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

Guest post from Kristen Bailey: Flippin’ Fish & other culinary delights

Kristen Bailey’s debut novel, Souper Mum, is published today by Accent Press and I have the great honour of welcoming her to my blog. Kristen is a kindred spirit; she’s as hopeless in the kitchen as I am! Some of you might remember my Great British Burn Off? But today’s all about Kristen. Over to you…

Can I cook?  Well, in theory, yes.  For example, if you gave me a chicken breast, I could season it, apply heat to it and you’d end up with one cooked chicken breast.  Ta-dah!  The problem is I’d probably overcook it.  It’d be charred (code for burnt) on the outside and inside the consistency of chalk but yes, definitely cooked.  Bon Appetit!

Souper mum cover_FCMy culinary prowess is a bit of a running joke in my family.  It started back at school where I had to create a dish for my Home Economics lesson.  I had the truly great idea that I’d coat bits of cod in cornflakes.  I called them Fish Flips.  I didn’t use any binding agent like egg or flour.  So it just ended up as shrunken rubbery pieces of cod in a sea of baked cornflakes.  Yum.  My brother still brings up this spectacular culinary fail fifteen years down the line.  When there is talk of Christmas, family birthdays and celebration meals, the conversation often goes as such:

Mum:  It’s my birthday!  Let’s go out for dinner!

Me:  I could cook?

Mum:  Or we could go out for dinner?

And I’m not sure why I’m so bad at cooking, I give it a good ol’ stab.  I have cookbooks about my person which I bookmark and drool over.  I watch the odd cookery show and help myself to those random recipe cards you find at the back of supermarkets.  But for some reason, those glossy pictures of burnished lamb shanks with crowns of rosemary, and lustrous fruit tarts usually get lost in translation through my cooking skills.  I’m not sure if it’s my bad maths that can never work out the timings or perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with my palate but many a time, my kids curiously drag their forks around their plates.  Children who are essentially, the worst food critics, ever. ‘I don’t like it.’  Imagine that as a restaurant review in The Times, just that.  Ouch.

The general reaction to my cooking

The general reaction to my cooking

And what is worse is that I come from a family of foodies.  My mother is the archetypal kitchen-dwelling matriarch.  When you eat at her table, it’s a veritable feast of courses and flavours and love.  My sister produces layered, well-iced cakes that are GBBO worthy. I have aunts, cousins, grandmothers who have recipes and dishes that are firm family favourites.  And then there’s me.  Mac and cheese, anyone?  I make a decent mac and cheese?  With a side of frozen peas?

So in a market saturated with cook books, foodie blogs and faddy diet advice, I wrote Souper Mum for mums like me, the non-cooking sorts.  The ones who try, who let occasional junk pepper their dining tables but who also level it out with a bit of broccoli.  Mums who have limited cooking skill, fussy little customers and who have to think about other constraints like time, fatigue and budget.  It’s like the proper Hunger Games.  Your kitchens are the battlefields; they’re not the pastel, beech work-topped utopias you see in your cookbooks.  These kitchens are covered in yesterday’s washing up, school newsletters, Lego and a remote control without any batteries.  The mums within have little to no foodie wisdom or ability; they’re literally just winging it with a bag of pasta, a tin of chopped tomatoes and half a block of cheddar cheese.267828_10150312087550731_6309393_n

My Souper Mum is Jools Campbell: she grills cupcakes, messes up scrambled eggs and has never really worked out the secret mastery involved in chopping onions.  Let’s just say I had a catalogue of excellent bad-cooking anecdotes to lend to her story.  Her journey is one of self-discovery – the same one that I think most mothers go on when they find themselves embroiled in parenthood and are trying to dig through the debris to remember what’s important in life and reclaim their sense of identity.  Her story is set against a foodie culture she decides to take a stand against with hilarious if life-altering consequences.  If your life is full of quinoa, samphire and you’re one of those full-on crazy people who feel the need to make their own puff pastry, then I warn you, you may not like what Jools has to say.  However, if tonight you’ve opened your kitchen cabinet, reached for the baked beans and are examining those last few slices of bread for mould then Souper Mum might just be your new best friend….

DSC_5363Souper Mum is the story of Jools Campbell, a stay-at-home mother of four, who becomes an unlikely foodie hero when she stands up to a pompous celebrity chef, Tommy McCoy on a reality show.  Armed with fish fingers and a severely limited cooking repertoire, we watch as she becomes a reluctant celebrity and learns some important life lessons about love, family and the joyless merits of quinoa.

To buy Souper Mum, click on this link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Souper-Mum-Kristen-Bailey/dp/1786150689/

BIO

Mother-of-four, gin-drinker, binge-watcher, receipt hoarder, hapless dog owner, enthusiastic but terrible cook.  Kristen lives in Fleet, Hampshire and has had short fiction published in several publications. The sequel to Souper Mum will be published later in the year.

She writes a weekly blog about being a modern mother.  That and more can be found at her website: http://www.kristenbaileywrites.com

You can also find her on:

Twitter @baileyforce6 and Facebook www.facebook.com/kristenbaileywrites

Sounds fantastic, Kristen. Best of luck – with the book (and tonight’s supper!). x

Best Books of 2014, according to me

It’s that time of year when I give a brief round-up of books I’ve read in the past twelve months, those that I have enjoyed or have affected me in some way.

Leaving aside the many manuscripts I’ve read in my role as editor/mentor – and there have been two this year which I believe thoroughly deserve to be published, whether they will be or not remains to be seen; the publishing world moves in mysterious ways – I’ve read around 40 books of fiction in 2014. This is my average. Ironically, I read more before I started writing, but with a family and another part-time job something has to give if stories are to be written.

Of the 40, around half were, broadly speaking, contemporary women’s fiction, with the remainder spread across most other genres aside from fantasy, sci-fi and historical sagas. So, in no particular order my favourites were:

Jenn Ashworth’s The Friday Gospels

books 001In this, Ashworth’s third novel we follow four members of a Lancashire Mormon family across one day as they await the homecoming of a prodigal son. He has been spreading the gospel in Utah. As ever, Ashworth climbs into the skin of her diverse characters with consummate ease. Funny and poignant.

Sarah Rayner’s Another Night, Another Day

A brilliant novel about three characters who meet in a psychiatric clinic. Sound depressing? It’s not; it’s a joy from start to finish. No one does bittersweet quite like Rayner. No wonder she’s a best seller.

Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard

Dark, disturbing and with one of the most shocking and surprising twists I’ve come across. I’ve been a fan of Doughty for years, but this is her best yet.

Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall

books 002An incredible debut with one of the most memorable voices in recent years, The Shock of the Fall is Matthew’s story, a young man battling mental ill health and memories of his dead brother, Simon. Has one of my all-time-favourite lines.

David Nicholl’s Us

A tender exploration of a 25 year relationship; an odyssey of love. I cried, and I cried with laughter. Believe the hype.

My to-be-read pile is already mahoosive, but I am especially looking forward to Betsy Tobin’s Things We Can’t Explain, Carys Bray’s A Song for Issy Bradley, Rowan Coleman’s The Memory Book, Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing and Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

It feels as if 2014 was a great year for wonderful fiction, but then so many years are, it seems to me, and I am awed by the spectacular talent out there. When asked for a piece of advice by wannabe writers I always say: Read. Read, read, read. Be inspired by the good work; read it again; analyse why it’s great and learn from it. Also, learn from the not-so-good work. Where and why does it fall down? Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes.

Merry Christmas to you all and don’t forget: Books make great gifts!

A review of The Girl on the Pier – and some blathering

Girl on PierAs a rule, I don’t review here on my blog. Doing so would imply posturing as a critic, something more serious than the often casual, personal but considered, thoughts I leave on Amazon, Goodreads and Waterstones’ online presence. However, rules are meant to be broken, and regular visitors will note that I do review from time to time, and the observant amongst you will notice that such reviews tend to cover books by indie authors or those published by smaller houses; the theory being they might need more of a boost. So, today, I’ll talk briefly about a debut novel from acclaimed sports writer, Paul Tomkins, The Girl on the Pier.

I might never have met Paul or read his novel but for a confusion of Brighton addresses, and I am grateful for that minor administrative error. Let me explain. Alongside my fiction, I work as an editor/mentor for developing writers – freelance and for literary consultancy, Cornerstones. Paul hired Cornerstones to look at his novel but a mix up at Cornerstones HQ meant that I received the manuscript instead of another Brighton editor, Araminta Hall. As it happens Araminta is a friend of mine (and author of the best-selling Everything and Nothing and more recently, Dot). Anyway, I was working on another manuscript and had to pass on Paul’s, but the incident connected us. The novel’s intriguing and promising premise stayed with me, and I was delighted when, months later, I received a copy of the novel.

First off, it is an object of great beauty. Cleverly designed with high production values, it is a book to cherish. I have fetish-like tendencies when it comes to books and I love stroking this one – it even has flaps (ahem). So beautiful is it that it came as a surprise when I discovered it is self-published. I emailed Paul to find out the story behind his decision to go down the indie route because I knew there was agent interest in the book and because, bluntly, I’m nosy. But that’s a story for another post.  Possibly …

I rarely read self-published work, not unless it comes highly recommended or I know the author’s work from short-stories or other published work in reputable media. I know that there are some fantastic self-published books out there, but the harsh truth is that there is an awful lot of rubbish and life is too short to wade through the proverbial. This sentiment is shared by many and I might incur the wrath of many for saying this, but hey-ho, it’s only my opinion.

But, I will shout about The Girl on the Pier because it deserves to be heard above the noise (din?), because it is a work of serious intent, well-written and with a fabulous central conceit. Here’s my brief review, and if you’d like to buy the book there are links at the bottom.

Forensic artist Patrick is charged with the reconstruction of the skull of an unidentified girl found on Brighton’s famous West Pier in the 1970s. As he painstakingly reconstructs the girl’s face, memories of a childhood crush surface, blending with obsessive thoughts of a magical night spend on the pier with Black, a beautiful photographer, in the 1990s. An accident means that Patrick loses Black’s telephone number and is unable to trace her, yet he never forgets her or the incredible night they spent together. Abandoned as a boy by his parents and successive lovers, Patrick is an intelligent but damaged man, and as we follow the two mysteries, the lines between fact and personal fiction become increasingly blurred.

Reflective, atmospheric, and written in gorgeous prose The Girl on the Pier is a literary thriller about ghosts from the past, art, disappointment, obsessive love, and the slippery nature of memory. In Patrick, Tomkins has created a seductive and beguiling narrator, one so smooth it takes a while before you might begin to question his version of events. Set mostly in and around Brighton, the now destroyed pier is exquisitely evoked and the story is choc-a-block with intelligent insights. ‘The hardest thing in human existence is to accept that what’s done is done. Death is final. But so too are our actions, each and every last one of them. We can seek to alter the course of where the present is heading, and we can apologise, and try to put right that which we have got horribly wrong. But none of it can change what actually took place.’

It’s common in reviews, especially nowadays and by marketeers, to liken books to others, but I can’t do that with this novel because it isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before.  And this is a very good thing. Commonly, I lean towards faster-paced works but I really liked this book and it made me want to improve my own prose. And what I will say is that if you enjoy well written stories which require a little thought and leave you thinking, then you should enjoy The Girl on the Pier.

Buy the book on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Girl-Pier-Paul-Tomkins/dp/1784621048

Find out more about Paul and his work here: www.paultomkins.com

Guest Post: Caroline Burch talks about her working methods

Caroline Burch the author of ‘The diary of a Mother, her Son and his Monster’ discussing her writing style and methods of work.

 Welcome to my blog, Caroline, on this day 3 of your blog tour.

 The book blurb

cover w logoCaroline Burch experienced every parent’s worst nightmare when her son

Elliot was diagnosed with cancer aged just six months old. To document her

experiences she kept a diary detailing the ups and downs of her son’s

treatment and the emotional anguish of their situation from diagnosis to remission.

Ten years later, and with Elliot happily recovered from the condition that

threatened his life, Caroline looks back at the traumatic months when there

appeared to be no end in sight to the misery.

Caroline’s story is proof that there is life after cancer and this book is a

tribute to the tireless work of the individuals who help parents and their

children emerge from their nightmare.

 

_______________________________________________

 

What is your writing style?

I guess my style of writing is similar to many authors, although with this book it really started with my own scrawling therapy to offload some of my emotional baggage.

One I had started to see my mess of words as a possible book, I then began to plan the book, the chapters and format. I divided my story into four sections, pre-op chemotherapy, the surgical admission, the post-op chemotherapy and then the future. I wrote a plan of each section based upon old diaries and lots of research from the medical notes and put my initial writings into an order based on the four sections. It was only then that I began to date my writings and begin to formulate the diary. Once I had got the diary into some kind of shape I began to write the structure of the 13 Acts which are within the book.

I wrote the Acts after the diary because I wanted them to flow as a separate entity to the book, but be intertwined within it. Once I had written the acts, I then positioned them within the diary in the appropriate sections based on the stage of the cancer or treatment.

How do you work?

I generally write where I feel most comfortable, which is often sitting on the sofa in the lounge, with the laptop on my knee, but I do become easily bored and cannot sit, day in day out, in the same position. I therefore vary my days, moving between the table; my bedroom, or on warm days (which is not too often) in the garden with a notepad on my knee. I find writing by hand to be much more rewarding than typing into a laptop, although using a laptop is much faster!

My day starts soon after my son has gone to school, although the days are often flexible in our house depending on hospital or doctor’s appointments. I try and write three or four days a week for 5 hours, if I can. Sometimes I can write more, other weeks it is much less.

author photoPlease visit me at carolineburch.com

You can by a copy of my book from:

Empire Publications at empire-uk.com

Amazon.co.uk

Waterstones.com

Macmillan Cancer support will be receiving £1.00 per book sold. This is more than I, as the author, will receive. My aim is to make £1,000,000 for Macmillan. Please support this campaign; spread the word, treat yourself but also buy as presents for others…it is an amazing cause…

 

 

Please enjoy an excerpt from my book…

“Dr Kinam, can you tell me how big the tumour is and what it is like. I need to try and visualise this thing.”

“Of course, in fact, come down here and I’ll show you the x-ray.”

“Thanks.” I followed Alex down the corridor and he slotted the x-ray onto a light box. I looked at the x-ray of my boy’s abdomen. Alex took a pen out of his pocket.

“If you look here,” he said pointing to the top of Elliot’s pelvis. “The tumour spans from the top of his pelvis all the way up here to his ribs and spans the width of the left side of his body.” He slid his pen around the outline of the tumour. This thing was a monster. Absolutely massive, spanning from the bottom of Elliot’s left lung, right down to his hip. It looked about the size of a bag of sugar on the x-ray.

“The tumour is extending from the mid and lower poles of the left kidney and measures 8.2cm x 7.6cm x 5.5cm.” It was much larger than a bag of sugar.

“I can’t believe how big this thing is. Why didn’t I find this?”

“For some reason he has had a massive bleed into the tumour, which has now produced symptoms.”

Alex switched the machine off and we walked back to Elliot’s bed. I was stunned. I sat and listened as Alex explained what would be happening during the next few days. First of all the blood transfusion needed to be completed and Elliot’s iron levels and blood results checked tomorrow. In a day or two, Elliot would have to go to theatre where a small biopsy would be taken from the tumour. Alex explained that during theatre, a Hickman line would be inserted into his body. This line would come out under Elliot’s arm with the tube threaded through his vein, along his collar bone and into his heart. The Hickman line would then provide access for chemotherapy and drugs but would also be used to take blood from him for blood tests.

“Why can’t you use a vein in Elliot’s arm to take blood and give chemotherapy? Putting this line in Elliot’s body sounds harsh and unnecessary.”

“The drugs used during chemotherapy are much too strong to be put through a vein in the arm; they need to be given where the blood is at its highest volume. The drug is then diluted quickly into high volumes of blood before it does immediate damage to the body. The heart has the highest volume of blood and will pump the drugs around the body immediately.”

I could feel the blood throbbing through my veins. I was trying to remember everything, each little detail he was telling me, but I felt that most of the information was falling out of my brain.

Alex explained that no metastatic disease had been found on the ultrasound, which meant that they had not found any secondary cancers, although Elliot needed a CT scan first to confirm this.

Then he needed a biopsy to confirm the staging. He thought that Elliot’s tumour had been growing since before birth, perhaps even when the kidney was developing before birth. He told me that educated guesswork indicated that Elliot had developed a massive bleed into the tumour, causing the tumour to expand and fill with blood and thereby decreasing Elliot’s haemoglobin levels and causing the anaemia. The pressure of the large tumour then caused the difficulty of keeping anything in Elliot’s stomach and was even causing the vomiting of bile.

The plan was for Elliot to have a CT scan of his abdomen the next day. This would give the medical staff more detail with regard to the tumour and allow the doctors to have a look at Elliot’s chest and pelvis. Alex said that Elliot would need to stay in hospital until he was medically stable, had been to theatre and until he’d had one dose of chemotherapy.

As Alex and I were finishing our consultation, I saw my mum enter the ward. She had red sunken eyes and a white, pale face the extremes of colour sharply contrasting with each other. She was obviously in shock and did not know what to say or do. Tears streamed down her face as she approached and immediately held Elliot’s little hand in her fingers. I introduced Alex to my mum and he left, promising to review Elliot before he left for home.

As soon as Alex left my mum and I hugged and we both sobbed.

“Elliot has cancer.” There. It was out. The words I didn’t think I would ever say. My mum sat down, tears streaming down her face.

“Where? What is happening?”

We talked for what felt like a lifetime. I told her everything I could remember. What had happened, the x-ray, the tumour, the chemotherapy, the surgery… I covered it all.

Thanks so much for popping by, Caroline and good luck with the book!

Guest post: The Stories My Characters Told Me by Sharon Zink

welcome to sharonvilleSharon Zink is the author of the latest offering from small but impressive imprint, Unthank Books. Her debut, Welcome to Sharonville, is a literary novel set in a fictional town not far from Las Vegas and has already gathered fulsome praise. I’m reading the novel and while I like to reserve final judgment until the last page, I can say now it is sharply observed and character rich, so it’s fitting that Sharon is here to talk about her characters and the stories they told her. I’m delighted to have Sharon over and feel sure you’ll enjoy what she has to say. Do buy her book too. Buy links appear at the end of the article.

Take it away, Sharon…

I met the characters from Welcome to Sharonville on a bus thundering between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. I don’t remember them boarding, the stop and swish of bus doors or the heave of the seat as Uncle Franco collapsed down next to me, or the precise concentration of Aunt Happiness as she embroidered lingerie looking out of the window. Even so, I know that was the moment when the people of Sharonville came into my life because, though all I saw was the rich purple desert mountains and all I felt was tiredness, my life after I arrived back in the UK was never the same again.

I tried to carry on as usual in my career, commuting six to eight hours a day (!) to teach English as a university lecturer, but I couldn’t help but notice now how my journeys were different – each time I boarded a train home and found myself barricaded into my seat by a businessman’s splayed pinstripe knee, the characters of Sharonville were right there with me. Invisible to everyone else, they whispered their secrets in a way which made the loneliness of the long distances home suddenly much easier. Sometimes, I would open a copy of my favourite Raymond Carver stories and they’d tell me that they wanted to see themselves laid out in a book like that, that I should become a fiction writer, which was something I’d not considered in over ten years. I was serious now, after all, an academic – not prone to being bullied by non-existent people from a non-existent town. So I tried to ignore them, to just go on with my Shakespeare classes and be a good girl.

But they were smarter – they started telling me how they saw ghosts like my grandmother or that they were searching for a father or their heart was broken and didn’t I understand that? They were struggling to feel good about themselves, they regretted so much, they’d lied too much and didn’t I knew what that felt like? Didn’t I want other people to know they weren’t alone with this stuff and that there was hope?

Sharon at the diner piano

Sharon at the diner piano

I’m a softie and there were too many of them and only one of me, so, in the end, I gave in. I listened, they talked and gave me a book. A big book, in fact, full of binge-eating Italian restaurateurs, gun-toting elderly lesbians, a firefighter whose home is emotionally ablaze, a lawyer who uses sex to replace her long-gone daddy and women who want babies but who can’t have them and women who don’t want babies, but have no choice.

In writing this novel, I was less the author-in-charge than a taxi driver picking up fare and fare and just taking down all that was said to me. The only way the narrative came to have a structure was because they also told me how a young professor had crashed her pick up in the Arizona desert a few days after 9/11 and that was what had got them pondering about their pasts and wanting to share them with me.

That’s not to say I didn’t plan – I took intensive notes as they told me about their favourite music, their politics, their former lovers, and I knew no detail was unimportant. But, unlike my second novel which I didn’t get to gel, I never felt I was ‘making’ these characters up. For me, they came fully formed and they went from my life with the same devastation that accompanies any friend’s going, leaving me crying as I wrote the final words of their tale, suddenly adrift without their gossip, grief and nagging.

It’s probably because these character felt so ‘real’ that I never had much compunction about them being American. Yes, I have travelled extensively in the States and my grandfather lived there for a while, but it was less my personal history than the stories the characters were telling me, so sure in their voice and sense of where they were coming from, which made me never attempt to transpose them to a British setting, even though I knew being an British-German-Brazilian woman who wrote American fiction was making an already incredibly difficult career even harder as the publishing industry is very wary of such crossings of literary borders. Readers have told me that the book seems authentically American though and, if that’s the case, then it’s the characters of Sharonville who I can thank – for telling me about their town, their desert, their hopes and fears in a way which was thick with universal humanity and all its frailties and possibilities, but also steeped in Americana.

It feels pretentious or even a bit weird to say I didn’t make these folks up from my imagination, that they just came to me, but it’s the truth – well, my truth as it stands in relation to Welcome to Sharonville. My job, as I saw it, was to listen and type like an obedient secretary in my horn rim glasses, but, in the process of this passivity, I came to love them with an active loyalty, each and every one, and it is my hope that others will find friends within the novel’s pages too. I hope my readers will drive across the Hoover Dam with my Sharonville pals and laugh in bars and cry by hospital bedsides. Because if one person giggles or is moved or sees themselves just a little bit differently after reading this book, then I think the good folk of Sharonville will be glad they got on the bus with me that night on the way back to Vegas and didn’t wait a while for the next writer to come along.

Thanks so much, Sharon, that was fascinating. To find out more about Sharon and her work do visit her website here: Sharon Zink or visit her wonderful site dedicated to Sharonville, The Book Diner.

To buy the book visit Unthank Books or Amazon.

Guest author: Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Never Give up the Dream

Debz and RosieFirst of all I would like to thank Laura for having me over here on her blog! I’m Debz and I not only work as a full-time writer, having abandoned the regular day job, but I also work as an editor, professional critiquer and a small publisher. I also edit for the e-zine CaféLit and I am a partner in the small press, Bridge House Publishing, which is how I met the lovely Laura when her debut novel BloodMining won the first and only Bridge House Debut Novel Competition.

No dream worth pursuing is not without its hard work and sometimes that all too painful rejection. But, finally, 2013 is the year I got to see my debut novel in print. It was a long time coming.

Like so many writers I know, I have always written in one form or another but the obsession (and I think you need it!) finally got me close to ten years ago when I started work on the first novel (ignoring the one I wrote aged nine!) and I guess you could say have never looked back.

While No One Was Watching, published by Parthian Books this October, was actually the fourth novel I’ve written. And as I’m sure Laura will agree – we have to read, we have to write and we have to learn the craft. There’s no short cut.

I suppose as aspiring writers what we seek the most, or certainly what I seek, is validation. So when my first short story was published five years ago that marked the real beginning. I completed my MA in Creative Writing from Bangor University in 2010, read everything on writing, attended as many courses on writing as I could and I guess became like a sponge – because I wasn’t good enough and I wanted to be.

When the obsession became too strong I gave up the day job to live the dream – that was four years ago – to an uncertain future, but I just knew I had to. And since that first success I have had close to twenty short stories in collections and this year saw me short-listed in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize with only one other UK writer and I WON the Bath Short Story Award. Now that certainly validates giving up the day job!

But, and while I continue to write short stories, it was always about the novel and in fact it was my fourth that finally made it. Richard at Parthian Books phoned to say they loved my novel, While No One Was Watching and so put the icing on the proverbial cake for 2013. What a year! And I have to say that I believe writing short stories really honed the craft, and working in editing and especially critiquing made a huge difference – you have to know it, to teach it. But learning is a continual process and I have another three novels in various stages of rest, one almost ready to submit.

WhileNoOneWasWatching_CoverWhile No One Was Watching started life as a short story, an experiment in first-person narratives; it came from a vision – a woman leans forward in a chair, thick black fingers wrapped around a child’s silver locket and says to the young reporter, “It belonged to a little girl. She disappeared the day the President was shot. She was never found.”

This whole premise of taking an iconic moment in history; the assassination of John F Kennedy, but looking at something that happened just off-set, fascinated me and seemed like a great premise for a novel. Eleanor Boone is standing on a grassy knoll, she drops her mother’s hand. Gunshots. Panic. When the mother turns around her little girl is gone. She is still missing fifty years on – so what happened?

I knew it begged to be more than a short story and so I developed it, at the time three years or more until the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination.

I had to do a huge amount of research as you can imagine, not only about Kennedy but using American narrators, the African-American certainly needed a lot of work, it had to be authentic. I have travelled extensively in the states and have a lot of friends on the west coast, so I had the background to hopefully do it justice. The publisher claims he was quite convinced I was American when he read it. Phew. I hope when it’s released in the US next spring American readers will feel the same. We will have to see.

Gary is a small time reporter for a local paper, divorcee, Sunday father, and Lydia is a larger than life African-American retired police psychic. I loved the idea of letting fact and fiction to brush up alongside one another; our reporter reviewing real evidence from that day, but this time not looking for a man in a crowd with a gun – but a little girl. Gone while no one was watching. Or maybe someone was?

I do err on the literary side in my writing, so while it’s a plot-driven mystery, I love to explore my characters. My publisher asked me, if out of all the characters I’d written –which would I most be friends with? Without hesitation I said Lydia Collins. And it seems most people love her as much as I do! Phew. It’s a strange thing sending your work out there, hoping people will look after your characters but so far, so good – the reviews have been amazing.

It felt as if the pressure was on, when you work with developing writers as I do, you kind of need to put your money where your mouth is – prove you do know what you’re talking about. Hopefully this is validated.

I am just thrilled it’s out there and it was out in time for the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination this November.

Find out more about me and my work here: MY WEBSITE

Find out more about the book on the publisher’s website here: PARTHIAN

Watch the book trailer I made here: (I even had song written and composed for the book!) YOUTUBE

And buy it here (note that the Kindle version is on special offer for 99p until the end of December 2013.) AMAZON

So I really hope you enjoy it!

And Laura – thanks for having me over here. So pleased to see how well your own writing career has developed since that first novel.

And, my usual sign-off, applicable to all, but especially to aspiring writers – remember – anything is always possible so never give up.

I wonder what 2014 will bring?

Thanks so much, Debz. What an inspiring story behind your novel and there are so many truisms here that I couldn’t possibly name only one now. Sounds like a fantastic read, and it’s still on special offer for Kindle so get downloading a copy before the price goes up. Me? I’ll be buying a paperback, because there are some books I just have to hold and this is one of them.