Tag Archives: writes

*Chasing the Traveller Cover Reveal*

‘I’ve fled from my husband and the only life I’ve ever known. I’m terrified that if he finds me, I’ll never find myself.’

Kat is trapped in a world where she has never belonged. As a traveller, she has always felt lost, especially since the death of her parents in a fire when she was fourteen years old. Having been taken on by the Denton family as their own, Kat falls in love with their son, tearaway Jimmy. His charm soon wears off and Kat finds herself married to a controlling and violent thug.

Sixteen years later, Kat decides enough is enough and begins plotting her escape from a lifetime of abuse.

Stripped of her personality, Kat has no idea how to start again but she finds an unlikely ally in her sister-in-law Ellie who shows Kat that she is not alone.

Kat and Ellie Denton begin their venture into a new world, where they meet new people and build new lives. But Kat still wants to know more about her parents’ past and when she seeks the location of an address on the back of a family photograph, Kat begins to uncover more than she expected including a revelation that will lead Kat back to the traveller site she had been so desperate to escape from.

Will she find the answers she is looking for, or will she fall prey to the violent Jimmy Denton once more?

*

Chasing the Traveller is due to be released on 25th November, 2017 and is available for pre-order now. 

Alex Kane has been kind enough to share the fantastic cover with us, and a small sample to whet our appetites.

I’ve had the privilege of reading this story and it’s an engaging portrayal of a woman’s desperation to free herself from domestic abuse and find her own way in the world. A full review will be posted here on 26th November. 

Now, here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for – the sneak peak: 

*

He grabbed my face, digging his filthy nails into my cheeks. I wrapped my hands around his wrist, willing myself to push him away.

“Let me go!” I screamed but he only tightened his grip. I glanced back up at the sky but no longer could I see that single star; the clouds were no longer lined with a white shimmer. I was alone, as always, fighting the demons I could never defeat.

I heard the familiar sounds of the Allen key opening the entrance to hell. The belly box, which matched the width and breadth of the wagon, was cold at this time of year. I was thrown to the ground because he needed two hands to open the entry. It was my chance to escape but I had nowhere to run to. Fear rooted me to the ground which I wanted to open up and swallow me. Hell itself would be better than what was ahead of me. Another set of hands held on to my shoulders and my heart sunk. Two against one just was not fair.

*

Alex Kane is from Glasgow and writes psychological thrillers. Her newest novel, set to be released late 2017 is set in several towns and villages in and around Glasgow, an area which she is familiar with. Alex loves to read whenever she can, favouring psychological thrillers and crime. She loves something that will get under her skin and make her think about the story long after she has finished it.

Her inspirations are BA Paris, Lisa Hall and Paula Hawkins. Alex is currently working on her new novel. You can follow Alex on Twitter and Facebook.

Don’t forget to check back on 26th November for my review of ‘Chasing the Traveller‘. 

Vic x

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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

Getting to Know You: Shelley Day

I’ve been lucky enough to meet Shelley Day many times over the years at book events. I’m really chufffed to have her on the blog today to talk about her debut novel, ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘. I’m also tremendously excited to be attending her book launch in Newcastle next week. Your time has come, Shelley! 

Vic x

 

Shelley Day
I’m so excited to read another crime book set in Newcastle. Tell me about your debut novel. What inspired it?
Thanks for inviting me onto the blog Vic!

My debut novel ‘The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is Domestic Noir and is indeed set in Newcastle! Well, it’s partly set in the city – in a semi-derelict boarding house in Heaton – and partly up on the Northumberland coast, in a run-down beach hut on the dunes between Beadnell and Embleton. I grew up in the North East, and although I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and I currently spend a lot of time in Scotland and Norway, the North East is my Home with a capital H. I belong here and it always pulls me back! I guess it’s these long-standing connections to this place that kind of inspired the book.

The Confession of Stella Moon‘ is being published as a crime novel, but it’s not a police procedural, or a whodunit. It’s more of a whydunnit, an exploration into the psychology behind the crime.

My publisher came up with this amazingly macabre-sounding strap-line which does actually capture the theme of the book: “Because dark secrets don’t decompose.”

It’s a novel essentially about a family secret. A black, brooding tale of matricide set in 1960s and 70s Newcastle in a family so dysfunctional it’s sinister. After serving a prison sentence for killing her mother, young Stella Moon is discharged to restart her life. But her plans are soon ruined when she falls prey to a dark family secret that pulls her back into the past. Strange rituals, shame and paranoia haunt her, like the persisting smell of her mother’s taxidermy in the abandoned boarding house. Stella is caught in a tangled web of guilt and manipulation.

I have a background in both law and psychology, so I’ve drawn on what I know about those things to write this novel.

Stella Moon

Tell us about Stella, your main character.
The entire novel was built around the Stella character. She came to me first and essentially the novel is her story.

Stella was born at Moniack Mhor, a remote Writing Centre up beyond Inverness. I’d gone there on a week-long Arvon residential writing course after I took redundancy from work. The tutor was Patrick Gale. It was in one of the writing exercises that Stella appeared, fully formed. As soon as she was there, I felt I knew her, and I just knew she and I were going to spend a lot of time together. It was Patrick who said I should put Stella into a novel. I thought about it, but I couldn’t do it straight away ‘cause after my redundancy, money ran out, I was flat out freelancing. So it wasn’t until years later that I sat down and wrote Stella’s story.

I wrote the very scrappy first draft during NaNoWriMo 2010. Stella has been described as a ‘disturbed and disturbing’ character. People say she gets under your skin. One agent – who I didn’t go with in the end – found Stella ‘haunting, difficult to put out of her mind…’ But Stella is also haunted, by the past, by the house, by the family secret she discovers. I hope readers will be rooting for her from the start because, as a character, she’s the kind of person who deserves support. I hope people will want to find out whether she makes it! Although she’s served a prison sentence for killing her mother, there’s a whole story behind her terrible crime, and basically the whole book is trying to ferret out what’s actually going on and asking questions about where criminal responsibility lies.

What can readers expect from your book?
My novel, on the face of it, is a story about a matricide, about a young women who’s released from jail only to find herself further imprisoned, but this time by the past, by conspiracies of silence, by a grim family secret she knew nothing about.

But it also tackles bigger themes –  mothers and daughters, for example. And I’ve already mentioned criminal responsibility. Readers can also expect a strong psychological dimension – about memory, and about the effects trauma can have on what you remember and how you see things. It’s about the longer-term effects of ‘abuse’, about how family secrets can blight a life.  At another level, it’s a story about how difficult it is to put together a coherent life story … I can’t really tell you any more without introducing spoilers, so I will shut up now!

When is it out?
The novel will be officially available on 7th July. On that day it will be launched at Waterstone’s in Edinburgh, and then on the 13th at Waterstone’s in Newcastle.

Most useful piece of writing advice? Who was it from? Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I’ve gathered lots of useful pieces of writing advice along the way! I’ll see if I can remember some!

AL Kennedy once told a writing group I was in: Fear is the main thing that stands in your way. It’s only fear you have to be afraid of. Now I think that’s a very basic lesson all new writers need to learn as soon as they can. If you can learn to put that fear to one side and let yourself get on with your writing, regardless, you are more than half way there. It’s easier said than done though! But it is possible to do it, and to do it again, and again … Really, starting to write is all about giving yourself permission; permission to take time out of your life to sit down and write, permission to write something far less than perfect for the first draft, permission to soldier on despite the fear of the page, of the pen, of everything. You just have to give yourself permission, and off you go. And keep going. And just keep going.

You have to develop a thick skin, coping with rejections is not the easiest thing, but you have to get used to them, and to try and learn from them. Another friend said: the successful people are the ones who haven’t given up. I keep remembering that.

Finally, a warning. Writing is difficult. It’s difficult because it can mean you are drawing on deep-down bits of yourself that, frankly, would prefer to be left undisturbed. So writing can churn you up. There’s no way this can be avoided in creative work. But if you know in advance that you’re setting off on a bumpy road with potholes and cliff edges and the prospect of stormy weather, you can at least pack a decent raincoat.

I love that analogy! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I don’t like writing. I can’t say I like sitting down and writing. There are a million things I would rather do and I will try all ways and means to avoid it. But equally, writing is a compulsion; I can’t not do it. If ever there is a time when, for whatever reason, I really am not writing, I don’t feel good at all.

What I like is having written. It’s a very good feeling when you have written something that’s not half bad and you know you’re going to be able to turn it into something worthwhile. That is what’s enjoyable. I’m compelled to write, I think, because writing is the only thing that makes me feel good about myself. That’s what keeps me doing it again and again.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I am working on a short story collection. ‘A Policy of Constant Improvement‘ will be out in 2017. In 2015 I won a Northern Writer’s Award for it and am extremely fortunate to have been mentored by Carys Davies! And I’m working on a second novel. The protagonist is called Clara. As with Stella, I’m deeply attached to Clara even though she is leading me something of a merry dance at the moment. The working title is ‘Clara Says’ but I have a much more interesting one up my sleeve! I can’t tell you any more because I’m scared of putting a jinx on it!

Thanks sooo much for having me on your blog. And I really hope you enjoy ‘The Confession of Stella Moon!

Getting to know you: Amanda Jennings

Today on the blog, we get to know more about Amanda Jennings. I met Amanda briefly at Newcastle Noir earlier this year and I’m really pleased to have her on the blog.

Her book ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected for WHSmith’s Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How cool is that?!

I hope you enjoy Amanda’s interview as much as I did.

Vic x

Amanda Jennings

Congratulations on being included in the WHSmith Fresh Talent Summer 2016 list. How do you feel?
I’m over the moon. It’s a little surreal – seeing my picture on a stand in WHSmiths! – but it’s a good surreal. ‘In Her Wake‘ has been selected alongside some truly brilliant books from around the world, and I’m chuffed to bits to have that kind of nod of approval. What’s been really lovely is the number of friends and readers, both in real life and on social media, who have been openly happy for me and have sent pictures of the book taken in airports and stations around the country, as well as gorgeous messages. It has been very moving to feel the love and support.

I enjoyed your panel at Newcastle Noir, did you enjoy taking part?
I did! It was a great panel, and lovely to be part of an all-woman line-up, with the lovely, and very knowledgeable, Barry Forshaw moderating. I love talking at events. It makes a great change from sitting alone at home, staring at my computer screen (or more often than not out of the window!). I adore the social side of festivals. Readers and writers are almost without exception a warm and welcoming crowd with a mutual love of reading and books. I find it a very affirming and positive experience.

In Her Wake

What can readers expect from your books?
I am fascinated by the relationships that exist within a family unit. My books always tend to centre around a crime of some sort that has happened some time in the past which has been reignited in the present causing shock-waves. My books concentrate on the lasting effects of these past traumas, and tend to follow the protagonists as they work their way through to some sort of resolution. My writing focuses on the emotions of those involved, of cause and effect of the crime and their subsequent acting and reaction, of the concept that nothing we do can ever be separated from events that have occurred in our pasts. Every human being is a complex tapestry of their past experiences. I love analysing why people do ‘bad’ things and how those ‘bad’ things are justified, not only their minds, but also in the mind of the reader. I enjoy making the reader confront the grey areas surrounding what is right and wrong. If I can get a reader to feel sympathy or understanding for a person who has committed a crime – even if they (and I) still condemn that crime – I am very happy!

Most useful piece of writing advice and who was it from?
I am a big fan of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘ and in it he talks about writing for your Ideal Reader, the one person who you want to make laugh or cry. If you tried to write for a wide readership, or for an unknown editor or agent, I think you’d lose your way. If a writer wants to have a unique and memorable ‘voice’ then they need to be totally true to themselves, to show their inner self. The easiest way to be true to yourself is to talk to someone who knows you so well they would question something that didn’t ring true. King writes for his wife Tabitha. I write for my husband, who not only encourages me but also challenges me. He’s my biggest fan and my harshest critic and I will always listen to his advice.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Finish your first draft! It’s only when you have a complete first draft that you can step back and look at the whole. When you have your story down you can then focus on what themes you want to concentrate on, which characters need more page-time, which need knocking into the background. I will edit a book a good number of times, sometimes as much as eleven or twelve full rewrites. Your first draft is your lump of clay and, though it needs shaping and reworking, it has all the ingredients needed for you to complete a book you are proud of. So don’t edit too much as you go along. Write notes in the margin or in capitals within the text when you have ideas as you write, and plough on. And don’t be tempted to submit the book too early. Yes you have that completed draft, but more likely than not there’ll be work to do. Most seasoned writers will tell you their first drafts are always dreadful!

I really needed that advice – thank you! What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love those days when the words flow out of you almost beyond my control. I sometimes find myself in a special place where time seems to move without me being aware and I am totally immersed in the story and the words. But there are also those days – sadly more numerous than the good ones – where each word comes like blood from a stone. On these days I am plagued by self-doubt and The Fear, and genuinely believe I can’t do it and wonder why I am idiotic enough to even try. These days just need to be endured.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
I have just started book four. It’s not coming very easily (I am in the enduring phase!) but I’m getting there. The story has been hidden in the mist a little, but it’s emerging slowly. I need to listen to my own advice and get the first draft down!

What’s been your happiest writing moment?
I think the moment my agent told me we had an offer of a publishing contract for my first book. My writing career, like those of so many writers, had been full of rejection up until that point. I had almost given up hope of every finding an editor. The phone call I took from my agent that began: ‘Are you sitting down?’ was without doubt one of the high points of my writing.

Thank you so much for your lovely questions. I thoroughly enjoyed answering them!

Review: ‘Chasing the Sunset’ by Harry Gallagher

Black Light Engine Room Press launched Harry Gallagher’s third collection, Chasing the Sunset, in January this year.

Until I met Harry Gallagher, I often thought that poetry was inaccessible and boring. Having attempted to read Keats, Shakespeare et al, I feared I was too much of a philistine to appreciate this particular craft. Now, that’s not to say that Harry’s poetry isn’t special – it is. What I love about Harry Gallagher’s poetry, though, is that it is for everyone to enjoy. There’s no pretension in his poetry, and he writes about a wide range of subjects including nature, love, politics and his home town of Middlesbrough. However, please don’t misunderstand me and surmise that Harry doesn’t appreciate the form – he does. He writes in a variety of poetic styles and voices and is never afraid to try something new.

Chasing the Sunset is a collection which takes the reader from Summer through the seasons to Spring. The intelligent way in which the poems are organised adds a narrative thread to the collection. We are taken from June in an open top car to autumn and bleakest winter. Finally, spring comes, and the butterfly awakens through love and friendship.

The beauty of much of the poetry in this pamphlet is that it packs a real emotional punch in just a few words. Harry’s economy of language is quite astounding.  The way he plays with language, bending it and shaping it to his will is testament to Harry’s writing ability. His evocative poems, full of vivid imagery, are imaginative yet familiar and I found that comforting.

Stand out poems, for me, were: Old Flame – there’s that economy of language I was talking about; Christmas Haiku – I love a haiku and this one really packs a punch; Butterfly – made me cry; Chasing the Sunset – a happy ending.

This collection is full of heart.

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Gill Hoffs

In honour of her TV debut tonight (BBC2 at 8pm), we have Gill Hoffs on the blog talking about her life as a writer.

Vic x

Gill Hoffs with Tayleur book on Lambay - harbour

Tell us a little about yourself…

I have the tastebuds of a four-year-old and the skin of a teenager, a cat that drools on my face while I sleep (thanks, Coraline – no, really), and an interest in the macabre, unusual, and grisly side of history.  I spend my writing-time researching forgotten shipwrecks, writing about all sorts, and giving talks and interviews, some of which are available on YouTube.  I recently started a new job as a carer in a residential home for women with dementia, which I love, and I grew up on the Scottish coast but now call Warrington home, though my son would prefer it if we travelled the world in a cruise liner/skyscraper combo instead.

Do you usually write in a particular genre?

No, I go with whatever I fancy at that particular moment in time or whatever has a deadline pending.  I write fiction and non-fiction, long and short, weird and realistic.  A change is as good as a rest, at least in this case, and word arranging is thrilling whatever the subject or occasion.

Tell us how you got interested in writing.

I’ve always loved books – I can’t remember a time without them, my mum always made sure we had plenty to read, no matter what, and I’m the same with my son.  Making up my own stories was as natural as sleeping, and I had some excellent English teachers who encouraged me to enter competitions.  The high I felt on winning or placing was tremendous, something I got a real kick out of.  But I hadn’t a clue about the business of writing and publishing or how to become an author.  Then, a decade later, I found that the hormonal changes of a full-term pregnancy after four miscarriages meant I was experiencing weird migraines.  One of the more welcome symptoms is a compulsion to write (I avoid anti-migraine medication because I don’t want to lose this easy flow).  The internet and publications like “Writers’ Forum” and “Writing Magazine” meant I knew what to write, how to present it, and where to send it – and I did, and then I was OFF!

Are you working on anything at the moment? Can you tell us about it?

Oof, loads.  I’m swamped but in a good way – I wouldn’t like to have a dry spell, the pressure of a heavy and diverse workload is stimulating and helluva satisfying.  When I researched my first shipwreck book, “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic” (Pen & Sword, 2014) I read of another emigrant ship which wrecked in mysterious circumstances in the Bahamas in 1853.  Another cover-up!  So I’m now researching the stories of the people involved and writing my second shipwreck book for Pen & Sword, provisionally titled “The Cowardice of Captain Stinson: The Lost Story of the William and Mary, and How 200 Victorians Came Back from the Dead” despite my seven-year-old’s best efforts to distract me with “Adventure Time” and my cat sleeping on whatever pile of notes I need at that exact moment in time.

I’m also writing some non-fiction pieces on Victorian shipwrecks for other books including an anthology edited by Thomas Pluck for the “Lost Children” series, which raises money for child protection charities and includes the likes of Roxane Gay amongst its alumni.  Apart from that, I’m keeping my fiction fingers flexed by writing six interlinked LGBT pieces for Pure Slush’s upcoming “Rainbow Stories” anthologies, with one piece based around each stripe of the rainbow flag.

The Sinking of RMS Tayleur - Gill Hoffs - paperback

What do you like most about writing?

Everything.  Every aspect of it is a huge kick.  Even the inevitable rejections are a welcome sign that I’ve tried something with someone outside of my comfort zone.  They show me that I’m pushing myself – and if I don’t push myself, no-one else will.

What do you like least?

That no matter how much I write, or how quickly I type, I will never get ALL my stories out of my head and onto the page.  Which is perhaps a good thing, but frustrating.

Do you find time to read? If so, what are you reading at the moment?

As with writing, I don’t find time to read, I make time for it.  It’s essential for my health and sanity, and for fuelling creativity.  I have a pile of perhaps 15 books to read for research (on emigration, shipwrecks, coffin ships, black sailors, Dutch history, etc.) and with so much information in my head, I can only really unwind with old favourites I’ve read dozens of times before – usually Dick Francis thrillers.  No matter what, I read a chapter or two in bed.  It’s the best way I can think of to shut my brain off.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Every book I’ve ever read has left a mark.  You know the episode of “Sherlock” where a curator is slopping tea over the sides of an old teapot, and the pot is really ancient, and has been polished by many thousands of brews over the centuries?  I think that’s kind of like reading and authors’ brains.  Though I gather many writers use actual coffee to polish their brains, I prefer lemon squash.

Authors who have particularly influenced my writing include: Jeremy Scott, Ray Bradbury, Richard Laymon, Dick Francis, Jilly Cooper, Simon Garfield, the Brothers Grimm, William Golding, Graham Masterton, Shaun Tan, Elizabeth George, John Connolly, and Belinda Bauer.  Matt Potter of Pure Slush, who has worked with me on short fiction and non-fiction since shortly after I started sending stories out into the world and published my first solo book “Wild: a collection” (2012), has acted as a mentor and friend, as has Jeremy Scott (“Fast & Louche” et al.), and my husband and family have always been very supportive and helpful.  My husband is a scientist and I find his perspective really useful for both my novels and my nonfiction.

When you’re a famous author and you write your autobiography, what will be the title?

“FUBAR”?  “Here Lies Gill Hoffs”?  I don’t know how accurate any autobiography I write should be.  There’s a limit to how many fuckups, rude jokes, and odes to chocolate bars a reader can be expected to take.  If you want to get to know me it’s best to do it now, on social media or via gillhoffs@hotmail.co.uk while I’m alive and able to interact with you without the use of a Ouija board or peyote.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Read before you write, especially outside your genre, as well as for pleasure, for research, and to find out what you love and also what you hate.  Accept that any criticism you receive of your work is of your work – and that your work is not you, even if it’s non-fiction memoir.  But accept the utility of criticism and learn from it.  And if you are ever in doubt of your own abilities, or wondering whether to write something raw or dark or weird, or whether to submit it someplace reeeeaaaalllly good, or whether to approach a writer/editor/agent you admire, mutter “Fuck it” and do whatever you’re fretting about as soon as you can.  If you don’t try, you’ll never know.  Oh, and take any and all advice with a pinch of salt – if it doesn’t gel with your instincts, ignore it.

Do you have an agent?

I recently signed with Jennie Goloboy of the Red Sofa Literary Agency in America for my non-fiction work, and I’m delighted to be working with her on my shipwreck books.  I’m currently seeking representation for my novels, which is proving an exciting experience.

What’s been your proudest moment as a writer?

I’m fortunate that there have been many great times so far, and I hope many still to come.  When the Daily Mail featured an article (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2548476/The-First-Titanic-An-awesome-ships-maiden-voyage-catalogue-blunders-blood-curdling-disaster-gripping-new-book-tells-forgotten-story-Tayleur-Tragedy.html) on my ‘Victorian Titanic’ book I was over the moon – I would never have guessed this would happen when I started sending out short stories five years ago.  This coverage and other articles and reviews led to more descendants of the people on board contacting me with information which I’ve included in the second edition, so it proved extremely useful too.  I’ll be talking about my research on BBC’s “Coast” on Thursday 30th July at 8pm which I hope will lead to more descendants getting in touch.

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Text on the page or screen is the prism through which I view the world, I love everything about it, so I can’t help but picture a terrible void – not just in my life, but in my mind – if my brain rewired again and I lost the writing element.  It would be akin to switching from HD colour TV back to fuzzy black and white.  No thanks!  Realistically, I think I would be involved with publishing in some other way, as an editor (I sometimes take on freelance editing work to give me additional insight into the writing industry), agent, or something similar.  Or I might have used my psychology degree in some way, perhaps returning to my previous career working with young people with ASD or EBD in children’s homes.

 Where can we find you online?

All over the place!  If you want a nosy at my work go to https://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ which is where I tend to keep links to interviews, articles, and the like, or Twitter (@GillHoffs) is your best bet for regular updates on research, writing, and history.

Make sure you tune into ‘Coast’ tonight on BBC2 at 8pm to catch Gill! 

Guest Post: Stephanie Butland

Last week, I went to a Read Regional event featuring Stephanie Butland and Debbie Taylor; it was brilliant to hear these lovely ladies talk about their writing processes.
Today, the lovely Stephanie answers a question she is asked regularly – ‘Which is more important: character or plot?’ Stephanie’s novel, ‘Letters to My Husband‘, is available now. You can read my review of ‘Letters to My Husband’ here. ‘Letters to my Husband’ was originally published as ‘Surrounded by Water’.
Many thanks to Stephanie for being involved in the blog. Please feel free to leave a comment. 
Vic x
Photo by Topher McGrillis

Photo by Topher McGrillis

Which is most important: character or plot?
This question comes up a lot when I do author events. Here’s the short answer:
CHARACTER.
As with most short answers, though, it’s not quite that simple.
For me, any book where a character doesn’t behave consistently goes straight on the ‘charity shop’ pile, whether I’m thirty pages in or fifteen pages from the end. I don’t care whether it’s literary, thriller or YA – if the author wants me to believe that a heroine who has never shown any interest in languages suddenly applies for, and gets, a job as a translator (‘Ginny dug her Chinese language books out of the loft, and it all came flooding back’) in order to move her to the other side of the world, I’m done with that book, and very probably, that author too. That kind of writing is just plain lazy.
But – a beautifully drawn, authentic character who does nothing isn’t going to keep me reading either. Put bluntly: stuff has to happen. Something must go wrong. And that needs to help the character to change. (No, I am not going to use the word ‘journey’. This is not ‘Strictly’…)
For me, the most compelling writing – the sort that leads to the most obsessive, no-I-don’t-have-time-to-get-dressed-today reading – is writing where character and plot form a spiral, one feeding into another. Witness George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke in ‘Middlemarch‘. She is smart and philanthropic and stubborn (character). Therefore Casaubon’s proposal is attractive to her (plot). When she discovers the futility of his project and he refuses to let her help the way she thought she would, she becomes dissatisfied (character-driven) which leads to her becoming attracted to Will Ladislaw (plot). And so on. Eliot and Austen did this brilliantly; one of my favourite authors, John Updike, was a master. But witness, also, Sarah Waters’ Sue in ‘Fingersmith‘; Katniss Everdene whose every effort in ‘The Hunger Games‘ is motivated by loyalty and fury at the world; Harold Fry’s Pilgrimage is not at all unlikely, really, because we understand precisely what in his character drives him to do what he does.
So, the short answer to the character/plot question is ‘character’. The longer, less snappy answer is ‘character, driven by plot, which will drive the character to take in-character responses, which will ramp up the plot a bit more’. And when you’ve got more than one character following those patterns… that’s when you’ve got magic.
Letters to my Husband

Letters to my Husband