Dust, Dirt and first Drafts

No one died of a dusty house, right?

MSOn Wednesday, I completed the first draft of my latest novel – working title Redemption Song. It’s a story of guilt, love and forgiveness – or Buildings, Bats and Love – set in a remote seaside town in Wales. It’s fair to say that for months my house has been absolutely rammy and I should be awarded an A star in slovenliness. But as I said in the sub-title: no one ever died of a grubby house. And in mitigation I was immersed in my characters’ worlds.

Now that I have to stay away from the manuscript for at least a couple of weeks (oh how my fingers itch for the keyboard) my house is spotless, mounds of paperwork have been filed, the lawns have been mowed and I even baked a cake with Ginger2 on Saturday – with disastrous results. Nigella Lawson, I’m not.

All this cleaning is fine preparation because soon enough, though not soon enough for me, I’ll be tidying up messy areas of the novel. I might rearrange the furniture in some scenes, repaint others, polish certain characters, bin others, or even go out shopping for a new look for one, to give the character a little more va-va-voom. I do love this process because, when I’m lucky, a kind of alchemy occurs: the base metal of a story is transformed into narrative gold, though I’ll settle for a second draft of silver because after draft two comes draft three …

North Wales’ Best Kept Literary Secret?

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 115Of late, I’ve been a bad blogger, irregular and erratic with my posts. However, I’ve had some splendid guests and I hope you’ve enjoyed their wisdom. This month I’m busy with literary festivals and here I’m going to talk about a new(ish) festival in Wales in a library that more should know about.

First off, why such a slack blogger? Summer is the trickiest season for me, when the Gingers are off school. Mornings are work time and afternoons are fun time, but this puts a time squeeze on work-related activity – I even have to curb my social media addiction. Gasp, horror. I’ve been scribbling away on my latest novel – a story of love, faith, forgiveness, and bats set in a Welsh seaside town – and I’ve also done a fair whack of editing jobs – three in total. One was for Sarah Rayner. Sarah has written and published a fantastic e-book, Making Friends with Anxiety, and it is perfect for any of you who are prone to an over-whelming sense of panic, or a mild sense, to be honest. It’s beautifully written – like chatting with a mate – and is full of brilliant tips and advice. And this summer I had to prepare a workshop for a literary festival, GladFest.

Edinburgh-Aug 2014 106I travelled up to my home stomping ground – North Wales – at the weekend, with the boys in tow to take part in the festival.  2014 is only the second year GladFest has been running at the stupendously gorgeous Gladstone Library, but, boy, you’d never know it. What a brilliant festival. A dazzling array of well-respected authors at the top of the game (and me). Authors like Salley Vickers and Stephen May – his debut TAG is one of my all-time favourite books. He was there to talk about his latest, the fantastic Wake Up Happy Every Day. There was a menu of workshops to attend and the festival was very well-attended. This was also down to the wonderful organisation and publicity, and the hard work put in by all the staff at the library. Everyone was made to feel so welcome. Gladstone’s is a unique place; a residential library that connects a wide range of writers and thinkers, runs courses and events and is a haven for creative thinking and reflection.

My workshop, Spit & Polish, was all about the vital art of self-editing your MS. It was a sell-out and if I say I was taken aback by this you should imagine me lying on the floor of the library fanning myself. I was nervous but the reception was great and the feedback better than I could ever have hoped for.

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Gorgeous festival bag & programme

Festivals are great for authors and readers alike. They connect one to the other and though a disadvantage of working at a festival is that you don’t get a chance to see and do as much as you’d like, there are many, many advantages. You meet readers and potential readers, you meet new authors and others known to you, the exchange of ideas and creative energy at a festival like GladFest is nigh on priceless. So, if you’re reader or writer and you live in the North West do find out about the range of events held at the library. Scratch that. Wherever you live check out the Gladstone Library. I’m taking some time out and working up there for a couple of weeks next year, and I cannot wait.

Next stop on the festival tour is Richmond Boots and Books. I’m talking at the library on 22nd, 7pm, about Public Battles, Private Wars. What’s not to like about a festival with a name like that!

 

I’m finishing with another photo of the library and the great man himself, simply because I can!Edinburgh-Aug 2014 116

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

My lovely writer mate and fellow Accent Press author, Jenny Kane, invited me to take part in this tour during which authors and writers talk about their process. It’s good to think about and analyse the ways in which we approach our work. It’s been a while for me so this tour is the perfect opportunity to do precisely that and it’s great fun. You can check out Jenny’s thoughts here.

Right, deep breath. Here goes!

What am I working on?

public battles draftAt the moment I’m buried under a heap of editing. As some of you will know, I write under different names – two writers in one body – and on New Year’s Eve (what a gift for 2014 this was) L.C. Wilkinson signed a contract with Xcite for the sequel to my hot romance, All of Me. In this book, All of Him, we follow Flick and Orlando to NYC where the pressure of life and love in the media spotlight begins to take its toll. And I am waiting for my Accent Press editor’s comments on Public Battles, Private Wars, which is out in the spring. It’s a story of a young miner’s wife in 1984; of friends and rivals; loving and fighting, and being the best you can be. And lots and lots of cakes. I think the MS is pretty clean – it went to an editor at the Welsh Books Council before Accent, who was very complimentary about it (thank God!) but there will be more work, of course. So, over the next couple of months I’ll be editing, editing, editing. Good job I like it!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Everyone has a unique voice. When we’re starting out, a major part of the journey is finding that voice; the one that reflects the story and the one that speaks to readers. So my work differs in voice and tone from that of other women’s fiction authors. I hope that my work is full of ideas; ideas that make the reader question, think and challenge, as well as believable, likable characters, and an involving story. I’d like my work to be thought of as women’s fiction with plenty of grit.

Why do I write what I do?

Gosh, I haven’t the faintest idea! Seriously, and I know it sounds bonkers, but characters tend to come to me; they start talking, telling me their stories. I have been inspired by newspaper articles, conversations on trains and planes, and photographs I come across. That’s what happened with Public Battles, Private Wars. I was researching another novel set in the mid-80s and I came across an image of a woman raging at a policeman charging towards her on horseback. The photograph was taken during a battle between police and miners outside a pit in South Yorkshire during the summer of 1984. It got me thinking about the women involved in the strike – the wives and mothers of these traditional communities – and how their lives changed during the year-long strike. Then a ginger-haired young woman starting talking to me. She liked to bake cakes, thought it was the only thing she was good at, but she was bright and sparky and ready for change… A friend had returned to the village and her husband was a bit of a mystery… A story emerged.

How does your writing process work?

An idea rumbles. A theme, characters develop, start to talk to me, a location emerges. I read around the subject, buy a dedicated notebook and begin to fill it. Before I write anything I have an idea of the story arc. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily know the ending – sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I have a sense of the journey the character (s) will make. I choose a working title. Even if I know it’s rubbish; it often is. Leading characters get profile sheets. These will be altered and added to as the work progresses. I like to be surprised by my characters. I decide on a structure and point of view. Again, open to change. With BloodMining, my debut, I wrote 20,000 words in first person before realising that this was all wrong, and switched to close third. With Public Battles, Private Wars, (forthcoming, spring 2014) I knew it would be first person immediately. I jot down scene ideas and their purpose. Then the really fun bit! I write. Fast and loose. No serious editing. I aim for 1,000 words day. Sometimes, I manage more, sometimes less. I’ve children and another job as an editor … Periodically I write brief summaries of each chapter/scene. When I’m approximately one third of the way through, I read what I’ve got. I write the rest. I print out the MS – I don’t see stuff on screen – and scribble all over it. I draw up a detailed outline. Shuffle scenes around. Remove/add scenes. I rewrite. Repeat the last point as many times as needs be. When I am blind with editing and think it’s the best I can make it, I send it to my editor. I crack a bottle of bubbly!

Thanks for coming over; I hope you found it interesting. On Monday 27th January, you can check out how friends Bridget Whelan, Rachel Connor and Shirley Golden go about their work. They’re a diverse and talented bunch – do check out their posts.

NEXT WEEK:

Bridget Whelan

Bridget is a London Irish writer now living in Brighton. A lecturer in non-fiction at Goldsmiths College – the leading creative university of the UK – just two years after graduating from the MA creative writing programme, she is now teaches at many locations in south east England, including City Lit, the largest adult education centre in Europe. She has also been  Writer in Residence at an inspiring community centre serving the unemployed and low waged. Her own writing career was launched when she won first prize in an international short story competition and she was granted an Arts Council bursary to complete her first novel A Good Confession set in 1960s Ireland and London. Her ebook BACK TO CREATIVE WRITING SCHOOL is an Amazon bestseller and earned her a heap of five * reviews.   Amazon

Join Bridget on Facebook and follow her Blog http://bridgetwhelan.com/

Rachel Connor

Rachel Connor writes fiction, non-fiction and radio drama and lives in a scenic hilltop village in Yorkshire.  Her debut novel, Sisterwives, is published by Crocus Books and her forthcoming radio drama, The Cloistered Soul will be broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 in May 2014.  She teaches creative writing (currently at Edge Hill and Leeds Trinity Universities) and works as an editorial consultant and mentor, helping authors shape and refine their works-in-progress.  Other than writing, her passions are dancing, and cooking up a culinary storm in the kitchen.  Oh, and cheesecake.

Shirley Golden

Shirley Golden’s stories mostly wing their way back to the dark recesses of her laptop and await further coffee-fuelled sessions of juggling words.  Some of her short fiction pieces have found homes in the pages of magazines and anthologies, or in various corners of the internet; a few have won prizes.  She is door-person and arbitrator to two wannabe tigers, and can often be found on Twitter when she should be writing. @shirl1001

 

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.

Author interview: Jude Starling

Goldcord Asylum Front ColourThanks for popping by, Jude; it’s lovely to have you here to talk about your new novel, writing, publishing and other madness. I read the novel in three sittings, which is unusual for me, so it’s fair to say that I found it compelling. It’s an involving read and one I’d whole-heartedly recommend to fans of historical fiction and a damn good read in general.

On the book:

What’s the elevator pitch for the novel?

As it’s a fairly long book and the plot juggles five protagonists, I find that the easiest way to give a concise idea of what the book’s about is to refer people to the cover blurb (kindly penned for me by my friend Jen):

Preston, 1866:

Time is running out for Goldcord Asylum. Once a progressive establishment dedicated to curing the mental problems of the inmates, now the asylum is under increasing pressure to treat and release patients whether they are ready or not. Professional pride, personal ideals, financial pressures and dark secrets compete to determine whether Goldcord will survive.

In the midst of this maelstrom of conflicting interests, Ivy Squire is committed. A strange young woman, so self-destructive that she must be kept in isolation, Ivy begins to reveal her story to new nurse Tilly Swann. But can Tilly find the key to Ivy’s madness before she is dragged into danger by Superintendent Enoch Gale’s increasing recklessness?

The other thing I like to say is that this is a novel for adults by a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome about a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome and I’m not presently aware of any other books that fit into this category. If/when I learn of more this pitch will crash and burn, but on the bright side I’ll have discovered some new reading material!

What drew you to mental illness and Victorian perceptions of it as a theme for your book?

Part of it stemmed from my own issues (people with AS are significantly more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression than the general population), but I wanted to challenge a few of our modern misconceptions about Victorian psychiatry as well: ask most people to describe a historical asylum and they’re likely to talk about straitjackets and caged patients and members of the public poking them with sticks, and all those things were (sometimes significantly) outdated by the middle of the 19th century. While I’m not for one minute suggesting that Victorian asylums at the time in which Goldcord Asylum is set were perfect or that I’d want to be a patient in one of them, I wanted to show that there were stepping stones in between those conditions and the ones in psychiatric hospitals now.

Given that you live with Asperger’s was it difficult, emotionally, to create Ivy and tell her story? She is SO misunderstood, and many of her behaviours, though considered odd at the time, going against the social mores of period, would be seen as perfectly normal in a modern woman.

I resisted the idea of writing about AS at all for years, so obviously there was a part of me that found the idea difficult, but once I made the decision and got started it was actually very cathartic. That isn’t to say that there weren’t things in Ivy’s story that I found very difficult to write – her tale is a tragic one – but you can’t face up to challenges by pretending they aren’t there, and looking them in the eye (perhaps an unfortunate expression to use in the context of a character on the autistic spectrum!) can be remarkably freeing. Part of my fear of writing an AS character came from not wanting to create an author insert, but eventually I saw that this was nonsensical (why would Ivy having AS make her an author insert, any more than her being white, northern, British, female or occupying any other common ground with myself?), and while for obvious reasons we have a lot in common, there are differences too, as anyone who knows me would be able to tell you.

Through your colourful cast of characters, you cover quite a range of mental illnesses, some that we still recognise today. Why did you choose to do this, rather than concentrate on just a few?

I was curious to look into how people with those conditions would be understood (or not!) and treated then, and also to acknowledge some of the debate that continues now as to whether Victorian asylums were filled with people who wouldn’t now be hospitalised for their conditions, if indeed they had any conditions at all (like Ivy, who only starts to really display symptoms of declining mental health as a result of her institutionalisation, or the post-menopausal Winnie Hall whose desire to divorce her husband is viewed as pathological) or people who might well be hospitalised for a time even now (Constance and Olive, who suffer from eating disorders, and Daniel Millward, who is probably schizophrenic and experiences psychotic episodes). I came to the conclusion that the truth was probably somewhere in between, and so I wanted a mixture of patients in the asylum to reflect that.

Tilly is more at ease with her natural sexual impulses than many of the more ‘refined’ women of the time. Do you feel it was easier for working class women to express their desire, and why?

Although the cultural emphasis on ‘chastity’ would have spanned all classes at the time, I think there was a difference in the working class in that they simply couldn’t afford to be quite as prim and sheltered as those from wealthier families. They lived in smaller houses, often sharing bedrooms, and were more in touch with the realities of things like pregnancy and childbirth: a working class woman simply couldn’t have a (quite literal) ‘confinement’ in which she avoided being seen in public once her pregnancy started to show, and when she gave birth it would have been at home in the bedroom with the local midwife, while the rest of the family waited outside, listening to the attendant noises. Girls would grow up helping their mothers, including with the bathing and nappy-changing of their siblings, so they’d know that there were physical differences between the sexes. So Tilly’s working class background partially explains why she’s a little more down to earth, but there’s also her occupation to consider: as is mentioned in the story, she’s given bed baths to male patients, and no doubt she would have helped bed-bound ones when they needed to use the chamber pot, and she would have heard doctors referring to parts of the anatomy by their proper names. All the same, there is still a difference when the time comes for her to approach a male body in a sexual context, and it’s still a very new and different experience for her.

Much is made of the religion of one of the leading characters. What was the thinking behind this and how does it feed into the themes of the novel?

The fact that Ivy and Tilly both come from Catholic families is what opens up a dialogue between them: Ivy’s Aspergian sensitivity to smell means that she detects the faint scent of incense lingering in Tilly’s hair the morning after she’s attended Mass, and when she (with characteristic bluntness) remarks on it, they begin to talk to each other as people rather than nurse and patient. Also, the fact that Tilly has experienced being judged and marginalised by most of society at this point (there were some Catholic politicians and self-made Catholic families living in relative luxury, but anti-Catholic prejudice was still rife in society as a whole) gives her something of an understanding of what Ivy goes through; in a sense, they’re both outcasts.

Enoch commits some horrific acts and makes very bad choices, but I found him sympathetic. Was this your intention?

The way I like to explain this is to talk about the criminal profilers who work with the police: in order to catch the killer, they have to get into their head to a degree and understand the way they think. Also, I find it grossly insulting to a reader’s intelligence whenever I encounter shining heroes (this is why Ambrose, who is a very well-intentioned character in most respects, is still very much a Victorian man in his belief that Ivy’s disinterest in her appearance is ‘unnatural’, and why he’s painfully naïve when it comes to dangerous patients) and/or moustache-twirling villains. Most people who do terrible things don’t view themselves as villains; in their minds, what they do is justified, and to explain how the man who in his youth founded a progressive institution like Goldcord could in later years go so far off the rails I had to get a sense of the gradual decline. To make him real I had to empathise (although not necessarily sympathise – like the criminal profiler, I can draw lines between the two) with him, and in many respects I think he’s scarier than an out-and-out monster because monsters are too easily dismissed. When people do evil things we often use the word ‘inhuman’, but either there’s a lot of inhumanity in humans or we need to re-examine our definition of the terms.

Both the male romantic leads are gorgeous. Do you have a personal favourite and if so, why?

Hmm, on balance I’d have to say Quentin. I tried to make sure that I didn’t write him as Mr Sensitive and Politically Correct 21st Century (hence his initial reaction to the discovery of Ivy’s pregnancy not being something we’d entirely approve of now, and of course for much of the novel he’s keeping a pretty big secret from her), but apart from Violet he’s the only person in Ivy’s life prior to her being committed who doesn’t find her utterly incomprehensible and annoying. This was partly based on something I once read in a book about Asperger’s – apparently some AS people find greater acceptance in cultures that are foreign to them because many people expect someone brought up in another culture to sometimes behave in ways that are a little odd by their standards, and of course many Americans famously think that Brits are rather standoffish and socially awkward so she’s not much stranger by Quentin’s standards than anyone else around them.

On writing:

Jude StarlingI’ve often thought about the gulf between the time it takes to write a novel and the time it takes to read one. How long did you spend on Goldcord Asylum, and how much of this was research?

Phew, good question. I’ve just been back through my diaries of the period and apparently I began writing it in March 2009 and finished in September 2010. (Add approximately two or three months of research beforehand as well.) Then of course it was edited and redrafted countless times – the original book was even longer; I think I cut about 60,000 words in total. Then came the time spent formatting it for print and ebooks…!

Where do you like to write first drafts?

Location: the living room, on my laptop. Software used: Word – I used to use OpenOffice and liked it, but had to switch to Word when I started editing professionally as practically all my clients use Word so it was easier to speak the same language, software-wise.

Can you tell us anything about your next book? A teaser?

My next book is called The Right of the Subjects, and will (provisionally) be published in January 2014. It follows a weaver through her involvement with the suffragette movement during their most turbulent years from 1906 to the start of World War I in 1914 and contains romance and militancy and appearances by some suffragettes who really existed, both well known and less so.

You write short stories as well as novels. If any, which do you feel more at home with?

Definitely novels – most of my ideas tend to be difficult to condense into a smaller word count!

On publishing:

How was the process for you? Did you employ an editor, proofreader?

Well, I am an editor and proofreader (www.judestarling.com/editing), but I still wouldn’t think of publishing anything without getting at least one impartial opinion first. It’s impossible to take an impartial view of your own work and after god knows how many drafts it’s easy to miss things, no matter what your experience is.

What three pieces of advice would you give to any author considering self-publishing?

1) As I say, the fact that you’ve spent so long dealing with your book (and if you haven’t, it’s not ready for publication!) means that you could miss things – after a while, you can’t see the forest for the trees. This is why a fresh pair of eyes (or more than one) is so important. 2) Get a decent cover, even if you’re ‘just’ publishing ebooks. It takes considerable skill to produce something that looks professional, and your cover is your first bid for attention in the crowded market that is an online book retailer. If you can’t produce something to that standard yourself (and I certainly can’t – my cover was designed by the fantastic Fena Lee: www.pheeena.com), contract the job out. 3) Self-publishing certainly moves faster than traditional publishing, but even so, take the time to do it right.

And do you see yourself continuing to self-publish or traditionally, or both as many authors are now?

I try to avoid making statements about things like this because it always seems to be my cue to end up doing things I said I’d never do, and besides, so much seems to depend on individual cases. I don’t see publishing in terms of lines of battle between traditional and self-publishing as some seem to – there’s no failure or selling out in either, and all I can do really is try to do what’s right for me at any given time.

Random madness:

If you were able to go back to mid-Victorian England and could take three objects with you, what would they be?

An ereader (I’d love to see how the literati of the day would react to them, and talk about steampunk!), a steel-boned corset (save the whales!) and some amoxycillin (a bit of philanthropy).

If you could invite six people to a dinner party who would they be? Dead, alive, real or fictional.

I’m not great with dinner parties (for obvious reasons!) so this isn’t my area of expertise, but I’m tempted to agree with Caitlin Moran, who when asked this question in a recent interview said that she’d like to do what she does in real life and invite her friends because she’d know that she’d have a good time. (In my case, I could also then say that I wouldn’t be dealing entirely with strangers.) Plus my friends are an interesting bunch with some interesting interests (!), so perhaps I could invite friends and each could bring a person of their choice. That would make for quite a mixture, I’m sure. (Oh, and I’m bringing Thomas Hardy – I think we’d have a bit to talk about in terms of how we approach writing fiction.)

We met through the writing e-magazine hagsharlotsheroines. If you had to define yourself as hag, harlot or heroine, which would it be?

Ha ha! Well I don’t really believe in heroes/heroines in the traditional sense of the word (hence my ability to create a bastard like Enoch and humanise him, I suppose) and I don’t have enough fun to be a harlot, so I’d have to say hag, or hag-in-training if there’s a minimum age limit. I have the grandma from The Addams Family earmarked as my style icon for my twilight years – I’m going to have a grey birds’ nest for hair and carry a stick even if I don’t need one so I can justify the purchase of an antique cane – so that word should fit in a few decades at least.

Thanks for a fascinating interview, Jude and best of luck with the book. Buy it here:

One to watch

First off, grovelling apologies (mostly to myself, I am not so deluded as to think that anyone else actually gives a monkey’s) for not posting for so long. As usual – and it’s a pathetic excuse – I’ve been busy with writing, teaching, editing, and now, pre-publication promoting. Anyway, this post is not about me. Sharp intake of breath. I’m kidding, right? No.

Over a two year period I ran a couple of creative writing projects at the school I work at part-time – St Nicolas CofE VA Junior School. During these projects I facilitated and nurtured a number of extremely talented children and produced two books containing the best of the writing produced. Here they are. Lovely, huh? One of these young people demonstrated a gift so rare that I knew a literary star of the future was in our midst. Well, it seems that I’m not the only one to think so and I am so pleased.

On Wednesday I received an email from this young woman. She is in the final of the Brit Writers’ Award 2011 Under 16 category for her short story, Nobody’s Child. What fantastic news! It made my day. Well done, Imy, aka Imogen Cook. Remember the name, folks. I’ll be keeping everything crossed for Imogen on 7 October.

Covers, proofs and learning

So, apart from a brief, over-excited flurry (see below) about a short story, I’ve been away from this blog for almost a month. Holidays aside, this is because I’ve been deep in draft three of novel #2, to-ing and fro-ing about the cover of BloodMining, and over the past few days studying the page proofs. Blimey, it feels like a real book. Cue knee-trembling, sick feeling in belly.

The cover was finalised before I went away, but thanks (not) to a glitch on this site I cannot show you because this blasted thing won’t allow me to upload any images. Lovely techie mates, like Elizabeth Donnelly and Diane Laidlaw, have offered help but, so far, to no avail. You must imagine me gnashing my teeth and stomping my feet now. Anyway, I’m really happy with the cover and, an added bonus, the fantastic Yvonne Roberts (currently at the Observer, award-winning journalist and author) read the novel and offered a great quote for the back cover. When her email came through I thought I might throw up – it felt like the first review – but, to my delight, she clearly enjoyed it. Phew.