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Books

Darkness

I’m delighted to welcome the author Tim Taylor to the blog. Tim has been a friend of mine for several years. His blog is full of his brilliant short stories and poems. Today, he’s here to tell us about something a bit different. Over to you, Tim.

Hello Miriam, thank you very much for hosting me today.

I’d like to talk about a new anthology of speculative fiction that I’ve been involved in. Darkness, published by Twisted Fate Publishing on 10 October, is a mix of sci-fi, fantasy and horror, by a group of previously published writers who have come together to make a book in aid of the mental health charity, MIND. All the stories relate to the theme of darkness, in many different literal and metaphorical ways.

The book is available on Amazon (via this link) for £9.99 in paperback or £3.99 on Kindle. All profits go to MIND. One of my two stories in the anthology is the first outing in print for a long-term sci-fi project I’ve been working at, on and off, for quite a while, in parallel with other writing. It involves a human community on a distant planet, ruled by a theocracy which diverts the resources of society towards the needs of its God. The people have lost their technology, and their history has been rewritten. However, as my story, Delving, explores, adventurous individuals may find bits of both in the ruins of ancient cities. Here is a short excerpt:

At last, they reached a tall wooden fence. It was twice the height of a man: Peiku wondered how they were going to get over it. But Ravakinu showed no inclination to do so, instead slowly following the fence to the left. At length they came upon a large bush. Ravakinu crouched down and motioned for the others to do so as well. The pale light illuminated his face once again.

“This is where we cross,” he whispered. “We can get under the fence here. Any second thoughts? It’s not too late to go back. If you get caught out here, it’s a breach of curfew and a slap on the wrist. Beyond the fence is forbidden ground. Get caught there and you are in major trouble. The Guardians are within their rights to execute anybody they find delving in the Old City, and sometimes they do. People I knew have died there.”

He looked pointedly at Peiku. “Still sure you want to go in?”

Peiku was not sure at all, but when he looked over at Vahe, her face had an uncharacteristic expression of grim determination. He couldn’t back out now.

“I’m sure.”

“OK.” Ravakinu pulled aside some foliage to reveal a small space under the fence. It hardly seemed big enough to get through. “I’ll go first and make sure the coast is clear. Peiku, wait a few seconds and then follow me. Vahe, you go last and do a final check that we’re not being followed.”

He turned to Peiku. “You go through feet first. It’s tight, but you’re skinnier than me so you should be okay. Watch me. There’s another bush on the other side, so it’s a bit tricky getting out, but I’ll help you.” Ravakinu lay on the ground and put his feet through the hole. First pushing with his hands against the earth and then pulling upon the planks of the fence itself, he eased himself through. There was a rustle of branches on the far side, then silence. Peiku looked at Vahe. She nodded. He lay down and tried to copy what Ravakinu had done. He put his feet through the hole and found that his legs slipped through easily enough as he pushed against the ground. He could feel branches on the other side of the fence. Now his hips were beneath the fence and his body was hard against the ground. He pushed again and moved another few centimetres. But his clothing was snagged on the fence – he was stuck! He fumbled with the cloth, trying to pull it free, but that seemed to make things worse. Remembering what Ravakinu had done, he grabbed the bottom of the fence and tried to lever himself through, but to no avail. The hard wood was pressing down on his chest, biting into his ribs with every breath. He was trapped!

Many thanks once again for hosting me, Miriam!

Ooh, what a cliffhanger to end on! Thank you, Tim.

Tim (T. E.) Taylor grew up near Leek in Staffordshire and now lives in Meltham, West Yorkshire, at the opposite end of the Peak District, with his wife Rosa and 14 guitars. Having previously been a civil servant, he now divides his time between creative writing, academic research and teaching Ethics part-time at Leeds University.

Tim’s first two novels: Zeus of Ithome, which retells the real-life struggle of the ancient Messenian People to free themselves from Sparta; and Revolution Day, about an ageing dictator clinging on to power, were published by Crooked Cat. His first poetry collection, Sea Without a Shore, was published in 2019 by Maytree Press. Tim is currently working on a science fiction project.

Connect with Tim on his website, blog, Facebook and Twitter.

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Uncategorized

Apologies

Yesterday, I attended a Zoom presentation by the wonderful Miriam Lottner. Any talk she gives is fascinating and brilliantly-delivered. And while I don’t recognise in myself the habit of being influenced by social media that she mentioned, I certainly found something to grab onto.

Fabulous doodle of the presentation by Yael Harris Resnick

“You don’t need to apologise,” she said. She told us about her offer to help people to present themselves in a better way on the job scene. The women who got in touch apologised for taking up her time. The men didn’t.

Miriam is right. We don’t need to apologise for what is rightfully ours, although I’m sure I often do. However, I do need to apologise for a recent blog post that confused some people. A group I belong to is talking of creating a website and considering using WordPress. I wanted to demonstrate something that WordPress can do, so I created a test post and added a password as the post was relevant only for the members of the group. But other people saw the link to the post and wondered about the password. For that confusion, I apologise. I wonder if there’s a better way to post something intended for a limited audience.

In other news, I’m planning a crime – a fictional one, of course. That will be my novel for NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately, we won’t be meeting up in local restaurants, this year, but we’ll meet online. I’m looking forward to it.

Categories
Books The writing process

Confidence

We all make mistakes, sometimes. We all need to listen to advice, sometimes, especially when that advice comes from a voice of experience.

But equally important is the notion that we need to have confidence in our own abilities to think, so that, after listening to advice and learning all we can, we are able to make and follow our own decisions.

I’ve just made a decision about one of my books, one that I should and would have made sooner if I’d had more confidence to follow the path I’d chosen. Because no matter who the person is who advised changing direction, the final decision should have been mine.

I’m not going to explain any more now, but in about three months I’ll refer back to this post.

In the meantime, the message of this post is universal:

You have to have confidence in your ability, and then be tough enough to follow through.

Rosalynn Carter

Writing is tough. Life is tough. But we can do it.

Categories
Books The writing process

Conversations in My Head

I just came across this article. Have a read – it’s not long.

Apart from being a fascinating read, it made me think:

Maybe I’m normal, after all.

Because it says that not only do most writers have conversations with their characters, but most people have conversations in their heads with people they know.

The picture above shows me talking to Asaf, one of the characters in the novel I’m still planning. We haven’t really spoken much, but I expect we will once the writing gets underway.

According to the article, most people have conversations in their heads with real people. I do that, too. The conversations in my head are never like real life because they flow much better than the real ones do. Hmm. I guess that means I’m not normal. Yeah, I knew that really.

Categories
Books Interviews Social anxiety

Useful Tips – Not For Me

Following several great interviews of her own, Rose McClelland has posted her five tips for a great radio interview.

They’re excellent tips – the sort of tips that make you think, “I can nail this!” Even I started to think that as I read. But I checked myself: “No, I can’t,” and this was the trigger:

Imagine that they’re sitting opposite you. Imagine it’s a friend or acquaintance who has a genuine interest in your book and wants to know more about it. Chat away to that presenter as you would to anybody.

The way I would chat to anybody isn’t what you want to hear on the radio. That’s why I’m not going to do this. I would need to plan my words in advance, as in a presentation.

Miriam Drori: presenting on social anxiety

But you can do it, I’m sure. If you’re considering a radio interview about your book(s), read the tips and go for it!

In contrast, I was delighted to be interviewed by Paula R. C. Readman recently because [spoiler alert] the clubhouse tearoom is virtual and I had plenty of time to plan my answers.

Where do you stand on interviews?

Categories
Books Reviews

Truly Amazing Adventures

I just finished a book. It’s called The True Adventures of Gidon Lev by Julie Gray, and I want to sing its praises from the rooftops.

The True Adventures is an amazing book, unlike any other that I’ve read. It started out as an account of the full and unusual life of Gidon Lev, but very soon the author slotted into the story, as the two became, as Gray calls their relationship, “Loving Life Buddies.”

Gidon Lev proudly holds the brand new book

The subtitle for the book is: “Rascal. Holocaust Survivor. Optimist.” It tells you immediately that this read will be poignant and humorous. It might make you wonder: How can you have humour in a book about a Holocaust survivor? My answer, in the typical Jewish habit of answering a question with another question, is: How can you not have humour when the survivor is a person who always has a smile ready to burst out? In every photo I’ve seen of him, every video, that cheeky smile is what I notice first. This is a man who never wanted his Holocaust experiences to define him, and they don’t. He is so much more than that.

I love the way the book is arranged, with Gray’s voice interspersed with quotes from various people and in particular from Gidon himself. In the middle of Gidon’s and Julie’s 2019 tour of Prague, for example, Gidon tells of Prague in 1938. When Gidon disagrees with something Julie wrote, his version pops up, too.

The writing itself includes some gems, like this description of Gidon: “merry, a bit kooky, with great intentions, always headed toward adventure and sometimes tilting toward windmills.” Also: “Memory is a famously mysterious phenomenon; the more we tell our stories, the more details we add, edit, or exclude.” And: “Anybody could relate to stories about relationships or jobs with bad bosses or a fun vacation. But when you experience something very specific, such as war or the suicide of a loved one or cancer, you occupy a different space. A lonelier one.”

Julie and Gidon in Karlovy Vary, 2019

Gidon was adamant from the beginning: the book was to be about his whole life and not just the Holocaust. I agree with him and yet… The Holocaust parts are so important, so poignant, so inescapably, unavoidably present, that they were what made the book for me, and it was right that the topic of the Holocaust kept returning in the narrative. It had to. You can’t go through an experience like that and just move on. It has to influence everything that comes after.

The Israel parts felt closer, perhaps too close, because naturally there were sections I didn’t agree with. I found myself thinking: I’ve lived here for forty-four years; how dare this newcomer say such things! But I took myself to task, because of course she’s had time to create her own views, and living here gives her the right to express them. Still, when I read that the Snake Path leading to the top of Masada is dangerous, I shouted back, “It isn’t! I’ve climbed it and it isn’t!”

The personal parts of the book were interesting as other people’s lives often are. I couldn’t imagine being in some of the knots Gidon found himself in. I marvelled at his ability to disentangle himself, even if not always in the best way.

I learned plenty from the snippets of information dotted around. “The word holocaust,” Gray writes, “was first used to describe the Hamidian (or, in modern terms, Armenian) Massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks from 1894 to 1896.”

I hardly need to add that I heartily recommend this book to everyone.

***

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. In no way did that affect my opinions, voiced above.

More information is available on the website. The photos are taken from there, with permission.

 

Categories
Books Interviews Reviews

Secrets Spoil Relationships

You can’t have a proper relationship with someone if you can’t be open with them. Rachel and her sister Imogen have discovered this…

I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy of an exciting new novel: Façade by Helen Matthews.

Façade by Helen Matthews

My review is followed by an interview with the author.

Review

Family secrets abound in this thrilling saga, and they’re revealed to us at different stages of the novel. Rachel is the one who has had to shoulder the most secrets, causing rifts between her and those closest to her. But even she has more to discover. Her older sister, Imogen, has been sheltered from a lot. Why is that? Being kept in the dark has fired her jealousy; she was always wild and selfish. The biggest secret of all, the truth about Rachel’s and Imogen’s brother, is mentioned throughout the book, but only revealed at the end. And it wasn’t what I was expecting.

This novel has taught me a lot about careful plotting. It has also made me rethink the secrets in my own family and the way they affected me. Nothing quite as dramatic, although Imogen did remind me of someone.

Façade is a gripping story, highly recommended.

Interview

Hello, Helen, and welcome to the blog. You are new to Crooked Cat / Darkstroke, but you’re not a new author. Can you tell us briefly about your other books?

Thanks for inviting me onto your blog, Miriam, and for reading and reviewing Façade. I’m thrilled to know you enjoyed it.

Façade is actually my third novel. My debut, published in 2017, was After Leaving the Village – a  suspense thriller about human trafficking and modern slavery. I’m often asked how I came to write about such a dark and gritty subject but once I hit on the idea it wouldn’t leave me. I should add that the story is realistic and I couldn’t entirely shy away from the violence but it is not gratuitous.

I’m interested in how someone’s life can change in an instant: one poor decision, trusting the wrong person, or being desperate to escape from poverty can spark a chain of events. My main character in After Leaving the Village, is seventeen-year-old Odeta, from a village in Albania. She’s left school and is working in her father’s shop. Her life isn’t especially grim, but it’s dull. She knows there’s a big world out there and, when an enigmatic stranger walks into the shop and offers to take her to London to start a new career, she jumps at the chance. Her life is about to change, but not in the way she expected.

I wanted readers to stand in Odeta’s shoes and really get to know her and recognise that she’s an ordinary woman – just like you or me or one of our daughters. I didn’t want her to be a one-dimensional character or a stereotypical victim.

While researching my novel, I discovered a charity called Unseen, that works to support survivors of modern slavery. They answered my research questions, fact-checked the novel for me and their Director wrote a Foreword for the book. I’m now an Ambassador for the charity.

My second novel Lies Behind the Ruin, published in April 2019, is also psychological suspense but it’s not about human trafficking. It’s domestic noir about a family who flee overwhelming problems in England and escape to France to renovate a derelict property. The main part of the story is set in and around Limoges with authentic detail of the city and nearby villages which, I hope, shows some of the magic of France and explains why people crave a simpler life. Emma and Paul Ashby and their children  are a ‘blended family’ and face heartbreak when they make the move because Emma’s son from her first marriage refuses to come. But their challenges aren’t the everyday ones that impact all would-be ex-pats because their marriage is beset by secrets and lies. Once these problems escalate, both their dream of a new life, and their daughter Mollie’s safety, are at risk because – how can you build a new life on toxic foundations?

What about Façade? How does it compare to your previous novels?

Façade is psychological suspense, like my previous novels, but it’s standalone. I’ve never wanted to write a sequel or a series because I always have new ideas, new characters, and new worlds to explore. If I tried to reopen a story with some of the same characters from a previous novel, I’m not sure I could make it fresh.

The story of Façade opens in 1999 when the main characters, Rachel and her sister, Imogen, are still in their teens and their baby brother drowns at the family home The Old Rectory. Grief shatters the family except for Imogen, who escapes to live abroad with her musician boyfriend, Simon, who she later marries. Fast forward twenty years and Simon dies in a mysterious accident in Ibiza. Imogen returns, bitter and resentful and determined to reclaim from her family what she believes should be hers. The carefully constructed veneer that has kept the lid on secrets and held the family back from disintegrating begins to shatter and Rachel and her teenaged daughter, Hannah face unexpected loss and danger.

I always try to make my novels multi-layered. On the surface, I hope readers will find them gripping page turners with multiple mysteries to be solved but, for book club discussion, and those who like to reflect on what they read, there are deeper underlying themes. In Façade these include memory, property and houses, and the meaning of home.

Your novels all sound fascinating. Why did you choose that genre?

It seems amusing to me now but, when I started writing novels (including ones I’ve abandoned), I just thought I was writing ‘a book’.  I didn’t understand about genre and how important it is for a publisher to be able to target readers, who might enjoy your book. I had to learn fast! A few years ago I won a novel competition and had a one-to-one with a big five publisher. They told me my book was ‘high end women’s fiction with book club potential’ so I was surprised when my publisher categorised After Leaving the Village as a ‘suspense thriller’, which is a sub-division of crime. Since then, I’ve gravitated more towards writing psychological suspense and have read widely in the genre so I can learn from the masters.  Early exponents of this were authors like Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, and Barbara Vine but it’s had a huge boost in popularity in the last ten years since Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train  were published. I read widely in the suspense genre to understand the tropes and what works, what doesn’t. Some hugely successful novels are deceptively simple, like Behind Closed Doors by B A Paris, which was a massive million-selling best seller (and is very clever) but others are more literary, such as The Wych Elm by Tana French and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – both excellent books.

Psychological suspense suits me because I’m not so interested in violent and gory deaths or in the painstaking work the police undertake to solve a murder. I don’t mind a bit of terror but I’d rather this was in the character’s and reader’s heads. I prefer writing about flawed characters, people who make mistakes or bad choices and, if their life experiences have made them sociopathic, so much the better. I’m fascinated by that too. Personally, I don’t have a problem reading about unlikeable characters but that can be a challenge for a novelist because you have to keep your readers interested in a flawed character, even if they don’t sympathise with them.

Your bio says, “She fled corporate life.” Why was that?

After a degree in English, I went travelling, then joined the British Council as a graduate trainee. Working on the educational and cultural side of  international development was intellectually stimulating and satisfying but quite badly paid so I changed direction. Later on, that turned out to be a good thing because my husband was made redundant and I became my family’s breadwinner while he looked after the children and ran a small business he fitted in around them. I ended up in the Energy industry where my specialisms were HR, Employee Benefits and Pensions. I always wrote fiction in any spare time – late at night or when I was on holiday. In my day job, I did a lot of writing: reports, legal documents, strategy papers and financial analysis. I found it was sapping my creativity and turning my prose into business speak. So, for a few years,  I stopped writing short stories and novels and turned to writing articles instead. My freelance journalism was published in a few newspapers and lifestyle magazines. A highlight was recording some columns I wrote about family life for a BBC Radio programme called Home Truths, presented by the late and lovely John Peel.

As every author knows, if you don’t write it makes you unhappy so, once my children were older, I decided to quit my job and go back to university to study for an MA in Creative Writing. I don’t believe writers need to do a course like this – there are other paths – but, for me, it was because I needed to get my imaginative writing back on track after years of working for big companies. It wasn’t possible to give up paid work altogether, so I carried on with consultancy alongside my studies and, over the next few years, gradually switched to freelance copywriting, which fits in well with writing fiction.

Tell us about the charity, Unseen. How does it go about eliminating slavery from the world?

Unseen is a small UK charity with a big reach and is dedicated to working towards a world without slavery.

Unseen runs the UK’s national Anti-slavery Helpline where victims, survivors and concerned members of the public can get help and advice 24/7. They run safe houses for women survivors and for men. These aren’t just hostels but places where survivors get medical and psychological support and counselling to help their recovery. They run outreach schemes to help people who have been  resettled in the community. They are also working on a project to support child victims of trafficking, which is a particularly tricky area. A high proportion of children rescued from slavery and placed in local authority care abscond and return to their trafficker because they don’t get the specialist support they need.

Unseen also provides training for employers, police forces and medical professionals to help them recognise the signs of slavery and they give advice to government to help them formulate strategies and legislation.

I make a monthly payment to sponsor a room in a safe house. Since becoming an Ambassador for Unseen, I’ve raised over £2,000 from donating a small percentage of my book royalties and from my author talk fees.

Thanks for featuring me, Miriam. It’s been fun answering your questions.

Thanks for answering them, Helen.

***

The publication date for Façade is 17 September 2020.
Pre-order it on Amazon.

Find out more about and get in touch with Helen at:

website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Helen Matthews

Categories
Books Reviews

Grab it While You Can

Cultivating a Fuji (Kindle version) is free this weekend.

Cultivating a Fuji also received another lovely review, which ends:

From a difficult and challenging subject matter, Drori has crafted an intelligent, compelling and thoroughly enjoyable book, one that everyone would benefit from reading.

And here’s the new trailer:

Categories
memories

Dear Mum & Dad

Dear Mum & Dad,

First of all, I want to wish you happy birthday, Mum. 108 today. Secondly, I want to tell you that you have become greatgrandparents. That little boy, who was 7 and 24 when you left this world, is now a father, and I am trying to get used to being a grandmother.

Baby1-12

You might know this, or you might not. Who knows? If you do, you’ll also know that we’re now in the second wave of a pandemic. I’ve had to stop dancing, and I’ve spent a lot of time at home. But I know I’ve been lucky in many ways.

You must both remember the previous pandemic, a century ago, although neither of you ever mentioned it. Did it somehow pass you by and leave you unaffected? I wish I’d heard more about your lives before I was born. I know I could have asked, but I didn’t think of doing that. And I had no idea about the pandemic. I did learn something of your lives during the Second World War, but nothing of living through the First.

Moshe & Esther

You must have endured a lot, but here you are, standing happily together in the sunshine in front of the back door of the house I grew up in. You must be around the age that I am now. I’m glad you were able to enjoy this and many other happy moments.

Categories
Books

An Appreciated Editor

I don’t often write about my other job as an editor, but now is a good time to do exactly that.

I just finished working with Joan Livingston on her new novel, Killing the Story, out on August 26th (the day after my birthday) and available for pre-order now. This is the fourth novel of hers that I’ve edited, and I love them all.

I also enjoy being appreciated – don’t we all? – and this post shows that to be the case. However, the editor in me wants to change the tense of a verb in this sentence:

She’s originally from the UK, but has lived in Israel for many years and does a lot of traveling.

I did a lot of travelling. I hope to do a lot of travelling. But just now… nope. But that single l in ‘traveling’ – I know that’s fine in the US.

The first time I was asked to edit a novel in American English, I worried that I wouldn’t know all the correct idioms or get the dialogue right. “Don’t worry,” I was told. “The author comes from the UK but lives in the US and she knows all that.” That was almost entirely true, but I did query one word (I can’t remember which) that I thought might not be understood by Americans. The author was surprised to discover I was right. I think living in Israel has opened me up to more Americans than the average British person would come into contact with.

That doesn’t mean I know all the idioms, but I trust Joan, who has lived there all her life. And, yes, I keep her writer’s voice. I think that’s important.

Editing a book is a long process, but it’s also enjoyable, especially if the book is interesting and the author is easy to get along with. Fortunately, I haven’t worked with any stroppy authors, but I’ve heard stories! And I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve worked on.

I’m currently editing a memoir by a non-native speaker of English. She writes English very well, but the mistakes she makes wouldn’t be made by a native speaker. Sometimes, they’re not even mistakes, and I find myself saying, “It’s not wrong, but it doesn’t sound quite right.” Yes, we actually talk, via Zoom. It’s quite fun.

There are different types of authors. Some accept all my suggestions, while with others there’s more discussion. With the first type, there’s less of the back and forth, and that saves time. But  discussion probably leads to a more polished result and that, after all, is the point of the exercise.

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life.

Spice of Life