Readers, I thank you

Recently I was invited to a book club gathering. The group read was Skin Deep and they were keen to meet with me and ask questions. It’s always nerve-wracking meeting readers even though I have had mostly good experiences and I enjoy it. After a wobble, I accepted the kind invitation.

On arrival in a fluster – late, I lost my way – and anxious I was told that the group (of 12) had eight senior medics and was given a quick run-through of the books they’d considered excellent of late. There were a lot of Booker prize listed novels, most were literary. My stomach knotted tighter. Three (I recall) of the medics were high ranking paediatricians. Jeepers, neither I nor my book are clever enough for this lot, I thought.

An excellent dinner was supplied by the host – lovely Sue – which we ate and made polite conversation. They were a lively and engaging bunch. And then, it time to talk about Skin Deep

I introduced the book, my influences and the journey. As one might expect, the first question concerned Cal’s medical condition. I explained it was fictional, deliberately non-specific, and I had known from the outset with absolute certainty that it would not be based on an actual condition; I would pick and mix from a number of sources. And I spoke about why this felt important: I would not want any individual – or relative, or friend of a person with a deformity – to think that they ‘were’ Cal; that they were ‘ugly’. We spoke of parental consent, abuse, exploitation, unconditional love, the visual world we live in and whether or not we can escape the pressures of this.

And then various members of group spoke of the characters, the details they’d enjoyed or admired, plot points and authorial choices, and I was blown away by what close, attentive readers they were. They talked about things I’d forgotten about! As I drove home I felt honoured they’d given so much to my book and I reminded myself that it is an honour when someone chooses to read your work, invests hours in this world in which there are a great many others demands on our time.

So, this is me, saying a huge THANK YOU to readers – those of the Westdene Book Club and others out there in the big wide world. You are why we authors do what we do.

 

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It’s What’s Inside That Counts: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Clichés? Certainly. True? Certainly. Except we do judge books by their covers, don’t we? And we judge people too.

My new novel, Skin Deep, is published in June by Accent Press and addresses the sticky issue of outward appearance versus inner reality – amongst other things. But today I’m talking about the cover – because a brand new one is unveiled today and I couldn’t be happier. The team at Accent have done a fabulous job at capturing the tone of the book and as we all know getting covers spot on is hard. Very hard. But this is perfect. I LOVE it, and I hope you do too. Can you tell how excited I am about this new novel?!

So here it is – the Skin Deep jacket. And the blurb and a link should you wish to pre-order.

It’s what’s inside that counts…

Former model and art student Diana has always been admired for her beauty but what use are good looks when you want to shine for your talent? Insecure and desperate for inspiration, Diana needs a muse.

Facially disfigured four-year-old Cal lives a life largely hidden from the world. But he was born to be looked at and he needs love too. A chance encounter changes everything; Cal becomes Diana’s muse. But as Diana’s reputation develops and Cal grows up, their relationship implodes.

Both struggle to be accepted for what lies within.
Is it possible to find acceptance in a society where what’s on the outside counts for so much?

PRE-ORDER LINK

Laura x

The Unbeatable Bard: A Review of Beth Miller’s For The Love of Shakespeare

My copy of Beth's brilliant book with fave bits post-it-ed!

My copy of Beth’s brilliant book with fave bits post-it-ed!

Prior to writing for a living, I was a professional actress so when the opportunity arose to review Beth Miller’s companion guide to the world’s most famous dramatist there was no way I was going to refuse. I adore Shakespeare, though I never did get to play one of his characters. I performed in many of his contemporaries’ works but not the great man’s. Pisht!

Like the book’s author, it wasn’t always thus. I loathed the bard at school. Along with my classmates I stared baffled and bored at a battered copy of the Dream. I fell in love during a performance of the Scottish play at Theatre Clwyd. It was the appearance of the witches that did it – mesmerising performances from the three actresses. If you’re tiring of my waffling, please do bear with. I share because Beth Miller opens her book with her ‘switched on’ moment, also during a performance: a charming, and funny, anecdote from her teenage years and it sets the tone for the book perfectly.

If you’re a fan already you’ll love this book and if you’re not it could persuade you to give old Shakie a bash. It’s wonderful.

For The Love of Shakespeare is not designed to be read cover to cover – though I did, ‘cos I’m geeky – but to be dipped in as and when. Nor is it designed for the super-serious scholar. Right up my alley then.

The first 50-odd pages are rammed with background information – gems on the man himself, the times, his world. Did you know George Bernard Shaw wasn’t a fan and would have liked to dig Will up and throw stones at him? Me neither.

After the introduction Miller divides the guide into three main sections: the Comedies, the Histories and the Tragedies; with shorter chapters on the bard’s poetry, the apocryphal plays (those whose authorship is in dispute) and his legacy.

The plot of each play is explained in conversational English, followed with the plot in a nutshell – a phrase invented by Shakespeare along with a zillion others we use today, many of which Miller shares. These nutshell plots are often hilarious. Of Antony and Cleopatra Miller writes: ‘Antony learns the hard way that mixing business with pleasure is a bad idea.’ And of Macbeth: McGame of Thrones meets The Apprentice, with knives. Plot summaries are followed by other notable characters and a body count. There are ‘Did You Know?’ sections and quotable lines, and peppered throughout are interviews with people closely associated with Shakespeare today (actors, directors, academics and the like) which are also utterly delightful.

Not only is the information that Miller has lovingly and painstakingly researched fascinating, she delivers her material in such a warm and witty style whether you’re a Will fan or not it’s an entertaining read. Perfect for a quick overview for not-too-keen young students – I’ll certainly encourage my son to read Miller’s thoughts on the plays he’s studying (Romeo & Juliet, another of my favourites, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – definitely not one of my favourites, and Macbeth. Love) – and for someone who’s perhaps being dragged to the theatre reluctantly. And for those already smitten there’s plenty of fresh material.

A witty, informed guide infused with love and a healthy dash of irreverence. Fab-u-lous.

My thanks to the publisher, Summersdale and TBC (Facebook Group); I was given a book in return for an honest review.

2016: Brilliant books, according to me

In common with many people, 2016 has been a tricky and often difficult year for me but the pleasure and stimulation (intellectual, emotional and creative) I receive from reading has remained constant. Thank goodness for books. Beautiful books.

Since I began this blog in 2010 it has become customary to share my favourite reads as the year draws to its close. They are not necessarily works first published in the year; they are not necessarily prize winners (though sometimes they are) and they come from a wide range of genres. I’m an eclectic reader and it’s a very personal list. The following impressed me enormously. In no particular order:

Fiction

Bashed up proof copy. BigFella read & also loved. And dropped it in the bath.This Must Be The Place, Maggie O’Farrell

A huge canvas; an intimate and expansive examination of a marriage.  Quite simply genius.

 

Animals, Emma Jane Unsworthimg_2608

A tale of two not-quite-ready-to-be-grown-up 30somethings, this book made me laugh and cry in recognition. Unsworth writes with enormous wit and compassion, and an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of female friendship. Brilliant.

img_2614The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett

With its satisfyingly complex structure this novel explores three possible outcomes of the lives of two Cambridge undergraduates who meet – or not – in the 1950s. Spanning 50 years, it is involving, rich and clever.

 

We Go Around in the Night and Are Consumed by Fire, Jules Grantimg_2609

One of the reasons I love this novel is because it vividly portrays a world I hitherto knew little about: the female criminal gangs of contemporary Manchester. The voices of gang leader, Donna, and her lover’s daughter Ror, are raw and, surprisingly, poetic. Stunning.

img_2615Summertime, Vanessa Lafaye

A historical love story centred around a true event, a hurricane, in 1930s Florida. The veterans’ tale is a shocking and shameful blemish on American history, brought vividly and compassionately to life. Thrilling and sad.

 

Stargazing, Kate Glanvilleimg_2616

A warm and touching family drama exploring serious issues like family breakup, domestic abuse and falling for the right person. Moving.

img_2612Sandlands, Rosy Thorton

A collection of sixteen diverse tales set in and around one coastal village in Suffolk.  Poignant, unsettling and often extremely funny. Magical.

 

 

Wake, Anna Hopeimg_2613

There are many books covering the Great War but few are as powerful and memorable as this one. Pegged to the search for the Unknown Soldier Wake covers three women’s stories.  Unforgettable.

51d7b-eedl-_sx318_bo1204203200_Where Love Lies, Julie Cohen

This has all the fabulous Cohen trademarks: warmth, insight, tenderness, and it really stands out. It was shamefully overlooked on its release in my humble opinion. I suspect this is because the hook is impossible to talk about without spoilers. Suffice to say: read it. It’s wonderful. Poignant and tender.

 

Non-fiction

The Outrun, Amy Liptrotimg_2606

A searing, honest, unsentimental account of one woman’s recovery from alcoholism and the transformative power of nature and home. I want to visit remote Scottish islands (despite the brutal weather) after reading this book. Outstanding.

img_2611Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit

Solnit’s history of activism and social change over the past 50 years (first published in 2005 – revised and updated in 2016) is as important now as it ever was. A case for hope, arguably we need it now more than ever.

 

There we have it. Now it only remains for me to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Let’s hope 2017 is a good one.

Laura x

Revenge: A dish best eaten cold? Guest Post by JA Corrigan

Final cover high resPlease welcome debut author JA Corrigan to the blog. JA’s novel, Falling Suns, is published on 14th July by award-winning press, Accent, and it is a cracking read. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Here, she talks about revenge and its links to tragedy tradition. Thank you, JA.

The Revenge Plot is one of the oldest in history and sits easily alongside The Tragedy Plot. In fact, as the most famous of revenge plots shows us – Shakespeare’s Hamlet of course – revenge and tragedy are inextricably linked.

I pondered on this for some time.

Are they linked because essentially revenge is an unethical act and so therefore the result of retribution will always be tragic or, is the desire for revenge a natural human instinct that through religious and spiritual teachings has been demonised? The ultimate act of revenge is murder; a sin within all the major religions of the world, and in all civilised societies, a crime.

The thirst for revenge is one of the oldest human compulsions, and so using it as a theme in a novel, play or poem, stands up there as a premise that will always be interesting, throw up questions and cause angst – for both the writer and the reader. Revenge is often the precursor to a tragedy, just as much as the love story. The outcome of the act of retribution, I decided, could never be a good one.

And yet, the need and desire to ‘put right’ a wrongdoing, a brutal act, is so strong, and so much built into the human psyche that it is a storyline that for me, was hard to resist.

There can be no revenge without its ramification – that of tragedy.

Alongside the theme of revenge sat the idea of the strongest of human emotions – that of maternal love – and this too emerged as part of the premise for my story. Rachel adores her son and yet … in the opening of the novel we sense that this is not enough for her, that she wants and needs to return to her job, and with this realisation the seed is sown that Joe’s disappearance is somehow her fault.

In the early stages of planning my story, and with the theme of uncompromising maternal love imprinted inside my mind, I began to have the thought of how I could turn the trope of maternal love upside down and push it inside out. How an emotion that is considered good and nurturing can become bad and parasitic.

I knew I had to explore both.

When I first began to outline the plot for Falling Suns I did wrestle with myself. Could I possibly have a protagonist, and maintain my readers’ sympathy for her, when she is planning revenge and cold-blooded murder?

In the comfort of our own home, sitting on the sofa, many of us have said: ‘If he/she did that to one of mine I’d kill them.’ Fortunately this scenario is rare; i.e. that the person saying the sentence will actually be placed within the tragic circumstances to carry out such a threat. But what if you are placed in that position? What if your child was brutally murdered by a person that in time you were able to confront … and take revenge by taking the murderer’s life? What if you possessed all the tools, the emotional and mental strength to do what others could only imagine? What if?

This is the premise for Falling Suns: that Rachel Dune, the distraught and grieving mother, plans her revenge on the man who has been placed in a psychiatric unit for the brutal murder of her son. But as the story unfolds and as Rachel begins to unearth from the depths of her consciousness her own past, she begins to question that perhaps revenge is not what will appease her grief. As with many revenge plots there are other variables at play for Rachel, and it is not until she is able to explore these other factors that she slowly recognises the flaws in her plan, and the defects within her own family.

Revenge for Rachel is a need; a need that could destroy her, a need that can only end in tragedy – but not the tragedy that she herself foresees.

It is the tragedy of her past and all that lives there.

Blurb:

faalling suns preA psychological thriller for fans of Belinda Bauer, Mark Edwards, Clare Mackintosh – a dark and brooding tale about the horrors that can lurk within a family.

Ex-DI Rachel Dune’s small son is missing. Then his body is discovered. Her cousin Michael is found guilty of his murder and incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit.

Four years later, now divorced and back in the police force, Rachel discovers that Michael is being released to a less secure step-down unit, with his freedom a likely eventuality. Unable to cope with this, she decides upon revenge, assuming a new identity to hunt him down. However, as she closes in on her target, her friend Jonathan, a journalist, uncovers unnerving information about her mother and others in her family. Jonathan begins to suspect that Rachel’s perception of the truth might not be as accurate as she thinks.

About JA Corrigan

DSC_1184JA Corrigan is originally from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but now lives in Berkshire and shares her life with a husband, a teenage daughter and a cute cockapoo.

When not writing she is either walking the dog, reading, or cooking. She also likes to run, and drink white wine infused with hints of vanilla or gooseberries.

Falling Suns is a great, tense read. You can check out my review here.

To buy Falling Suns:

https://www.waterstones.com/book/falling-suns/julie-ann-corrigan/j-a-corrigan/9781786152497

https://bookshop.theguardian.com/catalog/product/view/id/414323/

http://amzn.to/1YbkLHg (PB)

http://amzn.to/1OekOQZ (Kindle)

http://www.whsmith.co.uk/products/falling-suns/9781786152497

In The Future Will Everyone Be Crowd-funding? Guest post by Erinna Mettler

Fifteen minutes flyerI’m pleased as punch to introduce my fellow Beach Hut Writer, Erinna Mettler. Erinna is stupendously talented; her stories are perceptive, thought-provoking, laced with subtle humour. Magical.Over to you, Rin.

I write short stories. My first book, Starlings, was what is known as a daisy chain novel, which is a set of interlinking short stories with characters and settings in common. My second book, In The Future Everyone Will Be World Famous For Fifteen Minutes, is not a novel but a collection of short stories themed around fame and that’s as far as the connection goes. In the UK, short story collections are not looked upon favourably by agents or publishers. This is not the case in the US, India or even Ireland.  A handful of companies do consider collections but to be honest you have to either be a best-selling author or have won a major short story prize to get past the slush pile. I haven’t got an agent and with this second book I didn’t really try to get one. I half-heartedly sent it off to a few US publishers until somebody suggested I try the innovative crowd-funding publisher Unbound.

Since the company was established in 20 Unbound has gone from strength to strength. Their catalogue includes books by Jonathan Meades, Terry Jones, Kate Mosse and a Booker Prize listee (Paul Kingsnorth with The Wake).  In the promo video Unbound states that, ‘authors get to write the books they want to write and readers get to read real books, that in a crowded, celebrity obsessed market place might never see the light of day.’ This statement really appealed to me. I have not forgotten my rejection from a high profile literary agent a few years ago telling me they just weren’t in  love with my writing on the very day they announced a 2 book deal with Martine McCutcheon. She only wrote one and that went into bargain bins straight after it was released. I submitted my manuscript to Unbound. They accepted it within a month.

The thing with crowd-funding is that everything moves at a super-fast pace. I got the email from Unbound Digital on a Friday asking for a biography, an extract, photos, a cover and a short promotional film by Sunday! If you are thinking of submitting to them I would suggest you have all of this ready to go at a moment’s notice. They give you around 90 days to raise the funds to get your book published, which works out at about 350 £10 pledges. When you are fully funded you are assigned an editor and then, about a year later, you get the full marketing and distribution you would from any major publisher.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

I have quite a large social media network but it has been very hard to gain pledges. I blog weekly, I post daily on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve done events, press releases, radio and sent out emails to everyone I know and still each pledge has to be eeked out. As I reach the end of my 90 days I am spending several hours a day marketing and no time actually writing, luckily for me I have the book finished and ready to go. When someone does pledge I want to shout their name from the rooftops. One thing that has worked for me was getting a short film made by Brighton’s Latest TV. This has been like a visual press release and I have gained many pledges since it went live. Wish me luck, I have 150 pledges still to get and time is running out.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame? No Thanks!

 

Therapy, Poetry & Non-fiction: a Path to Crime by Nell Peters

Hostile Witness ver 2Nell Peters is another Accent Press author and one whom I had the pleasure of meeting face to face at the launch of yet another Accent author, Tom Williams. Welcome to my place, Nell.

Thank you, Laura, for inviting me along – promise I’ll try not to disgrace either of us too much.

I’ve written a lot of guest blogs recently, one of which was for fellow Accent author Jenny Kane’s fab new series, My First Time – about first publications etc. Her opening question was something like what was the first story you wrote because you wanted to, not because you had to at school. My answer was that I started to write (truly, beyond awful) children’s stories one summer in Montreal, when I was in my early twenties, childless and at a loose end. I sat in a garden that stretched down to the St Lawrence River with pen and notebook poised, as I sweated buckets from the intense humidity and got eaten alive by mosquitoes. After I’d given Jenny my answer, however, I realised it wasn’t wholly correct – I’ve always had some form of writing project on the go, ever since I can remember. And trust me, that’s a very long way back.

My parents thought children should be neither seen nor heard, and so I spent a lot of time alone in my room, both reading and writing. With just a sister seven years younger, I was practically an only child and I was a painfully shy, introverted kid who lived vicariously through their imagination. Actually, I haven’t changed that much … weirdo alert!

I daydreamed my way through a high percentage of my schooling – a traditional grammar with stringent conduct and uniform rules, where thinking outside the box was most definitely not encouraged. There was a detention for every perceived misdemeanour – and no ChildLine. Goodness knows how I managed half-decent results – do examiners give sympathy marks? Having a retentive memory probably helped – I passed English Lit, for instance, purely by remembering what had been said during class discussion. Luckily, my form mates (including author Judy Astley) had read the books and done their homework, so (very) belated thanks, gels! Even if I do say so myself, I did a pretty good job of winging it through questions on Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale – that would definitely not be my chosen subject on Mastermind (like I’d even make it onto the ‘Maybe, But Only If Everyone Else Contracts Bubonic Plague’ pile of applications). My leisure reading included all the usual suspects – much Enid Blyton from Noddy up, including the Mallory Towers books passed on by a neighbour, and I ploughed through Agatha Christie from an early age, thus planting the seeds of murder and mayhem in my impressionable young mind, and revving up zee leetle grey cells. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes did nothing to sway my enthusiasm from dastardly deeds, mystery and convoluted plots either, and I guess the dye was cast – but it was many years before I actually started writing crime.

Fast forward through uni, a scary career, marriage, a move overseas – the Montreal years – and back again (though not necessarily in that order) and I’m living in London with four sons. And writing poetry – something that happened pretty much by accident. By Easter one year, I’d gotten thoroughly fed up with the older boys’ procrastinations about writing their thank you notes for Christmas presents received, so I penned a collective thank you to relatives in rhyme. And lo, I got the bug.

Writing poetry as a form of therapy is something that continues to interest me, but that’s another story … or verse, perhaps. It was, nonetheless, how I came to write crime, bizarre as that might sound. Based loosely on empirical research (not mine), I wrote a non-fiction around the premise that writing poetry can alleviate the symptoms of depression, and I sent it to Hodder, where it was picked up by the submissions editor. Imagine my shock/horror/surprise/disbelief/embarrassing happy dancing when I received an enthusiastic email by return, telling me that although the non-fiction wasn’t for them, could I write a novel for their consideration? She liked my style apparently – someone has to.

Obviously, I didn’t have to be asked twice and set to work on a crime novel – what else? Sadly, I hadn’t even finished the thing, when the editor was made redundant – cue very sad face. Me, that is, but I don’t expect the subs editor was deliriously happy either. That book was called Curry Favour, and the protagonist was a cleaning lady called Amelia Vanderloo (do you see what I did there?) She was quite posh and refined, but had landed upon hard times, and being trained for nothing in particular took to cleaning others’ houses to earn a crust. I think I finished the book, but never did anything with it and veered off to other endeavours, time permitting.

Before this turns into War and Peace, let’s fast forward again, glossing over a move to Norfolk, years spent on my own with the children (a contradiction, I know – but I’m sure you understand my meaning) while the OH worked all over the world, and a return to uni to read psychology. I continued to write crime fiction whenever I had a spare moment, at that time in between churning out assignment essays on serial killers and terrorists, and a dissertation on Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The guy was a Class A basket case – Liberty, Equality and Fraternity notwithstanding, I suppose. He definitely showed schizophrenic tendencies, long before the condition was identified by the German psychiatrist, Emil Kraepelin. I do believe I mentioned JJR’s fluid grip on reality in my diss (I may not have used the term ‘basket case’, but t’was sacrilege nonetheless) and rather surprisingly ended up with a scraped 2:1 Hons, plus an implied award for being the oldest student on campus.

After that, I took a serious look at my backlist and did a lot of work – my efforts were rewarded two years ago, when Editor Greg at Accent Press picked up By Any Other Name. Yay! He also liked my style – and warped sense of humour. Of course, I became rich and famous overnight, but sadly only in my dreams.

Accent subsequently published Hostile Witness in February ’16 – it can be found on Amazon, link below.

Right – I have a ravenous chicken to feed (yet again – she’s more gannet than chook), so again I’ll say thank you very much for having me to Laura and go find the birdseed.

Have a good day, y’all.

NP

Hostile Witness is here: http://mybook.to/hostilewitness

Nell Peters is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NellPetersAuthor

And on Twitter as @paegon