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 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 Interviews

Divided by a Common Language

A huge welcome to the author Olga Swan, whose new book, An Englishwoman in America, is about to be published.

Hi Miriam!  I’m honoured to be invited onto your esteemed blog. Love its biblical title, btw.

Olga Swan, authorHello, Olga. I know that’s not your real name. Can you tell us why you chose to have a pen name and why you chose that one?

As some of your readers may already know, I lost my parents 50 years ago, swiftly followed by my two elder brothers. So, as a mark of remembrance I write under the nom de plume of Olga Swan, it being an anagram of my late brother A Olswang. In this way, as the last member of the family born with this name, I’m keeping them and our unusual name alive.

I didn’t know all of that. That must have been very hard for you.

You’re a very prolific author. How do you find time to write so many books?

I’ve now written 10 books in total (see below) but spanning many years. The first (Lamplight),  I wrote about 50 years ago. I remember brother Alan typing it from my hand-written notes onto his portable, manual typewriter. Today, now I’m retired, I can escape into our new, tiny conservatory and take as long as I want for my thoughts to flow. I find the extra light from the glass roof helps cure my SAD too.

I’m assuming that’s seasonal affective disorder and not social anxiety disorder!

You recently returned to the UK after living in France, and you wrote about that period of your life in two wonderful and humorous books: Pensioners in Paradis and From Paradis to Perdition. What experiences form the basis for your new book, An Englishwoman in America?

Thank you for your kind comments about my French books. As these have proven successful, I wanted to continue the non-fiction, comedy element but in a new guise. Of particular interest to your Israeli readers, I also wanted to write about the huge Yiddish influences in my life (my grandmother spoke it fluently), so there are chapters about Yiddish theatre in early NY plus its influence on both American and British comedy over the years.

My father spoke Yiddish well and my mother understood it, but they never spoke Yiddish at home, so I didn’t learn it. However, I would be very interested to read about the influence of Yiddish theatre on American and British comedy.

An Englishwoman in America is a humorous look at how the British and the Americans view each other. The cover image gives a snapshot of what lies within. My inspiration for writing it dates back to when I was growing up in the ’50s.  I couldn’t understand why four of us (my mother, 2 brothers and myself) were all shy and introverted, yet my father was loud, extrovert and so large as life in everything he did. Eventually I understood. He’d lived a considerable time in America. Should I then follow his lead and move to America? Would that make me more outgoing?  The book required lots of research:  from immigration tomes to other works in the genre to personal holiday diaries and precious travel memoirs from my father to internet sources.

An Englishwoman in America by Olga Swan

What are you writing now?

I don’t have a wip [work in progress] at the moment whilst I catch my breath in the lead up to the release of An Englishwoman in America on 11 June, but there’s a possibility I can follow up with further books in the series, each entitled An Englishwoman in…..

Your weekly posts on your blog — Brexed, Bothered and Bewildered (a lovely alliterative name) — are always short and to the point, and they make a lot of sense. Can you sum up what you think is wrong with the world and what we can do to make it a better place?

 Too many people spout opinions of others based on historic falsehoods, which are then perpetuated. The answer has to be more understanding and education about each other. Schools all over the world should introduce mandatory classes where different peoples, their history and faiths are studied, examined and discussed. Also, as a writer, we have an additional role to play in furthering these aims. Education, from whatever source, is the key lest past atrocities like the holocaust are doomed to happen again and again.

Oh yes, I agree with that! Education, from whatever source, except for sources that plant falsehoods, of course.

And finally, what can we expect from your launch party on 11th June?

All day on Tuesday 11 June (also on the 12th) everyone’s invited to my online FB launch party. On the day simply click this link. Then under Discussion, say hi and enjoy guest author spots (I’m looking forward to yours, Miriam), entertainment, read exclusive excerpts from the book, and enter 2 free quizzes about American cars and music to win a prize. Easy. Looking forward to welcoming you all on the 11th. Pre-order your ebook now or buy the paperback from Amazon.

I’m looking forward to it.

 Olga Swan books published by Crooked Cat Books

Olga Swan books published by KDP Amazon

Gillian Green books published by lulu.com

  • Ruby
  • Clementine
  • Saffron
Categories
Books Interviews

Distancing Ourselves from Our Fiction

(The reason for this title will become apparent at the end of this post.)

I’m delighted to welcome back to the blog my friend, colleague and brilliant author. It’s Sue Barnard! Sue’s next book, Finding Nina, will be published in just a week and I decided to ask her a few questions about the writing process.

Finding Nina is ‘part-prequel, part-sequel to the bestselling Nice Girls Don’t.’ Did you write Nice Girls Don’t knowing there would be a prequel/sequel or did the idea for Finding Nina come later?

Nice Girls Don’t was originally written as a stand-alone story, with no plans for a prequel or sequel.  Only after it was published did I realise that a loose end had been unintentionally left dangling.  Thankfully it didn’t affect the outcome of Nice Girls Don’t, but it did leave open the possibility of a spin-off. Finding Nina is in many ways a backstory for one of the characters who barely steps out of the shadows in Nice Girls Don’t.  I enjoyed exploring that particular character in more depth and letting her have her own say.

Was it hard to fit the new novel around the existing story? Did you wish you’d written anything differently in Nice Girls Don’t?

Finding Nina by Sue BarnardI had to make sure that the events of the two books coincided.  The action of Nice Girls Don’t takes place over just a few months (from April to July 1982), but Finding Nina covers a much longer timespan – from 1943 to 2004.  I had to write out a timeline of events covering the entire period, and work from that.

I also set myself the task of making sure that Finding Nina would still make sense to anyone who hadn’t read Nice Girls Don’t.  I hope I’ve succeeded.  The two stories do complement each other, but both can be read in isolation.

How much of the plot did you know before you began writing?

Very little, apart from my original one-sentence premise.  Building an entire story around that proved to be quite a challenge!

Did you write the novel from beginning to end, or did you write scenes and fit them together afterwards?

A bit of both. I tried to work from beginning to end, but some scenes were written out of sequence as they occurred to me, and were slotted in later.

How much of the first draft is in the final version?

In terms of the plot, most of it is still there – although the actual text went through several revisions along the way (including rearranging the order of some scenes following feedback from beta-readers). But one particular scene from an earlier draft didn’t make the final cut, because I realised that it didn’t add anything to the story.

Did you write any of it in longhand or was it all typed on the computer?

It was all typed on the laptop, apart from odd notes jotted down by hand (or on my phone) if ideas occurred to me when I was away from the computer.  It was interesting trying to make sense of them afterwards.

I suppose that could be a metaphor for my whole life…

Ooh, that made me pause for thought!

Thank you so much for answering my questions, Sue. Here’s some more information:

Finding Nina

1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints.  Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…

More About Sue

Sue BarnardSue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium.  She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.  She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

Blog   Facebook   G+   Twitter   Instagram   Amazon  Goodreads  RNA

Also by Sue Barnard

The Ghostly Father  Nice Girls Don’t  The Unkindest Cut of All  Never on Saturday  Heathcliff

Sue Barnard - Romance with a Twist

Finding Nina … is not that book.” That’s the sentence that spawned the title of this post. Why do authors need to keep asserting that our fiction isn’t autobiographical? Why do interviewers always expect it to be? Why do I need to say, about my new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, that Martin isn’t me?

Food for a different post, perhaps.

Categories
Books Interviews Reviews Social anxiety

Articles and Reviews

There are two more days of the blog tour for Cultivating a Fuji with Rachel’s Random Resources. I’m amazed at the wonderful reviews that have brightened my days, and at all the attention that has been paid to them, as well as to my articles and interviews.

Here they are, so far:

Articles and Interviews (via RRR and elsewhere)

Link Date Title
Joan Livingston 6th May Meet Martin Carter of Cultivating a Fuji

Sue Barnard 10th May ————————–
What’s this thing with social anxiety?
Fiona Mcvie 10th May ————————–
Author Interview
Jen Wilson 14th May ————————–
Cultivating a Fuji from a Historical Aspect
WWBB 15th May ————————–
Quell those Negative Thoughts
B for bookreview 16th May ————————–
Romantic Relationships – the Missing Link
Jo Fenton 16th May ————————–
Themes in Cultivating a Fuji
donnasbookblog 18th May ————————–
Why I chose to write about a guy with Social Anxiety
BetweenTheLines 20th May ————————–
I do like to be beside the seaside

Reviews

Link Date Quotes
Splashes Into Books 13th May This is a very moving story.

There are many other characters and the author does an amazing job of developing them all.

It is an intriguing and thought-provoking story, a very different read with a dramatic twist at the end that had me rethinking assumptions I’d made when reading the earlier part of the book.

The Bookwormery 15th May ————————–
[I] found it to be a moving description of social anxiety and just how traumatic a simple meeting can be for sufferers….yes there’s humour, but I found this to be a sad, poignant and thought provoking tale.
FNM 15th May ————————–
This is a book that is guaranteed to stay with you long after you read it, it is a book that really makes you think with a few surprises along the way.
Jan’s Book Buzz 15th May ————————–
Drori tells a story that can only come from a place of empathy and recognition. It says: “I know you. I see you. I hear you. I understand you.”
Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog 15th May ————————–
I think the way Drori went about this was thought provoking. It’s a stage with Martin smack bang in the middle with a spotlight on him.
In de Boekenkast 16th May ————————–
Cultivating a Fuji is a very touching story about how hard it can be to fit in the crowd. Martin’s character is well-developed and even the minor personalities have their own past and problems in this wonderful story.
Grace J Reviewerlady 17th May ————————–
What a beautiful book! This is a novel I will reflect on time and time again.

This isn’t a ‘preachy’ read; rather it is one of understanding and compassion, and it has brought another excellent author into my world.

Extremely enjoyable, providing much food for thought and, in my humble opinion, no less than five stars will do it justice!

Radzy Writes 17th May ————————–
These scenes were deeply uncomfortable for me, as someone who experienced bullying, so I’d be mindful of how you feel, but it’s written sensitively and in a beautifully validating way.

The thing I appreciated most about this novel was the way the author constructed a novel elevating social anxiety as a real, difficult thing. She either experiences the illness herself or has done her work. Where the Curious Incident with The Dog in the Night-time is a beautiful novel explaining autism, this, for me, is the work to explain social anxiety.

Mai’s Musings 18th May ————————–
Even when I wasn’t reading the book I found I was thinking about it and counting down to when I could pick it up again.

This is an extremely important book for helping people gain an understanding of social anxiety, and just how deeply it can affect the entire lives of sufferers.

Book Lovers’ Booklist 19th May ————————–
Author Miriam Drori has written a compelling, heart-warming and thought-provoking UpLit exploration of loneliness and social anxiety.

It was impossible not to be gripped by Martin’s journey, which begins with a business trip to Japan.

And, then there’s a whammy of an ending that’ll leave you gasping…

Nesie’s Place 19th May ————————–
This is Martin’s story but there are multiple POVs to show not everyone thinks badly or only want to ridicule him. People want to help… they just don’t know how.

Cultivating a Fuji is a good read lovers of contemporary and literary fiction will enjoy, and the twisty conclusion will linger long after the story’s end.

What Cathy Read Next 19th May ————————–
Not everyone is without sympathy for Martin either but sometimes, as the book shows, people willing to help him (such as his boss, John) don’t know the best way to go about it or may inadvertently choose the wrong way.

There were some great scenes full of humour…

I really enjoyed the second part of the book in which we learn of Martin’s life following his return from Japan.

Cultivating a Fuji does a great job of highlighting the experiences of those with social anxiety disorder and the challenges they face using the medium of fiction.

Doublestackedshelves 20th May ————————–
I think the resilience Martin inadvertently learned from his school years, sets him on the path he takes, and propels the story forward into a new chapter in his life.

There are plenty of moments of contrition in this book, and the feel is generally cathartic. I did find certain aspects troubling, as I think we are meant to.

From Under the Duvet 20th May ————————–
Miriam Drori has sensitively exposed the reality of living with social anxiety and the impact it has on all involved while creating a character I love in an uplifting, memorable novel.

Cultivating a Fuji by Miriam Drori

Categories
Books Interviews Letters from Elsewhere

The Headlines

Last Day

Today is the last day of the Crooked Cat Sale, in which all ebooks are reduced to 99p/99c. Hurry over to Amazon and search for ‘Crooked Cat Books.’ My books are there, too.

6 Ws

I enjoyed my 6 Ws with Joan Livingston. I hope you do, too.

Letters from Elsewhere

From next week, my popular series, Letters from Elsewhere, is back. Each Friday, you can meet another character from a novel. See you next week!

Letters from Elsewhere

Categories
Books Interviews

Between Heaven and Hell

I’m delighted to have Anne-Marie Ormsby, author of the newly released Purgatory Hotel, on the blog today. I know this novel well, because I edited it. But before interviewing her, I wanted to be clear on what my religion says about the afterlife. I was a bit confused about this topic and now I realise why: Judaism itself is confused.

While Jewish prayers concentrate on life on Earth, we do pray for the souls of the departed. In modern Hebrew, as well as Hebrew from long ago, Heaven is Gan Eden or Garden of Eden, Hell is Gehinnom. Both names are taken from places on Earth – one that no longer exists and one that still does (and is not a million miles from where I live). Is there a Purgatory? Well, it doesn’t have a specific name, but, as this article explains, the belief is that most souls remain in Hell for up to a year before moving to Gan Eden.

Catholicism, as I understand it, is much more definite about the afterlife, although I don’t think it goes as far as describing Purgatory as an old, Victorian-like hotel, full of cobwebs and dim lights that flicker and often go out altogether, surrounded by an outside you really don’t want to go to. Hence my first question.

Hello, Anne-Marie, and welcome to my blog. Where did your visualization of Purgatory come from? Is it totally made up?

Anne-Marie OrmsbyIt was initially inspired by a song by Nick Cave called ‘God’s Hotel.’ It got me to thinking about what the afterlife would be like if it involved being in a hotel. Then I started thinking about how frightening it would be if it was not heaven, but something darker. I generally find hotels to be a bit creepy, The Shining is the most frightening movie I have ever seen, and I think it affected how I see hotels, but I’ve been in a few Victorian hotels that felt quite sinister.

Are the Earthly places in the novel real or imaginary?

They are totally imaginary and not based on a particular place. The graveyard, church and woods are just an amalgamation of lots of different places I have been.

Is all your writing so dark?

No, I’ve actually written two other stories that would be more at home in the chick-lit genre but I haven’t done anything with them. I think I will always lean towards the darker side of things when writing as I find it more interesting to write about things that some people would rather look away from. But who knows, one day I might attempt to publish a book I wrote about relationships between a group of thirty-something friends/lovers.

Did writing Purgatory Hotel make you depressed, or did it have the opposite effect? Did you need to take breaks from the writing?

Purgatory Hotel by Anne-Marie OrmsbyI wrote Purgatory twelve years ago when I was in a very unhappy place. I was in an abusive relationship and felt very low at times. Writing made me happy, it was an escape to go into this other world, so it was actually therapeutic for me to write. I do think that experience of darker emotions helps in writing characters that way. When I was working on new revisions of the book over the last year, I think my approach was different as I wasn’t in the same place as previously. When I am writing about certain emotions I have to put myself back in that place to access a true response to it, but I don’t stay there.

.

I’m glad life is better for you now. Lula, in the novel, suffers from depression and maybe OCD. Do you feel comfortable writing about mental health?

Having had a lot of experience with mental health issues I was quite comfortable writing about it. I had some issues myself when I was younger and I studied psychology and counselling. I’m always interested in interpretations of mental health in books and movies. I think it’s an important subject.

So do I! One problem that often comes up when editing novels is the use of text that may be subject to copyright. How did you get permission to use all the poetry and songs that appear in Purgatory Hotel?

For the Nick Cave lyrics, I wrote to his record company and requested permission to use them. For the poetry I used poems that are copyright free due to their age.

What do you do to relax? Do you like watching horror movies or do you prefer to get away from all that?

To relax I generally watch movies or TV box sets with my husband, he doesn’t really enjoy horror so I save my horror movies for nights in alone or when my best friends come to stay the weekend! But we both enjoy crime dramas and true crime documentaries.

(I’m with your husband, there.)

Other than that I enjoy days out with my husband and daughter and once she has gone to bed I get a chance to do some yoga and read/ research whatever I am working on.

Would your friends and family describe you as a bundle of fun?

I think they’d describe me as a happy, positive person with an eccentric sense of humour – a sense of humour I subject people to as often as possible. I don’t think you have to be a miserable person to write about dark subject matter, but having experience of unhappiness helps when having to recreate it in a story. When I am writing about certain emotions I have to put myself back in that place to access a true response to it, but I don’t stay there.

I’m glad to hear it. What’s next?

I am now starting work on another paranormal fiction novel set in London. It will be a reworking of a novel I wrote when I was in my early twenties. It’s a slow process though – I have a small child now so not as much time and space to write, but I have started making notes and saving ideas. I don’t tend to plot my stories out – I just write and see what happens, but I’m laying the ground work for an overall idea.

***

Thank you, Anne-Marie, for your interesting responses and good luck with your future writing.

Find Anne-Marie Ormsby on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

Find Purgatory Hotel on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Categories
Books Interviews

Author Interview: Miriam Drori

2016Sale
Poster by Ailsa Abraham

Yes, I’m interviewing myself. Why not?

Q: Hello, Miriam. I’m delighted you could join me today.

A: I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for inviting me, Miriam.

Q: Tell me about your novel, Neither Here Nor There.

A: It’s a light romance, set mostly in my home town of Jerusalem and partly in my former home town of London.

Q: Oh come on, it can’t be that light with such a background. It must involve terrorist attacks and killing and all those scary things that go on all over the Middle East.

A: No, there’s none of that in my novel.

Q: So it’s a utopian sort of novel – the way you’d like your country to be.

A: No, it depicts everyday life in present times, just as it is. The fact is, there’s so much more to life in Israel than those troubles you hear about on the news. We follow the news, of course, and we’re so very sad about the lives that are lost. But most people go about their lives without encountering any danger at all. And so the story of Esty and Mark and all the characters in my novel is perfectly realistic.

Q: So you’re saying this is just another romance.

A: No. While it can be read as a simple romance, it also brings up some complicated issues – issues most readers will recognise in some form or other.

Q: What sort of issues?

A: Arranged marriage, living in a closed community, escaping from a closed community, emigration, life-changing decisions.

Q: Yes, some serious issues there. Tell me about the closed community in your novel.

A: The haredi community. I call it that for simplicity, although within that group are several sects, some very much opposed to others. They live in various parts of the world. Many of your readers will have noticed their distinctive dress. The men wear black hats, black suits and white shirts, with tassels hanging over their trousers, and they have beards and sidelocks. There are some who wear stranger garb. The women always wear long sleeves and long skirts, and married women cover their hair with scarves or wigs. Some people even think that all Jews or all Israelis dress like that.

In Jerusalem, they used to live only in specific districts like Mea She’arim, but they’ve expanded to other areas due to lack of space. The men often don’t work, spending their time studying the holy books. That leaves the women to support their large families, as well as caring for children and doing the housework.

Q: The women must feel very bitter about that.

A: I don’t think so. Most of them believe that’s how they’re supposed to live and never question it. They’re proud to have husbands who are able to study for long hours.

Q: What about arranged marriage? How does that work?

A: I want to stress that their marriages are arranged and not forced. They’re allowed to choose their marriage partners, but their choice is limited. They’re expected to choose one out of the few they’re introduced to.

Q: Do you think that works?

A: It seems to work as much as our system of random meetings does. The divorce statistics show that. I think a couple can grow to love each other after marriage, although I don’t have first-hand experience of such a relationship.

Q: How do other Israelis regard the haredi community?

A: There’s a lot of resentment. They generally don’t have to serve in the army, and they get grants for studying, which many view as a complete waste of time. On the other hand, they do jobs that no one else wants to do. There are at least four major associations run by people from the haredi community and serving the population at large. There’s one that deals with everything surrounding burials. One that provides all sorts of medical equipment. One that provides food for hospital visitors. And one that picks up and identifies all body parts following an explosion.

I saw an accident once at a junction in Jerusalem. I looked down from the top of a hill and saw a man lying on the road, having been thrown off his motorcycle. Immediately, someone got out of a car and started redirecting the traffic. Someone probably phoned for an ambulance. Two minutes after the accident, a haredi man who happened to be passing stopped his car, took a first-aid kit out of the boot and rushed over to the victim.

Q: Well I think we’ll leave it there. Thank you for coming, Miriam.

A: Thank you, Miriam.

Neither Here Nor There, published by Crooked Cat Publishing, is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere.

Miriam Drori can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Wattpad and on her website/blog.

Stop press: Neither Here Nor There is on sale for a few days on Amazon. In honour of that, several bloggers will be featuring the novel. I’ll update this post as those posts appear.

Categories
Books Interviews

A Couple of Revolutions: Interview with T.E.Taylor

Today I’m lucky enough to be visited by Tim Taylor, who, like me, is published by Crooked Cat Publishing. He has a new book out in five days.

Tim TaylorHello Tim and welcome to Jerusalem. Have you ever visited Jerusalem in the flesh, as it were?

I’m afraid not, though it’s a city I’d like to see some day. I love places that are steeped in history. Thank you for the opportunity to make a virtual visit, though I’m sure it would be even better to come in person!

Tell us about the new novel.

Revolution Day

Revolution Day will be published by Crooked Cat on 30 June. It follows a year in the life of Carlos Almanzor, the autocratic ruler of a Latin American country. Now in his seventies, Carlos is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner. And with good reason: his Vice-President, Manuel Jimenez, though outwardly loyal, is burning with frustration at his subordinate position. When his attempt to augment his role is met with humiliating rejection, Manuel resolves to take action. But how? Since Angel, the Head of the Army, is loyal to the President, he must be patient and cunning if he is to find a way to undermine Carlos’ position.  

 Interspersed with the main narrative are excerpts from a memoir being written by Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita, in which she recalls the revolution that brought him to power and how, once a liberal idealist, he changed over time into an autocrat and embraced repression as the means of sustaining his position. In time, as Manuel makes his own bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwitting participant in his plans.

That sounds very interesting. Unfortunately, it’s a plot that rings very true. Does this novel have any connection with your first novel – Zeus of Ithome, published by Crooked Cat in 2013?

Zeus of IthomeThere is a connection in that both novels involve a revolution. But in most respects, they are very different novels. Revolution Day is set in the present day – albeit with some reflection on previous decades – and in a fictional country. Zeus is set in a real place (southern and central Greece) in the fourth century BC. It describes actual historical events – the struggle of the Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans, and the wider events that formed the backdrop to their final revolt – albeit through the lives of (mostly) fictional characters. Diocles, the central character, is a seventeen year old helot slave at the start of the book. Forced to flee his home, he falls in with ageing rebel Aristomenes, who still cherishes dreams of revolution and wants to seek advice from the oracle at Delphi. Later, Diocles’ travels take him to Thebes, where he meets Epaminondas, a historical Theban general who also has no love for the Spartans. As war brews between Thebes and Sparta, the conditions at last become right for Diocles and Aristomenes to return to Messenia and begin their revolt in earnest.  

Have you visited Greece? Can a visit help in any way with a novel set so long ago?

I had been to Greece in my teens – a good while ago! – and visited some of the places that feature in the novel, such as Delphi (and more recently to Crete, which doesn’t). I think those rather distant memories were of some help in giving me a feel for the landscape. For example, there is one scene where Diocles crosses the Gulf of Patras in a small boat and is impressed by a mountain looming above the shore behind him. I remember admiring that same view myself – albeit from a car ferry!

Where else did you get background information from?

I already had a good background knowledge about ancient Greece, having studied Classics at university. I read the ancient sources for the period and some books by modern historians, and did lots of internet research, for example about details of clothing and authentic Messenian names. I made extensive use of Google Earth in tracking the topology of the places the characters travel through. I was delighted (and relieved!) when readers who had been to places in the novel I have never visited – such as Mount Ithome, the ancient sanctuary of the Messenians – verified my description of them.  

How did you manage when you had questions that couldn’t be answered?

One of the fun things about writing historical fiction – particularly when it’s set in ancient times – is that where evidence is lacking you can make things up, provided that they are plausibly consistent with the known facts.  

I see we have at least two other interests in common: music and walking. Where has music taken you?

Hmm. Well, in my twenties it took me up and down the motorway to such exotic places as Dover, Northampton and, um, Stevenage! Nowadays I play mostly for fun, but I do still play in public once in a while.

You said somewhere that you like walking up hills. I’m not sure I do. I like the feeling of accomplishment when I reach the top and the knowledge that I can now walk downhill. What do you like about walking up?

When walking up I am buoyed by the expectation of reaching the top where I will experience that feeling of accomplishment, which I agree is often the best thing of all (sometimes the view may be even more rewarding). There is a certain satisfaction as you reach prominent points on the route and see lower hills drop below your line of sight, knowing that you are that little bit closer to your goal. On the way down, although there is the afterglow of that sense of achievement, you no longer have the same sense of purpose. Also, if the hill is steep, I find walking down very hard on the knees and toes – I do genuinely prefer walking up!

What’s the next novel going to be?

It will probably be a follow-up to Zeus of Ithome, taking in the early career of Philip II of Macedon. As a teenager he was in Thebes, where he came under the influence of Epaminondas, shortly after the time when the first novel ends. I am doing some research on this right now.

So you’re doing what I’m planning: to write a novel that’s very different to the first and then write a sequel to the first.

Thank you so much for coming, Tim, albeit abstractly. And lots of luck with your new book.

You’re welcome, Miriam. And thank you very much for hosting me!

Links

Revolution Day on Amazon UK

Revolution Day on Amazon US

Zeus of Ithome on Amazon UK

Zeus of Ithome on Amazon US

Facebook

Twitter

Website

***

I’m taking a break until the beginning of August. Have a great summer (or winter if you’re in the other hemisphere).

Categories
Books Interviews

Triple A: Author Ailsa Abraham

I think all human beings are interesting, but sometimes it’s hard to discover the interesting parts. That’s not true of my guest today – ex-biker, shaman, Bipolar coper, expat, caravanner, author, knitter and much more. Her magic carpet brought her to a walled city, though possibly not the walled city she expected to find.

Ailsa on Yamaha

Hello Ailsa. I’m awarding you the dubious privilege of being allowed inside the walls of my world. I’m afraid it’s just me in here, so not much to see.

Rubbish, came to see you and it’s great to be here.

Part of me is now smiling. The other part is thinking: it’s nice of you to say that, but….

You’ve had your own experiences of mental health problems. Is there anything you want to tell us about them? What message do you want to give readers that might change their attitude towards mental health issues?

Yes, I have. The worst was being misdiagnosed for thirty years, which is not uncommon for Bipolars. We don’t present to the doctor when we are up so generally get wrongly-classified as depressives. This results in us not getting the correct medication which makes the situation worse. Since I had the correct diagnosis of Cyclothemic Bipolar things have been much better. It means my mood changes are very rapid over a day or two. Other Bipolars can stay in one phase for months or even a year. I’ll be on stabilising medication for the rest of my life but that is fine.

Message? Yes. Please give people a bit of slack. You don’t know what kind of hell they might be going through and make allowances, especially if they then apologise. I am still hurting very much because people I snapped at when having an extremely difficult time with my Bipolar, won’t accept my most sincere apologies and refuse to speak to me. That is their decision but I still cry about it.

Generally people with mental health problems aren’t dangerous. No, it isn’t easy to cope with someone whose moods change unexpectedly but if you make the effort to manage that, they are very grateful and make loyal friends. We’re just happy that anyone will bother with us. Mental health problems interfere very much with self-esteem so no matter how bad YOU think I am, I’m thinking worse, believe me!

“Generally people with mental health problems aren’t dangerous.” I wish others would remember that, although I understand why it’s hard. When you read that a particular murderer is a loner, it’s easy to imagine that all loners are potential murderers.

You’ve lived in France for a long time. What do you miss most about the UK?

Interesting question. I’ve been here so long that it’s home. The UK is a foreign country and I love visiting but don’t miss it. The Old Feller goes back to visit family and buy teabags which are the only thing we can’t get over here, well, not good, proper ones. I visit my family in Scotland and other friends in England but in general it’s people I miss, not places.

What are you pleased to have got away from?

Overcrowding, pokey rooms and tiny gardens!

Four Go Mad in Catalonia

What’s your connection to Judaism?

Easy. My father and grandfather were Jewish but, like the Old Feller, goy mother so not considered Jewish myself (except by the reformed Synagogue). When my father was dying, a Jewish neighbour looked after me to free mother to go to the hospital. Auntie Wyantie (Mrs. Wynant) talked to me in Yiddish and made me apricot dumplings etc. A lot of that is stuck in my mind.

Tell us a little about magic.

Wow! I could write a short book but it would meet with disapproval from so many other magic-users. OK – in a nutshell it is an ability to control energies. Often it is applied human psychology which means that when people have asked me to “work on” something for them they are more confident that it will go right – the placebo effect. Similarly if I were to tell someone I was exacting justice on them for a wrong done to someone, that might play on their psyche too. I always liken it to any other ability like being musical or able to paint. One can take lessons but it helps to have an innate gift. Also, practice, practice, practice. I hate to think how many hours I’ve spent in meditation trying to control my mind and link into energies.

No we do not need to cover ourselves in odd garments, dance naked or use esoteric paraphernalia. If you really want to know how real witches work, read Terry Pratchett. Weatherwax, Ogg and Magrat are more like my types – a bread knife and a chipped teacup rather than ornate daggers and chalices. Intention is all. I could go on. Remember, however, that where you have three magic-users in the same place you’ll get six different opinions on the same question.

Ha-ha! That sounds like what they say about Jews. How does all that use of magic relate to your novels?

The ones written under my own name, very much. My experiences working with covens and knowing other pagans was essential. I couldn’t have written the books without it and one has to have “lived” it to understand it. There is a high price to pay for manoeuvring energies which is not understood by outsiders. I was involved in pagan religions and so know the rituals inside out therefore the books ring true. The philosophies quoted within are real.

Crooked Cat Books

I enjoyed your two Crooked Cat-published novels very much. What do you have in store for us?

There has been a demand from readers for more adventures of Iamo and Riga from the first two books and I would like to see more of Adrian and Helen who are non-magical but some of my favourite characters. Dagda is kicking me to write a fourth with him as the main character which would be very tempting as a Native American Black Shaman is too good to leave hanging around without a story. I’m also in the middle of writing my comical memoirs of twenty-five years in France. That is going to be self-published for translation reasons but Crooked Cat are being very helpful with it. The title will be “Knitting With Eels” and I hope to have it out by Spring next year.

Thank you so much for coming, Ailsa. You may leave now… if you can find the way out!

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is married with no children but six grandchildren. She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn’t have all those, I’d have to work for a living, instead of writing, which is much more fun.” Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and maybe move back to the UK. She has no intention of stopping writing. Her other passions are running an orphanage for homeless teddy bears plus knitting or crochet now that she has had to curtail her activities on her beloved black Yamaha motorbike.

As Ailsa Abraham:

Alchemy and Shaman’s Drum published by Crooked Cat available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Four Go Mad in Catalonia (comical memoir of a holiday) – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter – @ailsaabraham

Facebook Group

Website and blog