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Getting to Know You: Mac Logan

Earlier this year, when reading at Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh, I was introduced to a certain Mr Mac Logan who was also there to read from his novel ‘Angels Cut‘. He’s on the blog today to talk writing with us.

My thanks to Mac for taking the time to chat to us – I look forward to welcoming him at Noir at the Bar Newcastle sometime!

Vic x


Tell us about your books.
In addition to my poetry, I’m writing two fiction series and business non-fiction:

  • The Angels Share series: Angels’ CutDark ArtDevils Due and more to come, see my website for more info on upcoming releases. 

My inspiration comes from personal experience of corruption and greed in both the public and private sectors. Sad to say, this has impacted on my life. However, vengeance in the real world is not acceptable and I wouldn’t wish to harm anyone for real.

In spite of past experience, crime fiction provides a means of pursuing nasty people with satisfying and inventive robustness. My thrillers offer a sense of recourse against the corrupt people and cadres who screw us, steal our money and, what’s more, they provide an insight into what might well be going on.

  •  The Reborn Tree series: I’m currently writing Protector and there are more in the series to come.

My inspiration comes from the time of the five good emperors of Rome. This work is a history-based fantasy.

In the north of Britain the tribes of what is now Scotland (and Irish their cousins) stood against Roman expansionism. The Pictish/Celts faced a massive challenge to their survival as a culture protecting a way of life and their spiritual values and beliefs. Imagine lethal confrontations with the materialistic greed of Rome as well as unexpected friends… and enemies. 

  • Business Non-fiction: I am working on a series of simple explanatory books on topics around the human aspects of work. There are two titles so far on Time and Mentoring (co-written a specialist from St Andrews University). 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Experience, reading and emotional connections. When I watch grown people weep in anguish over cruel circumstances, or hear dishonesty splatter from the mouths of politicians, I am affected. Similarly, when I play with my grandchildren and we laugh, do exciting things and make a noise, I am affected. Such feelings energise me. 

I believe powerful emotions – good and bad – generate ideas. These in turn stimulate my muse and, via the predispositions of my personality, create a tangible output. 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
The adventure in Dark Art, where Eilidh, is coming to terms with the harsh, deadly world in which she finds herself springs to mind. She starts off dependent yet, like a child, she develops skills and insights essential to her survival. She builds relationships and earns respect on her journey. There is humour and the inevitable mistakes and risks she must navigate to survive. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Write every day. It’s pretty common advice, but practise is key. To that I’d add get it read. My editor is a solid, constructive and fearless critic. She tells me good things and bad with clarity.

What can readers expect from your books?
Pace. Action. Violence. Realism. Humanity. Love. Flaws. Hatred. Greed. People worth caring for. Evil villains that’ll make skin your crawl.


Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write. Be yourself. Take criticism on the chin and, soon as you can, learn from it. However: remember that not all criticism is correct.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I can’t think of much I dislike except my own procrastination. I love writing and sharing my work. I enjoy readings.
I’ve done a couple of “shows” where I’ve had an audience there to meet me alone, and talk, read from my books and poetry and generally have fun. It’s nourishing.
A biggie is when my granddaughter climbs on my knee and says “Grandpa, tell me a story with your heart.” Making stories up, on request, for young children is an unique compliment.


Are you writing anything at the moment?
Devils Due (Angels’ Share series) is underway and the pressure is mounting for me to finish it. My editor is booked for Protector (Reborn Tree series). She’s expecting it for the end of this month, OMG.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
A business man I know bought 25 copies of Angels’ Cut as Christmas presents. He loves my writing. When he asked me to sign them it felt fantastic.

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*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Review: ‘Reality Rehab’ by Lisa Mary London. 


Gloria Grayson’s life is on the rocks – sacked from her starring role in a top soap, divorced from her bad boy husband and obese from eating her feelings, Gloria finds herself the subject of a cruel tabloid article accompanied by unflattering paparazzi snaps. All seems pretty bleak until Gloria’s agent steps in and encourages her – and her fat and feisty dog – to appear on TV show Reality Rehab.

Locked up with the usual shower of Z-list celebrities and an odd American psychotherapist, Gloria is put on a starvation diet while cameras track her every move. However, just when GG thinks it can’t get any worse, there’s a shock new arrival into the house: her alcoholic ex-husband ‘Mad Tommy Mack’.

Reality Rehab‘ features all the tropes of reality TV – ‘showmances’, back biting and drama. Written by former reality TV producer, Lisa Mary London, it’s clear to see London really has written what she knows! The story combines elements of lots of reality shows including ‘Big Brother’, ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘TOWIE’, as well as seeking inspiration from spin-off shows like ‘Katie & Peter: The Next Chapter’.

There are plenty of shocks and surprise twists in this story and the cliffhangers in the novel mirror the format of many reality shows.

The characters, although fictional, seem very familiar and that made ‘Reality Rehab‘ easy and enjoyable to read. I could easily picture the characters and, although I sometimes felt guilty for laughing at them, they were fun to spend time with. ‘Reality Rehab’ is a fun, frothy frolic that, much like Gloria’s diet, leaves you on a sugar high!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Sara Sheridan

When I read at Noir at the Bar Edinburgh earlier this year, Sara Sheridan was also on the bill. Reading from her first ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mystery’, ‘Brighton Belle‘, Sara had the audience in the palm of her hand.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ have been optioned for TV and Sara has been named as one of Scotland’s 365 most influential women, past and present, by the Saltire Society.

My thanks to Sara for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to chat with us today. 

Vic x

Hi Sara, tell us about your books.
Oh God. Where to start? I write the ‘Mirabelle Bevan Mysteries’ – there are six of them now and they are set in the 1950s on the south coast (except for number four when Mirabelle ends up in Paris.) I also write historical epics – my latest On Starlit Seas was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Award.

What inspired them? 
My dad was hugely influential. He was brought up in London and Brighton in the 1950s and the series started when I wrote a short story for his birthday, which then turned into the beginning of Brighton Belle, the first in the series. I love the 1950s – I’m drawn to everything about it. The music. The artefacts. The end of the British empire. It’s fascinating politically and culturally and the stories in the series reflect real-life issues of the day. I’m as interested in social history as I am in crime.

Where do you get your ideas from? 
I am a magpie and ideas could come from anywhere. I mean anywhere. A charity shop find. Something I have seen. A conversation I have overheard. An article on a particular subject. A real-life crime case. There is a fascination in how things come together – I’ll come up with a particular issue out of the blue, write it in and before I know it, suddenly everything coalesces around that. It’s extraordinary.

 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
I like Delia who is chapter nine of Brighton Belle – an upmarket hooker on a mission. I’ll say no more. I also enjoyed writing the scene where Mirabelle, my main character, gets assaulted by a psychotic Masonic Scotsman in England Expects (Mirabelle number 3). There is, I realise, as I write this answer, something very wrong with me.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Dinnae Fash. Which is Scots for don’t fuss. It’s so easy to get caught up in a drama over writing but it doesn’t help. Roll up your sleeves and get on with it.

What can readers expect from your books?
Miss Marple with an edge. That’s not me – that was an early review. But it was RIGHT.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Get it down on the page. That’s it. Once you have a draft, then you can work on it, but at the start, just get it down. Also read. Always. Loads. Especially anything in the genre you want to write in.

What do you like and dislike about writing? 
I like doing it. I like editing it. I like reading it. I like talking about it. But there is some pressure involved – and I’m not so keen on that. I’m shy, I suppose.

Are you writing anything at the moment? 
Lord. Always. Currently writing the 8th Mirabelle Bevan mystery. But I am about to leave that aside for another project that’s coming up. I also write historical epics. My schedule is pretty full for the next year or so.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Seeing a woman reading my book on a train once. That was a thrill. I spent ages figuring out which bit she was at. If you’re the woman who got freaked out cos of the weird girl staring at you, I apologise. At least now you know why.

Review: ‘The Last Plantagenet?’ by Jennifer C Wilson

 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ begins with a reenactment at Nottingham Castle in 2011. Kate is enjoying the jousting when she is mysteriously transported to 1485 just prior to the Battle of Bosworth.

She quickly catches the eye of a certain Richard III so she not only has to traverse the intricacies of romance in the 15th Century but Kate must navigate this unexpected adventure without giving her peers reason to suspect her of witchcraft. 

The Last Plantagenet?‘ is an interesting take on the time-slip genre merged with historical fiction and romance. Combined with Jennifer C Wilson’s intricate historical knowledge and her passion for Richard III, ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fascinating romp in many senses of the word. 

The descriptions in the novella are thorough and ensure the reader can imagine a very vivid picture of the action. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ certainly gives an alternative depiction of Richard III to the one presented in popular culture, making him an unlikely sex symbol. 

Although not a history buff myself, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Jennifer C Wilson provides enough information to ensure that the story is accessible to those of us without her level of knowledge. ‘The Last Plantagenet?‘ is a fun and informative read.

Vic x

Don’t Quit the Day Job – Neil Broadfoot on Working with Words.

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 as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, Neil Broadfoot is here to talk to us about how his work life has inspired his fiction.

Earlier this year, it was confirmed in ‘The Bookseller‘ that Neil had signed a three-book deal with Constable for a new crime series set in Stirling. The first in the series, ‘No Man’s Land‘ is due out in hardback in July 2018. 

Vic x

I always wanted to be a writer. Since the day my primary school teacher passed me an empty jotter with a scalded-pink cardboard cover (which I’m sure my mum still has) it’s all I ever wanted to do. My mum was convinced I would be a doctor or a lawyer. My teachers in high school advised a career in history or IT. But, no, I knew. Writing. That was where my future lay.

It was that certainty that led me into journalism. I wanted to write, I wanted to work with words until the day came when I could do a Stephen King (my childhood literary hero), get a deal and write full-time. It hasn’t quite worked out like that – I’ve still got a day job and I write mostly at night – but you know what, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Why? Because journalism taught me how to write. And, more importantly, it kicked the ego out of me early on.

Let me explain. I get asked a lot about how I write a book. How do you start? Where do you get your ideas? How do you find time? The truth is there’s no magic formula, no muse waiting to sprinkle fairy dust on you and set you on the way. Writing is a job. OK, for me it’s a job that never feels like work, but it is a job. You have to sit down, and hammer out the words. Sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, day by day. In newspapers, there’s no time to sit and stare blankly out of the window seeking inspiration. A page lead (the main story on the page) might run to 500 words. And you need to write three of them. To a tight deadline. A splash (front page)? That’s 800-1000 words (more if it spreads over multiple pages in the paper). And you have to write it. The single best thing I got out of being a journalist (other than my wife, but that’s a different story) was the ability to see writing as a job. You have a word count and a deadline and you hit it.

But there’s more. Working in newspapers is also a masterclass in the mechanics of story telling. All stories should address six key points – who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why. In my first novel, Falling Fast, I had nothing more than the what and the where when I started. I was walking through Princes Street, saw the Scott Monument and had the idea that someone should fall from there into the crowds below (what can I say, I was having a bad day at work).

That was it. I wrote the opening chapter, sat back and thought “What next?” I didn’t have a clue, so I approached the story like a journalist: asking questions, following leads, filling in the what, when, how and who. I didn’t get to the why until about 65,000 words, and I can still remember writing the sentence that unlocked the whole story. Writing Falling Fast was a voyage of discovery, and I loved every minute. It’s why I write the way I do and hate plotting; if I’m trying to work the story out as I go then it keeps it alive and fresh for me. And hopefully that comes through in the work.

I don’t work in newspapers any more, the cuts imposed by accountants and directors who don’t understand newspapers reduced the job I loved to a simple act of reheating other people’s work and slapping it into a pre-made template on a page. But I still work with words every day in communications. And at night, when it’s just me and the keyboard and the story, I’m still there, reporting back what I’ve found for myself and the readers.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Guest Post: Paul Bassett Davies on How to be a Writer.

Regular readers of the blog will know that I recently readDead Writers in Rehab‘ by Paul Bassett Davies – and loved every second of it! 

In his own inimitable style, Paul is here today to share some “tips” on how to be a writer. 

Caution: this man writes comedy – take his advice lightly. 
If you appreciate the sentiment behind these brilliant suggestions, more writing advice will be coming soon in a series of podcasts. Details will be appearing on his blog

Vic x

How to be a Writer.
part one: Getting Started.

So, you want to be a writer? Great! Wait until you’re sober, then read the following essential guide to what you will need.

Somewhere to write.
Try to find a large, quiet space with natural light and a nice view. If you do, sell it immediately. Forget writing, and go into property. Make some real money. Otherwise, settle  for somewhere reasonably quiet, comfortable and clean. So, obviously not your place. Maybe a friend with a nice house has a spare room you can use. Which would be a mistake. Having friends is a sign you may not be a serious writer. Don’t worry, you’ll soon lose them. Meanwhile, try at least to position your desk near a window. But don’t look out of the window in the morning, or you’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon.

 

Something to write with.
Use whatever you’re comfortable with: a pencil, a typewriter, a computer, or perhaps an expensive fountain pen you bought because you were convinced it would somehow make your writing more stylish and sophisticated. And sure enough, you were wrong. But everyone has their own idiosyncrasies. Myself, I need to have seven freshly sharpened pencils beside me when I begin work each day. I don’t write in pencil – I use a computer like everyone else, but I need to have exactly seven freshly-sharpened HB pencils beside me, no more, no less. Some people might say this seems obsessive. These are undoubtedly the same people who say I’m paranoid and vindictive. But I know who they are, and where they live, and I know what their deepest fears are.

Someone to help.
It’s said that one famous author employed a butler whose job was to leave the house before the author woke up, taking all his trousers with him. This cut down the author’s scope for displacement activities like “popping out to buy some milk” for several hours. If you can’t afford a butler, throw your trousers out of the window yourself. If you haven’t got the willpower to do that, most writers find it takes very little to provoke a spouse or partner to throw all their clothes out of the house. All you have to do is say something like, “Hello darling, how was your day? I’m exhausted, because creative thinking is much harder work than your teaching job, even when I do it lying here on the couch all day.” That should do the trick. If you can’t afford a window, hide your trousers and get drunk, so you don’t remember where they are in the morning. If you can’t afford trousers, congratulations; you’re already on the way to becoming a truly committed writer.

Time.
Writing is a full time job, even when you’re not doing it. Much of your most valuable work is done when it looks as if you’re just taking a nap, or lying in a bath. But it’s important to be disciplined, otherwise those precious hours can just slip away. So, organise your day, and waste time according to a strict schedule.

Money.
All writers deserve to have an independent income. Many writers have incomes that are so fiercely independent they never see them.

Coffee.
Plenty of coffee. Especially in the morning. Personally, I like my coffee the way I like an amusing analogy I’ll be able to come up with when I’ve had some coffee.

Something to write.
This is covered in part two, How to Have an Idea, including the advanced modules: How to Have the Same Idea Again, and How to Have Someone Else’s Idea.