporary writers, I don’t write full-time. How do we do it? Juggle work, homes to run and still write? And are there any benefits to writing in this way, without the luxury of all the time in the world, or at least all the time that would otherwise go into holding body and soul together?

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Many of my favourite writers combined work of all sorts with writing. William Faulkner is reputed to have written As I Lay Dying in six weeks. He claimed that while working 12 hours days as a manual labourer he wrote this phenomenal novel in his ‘spare time’. Most of us need a lot longer, but it’s certainly the case that many writers don’t only write.

Anthony Burgess taught and composed music; Joseph Conrad was a sea captain; T.S. Eliot worked in a bank and Arthur Conan Doyle was a doctor, as was the poet William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stevens turned down a Harvard professorship rather than give up his 40-year career in insurance.

Women who write may not only do the lion’s share of domestic work while writing, but also hold down demanding jobs. Agatha Christie worked as an apothecary’s assistant, a great place to learn about poisons. Toni Morrison worked as an editor and for many years Octavia Butler had to write in the early hours so that she could work low-paid jobs like telemarketing or cleaning.

If working the day job is a necessity, it can also be one with benefits. Working as an editor and publisher, I get a lot of time to see how form works, how language can constantly be honed and how handing our precious book to someone with skill and objectivity and then listening carefully can make all the difference. One of my authors recently took a PR role that is giving her masses of people-watching time, none of it wasted. Writers are people who walk about the world with all their senses open and work is an endlessly rich environment for observation of the human condition.

Of course, we still need time to find that trance state in which to write and to go into deep flow. If your day job does nothing but hollow you out, it may be time to reconsider. But if your work sustains you and leaves the time and energy to write whilst being a source of experiences and characters, then writing around the day job is an honourable tradition. 

Review: ‘Dead Man’s Prayer’ by Jackie Baldwin

Ex-priest DI Frank Farrell has returned to his roots in Dumfries, only to be landed with a disturbing murder case. Even worse, Farrell knows the victim: Father Boyd, the man who forced him out of the priesthood eighteen years earlier.

With no leads, Farrell must delve into the old priest’s past, one that is inexorably linked with his own. But his attention is diverted when a pair of twin boys go missing. The Dumfries police force recover one in an abandoned church, unharmed. But where is his brother?

As Farrell investigates the two cases, he can’t help but feel targeted. Is someone playing a sinister game, or is he seeing patterns that don’t exist? Either way, it’s a game Farrell needs to win before he loses his grip on his sanity, or someone else turns up dead.

Dead Man’s Prayer‘ is the first in the DI Frank Farrell series and it’s a corker. The idea of a man leaving his religion in order to become a detective is a highly original premise. Farrell is complex and layered, with his supporting characters fully-rounded. Farrell’s break with the church leaves him with plenty of  divided loyalties which ramps up the tension.

Baldwin’s characters in this novel have plenty of depth and enough conflicts to drive the story forward. 

The way in which Baldwin uses religious imagery and symbolism ensures that the prose is rich and vivid. Her economy of language ensures that this police procedural is fast-paced in addition to being well-plotted. 

A truly original debut. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Not Thomas’ by Sara Gethin

 

“The lady’s here. The lady with the big bag. She’s knocking on the front door. She’s knocking and knocking. I’m not opening the door. I’m not letting her in. I’m behind the black chair. I’m waiting for her to go away.”

Tomos – not Thomas – lives with his mother but he is desperate to live somewhere else, somewhere he has lived before, with people who loved him. But he’s not allowed to go back, or see those people again.

Tomos is five years old and at school, which he loves. His teacher teaches him about all sorts of things, and she listens to him. Sometimes he’s hungry and Miss gives him her extra sandwiches. She gives him a warm coat from Lost Property, too. There are things Tomos cannot talk about but, just before Easter, the things come to a head. There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair, Tomos waits. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus .

I downloaded ‘Not Thomas‘ on a whim, I think it may have been a 99p Kindle deal and I’m not sure I knew what to expect but this story knocked me off my feet. I’m not sure I’ll ever recover.

Published by Honno Press, a publishing house dedicated to Welsh women’s literature, ‘Not Thomas‘ is a compelling read that deals with child neglect and substance abuse. Sara Gethin has mastered the child’s voice and should be commended for tackling such a difficult topic so sensitively. 

Gethin has managed to capture the five year old’s voice and it remains consistent throughout the novel. Although the subject matter is distressing and disturbing on its own, the fact that it is relayed to the reader through an innocent child’s eyes makes it even more heartbreaking. 

Although there were parts of the story when I questioned whether characters would really behave in a certain way, I realised that in such dramatic and complex situations, there’s no telling how people will react. 

Throughout the story, there are hints of Welsh dialect and slang. Gethin captures the cadences of the language perfectly. With this in mind, I was slightly confused initially about who Tomos was actually missing although I did wonder whether Gethin had employed this technique on purpose. 

I cannot recommend ‘Not Thomas‘ highly enough. This book, although a tough read at times in terms of the content, was completely enthralling. I bawled my eyes out at the end of this book. One of my top books of 2018. 

Vic x

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

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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. 

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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

 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda Huber

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

Our next writer to be influenced by her day job is Linda Huber. My thanks to Linda for so willingly sharing her experiences with us. It’s so interesting to hear how everyone’s professional lives have prepared them for a life of writing. 

Vic x

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I’ve had two significant day jobs in my life, and both have hugely influenced my writing. As a starry-eyed youngster in Glasgow, I began training to become a physiotherapist, which was the best job ever for many years. I worked in hospitals at first, gaining practical knowledge of wards and intensive care units, as well as departments like X-Ray and Outpatients, and I came across a vast and colourful collection of different healthcare professionals. A few years later, I moved to Switzerland, where I worked in clinics and schools for disabled babies and children. Little did I know back then that I’d become a published writer, and put large chunks of my work experience into firstly my psychological suspense novels, and now my feel-good novellas.

Medical ‘stuff’ so often comes up in crime fiction. A murder? Enter the police doctor. A mysterious illness? Call the GP. An attack? The characters find themselves in hospital. In two of my novels – Ward Zero and Death Wish – medical staff and conditions are directly involved in the plot, and I was able to put my hospital know-how to good use.

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After over a decade of physiotherapy, I turned my attention to having babies, and took time out from the day job. It was during these years that I began writing seriously, magazine stories first, and then novels. Unfortunately, a back injury meant that physiotherapy was no longer an option when the time came to return to the working life. An English speaker in lovely Switzerland, I retrained as a language teacher – and realised how little I knew about the grammar of my native language. Speaking a language perfectly doesn’t help when you have to teach people about defining and non-defining relative clauses, or conditional structures. But when you do know all the grammar stuff that makes people’s eyes glaze over when you talk about it, it’s enormously helpful to your writing career. My proofreader complained once I didn’t leave her enough to correct. Mind you, I still make mistakes. There was once a stationary shop that should have been a stationery shop. A typo, of course…

Today, I teach one day a week, and the rest of the time is for writing. With my Lakeside Hotel novellas (written under my pen name Melinda Huber), I can use all my various work experiences. The main character Stacy is a reluctant nurse from England who ends up working in a Swiss spa, helping guests with minor illnesses and injuries, as well as coping with life in a foreign country and learning a new language. She faces the same frustration I once did at her lack of ability to communicate swiftly. In all, my books wouldn’t be what they are if I hadn’t had my day jobs. Even some of the drama I went through in my ‘third’ job – being a mother – comes in useful to Stacy, when head lice appear in the hotel!

Melinda Huber is the feel-good pen name of psychological suspense writer Linda Huber – she’s hiding in plain sight! You can find Linda on Facebook, Twitter (as Linda Huber and Melinda Huber) and on her website. Download ‘A Lake in Switzerland’ here.

 

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