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

 

#SIMTalksWithMiriamI’m delighted to welcome Tom Halford here, today, with this most interesting and informative post.

Misunderstandings in Comedy and Crime Fiction

One common thread between the crime genre and comedy is that both rely on misunderstandings.

A hallmark of the crime genre is the Red Herring, which is a strategy used by many crime writers to distract or mislead the reader. More specifically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is essentially about a series of misunderstandings. I’m going to describe the plot as vaguely as possible so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. People mistake an individual for someone he is not, and people mistake an animal for something it is not. The moment that Holmes and Watson are able to see things for what they truly are, the plot is essentially unraveled.

Tom Halford, author of Deli MeatA similar argument could be made for The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe. Famous French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that Poe’s story is based on a misunderstanding of what the letter means, and another equally famous French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, argued that Lacan deliberately misunderstood Poe’s entire story. I’m not sure I understand Lacan or Derrida, but my point remains: a good mystery is based on a clever misunderstanding.

Some of the best comedy also relies on these clever misunderstandings. In the sitcom Arrested Development, a wannabe film star, Tobias Fünke, believes he is attending Method One classes to improve his acting skills. He is amazed by the various, gritty monologues that people deliver about their lives. As the series goes on, Tobias discovers that he has actually been going to a methodone clinic, a support group for people who are addicted to opioids. It is a dark play on words, but it is also extremely funny.

In my novel Deli Meat, one of my main characters, Conrad Arms, is plagued by misunderstandings. He believes he has uncovered a conspiracy in the small border town of Plattsburgh, New York. Unfortunately, he is completely wrong, and his misunderstanding has disastrous consequences. The other main character, Effie Pitts, tends to misunderstand herself and her own motivations. Essentially, what I was trying to do was to combine this shared quality of comedy and crime. Some of their misunderstandings are comedic and some of their misunderstandings lead to crimes.

Why are misunderstandings so pleasurable in fiction? I’ve added that qualifier “in fiction” because in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. In comedy, the pleasure of misunderstandings undeniably has an element of schadenfreude, or pleasure derived at the misfortunate of others. There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know, and there is humour in watching the various consequences of these misunderstandings. However, the case is slightly different for crime fiction.

A truly clever misunderstanding in a crime novel has a few unique qualities.

Deli Meat by Tom HalfordThe first pleasurable aspect is that of surprise. As readers, we have assumptions about the characters and their motivations. A skilled writer gets us looking in one direction, essentially misunderstanding certain aspects of the story. Once the misunderstandings have been revealed, we have a moment of surprise when we find out that we have been wrong about the characters and their motivations.

The second pleasurable aspect is that of renegotiating meaning. After the initial moment of surprise, we find that we have to think back on the narrative and the assumptions that we have made. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we initially think that Holmes has left Watson in charge of the investigation, but when it is revealed that Holmes has been living in a hut and spying on everyone, we need to readjust our assumptions about whether or not Holmes truly respects Watson’s abilities.

The third pleasurable aspect is that of uncertainty. Readers are often certain that the plot is heading in one direction. Then they are surprised when a misunderstanding is revealed, and they are forced to renegotiate meaning. If a story has a truly well-developed Red Herring, then readers just don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know what else they have misunderstood and can barely wait for more surprises when all is finally revealed.

And what’s more pleasant than racing through the final pages of a crime novel to find out what actually happened?

Thank you, Tom, for making that so clear. I do wonder if it’s true that in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. But I haven’t made a study of it. I know I quite enjoy listening to a conversation when I understand the participants are talking at cross purposes. I suppose that’s the same satisfaction I get from stories in which I know more than the narrator. As Tom says, “There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know.”

Tom Halford is the author of Deli Meat, a fun crime novel, published by Crooked Cat Books and available from Amazon.

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If you want to write a post – fact or fiction – on any of the three topics in this series, the information is all here.