Wednesday, 1 February 2017

WORTHY OF ATTENTION - an interview with Ailsa Abraham

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back my dear friend and fellow-author Ailsa Abraham, whose latest novel Attention to Death - her first venture into crime fiction - is due out next month.



Welcome, Ailsa.  This is your third novel for Crooked Cat, but you’ve completely changed genres this time around. Why?

This may sound weird (I often do) but as I live my life as the Village Healer and shaman, I wanted a change of scene. Writing my Alchemy series was too close to my real life. I don't watch much TV but when I do gore and guesswork is my favourite.


Was it difficult to switch genres like this? Did you get any help with the research for this one, or did you do it all yourself?

Not really, because I cheated and delved back into my past, when I was in the Royal Air Force. My partner served in the Royal Navy for over twenty years. We still tend to use “mob-speak” to each other, and that includes a great deal of swearing. I did, however, have to do a lot of research as I based my novel in the Army (Military Police). I think this was done to stop either of us claiming that it was MY book. I had to Google a lot of geography and asked for advice from friends still in the military.


How is this different from what you’ve done in the past?

All my life, I've been writing in all sorts of genres. Yes, in my published work I am known for short stories and magical realism but I've tried my hand at everything apart from chick-lit, mainly because I don't consider myself a “chick”.  Much of my “other” work is only known to my friends because they were my audience in the past. I've even been known to dabble in poetry but I wouldn't dream of publishing it apart from as humour on Facebook.


Without giving away any spoilers, I know that Attention to Death deals with some pretty controversial themes.  What made you want to write about them, and how challenging did you find it?

It's fair to say that it is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are some gory scenes and some very un-PC language, as would be normal on a military base. The real message behind the murder mystery is about judgemental people. The case is very nearly ruined by those who are prejudiced about race, colour, creed or sexuality, who make sweeping assumptions and won't consider other solutions. Homosexuality is featured very strongly, because I have had gay friends all my life and they still suffer from outdated and untrue stereotyping.


Is there a message in Attention to Death?

Yes, there is; it’s forgiveness and tolerance – even though these are sometimes the hardest virtues to practice.


I’ve already had a sneak peek at this book, and it’s a corker.  What did you enjoy most about writing it?

As someone who is non-gender specific I found writing as a man rather good. I enjoyed going back to my own military days when I was accepted as “just another bloke”, being able to write in that style made a change.


Where can readers find out more?

The book is released on 10 March 2017, but is now available for pre-order.  Click here to be taken directly to your local Amazon site.  Meanwhile, here’s a hint of what’s in store:

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael 'Raff' Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany. 

The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality.  Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.

Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?

The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over-18s only.


Thank you, Ailsa, for a fascinating chat about a fascinating book!

MORE ABOUT AILSA:

Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, including serving in the Royal Air Force, and Veterinary Nursing, ending with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is now a French citizen. Her passions are animal welfare and motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding.

She copes with illness with her usual wry humour: “Well if I didn't have all those, I'd have to work for a living, instead of being an author, which is much more fun.” Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and writing. She currently works in pagan magical realism and detective fiction, although would like to explore other genres too. 











Wednesday, 25 January 2017

A DAY FOR LOVERS - THE FEAST OF ST DWYNWEN


Today is a very special day for lovers in Wales.  It is the feast of St Dwynwen (Llanddwyn in Welsh), who is regarded by many as the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine – the patron saint of lovers.  Today (25 January) is her feast day, and is often celebrated by the Welsh with flowers and cards.

I’ve always loved the Isle of Anglesey (or, to give it its Welsh name, Ynys Mon) - so much so that for the past twenty-odd years it has been my second home.

As well as boasting a rugged natural beauty, Anglesey is also steeped in history and folklore.  So when I was looking for a setting for my forthcoming novel Never on Saturday, Anglesey was the obvious choice.

Never on Saturday is a paranormal time-slip romance novella, set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales.  And one of the key scenes in the novel takes place at one of Anglesey’s most picturesque locations: Llanddwyn Island.




Llanddwyn Island (in Welsh: Ynys Llanddwyn) is a remote rocky promontory, about a mile long, situated at the south-west corner of Anglesey, and forms part of the Newborough Warren nature reserve.   It is not, strictly speaking, an island, although if the tide is exceptionally high, as can be seen in this photo, it can become one for a few hours: 





According to tradition, the original Dwynwen was a fifth-century Welsh princess, one of the daughters of Brychan, a prince of Brecon.  She fell in love with a young chieftain named Maelon, but rejected his advances.  The reasons for this vary according to which version of the story you read, but the popular belief is that either Maelon tried to seduce Dwynwen before they were married, or that Dwynwen’s father had plans for her to marry someone else.  But whatever the reason, the outcome was the same: Dwynwen prayed to be released from her doomed love affair.





In answer to her prayer Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who instructed her to concoct a potion which would dispel all thoughts of love.  One source tells that the potion was made from rare herbs from Newborough Forest, mixed with a lover’s tears and beads of dew from the petals of the snapdragon.  She and her lover both drank the potion, at which point Dwynwen immediately forgot her love for Maelon.  Maelon, unfortunately, fared rather worse: he was transformed into a block of ice.

The angel appeared to Dwynwen again and granted her three wishes.  Dwynwen’s first wish was that Maelon should be restored to life.  Her second wish was that she herself should never again wish to marry, and her third wish was that all faithful lovers should find true happiness.  She then retreated to what is now Llanddwyn Island and spent the rest of her life in isolation.




Meanwhile, Maelon was restored to life in accordance with Dwynwen’s wish, and the spot where the block of ice had stood, according to tradition, became a spring of clear water.  This spring became St Dwynwen’s Well, and it soon became a popular place of pilgrimage for lovers.  It was said that a woman could test the fidelity of her lover by scattering breadcrumbs on the water then laying her handkerchief on the surface.  If the handkerchief was disturbed by one of the eels living in the well, this foretold that the lover would be faithful.




The place of pilgrimage was so popular that during Tudor times it became the richest in the area, and in the early sixteenth century a church was built on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.  Sadly, the church fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, but its remains can still be seen today.




As to what happens on Llanddwyn Island in Never on Saturday, and why it is pivotal to the story, all will be revealed on 9 February 2017.  Click here to find out more...




Wednesday, 28 December 2016

THE GREAT BIG CROOKED CAT NOT CHRISTMAS SALE

Did you get a Kindle for Christmas?

Or are you just looking for some great reads at a bargain price?



The Great Big Crooked Cat Not Christmas Sale is now on.  Starting today, and for three days only, all Crooked Cat Kindle titles are just 99p/99c each.

Including mine.  Click on the covers on the right to find out more.

Or to browse the whole Crooked Cat collection, click here.

Happy reading!



Tuesday, 27 December 2016

ONE BY ONE - an interview with Beck Robertson

Today I have a brand new guest on my blog: the multi-talented author Beck Robertson.  Beck's latest novel, a psychological thriller called One By One, is due for release by Crooked Cat Books in March 2017.



Welcome, Beck!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I was first inspired by a fantastic English teacher I was fortunate to have in High School.  He totally sparked my passion for literature by reading aloud the classics and making them come alive. 

He was a total one-off: a die-hard leftie socialist at a snobby conservative grammar school.  As the poor kid, I naturally gravitated to him. He was never afraid to share his political opinions, and by doing so, forced us all to consider different points of view and stretch our mental boundaries.

He also actively encouraged me to write, and took extra time to comment on my work and tutor me. I will forever owe him a debt of gratitude for recognising and encouraging my love for the written word.

The first thing I wrote outside English classes was some really bad, angst-ridden teenage poetry. I was going through a morbid, gothic phase at the time, so as you can imagine it was truly terrible.  However, it was absolutely wonderful to be able to express myself so freely in a way I just couldn't in my day-to-day life.


Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

My next new release is One By One, a dark serial killer thriller that attempts to delve into the psychology of a psychopath. It's set in London, where I lived for many years, and a location that's always been a big inspiration for me. I actually wrote the book while I was still living there, and even while I was at some of the actual locations that inspired scenes in the novel.

One by One is told from two points of view. One is the killer’s, where you learn how he came to be the deranged individual he evolves into.  The other is from the point of view of Jack Grayson, the detective on his trail.

Jack is struggling with issues of his own, such as his workaholic tendencies and his inability to open up, which causes problems in his already fragile marriage.   He's quite an old-school detective, who prefers the hands-on approach to policing, and he doesn't always do emotion or technology very well!  I felt it would be an interesting juxtaposition to place these two emotionally stunted yet very different characters against each other.


What was the inspiration for this book?

After reading Jon Ronsen's fascinating non-fiction book The Psychopath Test, I found myself pondering the question Are psychopaths born or are they made? This is one of the underlying premises which the story explores.

But years before I even read that book, the germ of the story was in my head, with bits and pieces influenced from sources as varied as the plot-twist-laden works of Ruth Rendell to the seamy strip clubs of Soho!

I also drew on some of my own experiences, both as a London native and from the time I spent on the beat as an assistant crime reporter for a local London newspaper.


Did you do any research for the book?

I did do some research to give the novel a sense of grounding and realism, but I didn't want to write a police procedural, where it's much more important to ensure everything is factually accurate. I wanted the book to be largely story and character driven, so I also employed a hefty whack of artistic licence.

Even though some of the place names in the novel are invented, I did do a fair bit of location-based research.   I did this partly because it infuses the description in the book with a bit more life, but also because I found it inspired me to imagine how the characters in the novel would interact in that kind of setting.


What does a typical writing day involve for you?

Putting off getting out of my nice warm bed by reading the news and usually getting into a discussion with my partner about the day's headlines. Morning coffee, then more procrastination on Twitter and Facebook, then in my email.

Then I force myself to actually do some work, first dealing with my Copywriting clients if I have any, and then working on my fiction. When I'm writing a novel I adhere to Steven King's advice and aim to put down at least 2K words a day. When I'm not writing, I'm editing, and the amount I do differs according to my schedule but I usually try to revise 3 or 4 chapters.

I do edit one manuscript and write another simultaneously at times, but it does depend on what else I have cluttering up my schedule. I also spend quite a bit of time before I start writing a novel on constructing a loose outline for the story, as well as a chapter-by-chapter outline, as I find it helps.

After the work day is done, I sometimes read it aloud to my long-suffering partner because it gives me another perspective as to how the story is flowing and often alerts me to clunky phrasing or other things I need to change.


How do you decide on the names for your characters?

I actually never consciously decide this.  Usually names seem to arrive in my mind as the most suitable choice for that particular character. After this happens, it's almost as if I couldn't possibly imagine calling them anything else.  I've been lucky so far with this, though I have thought about asking people their opinions when it comes to character naming, and might do so in the future.



Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I wouldn't call myself a plotter exactly, but as I mentioned before, I do find having a loose outline to adhere to speeds up the writing process. Initially, when I first started writing, I didn't do this and had to learn the hard way that whilst total spontaneity might sound great, on paper it translates to a plot-hole-riddled mess!

Now I always outline before starting any novel, and also like to fill out character profiles for my main characters to get a feel of how they tick.

The outline is flexible though, and changes according to how the story unfolds.  I couldn't work with a framework that's too rigid as it would stifle my need to let the story tell itself.  I find that the most exciting thing about the writing process is when you're lying in bed at three in the morning and a key part of the plot comes to you that just enriches the story so much more.



Which writers have influenced your own writing?

For crime and thrillers I'm inspired by the work of Brett Easton Ellis, Ruth Rendell, Colin Dexter, and Harlen Coben. I also loved Gillian Flynn's brilliant novel, Gone Girl. I prefer psychological thrillers that play with your mind and keep you guessing as opposed to highly action-driven novels, and I suppose my work reflects that when I write in the crime genre.

That said, I also enjoy the vivid description and immediacy of crime writer Mark Billingham's work, and I do like to include a fair amount of action scenes in my work too.



What has been the best part of the writing process?

The best thing, hands down, is when a reader tells me they enjoyed something I wrote. There is nothing that could compensate for that feeling, not even money. The other things I enjoy are seeing how a story falls into place as I'm writing, and then of course, finally getting to the end and completing a novel.  That's a great feeling of accomplishment.


When is your book due out?  And how are you feeling?

One By One is set for release on March 23rd, and I'm excited about the launch, as it will be my first crime thriller.  When my other books were released, I felt a mix of emotions: pride in actually getting a novel written, nervousness at whether readers would enjoy what I'd created, and trepidation at what to expect.

I've since found that lowering my expectations helps, then when you do get a lovely surprise, like a great review, or hit one of the Amazon Bestseller Categories for a few days, it's just the icing on the cake.

For me, writing fiction is something I have to do – because despite all the effort, blood, sweat and tears, it's somehow part of me. I truly would do it for the rest of my life even if no one ever read my books.  Though of course, I hope they do.



Is there a message for the reader? What do you hope they get from one of your books?

I wouldn't say there's a particular message that's the same for all of them, as they are so different, I've written fantasy, paranormal romance and now crime, and the stories and readership they are aimed at are wildly differing too.

What I would say, though, is there is an element of suspense in everything I write, no matter the genre, as I do like to keep people guessing.  I find that as a reader, a little bit of mystery that slowly reveals itself as the story unwinds is highly enjoyable.

In addition, if you read between the lines you’ll see that each of my books features a deeper theme, and I've taken care to interweave that with the story.  I leave it up to the reader how they interpret that theme exactly, but in One By One I drew heavily on themes of alienation and prejudice.  I think a lot of people can relate to having experienced that at some point in their life, albeit in different ways.



Do you have any advice for new writers?

Just do it. Get words down on the page. Outline before you begin, write your story idea down but put fingers to keyboard, or pen to paper and begin the process of creation. I procrastinated for years before I actually wrote my first novel, and now I wish I hadn't.

Once you've written your first novel, writing the next will still be a challenge – but it will be much, much easier. Nothing is as difficult as getting over that first hurdle.

Also, read everything you can from good writers who have gone before – not just novels they have written, but also any advice they have to give in the actual writing process. I've gained so much this way, though I still have a lot to learn.

Thank you, Beck, for a fascinating discussion.  Please come again!

You can find more about Beck on his website.







Saturday, 24 December 2016

THE GREAT ARCHITECT - a poem for Christmas Eve

Today is Day 24 of the Christmas with the Crooked Cats Advent Calendar, and it's my turn to reveal what's behind the door.

Here, then, is a little Christmas-related ditty.  From all at Barnard Towers, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and blessed Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous 2017.



THE GREAT ARCHITECT 

Building a home, a place of your own,
is a careful and skilled operation;
be it palace or croft, from cellar to loft
you must start with a stable foundation.         

Doors, passages, halls, windows, ceilings and walls
are all signs of great civilisation,
but what makes buildings sound is what’s under the ground –
so there must be a stable foundation.

When the world first began, built to one clever plan,
human life was the greatest creation.
But no matter how fine is the final design,
it must start with a stable foundation.

The Creator, afraid that the world that He’d made
might be heading for hell and damnation,
concocted a plan which could save sinful man –
but it must have a stable foundation.

So with angels in flight, on a Bethlehem night,
to a world cursed with pain and frustration
came One whose sole aim was to end sin and shame;
He began with a stable foundation.


Thursday, 15 December 2016

NEVER ON SATURDAY - now available for pre-order

Dear Friends,

I'm thrilled to be able to announce that the Kindle edition of Never on Saturday (my new time-slip romance novella, based on an old French legend) is now available for pre-order. Just click on the cover image on the right to be taken to your local Amazon website.



Two stories, two heartbreaks: one past, one present...

Leaving her native France and arriving in North Wales as a postgraduate student of History and Folklore, Mel is cautiously optimistic that she can escape from her troubled past and begin a new and happier life.

She settles into her student accommodation and begins work on her thesis, concentrating particularly on one fascinating manuscript: a compelling and tragic tale of a cursed medieval princess.

Then she meets Ray - charming, down-to-earth and devastatingly handsome.  Within days, Mel's entire world has transformed from lonely and frustrated to loving and fulfilled. Despite her failure with previous relationships, she allows herself to hope that this time, at last, she can make it work.

But Mel's dreams of happiness are under constant threat.  She is hiding a dark and terrible secret, which Ray - or indeed anybody else - must never ever discover...




Tuesday, 15 November 2016

LETTERS PATENT - AN INTERVIEW WITH YVONNE MARJOT

Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming my friend and fellow-writer, the fabulous Yvonne Marjot, as my guest.  Yvonne's latest novel, The Ashentilly Letters, is due for publication this coming Friday (18 November).

Welcome, Yvonne!



Hello Sue, thanks for inviting me to visit your blog.


What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I can’t remember I time when I didn’t make up stories and poems. I got into a heap of trouble as a child for “telling stories” (adult speak for making up my own version of events). It didn’t feel like lying – just making the story more palatable.
After a while, it dawned on me that I couldn’t get into trouble if I invented the worlds within which my stories were set. I wrote the beginning of my first (unfinished) novel aged fifteen, and thirty years later, after life and kids had intervened, I went back to writing and paid proper attention to the task. Four novels and a book of poetry later, I can’t imagine not writing. I’ll be doing it on my deathbed (hopefully in many, many years from now). One day I may even finish that first, lost, novel.


Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

The Ashentilly Letters is the third book in the sequence that began with The Calgary Chessman and continued with The Book of Lismore.  Each book tells the complete story of a fictional archaeological discovery, along with developments in the lives of my protagonists, Cas Longmore and her son Sam. This time they are separated by family problems, but life continues to throw up surprises, one of which has been lying in the ground for almost 2000 years.



What was the inspiration for this book?

From the beginning I wanted one of my Cas Longmore stories to be about Romans in Scotland. So little is known about the Roman presence north of the border (although we’re learning more all the time). I wanted to pay homage to one of my favourite childhood books, Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth, by sending my family of archaeologists to the east coast of Scotland to rewrite the history books. Also, I wanted Cas to go back to her New Zealand home, because there are (some wonderful, and some terrible) surprises awaiting her.


Did you do any research for the book?

Heaps. It’s a great way to avoid the writing part – writing-avoidance is an important strategy to maintain my sanity. Some of the most readable and useful references are quoted at the end of the book, in case you’d like to read up on the subject.




What does a typical writing day involve for you?

There are no typical days. Sometimes, when I know my boys are going to be away for the weekend, I set myself a target and treat Saturday as just another working day. Other times, inspiration will strike in the bath, or the bus, and I’ll be scrambling for paper and a pen to get it down before I forget my train of thought. In the end, though, it always comes down to hard work – I have to make myself sit at the screen and write – and write – and not stop until I’ve written enough.


Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. I like to know something about my main characters, and I need to have an idea of how the story’s going to end, but the first draft writes itself – I’m just the channel through which my characters tell me what’s going on. Later I go back and tidy it up – they can be incoherent at times – but I never allow myself the delusion that I’m in charge.


What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m working on a trilogy of ‘fairy’ stories – which is to say, stories about some real people whose life is seriously inconvenienced by various activities of the Fae. Puck is in the garden, and there’s mischief afoot.

I am also about to self-publish a book of my short stories, to give new readers a taste of my writing before they decided whether to buy any of my novels.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get news of upcoming books, and Crooked Cat  is a great way to find out about great writing by a whole range of authors.


Thank you for visiting, Yvonne.  Please come again! 


More about Yvonne:

Yvonne Marjot was born in England, grew up in New Zealand, and now lives on the Isle of Mull in western Scotland. She has been making up stories and poems for as long as she can remember, and once won a case of port in a poetry competition (New Zealand Listener, May 1996). Her first volume of poetry, The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet, was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, and her novels are published by Crooked Cat.

You can follow her work via the Facebook page The Calgary Chessman, @Alayanabeth on Twitter, or on the Wordpress blog The Knitted Curiosity Cabinet.