Dec 20th – Queen Anne: the politics of passion by Anne Somerset

“She ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, at age thirty-seven, Britain’s last Stuart monarch, and five years later united two of her realms, England and Scotland, as a sovereign state, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. She had a history of personal misfortune, overcoming ill health (she suffered from crippling arthritis; by the time she became Queen she was a virtual invalid) and living through seventeen miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births in seventeen years. By the end of her comparatively short twelve-year reign, Britain had emerged as a great power; the succession of outstanding victories won by her general, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had humbled France and laid the foundations for Britain’s future naval and colonial supremacy.

While the Queen’s military was performing dazzling exploits on the continent, her own attention—indeed her realm—rested on a more intimate conflict: the female friendship on which her happiness had for decades depended and which became for her a source of utter torment.” (Amazon blurb)

queen AnneWhy read Queen Anne: the politics of passion?

Two excellent reasons. First, because I went to see The Favourite yesterday. I loved it. Amazing acting and some hilarious one-liners. I wasn’t totally sold on the bunnies but all-in-all it’s a film I thoroughly enjoyed. All the clothes, sets and cinematography were just a pleasure to behold. The film is historical fiction, however, and I’m fascinated to learn what was true and what wasn’t etc. – hence the book choice.

Then reason 2. Queen Anne: the politics of passion is written by Anne Somerset. Not only did her book about the Affair of the Poisons massively inform the story in my first novel, Charlatan, but Anne Somerset also was extremely kind to me during the writing of it, said lovely things about it and let me quote her on the cover of the novel. In the land of the lowly new novelist without the backing of a big publisher that was a big, big, deal to me.

If Queen Anne: the politcs of passion is half as good a book as The Affair of the Poisons, and if Queen Anne’s life is half as interesting as it appeared in The Favourite, then this will be a great read.

New book alert! – Costa del Churros

Today I’m welcoming Isabella May who has a new book coming out soon with Crooked Cat Books…

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Muchas gracias for hosting me on your blog today to talk about my brand new novel with Crooked Cat Books! COSTA DEL CHURROS will launch on September 19th and is another romantic comedy which fuses all things foodie, travel and spirituality. I’m keeping my fingers (and paws!) crossed that it’ll have as good a reception as its predecessors…

Why write about Spain?
My first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar centred much of their activity around the quirky and mystical town of Glastonbury, UK.  But in actual fact I live in Spain nowadays and much as I relished the opportunity to write about the place where I spent my childhood through to late twenties, it was high time for a change of scene – as well as to prove to myself that I am not a One Trick Pony. Or should that be Cat?

Is Costa del Churros based on a fictional or real part of Spain?
Yes, Costa del Churros refers to the Costa del Sol, here in the gigantic province of Andalusia, where I live. I have traveled all over the country, but nowhere seems to make, eat or embrace churros (fried donut strips, often eaten dipped in a thick, velvety chocolate sauce and/or sprinkled liberally with sugar) with the aplomb of the people in this region. The churros play a central role throughout the book, used as a code word that brings four – very different – women together for flamenco lessons with their highly exuberant teacher, Carmen.

Here’s the blurb:

The rain in Spain doesn’t mainly fall on the plain…

Brits abroad Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina need more than the sweetness of churros with chocolate dipping sauce to save them from their unsavoury states of affairs.

Cue Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera, the town’s flamboyant flamenco teacher! But can she really be the answer to their prayers?

One thing’s for sure: the Costa del Sol will never be the same again.

Are these four women based on people you know?
bit of body textNot per se!
But Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina are definitely a beautiful fusion of some of the kaleidoscopically colourful characters I have met here over the past seven years. I wanted to paint a truthful picture of expat life in Spain (and quite possibly this will extend to other areas of The Mediterranean too). It’s all too easy to assume that a life in the sun is all soaking up its rays, sand, sea and sangria, but in actual fact, we take ourselves wherever we go! There’s absolutely no running away from your problems when you are home from home, be they romantic, financial, self-esteem based, or all of the above. Often, as soon as the novelty of the new lifestyle wears off, those issues are only exacerbated…
I thought it would make for an interesting (and comical) read to throw four women from four completely different backgrounds together, to add a little magic (a la Carmen) and to watch the fireworks – from a very safe distance.

Tell us a bit about Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera…
Well, she was a joy to write.
And I think all of us could do with a Carmen in our lives. Not only is she a talented flamenco teacher, but she has watched the way Franco’s repression of the female has gnawed away at her mother, and at the lives of countless women around her. So Carmen’s mission is one of empowerment. And she’s particularly passionate about encouraging women to have their cake and eat it. Truly, I’d love for nothing more than to click my fingers and magic her up every time I witness a female friend or family member declare in a café/restaurant/gelateria ‘Oh! I really shouldn’t indulge… I’ll start the diet again next week!’
For Carmen is the antidote to any and all of that prescribed female behaviour, an advocate for positive body image on beaches and sun-loungers the length of the coast. She’s a breath of fresh air injecting a much-needed confidence boost to all four of the main characters in the story.

If your tummy has started to rumble… here’s that all important Universal Amazon buying link: mybook.to/costadelchurros

You can find out about Isabella May’s other books, and follow her quirky cake and cocktail posts at these places:

www.isabellamayauthor.com

Twitter – @IsabellaMayBks

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IsabellaMayAuthor/

Instagram – @isabella_may_author
downloadIsabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic.

Cake, cocktail, and travel obsessed, she also loves nothing more than to (quietly) break life’s ‘rules’.

Costa del Churros is her third novel.

2 weeks to go…

With 2 weeks to go until the official publication date for The Road to Newgate, I thought I’d do a little update post on the kind of things keeping me busy/awake at night.

To party or not to party?

One of my main preoccupations in the last month or so has been trying to decide whether to have an actual in-person book launch. I am not good at such things and the whole look at me, look at me, aspect makes me feel deeply worried! Add to that that over here in the Mushroom Capital of America (aka the Kennett Square/West Chester area of Pennsylvania) we are already in week 3 of the long summer holidays and lots of people are away and… nope. No party planned.

Titus_OatesBUT… I am having an online launch on facebook. Not quite sure how this will go, but I’m hoping to do some giveways and have some friendly authors talking about books and particularly about the importance of antagonists to make stories exciting to read. I will talking about this unpleasant chap (among others!)

 

Here’s a link to that: Book launch for The Road to Newgate

 

Book blogs

Ah, book blogs. Book bloggers are awesome at a) reading lots of books and b) sharing their love of books. For The Road to Newgate I’m doing a couple of tours – one this week and another in August. I’ve also done some outreach of my own and so hopefully there will be people reading the book very soon and talking about how they found it. All fingers and toes are crossed. Links will be posted as things appear.

Writing about stuff about the book (Yay. This is the bit I love)

Recently I’ve written about 17th century coffee shops – very important to my character Nat but not the favourite place of his lovely wife Anne. Read that here.

I’ve also done a piece about jobs for women in the 17th century, a time when a married woman pretty much belonged to her husband. Read that one here.

And I have another coming out next week about childbirth and midwifery. Loved writing that one. Will post a link when it is published but here’s a picture from one of the books I refer to in the article, Jane Sharp’s The Midwives Book, published in 1671.

Other bits and bobs are in the works too.

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Posting books

Today I posted off 2 signed copies of The Road to Newgate plus two of the little books my mum has made. One went to a friend’s mum, someone who super kindly read my last book as it struggled through the proof reading stages and helped me catch some late errors that the publisher had missed. And the other went to the winner of a blog giveway. It’s a funny thing to send your words out into the world!

New writing

Oh yes that. Mmm. Well it’s not easy to make a lot of progress during the summer with 3 kids at home and either demanding food or to be driven somewhere. Plus there is the World Cup and now Wimbledon to distract me. However, I am plotting and thinking and doing all that background stuff that will pay off when the time comes. Soon I hope!

When characters are “like family”. Interview with John R. Bell

Every book gets written for a different reason and every writer’s journey to becoming an author is different. Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned about John R. Bell and his World War II thriller, The Circumstantial Enemy. Here is our Q & A:

Why did you write this particular story?

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 11.00.34 PMThe list is long of authors who’ve had a burning desire to write a novel from an early age. I am not one of them. The inspiration came late in life with one potent statement from my daughter. Fifteen years ago, she said, “If you don’t write it, Grandad’s story will be lost forever.” I’ll never forget the yearning in her eyes. Grandad was 80 at the time and though in good health, he wasn’t about to be the first person to live forever. The family had heard his tales and tribulations as a young Croatian pilot coerced into the Luftwaffe in 1941. Writing a record of events stapled together became a biography with enough books printed for the family and several generations to come. I thought I was done with writing. Not so.

Three years later, I re-read the biography and wondered if I could dramatize that fascinating journey to freedom and redemption into a thrilling novel. If I added elements such as hatred, betrayal, lust, and revenge, would a bona fide publisher share it with a larger audience? Writing historical fiction would become the greatest challenge of my adult life. Eight years of research, writing, editing, rewriting (ad nauseam), and seeking an agent and/or publisher finally came to fruition with the release of The Circumstantial Enemy at the end of 2017. At age 71, I was a novelist.

Final CoverTalk about a favorite scene or character in your novel.

When you are on the wrong side of a war, there is more than one enemy. That assertion appears on my book’s cover. At page 120 of the 324-page novel, I introduce the main antagonist, SS Major Helmut Mauer. Mauer is interned at a POW camp for Germans in Rockford, Illinois in 1943. Mauer is the quintessential Nazi with three peculiarities—he puts his own interests ahead of Hitler’s ideals, he loves catch-and-release fly fishing, and he is infatuated with strangulation. At this point in WWII, the US War Department pays little attention to what goes on behind the barbed wire of the 400+ POW camps on American soil. At Camp Graham, a gang of Nazis rule with an iron fist. A few pages beyond Mauer’s introduction, he meets and interrogates the novel’s protagonist, Tony Babic, the latest arrival. Each man’s cautious and orchestrated interface hints at their personal motivations and establishes a conflict that will accelerate.

Describe your process in writing this book. (e.g. did you outline? Did you choose one pov and stick to it? What did you add? How many drafts did you write? How long did it take?

After penning a few chapters of what would become The Circumstantial Enemy, I was struck by my naivety. I was in over my head. I knew nothing about writing fiction. Eager to learn, I didn’t write a word for a year, throwing myself into every book I could find on how to write fiction. I learned about dialogue, characters, plot, viewpoint, even romance. After preparing a plot arc and compiling a sizable portfolio of research, I began writing for the second time in 3rd person omniscience. My next mistake was a bloated first draft of 225k words. When literary pundits said it was too long, I cut out 45k words. Then, over the course of 3 years, another 200 pages went into land fill. By the time the remaining tight manuscript reached the promised land of publishing, 8 years had passed. The first draft was complete in 18 months. I needed another 4 years for rewriting and editing as well as checking the historical facts and all those little details of the 1940s that had to be error free. Another couple of years of fine-tuning kept me occupied while I tried to persuade bona-fide publishers to take on the project.

Share some book love. Please recommend at least one novel you have read and loved.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 3.37.34 PMMy favorite book is the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. (ME TOO!) At 1276 pages it is also the longest book I have ever read. Alexandre Dumas’s epic classic chronicles the protagonist’s imprisonment and his subsequent persecution, suffering and retribution. This is the book that Tony Babic’s lover sends to him during his incarceration. In some ways it parallels Tony’s predicament. I am also a fan of the late Australian novelist Bryce Courtenay. I’ve read all of his books, but my favorites are Bryce’s early works, The Power of One and The Potato Factory.

Recommend a work of non-fiction.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers tackles a fundamental question about high-achieving people. What differentiates them from the rest of us? He introduces the notion that 10,000 hours of practice is vital to greatness and uses several examples including The Beetles’ 3 years in Hamburg where they played 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. I invested 10,000 hours into my novel. Does that put me up there with Steinbeck? Of course not. But there is no doubt in my mind that the 5,000-hour version of The Circumstantial Enemy can’t hold a candle to the published novel.

What is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

By the time I finished reading those self-help books on writing novels, I was left with the indelible principal that characters and conflict are critical to great fiction. But nothing surprised me more than discovering that when it came to POV, I found it no more difficult to express the POV of a romantic female as a chauvinistic male. Why is that? It comes down to knowing your characters. When you know a character like a close member of your family you know what they will do and what they won’t do.

I love this advice! Thank you for sharing John. To find out more about John R. Bell and The Circumstantial Enemy, please find John on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads or at his website 🙂

 

 

“Never give up, never surrender!” Book love and advice from author G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

WEB_Kretchmer__0446Today I’m introducing a fellow novelist – G. Elizabeth Kretchmer. Kretchmer is the author of two novels – The Damnable Legacy and Bear Medicine – and a collection of short stories – Women on the Brink (a great title, I think!)

We have been talking about her latest novel, Bear Medicine and also about books and writing in general. Here’s our Q&A:

Why did you write Bear Medicine?

I have to laugh when I’m asked this question, because the story has evolved over the thirteen years between when I first sat down to write it and when it finally came out. My life has changed and the world has changed so much during this time, so my reason for writing the story (actually the two intertwined stories) has also transformed.

One thing that has remained constant is my love and concern for the grizzly bear and what she represents, and it so happens the novel finally came out at a critical time for the grizzly, who has lost her status as an endangered animal in the Yellowstone area and who is now eligible to be hunted in some regions.

Another constant is the strength of my love for my kids, but what has changed is my maternal role as my kids matured, as well as my understanding of how parent-child relationships don’t always wind up the way we hope they will. The relationship between mother and child was always a part of this story but it is certainly quite different now than it once was.

The part of the story that emerged to become most critical stemmed from my growing commitment to the idea that women must help women in our male-dominated world. We must respect our contributions to humanity and put a stop to the idea that our innate roles of care and compassion are less important than roles that generate money or celebrate power. We need to honor women who have come and gone before us and who, except for a select few, have been deemed unimportant and omitted from our history books. And we must continue to raise awareness about abuse against women, both physical and psychological, until it’s finally stamped out of our culture for good.

In sharing what happens when people use power as a means to control others, and the healing power that comes from supporting one another, my book, according to one reviewer, serves as “a rallying cry for those believing in humane co-existence with all life on this planet.” While I can’t say I set out to write a rallying cry, I think I can honestly say my purpose was to evoke thoughtful consideration about the state of our world and particularly the status of women and grizzly bears.

 

Talk about a favorite scene or character in your novel.

perf6.000x9.000.inddOne of my favorite scenes is the opening of the novel. Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park one morning to train for an upcoming marathon. The landscape is stunning but savage. She stops to snap a photo with her phone to send to her estranged college-aged daughter, and then this:

A horrible stench. A distinctive blend of musk and rot. A slow-motion image of my phone being jettisoned from my hands, bouncing down an embankment, and landing against a fallen pine. The subtle taste of sandy dirt. Followed by the stabbing penetration into each of my hips, blinding pain, liftoff from the ground. Heavy and helpless, I was hefted into the air like a tree stump raised by a bulldozer.

It’s a wonder that, in the midst of all my agony, I had enough wits left to figure out was was happening. But I did.

I’d been attached by a bear. A very big bear.

 

Can you describe your writing process for this novel?

After writing my initial draft and a few rounds of revisions, I secured an agent. But the book didn’t sell so I put it on a shelf. I got an MFA, created a writing workshop series for survivors of domestic violence, and wrote and published an entirely different novel and a short story collection. I never forgot about Bear Medicine, though, so I finally went back to it.

Rather than dusting it off for revision, I started from scratch. By now I had a clearer idea of what I thought the takeaways from the novel might be. I wanted to tinker with the historical genre and introduce some magical realism, but I wanted to retain the contemporary flavor, too. I embarked on a new round of research including a trip to Yellowstone for rich inspiration in the field. I spent a lot of time analyzing who I really wanted my characters to be and what stories they needed to tell. Finally, I came up with what ultimately became the final version, not counting numerous rounds of editing revisions along the way.

 

Can you share some books that you love? Not more than 3 though!!

I’m a sucker for stories about family, especially families with lots of flaws. It’s hard to choose only three!

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

This reminds me of Defending Jacob by William Landay, another great novel surrounding the mystery of a child’s death, how it destroys a family, and how mutually fragile each member of the family can be. Ng’s story also depicts how generations rebel against that which their parents most want for them.

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

You probably think I’m obsessed with stories about children dying. I’m not, but you’ve got to admit that’s a premise that immediately tugs on your heartstring. This novel weaves together three stories: how a boy’s death destroys the relationship between two families; what happens when more than one man is in love with the same woman; and the power of strength and peace that can be handed down through the generations.

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

I loved this long before it became one of the most talked about HBO shows in recent history. It’s another mystery as it’s written, but the guts of the story surround the unfortunate competition that can arise among young mothers who sincerely want the best for their children but who, in their quest for maternal perfection, let their ugliest shadow selves surface and take control of their lives.

(I think that’s 4 books really!!)

And what about a work of non-fiction/a TV show/a movie/an album?

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.17.59 AMAgain, an impossible request, to recommend only one. So much to choose from! I was planning to recommend a memoir with the same structure and tropes as a novel, but then I got a wild idea to recommend a journalistic nonfiction. It’s so relevant to our society today and in all likelihood will ring true for some of your readers:

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol – Ann Dowsett Johnston

I drank wine almost every night for my entire adult life, and just a year ago I decided it was time to give it up. Doing so was one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced, and this book was the final kick in the derriere that made me do it. It articulates just how pervasive wine is in our society and how the alcohol industry has specifically targeted women in its marketing efforts.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

“Never give up, never surrender!” That was actually a line from the film Galaxy Quest which wasn’t an inspirational movie in the slightest. But the line stuck with me. If you love to write, then you must do it. If writing makes you crazy and grumpy, you must also do it. If life throws you curve balls (which of course it does), then you must write about these flaming balls to help you process and figure out how you feel and what to do.

But along the way, you must also read, read, read. Devour books in your genre but explore plenty of books—both fiction and nonfiction—in other genres. (Joining a book club to be forced to read books you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen, and to hear how other readers analyze books, can be extremely helpful). And don’t forget craft books! There are too many great books about the craft of writing to mention here, but I will recommend four fabulous inspirational books that I highly recommend. In fact, I’m due to reread them again!

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

You don’t need to be a fan of his novels to appreciate his experience and advice.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott

A down-to-earth, touching, and sometimes humorous peek into one writer’s life.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit – Brenda Ueland

The author’s convictions that anyone can write, and that everyone has something important to say, can inspire the new writer to pick up the pen and the seasoned writer to put her butt back in the chair.

Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Not a writing book per se, but a book that invokes our inner voices to express our observations and musings about life.

I have read 3 out of 4 of these! Definitely need to check out Brenda Ueland’s book after this recommendation!

Please do check out G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s books on Amazon and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Book love

sun kingToday I have been writing the historical afterword for my novel and to help me do it I’ve pulled down from the shelf some of the books I have loved best while working on Charlatan. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but The Sun King by Nancy Mitford has to get a special mention.

I bought that book fourteen years ago. That’s a life time ago – in fact that’s my oldest child’s lifetime ago, pretty much, as it was not long after I had Dominic (somehow now 14 and six foot 2) that I found myself I pushing him around in his pushchair in the small Suffolk village we lived in at the time, quietly dying of boredom. Adjusting from working full-time to being at home with a baby was a task in itself, but at least I had mastered the art of sitting on the floor with a small child and playing with him with one hand while holding a book and reading it in the other. The trouble was that all I had on my shelves fiction. I needed something a bit more challenging.

The answer came in the form of the village second-hand book store which, very handily for a mother with a pushchair, had books in boxes set out on tables on the pavement. That’s where I came across this:

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The cover of my copy is not quite so attractive as the edition now available on Amazon that is pictured above! But what a wonderful read it is, packed with detail, generously illustrated and delivered with Nancy Mitford’s inimitable voice and wit. In chapter six I first came across the Affair of the Poisons. Mitford provides a lively, gossipy outline of what happened in Paris in the late 1670’s and early 1680’s but what really caught my interest was when she wrote that she had gleaned much of this information from another book altogether, from which she said “most of the foregoing facts, which are only like the visible part of the iceberg, have been shamelessly culled.”

How much did I want to know about the rest of the iceberg? So much! And although I never managed to find a translation of Georges Mongredien’s book about Madame de Montespan, (the book that Nancy Mitford referred to) I did find Anne Somerset’s The Affair of the Poisons. And maybe a few more…